History of Kalbarri
Nanda are the salt water people. Keepers of the land and sea, they have a spiritual connection to the land and Mother Earth. Aboriginal people known as the Nanda inhabited land including Kalbarri, west to Willa Gulli and mouth of the Bowes River, East to Northampton and North to Tamala. These Aboriginal people believe mythological Dreamtime beings sculptured the land to what we see today. Long ago during the spiritual Dreamtime, a serpent called Beemarra travelled down the Murchison River, drawn by the unfamiliar sound of the pounding waves. The Beemarra followed a creek and then disappeared underground to tunnel her way to the coast. Emerging at Kalbarri Coastal Cliffs, Beemarra was terrified by the thundering waves and fled back to the safety of the Murchison River. As she fled her passage was marked by a tunnel through an outcrop of red sandstone. She rested in many places leaving fresh water where she had lain. These fresh water springs are still in existence today and are registered sites with the Department of Indigenous Affairs. 209 Aboriginal heritage sites are also registered in this area. The local Nanda community are working hard to keep their heritage and culture alive.
ShipwrecksThe remote and windswept coastline of Kalbarri has been the tragic setting of many shipwrecks over time. One of the more famous shipwrecks was Batavia, a ship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). It was built in Amsterdam in 1628, armed with 24 cast-iron cannons and a number of bronze guns. Shipwrecked on her maiden voyage on 4th June 1629, she struck Morning Reef, part of the Abrolhos Islands group, and was made famous by the subsequent mutiny and massacre that took place among the survivors. Commander Pelsaert left survivors on the island to make the miraculous journey to Java in a tiny long boat for help. The crew plotted mutiny while Wiebbe Hayes and his followers held the mutineers at bay until Pelsaert returned. Some of the mutineers were sentenced to death, some taken home for sentencing and two cast ashore at Kalbarri, believed to be at the site of Wittecarra Creek. In 1712, the Zuytdorp, also a Dutch East India Company vessel was wrecked along the high limestone cliffs between Kalbarri and Steep Point, while voyaging to Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia). It carried a rich cargo of 248,000 freshly minted silver coins along with 200 passengers. Hundreds of coins have been recovered from the famous ‘carpet of silver’ in and around the wreck. The precise circumstances of the wreck remain a mystery, because no survivors reached Batavia to tell the tale. Some did live for a time in Shark Bay, where they were helped by local Aboriginal people. This contact with Europeans was probably the first ever made by Australia’s Indigenous people to last longer than a brief encounter experienced in previous exploration voyagers by Europeans.
The Lobster and Fishing Industry
Wet liners (fishing vessels) and lobster boats lined the pens and dotted the Murchison River on moorings at a time when the fishing fleet was the backbone of employment in Kalbarri. Numbers have more than halved in recent years due to fishing regulations and a general change in the industry. On a global scale, fish resources are being exploited, however WA’s outstanding management systems are working to ensure all our fisheries are ecologically sustainable to bring high standards vital to the long-term viability of our fishing industry. Fresh lobster catches are unloaded directly from the vessel and transported to Geraldton for processing. Lobster is not available for sale direct from the boats. Fresh lobster is often featured on the local restaurants’ menu and can be purchased from a few outlets in town. Fresh fish can be purchased directly from the boats at the wharf, although not on a daily basis. Kalbarri is now best known as a tourism town with a relaxed holiday vibe that attracts over 100,000 visitors per year.