Major seaside town and largest city north of Perth
Geraldton is the largest town north of Perth and one of the most attractive coastal centres in Western Australia. It is both a seaside resort and an important port. Historically it attracted wheat farmers from the eastern hinterland for seaside holidays. It has a sublime Mediterranean climate (warm to hot summers and pleasantly cool winters) and has an average of 8 hours sunshine every day making it a popular winter seaside resort. It is an ideal starting point for an exploration of Western Australian wildflowers in the spring; is a popular haunt for surfers and anglers; has a number of outstanding attractions - including the impressive museum and the HMAS Sydney II Memorial and has the largest lobster fleet on the west coast. Recent upgrading has made the promenade along the foreshore of Town Beach and Champion Beach a particularly pleasant attraction. Geraldton has one of the most beautiful foreshores (characterised by beautiful white sand beaches and an attractive harbour) of anywhere on the Western Australian coast.
Geraldton is located 414 km north of Perth via Lancelin and Dongara.^ TOP
Origin of Name
There are two possible explanations for the city's name. The lead mine on the Murchison River was named Geraldine after the Western Australian Governor, Charles Fitzgerald's (1848-1855) home in Country Clare. Or Surveyor General J.S. Roe named the town Geraldton to honour Charles Fitzgerald. In both cases the town is a combination of "Gerald" from Fitzgerald and "ton".^ TOP
Things to See and Do
There can be few things more pleasant than walking along the Geraldton foreshore on a sunny day. Previously an abandoned railway yard, it was upgraded in 2007 and is now a wonderland of interesting sculptures, parklands and gracious walkways. Note particularly:
* The impressive murals. The mural in the parking lot off Marine Terrace was created by Cooper Crothers and local youth; Jordan Andreotta's image of a boy in the laneway off Chapman Road; a collaborative work in the laneway next to City Hive by Shah Jockey and local youth; the huge octopus at the West End of Marine Terrace which was painted by Jordan Andreotti; and the light boxes and blue heeler at the West End of Marine Terrace
* Zephyr - a sculpture on the foreshore "playfully named after Zephyrus the Greek God of the gentle west wind ... the Zephyr kinetic sculpture is designed to withstand the wildest of Geraldton days and will produce harmonic sounds from its built-in sounding pipes on the stormiest days as an iconic tribute to Zephyrus." It was created by Dr Nigel Helyer.
* Ilgarijiri - things belonging to the sky - a collaborative project between Yamaji Artists and astronomers from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research. It comprises "The Emu in the Sky" by Margaret Whithurst and "The Seven Sisters and the Hunter" by Barbara Merritt.
* The statue of Wiebbe Hayes in Batavia Park - "Erected in 2009 in commemoration of the hero for leading a group of soldiers, sailors and other survivors of the shipwreck of the Batavia against murderous mutineers." Created by sculptor Anthony Horn.
* Batavian in Bayly Street created by Tony Jones. "Erected in 2009 in commemoration of the hero for leading a group of soldiers, sailors and other survivors of the shipwreck of the Batavia against murderous mutineers."
* The Iris Sundial in front of the Queens Park Theatre was designed by Bob Newbold.
* The Sea Meets The Shore - located on the Foreshore and created by Charmaine Green.
* The Welcome Wall on Marine Terrace which signifies diverse culture through different languages and was created by Jane McIntyre with work by Pamela Molloy and multicultural community members.
Western Australian Museum
Located at the Batavia Coast Marina, the Western Australian Museum (Museum of Geraldton) celebrates the environmental, social, cultural and economic stories of the Mid West region of Western Australia and the outlying Abrolhos Islands.
A 75 metre wall meanders through the main exhibition hall evocative of the flow of local rivers. The north side of the wall explores the region's geology, flora and fauna. On the south side are stories of human endeavour which celebrate Indigenous and European communities and today's local industries. Hanging above the exhibition is a replica of a Bristol Tourer flown by WA Airlines Ltd; Australia's first commercial airline. The company started operations in 1921 a year before QANTAS. There is also a moving exhibit titled From Great Depths which records the history of the wrecks of HMAS Sydney (II) and HSK Kormoran as they currently lie, 2,500 metres deep on the ocean floor. Also in the Museum is the popular Shipwrecks Gallery. There is a Highlights Tour which occurs at 11.30 am daily. The Museum is open from 9.30 am - 3.00 pm daily. For more information check out http://museum.wa.gov.au/museums/museum-of-geraldton.
