The first people known to have inhabited the area were the Binjareb tribe of the Bibbulmun Nation. These people lived well off the land, which abounded in fish, game, berries, and fruits. The locality then was known as Mandjoogoordap, which translates as 'meeting place of the heart'. After European settlement the name was adapted to Mandurah.
In 1828 'Swan River Mania' inspired Englishman Thomas Peel to bring a number of workmen, equipment, and stores to Western Australia in exchange for a grant of land. The contract stipulated that Peel must arrive in the colony by 1 November 1829, however the ship Gilmore, carrying Peel and his followers, did not arrive until mid December and Peel's original land grant was forfeited.
Peel built a small settlement named Clarence, at what is known today as Woodman's Point to await the arrival of two other ships the Hooghly and Rockingham which carried settlers, equipment and stores also belonging to Peel. After many mishaps and plagued by ill health Peel eventually brought his remaining settlers to the area known today as Mandurah. At that time, Mandurah was a day's journey by sea and two or more days by horse and cart, travelling across very rough country. The area remained isolated until 1843 when a road was built and a ferry punt constructed across the estuary.
Thomas Peel died in 1865, but Mandurah continued to expand slowly over the years, with the main industries of the township being fishing and fruit growing, as well as canning factories to preserve the produce. Charles Tuckey established a canning factory on what is now Mandurah Terrace. The storeroom of the cannery remains and until recently, it traded as 'Tuckey's Tackle’.
A new inland road which ran through nearby Pinjarra was built in 1876 and this improved means of transportation meant a decline in Mandurah's importance as more people settled in the Pinjarra area. Construction of Mandurah's Traffic Bridge by Matthew Price in 1894 gave easier access to areas south of Mandurah and thus the area once again attracted a few more settlers. But it was not until the limestone road was replaced with bitumen that the area was made more attractive to travellers. A four hour trip to Perth on the limestone road was reduced to one hour when the road was covered with bitumen.
At the turn of the century Mandurah was already emerging as a tourist town as holidaymakers appreciated the greater ease of travel and Mandurah's reputation as a favoured holiday destination was quickly made. Mandurah continued to prosper with the fishing and canning industry and a timber mill, established in approximately 1911, providing jobs for local people.
The mill closed in approximately 1926, and as the canning industry declined after the death of Charles Tuckey in 1912, due in part to the high costs associated with transportation and competition from canned fish imports from overseas, the main industry in Mandurah became tourism. History records that "goldfields" people and later “wheatbelt” people patronised Mandurah largely because of its huge catches of fish. At this point, Mandurah was estimated to have not more than 150 permanent inhabitants.
Once again, when the holiday season was over, Mandurah fell back into a peaceful little village.
Progress and growth
Up until 1949 Mandurah was under the jurisdiction of the Murray Roads Board. During the 1940s growth in the Mandurah area and a feeling of isolation from the Murray Roads Board, which was located in Pinjarra, made Mandurah residents examine the possibility of secession (withdrawal) from the roads board. Secession was not without its opposition however, and Mandurah faced what was possibly its very first referendum to decide the issue.
In April 1948 the then Minister for Local Government gave the Mandurah Progress Association a number of points to consider prior to the establishment of its own local authority. Among the needs to be met by the community, the Minister listed that rates would increase and the old Agricultural Hall would be needed for one day a week to serve as the Roads Board office. A full time inspector was to be engaged for six months of the year and would work in conjunction with a health inspector who would visit Mandurah once a week in order to arrange camping permits and sanitation requirements.
By mid 1949 with all conditions stipulated by the Minister and agreed by the Progress Association, Mandurah Roads Board was established controlling an area "between the sea and the estuary and Mandurah itself" (these boundaries were later realigned when the Board became a Shire Council). The inaugural meeting of the Board was held on 1 September 1949 and Mandurah headed into the second half of the 20th Century as a separate Local Government entity.
As dissension against the Board grew, Mandurah's residents demanded and eventually obtained an investigation into the Board's affairs. Whilst the majority of allegations made were levelled at the 'inefficiency' of only one Board member, the then Minister for Local Government ruled against the allegations, deeming "insufficient grounds for dismissal". He did, however, find that a Board so sharply divided could not be expected to carry out the functions in the best interest of the community and suggested that the Board resign instead.
In July 1956 Commissioner Richard Rushton was appointed to handle the affairs of the town. Rushton was later replaced by Acting Commissioner Albert White in March of 1960 and it was during this year that the Roads Board was again reformed, the Minister deeming that "any local authority worthy of the name should be controlled by members elected by ratepayers”.
Following this decision, the Mandurah Roads Board was reconstituted on 26 April 1960 and almost a year later, on 1 July 1961, the gazettal of the Mandurah Shire Council was effected in accordance with the Local Government Act, 1960.
During the 1970s and 1980s Mandurah grew rapidly and on 1 July 1987 Mandurah was upgraded to Town status and became the 'Town of Mandurah'. Yet another historic milestone was forged when the former President, Cr Bruce P Cresswell was elected by Council to become the first Mayor of Mandurah.
From a very slow beginning, events for Mandurah have certainly moved very swiftly over the past 50 years, and the continued growth culminated on the 14 April 1990 in a celebration of the attainment of city status to the 'City of Mandurah'. Today, it appears difficult to reconcile the meteoric progress experienced in the latter half of the 20th Century to the wretchedness of the group that initially disembarked at Clarence. Mandurah is now one of the top tourist destinations in Western Australia, with a performing arts centre of international standard, cinema complex, spectacular waterways, first class holiday accommodation and overall a proud community spirit.
For more information on Mandurah's history visit the Mandurah Community Museum at 3 Pinjarra Road Mandurah or visit our website.