The Wadandi, or saltwater, people are the traditional owners of the land between Bunbury and Cape Leeuwin, as far inland as Nannup. The Wadandi people have a strong connection with the coast and moved across the land in nuclear families, or larger bands, coming together for social and ceremonial purposes that coincided with the availability of food sources.
French explorers came to Geographe Bay aboard the ships Naturaliste and Geographe in 1801. English settlement began in the 1830s when settlers such as the Molloy, Bussell and Layman families established farms in the Vasse River area, while the Chapman family settled the Bunker Bay area.
These early settlers grew wheat, barley and oats, and raised livestock such as sheep, pigs and cattle, and began exporting as early as 1858. Fishing also became an important local industry. Whaling was undertaken out of Castle Bay for almost 30 years up until 1872. A timber industry was established and a mill built at Quindalup. The industry boomed when port facilities became available after the Busselton Jetty was constructed in 1864, and this supported steady population growth in the area through to the early 1920s.
The dairy industry began in the 1920s when the British and Western Australian governments jointly formed the Group Settlement Scheme. Despite the scheme failing to achieve greater growth in the area, it opened up land for further agricultural development through land clearing and extensive drainage works.
Today agriculture still dominates the Catchment’s land area, with dairy and beef grazing the most widespread and intensifying. The urban areas of Busselton, Dunsborough and Capel support busy commercial and industrial sectors.
The unique landscapes and coastline of the Geographe Bay Catchment also support a thriving tourism sector, as does the number of regional events and recreational opportunities that the region offers. Urban development continues to increase as ‘sea-changers’ move to the area.