Shipwrecks Gallery at Western Australian Museum, Geraldton
The Western Australian Museum includes the Shipwrecks Gallery which concentrates on the history of the Dutch East India Company, the navigational aids and maps, shipboard life and some of remnants taken from the wrecks of the Batavia which sank off the Abrolhos Islands in 1629, the Zuytdorp which was wrecked near Kalbarri in 1712 and the Zeewijk which struck a reef near the south Abrolhos in 1727.
The story of the wreck of the Batavia and the subsequent efforts to raise pieces of the wreck by nautical archaeologists are told in excellent detail and the displays of pieces of the wreck, including a cannon which has been cut so its construction can be studied in cross section, are all carefully captioned so that the visitor can vicariously participate in the life of the ship and the process of reclamation. It is open from 9.30 am - 3.00 pm daily, tel: (08) 9431 8393 or check out http://museum.wa.gov.au/museums/museum-of-geraldton.
HMAS Sydney II Memorial
Situated on Mount Scott, and overlooking the town, this unusual and impressive memorial was initiated by the local Rotary Club in 1998 and designed by Joan Walsh-Smith and Charles Smith. It was dedicated on 18 November, 2001. It comprises The Dome of Souls, The Waiting Woman, The Stele, The Wall of Remembrance, The Eternal Flame and The Pool of Remembrance. There is very detailed descriptions of each segment of the Memorial at https://www.hmassydneymemorialgeraldton.com.au.
The Dome of Souls
The Dome of Souls is a large cast metal cupola cut into the form of 645 birds in flight, with an anchor suspended from the middle, all resting upon a series of white pillars. It commemorates the deaths of the entire crew of the HMAS Sydney II (645 men) on November 11, 1941, in an exchange with the German raider Kormoran. The confrontation occurred in the Indian Ocean. The German vessel initially identified herself falsely as a Dutch ship, then opened fire with guns and torpedo when asked to give a secret call sign. Return fire led to the Kormoran's crew abandoning ship. 78 of its 393 were also killed. It is explained in great detail at https://www.hmassydneymemorialgeraldton.com.au/completed-the-dome-of-souls.
The Waiting Woman
This powerful image of a woman gazing out to sea was inspired by Joan Walsh-Smith's mother who lost her brother during World War II. It was created as an expression of those who are left behind to mourn. There is an extensive explanation at https://www.hmassydneymemorialgeraldton.com.au/completed-the-waiting-woman.
This depiction of the prow of the HMAS Sydney II is the sculptor's attempt to find a contemporary image which echoes the concept of Standing Stones which have been used around the world as markers for graves and memorials. There is more detail at https://www.hmassydneymemorialgeraldton.com.au/completed-the-stele.
The Wall of Remembrance
Made from West Australian Black Granite, the Wall of Remembrance lists the names of all the 645 men who lost their lives on the HMAS Sydney II. On one side it has waves depicting the Indian Ocean where the ship now lies and on the other it has the names of the sailors. For more information check out https://www.hmassydneymemorialgeraldton.com.au/completed-the-wall-of-remembrance.
The Eternal Flame
Located in the centre of the Domed Roof area, the eternal flame symbolises the spirits of the men who went down with the HMAS Sydney II. For more detail check out https://www.hmassydneymemorialgeraldton.com.au/the-eternal-flame.
The Pool of Remembrance
The wreck of the HMAS Sydney II was found on 16 March, 2008 and this pool of remembrance was subsequently added to the memorial. It has a map which shows where the HMAS Sydney lies at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. There is a very detailed note at https://www.hmassydneymemorialgeraldton.com.au/completed-the-pool-of-remembrance.
The Merry-go-round in the Sea
Geraldton's most famous literary figure was the late novelist and poet Randolph Stow who was born in the town in 1935, grew up in Gregory Street, and attended the town's school before moving to Perth to complete his education. He has written extensively about Geraldton, particularly in the evocative and semi-autobiographical The Merry-go-round in the Sea. One of his poems beautifully describes the town. Its lines include:
My childhood was seashells and sandalwood, windmills
And yachts in the southerly, ploughshares and keels
Fostered by hills and by waves on the breakwater...
