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Dampier, WA

Huge port servicing the iron, natural gas and salt mining in the area.

Dampier was designed and constructed by the Hamersley Iron mining company to house workers involved with the port they created to ship out iron ore dug on the Hamersley Range. Surprisingly, for a company town, Dampier is a particularly pretty settlement which nestles on the edge of King Bay and has beaches fringed with palm trees. In spite of the area's low rainfall and high temperatures, the town has an attractive greenness, has a beach frontage with an ocean pool, boat ramps, a boating and sailing club. There are barbecue and picnic facilities near the beaches. Offshore are the islands of the Dampier Archipelago and the Burrup Peninsula is home to the largest collection of petroglyphs in the world.


Dampier is located 1,533 km north of Perth and 21 km north-west of Karratha via the airport.


Origin of Name

The town was constructed and settled as recently as 1965. It was named after the famous English sailor and buccaneer, William Dampier.


Things to See and Do

North West Shelf Project Visitors Centre
The North West Shelf Project Visitors Centre is located on Burrup Peninsula Road approximately 20 km from Karratha. It features viewing areas overlooking the Woodside operated Karratha Gas Plant and is open Monday to Friday (opening times are seasonal), tel: (08) 9158 8292. Admission is free. As well as an excellent view over the works, the Visitors Centre has models and a theatrette where a 15 minute film of the project is screened. The centre looks across at huge domes which hold liquefied natural gas which is shipped to Asia in LNG carriers.

Red Dog
Red Dog was famous in Dampier and the Pilbara long before the hugely successful movie was made. Born in Paraburdoo in 1971 he travelled throughout the entire region from Perth to Broome to Port Hedland. However, his exceptional homing instinct always returned him to Dampier or Karratha. This kelpie/cattledog cross is honoured with an impressive statue at the town's entrance. 

Resources Tour
There is a Resources Tour available in Karratha. It can be booked at the Visitor Information Centre at either Karratha (08 9144 4600) or Roebourne (08 9182 1225). Departing from the Karratha Visitor Centre at 8.30 it includes a visit to historic Roebourne, an inspection of the port at Cape Lambert, a drive through Wickham and a visit to the ghost town that is Cossack. It is an excellent opportunity to see the ship loading operations which are such a vital part of the Pilbara's coastal activity. Check out http://www.karrathavisitorcentre.com.au for bookings.

Tours of the Dampier Archipelago
There is a helicopter company - Helispirit (check out http://www.helispirit.com.au/dampier-archipelago-and-karratha-helicopter-flights) which offers helicopter flights out of Karratha. There is a relatively short flight which includes Nickol Bay and Hearson's Cove; another up the Burrup Peninsula and another which goes out across the Dampier Peninsula Islands.  All flights can include an Aboriginal rock art tour organised by Ngurrangga Tours - it is an ideal way to experience the petroglyphs on the Burrup Peninsula. For more information tel: 1800 841 611 or check out http://www.helispirit.com.au/dampier-archipelago-and-karratha-helicopter-flights

Ngurrangga Tours
The Aboriginal-led tours of the area around Dampier and Karratha are highly recommended. They are run by Clinton Walker who, as the website explains, "started Ngurrangga Tours to educate and immerse people in the ways of his culture and history so that they could understand more about Pilbara Aboriginal culture and country. ​Ngurrangga Tours mostly operates from Karratha and offers visitors a unique experience of the Pilbara through the eyes of a traditional owner. Guests are given the opportunity to learn about bush foods and medicines, explore stunning locations, view and understand ancient rock art in the world's largest outdoor rock art gallery, hear traditional stories and listen to traditional songs sung using the wirra (boomerang)." There are a number of tours including a bush tucker tour, a day tour to the Millstream-Chichester National Park and a three day tour. In the immediate area around Dampier there is the Rock Art Tour to the Burrup Peninsula which is explained as "the highest concentration of rock art in the world and rediscover the petroglyphs (rock art) created by the Yaburrara (Northern Ngarluma) people. The rock art has been dated back to before the ice age ended and is approx. over 40,000 years old and there is up to 1 million rock art images scattered across the entire Burrup Peninsula and Dampier Archipelago." For more information, and online booking, check out http://www.ngurrangga.com.au/tours.html

