|St. Francis Xavier Cathedral
Geraldton (including Chapman Valley and Houtman Abrolhos)
Attractive and substantial seaside resort town.
Located 424 km north of Perth (via the Brand Highway), Geraldton is the largest town in the Central West region and one of the most attractive centres in Western Australia. It has the double advantage of being the seaside resort for the wheat farmers from the dry hinterland and, with an average of 8 hours sunshine every day, being Western Australia's most popular winter resort. Equally, while small townships like Cervantes, Jurien and Port Gregory have lobster fleets, Geraldton has the largest lobster fleet on the west coast.
Apart from the Dutch who passed the present site of the town on their way up the coast (see the sections on the Houtman Abrolhos and the Maritime Museum for more details), the first European to really explore the area was the hapless George Grey who, having failed to explore the North-West Cape was forced to walk from Shark Bay back to Fremantle in 1839.
A decade later the explorer A. C. Gregory travelled through the area. He discovered lead on the Murchison River and the mine which was subsequently established was named Geraldine after the Governor Charles Fitzgerald.
The town of Geraldton was gazetted in 1850. In the years that followed the hinterland was settled by farmers and in 1857, after the closure of the unsuccessful Convict Depot at Port Gregory, Geraldton became a short lived convict settlement. In the 1860s, after the decline of Port Gregory, it became the major port north of Fremantle and in 1871 it was officially proclaimed a town.
It was during the time after 1850 that the local Aboriginal population, which was estimated at over 1000 between Dongara and Geraldton, was virtually wiped out. Massacres and diseases were the killers. It is known that nearly 300 Aborigines died at Tibradden Station in 1853 as the result of an outbreak of measles.
In 1879 the Western Australian government built a railway between Geraldton and Northampton.
The town's major period of growth occurred in the 1890s when it became the major port for the Murchison gold rushes. Prospectors poured through the port on their way to the fields at Cue, Day Dawn, Mount Magnet, Meekatharra and Yalgoo.
By World War 1 Geraldton had become the major centre for the surrounding wheat belt. It still holds this position today and is an important centre for fishing, wheat, sheep and tourism.
Things to see:
Places of Interest
Western Australian Museum Geraldton
This new Museum, located at Batavia Coast Marina, celebrates the environmental, social, cultural and economic stories of the Mid West region of Western Australia and the outlying Abrolhos Islands.
A 75 metre wall meanders through the main exhibition hall evocative of the flow of local rivers. The north side of the wall explores the region's geology, flora and fauna. On the south side are stories of human endeavour which celebrate Indigenous and European communities and today's local industries.
Hanging above the exhibition is a replica of a Bristol Tourer flown by WA Airlines Ltd; Australia's first commercial airline. The company started operations in 1921 a year before QANTAS.
Also in the Museum is the popular Shipwrecks Gallery, telling the stories of the great Dutch shipwrecks off the coast between 1629 and 1727, including the famous Batavia mutiny. Entry is by a voluntary donation.
The Shipwrecks Gallery replaces the Maritime Museum which had a single theme - the exploration of the west Australian coastline and the ships which were sunk off the coast during the seventeenth century. In reality this meant that most of its exhibits concentrated on the history of the Dutch East India Company, the navigational aids and maps, shipboard life and some of remnants taken from the wrecks of the Batavia which sank off the Abrolhos Islands in 1629, the Zuytdorp which was wrecked near Kalbarri in 1712 and the Zeewijk which struck a reef near the south Abrolhos in 1727.
The story of the wreck of the Batavia and the subsequent efforts to raise pieces of the wreck by nautical archaeologists are told in excellent detail and the displays of pieces of the wreck, including a cannon which has been cut so its construction can be studied in cross section, are all carefully captioned so that the visitor can vicariously participate in the life of the ship and the process of reclamation. The displays here are wonderful examples of how a museum can become a fascinating adventure.
There is also a Temporary Exhibition Gallery is used for travelling exhibits and is changed regularly and the bookshop has an extensive range of titles covering maritime, indigenous, midwest local history, fishing, travel, wildlife and children's topics. There is the Marra Gallery which houses local indigenous art which is for sale.
