Pastoralism was one of Shark Bay’s earliest and longest-running industries with the dry climate well-suited to sheep. The first pastoral leases were granted in the 1860s and more than 15 sheep stations were established across Shark Bay. The first was built on Dirk Hartog Island in 1869 and by the 1920s the island’s flock numbered 26,000.
Progress on some stations was hampered by the difficulty of getting wool to the market. There were few roads so wool bales were taken by camel or horse-drawn carts to a dinghy to be ferried to a larger boat. Loading was done from the south coast of Henri Freycinet Harbour and at Flagpole Landing.
Lack of fresh water was also a problem. In coastal areas brackish water was initially pumped from shallow beach wells into tanks and troughs for sheep to drink. More than 100 artesian bores were later sunk throughout the region. About 150 km of pipeline carried water from bores on Peron Station alone.
In the early 1950s wool was worth a fortune and Hamelin Station took 776 bales of wool from 26,600 sheep in one year. By the 1960s there were about 142,000 sheep in Shark Bay.
However, times were not always good. A drought in the mid-1930s saw the Carbla Station flock on the eastern shore of Hamelin Pool plummet from 24,000 to 10,500. Another drought late in the 1970s reduced Shark Bay’s flocks to an all-time low.
The collapse of the wool market in the 1990s forced stations to further reduce their flocks and look for alternative income. Sheep were replaced with cattle at Carrarang and Tamala while Hamelin Station took on goats. Dirk Hartog Island and Nanga combined pastoralism with tourism operations.