Derby is notable for having one of the widest tidal variations in the world (second only to a bay in Nova Scotia) and for the 'prison boab tree'.
Father McNab (an early visitor to the town) called it, 'A hot, ugly little trading post.' It seems that things may have changed over the years because
now the town is neat and attractive. The mud flats leave something to be desired but the town itself is very pleasant.
The town jetty holds the promise of mud crabs and fish but is inhabited by swarms of biting midges which make life unbearable. How the locals can stand it is beyond me.
As the highest point in town is a mere 20 metres above sea level and the tidal range is around 10 metres, it will be one of the first towns to feel the effects of global
warming if there is any appreciable rise in sea levels.
The town is located on King's Sound which was visited by the English buccaneer
in 1688. Dampier must have had a good publicist as his is the name most closely linked with the early exploration of the north coast.
In fact the leader of the first expedition was the almost forgotten Captain Read.
Dampier wrote in his book 'A new Voyage around the World':
'The inhabitants of the Country, are the miserablest people in the world. The Hodmadods or Monomatapa, though a nasty people, yet for wealth are gentlemen
to these; who have no houses and skin garments, sheep, poultry, and fruits of the Earth, Ostrich eggs as the Hodmadods have and setting aside their human shape,
they differ but little from brutes. They are tall, strait-bodied, and thin, with small long limbs. They have great heads, round foreheads, and great brows. Their eye-lids
are always half closed, to keep the flies out of their eyes; they being so troublesome here, that no fanning will keep them from coming to ones face and without the
assistance of both hands to keep them off, they will creep into ones nostrils and mouth too, if the lips are not shut very close. So that from their infancy being thus
annoyed with these Insects, they do never open their Eyes, as other People and therefore they cannot see far; unless they hold up their Heads, as if they were
looking at somewhat over them.'
This European view was as usual, very uninformed and condescending.
The first overland expedition to the area was undertaken in 1879 by
The town site was gazetted in 1883 and the town was named after
Edward Henry Stanley
(Lord Derby), Secretary of State for the Colonies.
In 1883 a shipment of wool waiting on the mudflats for shipment was swept away by a tidal wave originating from the volcanic eruption at Krakatoa.
A jetty was constructed in 1894 (another source states 1885) which was just in time for the gold rush at Halls Creek.
In 1886 the ship Triumph arrived with a number of hopeful prospectors aboard. One man was quite ill and the local doctor suspected scarlet fever.
Initially the resident magistrate wanted the passengers quarantined on the ship for 8 days but the passengers would have none of it. They agreed instead
to stay in a marked off area out of town as long as they were brought food and water.
By 8am the following morning, when no food had turned up, the 300 passengers simply walked into town and the quarantine was over after just one night.
As there was no outbreak of sickness immediately following this, there had been no need for separating the men in the first place.
The gold rush brought not only people but services to the town. The Kimberley's first hotel opened, the telegraph was
connected to Perth, the town established a newspaper and a courthouse was built, all before 1890.
In 1921 Major Norman Brearley and
Charles Kingsford Smith
flew into Derby bringing the first airmail delivery in a Bristol Tourer.
In 1955 the Royal Flying Doctor Service opened a base in Derby and by 1960 the first Boab Festival was held.
The new concrete and steel jetty was completed in 1964 costing 1 million pounds.
It was not until 1983 that the town got its first automatic telephone exchange and in 1988 the Curtin RAAF base opened south of the town.
The Koolama incident.
The Koolama was one of three state ships that sailed the north west coast bringing supplies and providing a passenger service to and from Perth.
On February 19th 1942 the Koolama left Derby bound for Wyndham. On the way she passed her sister ship Koolinda on the way south.
In the late morning of February 20th a Japanese flying boat spotted the Koolama and attacked dripping 5 bombs. Luckily all the bombs missed.
Later that afternoon three flying boats flew in and started bombing runs. A total of 18 bombs fell and the ship was struck toward the stern.
The engine room was hit but somehow everyone on board had escaped being killed. There were a number of injuries (one serious) but the attack could have been much worse.
An S.O.S. was sent out and because the ship was badly damaged the captain decided to beach the ship in a large bay now known as Koolama Bay.
140 passengers, soldiers and crew were taken to a cove (later named Calamity Cove) about 3 miles from the ship. The next day another Jap plane
appeared and attacked the ship but failed to hit it.
On February 24th a lugger arrived and evacuated 14 sick and injured people as well as dropping off supplies for those still on the beach.
On February 25th 28 passengers, 11 soldiers and 2 Aboriginal guides started an overland trek to Drysdale Mission. A second party of 23 passengers,
31 crew and more Aboriginal guides left soon afterwards to walk the 75 kilometres.
There were still 10 passengers and 34 crew at Calamity Cove as well as 28 crew members repairing the ship.
On March 1st the Koolama was seaworthy enough to sail and even though her steering was still badly damaged she headed south to Wyndham.
The overland groups reached the Drysdale River but could not cross due to a raging flood. An Aboriginal and a soldier swam the flooded river and the
Aborigine set off to Drysdale Mission for ropes and supplies. Two days later a party arrived and after 4 hours got all 90 people across river. It was still
30 kilometres to Drysdale Mission but by the following day everyone had arrived safely.
Meanwhile Wyndham Port became the target for a Japanese attack and the Koolama, which was till tied p the the wharf had to be abandoned.
Without the use of the pumps she gradually took on more water and eventually finally capsized and sank.
On March 3rd some of the remaining people waiting at Calamity Cove were taken out by seaplane. An air raid on Broome prevented the seaplane
from returning the next day and the last 19 survivors had to wait patiently for another 3 days for a lugger to get in and rescue them. It took another
5 days for everyone to get to safety.
2 weeks after the bombing of the Koolama all passengers and crew had been safely taken to Wyndham, Drysdale Mission, Kalumburu
or Broome. All were eventually evacuated south out of the danger zone.
After the war the Koolama was moved out away from the wharf where she sank down into the deep mud. Today she is completely covered
by mud and is not a hazard to ships in the area.
TALL TALES AND TRUE
In the remote Kimberley it was once common for most people to try and fix their own medical problems before radioing for help from the
Royal Flying Doctor Service. One such instance of this was a station owner by the name of Finch
who had a very bad case of piles. He was looking for some way to relieve the pain when his eyes lighted on the spare 5KA 6V6 fuse that
was sitting on top of the radio set. He inserted it part way and finding that it helped with the pain seems to have pushed things a bit too far and the fuse slipped inside.
It proved impossible to get it back out, but now he had another problem, the radio was an open frequency and anyone who had their set
turned on would hear what he had done. He called the RFDS at Derby and spoke to Dr. Holman but was very reluctant to let on exactly
what the problem was. Eventually the Doctor persuaded him to fill in the details and Finch was brought in by plane and the offending item
removed, cleaned and returned to its owner.
Of course the news got around and Finch was known as 5KA Finch through out the Kimberley from that time on.
Windjana Gorge, The Buccaneer Archipelago, Cockatoo Island, Talbot Bay, Walcott Inlet, Prince Regent River,
Prison Boab tree, Town Jetty, The Centenary Pavilion, Wharfingers House Museum, Derby Pioneer Cemetery,
Botanical Gardens, Myall's Bore and Cattle Trough, Frostys Pool, Joonjoo Botanical Trail, Derby (Waste Water)
Wetland, Kimberley School of the Air.
BUILDINGS OF NOTE
Old Derby Gaol.
State : Kimberley
Federal : Durack
Postcode : 6728
Local Government : Shire of Derby / West Kimberley