Situated on Mount Scott, and overlooking the town, this unusual and impressive memorial consists of a large cast metal cupola cut into the form of thousands of birds in flight, with an anchor suspended from the middle, all resting upon a series of white pillars. It commemorates the deaths of the entire crew of the HMAS Sydney (645 men) on November 11, 1941, in an exchange with the German raider Kormoran. The confrontation occurred in the Indian Ocean. The German vessel initially identified herself falsely as a Dutch ship, then opened fire with guns and torpedo when asked to give a secret call sign. Return fire led to the Kormoran's crew abandoning ship. 78 of its 393 were also killed.
|The Merry Go Round in the Sea at Geraldton
The Merry-go-round in the Sea.
Perhaps Geraldton's most famous literary son is the novelist-poet Randolph Stow who was born in the town in 1935, grew up in Gregory Street, and attended the town's school before moving to Perth to complete his education. He has written extensively about Geraldton, particularly in the semi–autobiographical The Merry-go-round in the Sea, and one of his poems provides a suitably evocative portrait of the town. Its lines include:
'My childhood was seashells and sandalwood, windmills
And yachts in the southerly, ploughshares and keels
Fostered by hills and by waves on the breakwater...
Brief subtle things that a child does not realise,
Horses and porpoises, aloes and clemantis -
Do I idealize?
Stow is remembered under the fig tree beside the Geraldton Museum where an old style merry-go-round has been installed in his honour. Anyone wanting to understand what Geraldton was like during the war years, or just wanting to read a very good evocation of growing up in Australia, should look at The Merry-go-round in the Sea.
The St Francis Xavier Cathedral
Geraldton, along with Northampton, Mullewa, Yalgoo, Tardun, Morawa, Perenjori and Nanson, can boast a number of religious buildings by the famous Western Australian architect-priest Monsignor John Hawes (see introduction for details of Hawes' life). Between 1915-1939 Hawes designed and helped to build a large number of churches and church buildings in the Central West. Of all these buildings the most impressive, indeed the most remarkable, is St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Geraldton.
Hawes' had already designed the building before he arrived in Geraldton in 1915. He began work on the building in 1916 and by 1921 was able to open the first section. The poorness of the local area and the small population meant that Hawes' spent much of his time exhorting his parishioners to contribute to the building fund while actually working on the site as a labourer and foreman.
In 1921 Hawes religious patron, Bishop Kelly, died and was replaced by Dr Richard Ryan who disliked the church. The project remained in limbo for 14 years until a new bishop, James Patrick O'Collins, showed renewed interest and it was finally completed and opened on 28 August 1938.
By any measure the cathedral is a hodge-podge of style. The twin towers are similar to those on the Californian Mission Church at Santa Barbara, the central dome has echoes of Brunellesci's cupola in Florence, the main doorway is from the French Renaissance, there are eight Romanesque columns inside, and the strange painting scheme (orange and grey stripes) is reminiscent of the Eastern Orthodox churches or even an Islamic mosque although Hawes' did say of the colour scheme that it was drawn from the 'many churches and cathedrals of Italy, such as Siena and Orvieto'. There is no doubt that the interior of the church is as interesting, if not more interesting, than the exterior. It is truly a remarkable and highly original piece of architecture.
Now part of the National Heritage the building has been listed for its originality. 'Hawes sought to avoid slavish imitation of past styles, endeavouring to create character and imagery through harmonious proportioning and massing. All extraneous ornamentation - such as traceried windows, pinnacles or carved decoration - was eliminated.' It is widely regarded as Hawes' masterpiece and the most original and unusual cathedral in Australia. Hawes saw the church as embodying the solidity and strength of Christianity.
|The Point Moore Lighthouse
The Point Moor Lighthouse
It is easy to forget, while wandering Geraldton's gracious streets of inspecting the museums and the Cathedral, that Geraldton was originally a port and that it does have one of the most beautiful foreshores (characterised by beautiful white sand beaches and an attractive harbour) of anywhere on the Western Australian coast.
The lighthouse at Point Moor, for example, was built in 1878. It stands 34 metres high and can be seen 26 km out to sea.
