When we arrived in Exmouth we wondered why the town looked so modern but it was only established in the 1960’s with the arrival of US naval operations yet its history goes back much further. The Vlamingh Head lighthouse was built in 1912. It was named after Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh who along with so many Dutch navigators visited this coast back in 1697. There were military bases in the area in World War Two. Qantas later used Learmonth Air Base as a fuel stop on its Ceylon route to London in 1945. In 1953 oil was discovered but not in economically viable quantities. Nowadays the oil drilling is based off shore at Barrow Island and prawn fishing is the big business. Big business indeed, 700,000kgs of prawns are harvested here annually. Not forgetting tourism; big game fishing, the majestic Cape Range National Park and World Heritage listed, 260km long Ningaloo Reef which almost touches the shore.
The streets of Exmouth are lined with trees that are very harshly pruned. Like Carnarvon further south, all of the metal roofs are bolted down and the older building roofs have long blocks of concrete laid across them. Reminiscent of Sydney’s western suburbs all the windows have grilles but here they are for cyclone safety. Cyclone Quang missed the town by 150kms but still they suffered 185kmh wind shears. The Exmouth coast is the most cyclone prone in Australia. In 1999 cyclone Vance damaged 70% of the town’s buildings and was clocked at 267kmh. Any wonder the town looks so new it gets swept clean, regularly.
Just out of town is the Harold E Holt Naval Base which controls the world’s largest Very Low Frequency (VLF) transmitter for communication with Australian and U.S. submarines whilst they are submerged. The landscape is dotted with very tall radio masts, one of which is the second tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. Yep, that’s taller than the bloke Woody saw in the dunny in Carnarvon. The aerials have been built to withstand 500kph winds. The highest recorded gusts in the world were 408kph at Barrow Island just offshore from Exmouth in 1996. The folks here really know how to manage their wind. In fact the Big Prawn at the Information Centre gets ‘put away’ for safe keeping during cyclone season.