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Culture and heritage

Wilsons Promontory National Park has an early history of Aboriginal occupation with archaeological records dating back at least 6500 years.

The Prom had (and still has) spiritual significance for different Aboriginal groups, who knew the area as Yiruk or Wamoon. The area was a valuable food source, particularly in summer.

Aboriginal people may have used the Prom, which was then part of a 'land bridge', to reach Tasmania during past Ice Ages.

Today, local Aboriginal communities are active in establishing cultural and spiritual links with the park and in undertaking park management activities.

George Bass and Matthew Flinders were probably the first Europeans to see the Prom, on their 1798 voyage from Sydney, and Bass is thought to have named it after a London friend of Flinders. They recognised its commercial value of seals, whales and timber, as well as cattle grazing, which went on for nearly a hundred years.

The Prom's position means it is important for navigation in the turbulent waters of Bass Strait, and a lighthouse was built on South East Point in 1859.

Following campaigns by the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, and lobbying by the Royal Society of Victoria, the Victorian government temporarily reserved most of the Promontory as a national park in 1898. Permanent reservation followed in 1908, although the Yanakie area north of the Darby River was not added until the 1960s.

A chalet for visitors was built at Darby River, but for many years a trip to the Prom was quite an adventure, involving a boat trip across Corner Inlet and a horse ride, or a car drive along the beach, with the risk of being swamped by waves. The main entrance road was not completed until the 1930s.

During World War II the Prom was used for commando training and was closed to the public. Army buildings at Tidal River formed the nucleus of a post-war holiday village that gradually developed as more people came to the Prom.

The entrance road was sealed in 1970-71 with visitor numbers increasing steadily.

Did you know?

Sealing was underway at Sealers Cove soon after it was named by George Bass in 1798.

Historian Patrick Morgan calls the men who descended on the coves of Wilsons Promontory and the islands of Bass Strait as "a motley group of vagabond freebooters" who lived a rough, Robinson Crusoe-like existence, often in the company of Aboriginal women whom they had kidnapped.

They wore kangaroo and seal skins and survived on local wildlife and by growing a few vegetables and on basic supplies dropped from passing ships.

Occasionally, the sealers were joined by convicts escaping from Van Diemans Land.

Sealing was a lucrative business. According to the Sydney Gazette of July 1804, in 18 months, one ship alone had collected 28,282 skins and 266 gallons of oil from the 63 men working in the straights.

By the 1840s, the great sea elephants had disappeared entirely from Bass Strait and Australian fur seal numbers had dropped to about 100.