Monday, November 14, 2005


During a gale in 1792, two French frigates on a mapping voyage of the Australian coast, took shelter off Observatory Point. The first ship to enter the bay was L'Esperance and so the bay was named. The archipelago was named after the second ship, Recherche.

Another early visitor to the area was Matthew Flinders, who anchored at Lucky Bay in 1802 during his voyage to chart the souther coast.

He named several landmarks including Thistle Cove.

In1841, Edward John Eyre men Captain Rossiter on his epic journey from Adelaide, abourd the French Whaler 'Mississippi' in a bay which later became known as Rossiter Bay. Middle Island, visited by Flinders in 1802, was later established as a base for sealers operating in the area.

1863 saw the arrival of the first settlers, the Dempster brothers, who traveled overland from Northam with their families and stock.

Other settlers followed with the discovery of gold at Coolgardie and the town became the principal port of the gold fields.

The town suffered a severe setback with the opening of the Perth to Coolgardie railway and was reduced to a holiday resort and fishing town.

However, the town attracted enormous publicity in the early 1960's when American investors established large landholdings in the area. The success of their farming methods caused an influx of new farmers from all parts of Australia. This helped make Esperance the prosperous town it is today.

The aboriginal name for the area was Gabba-kyle, 'the place where the water lies down like a boomerang'.

Today Esperance is romantically dubbed the 'Bay of Isles' and the visitor will find that both these descriptions fit, for nature has bestowed upon Esperance countless attractions.

The climate is temperate, the bay a brilliant blue, the rolling plains seem endless, the headlands are magnificent and the wildflowers are truly splendid. The town of Esperance lies on a beautiful bay, dotted with the islands of the Recherche Archipelago.

It is the only port in the south-east of Western Australia and is serviced by a standard guage rail system from Kalgoorlie. The port of Esperance exported over 3,000,000 tonnes of product last year, including wheat, barley, oats, lupins, peas and minerals. Agriculture is by far the leading industry with tourism and fishing also playing important roles.

The region has been dramatically transformed in the past few years. The once struggling farms have been replaced by rich, fertile crops and pastures. In 1954 there were only 36 farmers in the area, utilizing about 8,093ha. Today there are about 600 on more than 404,686ha. This transformation came about through a combination of Australian agronomists' know how and American investors' money. This American inspired land development revitalized the area. Potentially, the Esperance region could be one of Australia's greatest producers of beef, fat lambs, wool, wheat, oats, barley and other crops such as linseed, safflower and grain sorghum.

Tracie Looking at the Sunset
There are quite a few things to do in and around Esperance. We went on the Great Ocean Drive which is one of Australia's most spectacular scenic drives.

It is a loop drive 38kms long and includes some of the area's best know attractions, including spectacular beach and coastal scenery, Rotary Lookout on Wireless Hill, Twilight Cove, Observatory Point, Wind Farms and the unique Pink Lake.

Pink Lake
The coastal portion of the drive is the best part, but the Pink Lake could also be interesting. The Lakes colour is attributed to salt tolerant algae called dunalella salina. Table salt is harvested from solar ponds on the eastern end of Pink Lake. Hugh Stockpiles can be seen from the lookout. There was less salt than normal in the lake while we were there, and so the algae that makes the water pink wasn't in bloom and the water wasn't pink.

One of the other major attractions in Esperance is the Tanker Jetty. The jetty is located on the town foreshore. New Zealand fur seals and Australian sea lions often visit the jetty in the hope of finding fish scraps thrown into the water by anglers who use the jetty. There was only one seal there during our visit.

The WA Government Railways built the Esperance Deepwater Wharf, commonly known as the Tanker Jetty, between January 1934 and February 1935. It was the first major project for young engineer, John Gillespie and was officially opened by State Mines Minister, Selby Walter Munsie on 13 April 1935.

