Saturday, September 5, 2015


COSSACK is an historic ghost town located 1,480 kilometres north of Perth and 15 kilometres from Roebourne in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.  The nearest town is Wickham.  The mean maximum temperature is 31.9ºC (89ºF); mean minimum temperature 20.1ºC (68ºF) and annual rainfall 295.0mm (11.6 inches).

Cossack is located on Butchers Inlet at the mouth of the Harding River.  It is reached by a single, sealed road that follows the original causeway across a series of tidal flats.  The overall landform of the region around Cossack is a low, flat plain with occasional rocky hills and ranges.  The vegetation is mainly grass, spinifex and low shrub, with occasional trees (mangroves) along watercourses and in gullies.  The mangrove scrub becomes quite dense along the shoreline and at the mouth of the inlet.

The main road from Roebourne to Cossack continues past the town of Wickham and the Cape Lambert iron ore port (operated by Pilbara Iron), and terminates at the fishing town of Port Samson.  The townsite is not visible from the main road and only becomes apparent as the road rounds Nanny Goat Hill.

The site of the former town is defined by Nanny Goat Hill, Tien Tsin Lookout, the hilly ground to the north-east and north-west, and Butchers Inlet to the east and south-east.  Past the townsite, the road winds up to the Reader Head Lookour, from which sweeping view of the surrounding coastline can be seen.  Many of the building in Cossack are listed by the National Trust.  The erstwhile Tien Tsin Harbour is now known as Port Walcott.

Post-contact history:  In May 1863, Walter Padbury landed his stock at the mouth of the Harding River near the present site of Cossack.  The town was first known as Tien Tsin Harbour, after the barque that carried Padbury and his party.  Th ship that brought the State's Governor, Frederick Weld, in December 1871, was named HMS Cossack and the town adopted this name in 1872.  Cossack was the first port in the north-west of Western Australia and was critical to the development of the pastoral industry in the region.

Cossack wharf on the Harding River:  

Pearling:  In 1866 the town of Roebourne was declared. and the pearling industry began in the region.  Cossack was the birthplace of Western Australia's pearling industry and was the home of the colony's pearling fleet until the 1880s.  Many small boars off the Port Walcott coat dived for pearl shell during the 1860s using Aboriginal labour, including women and children.  By early 1869, there were 14 small vessels pearling in the area, with an average crew of three Eueopeans and six Aboriginals.

By the early 1870s up to 80 luggers were operating in the area.  The pearling industry also attracted a large Asian population and by 1895 there were 989 Malays and 493 Aboriginals employed on 57 vessels at Cossack.  The high number of Asians in the industry, including Japanese and Chinese as well as Malay, led to the establishment of an Asian quarter known as "Chinatown".

In 1881 a cyclone damaged the town, an every pearling vessel then operating either foundered or was beached.  In 1885, 44 vessels were operating out of Cossack.  In that year a parliamentary select committee recommended the closure of several pearling banks in the area due to depletiong.  In 1886, the main pealing industry moved to Broome.

Causeway and Tramway:  During the 1870s, a causeway was built across the tidal salt flats that separate Cossack from the main road and this causeway still forms the only access to the town from land.  Carting wool from Moolina Station to Balla Balla north of Cossack:

A horse-drawn tramway between Roebourne and Cossack was completed in 1887, the same year that the municipality of Cossack was declared, and the north-west gold rush commenced.

Cossack in 1898:  

Heritage Buildings:  The main stone buildings were constructed in the 1880s.  Administrative and other public buildings built there in the 1890s continued a style adopted by the emerging state; these have been surveyed by state heritage groups and determined to be architecturally and historically significant.

Decline of the Township:  Following the move of the pearling industry to Broome and the decline of the gold rush, the population dwindled.  The harbour proved unsuitable for the larger ships of the early 20th century.  Between 1902 and 1904 a jetty was constructed at the nearby halet of Point Samson and in 1920 the port moved there and the municipality of Cossack was dissolved.  In 1913 a leprosarium was established on the other side of the river, moving to Darwin in 1930.  Wool bales and pearls would be loaded on to a lighter for transport to ships 3 miles off shore whih would take the cargo to England.  Inhabitants of the town in the early twentieth century included greeks and other Europeans, jamanese, Malays, Timorese, Koepangers and Aru Islands. 

The region is subjected to violent storms and cyclones and was severely damaged at different times in its history.  Its use as a port for the profitable pearling industry and other economic booms saw investment and backing from Perth and it remained an important northern port.  The town was abandoned after the 1940s, leaving substantial stone buildings in a state of disrepair.  The state government established a survey in 2007, into the potential for restoration and revitalisation of this remote town.

*Cemetery:  Cossack contains a small cemetery comprising separate European and Japanese precincts.

The pearling industry of the 19th century was notably dangerous, with many pearlers losing their lives.  Those buried in the Japanese cemetery were mainly divers and others involved with the pearling industry; others, including many Aborigines, were lost at sea.  The first internment in the cemetery i believed to have taken place in 1869, when a man died while walking to Port Walcott in the heat of January and was buried in Cossack.

There are at least 41 Europeans and 7 Japanese buried there, with the last internment recorded in 1915.  Those buried there include William Shakespeare Hall.

*I can remember mum talking about visiting Cossack and other north-west towns on a tour of the top end of W.A. and she said it made her sad to see a number of graves belonging to babies and children which made her realise what a hard life it must have been there so many years ago.


  1. Hari Om
    This truly is the quintessential Aussie outback! Golly, mankind does choose some incredible places to call home, eh? Those buildings hold a few stories in their bricks, I'll wager.... thanks for this one Mimsie. YAM xx

  2. Sad to see the old towns disappear. And interested that a ghost town has been heritage listed. I wonder whether the restoration will go ahead.

  3. I've never heard of Cossack and certainly didn't know the pearling industry began there. I've always thought Broome was the home of pearling, now I find it is the "younger sister".
    Love the old buildings, they're so solid and have such charm.