Western Cape History Western Cape History

Place names 

Weipa township is situated on the traditional lands of the Alngith people, and a representative of the Alngith people is a member of the Weipa Town Authority Board.

The place-name Weipa originates from the word Waypa (or Waypundun), meaning ‘fighting ground’ in the Anhathangayth language. It was the name given to a Presbyterian mission station established on Spring Creek (about 28 kilometres inland from today’s Weipa) and transferred to the Jessica Point area on the lower reaches of the Embley River when the mission was moved in 1932-1933. When the Weipa mining township was built by Comalco in 1964-1967, the Queensland Government decided to name the new town Weipa North, and the former mission became Weipa South. Over time, the Weipa South community increasingly used the name Napranum, or ‘meeting place of the people’, which was formally gazetted in 1990. Weipa North is now known simply as Weipa.

Traditional Owner groups

The Western Cape York Peninsula region is home to many Traditional Owner groups whose country heritage goes back thousands of years. Most Traditional Owners now live in modern communities which were formerly mission stations operated by Christian churches. In addition to the Alngith people, the following Traditional Owner groups are near neighbours of the Weipa town:

Thaynakwith people:

Their country is on the northern side of the Mission River across to Pine River and Duyfken Point. The name of the local Andoom mine is derived from the Thaynakwith place-name Ndhumdjith (shown on some maps as Andoomajettie Point).

Peppan people:

Lying to the east of the Alngith people, their country includes land leased to the Commonwealth of Australia for the Royal Australian Air Force base Scherger.

Wathayn people:

Their country lies on the north-eastern side of the Embley River.

Anhathangayth people:

On the upper Embley River, including the original Weipa Mission site, now known as Twenty Mile.

Wik-Waya people:

Their country is situated from the south side of the Embley River down to the Watson River. It includes the Araithingwum people of the headwaters of the Hey River, the Linngithigh of the middle southern side of the Embley River, the Mamngaith of Mbang (Urquhart Point), the Ndrra’ngith of the Hey River to the coast towards Pera Head, and the Nggoth and Trotj of the south-east side of the Embley River. Farther east is the country of the Yinwum and Mbiywum peoples, while the country of the Mpakwithi, Yupungathi and Tjungundji peoples extends northwards to Mapoon.

Neighbouring communities

The communities of Napranum, Mapoon and Aurukun are all former Presbyterian missions:

  • Napranum is approximately 10 km from Weipa, and is managed by the Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council. 
  • Mapoon is 85 km to the north, and managed by the Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council.
  • Aurukun is approximately 85 km to the south, and managed by the Aurukun Shire Council.

The communities of Bamaga, Injinoo and New Mapoon in the Northern Peninsula Area were all former government settlements.

A brief history

Following the discovery of economic bauxite deposits near Weipa in 1955, a small exploration camp (Top Camp) was established at Munding in mid-1956. Under the terms of the Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation Pty. Limited Agreement Act of 1957 (Qld.), an area for a township was excised from the Cook Shire local authority area and the mining company, Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation (Comalco) became the manager of the new town, based on land near Kumrunja (Rocky Point) on the south side of the Mission River.

As the mining operations expanded, so too did the town. A second suburb developed at Trunding (Neighbourhood Two) on mined land in the mid-1970s, before further expansion southwards to the suburb of Nanum during the 1990s. The most recent suburban construction is the Golf Links Estate which is adjacent to the Carpentaria Golf Club course.

Since the 1980s, Weipa has become a regional centre for federal and state government organisations, with facilities that include:

  • A major hospital
  • Western Cape College (schooling to Year 12, and a boarding facility for students from remote centres)
  • Light industrial businesses servicing the mine and local communities 
  • Regional surveillance force Army base.

While bauxite mining remains the main income source of the region, beef cattle grazing and tourism are also significant. Many people travel into Weipa during the annual trek to the top of Cape York Peninsula during the dry season.

Key historical dates

1606 –

The first contact between the Indigenous people of Australia and Europeans occurred in Port Musgrave or the Wenlock River, when a crew member of the Dutch East India Company vessel Duyfken was speared. A special memorial to this event was opened at Mapoon in 2013.

