Weipa, comprising two townships, is on Albatross Bay at the confluence of Mission and Embley Rivers, 490 km north-west of Cooktown and 230 km from Torres Strait. It faces the Gulf of Carpentaria on the west side of Cape York Peninsula.
Weipa was established as an Aboriginal mission by the Presbyterian Church in 1898, supervised at first by a member of the British Moravian Church, Edwin Brown, for the mission's first 20 years. In 1955 Weipa's vast bauxite reserves were assessed and Consolidated Zinc successfully applied for the right to mine 1000 sq miles of Aboriginal reserve lands extending northwards to Mapoon (also a Presbyterian mission). Conzinc formed Comalco for the Weipa project and formed a joint venture with the English Rio Tinto Zinc (Conzinc Riotinto of Australia - CRA) in 1962.
The mission's original location was at Spring Creek, 32 km inland, but it was moved to Jessica Point on the Embley River in 1932. After the commencement of strip mining operations in the early 1960s, the Presbyterian Church (with assistance from Comalco) established a new settlement at Jessica Point, named Weipa South, and subsequently Napranum by the Aboriginal inhabitants. Throughout the long mission period the Aboriginal population had hunted and gathered in the Weipa hinterland, with supplementary food supplied by the Church.
CRA's mining areas are east of the townships and across Mission River at Andoom. A bridge and railway transports bauxite to a stockpile area near the wharf on Embley River, west of Napranum. The Weipa township for the mining community is some way back from the wharf, closer to Mission River. There are also calcination and kaolin plants (1970, 1986). The river's shoreline includes a beach, recreational facilities and a camping area. The town centre has a hospital, schools, a swimming pool, a picture theatre and town council offices. (The council is a Comalco/community-run hybrid.) Out of town are a bowling club, golf club and a mining museum. An aerodrome is near Napranum. Immediately east of the railway line is a nature reserve which has several examples of shell mounds. There are approximately 500 mounds around the river estuaries, evidence of large human communities over many centuries. Many of the mounds are almost completely intact.
Weipa's census populations have been:
Hector Holthouse, Cape York, 1999
Jan Roberts, Massacres to mining: the colonisation of Aboriginal Australia, Blackburn, Dove Communications, 1981
Comalco Limited, The Aboriginal and Islander Community of Weipa South, Melbourne, Comalco, 1980