A Port for the Irwin District

Situated on Arurine Bay, a townsite was surveyed as “Denison” in 1866, but was generally referred to as “Port Irwin” up to the 1880’s. It was later called “Port Dongara” or “Dongara Beach” until the 1920’s, and then reverted to “Denison” up to 1973 when the Lands Department officially gazetted the name “Port Denison”.1

Second Jetty, Port Denison about 1904. Coastal steamer S.S. Julia Percy at jetty.
Photographer: Percy M. Carter.

The Governor sought permission from Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies in London, but it was not until 1867 that a jetty facility was finally built.3

Earlier in November 1853, the brig Leander was wrecked on reefs south of the bay. The luckless vessel is now closely identified with the community, her name being given to the reef, headland and road between Port Denison and Dongara. Interestingly, in May of that year the Leander had sailed north with a detachment of 60 guards and convicts for Port Gregory, the first convict Depot north of Fremantle.4

Navigation into Arurine Bay was known to be hazardous not only because of the reefs, but also because of strong seasonal winds, southwesterly in summer and northwesterly in winter. Insurance for ships calling at Port Denison were at a premium, up to triple the rates of other ports, and in 1870 expiree Robert Sparks was the successful tenderer for the building of two stone navigational obelisks. One of the obelisks remains today on Point Leander at Fisherman’s Lookout.5

Dongara Second Jetty, Port Denison, 1906, looking west toward the Bond Store
Photographer: Percy M. Carter

Despite losses of a number of ships the activities of the port continued with cargoes such as telegraph poles, lumber, cement being landed, and agricultural products such as wool, grain, flour departing. A large quantity of sandalwood was also dispatched to Singapore.6

In 1891 Port Dongara was gazetted as a warehousing port under the Customs Act7 but in 1894 with the opening of the Midland Railway to Perth the port slowly declined and was virtually inoperative by 1912. The modern lobster industry has given new life to the port and in 1979 the Port Denison Marina was opened as a fishing boat harbour.

  1. Baskerville, B., Port Denison 1850-1915, Rimmer Sequence Port Development, p.5
  2. ibid., p. 11
  3. Bain, M. A., Ancient Landmatks, p.346,347
  4. Baskerville op cit., p.11
  5. ibid., p.15
  6. ibid., p17
  7. ibid., p.19

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