Nestled on Arunine Bay are the old historical twin towns of Port Denison and Dongara, the coastal contact for the Shire of Irwin.
In 1839, an expedition led by George Grey left the Swan River Colony by ship, bound for the area north of the Murchison River. His boats and supplies destroyed in a cyclone, his only alternative was a grueling 700km trek south to the colony.
Captain Grey and his party thus became the first Europeans to traverse the Irwin District and note the extent of the lush pastoral country in the Irwin Basin.
The Aboriginal people of this region (the Wattandee) saw the first permanent European settlement of Irwin in 1850. In 1852, a townsite was surveyed and named “Dhungarra” – a name given to the area by local tribal natives to indicate a “meeting place of seals”.
Settlement of Dongara
From this time on, the area gradually became settled. This progress was understandably slow because of the distances involved and the slowness of available means of transport. Unknown dangers played their part in hindering settlement as in the case of the sailing ship “Leander”. In 1853, she struck the reef which now bears her name. Commander, Captain Johnson, managed to run in and beach her on the then uninhabited coast. The Captain and crew managed to reach Mr Burges’ property on the Upper Irwin.
By 1866, the small settlement was beginning to flex its community muscle and a jetty was built at Port Irwin; at the same time, an Inn was built, which is still in use today.
Further Development of Dongara – The Irwin Road Board
Finally, in 1871, the Irwin Road Board was formed. It stretched to the South Australian border and covered 89,000 square miles. In its early years, meetings were held in the Courthouse which was built around the same time, along with a School and Police Station. This progress continued as surely as the gradual growth of the majestic trees lining the main street.
Please contact the Irwin District Historical Society for more information on 99271323 or visit them at 5 Waldeck Street, Dongara.
Historical information courtesy of the Shire of Irwin Council.