Dongara is a townsite located 351 km NNW of Perth on the Brand Highway. The town is located on the mouth of the Irwin River. In recent years the area has been marketed as the ‘Rock lobster capital of Australia’.
Dongara is the seat of the Shire of Irwin. The shire has a population of around 3500 people, with 2700 of these residing in the towns of Dongara and Port Denison.
The place name ‘Dongara’ is an anglicised rendition of ‘Thung-arra’, the local Wattandee people’s name for the estuary adjacent to the town, meaning ‘sea lion place’.
European settlement around the estuary began in 1853 when a harbourmaster, Edward Downes, was stationed there to look out for passing ships. He was employed by the Cattle Company which was establishing large pastoral stations about 15 kilometres inland. By the 1860s, ex-convict small farmers were occupying the local river flats, and a flour mill (the Irwin or Smith’s Mill) was operating. A townsite was surveyed, and in 1871 it became the seat of a local council established that year (now the Irwin Shire Council), and site of a police station and public school. The Anglican Church of St. John the Baptist and a Methodist Church were built in the 1880s.
In the 1890s, the larger Royal Steam Roller Flour Mill was built on the flats next to the new railway that connected the district to Perth, and the town was slowly developing, and although it was still a comparatively small village by the time of federation in 1901, it had several churches, municipal offices and hall, a variety of shops, two hotels, a public school and a railway station. The nearby localities were populated by small wheat and sheep farmers, centred around the hamlets of Bookara, Irwin and Strawberry. There was also a small population of fishermen, including several Chinese men, at Port Denison.
Dongara is also the centre for a small oil & gas industry which began with the discovery of the Dongara Gas Field in 1966. Arc Energy.