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The Pilbara is a region of northern W.A. known mostly for mining and beef production.

The name was originally spelled with two 'r's. It is believed to have originated from the Aboriginal word for mullet (a type of fish) and was given to a tributary of Yule River, Pilbarra Creek. The creek was apparently a good place to catch mullet.

The Pilbara is almost two and a half times bigger than the state of Victoria. It contains the deepest gorges and highest peaks in W.A. Mt Bruce is the 2nd highest at 1235 metres and Mt Meharry at 1245 metres is the highest. Apparently you can drive a 4wd vehicle to the top of Mt. Meharry.

The area may seem desolate and hostile to some people but it is one of our favourite areas in the whole of Australia. It has a more subdued landscape than the Kimberley but there is something about the wide flat land and the sculpted hills that we find most attractive.

Settlement of the Pilbara region.

Walter Padbury  and D. Macperson chartered the ship Tien Tsin and sent it north loaded with sheep, cattle and horses. Charles Nairn was appointed Manager and on the 23rd of April 1863 the party sailed north to establish a pastoral station at Nichol (Nickol) Bay.

Peter Hedland (aboard the Mystery) had only just discovered Butcher's Inlet (named after the harbour Master at Albany and later to be called Tien Tsin and then Cossack) so Nairn decided on this area as the landing place for his stock and supplies. A camp on the Harding River known as Dig Down was established and Padbury returned to Fremantle to organise another shipment of stock and supplies.

Meanwhile Nairn journeyed overland to the De Grey River and found a good location to establish the sheep run. When the second shipment of stock arrived all the stock was driven overland to the new location and work on establishing the station began.

Initial relations with the local Aborigines appeared to be peaceful but when they realised that the whites were there to stay a plot was hatched to invite the new arrivals to a corroboree and then attack them and wipe them out. The plot went wrong when Charles Nairn was knocked down and the incident was seen by a station hand who alerted the rest of the party who quickly armed themselves and went to Nairn's aid.

The settlers then organised a punitive raid to teach the Aborigines a 'lesson they would never forget.' Few details of this raid have emerged but it must have been very lethal as from that time onward, the De Grey Aborigines never again attacked the station.

Wool prices did not remain high and when Charles Nairn drowned with 42 other passengers aboard the Emma en-route to Fremantle in March 1867, Padbury decided to withdraw his stock from the north west in 1868.

Padbury's initial success encouraged John Wellard to try a similar venture. He appointed William Shakespeare Hall as Manager as Hall had been part of the Gregory expedition and had knowledge of the area the station was to be established in.

Like Padbury, Wellard eventually gave up and sold out to Burgess.

Next came J. Orkney (a Victorian) who sent a shipload of stock and supplies on board the Aurifera with L.L. Mount as manager. After arriving, Mount and Mackay organised an exploration east toward the De Grey River but underestimated the harsh conditions for travelling. They were caught without water and their horses wandered away during the night leaving them on foot. Mackay could not continue so Mount set off after the horses and luckily was able to overtake them.

He returned for Mackay and went west to the Yule River only to find he had missed the pool. Luckily the pair found an Aboriginal well and eventually made it to the De Grey to select land for the station.

By the time Padbury was abandoning the north west, Mount Orkney and Smith also gave up their holdings, sending the remaining sheep to Roebourne for sale.

In 1864 John and Emma Withnell arrived aboard the Sea Ripple and founded Mount Welcome Station after finding fresh water upstream from Cossack.

In February 1865, Knight, Taylor and Lockyer sent a shipment of sheep north under the management of W.A. Taylor. They were given a great deal of assistance by Hall and Withnell and established a run at Table Hill. After 4 years the partnership dissolved and the assets were divided up. George Lockyer took charge of his father's sheep and was able to increase stock numbers from around 700 to over 20,000.

On April 1st 1865 the Tien Tsin arrived at Cossack with a 53 people who had abandoned Camden HarbourCamden Harbour. Among them was Edward Hooley who, with T.C. Murray, took the time to explore the Nichol Bay area before returning south.

The Maria Roso with 1000 sheep aboard, arrived at Cossack shortly after the Tien Tsin. The ship had been chartered by the Portland Bay Pastoral Association. Like so many other attempts to settle the north west this one was also wound up after three years and the stock divided among the partners. It was decided to try and drive the sheep overland to Champion Bay (Geraldton) but as the party neared the Henry River they had a chance meeting with E. T. Hooley who advised them to proceed no further as there was not enough water to allow them to get to Champion Bay. The party turned back to wait at the Fortescue for rain to arrive but none came. Eventually they returned to the De Grey and decided to stay in the area after all. It turned out to be a good decision as good seasons followed and the station they developed was sold some years later for 11,000 pounds.

In April 1865 the barque Douglas arrived at Cossack with more stock from Victoria. This ship had been sent by John Norman Mcleod and she had sailed with almost 2000 sheep on board. Unfortunately the journey had been a rough one and more than half the sheep had died on the way. The rest were in a very weakened state when they were off loaded and in the end only 280 survived. Even though the start of this operation was quite a disaster it eventually prospered.

Next to arrive was the Warrior, chartered by the Denison Plains Association (another Victorian outfit). This ship had originally been bound for Roebuck Bay but a shortage of water in that area led to a change of plans. C.E. Broadhurst was in charge of this shipment and had the sheep off loaded at Cossack on May 10th.

At about the same time the brig Kestrel arrived from Fremantle (chartered by Viveash, Wilkinson and Middleton) with stock bound for Jones' Creek 25 miles east of Roebourne. S. Viveash eventually went on to buy out his partners.

In May 1865, L.L. Mount, A.E. Anderson, T.C. Murray and E.T. Hooley left the Withnell property on an expedition inland along the Harding River. They crossed the Fortescue in the vicinity of Millstream and began looking for a way through the Hamersley Range.

The journey through this range was very difficult as it is criss-crossed with deep ravines. It took the explorers a whole week to cover just 50 miles. The party then followed Duck Creek to the Ashburton River and were threatened by a party of about 50 Aborigines. Firing a shot from a rifle dispersed the attack and the men made it safely back to the Harding.

E.T. Hooley now began looking for a way to overland stock from Champion Bay and despite initially being forced to turn back he tried again and found a way through in 1866. Despite this the following winter saw the start of a severe drought and many people began to lose hope in the north west.

In 1867 when the Emma sank with great loss of life the area was dealt yet another devastating blow. The Emma had been an unlucky ship right from the start and had been involved in a number of accidents before she was eventually lost. Another ship (the schooner Brother) heading north from Fremantle carrying supplies for Cossack was also lost in the same storm and the town gradually began to run out of even the most basic goods. Eventually food had to be rationed and Robert Scholl sent a party ( C. Harper, F. McRae and D. Judge.) overland to Geraldton to organise more food and to raise the alarm about the missing ships.

(For more information on this region follow the links above to the various towns or see Wickham, Onslow, Dampier and Karratha.)






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