Esperance is a town in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia, on the Southern Ocean coastline approximately east-southeast of the state capital, Perth. Esperance is home to 9,919 people (2011 census). Its major industries are tourism, agriculture, and fishing. The Shire of Esperance is home to 13,477 people.
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 a French ship, the Espérance, commanded by Bruni d'Entrecasteaux. Espérance, 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.
The town jetty was also built through the 1890s, following the discovery of gold in the eastern goldfields region.
The population of the town was 985 (623 males and 362 females) in 1898.
The mallee area approximately 100 km north of the town began grain production in the 1920s, and by 1935 the construction of a second jetty, tankers jetty, was completed.
Agriculture was introduced to the Esperance sand plain by an American syndicate, in partnership with the state government, in the 1960s following the discovery that adding superphosphate fertilisers containing trace elements to the poor soils made them suitable for cropping and pastoral activity. Despite early difficulties, the project eventually became a success and large areas of land were cleared during this time.
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 paid in April 2009, when radio show host Scott Barley of Highway Radio raised the funds from his morning show listeners, and paid the fine on behalf of NASA. Skylab's demise was an international media event, with merchandising, wagering on time and place of re-entry, and nightly news reports. The San Francisco Examiner offered a $10,000 prize for the first piece of Skylab to be delivered to their offices. 17-year-old Stan Thornton scooped a few pieces of Skylab off the roof of his home in Esperance, caught the first flight to San Francisco, and collected the prize.
In January 2007, the national media claimed that Esperance experienced "the perfect storm" with wind gusts of up to 110 km/h which brought 155mm of rainfall within 24 hours, causing significant flooding. More than 100 homes were damaged, several boats were destroyed, trees were felled, 35 m of bridge on the South Coast Highway, (the main road linking Esperance to Perth), was washed away, and power was cut from thousands of homes. The Western Australian Government declared the area a "natural disaster zone". Over 25,000 sheep were killed in the storm.