History of Exmouth

A Rich History

Dutch sailors were the first recorded Europeans to visit the North West Cape. Haevik van Hillegom recorded sighting the Cape in 1618, while Willem de Vlamingh charted the headland that bears his name in 1696. Australia's own Phillip Parker King visited in 1818, naming both the Cape and the Exmouth Gulf.

The wreck of the SS Mildura in 1907 led directly to the construction of the Vlaming Head Lighthouse, which commenced operation in December 1912. However, an electric beacon on Tower 11 in the US Naval Communications VLF radar array has long since replaced the light.

Pastoralists brought cattle to the region, and pearlers and fishermen visited the Gulf, but it was not until World War II that the Cape began to be settled in a broader fashion. During the war the Learmonth Airport was used as a defence base by the Royal Australian Air Force. The Potshot Base which was positioned close to the Learmonth Airport was bombed by the Japanese during the War. These bases were eventually used in the pioneering search for oil in the 1950s, which resulted in Australia's first oil "strike" on land, in the Rough Range (south of Learmonth).

Despite this activity there was still no town established on the Cape and it was not until the United States Navy began to build the Communication Station late in 1963 that construction commenced in Exmouth. Four years later the town was officially opened on September 16th 1967, on the same day the Base was commissioned.