Geraldton, or more accurately, the City of Greater Geraldton, is, at the time of writing, W.A.'s second largest regional centre behind Bunbury
and in front of Kalgoorlie and Albany.
The area is said to average 8 hours of sunshine a day, although almost every time I have been there it has rained. One wag even suggests that it is West Australia's
most popular winter resort - he must work for the local Visitor Centre! Geraldton actually suffers similar weather to Perth in winter and it is necessary to go north to
Carnarvon to get better weather.
The country north of Geraldton becomes hilly and small ridges continue for many miles. The scenery here is striking, and in spring is a photographer's delight.
Also north of Geraldton is a campsite called Coronation Beach. There is a small fee charged to stay there and there is a time
limit of 30 days in any one year.
Drummond Cove just north of Geraldton was once known as Smuggler's Cove. It was a place where bootleg booze was landed and carted away for sale to avoid Government duty.
If Geraldton is famous for one thing it would have to be for the production of the best tasting tomatoes in Australia. The growing of tomatoes in the area dates all the way back
to 1868 and many local varieties have been developed over the years. Few people pass through Geraldton without stopping to get a bag or two of the local tomatoes.
Much of the coast north and south of Geraldton produces possibly the most valuable single species of seafood in the whole of Australia; the Western rock lobster.
It is estimated that this single species accounts for fully one fifth of revenue earned from all of Australia's seafood species. The 'lobster' is actually a crayfish
but the new name was given to avoid confusion in the American market with crawfish.
Lobsters have been known to migrate as far as 300 kilometres and have lived in captivity for almost 30 years. The legal size for taking lobsters is 76mm
(carapace length) and these are around 3-4 years old. How this remains sustainable when it is known that females only become sexually mature at around 6 years old remains to be explained.
Off the coast of Geraldton are the Abrolhos Islands which were the scene of a tragic shipwreck in 1629. The Batavia struck Morning Reef.
Captain Pelsaert took the ships boat and 47 survivors along the coast and then up to Batavia (Jakarta).
Meanwhile Jeronimus Cornelisz and his henchmen back on the island terrorised the remaining survivors and murdered 125 of them.
When Pelsaert returned to discover the massacre he had all but two of the mutineers executed. The two who were not executed (Loos and Pelgrom)
may have wished that they had been when they were marooned on the mainland and left to fend for themselves. Nothing was ever heard of them again.
(See First Explorers and settlers for more information.)
The coast in this area had been visited by both Dutch and French explorers, but the first British expedition, led by
Captain Phillip Parker King
- did not arrive until 1822. The next arrivals were somewhat unexpected as they were shipwrecked on the coast in 1839.
Lt. Grey and 12 others made the long journey back to Perth on foot.
The journey was extremely arduous and one party member died before the party reached safety.
The town site was surveyed in 1842 by John Septimus Roe, and the area was settled in 1849.
(Some sources quote the survey was done in 1849.)
The first recorded name for the area was Champion Bay and was then changed to Geraldton in honour
of the colony's governor Sir Charles Fitzgerald.
For a long time there were persistent reports that the town was first called 'Gerald Town' but where this originated we don't know. Champion Bay remains as the name
of the bay and commemorates the schooner Champion (Commander Dring's colonial schooner)that worked as a supply ship that anchored in the bay in 1839.
The schooner was eventually sold for scrap in 1852.
Lead and copper were discovered in the area and a port was built to facilitate exports. In 1879 a rail link to Northampton (where the mine was located)
was completed. By 1894 the rail link went all the way to Midland (just east of Perth).
Shipping goods out of Geraldton could be hazardous because of the number of uncharted reefs in the area. In 1863 the 780 ton African came to grief when she
struck a reef 12 miles out and began taking on water. The ship returned to port but ran aground near the jetty. The ship was carrying over 500 tons of copper and 200
bales of wool. The wool was destroyed and only about 20% of the copper salvaged and this dealt a great blow to the local economy.
The wreck lay in the harbour for some time before it was auctioned off and eventually was broken up and parts used to construct three schooners including the
Lass of Geraldton and the Mary Ann. Each was to finally founder at sea, when the Geraldton Lass sank part owner, Shenton, was on board and he
was drowned in the accident.
