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Onslow, WA

Quiet coastal town nicknamed "Cyclone City" because of the regularity of cyclones.

Onslow is a sleepy little town where people go to fish and to have quiet holidays by the sea. Historically it was created as a mixture of pearling, farming and gold mining, but today, in part because it lies on the coast 82 km from the main North West Coastal Road, it is a true Cinderella - a gorgeous coastal retreat where only those who know of its charms tend to divert from the long journey from Perth to Broome. It has become known as 'Cyclone City' as, since its establishment in 1883, it has experienced major cyclones in 1909, 1918, 1926, 1934, 1953, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1975, 1995 and 1999. The 1963 cyclone had winds which were measured at 232 km/h. In fact the cyclones have occurred with such regularity that they have had profound effects on the town - it was forced to relocate after the 1926 cyclone and the frequency of cyclones in the 1960s forced the reconstruction of the local jetty to be abandoned.


Onslow is located 1380 km north of Perth via Highway 1. It is located 82 km north west of the North Western Coastal Highway.


Origin of Name

The town was founded and named after Sir Alexander Onslow (1842-1908), the chief justice of Western Australia in November, 1885. When it was moved a new town, called Beadon was gazetted and locals were eager for the name to become Ashburton but Onslow eventually won out.


Things to See and Do

Goods Shed Museum and Visitor Centre
Located in Second Avenue, the Goods Store, which was transported from the Onslow Old Town in 1925 by camel train, now contains artefacts from the early history of Onslow and the Pilbara region. Larger items - a train and carriage which were used on the jetty - are located adjacent. The building is classified by the National Trust which has recorded the history of the building: "In 1904 the Goods Shed in Old Onslow burnt down. The replacement structure was built in the main part of the old town site and was connected to the sea jetty by tramway. The new shed was described as a jarrah framed concrete structure with concrete piles, it also included a Bond Store. A separate office was added to the end of the building, along with a lookout tower, in 1910. In 1925 when the new town site was developed at Beadon Point, the Goods Shed was transported by camel to the new settlement. When reconstructed at Beadon Point the Goods Shed was extended. It was serviced by a new tramway but no longer functioned as a Bond Store. Further extensions to the building occurred in 1953 when the office size was doubled. Cyclone damage during the 1960's led to a number of changes. The roof of the Good Shed was completely remodelled and the west side rebuilt and reclad, albeit with old corrugated iron. New sliding doors built from zincalume were installed. The shed was used to store goods brought to the port by the State Ships. They were transported from the jetty along Second Avenue to the Goods Shed. Today the Goods Shed is vested in the Shire of Ashburton and operates as a museum, Arts and Crafts shop and is the headquarters for the Onslow Tourist Bureau." For more details check out http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/PrintSingleRecord/f66b1d1c-6eb3-4b92-861f-195568299ae1.
The museum offers an excellent introduction to the area. Not only does it house an incredible range of artefacts but it also has wall displays which record such things as the number and frequency of cyclones in the area; the moving of the town by camel trains; the history of atomic testing at the Montebello Islands; and the history of Old Onslow.

The Onslow Heritage Trail and Points of Interest
There is a slim brochure (two A4 pages) available at the Goods Shed Museum titled The Onslow Heritage Trail and Points of Interest. It lists a total of 29 places of interest around the town but many of them are sites rather than actual buildings. The historical highlights of the town include:

3. St Nicholas Church
Located on the corner of Simpson Street and Third Avenue, this timber church was built in 1926 when the town moved to its present site. It is secured so that it can ride out cyclones. Although the church is still owned by the Anglican diocese it now holds services for all denominations.

7. Lookouts
Located at the end of Second Avenue, just beyond Ocean View Caravan Park, are the two lookouts which offer views across Beadon Bay. On a clear day Thevenard Island can be seen in the distance. The lookout near the Anzac Memorial has a directional plaque for identifying islands.

War Memorial
Few Australians now realise that the Japanese actually bombed Onslow. They caused no loss of life but the town's very impressive War Memorial, at the end of Second Avenue, is a reminder that in 1943 the town was under attack.

