Clear evidence has established indigenous people living on the west coast of Australia for at least 40,000 years, though at present it is unclear when the first indigenous people may have originally explored and lived in and around Geraldton.

The local Aboriginal people native to the region surrounding Geraldton are known as "Yamatji" or "Wajarri" people. Wajarri country is inland from Geraldton and extends as far south and west as Mullewa, north to Gascoyne Junction and east to Meekatharra. The Aboriginal people of the Murchison-Gascoyne region were instrumental in assisting early settlers in the area in identifying permanent water sources, and worked in the pearling, pastoral and fishing industries.

Yamatji art is a distinctive style of painting, using thousands of dots of ochre and other earth-based pigments to create patterns and images relevant to Yamatji/Wajarri culture.

The Western Australia Museum at the marina in Geraldton hosts a permanent exhibit on Yamatji/Wajarri culture and history of the region.

European arrival

Many European mariners encountered, or were wrecked on, the Houtman Abrolhos islands 60 kilometres (37 mi) west of Geraldton during the 17th and 18th centuries. Although two mutineers from the Batavia were marooned on the mainland in 1629 there is no surviving evidence that they made landfall at or near the site of the current town.

The wreck of the Batavia, flagship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) fleet on her maiden voyage, on Morning Reef of the Houtman Abrolhos on 4 June 1629, and the events surrounding the subsequent mutiny, rescue and punishment of her crew are of great historical significance to the region. A detailed account of the events is recorded in a 24 December 1897 Western Mail article "The Abrolhos Tragedy", translated from the notes of Francois Pelsaert, the commander of the Batavia when she ran aground. The Western Australian Museum in Geraldton houses an exhibition of clay pipes, silver coins, cannons, the original Batavia stone portico and numerous other relics recovered from the wreck of the Batavia and other notable local historical shipwrecks such as the Zuytdorp, Zeewijk and Vergulde Draeck.

The explorer George Grey, while on his second disastrous expedition along the Western Australian coast, passed over the future site of Geraldton on 7 April 1839.

A decade later, explorer Augustus Gregory travelled through the area. A member of his party, James Perry Walcott, discovered lead ore in 1848 in the bed of the Murchison River. The Geraldine mine was subsequently established, named after the County Clare family home of Charles FitzGerald, the 4th Governor of Western Australia. The town of Geraldton, named after Governor FitzGerald, was surveyed in 1850 and land sales began in 1851.

Town Becomes a City

Farmers began to settle in the area in the late 1850's, around the same time as the commencement of the construction of port facilities at Champion Bay. In 1871, Geraldton was officially proclaimed a town. In 1879, the Western Australian Government began the construction of the first government railway in the State, which carried lead ore from Northampton to the port (55km). The port became a vital part of Geraldton's economy and became one of the State's major seaports. By the early 1900's the fishing industry in Geraldton was established, attracting Norwegians, Danes, Swedes and later Italians. In 1988 the town of Geraldton was officially declared a city. In 2003, the City of Geraldton purchased the confiscated illegal fishing ship, South Tomi , for a tourism project. The ship was stripped and then sunk approximately 3 nautical miles off the coast of Geraldton, near Bluff Point, creating an artificial reef for divers. Today the port city is the centre of fishing, manufacturing, construction, agriculture and tourism industries of the Mid-West region of the State. Geraldton is also known as the" Lobster Capital of the World".