21["The Pearl Shell Fisheries at Tien Tsin, North-West Australia", The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 26 May 1870, page 5]




The account of a new settlement is always interesting; but when Australian colonists colonists push out into an entirely new country, and in addition to the usual taking up and stocking of land, find a new industry, employing some hundreds of men--black and white--it is doubly so. But two years ago, many parts of the district about to be described, were not to be visited except by bands of armed men. Enterprising settlers are now sending down pearl shells and wool from the very spot where Panter, Harding and Goldwire, the surveyors, fell, murdered by the blacks without provocation.

The settlement of the Nicol Bay district, as it is termed, has been quicker than the settlement of any other part of Australia; and it is pleasing to remark that the relation between the aboriginal and the white settler is now of a more friendly and satisfactory nature than is to be observed elsewhere on any part of the island. The whole well-doing of the largest part of the community depends entirely, not on the destruction, but the preservation and assistance of the natives; without their help, the whites might explore the reefs and not obtain shells enough to repay their outlay. The quickness of then eye, and the numbers in which they can be employed, render their co-operation invaluable; and their usefulness is the best guarantee for their for their proper treatment; in fact, any injustice is oftener to be borne by the whites than the blacks. Many natives obtain food for themselves and families during neap tides, and coolly walk off just as their services are required.

Port Walcott, the head quarters of the small boats engaged in pearl fishing and the port of entry for vessels from Fremantle, which supply the settlement with stores, is situated about a mile inside Butcher's Inlet, or Tien-Tsin Creek as it is often called, after the first vessel of any importance that ever anchored in the bay outside. It is situated in latituded 20[deg]40 south, and longitude 115[deg] east, about 160 miles to the eastward of the North-West Cape. Although bearing the high-sounding name of Port Walcott, it boasts of no better claim to the title, than one house and the hull of the New Perseverance, with several smaller habitations little better than mia-mias; but, as a Government township is surveyed and partly sold, no doubt there will soon be, at least the orthodox hotel, store, and doctor's shop of new townships. At present, Messrs. Knight and Shenton's place of business on shore, and the cabin of the hulk serve all purposes. Butcher's Inlet has enough water on the bar to admit, at high tides, vessels oí a hundred tons--at low water spring tides, it may be walked across almost dry-footed. There is, along the north-west coast, a tide varying from 17 to over 30 feet,--a great contrast to the west coast, where there is scarcely any rise and fall at all. During the fishing season, which commences about the first week in September and ends in April, the port is rather dull, not to say uninteresting, but at the close of the season, or during the neap tides, if any festivity in Roebourne is expected, it presents an appearance of bustle and activity; and no better type of tropical Australian life could be selected either by the artist or writer. A wide mangrove creek, with some dozen boats, of tonnage ranging from 3 to 10, moored along the bank, or lying helplessly in the muddy sand if the tide is out, and perhaps a larger Swan River trader, with clean-scraped spars and awning spread; whites listlessly walking about dressed in as few clothes as decency will permit--a fly-veil of net protecting their faces from torturing flies; aboriginals from all parts of the coast, some perhaps cleaning pearl shells, chipping off the sharp colourless edge, and tossing them about as if they were worth nothing, instead of at least £150 per ton; others ranged in sides practising spear throwing with small reeds or giges, a failure of any of the party to ward off with his shield, causing the most discordant yells of derision on one side and delight on the other; but by far the greatest number lying on the hot sand and singing a monotonous chant accompanied by the scraping of a shell against a piece of stick, held resting against the shoulder like a fiddle.

Roebourne, the capital of the new country, as Western Australians term the district, is eleven miles to the southward, inland of Port Walcott; the road for some distance, lies over a marsh which is covered by the tide at high springs, making it very heavy travelling. All goods for the stations are taken up the creek to a jetty. From there it is but five miles to Roebourne, and with the exception of one small marsh the road is not too bad. The township of Roebourne has about twenty houses built at the base of Mount Welcome--the resident magistrate's house and the Government offices are the most conspicuous buildings, being larger and higher up the mount than the rest, out of reach of malaria or any rise of the Harding River, whose waters are often too close to be pleasant during the heavy tropical rains. Two rough but comfortable hotels, three stores, a butcher's shop, a blacksmith's forge, a large stockyard, and of all things in such a place a hairdressing saloon--at present comprise the capital of North-west Australia. It is not an unpicturesque place, (especially when the desert pea which grows profusely is in full flower) having two important requisites for scenic beauty, mountains and a river. The Harding is fresh water and permanent. Races are held on the plain close to the township every June, at which time nearly all the settlers and pearl fishers meet, in number about a hundred. The events as may be imagined in so small a district are of no great magnitude; but for joviality and good humour a Roebourne race meeting might serve as an example for larger communities, indeed there is altogether an absence of the ruffianism too often observed in new settlements in Australia.