The area of land between Bunbury and Cape Leeuwin, on the coast and as far inland as Nannup, was traditionally occupied by the Wardandi group. The Wardandi moved throughout their territory in nuclear families, or larger bands, coming together for social and ceremonial purposes that coincided with the availability of food sources, such as estuarine fish.
French explorers were the first-recorded European visitors to Geographe Bay aboard the ships Naturaliste and Geographe in 1801. Agriculture and settlement began in the 1830s when settlers such as the Molloy, Bussell and Layman families established farms in the Vasse River area, while the Chapman family settled the Bunker Bay area. These settlers grew wheat, barley and oats and raised livestock such as sheep, pigs and cattle. They began exporting as early as 1858. Inshore and estuarine fishing became important local industries and whaling began from 1846 to 1872, with operations based at Castle Bay near Dunsborough. Whalers traded supplies with local settlers and helped stimulate the Busselton town site’s development. During the same period the timber industry was established and a mill built at Quindalup. The industry boomed when port facilities became available after the Busselton Jetty was constructed in 1864, and this supported steady population growth in the area through to the early 1920s.
The area’s dairy industry began in the 1920s and 1930s when the British and Western Australian governments jointly formed the Group Settlement Scheme. The scheme failed to instigate the expected population growth in the area, mainly due to the settlers’ inexperience and the economic hardships of 1930s depression. Despite these failings, the scheme opened up land for further agricultural development through land clearing and the extensive drainage works undertaken in coastal areas.
Today agriculture still dominates the catchment’s land area, with dairy and beef grazing the most widespread and intensifying. Viticulture has expanded in the western part of the catchment while production horticulture such as potato growing is also undertaken in these areas. The urban area of Busselton has now grown to aquire ‘City’ status and supports a busy commercial and industrial sector. Recreation and tourism also feature as major landuses of the uniquely attractive landscape and natural environment of the region.