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COCKATOO ISLAND

The History of Cockatoo Island WA

Pearl Luggers sailed to Cockatoo Island from the 1880s loading heavy iron ore rock for ships ballast, so it was known from an early time that the island had something special. BHP began exploration in the 1920’s and at the outbreak of World War 2, Catalina flying boats used the island to refuel on the way to and from mine laying operations in and around Java. In 1944 a radar station was constructed on the top of the island near what is now the airstrip and operated until the unit was moved to help out in the Borneo invasion in 1945.

1950s

At the cessation of hostilities in world war 2, BHP resumed exploration and then ultimately began mining operations in 1951. By 1954 the mine was shipping 2 million tonnes of 67% Fe Iron Ore each year, some of the highest grade iron ore the world has seen. At its peak, 350 people called the island home and BHP built accommodation for workers and their families. The island had a school, outdoor movie theatre, supermarket and of course, a bar. Most of the infrastructure is still on the island to this day.

1980s

By the mid 1980s the ore body was mined down to sea level and BHP decided that it was time for them to call it a day. The last of the BHP personnel flew out in 1986, however that was not the end of the Cockatoo island story.

The heady days of the 1980s produced many entrepreneurs. None were as well known as the West Australian Alan Bond. He and his wife Eileen fell in love with Cockatoo Island and preceded to buy the leasehold and turn the former workers villas into a 5 star resort. Eileen even painted all the villa’s pink!

The resort motto was the ’the least known island paradise anywhere in the world’ and it really was!

Mining also continued during this period with a smaller mining company starting up and taking several villas for their staff.

1990s

By the mid 1990s, the excesses of the 1980s had caught up with Alan Bond and he was forced to sell Cockatoo Island to Dynasty Pty Ltd,  a company based in Darwin. The resort continued to operate until the early 2000s when the resort gave way to the growing demand of mining on the island and again the accommodation was used by mining staff.

(Left Images)
Old promotional material from 1999.
Please click on an image to enlarge.

2015

In 2015 the mining company went into liquidation and mining ceased on the island. The resort was sold to a group of local businessmen who resolved to renovate the resort and reinvigorate tourism on the island.

2018

In 2018 an agreement was reached with the traditional owners, the Dambimangari Aboriginal people, mining last holders, the state government and the resort to allow tourists to use the runway for tourism operations.

Go Beyond Broome, a company that operates high speed boat tours to the Horizontal Waterfalls, commenced operations on the island and received high praise for the quality of their tours.

With the number of tourism vessels in the area growing on a yearly basis and the popularity of the nearby Horizontal Waterfalls, Cockatoo island is perfectly placed in the middle of the Buccaneer Archipelago for all visitors to enjoy. Many vessels use the island to restock, re-store and changeover guests and crew.

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