Henderson is named for Sir Reginald Henderson, the British Admiral who recommended a naval base be built in Cockburn Sound in 1910.
The Henderson area’s first European contact came with the landing of Thomas Peel’s hopeful settlers and their failed attempts to build a village community at Clarence, near Woodman Point.
During the 19th century the land along the Cockburn coast – stretching from Fremantle south to Henderson and beyond – was largely used to hold the vast herds of cattle brought down by ship from the Kimberley to be slaughtered at the abattoirs around Robb Jetty. Without the freezing and refrigeration facilities that came later, the cattle had to be kept alive until their meat was needed, and so Henderson was for many years a large-scale cattle holding pen.
Things began to change by the 1900s, when Australians began to see the need for defence from the sea. Until early in the 20th century, Australia had no navy and little naval defence from Britain. Amidst a growing fear of international conflict and a rising spirit of nationalism, Admiral Henderson’s suggestion for a Fleet Base at Cockburn Sound was resoundingly supported, despite the enormous leap in scale that it proposed.
When Admiral Henderson visited in 1910, the extent of the Navy in WA was 14 men, four sailboats and a boatshed. The new proposals for a fleet base included 17 armoured ships, nine submarines and 7500 men. Land prices around Woodman Point and Coogee soared, train lines and tramways were built, and the works were officially opened in May 1913 with speeches from the Premier and Australian Admiral Creswell, a military band and a trainful of invited guests who travelled from Fremantle.
This overambitious scale, and the fact that construction began in 1913, less than a year before the outbreak of WW1, meant that trouble followed the naval base from the beginning. Unexpected delays in dredging the harbour, labour shortage and political wrangling all played their part, and the development was officially abandoned by 1920. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the current fleet base on Garden Island began to be designed and constructed.
Apart from a scattering of 1950s holiday shacks at the southern tip of the suburb that still operate today, the Henderson area was relatively quiet until the 1970s, when industry began to grow along the coastline. In 1973, the name Henderson was approved for the new suburb. In the 1990s the wetlands and bush that make up the majority of Henderson were formally recognised as a Regional Park, and the Australian Marine Complex began to grow early in the new millennium.
Henderson today is a fascinating mixture of regions: it embraces its nautical heritage with the bustling shipyards and industry that shaped the district, it plays host to the largest green space in City of Cockburn, and it is a growing residential area for those who enjoy the coastal lifestyle.
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