Indigenous history: The Noongar are the first known inhabitants in the Esperance region and populated the area 20,000 years ago. Kepa (water) Kurl (boomerang) is the local Noongar name for Esperance, which means “where the waters lie like a boomerang”. The region provided a rich source and wide variety of food and the Noongar people did not venture far from this area.
European history began in 1627 when a Dutch vessel "Gulde Zeepaard" under the command of Pieter Nuyts, passed through the Archipelago but did not actually land in the area.
Discovery, however, is generally credited to the French when two ships, "L'Esperance" and "Recherche", were forced to seek shelter from a storm in 1792. In 1802, Matthew Flinders and crew sailed through the area while carefully mapping the south coast. Lucky Bay and Thistle Cove were named by this explorer.
Jacques Labillardière was a naturalist in DEntrecasteauxs 1792 expedition on the French naval vessel lEsperance, from which Esperance derives its name.
The first foreign inhabitants of these shores during the nineteenth century were sealers from the penal settlement at Van Diemans Land and American and French whalers. Subsistence was mainly from kangaroo, geese and fish, which were bountifully supplied by nature.
Edward John Eyre was the most famous overland explorer to visit having come from Adelaide in 1841 en route to Albany.
In 1863, the Dempster brothers drove sheep, cattle and horses from Northam to Esperance to take up the first land holding. Andrew Dempster was granted a lease of 100,000 acres in 1866.
With the discovery of gold in Kalgoorlie, Dundas and Coolgardie, Esperance began an incredible transformation in 1895. Fortune seekers from Australia and around the world began to flood into this sleepy little port on their way to the Goldfields.
By 1897 there were two newspapers, one brewery and four hotels. There were many rows of tents and the less fortunate slept on seaweed at the beach.
Development hopes next centred on farming the mallee country. Could this be made into a prosperous wheatbelt? Land was opened for selection in 1912 and nearly 60 farms were started. Progress was slow and hindered by severe drought in 1914/15. The next year, professor John Patterson reported.... "one half the area contains too much salt for profitable farming."
In 1924, the government opened more mallee land but the Great Depression wiped out some 75% of farmers. By 1935, the Esperance wheat experiment appeared a costly and wasteful failure.
Recognition that the Esperance sandplain had agricultural potential was slow in coming, but eventually led to the establishment of the Gibson research station in 1949. Research unveiled vast potential when the light soils were supplemented with superphosphate and a few trace elements such as copper and zinc.
Interested in an Australian development, entrepreneur and banker Alan chase heard of the bright prospects in Esperance. He formed an American syndicate and contracted with the state government in 1956 to develop up to 6000,000ha for later resale. the chase syndicate failed in its first year because of poor planting techniques and an unfavourable season. Investment money was withdrawn, but by this stage local settlers were providing the area as an agriculture resource. In 1960, the Chase syndicate assigned its interest to the Esperance Land and Development Company. In the space of two decades, a major agricultural region had emerged.
Today, agriculture is still the leading industry, but tourism, fishing and other industries are fast developing to diversify the economic base of Esperance.
Whats in a name?
The French word Esperance is sometimes translated as " hope", but, according to the University of Western Australia, its true meaning is difficult to translate. " Hope with confidence and faith in the future" is as close as you get in English, the department advises. This truly reflects both the history and the future aspirations of Esperance and its people.
The nearby Archipelago of the Recherche is named after lEsperances sister ship, La Recherche. Both ships took shelter in a bay in the region during a fierce storm.
Labillardière published an independent report of the expedition noted for its many astute observations on both the voyage and the natural history of the southern coast.