Stories From a Ghost Town – Old Onslow
The original Onslow was proclaimed a town in 1883, and named after Sir Alexander Onslow, the acting Governor and Chief Magistrate of Western Australia at the time. The site supported the nearby pastoral stations that had been established along the Ashburton River and the gold mines that had developed in the proximity and in the hinterland. One of the first recorded stations was Minderoo, established in 1882.
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During World War I camels, like the ones pictured here, carried urgently needed copper and lead to the port at Old Onslow. The precious elements were then shipped to London via Singapore.
The Overland Telegraph Station was the first government building in Onslow. It opened in 1885 and allowed communication between Perth and Onslow.
Life on the frontier could be tough but they still had fun! The remains of Old Onslow’s tennis court can still be found on site. The image, while not of Old Onslow shows how popular tennis was in remote locations
The Rob Roy Hotel at Old Onslow has a bar, still room, billiard room, office, bedroom, underground cellar and two dining rooms. One dining room served upper-class guests while the other catered for working men.
Robert F Hope arrived in Old Onslow in 1892 and became known for his gentle manner and genuine kindliness. The site of his store can still be found at Old Onslow today. Here you can see Robert with his wife Sarah Hope (nee Criddle) who was born in Greenough and married Robert in 1881.
The early pearling industry out of Onslow relied on cheap and expendable labour. Pearl diving was incredibly dangerous, resulting in the death of many divers. Until 1885 all divers in the North West were Aboriginal but Asian divers gradually replaced them.
Erosion and cyclones rapidly silted the river and it became impossible for large ships to dock at Onslow. ‘It would be better to construct a new jetty at Beadon Point than to lengthen the old one at Onslow’ – This spelt the end of the Old Onslow Townsite.
In 1897 the growing population at Old Onslow meant a hospital was needed. It accommodated 6 male patients and 4 female patients at full capacity. Here the old hospital can be seen, date unknown.
The Mechanics’ Institute Hall at Old Onslow was opened with a calico costume ball in February 1912. It replaced the Church Hall, which was destroyed by a cyclone in 1909 and soon became the centre of activates at Old Onslow. The picture here shows the Hall after it was transferred to new Onslow and rebuilt.
A large quantity of wool, sandalwood and pearl shells were taken along the tramline at Old Onslow to the sea jetty for export. The remains of both of these structures can still be found at Old Onslow today. Here you can see transferred, baggage and wool as they’re pushed along the tramline in 1901.
James Clark and John McKenzie arrived in Onslow in 1883 to establish a trading post and port at the mouth of the Ashburton River. Clark and McKenzie’s store catered to pearl luggers and pastoralists who needed to replenish their supplies. Above is James Clark and Company’s Store, c1920.
The Ashburton Road Board, formed in 1887, was responsible for health and sanitation, the cemetery, vermin control, the tramway and roads at Old Onslow. Pictured here is the board of 1932. Back row (L to R): Onslow Clark, Neil Clark, J.J. Hooley, J.K. Clark, R.J. Hooley. Front row (L to R): T.F. de Pledge, R. Mervyn Forrest (Chairman), K.P. Paterson and F.J. Lapthorn.
Wool was one of the most important exports from Old Onslow and the main reason the town was established. A wool dump, operating in Old Onslow from the 1900s was a convenient place for pastoralists to dump their wool.
A number of wells were dug around Onslow, but in one of the driest places in WA, having water available year round was a matter of life and death. The ruins of some of the towns water tanks can still be seen around Old Onslow today.
One of the many faces of Old Onslow – Mrs. Samuel Henry Clark (nee Annie Louise Anderson). She moved to Old Onslow from Melbourne and had 7 children.
The new jetty at Old Onslow was 843m long and cost £12,695 to build. However, on the 30th of December 1897, the Daily Mail announced – ‘The new jetty is a thing of the past, as it is completely collapsed’.
The $1million conservation project is funded by the Chevron-operated Wheatstone Project as part of its $250 million social and critical infrastructure commitment for Onslow. Conservation works are being managed by the Pilbara Regional Council (PRC) in conjunction with Chevron, the Shire of Ashburton and the Department of State Development.
Images and stories discovered by Savagely Creative, Creative Spaces and Ethnosciences.