History of Eyre Peninsula

History of Eyre Peninsula

Early Beginnings

Aboriginal people have populated Eyre Peninsula for many thousands of years, from the desert dwellers in the far west of the Peninsula to the coastal inhabitants. There are many dreaming stories about the development of the culture, unique geology and wildlife; this oral history has been passed down through many generations.

European settlement in the 1800s dramatically changed the cultural and natural landscape of the area.  This included farming the land and building townships with supporting infrastructure such as roads and ports.

In 1850 the Poonindie Training Settlement, 15kms north of Port Lincoln was established as the first Aboriginal Training Institute in Australia.  At Poonindie many Aboriginal people from around Australia learnt about dry land farming techniques of the time until it closed in 1894.

There are many language groups in the region, with the four major population centres of Aboriginal people being Port Lincoln, Ceduna, Yalata and Koonibba.

The local Aboriginal population continues to make a substantial contribution to the Eyre Peninsula communities; this includes business, land management, arts, sport and cultural activities.

Early Sea Exploration

Dutchman Peter Nuyts first sighted Eyre Peninsula’s coast in 1627.  He sailed as far east as present day Ceduna.  It was nearly 200 years before Matthew Flinders arrived on this coast in early 1802.  He spent nearly three months mapping the coast of Eyre Peninsula and in this time eight of his crew were drowned at Memory Cove.  It was not long after that Frenchman Nicholas Baudin and Louis Freycinet surveyed this coast.  Neither explorer considered it a land of riches, mainly due to the poor water supplies. It was not long after the first settlement of South Australia that further surveys took place with the first permanent settlement at Port Lincoln in 1839 via ketch.

Whaling and Sealing

This was Eyre Peninsula’s first main industry and started many years before the first official settlement. Although there is not enough evidence to prove it, this industry could have started before the arrival of Flinders. However, by the early 1850s the industry had almost closed.

Today whale watching at Head of Bight, on the Yalata Aboriginal lands and nearby Fowlers Bay, is recognised as one of South Australia’s key tourism attractions. The viewing platforms and boardwalks on the Bunder Cliffs stand 70metres straight up from the ocean. Each year, pods of up to 100 Southern Right Whales gather in the area as part of their annual migration.

Land Exploration

Eyre Peninsula was both a crossroads and training ground for explorers.  Edward John Eyre was the first to extensively map the region. Eyre is also remembered for his journey crossing the Great Australian Bight and the Nullarbor Plain in 1840-41. He was fortunate to be guided by a group of Aborigines who assisted him in finding water and food during this remarkable journey of some 1200 miles from Streaky Bay in South Australia to King George Sound, now known as Albany in Western Australia.

Early Settlement

After Port Lincoln was settled, large parcels of land were taken up, and by the 1870s much of the region was being grazed. Some of these enterprises were huge, with an example being the Fowlers Bay Run, which went from Streaky Bay to Nullarbor.


Eyre Peninsula is a popular holiday destination and offers a brilliant blend of wildlife, landscapes, fishing and seafood. Our waters are home to the magnificent giant cuttlefish, playful sealions, bottlenose dolphins and the awesome southern right whales.  The region is full of diverse and rewarding experiences.

Eyre Peninsula is one of the nation’s premium grain growing and seafood producers, with its produce being exported worldwide. On offer is a tantalising smorgasbord of shellfish to finfish with the seafood connoisseur guaranteed satisfaction.

Edward John EyrePort Lincoln Axel Stenross MuseumCeduna Arts Culture Centre