1802 –

English explorer, Commander Matthew Flinders sailed down the western coast of Cape York Peninsula on HMS Investigator, naming Duyfken Point and Pera Head in memory of the early Dutch ships.

1891 –

Batavia River Presbyterian Mission Station was established by Moravian missionaries. It became known as Mapoon.

1895 –

Mapoon superintendent, Rev Nicholas Hey (pronounced Hi), explored the country south of Mapoon and found a site for a new mission on Spring Creek. In December, the Government Resident from Thursday Island, Hon John Douglas, explored local rivers and bays aboard the Queensland Colonial Government Steamer Albatross. Albatross Bay, as well as the Embley and Mission Rivers were named at this time.

John Thomas Embley

John Thomas Embley (1858-1937), who surveyed the original Weipa Aboriginal Reserve in 1897.

1896 –

John Thomas Embley, part-owner of York Downs station and a licensed surveyor, surveyed the peninsula of land where Weipa is now situated, for the Queensland Government’s new Aboriginal Reserve.

1898 –

Moravian missionaries, Rev Edwin and Mrs Thekla Brown established the Embley River Mission station at Spring Creek on the upper Embley River.

1899 –

Embley River Mission was renamed Weipa Mission by Mrs Emily Foxton, wife of the Queensland Home Secretary, J.F.G. Foxton.

1904 –

Archer River Presbyterian Mission (later renamed Aurukun) was established by Rev Arthur Richter and his wife, Elisabeth.

1915 –

Alfred Gostelow travelled on horseback from Weipa to Cape York, then by ship to Brisbane to enlist in the 9th Reinforcements of the 9th Battalion Australian Imperial Force (AIF).  Alf passed away from illness aboard a troopship en route to Egypt.  His name is remembered on the Honour Roll at the Australian War Memorial and the Napranum War Memorial.

1932-1933 –

Because of outbreaks of malaria and difficult access by river to the original Weipa Mission, Presbyterian superintendent, Rev Sam McKay, led the transfer of the mission buildings and village to a new site at Jessica Point on the Embley River.

1940 –

Former Weipa Mission resident, Albert Mackenzie, enlisted in the Second AIF and served with the Australian Army Medical Corps in the Middle East. He returned to Australia as a medical orderly with 2/4th Australian Convalescent Depot, 9th Division in February 1943.

1941-1942 –

An airstrip was constructed by members of the Weipa Mission community using basic hand tools. The airfield remained in use as Weipa’s airport until 1967.

1943 –

Sixteen men from Weipa Mission enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces with 2nd Australian Water Transport Group, Royal Australian Engineers. Most served until 1945 with that unit, then transferred to the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion until discharged from the Army in 1946.

1955 –

While exploring for oil on Western Cape York Peninsula during July and October, geologist Henry James (Harry) Evans discovered economic bauxite deposits. He was guided across country by Piiramu (George Wilson) of the Kaanju people and later around the coast by Wakmatha (old Matthew) of the Linngithigh people.

1956 –

Enterprise Exploration Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Consolidated Zinc Corporation (CZC), established ‘Top Camp’ near Munding just upstream from Weipa Mission. This camp was the base for bauxite exploration on Authority to Prospect for Minerals (AP) 28M which extended from northern Cape York to south of Aurukun. Men from Weipa, Aurukun and Mapoon missions worked as bush guides and assistants to the exploration crews. Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation Pty. Limited (CAC) was formed in December by CZC to develop the Weipa deposits. The initial letters of the new company became the acronym Comalco, which was first used officially in 1960.

1957 –

State mining agreement legislation passed by the Queensland Government in December, Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation Pty. Limited Agreement Act of 1957, gave powers to the new company, CAC, to mine and export bauxite, as well as to develop a port and town at Weipa.

