Rockingham - Safety Bay (including Garden Island)
Commuter seaside resort town south of Perth
Located only 46 km to the south of Perth (with the industrial area of Kwinana just to the north of the town) Rockingham is part of the PerthKwinana commuter belt. It is a very pretty centre located on Mangles Bay with a rapidly growing population in excess of 65 000. It is a pleasant seaside resort.
Rockingham's greatest claim to fame is that it was the site of the first permanent European settlement on the Swan River in Western Australia. The settlers who arrived in 1829 were forced to wait on Garden Island for about six months before they were allocated land.
The coast around Rockingham had been explored by the Dutch and the French prior to the arrival of the English. Indeed Nicholas Baudin had named Garden and Carnac Islands respectively Ile Buache and Ile Berthellet and when Captain Stirling arrived to explore the area in 1827 the names of the islands were well established. In his journal Stirling wrote that at 'Buache Island we found fresh water by digging in the sand. I had a well made, fifty yards from shore, and it was instantly filled with fresh water'. It was probably this rather romantic perception of the island which helped Stirling to decide that Garden Island (he renamed it) would be the site of the first settlement.
On 7 June 1829 Stirling decided that until the site of Perth had been surveyed and further explorations had been carried out Garden Island should be the site of the temporary settlement. Storehouses and shelters were duly built on the island, wells were dug and a bakery was constructed. There is a memorial to this early settlement at Cliff Head on the island.
It is unfortunate that Garden Island, which has a number of important historical sites, is restricted. It is now joined to the mainland by a 4 km causeway. Access along the causeway is restricted to Naval personnel stationed at HMAS Stirling and the only access to the island for non-Navy personnel (which probably means you) is by boat or ferry.
The early settlement of Rockingham occurred when Thomas Peel arrived with a group of settlers aboard the ship Gilmore which anchored in Cockburn Sound on 15 December 1829.
Peel, cousin of the famous British Prime Minister Robert Peel, had developed a scheme to settle 10 000 people in the district. The British Government had granted him 1 million acres (404 million ha). He was preparing to sail to Western Australia when the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Sir George Murray, demanded that the colony be started by 1 November 1829. Peel arrived late and his grant was cut to 250 000 acres (101 000 ha). On 15 December 1829 169 settlers arrived at Cockburn Sound and they were followed shortly afterwards by the two further vessels, the Hooghly (a vessel of 465 tons) and the Industry (87 tons).
Peel was furious that his original land grant had been reduced by his failure to arrive on the coast by 1 November. However Captain Stirling persuaded him to take up land south of Woodmanıs Point which he named Clarence, in honour of the Duke of Clarence.
The settlement at Clarence was a disaster. The colony could not move until the arrival of the Rockingham (427 tons) which had been delayed by a series of accidents. The Rockingham arrived in heavy weather on the afternoon of 13 May 1830.
The excellent little booklet The Ship Rockingham by R. H. Shardlow recounts what followed; 'Peel, impatient and dissatisfied with the proceedings, ignored the bad weather and made his way out to the ship to 'assist'. He was later accused of having interfered with the handling of the ship...For reasons unknown he ordered all the single men to be sent to Garden Island in four of the shipıs boats. However, they were unable to row against the gale and were blown ashore on the mainland and swamped in the surf. Fortunately there were no casualties.
'The ship fared no better. While easing out the cable in order to bring her closer inshore to facilitate unloading, the pitching seas put such a strain on the capstan that it broke.
'The ship drifted out of control and ran aground, broadside on...Miraculously all managed to make the shore without loss of life. Fearing the ship would break up the stores were hurriedly brought off and the cattle were swum ashore only to wander off into the scrub.
'There was little shelter in Clarence. Most of the people tried to huddle in a small, wooden house washed up from the ship. Others had to sleep in barrels, boxes and under sacks or pieces of canvas.' It was not an auspicious beginning for a grand settlement scheme.
Like all well intentioned schemes, Peel's proposal looked good on paper but did not work in reality. These first settlers were left on the beach until Peel decided to move south to Peel Inlet. A few followed him but most were disenchanted with the scheme and moved north to the Swan River colony.
By August 1830 the remnants of the settlement on Cockburn Sound became known, possibly with a fine sense of irony, as 'Rockingham Town'.
In fairness to Peel when he finally established his settlement his plan did enjoyed some success. He can be credited with the early development of the Mandurah area. He sold land, surveyed roads, and imported stock and was probably the first European to recognise the huge potential of the jarrah forests which lay inland from the coast.
It wasnıt until the 1870s that the tiny settlement of Rockingham began to grow. A syndicate headed by the Wanliss brothers began cutting the jarrah trees in the hinterland and, determined to export their rich harvest, they built a sawmill, a jetty at Rockingham, and a railway linking the mill to the jetty. For a brief period Rockingham became the most important port on the coast. Its importance declined with the construction of the railway from Perth to Bunbury in 1893 which resulted in much of the produce from the area being transported either to Perth or Bunbury. Around this time C Y O'Connor completed the Inner Harbour at Fremantle. With this excess of port facilities Rockingham continued to decline. By 1908 the Rockingham port had been closed.
For most of this century Rockingham remained a sleepy little seaside village. It was only with the establishment of Kwinana in the 1950s and the development of the Naval Support Facility at Green Island in the 1970s that the town was revitalised.
Today Rockingham is a pleasant day trip from Perth. It has a comfortable, lazy beachside ambience which makes it a delightful town removed from the more urgent lifestyle of the centres which lie to the north.
Things to see:
The Rockingham Museum is one of the best laid out and most interesting folk museums in the country. One of the museum's highlights is the Z Force display.
The Z Force were formed during World War II as a combined Army, Navy, Air Force British and Australian force. They were trained on Garden Island. As a secret force they were responsible for entering Singapore Harbour in tiny submarines and successfully blowing up a number of Japanese ships. It is claimed that during the course of the war this clandestine force managed to kill over 1700 Japanese with the loss of only 112 British and Australian lives. They were eventually captured in Singapore at the end of the war.
While the Z Force display is the highlight of the museum there are also excellent displays relating to clothes and fashions, the Group Settlement farms, household items, childrenıs toys, antique photographic equipment and souvenirs from the two World Wars.
A popular tourist diversion is to take a ferry trip to Penguin Island which, from March to December, is home to a colony of fairy penguins. There is also a colony of seals on nearby Seal Island. Ferries to the island leave regularly from Mersey Point south of Rockingham township.
Rockingham Heritage Trails
The excellent Old Rockingham Heritage Trail is one of the most comprehensive Heritage Trails available. It lists 23 points of interest in the Rockingham-Kwinana area. Highlights of the trail, which is a 30 km drive around the area, are Day Cottage (1885) which once served as a wayside inn, Chesterfield Inn (1912), Bell Cottage (1880s) and the huge grain terminal at Kwinana.
The Rockingham-Jarrahdale Heritage Trail is also interesting. Starting at the beach in Rockingham, where in 1898 there were three jetties capable of handling 1 000 tons of timber at a time, the route follows the old railway line which brought timber from Jarrahdale to the coast.