Historic WA ‘ghost town’ up for sale with hopes of a tourism revival

Cossack historic townsite in WA. Picture: realcommercial.com.au/sale
Cossack historic townsite in WA. Picture: realcommercial.com.au/sale

A historic ‘ghost town’ in Western Australia’s Pilbara region is being sold in the hope of bringing it back to life as a tourist destination.

The WA government has put the 22-hectare townsite on the market for the first time, seeking fresh vision for the underutilised site.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalise a unique historic Pilbara townsite through a contemporary and sensitive heritage tourism development,” Lands Minister Ben Wyatt said.

The historic townsite of Cossack in WA is being sold for the first time. Picture: realcommercial.com.au/sale

The heritage-listed Cossack townsite precinct was a frontier settlement, the first shipping port in Australia’s north west and home to WA’s first pearling industry, but by the 1950s it was a ghost town.

Now the townsite is being sold in the hope the new owner can make the most of its tourism potential.

The WA government called for registrations of interest to activate and develop the historic townsite, with the 21 October announcement noting any plans needed to ensure its short and long-term conservation and the future management of the site.

Favourable consideration would be given to proposals that entertained low-impact tourism development and ancillary uses such as high quality eco-tourism accommodation, low-cost camping, cafes or galleries, it said.

“We are inviting the best innovative and sustainable ideas for a future vision that will activate the precinct while celebrating its rich heritage and stunning coastal location,” Mr Wyatt said.

The WA government hopes a buyer will bring new life to the historic townsite. Picture: realcommercial.com.au/sale

The town is located on the Pilbara coast at the mouth of the Harding River, 1480km north of Perth and 50km from Karratha.

The Cossack townsite precinct is a State Registered Heritage Place. The early settlement buildings and places that are heritage listed include the court house, police quarters, Post and Telegraph Office, Customs House and the land-backed wharf.

The heritage listing noted much of the old townsite was either ruined or removed, and revealed only as archaeological sites.

“The community is keen to see the unique character and history of Cossack retained and its stories retold in a manner that balances preservation of its past with contemporary and engaging tourism uses,” Heritage Minister David Templeman said.

Part of the Cossack historic townsite in WA. Picture: realcommercial.com.au/sale

Cossack was established in 1863 and originally named Tien Tsin after the boat that carried the first settlers to the region. It was renamed Cossack in 1871, after after the ship that carried WA’s governor Frederick Weld to the Pilbara.

The end of the gold rush, the pearling industry’s move to Broome and the establishment of a jetty in nearby Point Samson in 1910 marked the beginning of the end for the township.

The township was dissolved in 1910 and completely abandoned by the early 1950s.

The museum in the Pilbara town of Cossack. Picture: realcommercial.com.au/sale

The City of Karratha’s website still refers to Cossack as a ‘ghost town’, noting it no longer supports a resident population.

The town is largely used as a tourism destination during the high season from April to December. It is a popular fishing location, attracts thousands of visitors for an annual art exhibition and has a heritage walking trail and B&B accommodation.

The police station is used as backpacker accommodation, the restored Customs building as a cafe and the Old Court House as a museum.

The townsite is empty and the attractions are closed during the off season from January to March, a 2018 conservation management plan noted.

Cossack offers a central base for adventurers to explore the Pilbara, Aboriginal history and rock art and various recreational activities, the WA government said.

The state and local governments have been looking at future options for this “Pilbara treasure” for years.

The City of Karratha managed Cossack for 24 years under a lease agreement with the state, but handed back the keys in June 2020.

Registrations of interest for the sale, being managed by LJ Hooker Karratha and LJ Hooker Commercial Perth, close on 20 November.