At the very end of Shark Bay not too far from the intersection with the Highway 1 there is a small sheep station by the name of Hamelin Pool. It’s not labeled by name on the above map, but there is a black dot representing Hamelin Pool at the very end of the eastern bay of Shark Bay. Hamelin Pool is not famous due to it’s sheep ranching history; it is famous because of it’s stromatolites. What’s a stromatolite you ask? Just the oldest living thing on Earth as you will soon see.
Driving down another dirt road it didn’t take us to long to reach the sheep station. The sheep station now serves primarily as a caravan park and the home of the world’s only stromatolite musuem:
The above picture is of the old telegraph station at Hamelin Pool. Years ago Hamelin Pool served as the main telegraph station for the entire Shark Bay region of Australia. Today Hamelin Pool continues it’s tradition of being the outlet that connects the region to the rest of Australia by hosting a large telecommunications tower near the station.
Even if you have no interest in seeing the stromatolites, the walk to the beach to view them is free and the walk is a quite pleasant 45 minute round trip walk. It is a good way to take a break and have lunch during a long drive through the Western Australian outback. As I walked down the beach the first thing I noticed was what appeared to be something that looked like old Roman ruins. However, what I found out was that here in Hamelin Pool the early settlers cut out large white blocks of sandstone to construct buildings with. All the old buildings in the area that remain were built with sandstone from this quarry.
Not to far from the quarry I reached the coastline and instantly noticed the blackish color to the beach:
I continued to follow the trail along the beach and found a grave that was the final resting place for one of the areas early settlers:
This grave is from a man named Walter Musk who died out here in 1911 at the age of 60. Walter and another man were transporting fencing wire to another sheep station across the bay when their boat overturned and both men drowned. Walter’s body was recovered, but the other man’s body was never seen again. I imagine living out here back in the day had to have been a hard life considering the remoteness and lack of water in this area that guys like Walter Musk had to be very tough men to make a living from.
In Search of Stromatolites
Not to far past the grave is a dock that sticks out into the bay to allow visitors great view of the stromatolites:
These little clumps of black rock are actually the world’s oldest currently living form of life. The stromatolites are composed of a cyanobacteria that according to fossil records first came into existence 3.5 billion years ago during the Pre-Cambrian period of Earth’s early history. The cyanobacteria live in only extremely salty waters and the Earth’s early oceans were much more saltier than they are today. This caused the stromatolites to thrive at the time. Located at the very end of Shark Bay in the shallowest waters of the bay, the heavy concentrations of salt here has allowed the cyanobacteria to thrive here as well. The cyanobacteria grows upward out of the ocean and some of them have been known to grow as high as 1.5 meters.
Early scientists had long known about stromatolites through fossil records, but they had always considered them to be extinct. The reason believed that they went extinct was because the cyanobacteria conduct an early version of photosynthesis that released oxygen in the air. This oxygen is what led to the rise of life as we know it today. The combination of oceans becoming less salty and land based creatures walking on the fragile stromatolites and destroying them led to their extinction. However, in 1956 a Australian scientist “discovered” the stromatolites at Hamelin Pool. This would be the equivalent of a paleontologist discovering a living dinosaur. The early ranchers had long known about the stromatolites but never realized how special they were. They just thought they were a bunch of unusual rocks:
In the above pictures you can see the wagon wheel ruts from when the early settlers brought their wagons filled with wool to be loaded on to waiting ships to take the wool to markets in Perth. Since 1956 no more wagons or people are allowed to walk on the stromatolites due to the locals realizing how special these worthless rocks had become. Not all stromatolites have survived the abuse over the years and remains of dead stromatolites can be seen scattered on the beach:
Anyway it is interesting to think that life as we know it today is all because of what was thought to be useless rocks at Shark Bay, Western Australia. The stromatolites are just one of many strange, but interesting things to be discovered in Australia.
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