Background to the North West Shelf Project
This is an abridged and condensed version of the North West Shelf Project brochure. For a full version check out http://www.woodside.com.au/Our-Business/Producing/Documents/NWSV%20Corporate%20Brochure.PDF
“Representing an investment of more than A$34 billion, the North West Shelf Project is Australia’s largest oil and gas development and currently accounts for about one third of Australia’s oil and gas production. The North West Shelf (NWS) Project is a joint venture between six major international companies. 
“It is one of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers, supplying oil and gas to Australian and international markets from huge offshore gas and condensate fields in the Carnarvon Basin off the north-west coast of Australia. 
“The NWS Project is Western Australia’s largest single producer of pipeline gas and this world-class project has been and continues to be a major contributor to the Australian economy. 
“The NWS Project has delivered more than 4000 LNG cargoes since 1989. The NWS Project is operated by Woodside. The six participants in the project are: • BHP Billiton Petroleum, BP Developments, Chevron Australia, Japan Australia LNG (MIMI), Shell Australia, Woodside Energy. The China National Offshore Oil Corporation is also a participant in the NWS Project but does not have an interest in its infrastructure. 
“The NWS Project started in the 1970s with the discovery of vast quantities of natural gas and condensate off the north-west coast of Australia. In 1980, the first major works commenced on this landmark project including the condensate load out jetty, the North Rankin A offshore platform and a 135 kilometre subsea pipeline to shore. 
“Pipeline gas production began in 1984 followed by the first shipment to Japan in 1989. 
“The principal NWS Project oil and gas fields are located approximately 125 kilometres north-west of Karratha, Western Australia in water depths ranging between 80 and 131 metres, covering a total area of 3,134 square kilometres. The Perseus field is an important long term gas supply for the NWS Project and represents about one third of current gas resources. Other producing fields include North Rankin, Goodwyn, Angel, Searipple, Cossack, Wanaea, Lambert and Hermes. Undeveloped gas reserves include Wilcox, Dockrell, Lambert Deep, Pemberton, Lady Nora, Keast, Dixon and Gaea.”

The Port and the Trains from the Mining Towns
Dampier is the largest tonnage port in Australia and the second largest bulk export port in the world. In 2015-2016 the total throughput was 172,999,289 tonnes on a total of 4,209 vessels. Its exports were 82.13% iron ore, 12.44% liquified natural gas and 2.21% salt. The port exists on roads which are not available to the public. The best views can be had by simply driving along The Esplanade. The ships can be seen loading. It is also possible to see the huge trains which bring iron ore to the port from the Dampier Lookout which is over the road from the Red Dog Memorial. Head down the "private road" and there is a car parking bay and a lookout over the railway line.

The Beach
In 2016 the City of Karratha, of which Dampier is part, spent $2 million upgrading the facilities on the town's main beach. The beach is the leisure centre of Dampier. It has an ocean pool, shaded seating, boat ramps, a boating and sailing club, an esplanade, barbecue and picnic facilities and a permanent movie screen at Hampton Oval. Palm trees have been planted along the foreshore giving it a very tropical feel.


Other Attractions in the Area

Dampier Salt Pans
The road from Karratha (and the North West Coastal Highway) out to Dampier runs through desert landscapes and at one point runs for kilometres beside the huge salt pans which are part of the Dampier Salt Company's activities.
The Dampier operation (now part of mining giant Rio Tinto) was established in 1967 and currently produces 4.2 million tonnes per annum. The company explains "The total area under evaporation at Dampier Salt Limited (DSL) salt operations is 19,500 hectares, equivalent to 27,900 football  fields. The three sites evaporate an average of 1.1 billion litres of water a day, enough to  fill 18,000 domestic swimming pools. Sun and wind energy comprise around 99 per cent of the total energy required to grow, process and ship DSL salt ... At the Dampier operation salt is produced by evaporation of seawater, by means of energy from the sun and assisted by the wind. Seawater flows through a series of concentration ponds in which the salinity is progressively increased. When this brine is saturated with sodium chloride, it is pumped into crystallising ponds where the sodium chloride will crystallise as a pure solid deposit. The solid material is then recovered, processed and shipped to customers. It takes about 50 million tonnes of seawater to produce one million tonnes of salt ... DSL’s salt customers are in Asia and the Middle East. The majority are chemical companies who use salt as feedstock for the production of chlorine and caustic soda, together known as chlor-alkali production. These are used in the manufacture of many chemicals and downstream products including alumina and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). DSL salt products are also used as food salt and for general purposes including road de-icing." DSL was formed in 1967, started operations in 1971, and most of its workforce now live in Karratha. Check out http://www.riotinto.com/documents/Dampier_Salt_Facts_at_a_glance.pdf for more details. There is no access to the mountains of salt which can be seen across Hampton Harbour.

