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,
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 . This is firm evidence of the first Europeans landing on mainland Australia.
In 1697 the Dutch sailor Willem de Vlamingh reached the island and, finding Hartog's pewter plate still in its original position He removed it and replaced it with another plate. The original was returned to Holland where it still is kept in the Rijksmuseum.
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 sheep.
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 Bay.
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 white wren.
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 Shark Bay. The island is inhabited by terns, cormorants, osprey and seagulls and huge white breasted sea eagles.
Dirk Hartog will soon be reclassified as a National Park but in the meantime 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 summer months.
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 caught. Camping on Dirk Hartog Island can be booked by calling 08 99481208.