Km from Perth
Mount Welcome, Point Samson,
Honeymoon Cove, Cossack, Settler's Beach, Harding Dam,
River, Cape Lambert, Wickham, Port Walcott.
Buildings of note:
Post Office 1887, Hospital 1887, Holy Trinity
church 1894, Mt. Welcome House 1880s, Former Union Bank 1888.
Calendar of events
May: Tourism and hospital day, Roebourne Races.
June: Ladies Day, Roebourne Races. July: Roebourne Cup. August:
Cossack art award.
Holy Trinity Church
Mt. Welcome House
Iron ore railway
Iron ore train
Phillip Parker King explored the
coast in 1818 and named Nichol Bay. Later in 1861
Francis Gregory arrived on the
Walter Padbury and John Wellard
landed on the coast in 1863 with stock and supplies and were followed in
1864 by John and
Emma Withnell (aboard the Sea Ripple) who founded Mount
Welcome Station after finding fresh water upstream from Cossack.
While Padbury and Wellard had been the first to arrive but they had both
departed within five years and it was to be John and Emma Withnell and their
relations who would stay to open up the area.
The Withnells had an uncomfortable and potentially deadly introduction to
the north west when, on their near arrival at DeGrey, a violent storm drove
their ship ashore on a high tide and it was damaged by rocks. Stock was
unloaded and in the time it took to get the ship re-floated, many sheep had
wandered off or had died from drinking salt water. When the ship was patched
and re-floated it sailed back to Tien Tsin Harbour which was to become their
home by accident. The Withnells lost around 150 sheep which was a huge blow.
William Shakespere Hall
was near the landing when the Withnells arrived and
wrote the following about their arrival:
‘Withnell poor fellow, was all done in and the women and children were
landed in the boiling heat without breakfast or a drop of water, the poor
little children were crying for some.’
Emma Withnell (nee Hancock) was a cousin of F.T. Gregory who had explored
the area and later recommended it to Emma as a good place to settle and
raise livestock. One can only wonder what she thought on her arrival.
The town was named after
Roe (surveyor general.) The Aboriginal name for the area was
Yeeramukadoo meaning place of figs – wild bush figs were plentiful along
sections of the Harding River.
It is the oldest town on the north west coast. The townsite was declared in
1866 and gazetted in 1871.
Early life here was very tough and women often had to run the homestead on
their own when the men were away tending to stock. Emma Withnell told the
following story in her diary:
“After I had put my dear little ones to bed, I tried to read, but I could
not settle down to my book. The dogs kept up a continual barking, and I
thought that wild bush natives were camped nearby. Perhaps, I thought, they
had seen my husband riding away that morning, and were planning to attack
the homestead. Pulling aside the curtains to the kitchen window, I peered
out. To my horror there was a black figure about a chain away from the
house. I kept a rifle in the corner of the room, and I rushed over, seized
and loaded it. Returning I opened the window, slipped the barrel of the
rifle through and called out: ‘Go away or I’ll fire’. In the dim light the
figure took on a menacing attitude, and appeared to move its head in a
sinister way. ‘Go away, go away,’ I screamed again. Then I pressed the
trigger. I knew I had hit the object, but it still remained upright. Seizing
a hurricane lantern, I ran out to investigate. To my relief the ‘wild bush
native’ about to attack us was a dress and hat I had hung to dry on the
In fact, far from having any problems with the local Aborigines, Emma
Withnell befriended them and tended many when they fell ill. She became
known as ‘Medicine woman’ and for 40 years she was to remain in the north
west. Finally at age 86 she died near Perth and is buried in the Guildford
In 1887 the Nickol (Nichol appears to be the correct spelling as the district of Nichol
Bay was gazetted on January 25th 1871) Bay District was
abolished and the town of Cossack, Municipality of Roebourne and Roebourne
Road Board District were gazetted. In 1910 the town of
Cossack and the Municipality of Roebourne were
dissolved and amalgamated with the Roebourne Road Board. In 1914 Wards were
gazetted, West Ward, East Ward and Central Ward. The number of members for
these Wards were allocated in 1916, West Ward 2, East Ward 2 and Central
Due to the high cost of transporting livestock by sea (fees as high as 13/-
a head for sheep were charged) there was a great need to open up an inland
stock route to the south.
The first person to attempt this was
Timothy Hooley who left Newcastle (Toodyay)
on November 8th 1865 looking for a way to reach the north west. His first
attempt failed but on his second expedition he found a way through and this
was to become an important stock route for moving stock to and from the
north west coast.