1958 –

Special Bauxite Mining Lease No. 1 (SBML1, now known as ML 7024) was issued to CAC. This lease covered 6,164 square kilometres with provisions for future relinquishment of areas that did not contain economic bauxite. Much of this land was resumed by the Queensland Government from the Aurukun, Mapoon and Weipa Aboriginal reserves. By 1995, the lease had been reduced to an area of 2,513 square km.

1960 –

Work commenced on the construction of a pilot bauxite processing plant at Evans Landing.

1961 –

First trial shipments of bauxite to Japan.

1963 –

First commercial bauxite mining and shipments commenced.

1964 –

Mapoon community forcibly closed by the Queensland Director of Native Affairs and many Aboriginal people relocated away from their traditional lands to New Mapoon. The first Weipa mining township houses were also constructed at Rocky Point.

1965 –

The state government passed the Alcan Queensland Pty. Limited Agreement Act of 1965. The Agreement provided for the grant of Special Bauxite Mining Lease No. 8 (SBML8 now ML 7031), which was later purchased by Rio Tinto. A new village was opened at Weipa Mission to replace the former riverside village.

1966 –

Weipa Mission was taken over by the Queensland Government to become the Weipa South settlement. Comalco commenced publication of a Weipa newspaper, the Alumina, which was later renamed Bauxite Bulletin and Weipa Bulletin, and is now the Western Cape Bulletin.

1967 –

Township of Weipa was officially opened by the Premier of Queensland, Hon G.F.R. (Frank) Nicklin. The opening monument, comprising a tri-lon of three cast aluminium stelae, is situated on parkland near the Weipa Town Authority centre at Kumrumja. The Weipa township and aerodrome were formally excluded from the Cook Shire and constituted a separate local authority area under the terms of the Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation Pty Limited Agreement Act of 1957. A new Weipa airport commenced operation with the arrival of an Ansett ANA Fokker Friendship aircraft on 11 October.

Post Master General's Department branch telephone line

In 1970-71, the Post Master General’s Department constructed a branch telephone line to connect Weipa with the main Peninsula telephone line to Cairns.

1971 –

A rail and road bridge was constructed over the Mission River to provide for mining expansion to the Andoom area north of Weipa. A telephone line and automatic exchange linking Weipa to the Cape York telephone line and southern cities was constructed by the Post Master General’s Department (PMG).

1975 –

The first houses in the new Neighbourhood Two (Trunding) suburb were constructed.

1981 –

Nanum shopping centre was constructed by Kern Corporation. The Woolworths store at Nanum replaced the company-owned mini-market.

1983 –

Named after former Comalco managing director, Sir Donald Hibberd, a new town office and public library resource centre opened in the former mini-market building.

1986 –

The Pax Haven camping ground was established at Nanum. The site was chosen by senior Alngith elder, Eddie John.

1993 -

First elections were held for an Advisory Board established by Comalco to advise the town administration on local community matters. This board has evolved into the Weipa Town Authority.

1994 –

The Weipa town boundary was extended by the Queensland Government to include the Evans Landing area.

1997 –

A voluntary Indigenous mining agreement was signed between Alcan South Pacific Pty Ltd and the communities of Napranum, Mapoon and New Mapoon, as well as six Traditional Owner groups and the Cape York Land Council. The Ely Bauxite Mining Project Agreement, which continues to be administered by Rio Tinto Alcan, was the forerunner of a major regional agreement including Comalco’s mining leases and the Weipa town, which developed over the next few years.

2001 –

The Western Cape Communities Co-existence Agreement (WCCCA) was signed by Comalco, the communities of Aurukun, Mapoon, Napranum and New Mapoon, and eleven other Traditional Owner groups (the Alngith, Anhathangayth, Ankamuthi, Peppan, Taepadhigi, Thanikwithi, Tjungundji, Warrangu, Wathayn, Wik, Wik-Way and Yupungathi Peoples), the Cape York Land Council and the Queensland Government.

2002 –

The Western Cape Cultural Centre at Evans Landing was officially opened.

2006 –

Comalco was renamed Rio Tinto Aluminium.

2007 –

Rio Tinto purchased Canadian aluminium company, Alcan Inc., and then renamed the newly integrated company Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA)