Shark Bay's History

Shark Bay’s Cultural Heritage

Shark Bay is a place of unique natural wonders, but its cultural heritage is also rich. Over thousands of years people have come to this land: indigenous Malgana, Nhanda and Yingkarta; Dutch traders; French explorers; English entrepreneurs; workers from Asia and the Pacific; tourists from all over the world. Over thousands of years people have left traces of meaning and memory on this land, physical and psychological. They range from ancient campsites, middens and quarries to shipwrecks, sheds, and landmarks named for scientists and surveyors.

Aboriginal Heritage

Shark Bay is the traditional country of three Aboriginal language groups: the Malgana, Nhanda and Yingkarta. They have lived in Shark Bay for some 30,000 years. Yet this ancient place is also a place of beginnings. Shark Bay is probably the site where indigenous Australians met Europeans for the first time. Written accounts of Shark Bay’s Aboriginal people were also among the first to reach the Western world.

The Malgana name for Shark Bay is Gathaagudu, which means “two bays”.

Nhanganha Gathaagudu. Wula guda nyinda.
This is Shark Bay. You come this way.

Discover the stories, tragedies and achievements of Shark Bay’s first people here.
Jacques Arago illustration
From Jacques Arago 1822
© National Library Australia

European heritage

Shark Bay is also a place of significance in the European history of Australia. It is the earliest recorded site of European landfall in Western Australia. It is the place where the oldest European artefact, a Dutch explorer’s engraved pewter plate, was recovered from Australian soil. The first scientific collection of plants was also made in Shark Bay. It is a place of shipwrecks, territorial claims, exploration and adventure. It is also a place of hard work, and often hard times.

Learn more about the European discovery, exploration and economic development of Shark Bay here.

In October 2016 Shark Bay celebrates 400 years since Dirk Hartog's landing. Find out more here.

You can find out more about Shark Bay’s cultural heritage at the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery Centre in Denham. 

Dirk Hartog's Plate - National Library
Dirk Hartog's plate
© National Library of Australia