Woods Lake was named by William Landsborough for Lieut. Woods of the Victoria, the ship that accompanied the Firefly on the search for Burke and Wills in 1861. The two men became well acquainted during the time of the voyage and the subsequent salvage of the Firefly.
Landsborough wrote ‘… Where we crossed the Barkly it had a narrow muddy bed the water in which was cool from its being shaded with Pandanus, palms and Leichhardt trees. A short distance lower we recrossed by a tree … at a point where the deep water in it is caused in to the barge … After walking over the Plains of Promise we went down to the river, and anchored at the point where the trees are mentioned in the chart … as thirty feet high. In the morning, accompanied by the native troopers, Jemmy and Jackie, I went westerly over slightly timbered grassy flats, and reached in about a mile, a water hole and in another narrow mere which I called Woods Lake, extending northerly and southerly, at least for a mile or so in an unbroken sheet of water. I went southward along Woods lake to a clump of box and tea trees, and while I was marking a tree Jackie shot (chiefly with one discharge of his gun) about half a dozen whistling ducks and a large grey crane. As I never saw so many aquatic fowl assembled as it were at this place, it is to be hoped that when we reach the Albert River again, we will be able to shoot great quantities of them for fresh food. ‘
The heavy monsoon rains which fall here from January to March, and the run off from storms in the later part of the year, kept the two miles long lagoon well filled.
In later years, the lake supplied Burketown with fresh water for domestic purposes. Water was pumped by windmill, or by diesel engine if the wind failed, about 8 km to two elevated tanks. Gravity fed pipes were used to reticulate the water throughout the town. This was still the case in 1963 – it is not in use now.
The resurgence of Burketown, after the great evacuation due the Burketown Fever of the late 1860s, appears to have taken off some time in the early 1880s.
Records show that Woods Lake with its excellent water supply was then the site of a flourishing market garden, where the Chinese skills in vegetable production were well employed. This source of fresh food was very important in countering scurvy, the scourge of remote places as well as ships at sea.
The garden supplied Burketown and exported some produce to Thursday Island. No details are known of the names of the producers or of the volume of their export trade, but it seems likely that they could have been associated with the two Chinese, Lee Gee and Jimmy Ah Fin who were the local bakers in Burketown at the time.
Fresh produce was generally sold door to door in country towns in those days.