The Geographe Bay catchment is an important productive agricultural area and agriculture has been the predominant economic mainstay with over half of the catchment used for this purpose. However, economic prosperity in the state, combined with a strong local tourism industry and the area’s popularity as a ‘sea change’ location, has led to substantial population growth in the catchment in recent years.
French explorers were the first-recorded European visitors to Geographe Bay aboard the ships Naturaliste and Geographe in 1801. Agriculture and settlement began in the 1830s. These settlers grew wheat, barley and oats and raised livestock such as sheep, pigs and cattle which they began exporting as early as 1858. Inshore and estuarine fishing became important local industries and whaling began from 1846 to 1872, with operations based at Castle Bay near Dunsborough. Whalers traded supplies with local settlers and helped stimulate the Busselton townsite’s development. During the same period the 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 1920’s.
The area’s dairy industry began in the 1920s and 1930s when the British and WA governments jointly formed the Group Settlement Scheme (WAPC 1998). The scheme failed to instigate expected growth in the area, mainly due to the settlers’ inexperience and the economic hardships of the 1930s depression. Despite these failings, the scheme opened up land for further agricultural development through land clearing and the extensive drainage works undertaken in coastal areas (WAPC, 1998).
Today agriculture still dominates the catchment’s land area, with dairy and beef grazing the most widespread and intensifying. Viticulture has expanded in the western part of the catchment while production horticulture such as potato growing is also undertaken in these areas. Sheep and horses are grazed in many parts of the catchment. While the dairy industry struggled in the early years, milk now provides the highest ‘gross value of agricultural product’ in the Shire of Busselton, followed by viticulture (Shire of Busselton, 2007).
From the mid-1960s urban expansion and infrastructure changes became more dominant through changes brought about by primary production. Resource development projects increased in the region, including mineral-sands mining near Capel. Tourism expanded in the coastal areas, which led to a trend of increasing population that has heightened over the past few decades. Urban land use is changing at the greatest rate, although agriculture and tourism remain economically important and agriculture still dominates the catchment’s physical space.
Economic prosperity in the state, combined with a strong local tourism industry and the area’s popularity as a ‘sea change’ location, has led to substantial population growth in the catchment in recent years. Both the Capel and Busselton shires are experiencing growth well above the state average and are among the fastest-growing rural shires in Australia. Most of the projected growth for the Capel shire will occur within the Geographe catchment from expansions of the Capel and Boyanup townsites and southern extensions of the Dalyellup estate.
- Vasse Wonnerup Wetlands and Geographe Bay – Water Quality Improvement Plan (March 2010). Government of WA Dept of Water.