Coordinates: 34°57′36″S 117°21′11″E
Mean maximum temperature: 20.5°C (69ºF)
Mean minimum temperature: 9.8°C (50°F)
Annual rainfall: 998.4mm (39.3 inches)
The vibrant lower Great Southern town of Denmark lies 423km south-southeast of Perth and 47km west of Albany and according to the June 2010 estimate provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics has an approximate population of 5,379. The town is located on the Denmark River, 18m above sea level and is a popular and attractive resort noted for excellent fishing, the diversity of its landscape, its arts and crafts community and the overall tranquillity of the area, which has not suffered from over-development or commercialisation. In 1998 it was voted Australia’s tidiest town.
The first known recording of the coastline around Denmark was in 1627 by the Dutchman François Thijssen, captain of the ship Gulden Seepaert (Golden Seahorse). Thijssen had discovered the south coast of Australia and charted about 1,800km of it between Cape Leeuwin and the Nuyts Archipelago. He named the land after Pieter Nuyts, a high employee of the Dutch East India Company, who was aboard ship as a passenger. His name lives on in Nuytsia floribunda, the Western Australian Christmas tree. The Old Dutch name for the Denmark area was Leeuwin Land, while the Indigenous people called the Denmark River and its inlet Kwoorabup (place of the black wallaby).
The first known European to explore the district was Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson, a Royal Navy surgeon who named the area after his colleague Dr Alexander Denmark. He visited the area in 1829 with the Noongar man Mokare while his ship was docked in Albany. Wilson thought the area was favourable, writing ‘The surrounding hills are of very fine soil and may be easily turned to good account’. In 1831 Captain Thomas Bannister gave a more realistic account noting it would require 'great physical and moral courage' to farm the area. Bannister's assessment prevailed and it was not until 1884 that Edwin and Charles Millar took out the area’s first timber leases.
Denmark’s establishment as a town began in 1895 when the Millar brothers expanded their business and built a series of timber mills on the banks of the Denmark River. Here they processed giant karri trees, which were exported to Great Britain, China, India, Africa and South America, where they were used for paving blocks, wharf piles and telegraph poles.
The town grew rapidly to manage the labour force required to run the mills which, at their peak, were employing 750 men and producing 90,000 board-feet of timber a day. This translates as roughly 32, 850,000 board-feet or 6,221 miles (approx. 10,000km) of timber over the 10-years (1895-1905) the mills were active (a board-foot is a lumber industry term and is equivalent to 1ft × 1ft × 1inch). After the decline of the early Denmark timber industry just two or three families from a population of more than 2,000 stayed on.
In 1907 the State Government bought up the Millar brothers business interests and by 1911 dairying had taken over as the major industry. Later, farms of 40ha (100 acres) were cleared from woodland to create pasture for cattle, dairying and fruit orchards. By the early to mid-1960s, the town’s population had increased to 1,500 and Denmark was becoming an attractive location to alternative life-stylers and early retirees. Newcomers to the area included winemakers who discovered the rich karri loam was excellent soil for growing a variety of grapes. Tinglewood Winery in the Scotsdale Valley was Denmark’s first commercial vineyard, opening in 1976.
There are now more than 20 significant vineyards in and around Denmark, establishing the area as a critically acclaimed Australian wine-region. Denmark is considerably cooler than other WA wine regions and has become known for a wide range of wines including riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and shiraz.
A farming-related education is available from the Denmark College of Agriculture, which is situated just outside the town centre. Also of note, is the wooden Heritage Railway Bridge, near the Denmark River, where several walking trails meet - including the Perth to Albany, Bibbulmun Track and the Denmark-Nornalup Heritage Trail.
Tourism is a major player in Denmark’s economy and can be traced back to the end of World War II, when American soldiers stationed in Albany would make day trips to the town encouraging the establishment of tearooms and souvenir shops. Denmark's appeal lies in its close proximity to some stunning coastline viewed from Ocean Beach Road, which runs south from the town to the mouth of the Wilson Inlet and the William Bay National Park, 15km west of Denmark, which has amongst other natural wonders, Green's Pool, Tower Hill and the waterfall at Madfish Bay which tumbles over the cliffs and into the ocean.