Northam is a town in Western Australia, situated at the confluence of the Avon and Mortlock Rivers, about north-east of Perth in the Avon Valley. At the 2011 census, Northam had a population of 6,580. Northam is the largest town in the Avon region. It is also the largest inland town in the state not founded on mining.
The area around Northam was first explored in 1830 by a party of colonists led by Ensign Robert Dale, and subsequently founded in 1833. It was named by Governor Stirling, probably after a village of the same name in Devon, England. Almost immediately it became a point of departure for explorers and settlers who were interested in the lands which lay to the east.
This initial importance declined with the growing importance of the other nearby towns of York and Beverley, but the arrival of the railway made Northam the major departure point for fossickers and miners who headed east towards the goldfields.
Northam was the focus of nationwide media attention in 2009 after its police arrested and detained a 12 year old Aboriginal boy on charges of receiving stolen goods after he had been given a Freddo Frog, a small chocolate snack, stolen from a shop. After missing a court date in connection with the matter, the boy, who had no previous convictions, had been arrested and held for several hours in a police cell. The boy's lawyer, Peter Collins from the Aboriginal Legal Service, suggested that the same action would not have been taken against a "non-Aboriginal kid from an affluent Perth suburb with professional parents". The police denied this, and said the boy had come to their attention in the past. The charges were subsequently dropped, and an order for legal costs of one thousand Australian dollars was made in the boy's favour.
A severe thunderstorm lashed the town and surrounding areas on 27 January 2011 resulting in roofs being ripped off, trees being uprooted and power lines being brought down. About 50 houses were damaged in the town as a result of the storm but no injuries were reported.
Northam Migrant Accommodation Centre
The Northam Migrant Accommodation Centre closed in September 1951. It had been the first place of residence in Western Australia for approximately 15,000 immigrants from the Baltic states, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Belarus and Bulgaria. During the peak immigration period, Northam had the largest immigrant receiving facilities within the State and the third largest in Australia. By 1950, the camp housed 4,000 people and two new blocks of huts were built to accommodate them all. By May 1954, 23,000 migrants had passed through the Northam Camp once the Accommodation Centre had closed. A significant number of these post-war arrivals eventually settled in the Northam area.
Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre
On 18 October 2010 the Yongah Hill (YHIDC) centre was announced as being established at the former Northam Training Camp. It was not opened until early 2012, however, and, after it was downsized from the original 1500 expected occupancy, talk of expansion has been happening.
It is run by Serco for the Department of Immigration.