Dampier Archipelago
Dampier promotes itself as the 'Gateway to the Dampier Archipelago'. This collection of 42 uninhabited islands, rocks and keys feature unspoiled sandy beaches, excellent diving, fishing and snorkelling opportunities and offshore coral reefs. Ranging in size from one hectare to 3290 ha (Enderby). All lie within a 45-km radius of Dampier. Twenty five of the islands are conservation reserves. Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill and Flatback turtles nest there and the islands are also home to 26 bird species, including a couple of tern species which use them for nesting purposes. Bottlenosed dolphins and dugongs live in the offshore waters and humpback whales can be seen from July to September. 
The Dampier Archipelago covers a land area of around 400 square kilometres. The Archipelago was formed 6-8000 years ago when rising sea levels flooded what were once coastal plains. The underlying rocks are amongst the oldest on earth, formed in the Archaean period more than 2400 million years ago.
This is a sacred place for the Ngarda-Ngarlie people who explain that ancestral beings created the land during the Dreamtime, and the spirits of Ngkurr, Bardi and Gardi continue to live in the area. The Burrup Peninsula is 27 km long and four km wide. Many important native plants, animals and habitats are found in the area. For more information check out http://karratha.wa.gov.au/Assets/Documents/Document%20Centre/LGHI/13._Dampier_Archipeligo_including_Burrup_Peninsula.pdf.

Historic Sites
Aboriginal Engravings are found on many of the islands and the best examples are found on Enderby and Rosemary. Some new engravings have been found on East and West Intercourse Island. Ruins on West Lewis are believed to be part of an old pastoral settlement, and there is a remainder of a whaling station to be found on Malus. It is believed to have been operating between 1870 and 1872. 

Rock Engravings on Burrup Peninsula
It has been estimated that there are around 10,000 indigenous rock engravings (some sources claim that it is as many as one million making it the largest rock art site in the world) on the Burrup Peninsula, which extends to the north-east of Dampier.
The important viewing points for these petroglyphs on the Burrup Peninsula are all in the Murujuga National Park, the heritage listed Burrup Peninsula. There are two practical ways of inspecting the petroglyphs. 
• Take a guided tour (they can be arranged by contacting the Karratha Visitor Centre - and they need to be pre-booked) and have a local person point out and explain the significance of the rock art to the Yaburrara people.
• Travel to Deep Gorge (it is easy to find - take the turn to Hearson Cove on the road between Karratha and Dampier) and within easy walking distance there are images of emus, kangaroos and a variety of unusual petroglyphs. There is a very useful single sheet brochure available from the Visitor Centre titled Directions to Deep Gorge which has a map and lots of useful information.
According to the Ngarda-Ngarli people the engravings have a variety of purposes. Some depict ancestral beings or spirit figures, while others relate to sacred ceremonies and songs. Many are representations of the everyday life or events of the traditional ancestors. Engravings show humans (single people, pairs and groups); human activities like hunting and climbing; and animals such as fish, crab, turtles, sharks, lizards, goannas, snakes and kangaroos. Some images show animals no longer found in the area - like emus - and others that are extinct, like the thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger. Some images are so finely detailed that animals can be identified right down to species level. Created by pecking, pounding, rubbing and scratching, the engravings provide a fascinating insight into the past.

