Derby is located within the huge expanses of the Shire of Derby West Kimberley. Derby sits at the base of the King Sound and at the mouth of the Fitzroy River. The town is set on a peninsula of slightly elevated land above the surrounding flat
Within the town site boundary the land rises to just over 20 metres at its highest point, and falls below six metres where permanent vegetation meets the flood plain. The soil is mostly pindan and the natural vegetation consists of the famous Boabs, Eucalypts, shrubs and grasses. Derby’s highest temperature is 44C, the lowest being 6.7C. It rains for 45 days of the year, and the annual rainfall is reported at 623mm. Highest tide in 2008 was Tuesday April 8 at 3.27pm at 11.97m and low tide was at 10.53pm at 1.53m.
Derby is the oldest town in the Kimberley, and in 1883 was officially named as a town site. In 1884 the first lot was sold.
The town has a population of some 4,500 people.
Half of the population are Aboriginal Australians, with three different Aboriginal languages.
A high proportion of the population are employed in State and Commonwealth Departments or Instrumentalities such as Main Roads WA, Health Services and the Water Authority, and in providing services to outlying Aboriginal Communities. The remainder are small business people employed in servicing the mining, pastoral and tourism industries.
As a service town Derby offers all the amenities. It has recreation facilities including a swimming pool, library, art gallery, ovals and courts for football, cricket, tennis, squash, netball, basketball, rodeo and horse riding. A good selection of shopping is available with two chain stores, clothing and furniture shops, newsagency, chemist and hotels and restaurants/cafes. There are two primary schools, a high school and pre school facilities. Health services are provided by the hospital and there are extended care facilities for the aged and infirm.
The town had its origins in the pastoral and mining industries. It developed as a Port to service the pastoral properties along the Fitzroy River after the exploration of the area by Alexander Forrest in 1879. Pearl luggers collecting in the also used the Port after it was established in 1883. Then the town boasted a police detachment and Government residence. By 1884 a hotel, jetty and tramway were being constructed – all firsts for the Kimberley.
The 1886 gold rush at Halls Creek led to a boom in development.
The pastoral and mining industries and administration and tourism continued to be the main impetus in the town.
Minerals found in the hinterland include oil at Blina, diamonds in the Phillips Range, facing stone from the King Leopold Ranges and lead and zinc from Cadjebut. In 1997 the Derby wharf, which was closed in the 1980s, was re-opened for barging operations for the export of the lead / zinc concentrates.
A tidal power plant is being considered for using the tidal flush of Doctor’s creek near the town.
Derby is the main base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service in the Kimberley. The base was established in Derby in 1955.
Communications have always been important for such an isolated town. Derby was famous in the 1920s as the terminus of the first scheduled aviation service in Australia. West Australian Airways Ltd. run by Norman Brearley, began this service with a first flight on December 5th, 1921. At one time the Perth to Derby service was the world’s longest passenger airline route. Wharfinger’s House museum tells the story of the aviation history of the town as well as the history of the Port.