HEMA Map Reference 78/J1
24° 49' 40" S 113° 46' 08" E
865 Km long
The odd thing about this river is that it mostly flows underground, and only becomes a ‘normal’ river after the rains. It only flows above ground for about one third of each year. It was named by George Grey in 1839 in honour of Captain Gascoyne. Grey was the first European to note that the land near the mouth of the river was promising for agriculture. The river rises in the Robinson Ranges between Newman and Meekatharra.
Grey's journal records the moment he located the river:
'We thus continued running along the coast until we made a large opening which was about three-quarters of a mile across at the mouth. On either side of the entrance was a sandy point, covered with pelicans and wild-fowl who seemed to view our approach with no slight degree of surprise. As yet we did not know the proper entrance to the river (for such it was) so that where we ran into it we had only two feet of water. Three low hills were immediately in front of us, and I afterwards ascertained that the proper course for entering was to steer so as to keep the centre of the opening and the middle hill in the same line.
The opening now widened into a very fine reach, out of which the water was running rapidly, and when we had ascended about a mile I saw large trees, or snags (as they are called by the Americans) sticking up in the bed of the river; as these trees were of a very large size, and evidently had come from a different country to the one we saw upon the river banks, I felt assured that we had now discovered a stream of magnitude, and, the eager expectations which these thoughts awoke in our breasts rendering us all impatient, we hauled down our sail and took to the oars. The bed of the river however became choked with shallows and sandbanks, and when we had ascended it about three miles, the water having shoaled to about six inches, I selected a suitable place for our encampment and prepared to start and explore the country on foot.'
The river is the main source of water for the fruit plantations in Carnarvon even though for around 240 days of the year it appears to be completely dry.
Note: W.A.'s second longest river is the Murchison which is a mere 45 kilometres shorter than the Gascoyne.