Flying Foam Massacre
The sign explains: "Hereabouts in February 1868, a party of settlers from Roebourne shot and killed as many as 60 Yapurarra people in response to the killing of a European policeman in Nickol Bay. The incident has become known as the Flying Foam Massacre." The Flying Foam Massacre is one of Australia’s more brutal massacres of Aboriginal people. On the orders of the State Government’s resident Robert Sholl, police and white settlers were given permission to kill any Aboriginal person as retaliation for a police officer who was speared by the Yapurarra people. It has been estimated that up to 150 Yaburara men, women and children were killed between the months of February to May.
The event is recalled in some detail on the Monument Australia website (check out http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/indigenous/display/60363-flying-foam-massacre): "The Flying Foam Massacres were a series of confrontations between white settlers and Aboriginal people around Flying Foam Passage on Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), between February and May 1868. Violence resulted in the deaths of unknown number of Jaburara (or Yaburara, Yapurarra ) people, with estimates ranging between 20 and 150 dead. The massacres followed the homicides on February 7, on the south west shore of Nickol Bay, of Police Constable William Griffis, an Aboriginal police assistant named Peter and a pearling worker named George Breem, by some Jaburara people as well as  the disappearance of a pearling lugger captain, Henry Jermyn. Pearlers and pastoralists from the surrounding region, with the approval and support of the Government Resident in Roebourne, R. J. Sholl, organised two armed and mounted parties, which travelled overland and by sea respectively to Murujuga, the heartland of the Jaburara. The two parties moved towards each other in a pincer movement." For the specific location of the monument, which is on a particularly beautiful part of the Burrup Peninsula, check with the Karratha Visitor Centre.

Staircase to the Moon at Hearson Cove
Between March and October, on an average of three times a month, the remarkably beautiful natural phenomenon called "Staircase to the Moon" can be seen off the coast. The phenomenon is created when a full moon shines on the exposed mudflats at very low tide. The result is an illusion which looks like stairs reaching to the moon. It can be observed at Onslow, Dampier, Point Samson, Hearson Cove, Cossack, Port Hedland and Broome. Check out http://www.visitbroome.com.au/discover/facts-figures/staircase-to-the-moon for dates and times.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the district was home to the Ngarluma Aborigines for over 25,000 years.

* On 21 August, 1699 William Dampier reached the islands now known as the Dampier Archipelago.

* In 1818 Captain Phillip Parker King reached the Dampier Archipelago. He named the Intercourse Islands, Nickol Bay and the Lewis and Enderby Islands.

* In 1861 the explorer Francis Thomas Gregory reached Nickol Bay. He named Hearson's Cove, the Hamersley Ranges, Mount Samson, the Maitland and Fortescue Rivers.

* Between February and May, 1868 an estimated 20-150 members of the Jaburara Aboriginal people were killed in what is known as the Flying Foam Massacres.

* The district of Nickol Bay was gazetted in 1871.

* In 1963 a causeway was built connecting Dampier to the mainland.

* The town was specifically constructed in 1965 as a port and processing centre to meet the needs of the Hamersley Iron mining operations at Tom Price and Paraburdoo. 

* In 1966 Hamersley Iron constructed a sealed airport at Dampier. 

* By 1968 Dampier had outgrown its original plan and the new town of Karratha was established.

* The Dampier Salt Company was formed in 1967.

* The Dampier Salt Company started operations in 1971.

* The port at East Intercourse Island opened in 1972.

* In 1979 Dampier Peninsula was renamed Burrup Peninsula.

* In 1989 a total of 506 vessels were loaded with over 49 million tonnes of iron ore from the Hamersley mines at Tom Price and Paraburdoo, making it the largest tonnage port in Australia. 

* Today Dampier is home to the export facilities for Rio Tinto, Hamersley Iron, Dampier Salt and the North West Gas Shelf Project.


Visitor Information

There is no Visitor Information at Dampier (apart from the North West Shelf Project and the Information Bay at the entrance to the town). For specific information about the region check out Karratha Visitor Centre, Lot 4548, De Witt Road, tel: (08) 9144 4600. It is open from 8.30 am - 4.30 pm


Useful Websites

There is useful information on the local website. Check out http://www.karrathavisitorcentre.com.au/towns/dampier.

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3 suggestions
  • Hey today I got the history of Dampier. It’s really interesting. Thank you for sharing this article with us.


  • We went to Dampier in 1970, the town of Karratha was non existent at that stage. Pretty sure it was 1971, definitely not 1968. Interesting to look back at our time there, 12 years. I was interested to find out where the original hospital was, but havent been able to establish that as yet.

    Jan Kellie
  • I worked on the pipeline for the town of Dampier. I arrived in November 1969. There was a crew of about 20 men- we lived in bunkhouses on the site. The town was still called Dampier then. The company I worked for at Dampier was Gilbarco (as I remember).

    Geoff Nimmo