Zuytdorp Cliffs

The Zuytdorp Cliffs extend for about 150 km along a rugged, spectacular and little visited segment of the Western Australian Indian Ocean coast in Shark Bay. The cliffs extend from just north of the mouth of the Murchison River at Kalbarri, to Pepper Point south of Steep Point. The cliffs are situated in both the Gascoyne and Mid West regions of the state.

At the highest point, near Womerangee Hill, the top of the cliffs are 250 m above the sea.

The Zuytdorp Cliffs are composed of Pleistocene aged limestone, a formation called the Tamala Limestone. This limestone formed by the cementation of ancient calcareous sand dunes that accumulated near the coast during episodes of the last ice age. It has been inferred that the relatively straight edge of the cliffs is due to a major fault line just off shore.

This rugged section of coastline remained the preserve of the Indigenous inhabitants for many years and one of the last great wildernesses until the advent of the sheep stations established in the late 19th century,

The cliffs are named after an 18th century trading ship of the Dutch East India Company, the Zuytdorp, that was wrecked against the cliffs in 1712.

Zuytdorp shipwreck

On 1 August 1711, it was dispatched from the Netherlands to the trading port of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) bearing a load of freshly minted silver coins.

Many trading ships of the time had started to use a "fast route" to Indonesia, which used the strong Roaring Forties winds to carry them across the Indian Ocean to within sight of the west coast of Australia whence they would make a left turn and head north towards Indonesia.

The Zuytdorp never arrived at its destination. No search was undertaken, presumably because the VOC had no idea whether and where the ship had been wrecked or taken by pirates and possibly due to prior expensive but fruitless attempts to search for other missing ships, even when an approximate wreck location was known. Around that time, white visitors to the area are said to have seen aborigines with blonde hair and blue eyes, but their connectio to the Zuytdorp survivors has never been substantiated.

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HMAS Sydney wreck

The HMAS Sydney was sunk on 19 November 1941 after a battle with the disguised German raider Kormoran. On 24 November, after a number of unsuccessful attempts to contact the ship, a wide sea and air search was organised. Other than two lifebelts and a Carley float, no trace of the Sydney was found.


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Two days later, survivors of the Kormoran provided the first definite account of the Sydney's fate. Further interrogation of the raider's crew enabled Australian authorities to piece together the details of the battle. With many rumours circulating, the Prime Minister confirmed on 1 December that the Sydney had been lost. Sydney was located off the coast of Western Australia to the west of Steep point, on 17 March 2008 just after 11:00, only hours after Kormoran's discovery was made public. The main memorial for the loss of Sydney is located at Geraldton, Western Australia, on top of Mount Scott. A mrmorial cairn was erected on Quobba Station in November 1981 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the battle.

Steep Point

Steep point marks the northern end of the Zuytdorp Cliffs. Located within the Shark Bay World Heritage site in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia, Steep Point is the westernmost point of the Australian mainland. Dirk Hartog Island is immediately north of Steep Point across the South Passage.

The nearest town is Denham in the area of Shark Bay, with the point some 200 kilometres from the North West Coastal Highway. It is often cited as a reference point for other places and issues - a good example being the location of the wreck of HMAS Sydney or other locations on the coast.

Access to Steep Point is by four-wheel drive vehicle only, with a permit required to travel through Carrarang Station.

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