Western Cape History

Aerial view of Weipa North Township at Kumrumja (Rocky Point) 1968. Image courtesy National Archives of Australia Item ID 11710262

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, 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.

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