The seaside towns of Dongara and Port Denison are booming. But developments in the oil and gas industry and an influx of new residents are putting pressure on local amenities, as Alison Birrane reports.


No matter where you stand in the twin towns of Dongara-Port Denison, chances are you’ll have a sea view.

A picturesque community just a short drive from Geraldton, Dongara is home to 3,500 people. But Shire of Irwin chief executive officer John Merrick believes with the current rapid rate of growth the population could increase to 5,000 in the next two years, and even 10,000 by 2020.

While the numbers themselves are not huge, the increase in population they represent is, placing an added burden on a community already struggling to find funds for upgrades to public amenities.

While growth continues in many areas across the State, Dongara-Denison provides an interesting case study.

The towns are home to vibrant farming, tourism and fishing industries, but now the booming oil and gas industry is also being attracted to the area, with the highly prospective Perth Basin the scene for aggressive exploration campaigns.

In both the onshore and offshore areas around Dongara, companies including ARC Energy, Origin Energy, Roc Oil, and Voyager Energy have activities and interests that are providing good news stories for the investment and oil and gas communities.

However, the issues in Dongara-Denison differ to those felt by mining towns in the North West, most of which are owned by the massive multinational companies.

Many of the oil and gas companies with acreage in the Perth Basin are juniors or mid-sized companies that do not, or cannot, afford to spend millions on community programs.

The oil interests are, however, creating jobs and opportunities, thereby adding to the already buoyant local economy.

Mr Merrick said the increased activity in the oil and gas sector was having a ripple effect throughout the township, which would increase with further oil discoveries.

“It will obviously have a long-term impact on the services industry in Dongara,” Mr Merrick said.

“It will also create a need for, and opportunities in, part-time work in shops, along with a need for increased amenities such as schools.”

ARC Energy managing director Eric Streitbery said the oil and gas industry was very mindful of its status as a “guest” in the Dongara-Denison community and was keen to support the community by employing locally and using local contractors wherever possible.

“It’s a bit different in the North West where there isn’t any existing infrastructure,” Mr Streitbery told WA Business News.

“It’s not like we are trying to build a ‘company town’. We are just a part of the town, we are guests.

“The local crayfishing industry is probably bigger than the oil and gas industry.”

And, at this time of year when the sun is out and the wildflowers brightening the already colourful landscape, visitors can easily appreciate why many people choose Dongara as the place they retire to.

Mr Merrick said the town welcomed the increased numbers of residents and the oil and gas industry, but acknowledged the shire would struggle with the needs of an increased population.

“Obviously it is going to mean a greater demand put on the shire for more services. There will be a problem for us in terms of lead time,” he said.

“We have financial management strategies where we are able to capitalise on the strong growth, but this is limited.

“We’ve created reserve funds and we’ve been able to build our reserves to a very healthy situation, but essentially we need more.”

Mr Merrick said the town was in desperate need of a $10 million to $15 million aged-care facility to cater for the needs of an ageing population, a $3 million recreation centre, improved facilities for the school and better infrastructure, including roads and drainage.

“We’ve been arguing our case with the State and Federal governments for five years now,” he said.

“We only get $500,000 and the disability that we are facing in Dongara is that we have growing population demands that need looking at.

“I’m not suggesting that the government redefines the rules in terms of determining the amount of grants that each city council gets throughout Australia, but I’m suggesting there should be recognition through a separate basket of money that there is a real disability felt by growing communities experiencing the demands through a growing population.”

Dongara Building and Trade Supplies proprietor Robert McClurg said while appreciated the extra business the oil and gas industry and other growth factors contributed, he wanted to see Dongara-Denison benefit, with the money being used to improve the township and local facilities.

“I think these big companies have to be very mindful of that and they should look after the town and employ local people,” Mr McClurg said.

“Then we can push the State Government to spend more money on this town instead of ignoring us.

“This community, this area generates so much revenue for the State Government; why can’t the Government give us something back?

“[They should] give us a decent school and sporting facilities.

“If everybody does the right thing, this town will continue to thrive.

“We need to employ more local people, and provide jobs for those people that are leaving school and want to stay in the town.”