Esperance is a town in Western Australia, located on the south coast around half-way between Albany and the South Australian border. Its population is almost 15,000 people, and its major industries are tourism, agriculture, and fishing.
Near the town itself are many attractive beaches, offering surfing, scuba diving, and swimming. It is the closest town to the famous Cyclops wave, portrayed as the most dangerous wave in Australia. Also nearby are a number of salt lakes, including the Pink Lake, which gains its rosey hue from red algae living within its waters.
There are five major national parks near the town. A major nearby tourist attraction, 56 km from the town center, is the Cape Le Grand National Park, which offers a picturesque coast of largely granite terrain and sheltered white sand beaches. The park is a popular spot for recreational fishing, as well as four wheel drive enthusiasts and hikers.
Esperance also has a number of wind turbines supplying electricity to the town.
French explorers are credited with making the first landfall near the present day town, naming it and other local landmarks whilst sheltering from a storm in this area in 1792. The town itself was named after the French ship, the L'Espérance, commanded by Bruni d'Entrecasteaux. Esperance, roughly translated, is French for 'hope'.
In 1802, British navigator Matthew Flinders sailed the Bay of Isles, discovering and naming places such as Lucky Bay and Thistle Cove. Whalers, sealers and pirates followed, as did pastoralists and miners, keen to exploit the free land and cash in on the gold boom in the gold fields to the north.
The area of the Esperance townsite was first settled by the Dempsters, a pioneer family of Scottish descent, in the 1870s. A telegraph station was opened in 1876, although the formal gazettal of the townsite did not occur until 1893.
In 1979, pieces of the space station Skylab crashed onto Esperance after the craft broke up over the Indian Ocean. The municipality fined the United States $400 for littering. The fine was never paid.
In January 2007, Esperance was rocked by two major events.
First, a torrential storm with wind gusts of up to 110km/h brought 155mm of rainfall within 24 hours, causing significant flooding. More than 100 homes were damaged, several boats were destroyed, trees were felled and 35m of bridge on the South Coast Highway, the main road linking Esperance to Perth, was washed away. The Western Australian Government declared the area a "natural disaster zone". Over 37,000 sheep were killed in the storm.
Secondly, commencing just before the storm, thousands of birds (including wattlebirds, yellow-throated miners, New Holland honeyeaters and singing honeyeaters, and some crows, hawks and pigeons) fell dead from the skies. Subsequent tests on bird samples collected from the Esperance townsite revealed the deaths had been caused by lead poisoning from dust escaping during loading of Magellan Metals product at the Esperance Port Authority. Tests on the town's population showed elevated lead levels among some residents, leading to a major clean-up operation. A Western Australian state parliamentary inquiry found the mining company Magellan Metals, several government departments and the Esperance Port Authority responsible for the lead pollution in the town.