At the 2011 census, Geraldton had a population of 35,749. Geraldton is the seat of government for the local government area (LGA), the City of Greater Geraldton, which also incorporates the town of Mullewa and large rural areas previously forming the shires of Greenough and Mullewa.
The city is home to the Port of Geraldton, a major west coast seaport. Geraldton is an important service and logistics centre for regional mining, fishing, Western Rock Lobster, wheat, sheep and tourism industries. The Geraldton CSIRO facility provides support services to the Square Kilometre Array project located 315 km northeast of Geraldton. The Australian Army 2nd Division, 13th Brigade Reserve Response Force maintains a presence and depot in central Geraldton. Geraldton has a Sister City relationship with Zhejiang, China.
Clear evidence has established indigenous people living on the West Coast of Australia for at least 40,000 years, though at present it is unclear when the first indigenous people may have originally explored and lived in and around Geraldton.
The local Aboriginal people native to the region surrounding Geraldton are known as "Yamatji" or "Wajarri" people. Wajarri country is inland from Geraldton and extends as far south and west as Mullewa, north to Gascoyne Junction and east to Meekatharra. The Aboriginal people of the Murchison-Gascoyne region were instrumental in assisting early settlers in the area in identifying permanent water sources, and worked in the pearling, pastoral and fishing industries.
Yamatji art is a distinctive style of painting, using thousands of dots of ochre and other earth-based pigments to create patterns and images relevant to Yamatji/Wajarri culture.
The Western Australia Museum at the marina in Geraldton hosts a permanent exhibit on Yamatji/Wajarri culture and history of the region.
Though many European maritime explorers encountered or were even wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos islands west of Geraldton during the 17th and 18th centuries, there is no evidence that any made landfall at or near the site of the current town.
The wreck of the Batavia, flagship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) fleet on her maiden voyage, on Morning Reef of the Houtman Abrolhos on 4 June 1629, and the events surrounding the subsequent mutiny, rescue and punishment of her crew are of great historical significance to the region. A detailed account of the events is recorded in a 24 December 1897 Western Mail article "The Abrolhos Tragedy", translated from the notes of Francois Pelsaert, the commander of the Batavia when she ran aground. The Western Australian Museum in Geraldton houses an exhibition of clay pipes, silver coins, cannons, the original Batavia stone portico and numerous other relics recovered from the wreck of the Batavia and other notable local historical shipwrecks such as the Zuytdorp, Zeewijk and Vergulde Draeck.
The explorer George Grey, while on his second disastrous expedition along the Western Australian coast, passed over the future site of Geraldton on 7 April 1839.
A decade later, explorer Augustus Gregory travelled through the area. A member of his party, Pemberton Walcott, discovered lead ore in 1848 in the bed of the Murchison River. The Geraldine mine was subsequently established, named after Charles Fitzgerald, the 4th governor of Western Australia. The town of Geraldton was gazetted in 1850, also named after Governor Fitzgerald.