stands on the southernmost tip of Dirk
Dirk Hartog Island
Historic island famed as the first place
Europeans landed on Australia.
Dirk Hartog Island is 80 km long, 14 km wide at
the widest point, and covers an area of 62 000
hectares, Dirk Hartog Island really offers the
visitor only one option. Catch a boat or plane
across to Dirk Hartog Homestead where they offer
simple accommodation (the lights go off when the
generator goes off) and plenty of tours around
the island. If money is no object they will ship
your 4WD across for $500 return.
The island is run by Kieran Wardle, his
girlfriend Tory and their dog Jed. Apart from
offering trips to Cape Inscription where Dirk
Hartog first stepped onto Australian soil (it is
a day trip over narrow sandy tracks) they will
feed you sensational fresh fish, and take you on
both nature and fishing tours.
It was the Dutch sailor Henderik Brouwer who,
in 1610, discovered that the best route from the
Cape of Good Hope to Batavia was via the Roaring
Forties. The idea was head east for a few
thousand kilometres then turn left. Brouwer
achieved the crossing of the Indian Ocean and
turned left before reaching Western Australia.
Six years later Dirk Hartog sailed too far and
landed at Cape Inscription on what is now known
as Dirk Hartog Island on 26 October 1616. It was
here that Hartog left his famous pewter plate
inscribed (in Dutch, this is obviously a
translation): '1616. On 25th October there
arrived here the ship Eendraght of Amsterdam.
Supercargo Gilles Miebais of Liege; skipper
Dirck Hatichs of Amsterdam. On 27th do. she set
sail again for Bantam. Subcargo Jan Stins; upper
steersman Pieter Doores of Bil. In the year
1616.' It hardly makes gripping reading but it
is firm evidence of the first Europeans landing
on mainland Australia.
falls hopelessly in love with Jed, the
In 1697 the Dutch sailor Willem de Vlamingh
reached the island and, finding Hartog's pewter
plate still in its original position (although
somewhat the worse for weathering) he removed it
and replaced it with another plate. The original
was returned to Holland where it still is kept
in the Rijksmuseum.
De Vlamingh's replacement plate had an even
less interesting inscription on it. After
getting the date wrong he listed all the
important sailors on the voyage and concluded
with 'Our fleet set sail from here to continue
exploring the Southern Land, on the way to
In 1818 the French explorer Louis de
Freycinet, while exploring the coast, came
across de Vlamingh's plate and removed it to
France. The plate was eventually returned to
Australia in 1947 and is currently housed in the
Maritime Museum in Fremantle.
Around this time Phillip Parker King
circumnavigated the island on his historic
survey of the Australian coastline. Both King
and John Septimus Roe left their marks on the
island. King spelt out his name in nails on a
post and Roe carved his name in the timber.
In 1879 the Western Australian government
granted a pastoral lease on the island and since
then at least part of the island has been
inhabited by sheep which, to a greater or lesser
extent, have managed to survive depending on the
unreliable rainfall. At various times the island
was capable of sustaining herds of up to 25,000
In 1969 the island was purchased by Sir
Thomas Wardle, an ex-Lord Mayor and one-time
grocery millionaire from Perth, but in 1989 the
West Australian government decided to make all
of the island (except for 97 hectares) part of
the hugely expanded Shark Bay National Park
which includes all the important sites in Shark
It is widely recognised that the island,
apart from its obvious historical importance, is
important environmentally. It boasts 250 species
of plant life and is home to the rare black and
It was to this island at the age of six that
young Kieran Wardle, Sir Thomas's grandson, came
for his school holidays. He fell in love with
its wild beauty and decided to convert the old
man's station into a rustic resort.
By any measure the island is a magical place.
It is barren, isolated, pummelled by the huge
and unpredictable waves of the Indian Ocean and,
in spite of the feral animal population (mostly
goats) it is awash with interesting native
animals and unusual geological formations
ranging from 15 metre high sand dunes to rocky
cliffs and fossilised remnants of ancient coral
reefs. The island is home to a number of
endangered species including the rare black and
white wren; each summer loggerhead turtles nest
on the north end of the island; and it is home
to the sandhill frog which is only found in
Just near the Wardle homestead there is an
island bird sanctuary inhabited by terns,
cormorants, osprey and seagulls where you can
watch as huge white breasted sea eagles go about
their dangerously predatory business of stealing
The WA National Parks will eventually reclaim
the island. At the moment the Wardles own 97
hectares freehold and have a lease which runs
out in 2015. Until then only eight vehicles are
allowed on the island at any one time. The
maximum number of visitors is 30-35 and it is
closed between November and 1 March because an
unremitting southerly blows non-stop through the
Things to see:
rugged west coast
Attractions on the Island
At Cape Inscription there is an old post where
the original plate was placed as well as a
lighthouse and a lighthouse keeper's cottage.
