<<Before European settlement, the Brisbane River was spiritually important and a vital food source for the Aboriginal people of the Turrbal nation, primarily through fishing in the tidal sections downstream, with fishing and firestick farming in the upper reaches where there was freshwater, depending on the season. The language group common to most of the area was the Yugarabul language group.
Four European navigators, namely Captain Cook, Matthew Flinders, John Bingle and William Edwardson, all visited Moreton Bay but failed to discover the river. The exploration by Flinders took place during his expedition from Port Jackson north to Hervey Bay in 1799. He spent a total of 15 days in the area, touching down at Woody Point and several other spots, but failed to discover the mouth of the river although there were suspicions of its existence. This is consistent with accounts of many other rivers along the east coast of Australia, which could not be found by seaward exploration but were discovered by inland travellers.
On 21 March 1823, four ticket-of-leave convicts sailing south from Sydney on a timber getting mission to Illawarra, Thomas Pamphlett, John Finnegan, Richard Parsons and John Thompson were blown north by a storm. They went 21 days without water, continuing north in the belief they had been blown south, during which time Thompson died. They landed on Moreton Island on 16 April and made it to the mainland on the south of the Brisbane River. They immediately began trekking north in order to return to Sydney, still believing themselves to be somewhere south of Jervis Bay. Subsequently they became the first known Europeans to discover the river, stumbling across it somewhere near the entrance. They walked upstream along its banks for nearly a month before making their first crossing at 'Canoe Reach', the junction of Oxley Creek. It was here they stole a small canoe left by the Australian Aborigines of the region.
John Joseph William Molesworth Oxley was Surveyor General of New South Wales when, in the same year and under orders from Governor Brisbane, he sailed into Moreton Bay looking for a suitable new site for a convict settlement to be established. An entry in Oxley's diary on 19 November 1823 describes his surprise meeting with one of the shipwrecked men: "We rounded the Point Skirmish about 5 o'clock and observed a number of natives running along the beach towards the vessel, the foremost much lighter in colour than the rest. We were to the last degree astonished when he came abreast the vessel to hear him hail us in good English."
By that time Pamplett and Finnegan were living with natives near Bribie Island. Parsons, who had continued to travel north in search of Sydney, was never heard of again.
On 2 December 1823, Oxley and Stirling, with Finnegan as a somewhat reluctant guide, entered the river and sailed upstream as far as present-day Goodna. Oxley noted the abundant fish and tall pine trees. Early European explorers marvelled at the sheer natural beauty they witnessed while travelling up the lower reaches. In the same year, the river was named after Sir Thomas Brisbane, the then Governor of New South Wales.>>