City of Karratha

History

The City boasts a comprehensive working local history collection containing maps, plans, documents, photographs, newspapers, ephemera and oral history recordings. These are housed at the Karratha Public Library.

Our local history collection is housed at the Karratha Public Library. For more information please contact the team on 9186 8660 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, or get in touch with the Local History Librarian here.
 

City history

These lands have been occupied by ancestors of the Ngarluma, Yindjibarndi, Martuthunia and Yaburara peoples for more than 30,000 years.
The following information dates from European settlement onward but for more detail about the history of this land prior to 1818 please contact our Local History Librarian.


In 1818, Captain Phillip Parker King was commissioned by the Admiralty to travel to the neighbourhood of Rosemary Island "to discover whether there be any river in that part of the coast likely to lead to an interior navigation into this great continent". King, on the 'Mermaid' arrived in the Dampier Archipelago, named the Intercourse Islands, Lewis and Enderby Islands and Nickol Bay.

Francis Thomas Gregory on the 'Dolphin' arrived at Nickol Bay in 1861, naming Hearson's Cove, the Maitland and Fortescue rivers, the Hamersley Ranges, Mt Samson and Mt Bruce.

Walter Padbury, inspired by reports from the Gregory expedition, decided to start a sheep station on the "uninhabited" north-west coast. His party landed at Tien Tsin, named after the barque captained by J.T Jarman, in 1863, with stock and supplies. Later that same year John Wellard followed this example and the managers of these parties, Charles Nairn and William Shakespeare Hall, are remembered as the pioneers of the north west.

John and Emma Withnell arrived in April 1864, travelled overland up the Harding River until they arrived at Yeera-Muk-A-Doo Pool and camped at the base of a hill, which Emma named Mount Welcome.

More settlers, some associated with the Denison Plains Association, the Portland Squatting Company and the Camden Harbour Pastoral Association, arrived, and in 1865 Government officials from the failed Camden Harbour settlement, including Resident Magistrate R.J Sholl, received orders to transfer the Government establishment to Tien Tsin.

Sholl recommended Tien Tsin as a port and chose a town site at Mount Welcome, the place taken up by the Withnells. Roebourne was named after the Surveyor General J.S. Roe, and was proclaimed a township 17 August 1866.

The District of Nickol Bay, defined as "All that portion North of a due East and West line from the mouth of the Murchison River" was gazetted in 1871 and in July of that year the first election of members of the District of Nickol Bay was held; members elected being:

  • Frederick Pearse - Chairman
  • A.R. Richardson
  • F. McRae
  • H.H. Hicks
  • A. McRae
  • H.W. Venn
  • S.H. Viveash

After Governor Weld's visit in 1871-1872, Tien Tsin was re-named Cossack, the name of the vessel the governor travelled on being H.M.S. 'Cossack'

In 1887 the Roads District of Nickol Bay was abolished and the Roebourne Roads Board District gazetted. The Towns of Roebourne and Cossack were proclaimed as Municipalities.

Over time the area of the Roebourne Roads Board was reduced to form various other Road Districts, including Ashburton, Tableland and Port Hedland.

Roebourne Municipal Council was dissolved in 1906 and included in the Roebourne Roads Board and in 1910 the Town of Cossack was abolished.

East, West and Central wards were gazetted in 1914 and in 1916 the number of members for each ward allocated.

The Roebourne Roads Board became the Shire of Roebourne in 1961 and in 1971 the area of the shire was reduced to 5900 square miles, including Roebourne, Cossack, Whim Creek, Point Samson, Wickham, Karratha and Dampier and the stations Karratha, Mardie, Mt Welcome, Woodbrook, Warambie, Pyramid, Sherlock, Mallina and Cooya Pooya.

With the beginning of the iron ore industry in the early 1960s, Dampier was chosen as the Port for Hamersley Iron's operations and this signaled the beginning of major development in the shire. With the introduction of jet aircraft, regular passenger flights to the unsealed Roebourne airport were discontinued and in 1966 Hamersley Iron constructed a sealed airport, then the Dampier Airport.

Planning for the construction of Karratha began in 1968 and land was excised from Karratha Station pastoral lease. Wickham's first permanent buildings were begun in 1970 and from this time the Shire of Roebourne was faced with increasing responsibilities.

In December 1970 the Minister for Local Government recommended that all councillors resign and that a Commissioner be appointed, the rationale being that a Commissioner would be more able to obtain financial assistance from the State Government. The Ratepayers Association of the time wanted council to defer the decision until the government could assure them that:

  1. The centre for the shire would remain at Roebourne, and
  2. Roebourne would be able to develop without interference by the government

The Shire Councillors resigned in January 1971 and Mr WG Klenk was appointed as Commissioner. Mr PJ Carly succeeded him in July 1972.

Karratha became the administrative centre for the Shire of Roebourne in 1975 when Shire offices were relocated to Welcome Road.

The Commissioner remained in place until elections of councillors were held in May 1976.

On 1 July 2014 the Shire of Roebourne became the City of Karratha.