Before Europeans settled there, the Port of Gladstone region was inhabited by the indigenous Baiali and Goreng goreng peoples. Matthew Flinders was the first European known to have visited the harbor, which he called Port Curtis. John Oxley explored the harbor area in 1823, finding it unsuitable for human habitation.
In 1847, soldiers and convicts arrived on the Lord Auckland, which immediately wrecked on Facing Island. The convict settlement was withdrawn after political changes in Britain, but interest in the area had been sparked. Francis MacCabe surveyed the site of the new town in 1853. As land became available, free settlers began to arrive. By 1863, the Port of Gladstone, named for the British statesman, was a municipality with an elected mayor.
The Port of Gladstone did not develop quickly. In 1893, a meatworks was established that spurred moderate growth. Development after World War II was rapid, based on coal exports to Japan, meat processing, and the production of aluminum.
First based on the export of cattle and meat products, the Port of Gladstone began to move into the modern era in the early 1950s when it started exporting coal. After 1963, the Port of Gladstone was expanded, and an era of economic prosperity began. Today, the Port of Gladstone is Australia’s fourth largest port and the world’s fifth largest coal exporter.
In 1914, the Gladstone Harbour Board was established to govern the Port of Gladstone. In 1994, it became a government-owned corporation. In 2004, the Port of Gladstone and the Port of Rockhampton were merged to form the Central Queensland Ports Authority, which was renamed the Gladstone Ports Corporation in 2008.
The City of Gladstone includes land on Australia’s mainland, fourteen islands, and part of Curtis Island. Once called “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef,” visitors can get easy access to Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island through the marina and local airfields.
One of the Port of Gladstone’s major attractions is Spinnaker Park, with wonderful walking paths, shelters, barbecues, and a netted swimming area. While taking in the view of the harbor from Spinnaker Park, visitors may spot pods of dolphins. The Tondoon Botanic Gardens contain plants native to Australia and central Queensland.
About 25 kilometers south of the Port of Gladstone is Lake Awoonga, a recreation area with landscaped trails, free barbecues and swimming, and a caravan park and café. Lake Awoonga boasts over 200 species of birds and some of the best fishing in the area.