Brief subtle things that a child does not realise,
Horses and porpoises, aloes and clemantis -
Do I idealize?
Stow is remembered under the fig tree beside the Visitor Information Centre where an old style merry-go-round has been installed in his honour. For most of its life it was a working merry-go-round. It is now stationary but it is still possible to sit on it and imagine what it was like when Stow was a child.
The St Francis Xavier Cathedral
Geraldton, as well as Carnarvon, Mullewa, Kojarena, Northampton, Yalgoo, Tardun, Morawa, Perenjori, Wiluna and Nanson, has religious buildings designed (and often built) by the famous Western Australian architect-priest Monsignor John Hawes. Between 1915-1939 Hawes designed a large number of churches and church buildings in the Central West and along the coast. For more information check out the excellent https://www.monsignorhawes.com for more information. There is also the very detailed Monsignor Hawes Heritage Trail which includes a map and a total of eleven places of interest. Check it out at https://www.visitgeraldton.com.au/Profiles/visitgeraldton/Assets/ClientData/Monsignor_Hawes_Heritage_Trail.pdf.
Of all Hawes' buildings the most impressive is St Francis Xavier Cathedral. Hawes' had already designed the building before he arrived in Geraldton in 1915. He began work on the building in 1916 and by 1921 was able to open the first section. The poorness of the local area and the small population meant that Hawes' spent much of his time persuading his parishioners to contribute to the building fund while actually working on the site as a labourer and foreman.
In 1921 Hawes religious patron, Bishop Kelly, died and was replaced by Dr Richard Ryan who disliked the church. The project remained in limbo for 14 years until a new bishop, James Patrick O'Collins, showed renewed interest and it was finally completed and opened on 28 August 1938.
The cathedral is an unusual mixture of styles. The twin towers are similar to those on the Californian Mission Church at Santa Barbara, the central dome has echoes of Brunellesci's cupola in Florence, the main doorway is from the French Renaissance, there are eight Romanesque columns inside, and the strange painting scheme (orange and grey stripes) is reminiscent of the Eastern Orthodox churches or even an Islamic mosque although Hawes did say of the colour scheme that it was drawn from the "many churches and cathedrals of Italy, such as Siena and Orvieto".
Now part of the National Heritage the building has been listed for its originality. "Hawes sought to avoid slavish imitation of past styles, endeavouring to create character and imagery through harmonious proportioning and massing. All extraneous ornamentation - such as traceried windows, pinnacles or carved decoration - was eliminated." It is widely regarded as Hawes' masterpiece and the most original and unusual cathedral in Australia. Hawes saw the church as embodying the solidity and strength of Christianity.
Point Moore Lighthouse
Located at 45 Marine Terrace, West End (at the western extremity of Geraldton, south of the Visitor Centre) the lighthouse at Point Moore was built in 1878 and was the first all-steel lighthouse built in Australia. It stands 34 metres above sea level and can be seen 19 nautical miles out to sea.
The Point Moore lighthouse was pre-dated by the Bluff Point Lighthouse which was completed in 1876. The Bluff Point Lighthouse was destroyed by fire in 1952 (there is a monument where the lighthouse originally stood) but the Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage still stands on Chapman Road on the main northern entrance to the city. The excellent Lighthouses of Australia website (see https://lighthouses.org.au/wa/point-moore-lighthouse) records: "The tower was a prefabricated steel tower by Chance Bros. of Birmingham, and brought to Australia in segments from England aboard the Lady Louisa. It was bolted together on the new foundations. The light was first exhibited in 1878. There was also a subsidiary light giving two beams but this has since been removed. The original kerosene wick lamp was replaced by an incandescent-mantle lamp in 1911. A further conversion to electricity was undertaken in 1958. The light was significantly upgraded in power in 1962 when the candelas was raised from 90,000 to 320,000. The character was altered to the current configuration at the same time." The tower is not open to the public but the grounds are accessible.
