The history of Weipa Port, North Queensland, Australia

Weipa is the largest town just south of the northern tip of Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, Australia. The Gulf of Carpenteria borders its west coast. To its north lies Duyfken Point, the area of first contact of Europeans with the Australian continent, according to recorded history. The location is named after the ship sailed by Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon who reported sighting the coast in 1606. It was not until 1770 when Lieutenant James Cook arrived on the Australian east coast.

Presbyterian missionaries built the Embly River Mission station on the Spring Creek site (now Twenty Mile Creek) in June of 1898 to serve the indigenous population. A year later in the month of July, the Home Secretary’s wife, Mrs. JFG Foxton, formally declared Weipa as the site’s official name.

In 1955, the geologist Henry Evans found that the red cliffs in the Aboriginal reserve were loaded with huge bauxite deposits. This ore is what aluminum and to a less degree, tungsten, are made. A couple of men by the names of George Wilson and “Old Matthew” (Wakmatha) had brought Evans to the location. Evan’s bauxite discovery confirmed earlier findings by Dutch explorers and Matthew Flinders.

In 1956, Enterprise Exploration and Comalco (Commonweath Aluminum Corporation) jointly founded the “Top Camp” mining business in the area. The government of Queensland granted a mining lease to Comalco in 1957 and a special bauxite mining lease a year later. By 1963, the first commercial shipment of the ore was dispatched from the port of Weipa.

A new village was established on the Weipa mission outpost and Aboriginal reserve area in 1965. A year later, the Queensland Department of Native Affairs changed the village’s name to Weipa South after taking over the mission’s management from the Presbyterians. A new town named Weipa North was founded at Rocky Point (Kumrumja) in 1967. Then in 1990, Weipa South’s name was officially changed to Napranum. Over a decade later, the Western Cape Communities Co-Existence Agreement became official on the 14th of March 2001.

With the expansion of mining operations, Comalco (which later became Rio Tinto Alcan) built and rented out accommodation facilities to its employees. Subsequently, as authorities opened up more freeheld areas in the town, residents began building or purchasing their individually owned private houses. The census of 2011 recorded a population of 3,334 individuals.

The immense bauxite deposits make this natural resource the Port of Weipa’s primary export, along with cattle. Today Weipa is famed not only as the site of the largest bauxite mine in the world, but also as Queensland’s Barramundi fishing capital and anglers’ destination.

The town’s administration is controlled by Rio Tinto Alcan under the local authority of the Town Office. The officials of the Town Office serve in the capacity of the local council. They are in charge of managing town operations, planning, water supply, public roads, establishments, facilities, maintenance and sanitation. Today Weipa is a vibrant and thriving “Oasis in the Wilderness”.

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