The history of Geraldton began some 40,000 years ago when various aboriginal tribes lived in the area. Geraldton is located on Champion Bay, 424km north of Perth, Western Australia and has become a popular seaside resort town for the wheat farmers of the Central-West region.
Champion Bay was first noted by Commander Dring in January 1840 and it was subsequently named by the Royal Navy hydrographic surveyor JL Stokes after Dring’s colonial schooner, Champion. In 1839, George Grey, became the first recorded European to explore the region. Grey, returning back, on foot, to Fremantle (from Shark Bay), after a disastrous expedition to the North-West Cape of Western Australia, made note of the fertile land. This stimulated other Swan River colonists to make brief journeys by ship to the area but many viewed the land as too dry.
The Swan River Colony, by this time, was struggling to find suitable land for new settlers. All the fertile land in the Avon Valley was already taken up and the colony’s economy was stagnant. As a result, in 1846, two exploration parties were sent out, one led by John Septimus Roe to the south-east of Perth and the other led by explorer and surveyor, Augustus Gregory (and his brother) to the north of Perth. Gregory returned with glowing reports of good pastoral land and coal deposits in the mid-west coastal region.
The discovery of a coal seam in the Irwin River, lead and copper in the Murchinson River and pastoral opportunities in the hinterland created a boom in the area. In 1848 Governor Fitzgerald travelled to the Murchinson River to inspect the mineral deposits for himself. He got a little more than he bargained for on the journey when he was speared in the leg by local Aboriginals, at what is know known as Elephant Hill. Regardless of the attack, ore exports from the Murchinson River mines began in 1849 from Champion Bay and soon after Gregory was instructed to survey a town site.
Looking For The Perfect Town
On 21 November 1849, a flagstaff was erected and the Union Jack flag hoisted up the mast, as a symbolic claim over the district. There had been no consultation between the Europeans and the traditional Aboriginal landowners. A week later a barracks was erected and Lieutenant Elliot (military leader of the 99th Regiment) was appointed magistrate in preparation for clashes between Europeans and Aborigines. On the 3rd of June 1851, the townsite of Geraldton was declared and the first sale of Geraldton lots were sold by public auction in Perth. Geraldton was originally called Gerald’s Town after Governor Charles Fitzgerald (1848-55) but later shortened to Geraldton.
Town Becomes a City
Farmers began to settle in the area in the late 1850s, around the same time as the commencement of the construction of port facilities at Champion Bay. In 1871, Geraldton was officially proclaimed a town. In 1879, the Western Australian Government began the construction of the first government railway in the State, which carried lead ore from Northampton to the port (55km). The port became a vital part of Geraldton’s economy and became one of the State’s major seaports. By the early 1900s the fishing industry in Geraldton was established, attracting Norwegians, Danes, Swedes and later Italians. In 1988 the town of Geraldton has officially declared a city. In 2003, the City of Geraldton purchased the confiscated illegal fishing ship, South Tomi , for a tourism project. The ship was stripped and then sunk approximately 3 nautical miles off the coast of Geraldton, near Bluff Point, creating an artificial reef for divers. Today the port city is the centre of fishing, manufacturing, construction, agriculture and tourism industries of the Mid-West region of the State. Geraldton is also known as the” Lobster Capital of the World”.