Birdwood Military Museum
Located in Chapman Road at Birdwood House, the Birdwood Military Museum in open Monday and Thursday 9.00 am - 2.00 pm, Friday from 5.00 pm and Sunday from Noon to 3.00 pm. Tel: (08) 9964 1520. The museum specialises in military memorabilia and includes relics from Gallipoli (including a homemade flag used by soldiers from Chapman Valley), a World War I Spandau gun, and uniforms, photos, medals, weapons and personal effects. Check out https://www.visitgeraldton.com.au/play/history.aspx.
Old Gaol Museum and Craft Centre
The Old Gaol (the second oldest in Western Australia after the famous Fremantle Gaol) is located at 84 Chapman Road, within the Bill Sewell Complex. It is open from Monday to Friday from 10.00 am to 3:30 pm and Saturday from 9.00 am to Noon. It was opened in 1856 and originally built as a convict hiring depot. The first twenty convicts sent here from Fremantle built their own quarters and those of their warders. When the goal closed in 1984 it had served the Midwest region for 128 years.
Walking Around Geraldton
There is an excellent brochure, Geraldton Trails, available at the Visitor Information Centre, which outlines details of four trails around Geraldton.
* Waterfront Trail - 4 km - which starts outside the DOME cafe on the foreshore and passes twenty places of interest as it heads down Francis Street, around Augustus Street, into Sanford Street and Cathedral Avenue, across to the Marina and back along the foreshore.
* Bluff Point Trail - 2 km - starts at Rundle Park at St Georges Beach and includes the Bluff Point Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage and winds around Cecily Street and Chapman Road.
* Victoria Hospital Trail - 650 metres - starts outside the Bill Sewell Complex and goes around the block to inspect the convict depot, the hospital and the prison.
* West End Trail - 2 km - starts outside the Geraldton Port Authority building on Francis Street and heads down to Marine Terrace and around to Augustus and Gregory Streets looking at the way the area changed with World War II command posts and the expansion of the harbour.
Other Attractions in the Area
In 1988, as a Bicentennial Project, the WA Government created a series of fascinating, and well researched, series of Heritage Trails. The Chapman Valley Heritage Trail (it can be downloaded at https://www.chapmanvalley.wa.gov.au/Profiles/chapmanvalley/Assets/ClientData/Chapman_Valley_Heritage_Trail.pdf) is a 100 km driving tour from Geraldton through the valley which for nearly 100 years (from 1863-1959) was mined for lead and copper. It is now a pastoral area where sheep, wheat and cattle are grown and raised. The appeal of the Chapman Valley is a combination of its beautiful scenery and the many historical points of interest which include Monsignor Hawes' Church of Our Lady of Fatima at Nanson and the Chapman Research Station where, since 1902, research into the agricultural problems of the region has been carried out. The trail passes old schools, coach staging posts, the old Mining Arms and Plow and Harrow Hotel, the tiny village of Yuna and historic homesteads.
The Houtman Abrolhos is an archipelago of 122 islands stretching across 100 km of the Indian Ocean and including the Wallabi, Easter and Pelsaert groups. About 10,000 years ago the islands were part of the Australian mainland until they were separated by rising sea waters. None of the islands rises more than 14 metres above sea level. They are home to a rich variety of fauna particularly sea bird life including the rare lesser noddy tern, the brush bronzewing pigeon and the painted quail. Over two million birds from 35 species live on the islands. The Tammar Wallaby which is common on the islands was the first Australian marsupial ever recorded by Europeans. The islands are home to sea lions, dolphins and migratory whales and to over 140 species of native flora all of which are protected. Today twenty-two of the Abrolhos islands are home to lobster fishermen and their families who sustain the island's multimillion dollar western rock lobster industry. The islands are controlled by the Western Australian Department of Fisheries. There are tours which travel to the Abrolhos from Geraldton but no visitor is allowed to stay the night on any of the islands.
The Wreck of the Batavia
The story of the wreck of the Dutch East India merchantman, the Batavia, and the subsequent murder of 125 of the survivors, is one of the most important and gruesome events in early Australian history.
