The first European into the area was George Fletcher Moore who discovered and named the river in 1836.
The modern history of the area began in 1916 when an Aboriginal settlement was established at Moore River. The plan was to create a farm which would provide employment for adult Aborigines and concentrate the local Aboriginal population so that education and health facilities could be provided for the children. This apparently altruistic plan was merely a front for a settlement where Aboriginal children from Perth could be sent and 'troublesome' Aborigines could be 'supervised'. It was little more than a fancy name for a prison camp.
The settlement, which had started as a centre for local Aborigines, was soon being used to settle Aborigines from all over the state. There was no consideration given to the differences which existed in language and culture. As far as the authorities were concerned Moore River was an ideal place to hide a problem which they could not solve. There was no serious attempt to provide proper facilities or proper food for the people coming to the area. Aborigines from the north of the state were forcibly marched to the settlement. Inevitably by the mid 1930s the settlement was overcrowded and conditions were appalling.
In recent years the conditions at Moore River have improved. By World War II it had become a mission school and recently it has been taken over by the Aboriginal Land Trust.
The outstanding Western Australian Aboriginal poet and playwright, Jack Davis, has left an extraordinary portrait of life at Moore River (Davis lived at Moore River during the 1920s) in his play Kullark where he dramatises the situation of an Aboriginal named Thomas Yorlah who is forcibly moved to the settlement and makes numerous attempts to escape.
Yorlah's description of the facilities available at Moore River in the 1930s 'A bag humpy for my wife, a locked-up compound for my kids, sleeping in beds riddled with bugs and fleas' sounds more like the description of a prison than a farming settlement.