Denham is located 831km north of Perth and lies on the Peron peninsula making it the most westerly town in Australia. The town is the commercial centre of the Shark Bay World Heritage region and the gateway to Monkey Mia. From the 1850’s to early 1900s, pearling was the major industry of Denham, attracting many European, Chinese and Malay divers into the area. The pearls were used for jewellery and the shells for buttons. In 1895, the inspector for Pearl Fisheries at Shark Bay requested the establishment of a townsite. In 1898, the town of Denham was gazetted and named after Captain H.M. Denham who explored and charted the area in 1858.
The pearl shells were harvested by dredging the dense beds of oysters and then leaving them on the beach in “pogey tubs”. The shells were left to rot in the hot sun which eventually forced the shells to open and any pearls would drop out. Evidently the smell coming from the “pogey tubs” was truly horrific.
The streets of Denham were once paved with pearl shells but were destroyed when local road boards put bitumen over the top. The pearling industry closed during the onset of the Great Depression with much of the pearl beds overfished.
Today a cultivated pearl industry is operating in the Shark Bay region but the region’s major industries are now tourism and fishing. Snapper, groper, whiting, mullet, prawn and scallops form the basis of the fishing industry.
In the 1960s the road between Geraldton and Carnarvon was sealed bringing tourists to the isolated community. In response, the Denham Caravan Park was established. The most popular attraction in the area is Monkey Mia where bottlenose dolphins come into shore to interact with people. For decades the wild dolphins have come into shore to be hand feed, starting years ago when fishermen tossed undersized fish overboard. The dolphins would follow the fishing boats into port where the fishermen would hand feed them. The ritual has continued for over forty years attracting over 150,000 tourists annually. Over seven dolphins and their young come into Monkey Mia to interact with visitors though they belong to a larger group that lives further out in the bay.
Since 1999, Denham has been using wind turbines & diesel generators to supply electricity to the town and nearby areas. More than half of the town’s electricity is supplied by the wind turbines at the Denham Wind Farm, reducing the amount of diesel fuel used at the power stations and significantly reducing greenhouse emissions.