Historic Heart and Soul
Busselton Jetty is the iconic structure that defines the town, and represents the resilience, invention, and long-term vision of the community around it.
It isn’t just the second longest jetty in the world that the timber piles beneath the Busselton Jetty support; they’re also the fundamental pillars of the community itself.
Tom De Souza investigated the story behind the Busselton Jetty, and discovered that as well as surviving fires, cyclones, storms, and demolition plans, Busselton’s jewel attraction has lived to become one of Western Australia’s most recognised landmarks.
“It’s a symbol of community spirit and resilience when people fight for something they want.” Says Lisa Shreeve, Busselton Jetty CEO. Lisa will say that the jetty is the lifeblood of the community, and an invaluable source of millions of dollars to the region. “It really is idyllic, and those who move to Busselton appreciate it just as much as those who were born here. The jetty is one of the world’s top ten shore dive sites, we have thousands that snorkel here every summer, swim, and now – even do yoga on it. What better place to enjoy recreational pursuits than somewhere with a 360-degree view of the ocean? It’s calming and makes you feel good. I think that is incredibly important in 2018 when we are all leading such busy lives.”
Built in 1865, the Busselton Jetty serviced ships trading between the south west and the Swan Colony. It was a lifeline; corn and vegetables went north and building supplies came south. As the colony grew, more foodstuffs were exported, and international routes opened up. Potatoes were a major export, along with local timber.
There were no permanent longshoreman on the jetty. Instead, local farmers, and, in particular, group settlers topped up their income by labouring when the ships arrived.
Then steam powered engines replaced sail boats, and the jetty had to be extended into deeper water until it reached its present length of just under 2km. Eight separate extensions were completed between 1872 and 1896, and a ‘skeleton jetty’ – 166m east of the existing jetty enabled steam engines to travel further along the jetty with their loads of coal, timber and potatoes.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the jetty was a paradoxical place of recreation and work. The sheltered waters are perfect for a casual swim, building a sandcastle, promenading, fishing, or participating in a competition such as the Busselton Jetty Swim.
The arrival of the modern era meant a decline in the use of rail transport for passenger travel and goods, and in 1972 the jetty was officially closed as a shipping port. By then, the Busselton Jetty was in dire need of repair, even before the major damage inflicted by Cyclone Alby in 1978. The cyclone destroyed 700m of the jetty, or over a third of its entire length.
The loss galvanised the community, and through the hard work and commitment led by the Busselton Jetty Environment and Conservation Association, they have gone above and beyond to raise money for restoration and building a revenue model around the attraction to maintain and keep up with repairs.
Today, the train still runs along the length of the jetty, but it carts passengers instead of timber, coal or potatoes. In 2016, the petrol-powered locamotive was replaced with a more energy efficient solar-powered, electric version.
The Busselton Jetty of yore has also conformed to the technological demands of the digital era, and the Winter Discovery Tours in the Underwater Observatory feature an immersive 3D virtual reality experience. Visitors can relive Cyclone Alby and the Jetty fire, and dive beneath its pylons without getting wet.
Virtual reality aside, the Busselton Jetty is still a great source of recreation for the local community. On any given night, throngs of fishermen line the jetty edges and wheelchair access fishing platforms, throwing out nets for crabs and jiggling lures for squid, herring, whiting and skippy, with the occassional tuna fish caught in deeper waters. Frosty Waterhouse holds the record for the biggest fish, when in 1948 he caught a whopping 170kg north west groper from the jetty.
Still a fundamental source of recreation for many, the Busselton Jetty also remains a source of employment for some, and the jetty is supported by the tireless work of community volunteers like Tasy Richards. Tasy is one of up to 85 volunteers who work alongside 42 paid staff. She has worked and volunteerd, on and off, since the Underwater Observatory opened in 2003, and says volunteering down at the jetty is a great way to keep occupied and contribute back to the community.
“It really is an icon of the community,” she says. For all the local people, recreation is certainly centered around the jetty. You can fish off it, dive off it, swim around it. People even get married on it or celebrate their birthdays underneath it. It’s definitely an integral part of the community.”