Browse Island

Guano Mining 1876-87

Browse Island is a small deserted scrub island surrounded by untouched reef in WA's far north. The small island, about the size of a football field rises up from a depth of 200 metres and is almost 200 kilometres offshore from the Kimberley coast and 500 kilometres north from Broome.

One of the most remote and unknown islands of Western Australia, Browse Island played a substantial role in the state's early history of guano mining from 1876 to 1887.

Browse Island was leased by the Browse Island Guano Company from Adelaide who mined and shipped guano then exported the product mainly to the farmlands of Europe to be used as agricultural fertiliser.

 

For eleven years ships sailed to Browse Island to load guano and deliver stores. At times it was reported that ships would encircle the island at anchor, sometimes waiting for up to five months to load a full store of guano. Given that Browse Island offered no protected safe anchorage this was disastrous when cyclones struck the small island sending ships crashing into the drying reef that surrounds the beach. In total around nine ships are recorded as lost throughout the years that the Browse Island Guano Company operated the camp. Given the inaccessibility and remote location of the island only two of the shipwrecks have been discovered and none identified.

 

Wrecked on the edge of the drying reef lays the remains of an iron barque. Possibly the Runnymede that wrecked in 1878, exposed at low tide the wreck submerges as the 6 metre tides rise. The remains of another vessel are reported to lay off the southern shore and 300 metres to the north of the iron barque sits a deck winch and anchor chain, possibly all that remains of another wooden vessel.

In the present day Browse Island is a major nesting site for migratory shorebirds and sea turtles. Today the remote island serves only one man made purpose by having an automated navigation light and racon as an aide to navigation for passing ships.

 

Amongst the bird colonies and scrub still stand the stone walls and partitions of the former guano mine, undisturbed for over a century. Littered along the beaches amongst the endless remains of dead sea turtles lays wreck material and flotsam that regularly uncovers or is washed up on the tides. Possibly the more modern remains of Indonesian fishing boats that have for centuries fished the north coast and still do today, allowed by the Australian Government if fishing by traditional ways. Probably the only visitors to the remote island that goes years with out human visitation.