Bamaga, on the western side of the tip of Cape York Peninsula, was governed by the Bamaga Island Council until 2008, when it was amalgamated with four other Aboriginal communities to form the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council. It was named after the Saibai Island elder, Bamaga Ginau (1893-1949) who led the settlement from the island to the mainland.
Saibai, along with its smaller neighbours Dauan and Boigu, are northern Torres Strait islands formed from alluvium brought downriver from the New Guinea mainland. Due to the islands' low lying and partly swampy nature, the Islanders' cultivated lands were intermittently inundated by high tides. Torres Strait Islanders serving in World War II armed services noted the better land available during their Cape York patrols, and, led by Ginau, the Saibai men persuaded their community to move off the island.
A small number moved to Muttee Heads, south-west of Bamaga, and flooding in 1948 persuaded another 250 to move. In July 1948 a government reservation was made for them, and in 1952 construction of the Bamaga township began. A hospital, school, store and houses were erected, with construction substantially completed by 1954. Orchards, market gardens and a sawmill were established, supplying local and Thursday Island markets.
There are similar smaller neighbouring settlements: Inginoo (where elder Bamaga was buried), New Mapoon and Seisia, each governed by an Indigenous council until 2008. Bamaga has a hospital, high (1973) and primary schools, a hotel, motel and Resort Bamaga, a showground, a supermarket and other shops, a recreation reserve and Anglican, Assembly of God and Catholic churches. The building of a new bridge on the Peninsula Developmental Road at the Wenlock River in 2000 brought increased 4WD tourism to Bamaga, particularly for fishing.
Fifteen people died in a plane crash near Lockhart River in 2005. A memorial to the disaster was opened the following year at Bamaga airport.
Its census populations have been:
David Donald, Exploring the tip: a visitor's guide to northern Cape York Peninsula, Thursday Island, Torres News, c1993
Dana Ober, Joe Sproats and Rik Mitchell, Saibai to Bamaga, Townsville, Joe Sproats & Associates, 2001
John Singe, Torres Strait: people and history, St Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1979