Denham is the administrative town for the Shire of Shark Bay, Western Australia, and has a permanent population of approximately 1,400 people.
Located on the western coast of the Peron Peninsula 831 km north of Perth, Denham is the westernmost town in Australia, and is named in honour of Captain Henry Mangles Denham of the Royal Navy, who charted Shark Bay in 1858. Today Denham survives as the gateway for the tourists who come to see the dolphins at Monkey Mia, which is located 23 km north-east of the town. The town also has an attractive beach and a jetty popular with those interested in fishing and boating.
The Denham area was the first part of the Australian mainland discovered by European sailors. On October 25, 1616, Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog and crew came unexpectedly upon “various islands, which were, however, found uninhabited.” He made landfall at an island now called Dirk Hartog Island off the coast of Shark Bay. Hartog spent three days examining the coast and nearby islands. He named the area Eendrachtsland after his ship, but this name has not endured. Finding little of interest, Hartog continued sailing northwards charting this previously undiscovered coast to about 22° South. In 1696 the Flemish explorer Willem de Vlamingh landed on the island. Later explorers included William Dampier, and the Frenchmen Freycinet, Hamelin and Baudin in the early 1800s. The coast remained uninhabited by Europeans until the middle of the nineteenth century. The first pearls found in Western Australia were discovered in Shark Bay in 1854 by a Lieutenant Helpman, the so-called ‘Admiral of the Swan River Navy’, who found the dense beds of pearl-shell oysters that are abundant there.
There is a Crisis centre, two Churches, a unit of the Red Cross, Returned Services League (R.S.L.), plus the normal amenities / facilities / social organisations to be found in any small Australian rural town; for example, two grocery shops, hardware, laundromat, hairdressing salon, two hotels, three caravan parks, various types of holiday accommodation, butcher, tourist and souvenir shops etc. Social organisation include a bowls club, golf club, speedway, arts society, film club, pistol club, bridge club, crafts group, youth association and facilities for various sports, for example netball, cricket, football. There is no resident Doctor but a full time Nurse in charge of the local Silver Chain Nursing post. Currently a Medical practitioner flies in for two days once a week. Emergency services are operated entirely by volunteers (Fire Brigade, Ambulance, State Emergency Service (SES) and Marine Rescue).
The tourist industry – mainly from April until September – witnesses an influx of over 250,000 people passing through the Shire on the main North West Coastal Highway of which approx 110,000 actually come into the communities of Denham, Monkey Mia etc. There is an all-weather airstrip (Shark Bay Airport) which can accommodate conventional small jet aircraft on domestic routes.