Man fishing in Augusta. Credit Ryan Murphy.

Take even the smallest step back into Augusta’s history, and you’ll discover the little cape town isn’t quite what it seems.

Kathy Tritton, the President of the Augusta Historical Society, is someone who knows this firsthand.

“I came down to the Augusta area with one of my foster families to visit the cave and the lighthouse,” she says. “My husband and I later moved down here, and over time you pick up bits and pieces; something intrigues you and you go looking for a bit more.”

Kathy lives on Molloy Island; a 15 minute car ride, plus a barge crossing, from Augusta’s main strip. In the old days Kathy ran a souvenir store in town. Now, she volunteers at the Augusta Historical Museum, where she shares the stories she collects.

“Augusta has been a tourist place for so long, we’re talking generational holidaymakers, people who came down with their grandparents, who came down here honeymooning,” she says. “There is a special feeling, you really can’t put your finger on it.”

Blue and white house in Augusta. Credit Ryan Murphy.

The first settlers didn’t feel quite the same way though.

“Everything looked green, so from their perspective, if it was green, it was fertile,” Kathy says. “They really didn’t understand the landscape back then, and were basing what they were seeing on their knowledge from home.”

They also didn’t understand the culture of the Wadandi Pibelman people, who had been living on the land for at least 45,000 years.

“The settlers landed with crop material and animals, and the Aboriginal culture was that everyone shared everything; a fence was something to climb over, it was like a fallen log,” Kathy says. “If there were animals that was for everyone to share, but that wasn’t the white man’s view.”

View from top of Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse in Augusta. Credit Ryan Murphy.

The treacherous coastline also proved problematic for early settlers.

“In Hamelin Bay alone, there are almost 13 wrecks,” Kathy says. “Probably the most famous would be the Pericles, which was on its way to Fremantle and then London for the coronation of King George V around 1910.”

The Pericles was built in the same Belfast shipping yard as the Titanic, and was owned by the ill-fated White Star Line. When the ship hit an uncharted rock, it started sinking. Luckily, no one died. Well. Almost.

“They were all rescued, except the captain’s cat, who was apparently in the last lifeboat and decided to jump out,” Kathy says. “Cats don’t like changing homes.”

For weeks after, Augusta locals collected boxes of butter and other salvage, which washed to shore from the wreck. A few men from the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse were given bravery awards, and the town was congratulated for taking care of the rescued crew.

Old jetty at Hamelin Bay, Augusta. Credit Ryan Murphy.

To this day Augustans are legendary at levelling up in times of emergency. Like in 1986, when 114 false killer whales beached themselves on Flinders Bay. 96 were rescued, making it one of the most successful whale rescues of its time.

“It starts with locals, and it all comes down to what they do and how they react initially before anyone else can even get there,” Kathy says.

Another local rescue happened back in 1876, when just after midnight, the Georgette started to take on water between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Hamelin. Sam Isaacs, an Aboriginal stockman who worked for the Bussell homestead, raised the alarm and returned with ropes and gear to rescue the crew.

Grace Bussell, a 16 year old girl from the homestead, went back to the wreck with Sam. The pair rode into the surf to rescue the drowning sailors. At the time, Grace was given most of the accolades and attention, however Sam’s bravery should not be lost in history.

Twelve lives were lost in the Georgette shipwreck, which now lies around 90 metres off Redgate Beach. Sam’s medal can be found in the Augusta Historical Museum.

“Sam Isaacs was given a medal and a piece of land, and we have his medal and some photos of him in the museum,” says Kathy.

Anyone can visit the Augusta Historical Museum to learn more about the Georgette, and other incredible stories from the town. “At one stage there was so few people in Augusta they were talking about deregistering the name as a town – but we hung on and we’re still here,” she says. “I think the people in the area are very proud of their town.”

Abalone divers in Augusta. Credit Ryan Murphy.

The Augusta Historical Society meets on the third Thursday of every month. Members of the public are welcome to come along and listen to stories, or visit the museum in town to discover more about Augusta’s history.

Want to learn more about Augusta’s history?

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