Sunday History Photo / WA

Submitted: Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 07:44
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Wyndham is the oldest and northernmost town in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, located on the Great Northern Highway, 2,210 kilometres Northeast of Perth. It was established in 1886 as a result of a gold rush at Halls Creek, and it is now a port and service centre for the east Kimberley with a population of 800. Wyndham is split into two areas. The original town site of Wyndham Port is situated on Cambridge Gulf, while Wyndham's Three Mile area is the residential and shopping area of the town.

The first European to visit the area was Phillip Parker King in 1819. He was instructed to find a river 'likely to lead to an interior navigation into the great continent'. He sailed into Cambridge Gulf, which he named after the Duke of Cambridge, and then sailed up a river which was subsequently named after him. Finding no fresh water on the mudflats, he departed.
The town of Wyndham was established by John Forrest in 1886 as the major port and trading station of the East Kimberley, after finds of gold in Halls Creek a year earlier. By mid-1886, the town was booming. There were six pubs, one of which was a two-storey building. Ships brought in at least five thousand miners who headed off to the Halls Creek goldfields. It is known that during this boom there were times when up to 16 vessels were moored in Cambridge Gulf.
However, by 1888, the gold rush at Halls Creek had ended and the fortunes of Wyndham declined. Wyndham became a tiny settlement serving the pastoral interests in the East Kimberley. By 1912, money had virtually disappeared from the Wyndham economy, and purchases were paid for using promissory notes known as "shinplasters".

During World War II, the town was attacked several times by Japanese aircraft
Wyndham's significance as a service centre was crucial for the construction of the Ord River Diversion Dam and the town of Kununurra in the early 1960s. With the rise of Kununurra as a larger population centre the significance of Wyndham as a service centre had diminished by the 1980s. Wyndham has regained significance as the port for the region with new mines shipping ore from the port.
In 1913, the Western Australian government started to construct the Wyndham Meatworks to restart the town's economy. The construction efforts were interrupted by the Nevanas affair and World War I, but the meatworks were completed in 1919 to a design by William Hardwick who later became the Principal Architect of Western Australia. The meatworks were the mainstay of the town's economy until their closure in 1985; the town also supported the Air Beef Scheme which ran from 1947 to 1965

From 1919 to about 1965, the open air cinema, holding 3-400 patrons, was located between the marsh and the railway line, and on the north side of the laneway and the company store. The cinema ran at right angles to and on the south side of the amenities hall, with its entrance facing the railway line. The bio-box was above the entrance, in the corner next to the hall (allowing screening into the hall?). Around 1965 these premises were replaced. Both the hall and gardens now ran parallel to the railway line, with the picture gardens on the marsh side and the hall on the railway line side. Both entrances were on the south, facing onto the laneway (which ran at right angles to the railway line), and opposite new amenities buildings (including a new, smaller canteen). The stage was at the north end of the hall and the screen was at the north end of the cinema. The front fence of the cinema was high galvanised iron, and the other sides were metal frames with solid panels at the base and wire mesh above. None of the original buildings now exist: the sugar storage shed is now built roughly on this site.

Screenings were twice a week - Wednesday and Saturday, unless it rained: because the films were retained for several weeks, a screening could be postponed if it was rained out. Adult whites paid a small amount for entry and sat on canvas deckchairs: Aborigines and children did not pay, the Aborigines entering through a side gate beside the amenities hall to sit on blankets in front of the deckchairs, the children to sit even closer to the screen. Any profit made by the venue was put back into amenities for the meatworks employees. There was a stage in front of the screen, probably used for local performances or parties.

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Reply By: Member - Brian H16 - Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 09:32

Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 09:32
Articles of this quality certainly enhance one's subscription to the great ExPlor Oz. Thanks so much. Look forward to more.
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Reply By: Ron N - Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 12:29

Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 12:29
Doug, the Japs pounded Wyndham twice during WW2, doing substantial damage.

I can recall one story of a bloke guarding a large fuel dump of 44 gallon drums of aviation petrol at Wyndham on 3rd March 1942 - when the Jap planes returning from the Broome raid, strafed the airstrip!

He related how he was absolutely packing himself over the Japs hitting the fuel dump - which they did - and which caused the loss of the entire fuel dump, which had only been dropped off a week before!

The same raid destroyed an RAAF DeHavilland DH-84 air ambulance which had just landed. The crew and passengers baled out as the aircraft was still rolling and being hit by cannon fire. The DH-84 caught fire and was totally destroyed. No-one was hurt.

This raid also saw the already-damaged SS Koolama strafed, which had been unloading at the wharf since the day before.
The majority of the military supplies (which was trucks, earthmoving equipment and food) that formed the ships cargo, had already been unloaded.

The strafing appeared to have done little damage to the Koolama - but the leaks in her damaged hull overtook the ships bilge pumps, and she rolled over and sank later that day, almost taking out the wharf structure, as she did so.

There are reports of an unexploded Jap bomb still inside the hull of the Koolama, but this report seems doubtful, as it's unlikely the Japs would have still been carrying bombs back from the Broome raid.

Used to spend some good holiday time in Wyndham in the late 1990's when the BIL was OIC in charge of Wyndham cop shop.
There were a number of beautiful, huge, shady African Mahogany trees in the back yard of the police station house at the time - but the BIL told me that the powers in charge cut them all down, later on, deeming them to be a threat to the house, in the case of a cyclone! Bastards!

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 19:31

Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 19:31
Thanks Ron, I have all the details about the WW2 part of Wyndham and the Kollama in the WW2 folder on the PC but decided it was too much to add , you did good anyhow mate .
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Reply By: bgreeni - Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 18:40

Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 18:40
In about 67/68 I visited Wyndham regularly. I was based in Kununurra working for the PWD on the early stages of the Ord main dam project. One of my jobs was a weekly run to the meat works to pick up a ute load of meat and take it up to the gang camped at the main dam site.

I also carried out inspections of the camp units which were taken to Wyndham by the state ships and then loaded onto trucks for transport to the camp site. These ships were designed to sit on the mud when the tide went out.

The road from the WA/NT border to Wyndham was about the only bit of sealed road in the NW. Next was down near Geraldton.
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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 19:26

Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 19:26
Yes I remember back to 1967 I travelled from Perth to Darwin in my 1962 EK Holden, I think the sealed road ended at Carnarvon , some in Pt Hedland, Broome, and Kunanurra, I did go to Wyndham in 67 and have not been back.
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Follow Up By: Member - Phil 'n Jill (WA) - Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 21:50

Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 21:50
Another enjoyable write up thanks Doug.

That sealing of the highway through to Wyndham you mention in response to bgreeni was finally completed in 1986 – the centenary year of the town of Wyndham.

Quite a large gathering of past residents who participated in that centenary are due back for the race round this year in August to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the centenary celebrations.

Should be quite entertaining. Sad part about it though is the deterioration of the town’s economy following the closure of the meatworks in 1985. We thought we would be also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the new Wyndham Town Hotel this year, but it has closed down and looks unlikely to open for the big year.

Cheers – Phil & Jill
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Reply By: Member - Talawana - Monday, May 16, 2016 at 23:38

Monday, May 16, 2016 at 23:38
Thank you Doug for a great read very interesting, and I learnt a lot.
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Reply By: Echucan Bob - Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 23:57

Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 23:57
Thanks Doug,

In 1994 the wharf area was quite active. When last there in 2008 it was pretty dead. I had the best fish and chips ever there - Barra and chips for $7. The Barra was fresh and almost too big a piece for me. In 08 the fish and chip shop was gone but we had Barra at the pub.

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