Arrivals & Departures Top 10: Historic towns of WA's North West

Photo of Angie Tomlinson

In the footsteps of pearlers, pastoralists and prospectors in the Kimberley and Pilbara.

Ghost towns, canvas settlements hurriedly erected around a gold find, stone homesteads built to last a lifetime: they all form part of the fabric of WA’s North West.

The heritage towns of the Pilbara and Kimberley are crying out to be explored when you're taking in the landscapes and colours of this part of WA.

Roebourne  

Roebourne, 30km east of Karratha, holds the title of the oldest town between Geraldton and Darwin.

It was established in 1866 and as the former administration centre of the North West still has stone buildings including the unusual octagonal jail, which now houses the visitor centre and museum.

There's a heritage trail (a 5km or 8km self-guided walk or drive) that points out the historical sites. The Roebourne Visitor Centre has a map.

Cossack

Before Broome there was Cossack (pictured above), the original port of pearls during the 1880s. It has also been home to gold prospectors and a port for pastoralists.

Following the opening of Point Samson jetty, the town was dissolved in 1910 and abandoned by 1950.

These days the ghost town's restored bluestone buildings sit beautifully alongside the water.

To take in the town site, walk or drive the 3km Cossack Heritage Trail, which traverses the Tien Tsin lookout, the European and Asian Cemetery and the Courthouse, which now houses the museum.

The 52km Emma Withnell Heritage Trail includes both Roebourne and Cossack.

Point Samson

The once-bustling port at Point Samson Peninsula is a thing of the past, but the beautiful beaches and great fishing remain.

The jetty that made the town the busiest port in the State behind Fremantle and Gerladton was built in 1902. Destroyed in a cyclone in 1925, it now partly rebuilt on land. 

To discover the town’s past, follow the Point Samson Heritage Trail.

Old Onslow

Old Onslow was built on the sheep’s back, exporting wool from Pilbara sheep stations via the mouth of the Ashburton River. While the town was later moved to its current location, Old Onslow still remains, with ruins of the police station, cemetery and jetty.

Some of the town’s buildings can also be seen at the Onslow Visitor Centre and Goods Shed Museum, where they were moved. Heritage trail maps for a self-guided walk around the old townsite are available from the Onslow Visitor Centre.

Marble Bar and Nullagine

Marble Bay and Nullagine were pioneered on gold. The former has plenty of historic buildings dating back to the late 1800s, with heritage trail maps available from the visitor centre.

Heritage sites include the Comet Gold Mine, a museum and tourist stop 7km from Marble Bar, and the secret World War II airfield at Corunna Downs. Here the runways and relics of some buildings remain.

Whim Creek

You can’t go to Whim Creek without stopping for a drink at the Whim Creek Pub. It's only original building left standing from the heyday of the town, which was established in 1872 after copper was discovered nearby.

Other heritage finds in the town include a small cemetery, war memorial and old mine workings.

Old Halls Creek

After a huge gold nugget was discovered in 1885, Halls Creek became gold rush central. But by 1954 the original site, 15km from the current town site, was abandoned. You can still see ruins of the town, including an old mine shaft, ruins of the post office and the cemetery.

Information on the old town site and on drives around the area is available at the Halls Creek Visitor Centre.

Fitzroy Crossing

The Crossing Inn is the heart of Fitzroy Crossing’s heritage. It was built in 1897 to serve drovers, pastoralists and prospectors in the area. In 1935 the original causeway was built alongside it to provide pass for travellers. A new bridge in the 1970s meant the town moved south, but much still remains of the old site.

Visit the Crossing Inn, the pioneer cemetery, the Old Concrete Crossing, the old post office building and the memorial for the Australia Inland Mission Hospital.

For more information and advice stop in at the Fitzroy Crossing Visitor Centre.

Wyndham

Wyndham had its beginnings as a port for the gold-hungry heading for Halls Creek. It then became a livestock port, gathering supplies for the beef industry, shipping cattle and servicing pioneering stations including Arygle Downs and Ivanhoe.

An Air Beef abattoir opened in 1913 and was the major employer in the town, closing in 1985.

The overland telegraph was also part of the town’s history, linking it with a Perth established in 1889. The Wyndham Wireless Station was built in 1914, assisting ships to enter the port and playing a part in World War I.

An 800m trail with information signage leads visitors up Telegraph Hill and through the ruins of buildings that once housed station workers.

The town also played a part in aviation history. In 1935 it was home to the first Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service, which later became the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Visitors can walk or drive the Wyndham Port Heritage Trail, visit the museum and see the Afghan Cemetery where some of the regions cameleers were buried, the Bend Cemetery, the resting place of men who died during the construction of the meatworks, and the Gully Cemetery, where some of the region’s pioneers were buried.

See the visitor centres in Wyndham or Kununurra for more information.

Argyle Downs

Anyone that has read Mary Durack’s classic Kings in Grass Castles will understand some of the trials and tribulations of pastoral life for the Durack family. Visitors to the Argyle Downs Homestead Museum at Lake Argyle can discover more about the pioneering family’s history within the former Durack stone home.

Kununurra Visitor Centre has more information on the museum.

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