The original inhabitants
Aboriginal people inhabited Shark Bay for thousands of years and evidence of their presence can still be seen in numerous cave shelters and shell middens around Peron Peninsula. They were probably among the first Australian Aboriginals who had contact with Europeans.
Gutharraguda (meaning Two Waters), known as Shark Bay, is the traditional home of three indigenous groups, the Malgana, Nhanda and Inggarda peoples. Descendants of the original inhabitants still live in the area, and there are some excellent tour experiences that give visitors an insight into their traditions and history.
Arrival of Dirk Hartog
Dutch Sea Captain Dirk Hartog led the first European expedition to set foot on the west coast, in October 1616, landing at Cape Inscription on the island that now bears the explorer’s name, Dirk Hartog Island.
Hartog spent three days exploring the coast and nearby islands, and named the area Eendrachtsland after his ship. He then continued sailing northwards, charting this previously undiscovered coast and landing in Batavia around five months after his expected arrival.
Hartog left behind an inscribed pewter plate recording his visit to Dirk Hartog Island. The plate was rediscovered in 1697 by another Dutch Captain, William De Vlamingh, who returned it to Holland where it is now on display at the Rijksmuseum. You can see an official replica in the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery & Visitor Centre in Denham, the original plate will be o display at the Maritime museum in Fremantle till April 2017.
Later European explorers
A succession of English and French explorers followed Hartog. English explorer William Dampier named the area Sharks Bay in 1699, and a Frenchman, Francois St Allouarn, laid formal claim to the territory for France in 1772. In 1801, French zoologist Francois Peron arrived in Shark Bay, along with Captain Hamelin, both of whom have lent their names to the region in the Francois Peron peninsular and Hamelin Pool.
Dirk Hartog’s discovery took place 152 years before Captain James Cook set out on his much publicised voyage of discovery to the Pacific and Australia’s eastern shores. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the region was settled by Europeans. Read about the origins of Denham here: The hub of Shark Bay