Derby – Overview & Things to See and Do
Derby is an open plan town with a close knit community. Predominately a service town for the pastoral, mining and tourism industries, Derby is the gateway to the magnificent coastline of the Buccaneer Archipelago and some of the most stunning gorges in Australia.
The town is set on a peninsula of slightly elevated land above the surrounding tidal marshland. Tides in Derby rise up to 11.8m making them the second highest in the Southern Hemisphere. The highest tides in the world are 15m at The Bay of Fundy Nova Scotia in Canada. The highest in the Southern Hemisphere is Puerto Gallego in Argentina at 13.2m. The impressive tidal movement can be viewed from the famous 550m long steel Jetty.
Unfortunately, Derby’s port on King Sound has always proved difficult for shipping. There are savage tidal rips at the entrance and both the channel and wharf are virtually dry at the lowest extreme of the 10 m tidal range. Modern ships are not designed to sit on their bottoms and that, combined with silting problems in the Derby channel, caused port use to decline markedly since the early 1980s. This had been resurrected until recently with export of concentrate from Western Metals. Western Metals has since shut down.
Derby was Gazetted as a town on the same day in November 1883 as Broome, but unlike Broome which remained vacant, Derby was occupied by a Government resident. At the time Derby was the port for the West Kimberley and the service town for the pastoral and grazing industries.
The Warwa people had occupied the land prior to European settlement. During the 1880’s there was a conflict between the Aborigines and Europeans with a infamous outlaw terrorising the countryside. The story of the Aboriginal outlaw Jandamarra, also known as Pigeon is an interesting one. He led a resistance group against the Europeans and proved very difficult to track and find. Eventually an aboriginal tracker was used and he was finally tracked down and killed near Tunnel Creek in 1897.
Things to See and Do
Derby is the main access to the gorge country of the Gibb River Road, Windjana Gorge National Park and Tunnel Creek , as well as the Buccaneer Archipelago, and offers a variety of air, land and sea tours.
The Derby Jetty or Wharf : Here the highest tidal range in Australia can be viewed. It is a popular place from which to enjoy a perfect sunset over King Sound or to fish for silver cobbler, shark, golden grunter, north west salmon and mud crabs on the incoming tides. The first wharf was a wooden T shaped structure built in 1885 at the northern end of the present steel and concrete jetty. It was linked to the town by a horse drawn tramway crossing the mud flats by a causeway where the present day road is located. Wool and pearl shell was the major exports in the early days. In 1964, when the new jetty was built, live cattle were exported and fuel oil and provisions were the main imports. The last passenger ship visited in 1973. Now a days, barges exporting lead and zinc concentrates and pleasure and tourist craft are the main vessels visiting the jetty.
Wharfinger’s House Museum : The history of the Wharf is told in displays at this museum devoted to the communications history of the town. Shipping, telecommunications and aviation history together with small displays on the Leprosarium, fossil mud lobsters and termites are featured. The building is an example of prefabricated wooden houses of the 1920’s designed for living in a tropical climate without electricity.
Old Derby Gaol : The Police Station and depot for the Police Horse Patrol was originally located halfway between the original town of Derby and Derby Port, locally known in the early days as “The Point”. The recently restored Goal is one of the oldest buildings in the town and dates from 1906.
Boab Prison Tree, Mayall’s Bore and Cattle Trough, Frosty’s Pool : These attractions are located on the town common 7 kms from Derby on the road to Broome. The huge Boab Prison Tree is believed to be around 1,500 years old and has a girth of 14.7 metres. It was used as a staging point for prisoners being walked into Derby in the early days. Mayall’s Bore was drilled in 1910 to provide water for a trough 120 metres long and able to water over 1,000 head of cattle at a time. The bore was sunk to a depth of 322metres and had a head of 6 metres. A windmill is now used to fill the trough. Frosty’s Pool was built in 1944 as a bathing area for troops stationed near Derby during World War II. The commonage area is currently being re- developed to include interpretation signage and a botanical trail.
Other town attractions include Wharfinger’s House Museum, Botanical Gardens, Royal Flying Doctor Base and School of the Air. Aboriginal art and design is on show at a gallery and Aboriginal enterprises in the town.