Interestingly the Point Moor lighthouse was pre-dated by the Bluff Point Lighthouse which was completed in 1876. The Bluff Point Lighthouse was destroyed by fire in 1952 (there is a monument where the lighthouse originally stood) but the Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage still stands on Chapman Road on the main northern entrance to the city. Built in 1876 the cottage is now surrounded by beautiful gardens and now houses the Geraldton Historical Society's Museum.
Driving towards the centre of Geraldton it is impossible to miss the beautiful Old Victoria District Hospital which was built in 1884 for a very modest £1660 and now houses the Geraldton Tourist Bureau. It is worthwhile stopping here to get a copy of the Geraldton Heritage Trail which provides detailed information on all of the major historical buildings in the area. The Bureau also has detailed maps of the city are necessary for the new visitor.
The Tourist Bureau also has copies of the Chapman Valley Heritage Trail a 100 km driving tour from Geraldton through the valley which for nearly 100 years (from 1863-1959) was mined for lead and copper. It is now a pastoral area where sheep, wheat, cattle and lupins are grown and raised. The appeal of the Chapman Valley is a combination of its beautiful scenery and the many historical points of interest which include Monsignor Hawes' Church of Our Lady of Fatima at Nanson and the Chapman Research Station where, since 1902, research into the agricultural problems of the region has been carried out. Interested visitors should contact the station manager on (08) 9920 5021 and arrange an appointment.
The Abrolhos islands were first sighted and reported by Frederick Houtman in 1619. He warned of the danger they posed to shipping, and recommended a route which would take navigators around them. Eight years later the Governor-General of the Indies was nearly wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos, and he too warned of the dangers of the area, particularly as the maps were inaccurate. Prophetic words, for two years later the Houtman Abrolhos reefs claimed their first known victim, the Batavia. When the Batavia struck Morning reef near Traitors island at the eastern end of the Wallabi archipelago it was carrying 316 people as well as bullion (jewels and 12 chests of silver coin worth 250 000 guilders) and building materials for Batavia (now modern day Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies. Of the survivors Captain Francisco Pelsaert took the ship's boat and with 47 of the survivors sailed up the coast to Batavia (a remarkable feat) while Jeronimus Cornelisz (who had been on the verge of mutiny) terrorised the survivors eventually murdering 125 of them. Skeletons of the mutineers victims have been found on Beacon Island. What a thought! Survive a shipwreck only to be murdered by one of your fellow survivors.
The Abrolhos have the dubious distinction of being the first white settlement in Australia. It is a comment on the nature of our European forebears that this first settlement included two forts (which can still be seen today), was the site of a massacre and, when Pelsaert returned, was the scene of some of the most horrendous punishments ever handed out. Some of the mutineers had their hands cut off, Pelsaert constructed a simple gibbet and the executed Cornelisz and his followers. And he marooned two of the mutineers, Wouter Loos and Jan Pelgrom, on the mainland - they became Australia's first white inhabitants. No one knows what became of them. Not a bad start for such a 'civilized' group of people.
The name Abrolhos is derived from Portuguese 'abri vossos olhos!' which means 'open your eyes - keep good watch!' This suggests the Portuguese may have visited the area earlier and named the islands however, to the best of our knowledge, it was the Dutch navigator F. de Houtman who named the islands when he made contact with them in 1619.
The Houtman Abrolhos are a chain of more than 100 islands stretching from North Island to the Pelsaert group. They lie approximately 60 km west of Geraldton and 300 km NNW of Perth and, about 10 000 years ago, were part of the Australian mainland. None of the islands rises more than 14 metres above sea level. They are home to a rich variety of fauna particularly sea bird life including the rare Lesser Noddy Tern, the Brush Bronzewing Pigeon and the Painted Quail. The Tammar Wallaby which is common on the islands was the first Australian marsupial ever recorded by Europeans.
Today the Abrolhos are home to lobster fishermen and their families who sustain the island's multimillion dollar rock lobster industry. The islands are controlled by the WA Fisheries Department and CALM. There are tours which go out to the Abrolhos from Geraldton but no visitor is allowed to stay the night on any of the islands.