The Dutch, who had established a trading post at Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta in Indonesia), were riding the Roaring Forties to the coast of Terra Australis Incognito and heading north along the coast of Western Australia. The problem was that, given the unreliable nature of navigation and the storms in the Roaring Forties, they ended up not knowing how far they had sailed east and kept crashing into the coast.
Thus it was that the Batavia, flagship of the Dutch East India Company, a new vessel on its maiden voyage carrying 316 people as well as 12 chests of silver and jewels, two hours before dawn on 4 June, 1629, ran aground on one of the many coral reefs which edge the Abrolhos Islands. At the time they believed they were 600 miles (1000 km) from the coast.
The passengers and crew managed to reach the narrow beaches of Beacon Island on the edge of the Morning Reef. Immediately the Batavia's commander, Francisco Pelsaert, accompanied by 47 crew and passengers, launched two small sailing boats – a sloop and yawl - and headed for Batavia. They left behind 250 people on an island with no water or food.
So great was the speed advantage offered by the Roaring Forties that Pelsaert and his crew, even though they had been wrecked and forced into a small boat, arrived in Batavia on 7 July only a few days after the rest of the fleet which had plotted a north-east course across the Indian Ocean.
Pelsaert was given the Sardam, a fast vessel which the Dutch called a 'yacht', and he headed back to the Houtman Abrolhos to collect the shipwrecked passengers and crew and the Dutch East India Company's cargo of jewels and guilders.
What no one, including Pelsaert, realised was that even before the Batavia was shipwrecked a group of sailors led by Jeronimus Cornelisz (an apothecary by trade), had been planning to mutiny with about 20 of the crew. The chests on the Batavia contained some 250,000 guilders as well as jewels and they planned to head to the East Indies and engage in piracy.
The plan was to murder most of the survivors and, when Pelseart returned, capture his ship and head for the Barbary Coast.
The mutineers were outnumbered by the soldiers and ship passengers so they planned a process of secret murders which involved killing the strongest survivors at night time and keeping a supply of the more attractive women for their sexual pleasure.
Other victims they lured onto rafts, told they were being taken to other islands where the water supply was good, and then shoved overboard into the channels between the islands and left them to drown. Others were executed – usually by having their throats cut - after being falsely accused of stealing the property of the Dutch East India Company. In one case an entire family were killed in their tent by mutineers wielding adzes. In another incident a boy, Cornelisz Aldersz, was beheaded just to demonstrate how sharp a sword blade was.
A small group of survivors, led by Weibbe Hayes, managed to escape to West Wallabi island where they survived by catching the tammars (tiny wallabies no more than 75 cm high) which still inhabit the island, finding bird's eggs and collecting the oysters and shellfish along the rocky shoreline. They also found reliable sources of water.
When news of the massacres reached them (usually brought by people who had managed to swim or row across from Beacon Island) Hayes organised the survivors into a quasi-army. Although they had no weapons they managed to make pikes out of hoop iron from barrels washed up on the shore and they made clubs out of flotsam from the Batavia.
Hayes established a system of sentries along the island's coastline. He built two stone forts and collected coral rock which he planned to use as "ammunition".
The first attack on the island occurred in late July. It was successfully repulsed at the shoreline by a defence involving stone throwing followed by a pike charge.
So successful was this counterattack that Cornelisz and the mutineers stayed away from West Wallabi for a month.
In September the mutineers attempted to persuade Hayes and his supporters to join them. Five of the mutineers, led by Cornelisz, went to West Wallabi where Hayes arrested them, tied them up, executed the supporters and kept Cornelisz as a prisoner.
The mutineers who had remained on Beacon Island during the "negotiations" tried to invade the island once again but, just as the battle began, the sails of the Sardam appeared on the horizon.
Weibbe Hayes and his followers reached the Sardam and explained what had happened. They handed Cornelisz over to Pelseart who cross-examined him about the atrocities. Pelseart wrote in his journal: "I examined him in the presence of the council, and asked him why he allowed the Devil to lead him so far astray from all human feeling to do that which had never been so cruelly perpetrated among Christians, without any real hunger or need of thirst, but solely out of bloodthirstiness to attain his wicked ends". Cornelisz blamed others or, as Pelseart so beautifully put it "he tried to talk himself clean, with his glib tongue telling the most palpable lies".