With 37 feet 6 inches (11.2 meters) of depth available to bulk ships where it extended 1140 feet (842 meters) into the Esperance Bay, the jetty provided an excellent facility to unload bulk fuel and load grain for export. The last tanker to unload bulk fuel from the Jetty was the “BP Enterprise” in 1977. Since then fuel has been shipped through the land-backed wharf which had been built during the 1960's for the export of grain and minerals.

With the end of commercial use, the Tanker Jetty rapidly fell into disrepair to the extent that, in 1985, 67 outer piles had worn completely through and another 38 were 50-75% worn. A portion of the jetty beyond repair 124 was so unsafe that 7 piers were removed – separating the head of the jetty.

In 1988 the Apex Club of Esperance took over an initiative of Jaycees from the year before when the Save the Tanker Jetty Association was formed. Under the leadership of Barrie Stearne, with assistance from gold fields and Esperance local governments, community groups, service clubs, and the dedicated citizens of Esperance, an amount of $163,589 was raised. The State Government contributed $150,000 towards the preservation of the jetty, which is a focal pint of enjoyment for visitors, locals and seals alike.

We found a nice caravan park to stay at and as we were leaving, Tracie back into their gas pump and did a real number on it. I'm sure she knocked it off the stand. It was mounted on a small concrete pad and you could see that the pad had been lifted a little bit off the ground at least enough to crack the dirt around it.

The park manager said that it had been hit before and that it cost $1200 to get it fixed, but since he hadn't used the pump in 12months that he would just let it slide. He said that the tank was empty and he didn't have any plans to use the pump or tank anymore anyway.

We got the Frenchmen and went back there to camp. We had supper with them and it was very nice. We had a good visit and I got them hooked on Autostitch.

Just 56kms East of Esperance is Cape Le Grande National Park. There are several granite peaks, one of which we climbed. There are two campsites with full facilities and caravans are welcome, although there are no power hookups. The lights in the Bathroom are solar powered, and stay on automatically for three hours after dusk and can be switch on for five minutes per press of a button. The showers also rely on solar heating and while they ask you to limit your shower to around five minutes or less, the water is pleasantly warm.

Galloping Go Anna
While we were there I spotted a large monitor lizard, know locally as a 'Galloping Go Anna' it was close to a meter long, Easily the biggest wild lizard I have seen. There were also several species of smaller lizards and various types of crabs.

The beach was spectacular, the sand was very fine and hard packed. The beach sloped ever so gently out to sea and so the wave broke pretty far out and we could get a nice long ride in on our body boards. It was the funnest ride we've had up until that point the waves were pretty small with the very biggest one being less than a meter.

Gary  bodyboarding
With a four wheel drive, you could drive along the coast on the beach which looked pretty fun, although you do have to be careful to watch for rogue waves and not turn too quickly in order to avoid rolling. I'm told that driving on the beach is illegal in most places.

When we got done body boarding on the beach, we went on a little hike. We got to a spot where it was obvious that water running down the mountain had washed away any dirt that had a chance to build up and so there was an area free of trees and I convinced the others that we should climb to the top rather than take the path around the mountains to a beach. I am really glad we did. We got lots of photos of the scenery and of ourselves and we had a really good time. It was one of the highlights of my time here in Australia so far.

Swallow a Fly
At about 15 minutes to sunset, I got worried that we would have to walk back down in the dark and to complicate things I could see that the weather was taking a turn for the worse. I could see a line of wind blowing closer and closer towards us hard. I could see the white caps on the water.

We got back just when the wall of wind hit. In the shelter of the camper van, we had our supper and then headed back to Esperance. We decided that we would avoid finding a pay camp site and went searching for a place to stay free. It ended up that we parked outside the fire department. Since it was a volunteer fire department I knew that we would be undisturbed unless there were a fire that night. Soon after laying down for the night, it started raining pretty hard.

There are also many things in Esperance that we didn't have the chance to do. It relies heavily on tourism to supplement income from agriculture and fishing.

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