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.