Origin of name
'Mooloolaba' is thought to have derived either from 'mulu' the Aboriginal word for snapper fish, or 'mullu' meaning red-bellied black snake. Originally the name 'Mooloolah Heads' was given to the area from the mouth of the Mooloolah River to the site of the present Charles Clarke Park on River Esplanade.
Early history of settlement
In 1861, Lieutenant Heath surveyed and chartered the Mooloolah River mouth and harbour. In 1862, Tom Petrie explored the area for timber resources. By 1864, William Pettigrew had purchased land at the mouth of the Mooloolah River and developed enterprises which enabled him to dominate the timber trade in the Maroochy District for
the next thirty years. He established a timber depot and wharf operated by James Low and William Grigor to ship timber from Cotton Tree and Buderim to his Brisbane sawmill.
In partnership with James Low, he also opened the first store in the district. Situated near his depot (in the vicinity of the present Charles Clarke Park), it served the needs of settlers. The first cemetery, a private one with a number of graves, was in use here by 1866.
From 1870-1884, Mooloolah Heads was the gateway to the Maroochy District. Protected by Point Cartwright, it was favoured as a port over the Maroochy River, where the ocean swell and sand bars often made access hazardous.
Pettigrew's steamers 'Tarshaw, 'Tadorna Radjah' and Gneering' operated in the Mooloolah and Maroochy Rivers, regularly carrying produce and passengers as well as timber between Mooloolaba and Brisbane.
Other boats and cutters also operated, but with the opening of the North Coast Railway to Yandina in 1891, river transport declined.
The importance of the depot at Mooloolah Heads also declined when Pettigrew transferred his activities to Maroochydore, establishing a sawmill there in 1891. Throughout 1898-1908 there was little development in the coastal areas.
By 1919, Mooloolah Heads was more of a fruit growing area than a seaside resort. Fishing was also developing as an industry of some importance.
Thomas O'Connor bought Pettigrew's land from Sylvester Murphy and surveyed the first allotments of what was to become Mooloolaba. The first sale of allotments was held on 1 January 1921. These extended along the river frontage from the surf beach to Tuckers Creek.
At this time the name 'Mooloolaba' was adopted to differentiate between this developing area and the Mooloolah township on the North Coast Railway.
The population increased slowly during the 1920s.
Always a popular destination for Buderim settlers, holiday cottages and houses were built along the river and the narrow spit. These, and boarding houses, catered to visitors. Boat hire and fishing were also very popular.
As public amenities and trafficable roads improved, Mooloolaba continued to develop as both a premier residential and holiday location.