History of Ashmore and Cartier Islands
Uninhabited external territory of Australia
Indonesian fisherman have traditionally utilised the coastal resources of the Territory since the early eighteenth century. Prevailing trade winds and local land marks were used to set course and sail between the islands.
The first recorded European discovery of the islands was on the 11 June 1811. Captain Samuel Ashmore, commander of the Hibernia was titled with the discovery of Ashmore Island, and Captain Nash was credited with the discovery of Cartier Island and the nearby Hibernia Reef.
The 1850s saw the operation of American whalers in the region, and upon the discovery of phosphate deposits in the latter half of the nineteenth century mining began on Ashmore Island.
In the late nineteenth century Britain and the United States of America contested the ownership of Ashmore Island, with Britain assuming ‘formal’ possession in 1878. British sovereignty over the Island was later declared, with the subsequent annexation of Cartier Island taking place in 1909. The official proclamation of British land occurred on 17 May 1909.
On the 23 July 1931 an order-in-council placed Ashmore and Cartier Islands under the authority of the Commonwealth. It was not until 10 May 1934 that the Ashmore and Cartier Island's Acceptance Bill was brought into operation and Australia officially acquired a new external territory.
During the Second World War the territory received various naval visits and was used as a bombing and air weapons range for defence purposes. Throughout the 50s and 60s unmanned navigational lights and meteorological stations and signs were constructed, with naval visits and aircraft surveillance continuing.
In 1974 Australia and Indonesia entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) recognising the traditional use by Indonesian fisherman of the territory's resources, and granting the rights of access to Australian waters. Under the MOU traditional Indonesian fisherman are permitted to land on West Island to replenish their stores of fresh water, visit the graves of past fishers and to take shelter in the West Island Lagoon.
In 1983 the Territory was declared a nature reserve under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975.
In September 2001, Ashmore and Cartier Islands were excised from the Australian Migration Zone.