Over a period of time the area was reduced to form the various other Road
Districts, including Ashburton,
Tableland etc. Until in 1971 the area of Council was reduced to 5900 square
miles. The area included the towns of Roebourne, Cossack,
Wickham and Stations; Mardie, Karratha, Mt
Welcome, Woodbrook, Warambie, Pyramid, Sherlock, Mallina and Cooya Pooya.
The Boards operations continued on a small scale of maintaining roads and
services. The Board changed names to the Shire of Roebourne in 1961. It was
not until the iron ore activities commenced that the Shire began to grow.
Archaeological dating of the area, indicates that Aborigines have inhabited
the Region for at least 20,000 years. Roebourne was developed on land which
falls within the boundaries of the Ngaluma tribal country. The Ngaluma
inhabited the "flood country" from the Maitland River in the West, to the
Peewah River in the East, an area of approximately 6,400 square kilometres.
To the early Europeans, the Pilbara seemed harsh and inhospitable. The
traditional Natives thrived on the natural resources, which they found in
abundance. Kangaroos, emu and goanna were hunted, fish were speared by men
and shellfish collected by women and children. A variety of native plants
constituted a significant part of the Aboriginal diet. The wood from the
river gum was used for making clubs and amongst its roots could be found
The first settlers in the area employed the Ngaluma people as shepherds and
labourers in exchange for tobacco, flour and goods. A shortage of supplies
and a severe drought from 1864 - 1866 caused the settlers to rely heavily on
fish and game supplied to them by the Aboriginals. With the rapid
development of the pastoral and pearling industries in the 1800’s, coastal
tribes of the Pilbara suffered dramatic interference with their traditional
cultural life. The alienation from their land, fouling of water holes by
stock and desecration of sacred sights eventually led to violent clashes
The Aboriginal people fared worse in these clashes, and at
least three large scale massacres are said to have taken place. One such
clash became known as the Flying Foam Massacre. Reports exist of the
killing of between 40 and 60 Aboriginals by colonists in retaliation for the
spearing to death of a Police Constable (W. Griffiths), his Aboriginal Assistant
(Peter) and two
pearlers (another source says one pearler - called Jermyn was missing
presumed killed). Accounts we have found show that these figures are hugely
exaggerated and in fact only 3 Aborigines were shot and killed near the
mouth of the Maitland River and 4 arrested with two of those being
imprisoned for the murders.
Soon after the sheep arrived the colonists found pearl shell, and the rush
that followed saw the Dampier Archipelago and Cossack became one of the
largest pearling centres in the world. Because the Colonial Government would
not allow convicts to be shipped up North, the Aboriginals were pressed as
shell gatherers in the shallow waters along the coast. With the depletion of
the easily accessible stock the Aboriginal men, women and children were used
as forced labour to dive for shells from the pearling boats. Aboriginals
from neighbouring tribes were also recruited for the pearling industry.
Local tribal members were taken out of the area to other pearling grounds.
By 1869 labour for the pearling boats was scarce, pearlers and
"entrepreneurs" sailed along the coast as far South as the Ashburton River
and North to the DeGrey River recruiting Aborigines to work as divers. In
many cases if inducement failed, the Aboriginals were kidnapped, chained and
marched to the coast. Once aboard the pearling boats, they may have been
transported to pearling grounds hundreds of kilometres away and abandoned
there at the end of the pearling season.
Introduced European diseases such as Measles and Small Pox claimed the lives
of many Natives. The remaining survivors were forced to work on Pastoral
leases in exchange for food and clothing. This gave the Aboriginals an
opportunity to remain in touch with their traditional land and to protect
their sacred places.
In the 1930’s, Aboriginals from neighbouring tribes were moved into a
Reserve in Roebourne. Injibandi, Banjima, Gurrama and Marduthunia were all
mixed together. This, together with other tribal people who moved to the
coastal European settlements from inland regions weakened the Ngaluma social
structure even further.
The dominant Aboriginal language group living in Roebourne today are the
Injibandi, while there are many Ngaluma, Banjima and Gurrama speakers, it is
Injibandi language and cultural influence that prevail. There are no
surviving members of the Jaburara tribe alive today, their engravings and
sites are the only remaining evidence of their existence.
Despite their tragic history, the indigenous people of the area are now
achieving the re-establishment of their cultural and traditional links with
the land, the Elders efforts of re-connecting their grandchildren to their
roots through cultural revival is giving the community a vision of a
positive future for their people.
If you turn off highway one towards the coast at Roebourne you will find
Cossack, Wickham and Point Samson only a few kilometres away.