8. The Jetty
It is hard to tell exactly what it is - could it be the wreck of a ship? - but just off the coast to the north of the Anzac Memorial is a jagged collection of remnants which is all that is left of a jetty that was built in 1925 and used to be 1.2 km in length. It was badly damaged by cyclones - cyclone damage in 1934, 300 metres removed by a cyclone in 1961, and finally destroyed by the Army in 1982.

15. Old Post Office
Located on the corner of Simpson Street and Second Avenue, this building was erected in 1925-1926 and remained the town's Post Office until it closed in 1993. It has been maintained as a significant landmark in the town.

16. Beadon Bay Hotel
Over the road from the Post Office is the Beadon Bay Hotel which was built in 1926, is still a popular waterhole in town, and was savaged by a cyclone in 1934 when the roof and most of the second floor were removed.

22. Goods Shed Museum
This simple building, now the museum and Visitor Centre, was once used to store goods arriving by ship and goods about to be shipped out of the port. It held bags of pearl shells, drums of lead and bales of wool. Today it offers an excellent historic introduction to the local area.

Ian Blair Memorial Walkway
Starting at the Anzac Memorial at the end of Second Avenue, the Ian Blair Memorial Boardwalk is a pleasant, elevated boardwalk across the sand dunes to an excellent vantagepoint on Sunset Beach where it is an ideal for watching the sunset and watching the ships loading salt from the Salt Jetty. 

Onslow is positioned with beaches on two sides. If you proceed down Back Beach Road (which runs off Simpson Street) you reach Sunset Beach where you can watch the sun set over the water. It is also an excellent beach for fishing and swimming.
First Avenue runs along what the locals call Main Beach or Sunrise Beach. This is the perfect place to watch the sun come up over the Indian Ocean.


Other Attractions in the Area

Onslow Salt
As you enter Onslow it is impossible not to be amazed by the salt lakes and the huge mountains of salt which can be seen from Onslow Road. Onslow is surrounded by 90 square kilometres of salt flats and the Onslow Salt Pty Ltd can produce up to 2.5 million tonnes of sodium chloride in a year. There is a 1.3 km jetty off Sunset Beach and in 2002, its first year of operations, the company shipped 45,000 tonnes of salt to Asia. There are no tours.

Old Onslow Heritage Trail
The ruins of the old town are located 45 km by road from Onslow with the turnoff being 20 km south of Onslow on the main access road to the town. Visitors travel 5 km and then turn off the dirt road towards Old Onslow - it is marked by a small, blue sign.
In 1988, as part of a major Bicentennial Project, a series of trails in Western Australia were developed. The Old Onslow Heritage Trail, which can still be obtained from the Goods Shed Museum, has detailed information (and a good map) providing information about 23 buildings in the town.
When the old town was re-sited in 1926 all the portable buildings were moved - mostly by camel train. Only the old stone and cement buildings like the post office, police station, gaol and hospital remain. There are still many relics - notably piles of bottles - of the past scattered around the lonely settlement.
The best way to inspect the 23 locations is to simply drive, or walk, around the town (it was constructed on a grid system with six blocks to the east and west and six blocks to the north and south) and read the signs which are detailed and informative.
There are a couple of brick and stone buildings still standing. They are the Police Station Ruins (built in 1893 as a combination of police station, court, gaol and quarters for two policemen and their families) and the remnants of the old Post and Telegraph Office.

Ashburton River - Three Mile Camp, Five Mile Pool and Ten Mile Pool
The Ashburton River, surrounded by flatlands and desert, is an oasis in a wilderness. It is particularly beautiful and, at Three Mile Camp, a popular place for grey nomads to settle in with their caravans for a pleasant stay beside a delightful river where it is possible to swim, fish, picnic, bushwalk, go mud crabbing and just relax.  The route to the pools and the camp is the same as that to Old Onslow. The Onslow Regional Map, available at the Visitor Centre, has very clear directions with all locations being off Twitchen Road which is 20 km south of Onslow on the main access road to the town.

