General Farming has been the backbone of the Shire of Irwin since it was established in 1861, and continues today as a vibrant and viable industry, employing hundreds of people throughout the Mid West.
The excellent climate, combined with good rainfall on a regular basis and being so close to the coast, has enabled successful new varieties of crops to be grown, including canola, pepper and melons.
In the rich loam soil at Irwin, a major mango orchard has been established and features thousands of separate trees in a hedge-type configuration for easy harvest, at a time of year opposite to that of the northern region's mango crops.
The history of oil and gas operations in the Shire of Irwin extends back to the 1950s. Oil and gas exploration pioneer, WAPET, made the first commercial natural gas field discovery in 1964 at the Yardarino-1 exploration well, approximately 12 km south east of Dongara. The Dongara field discovery resulted in construction of the first gas pipeline in Western Australia, from Dongara to Pinjarra, which started producing gas in October 1971.
Over the past 60 years a number of commercial oil and gas operations have been developed by various companies. This has involved a range of activities including field exploration, seismic surveys, exploration and development drilling, as well as construction of infrastructure and several gas pipelines.
Some of the companies active in the region include: AWE Limited, Mitsui E&P, APA Group, Triangle Energy, Roc Oil and Upstream Production Solutions.
The largest onshore gas discovery in Australia for the last 30 years was recently made by joint venture partners, AWE Limited and Origin Energy. This discovery, the Waitsia Field, could produce up to 10% of the State’s total fuel needs over the next 20 years.
ROC Oil, a major partner, continues to operate an existing offshore field at its Cliff Head facility.
The Shire of Irwin is excited at the prospect of these discoveries leading to the retention of jobs and the creation of new jobs in the Dongara/Port Denison area.
This industry, which has been developed over the last 60 years, is one of the world's few recognised sustainable "wild fisheries" and Australia's most valuable single species fishery.
The rock lobster season runs from mid-November to the end of June. There are 611 boats operating, each carrying an average of 100 pots. About one-half of the total WA catch of approximately 10 million kilograms is caught along the Irwin and Greenough coastline and at the Abrolhos Islands. The fishing harbour at Port Denison is home to about 70 boats during the season. In addition, many craft operate from the small bays south of Port Denison.
The rock lobster is either exported live or processed as a whole, cooked lobster or lobster tails. The major export markets are Asia and the United States. The rock lobster processing plant in Dongara was operated by MG Kailis (1962) Pty Ltd. The factory has now closed. It operated at the Brady Road site since 1959 and was rebuilt in 1997 in order to accommodate the expanding live rock lobster export trade. MG Kailis Pty Ltd constructed the new state-of-the-art "live" rock lobster processing facility on the foreshore of the Port Denison marina and it was officially opened in 2002. This is now operated by Geraldton Fishermens Co-op.
Rock lobster are available for purchase from the local supermarkets in Dongara and are also on the menu at local restaurants.
Recreational fishers are permitted to fish for rock lobster in season, however, a licence must be obtained from either the post office in Dongara or from the Department of Fisheries office at Port Denison, which is open between 12 noon to 3pm weekdays from 15 November through to 30 June each year. Outside of this period, the Fisheries office is only open opportunistically (Ph: 9927 1187).
A major discovery of valuable mineral sands was achieved by Magnetic Minerals approximately 25 kms south of Dongara, and was the subject of an offer to purchase the area by a leading international mineral sands miner in Ticor. Ticor currently operates a major mine at Cataby, and transports its product to the Tiwest facility at Muchea for refining.
It is envisaged that the high quality ore available from the Dongara site will enable Ticor to integrate it with its product from Cataby and prolong its significant operations well into the next century. The creation of additional jobs and the "ripple effect" of increased population will be of enormous benefit to the ongoing development of the Shire of Irwin.
2002 saw the first commercial harvest of olives in the Shire of Irwin, and several growers are now producing oil at an ever-increasing rate. Well-drained soil, combined with a long hot growing season, and plenty of good quality water, ensure that the olive growers can look forward to excellent quality fruit. This has resulted in several quality Awards at Shows.