The old Roebourne gaol was constructed in 1896 and was used mainly to
‘control’ the local native population. The Master & Servant Act was used to
punish Aborigines by imprisoning those who absconded from work. In many
cases the Aboriginal people were tricked into signing contracts which then
could be used to enforce a system of slave labour.
It was the appalling treatment of the Aborigines in the north west (mostly
by pearling lugger Masters) and the abduction and rape of Aboriginal girls
and women by both settlers and pearling crews that was to lead to the high
number of Europeans attacked and killed by Aboriginal tribes in the area.
Europeans could beat Aborigines, burn them, whip them and even on occasions
kill them and only the most minimal punishments (if any at all) were handed
When he was appointed Resident Magistrate in Roebourne, Edward Angelo tied
to stop the abuse but was met by a wall of indifference and resistance both
from local settlers and by the Governor in Perth.
In frustration he went over the Governor’s head, directly to the Secretary
of State for the Colonies in London. This breach of etiquette led to Angelo
being transferred to Bunbury and then almost immediately moved on to the
Aboriginal prison at Rottnest.
While this was a set back for Angelo, it was a boon to the Aboriginal
prisoners who Angelo treated with respect. He made sure they were fed
properly and even campaigned for reductions in their sentences.
Angelo always believed that it was unjust for Aborigines to be judged by a
system they could not understand. He retired to Fremantle and died in 1902.
On May 1st 1946 there was a co-ordinated strike by Aborigines working on
stations through out the Pilbara. European stockmen were earning $3-$5 a
week while Aborigines were receiving 60c - $1.50 and the Aboriginal workers
were now asking for a minimum of $3 a week. Station owners objected that
Aboriginal workers did not work 8 hours days unless it was shearing time and
that the stations also paid for food and clothing for the workers families
that lived on the station. Some stations were already paying higher wages
and these were exempt from the strike. Many Aborigines simply walked off the
stations never to return. The dispute dragged on in places until 1949 by
which time most stations were paying the $3 a week rate but the strike left
much bad feeling in the region for many years afterward.
The old Roebourne gaol closed in 1924 but due to increasing population it
was re-opened in 1973 and remained in use until 1984. The new gaol (located
just a few kilometres from the original) is ultra-modern and its inmates are
still mostly Aboriginal which shows that even in the 21st Century we haven't
come very far from the 'bad old days'.
Twenty seven kilometres south of Roebourne is the Harding Dam. There is a
pleasant recreation area at the foot of the dam wall but the water needs
flushing out a bit more often in the dry season.
Roebourne for a long time had a dirty run-down feel to it but we have noticed some
efforts being made (2005-6) to tidy things up and make it a little more
Despite the fact that the municipality is still known as the Shire of
Roebourne, all major facilities are now located at Karratha.
Tall tales & true: Unsolved murder.
On the morning of January 13th 1885 the badly beaten bodies of
(Clerk) were found at the recently constructed
Union Bank (this was a different building to the one that exists today and
was in a different location.)
The sloppy investigation and lack of attention to these murders by the
authorities led to claims that there had been an official cover up.
After complaints about the lack of action by Burrup’s father, a reward of
500 pounds and a free pardon for any accomplice not actually involved in the
murder were offered but with no result.
There certainly must have been a lot of suspicion about who was responsible
for it was said that the murderer died some time later in Singapore. Another
possibility was raised by prospector F.W.P. Cammelleri when a German by the
name of Frank Hornig, visited his camp on the
Halls Creek goldfield one
night. The subject of the murders in Roebourne came up and Hornig was very
dismissive of police efforts and Cammelleri became suspicious. Soon after
Hornig left, a party came through looking for the German as he was wanted
for the murder of two men on the goldfield. Hornig was eventually captured
and executed for the killings but no concrete proof of his involvement in
the killing of Burrup and Anketell emerged.
Henry Burrup was remembered in the naming of the Burrup Peninsula. For a
more detailed account of the murders and the circumstances surrounding them
and the subsequent trial visit Frances Yeo's excellent website
Iron tour of Cape Lambert loading facility.
The tour was
very good. We were taken round on an air conditioned bus and shown the old
settlement at Cossack, then out to Robe River's operations at Cape Lambert.
The loading facility there is huge, and the ore jetty is the second
longest/highest in the southern hemisphere.
The tour can be booked at the Roebourne tourist info office - where the mini
bus will pick you up. The main complaint we have is that there is a
mandatory 'donation' required which is not a donation at all it is just a
fee. If a fee is going to be charged then call it a fee not a donation! This
is blatant false advertising and should be stopped.