The Mayhill was another ship that came to grief in strong winds. The Captain had been looking for two red lights that marked the safe entrance to the bay but he
was unaware that the red lights had been replaced by white lights. The ship ran up onto a reef and although the crew (and the ship's pet pig) were taken off safely,
only 500 tons of the ships 3000 tons of railway line cargo were salvaged.
Other ships wrecked included the Arab (1921), the Stanford (1936) and the Fu Long (1976), an arrested illegal fishing boat that was auctioned
off and refitted in Fremantle only to feature in the ABC TV series Patrol Boat as an illegal fishing boat again.
Reefs were not the only hazards faced by shipping. Severe storms including cyclones could sweep the west coast and in 1872 when a cyclone reached as far south as
Geraldton, shipping was not the only thing in danger. During the storm, a sea surge hit the town and there was as much a five feet of water covering the streets closest to the sea.
An idea was put forward by one captain (whose ship had been damaged in a storm) that Norfolk Island pines be planted in all major ports so that in the event of a ship like his being damaged,
materials would be available to complete repairs. This idea may have literally 'taken root' because many port towns do have pine trees planted along the foreshore.
The only problem was that by the time the trees had grown up the old wooden sailing ships had been supplanted by more modern steel ships and the trees were no longer needed.
Work on a bigger and much safer harbour did not begin until the late 1920s and the work on the harbour was to continue until 1965. In 1931 it became the first reinforced concrete
wharf in W.A. (In the same year the one millionth bag of wheat was exported from the port and was photographed to mark the occasion.) At this stage it was decided to continue
to expand the port and eventually berths four and five were constructed with berth five being officially opened in 1979.
Geraldton was proclaimed a city by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988.
TALL TALES AND TRUE
Until 1910 there was a town in Queensland that was also named Geraldton.
Having two towns with the same name apparently caused the post office no end of headaches and mail was delayed as it was sent
from one side of the country to the other.
The problem lay in people simply addressing their mail to 'Geraldton' without declaring which state it was meant to be in.
With no other option, the post office simply played a game of chance and of course sometimes they sent the mail to
the wrong Geraldton.
This also happened on occasion to shipping consignments and that was a whole new kettle of smelly rotten fish...
The W.A. version of Geraldton pre-dated the Queensland one so when the matter finally came to a head, the decision was made
to change the Queensland Geraldton to Innisfail.
The old name must have had some resonance in Queensland because 55 years later in 1965 a bridge over the North Johnstone River in Innisfail
was named, the Geraldton Bridge.
When the West African registered fishing boat South Tomi was spotted fishing illegally in Australian waters, the Australian authorities gave chase.
After 14 days and 6100 kilometres, the South Tomi was finally caught just 600 kilometres off the coast of Cape Town South Africa.
The vessel had a large catch of Patagonian Toothfish which the Government seized and sold at auction for around $1.4 million dollars.
The captain and crew were sent back to their own countries at the owner's expense and a fine of $136,000 was issued after the captain pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal fishing.
The owners of the vessel did not challenge the seizure of the vessel or its catch and eventually in 2003 the vessel was sold with the idea of turning it into a dive wreck off the coast of Geraldton.
After the internal fittings were removed and the ship made safe for divers to enter it was towed about 6 kilometres off the coast and sunk. This was the second illegal fishing boat to be used in this way.
The Patagonian Toothfish, Dissostichus eleginoides, grows to lengths of two and a half metres and can weigh in at 200 kilograms. It is strongly flavoured and although not caught for sale in
Australia much of the catch ends up in Japan.
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Memorial wishing well, Separation Point Lookout, Mount Tarcoola, Point Moore Lighthouse, Old Gaol, Museum,
Maritime display, Fisherman's Wharf, Francis Xavier Cathedral, Chapman Valley, Abrolhos Islands, Coalseam NP,
Aquarena, HMAS Sydney memorial, Yellow submarine,
Railway Market, Oakabella.
Yellow Submarine - Quick facts.......
The yellow submarine has been sitting on the foreshore in Geraldton for a long time.
It was originally built to catch crayfish but how exactly this was to be done remains a mystery.
It goes without saying that the sub failed to do what it was built for.
There are currently plans to restore and preserve the submarine.
BUILDINGS OF NOTE
Court house, Art gallery (former town hall) 1907, Freemasons Hotel, Visitor centre (former convict depot) 1850, Francis Xavier Cathedral 1916-38, Point Moore Lighthouse.