Barrow Island
In the 1960s the development of oil on and near Barrow Island raised environmental concerns. The island boasts a series of unique fauna species. As such it is recognised as a fine example of island biogeography (the term refers to the way fauna and flora develop in a unique geographical location) and is consequently of worldwide scientific importance. Although the island had been declared a reserve in 1908, petroleum exploration began in 1963 with production starting in 1967. Recognising the potential problem ChevronTexaco Australia worked hard to protect the island's unique biodiversity.
Today the island's environmental management plan includes strict quarantine procedures to prevent the introduction of animals, weeds and wildlife diseases. The Island maintains its status as a Class A Nature Reserve and boasts a number of unique fauna species including the Barrow Island Euro, Barrow Island Bandicoot, the Black and white Wren and a number of wallabies, marsupial mice and possums.
Australia's largest and oldest continuously operating onshore oilfield on Barrow has won national and international recognition as a leading example of industry working in harmony with the environment.
Since the 1960s Barrow Island has been an important supplier of Australia's oil (it is Australia's largest oil producer and there are over 430 wells on the island) and gas requirements. Notably the Gorgon gas project which is located 60 km north of the island and has reserves of 1,100 cubic kilometres of gas. There are no tours and there is no private access to Barrow Island.

Mackerel Islands
Located 22 km offshore are the Mackerel Islands, a group of ten islands, which are noted for their sport fishing and bottom fishing, as well as scuba diving and snorkelling.

Staircase to the Moon at Onslow
Between March and October, on an average of three times a month, the remarkably beautiful natural phenomenon named "Staircase to the Moon" occurs. 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 area was Thalanyji country.

* In 1622 a rocky outcrop to the west of the main Montebello island group was the scene of a major shipping disaster when the British vessel Tryal was wrecked with the loss of 97 lives. 46 survivors managed to sail a small boat north to Batavia.

* Barrow Island in the Montebello group was recorded on a Dutch East India company map as early as 1628.

* Barrow Island was visited by Abel Tasman in 1644.

* In 1818 Phillip Parker King travelled down the coast. He visited Barrow Island on his journey.

* In 1861 F T Gregory led an expedition through the Pilbara. He named the Ashburton River.

* In 1868 the station at Minderoo was established. It was predominantly sheep.

* In the early 1880s James Clark established a store at the mouth of the Ashburton River.

* Onslow was established in 1883.

* By 1885 it had been surveyed by the Government Surveyor, T Beasley, and officially gazetted. The Overland Telegraph was opened that year.

* The discovery of gold on the Ashburton River in the 1890s gave the town a brief boost.

* A police complex was built at Old Onslow in 1893.

* In the late nineteenth century the Montebello islands were visited by the pearling fleets which scoured the coastline looking for new pearl beds.

* Barrow Island was declared a reserve in 1908. 

* In 1912 the town received on 14.5 mm of rainfall in the entire year.

* In 1921 an aerial mail service to the town was established.

* A new town and jetty were built in 1923 because of constant cyclones damaging the town's original jetty and the continuous silting of the mouth of the Ashburton River.

* The town experienced a major cyclone in 1926.

* A major cyclone tore through the town in 1934. 

* On 10 January, 1943 the town became the southernmost town in Australia to be bombed by the Japanese.

* In 1952 the town became an important strategic centre for the British atomic experiments on the Montebello Islands.

* Between 1952 and 1956 (when the tests were moved to Maralinga in South Australia) a number of atomic bombs were exploded on the Montebello islands.

* The town experienced a major cyclone in 1961. This cyclone destroyed more than 300 metres of the local jetty

* In 1963 a cyclone, with winds that reached 232 km/h, did such damage that the town was forced to relocate.

* The last pearling lugger operating out of Onslow was sold in 1965.

* Petroleum exploration began on Barrow Island in 1963 and production started in 1967.

* In 1972 a landing was established at Beadon Creek.

* In 1975 the town was hit by Cyclone Trixie with wind gusts of 246 km/h.

* The town's jetty was destroyed by the Army in 1982. 

* On 13 January, 2022 the temperature at the airport reached a record 50.7°C - the hottest ever recorded in Australia.


Visitor Information

Onslow Visitors Centre, Second Avenue, tel: (08) 9184 6644. The Onslow Visitors Centre is open 7 days from April to mid December, 10.00 am to 3.00 pm. From June it is open until 4.00 pm.


Useful Websites

The official local website is http://www.ashburton.wa.gov.au/visit-ashburton/onslow.

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