Brief History of the Shire of Derby West Kimberley Region

1688 William Dampier, who helped to careen the “Cygnet” north of One Arm Point, became one of the first Europeans to see the Kimberley region.

1818 Captain PP King, towards the end of his extensive survey of the northern Australian coast, gave the name Cygnet Bay to the waters that would later be known as King Sound.

1838 Lieutenant Stokes named King Sound and reassigned the name Cygnet Bay to the area we know today. Stokes also named Point Torment (because of the mosquitoes) and the Fitzroy River (to honour a former shipmate, Captain R. Fitzroy). Stokes’ colleague, Lieutenant George Grey, examined land to the northeast, naming the Glenelg River.

1869 Pastoralists attempted, without success, to colonise areas adjacent to the present Shire of Derby/West Kimberley. They occupied land at Camden Harbour and south of Roebuck

1879 Alexander Forrest undertook land-based exploration. His favourable report led to pastoralists entering the region and eventually settling at Yeeda Station.

1881 The revenue cutter “Ruby” under Captain Walcott sailed into the Meda and Fitzroy Rivers, delivering goods for the Yeeda station settlers.

1883 Derby officially named a townsite (and unlike Broome which remained vacant) was occupied by a Government Resident and a police detachment. Several stations existed by this time and Yeeda’s wool, awaiting shipment, was swept away by a tidal wave resulting from the Krakatoa volcanic explosion in Indonesia. Geologist EJ Hardman described Devil’s Pass now known as Windjana Gorge.

1884 First lot sold in Derby. A start was made on a jetty and tramway. Road Board elected.

1885 Wooden 102 foot jetty built at Derby costing £3000. Floods caused heavy losses in flocks for some settlers. The Kimberley’s first wedding was held at Derby. Splendid pearl shell was found in King Sound. Measles took a heavy toll on both Aboriginal and white residents. Fencing commenced on stations and the Kimberley’s first hotel opened in Derby.

1886 Halls Creek gold rush occurred. Lee Sing established the Kimberley’s first market garden at Goody-goody, about six miles from Derby. Town residents established a cricket club, and camels were introduced as beasts of burden.

1887 Derby’s first newspaper, Telegraph station and Courthouse built.

1889 Telegraph link to Perth established.

1892 Post office officially opened in Fitzroy Crossing as a telegraph office on September 1.

1894 Police camp was established at Fitzroy Crossing by Constable RH Pilmer in July.

1895 Fitzroy Crossing post office moved to higher ground in February of 1895.

1897 Crossing Inn. The “official” beginning occurred on the issuing of approval “for a wayside house licence for premises erected at Fitzroy Crossing” on July 5, 1897.

1897 Fitzroy Crossing police station, quarters and lockup were opened.

1897 The hunt for renegade tracker Jandamarra (Pigeon) and his gang. The final extension of the 4km long Horse-drawn tramway down the main street to jetty.

1904 First School developed in Hardman Street.

1910 SS Colac ran aground south of Derby.

1911 Myall’s artesian bore drilled (322 metres) Pop. 228.

1915 A manual telephone exchange opened in Derby.


1921 Australia’s First Air Mail service arrived at Derby in a Western Australia Airways Bristol Tourer piloted by Major Norman Brearley and Charles Kingsford Smith.

1922 Australia’s first scheduled air service commenced between Geraldton and Derby.

1934 The Australian Aerial Medical Service (later Royal Flying Doctor Service in 1955) began operation in the Kimberley.

1935 A low level concrete structure at Fitzroy Crossing was constructed over Fitzroy River.

1936 Leprosarium opened with 90 patients.

1939 Australian Inland Mission Hospital opened at Fitzroy Crossing. Handed over to Health Department by Uniting Church in November, 1980.

1942 Air raid by Japanese Bombers over Derby. 1949 Air Beef Scheme begun at Glenroy Station.

1950 Rice growing project began at Camballin.

1951 Iron ore mining commenced at Cockatoo Island. Derby meatworks commenced operation.

1952 Native Affairs Department handed over what was originally a ration depot to the United Aborigines mission for the establishment of United Aborigines Mission Base at Fitzroy Crossing.


1953 First school opened at Fitzroy Crossing.

1955 Royal Flying Doctor Service base opened in Derby.

1956 Mowanjum Aboriginal Community established.

1957 New Derby High School built. People came to settle at Mowanjum.

1958 Oil found at Meda.

1959 Radio-Telephone service to Perth.

1959 Swimming Pool opened.

1960 Derby’s Boab Festival began as the brain child of Arthur Nicholls, publican of the Club Hotel (now The Spinifex Hotel). The headmaster Frank Harding was the first President.

1964 New concrete and steel jetty completed at a cost of £1,000,000. Shire offices and civic centre built for £60,000. Rusty’s Supermarket opened. Population 2670 in town.

1965 Civic Centre and Boab Inn were built.


1968 Willare Bridge across the Fitzroy River completed.

1969 Numbala Nunga Nursing Home opened.

1973 The last State passenger ship arrived in March.

1974 New bridge at Fitzroy Crossing.

1976 Fitzroy Crossing Hospital’s present site opened.

1978 New police station and court complex opened at Fitzroy Crossing.

1983 Automatic telephone services began in Derby and Fitzroy Crossing. King Sound Hotel opened. Port of Derby closed. Fitzroy Crossing River reach record height.

1985 New post office officially opened at Fitzroy Crossing February 1, 1985.

1986 Fitzroy Crossing Recreation Centre opens. Satellite television service commenced. Leprosarium closed.


1988 RAAF Base opened by Prime Minister Bob Hawke – named after John Curtin, Prime Minister 1941-45.

1989 Civil Terminal and facilities opened at Curtin Airport. Relocated to Derby August 1995.

1991 Stage 3 of Derby Regional Hospital Redevelopment opened.

1992 Iron ore mining ceased on Koolan Island.

1997 Derby Wharf re-opened as an export facility.

2002 Kimberley Diamonds opened up the Ellendale Diamond Field east of Derby.

2003 First school building (1904) destroyed by fire.

2005 Derby Youth Centre constructed on site of First School.

2007 Mining recommenced on Koolan Island. Re-commencement of Direct Air Services between Derby and Perth. Stage 4 of Derby Regional Hospital Redevelopment completed.


2008 Pillara mine closed.

2010 Derby’s New FESA building and Fitzroy Crossing’s new Volunteer Emergency Services Facility officially opened.

2010 Curtin Detention Centre Re-opened.

2011 Derby’s New Visitor Centre opened on the 6th December by Wendy Duncan MLC

2012 Derby Regional Prison opened

2014 Curtin Detention Centre closed.

2015 Kimberley Diamonds Ellendale mine closed. Virgin Australia flights Derby to Perth ceased.

2016 Kimberley Meat Company opened its abattoir at Nillabubllica.

2017 Sections of the old Numbala Nunga burnt down.