The Glasshouse Mountains

Volcanic guardians from the Dreamtime

Glass House Mountains with its distinctive peaks, ranging in height from 100 to 556 metres, have fascinated explorers, settlers and more recently, holiday visitors. Gradual weathering by wind and rain has produced these spectacular remains of volcanic activity more than 20 million years ago.


The Glass House Mountains were named by Captain James Cook, who thought they resembled the glass foundries near his Yorkshire home, but more importantly they stand as a timeless reminder of Kabi Aborigines, for whom they had enormous Dreamtime significance. The Kabi Aborigines were quickly displaced by European settlement, but some of the names they gave the mountains are perpetuated in Beerwah, Tibrogargan, Ngungun and Coonowrin.

These are now separate national parks, in which the rare remnants of widespread vegetation are protected.

Evidence in the Kabi culture is still to be found in scattered stone tools, long disused bora rings, middens and scarred trees.

Bushwalking, climbing and bird watching are all popular activities in the parks and in adjacent State forests, and thousands of visitors to the Sunshine Coast admire the mountains from the vantage points such as Wild Horse Mountain Lookout, adjacent to Moby Vics Bruce Highway Glass House Mountains and Mary Cairncross Park, at Maleny on the Blackall Range.

These mountains have a much older and richer tradition in the Dreamtime – known locally as:

The Legend of the Glasshouse Mountains

It seems that Tibrogargan, the father, and Beerwah, the mother, had many children – Coonowrin (the eldest), Beerburrum, the Tunbubudla twins, Coochin, Ngungun, Tibberoowuccum, Miketeebumulgrai and Elimbah. There were also Round who was fat and small and Wild Horse who was always straying away to paddle in the sea.

One day, Tibrogargan was gazing out to sea when he noticed a great rising of the waters. Hurrying off to gather his younger children in order to flee to the safety of the mountains which lay to the west, he called out to Coonoowrin to help his mother, who was again with child. Looking back to see how Coonoowrin was assisting Beerwah, Tibrogargan was greatly angered to see him running off alone. He pursued Coonoowrin and, raising his club, struck the latter such a mighty blow that it dislocated Coonoowrin’s neck and he never been able to straighten it since.

When the floods subsided and the family returned to the plains, the other children teased Coonoowrin about his crooked neck. Feeling ashamed, Coonoowrin went to Tibrogargan and asked for forgiveness, but filled with shame at his son’s cowardice, Tibrogargan could do nothing but weep copious tears, which, trickling along the ground, formed a stream which flowed into the sea. Then Coonoowrin went to his brothers and sisters, but they also wept at the shame of their brother’s cowardice.

The lamentations of Coonoowrin’s parents and his brothers and sisters at his disgrace explain the presence, to this day, of the numerous small streams of the area. Tibrogargan then called Coonoowrin, asking him why he had deserted Beerwah; at which Coonoowrin replied that as Beerwah was the biggest of them all she should be able to take care of herself. He did not know that Beerwah was again pregnant, which was the reason for her great size. Then Tibrogargan turned his back on Coonoowrn and vowed that he would never look at him again.

Even today, Tibrogargan gazes far out to sea and never looks around at Coonoowrin, who hangs his head and cries, his tears running off to the sea. His mother Beerwah is still heavy with child – it takes a long, long time to give birth to a mountain.

Glasshouse Mountains Geology

The Glasshouse Mountains are the remnant cores of volcanoes active about 25 million years ago. They were formed as molten rock was forced out of vents from within the earth. As these flows of magma cooled over a period they solidified into conal shapes of hard rocks. (rhyolite and trachyte).

Erosion of the surrounding softer sand stone over millions of years has lowered the ground level to where we live to day. The only testimony to this violent volcanic era are the Mountains we see. Mount Beerwah at 556 metres high is the “Mother by legend” and the grandest of all the mountains.

Mt.Tibrogargan is relatively smaller at 364 metres but still impressive with it’s distinctive Aboriginal face looking east towards the Pacific being very visible from Glasshouse Mountains Road. At 375 metres high Mt.Coonowrin (Crookneck from the legend) is possibly the most striking of the group with a bare tooth like appearance. Very photogenic from the Old Gympie Road area.

To the south are The Tunbubudla or sometime called The Twins at 338 and 294 metres. Somewhat smaller but still very dominant in size.

A total of 15 mountains of various sizes cover an area of over 600,000 hectares from Mt Mellum in the north to Round Mountain south of Elimbah, to the lesser Wild Horse Mountain at 123 metres high on the Bruce Highway to the east.

One of the most accessible places to view the mountains from is lookout 589. Just a short drive off Old Gympie Road and from most of the local tourist attractions, the magnificent views are worth every kilometre.

History of the Glass Houses by Europeans

On Thursday 17th May 1770 Captain James Cook while sailing up the east coast of the land known as Terra Australis or New Holland, sighted and named “these hills” as the Glass Houses. ( the reflections and the shape of these hills reminded him of the glass manufacturing houses back in England).

The next morning at 9 a.m. James Cook, Joseph Banks, Doctor Solander and a small group of men landed in the north shore of Moreton bay and are recorded as the first British people to come ashore in Queensland. Cook named this area Glass House Bay.

This bay was renamed 29 years later. On 15th July 1799 Capt. Matthew Flinders R. N. aged 25, sailed the sloop “Norfolk” into Moreton Bay. The next morning they landed on Bribie Island and after a disagreement with the natives, named the area Skirmish Point.

From pieces of pumice found on the beach Flinders thought that the mountains were active volcanoes. Mistaking the passage for a river, he named it Pumicestone River. ( Purnicestone Passage)

On the 26th July Flinders sailed north up this river and beached ‘Norfolk’ on a sandy strip for some minor repairs. Together with two seamen and a native “Bongaree” from Sydney, he proceeded up a small creek in the general direction of the highest peak. After leaving the small boat they pushed through low swampy country until they were stopped by a small creek. (Glass House Mountains Creek).

Unable to reach the larger mountains they decided to head for the closest ’round mount with sloping sides’, and climbed Mount Beerburrum before returning to Norfolk. Flinders continued to explore and map the coastal area north to Sandy Cape on Fraser Island until the 9th August when he departed for Sydney.

In 1824, a penal settlement was established at Redcliffe Point. After moving this settlement to where Brisbane stands today, it was finally abandoned in 1839 and the area was opened to free settlers in 1842. In 1859 the state of Queensland separated from the colony of N.S.W. and Brisbane by now a prosperous city was declared the capital.