The western coastline of the island is dramatic
and dangerous in stormy weather but during mild
conditions it is famous for its game fishing
with marlin, samson fish and sailfish being
There is no regular access to the island at
the moment. The problem is that the journey from
Denham to Turtle Bay requires a large boat while
access to the shore requires a small boat and,
even then, there is a 3 km walk from Turtle Bay
to the Dirk Hartog site. It is possible to
charter a boat or to fly over the area.
Since writing that last piece of information
we have received an email from the Wardle family
on the island. It reads:
Hi! My name is Kieran Wardle. I am Sir Thomas
Wardle's grandson. Just a short note to inform
you what is happening on Dirk Hartog Island.
Dirk Hartog Island Station is now open to
tourists. We offer two types of accommodation -
8 Homestead Rooms and Camping facilities. You
can also bring your own 4WD to Dirk Hartog
Island. The Island Homestead has two Toyota
4WD's for Historic Tours to Cape Inscription &
Turtle Bay also stopping off for land based
fishing on the way home. (Catch dinner). The
Island Homestead also has a 26ft Shark Cat for
game fishing, scuba diving, snorkelling &
transfers from Denham to the Island.
Rex Hunt has filmed four 15 min TV shows & a
one 1hour special on Dirk Hartog Island. He has
rated it in his top ten fishing holidays.
Dirk Hartog Island Station is still run as a
sheep station, running 6000 sheep. However our
family have been dealing with the government for
9 years to try and come to an agreement on what
should happen to Dirk Hartog Island. We have
offered to run the island as a private national
If you would like more info, please contact
me on Dirk Hartog Island. (08) 9948 1211 or
A Further Note.
On 15 January 2001 the Western Australian
government announced "The State Government has
reached agreement for Dirk Hartog Island in the
World Heritage Listed Shark Bay region to become
a national park. In a joint announcement,
Planning Minister Graham Kierath and Environment
Minister Cheryl Edwardes said the long-term
owners of the island had agreed to its transfer
to the Conservation Commission.
The Wardle family has held a pastoral lease
over the island for more than 25 years and also
holds freehold title over about 100ha of the
Now an agreement has been reached, a
management plan for the future conservation of
the island is being drawn up in consultation
with the Wardle family.
This will involve removing livestock, future
tourism leases and island management and involve
consultation with the region's Aboriginal people
in line with the Native Title Act.
Mr Kierath said negotiations had involved
buying out the lease and reducing the family's
overall freehold ownership through a process of
consolidating areas by offering other land
parcels in exchange.
"It is a tremendous opportunity for the State
to secure an important historical and
environmental area and ensure its protection for
future generations," he said.
Mrs Edwardes said making the island a
national park would help preserve an important
part of the State's natural assets.
"The island has major conservation values,
especially as a nesting ground for marine
turtles," she said. "It provides an outstanding
opportunity to re-establish the original native
fauna following de-stock and the removal of
feral goats and subject to the successful
eradication of feral cats.
"This will add to the success of the
Department of Conservation and Land Management's
Project Eden wildlife recovery initiative that
already has restored several species of native
animals into the Shark Bay area."
Mr Kierath said the inclusion of the 61,500ha
island in the formal conservation reserve system
would also help recognise the important
historical aspects of the island.
"Dirk Hartog Island is the first known point
of contact Europeans had with Australia which
gives it national cultural and heritage value,"
he said. "Awarding the island the protection of
a national park will only help reaffirm the
importance of the area to Western Australians in
The island is named after the Dutch explorer
who recorded his landing on the island on
October 25, 1616. In 1697, Willem de Vlamingh
landed on the island and discovered the pewter
plate Hartog had nailed to a post. Around 100
years later several French explorers visited the
island. Evidence of French exploration was
uncovered recently when an archaeological
expedition found two 18th century French coins.