Pelseart convened a court on the Abrolhos. Dutch law at the time required that a man had to confess to a crime before he could be executed. This requirement was greatly assisted by the legal use of torture. Cornelisz had to be tortured five times before he confessed. The examinations of the murderers took ten days. While this went on the divers who had travelled on the Sardam managed to retrieve most of the valuables from the wreck of the Batavia.
In the end the punishments were typical of the times. Cornelisz was taken to a narrow strip of land known as Seal's Island "and there firstly to cut off both his hands, and after shall be punished on the Gallows with the Cord till Death shall follow". Of the others, four were sentenced to have their right hands cut off before being hanged. Another three were hanged without having their hands cut off – as if it made any difference. This occurred on the morning of 2 October 1629.
A small group were taken back to Batavia where Dutch law would see them all executed and, on 16 November 1629 when the Sardam finally sailed away from the Abrolhos, an 18-year-old servant Jan Pelgrom and a man named Wouter Looes were marooned on the mainland. They were never seen again.
The Abrolhos Today
Today the Abrolhos are a strange mixture of untouched isolation and commercial fishing. There are literally hundreds of narrow jetties jutting out across the reefs that edge the islands. For fourteen weeks each year – from 15 March to 30 June – approximately 120 licensed rock lobster fishermen, their families and their deck hands – live on the islands and catch around 1.5 million kilos of lobster. They live in huts, shacks and houses on 22 of the small islands during the season with at least one of the islands even having a school for the children of the fishermen.
Beyond this commercial activity the uninhabited islands of the Houtman Abrolhos group – particularly the two largest islands of East and West Wallabi – are part of a marine conservation area which is pristine and unspoilt. These islands are home to tiny tammars; over 90 species of nesting birds including the predatory white breasted sea eagles; schools of tailor, Sampson fish, baldchin groper (which, at four years of age, gives itself a sex change moving from female to male) and jewfish; and colonies of seals and sea lions.
* Prior to European settlement the area was home to the Wajarri/Yamaji Aboriginal people.
* It is possible that the first Europeans in the area were two mutineers who were sent ashore from the Batavia in 1629.
* The first known European to explore the area was George Grey who, having failed to explore the North-West Cape, walked from Shark Bay back to Fremantle in 1839.
* In 1840 Champion Bay was explored by Commander Dring. The bay was named later that year by the Royal Navy hydrographic surveyor after Dring's colonial schooner, Champion.
* In 1846 John Septimus Roe explored the area.
* In 1848 the explorer A. C. Gregory travelled through the area. He discovered lead on the Murchison River and the mine which was subsequently established was named Gerald's Town after the Governor Charles Fitzgerald.
* In 1849 lead was shipped out from the Murchison mines.
* By 1850 Augustus Gregory had been employed to survey a townsite.
* The town of Geraldton was gazetted in 1851. Land sales occurred shortly afterwards.
* Nearly 300 Aborigines died at Tibradden Station in 1853 as the result of an outbreak of measles.
* Between 1850-1870 over 1,000 Aborigines died in the area due to disease and massacres.
* In the years that followed the hinterland was settled by farmers.
* In 1857, after the closure of the unsuccessful Convict Depot at Port Gregory, Geraldton became a short lived convict settlement.
* In the 1860s, after the decline of Port Gregory, Geraldton became the major port north of Fremantle
* In 1871 it was officially proclaimed a town.
* In 1879 the Western Australian government built a railway between Geraldton and Northampton. It was the first government railway in the state.
* During the 1890s Geraldton became the major port for the Murchison gold rushes. Prospectors arrived at the port and travelled to the fields at Cue, Day Dawn, Mount Magnet, Meekatharra and Yalgoo.
* By the 1900s the town was an important fishing port. It attracted fishermen from Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
* By World War 1 Geraldton had become the major centre for the surrounding wheat belt.
* In 1941 an RAAF Flying Training School was established at Geraldton.
* Today it is an important centre for fishing, wheat, sheep and tourism.^ TOP
Geraldton Visitor Centre, 246 Marine Terrace, tel: (08) 9956 6670.^ TOP
There is a useful official website. Check out https://www.visitgeraldton.com.au.^ TOP