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History and Economy Gascoyne

The Gascoyne subregion was home to Aboriginal people for thousands of years before it was discovered by Europeans. There are many key cultural and sacred sites throughout the subregion that provide significant insight into the rich heritage of Aboriginal history. This includes Shark Bay (a national heritage listed area); Mt Augustus and Wilgie Mia, the world's oldest ochre mine, just to name a few.

In 1818 Lieutenant Phillip Arthur King completed a survey of the Exmouth Gulf. In 1839 the British explorer Lieutenant George Grey and his party, came across Bernier Island (approximately 48.3 km west of Carnarvon) and the Gascoyne River for the first time, however there was little settlement until the 1890s Murchison gold rushes.

Early pastoral settlements were focused along and around the major water courses. During this period the Aboriginals were forced away from their traditional ceremonial and hunting sites. This resulted in tribal disintegration and caused fragmented family groups to adapt their lifestyle and congregate on pastoral properties. The Aboriginal people were highly valued and respected workers and were considered to be the backbone of the cattle industry.


Carnarvon Cultural Park. Photo taken by Teresa Belcher

In the 1930s orchards were established, the Gascoyne River bridge was built and there was a rosperous sheep industry.

Today the major towns of the Gascoyne are Carnarvon, Exmouth, Denham,Gascoyne Junction, Burringurrah and Coral Bay. The main economic activities of the region include pastoralism, horticulture, retail,
tourism, mining and fishing.

Pastoralism is the dominant land use in the Gascoyne. Lease sizes are typically between 100,000 and 250,000 hectares. The regions horticultural crops include bananas, tomatoes, grapefruit, mangos, table grapes and a range of vegetables products grown along the Gascoyne River.

The fishing industry of the Gascoyne is based in Carnarvon and Exmouth and includes prawn, scallop,
crab and wet line fishing operations.

Mining operations include salt and gypsum mining; these are mined at Lake MacLeod, north of Carnarvon.

Due to the warm climate and long coastline, which includes Ningaloo Reef and Shark Bay World Heritage Site, tourism is an important industry in the Gascoyne subregion.