A little known fact is that there are two Murray Rivers in Australia. The one in the Eastern States is often billed as the “Mighty Murray” and gets most of the attention. Western Australia’s Murray River, approximately 80 Km south of Perth, while not as mighty played a vital role in the life of the Nyoongar people (the indigenous people of the South West corner of Western Australia), and again when the British arrived it played an important role in the early history of the Swan Colony. The river rises in the Wheatbelt near Pingelly and flows westwards through the Darling Range around Dwellingup to emerge on the coastal plain at Pinjarra, from where it flows to enter the sea in the Peel Estuary.
In November 1829 Dr Alexander Collie and Lieutenant William Preston set out to explore the Murray Delta. The then governor of the fledgling colony James Stirling named the new river after his boss in England Sir George Murray. Thomas Peel opened up the newly found lands for settlement and Pinjarra was founded in the late 1830’s as the upper most limit of navigable water along the Murray. It was also an important fording place for travelers heading south. Pinjarra is named after the Pindjarup people who lived in the area. The rich loamy soils around Pinjarra and the cooler climate and high rainfall made the Murray very attractive for farming. Dwellingup was established as a townsite in 1910 after it was decided to locate the terminus of the Pinjarra-Marrinup Railway there, the name is a Nyoongar word said to mean “place of nearby water”. Dwellingup became an important centre for the timber industry, and it is now home to the largest bauxite mine in the world which supplies ore to the Pinjarra and Kwinana refineries.
Situated amidst the jarrah forest of the Darling Range near the Murray River Dwellingup a one time timber town is now establishing itself as WA’s outdoor adventure capital and eco destination. It is easy to see why – thousands of hectares of pristine jarrah forest, the Bibbulmun Track and the Munda Bindi Mountain Bike Trail passing through the town and the nearby Lane Pool Reserve on the banks of the Murray.
Lane Pool is 16 Km south of Dwellingup on Murray Valley Road, it is the largest park in the northern jarrah forest at 54,000 hectares and the Murray River flows through the park and has water in all year round. In summer the river looks slow and torpid, but after the winter rains the river flows quickly and the levels are high enough for it to become a canoeists playground. The fishing on the river and its major tributaries is good and it is possible to catch yabbies, marron, trout, red fin perch and cobbler.
In 1910 the WA Government Railways opened the No. 1 Mill in Dwellingup and this then brought about a timber boom that saw the town’s population rapidly increase. By 1914 the population reached 1300 and to provide for them there was a baker, two butchers, three general stores, a newsagent, a tobacconist (remember those) a police station and a hotel. Over the years the timber industry went through several expansions and contractions, but by the start of World War Two in 1939 a major decline had set in and several mills had permanently shut. The war also brought about severe labour shortages as all able-bodied men went off to fight in the war. So in 1942 a prisoner of war camp was built at nearby Marrinup and the German and Italian prisoners were put to work. After the war new technologies and the beginnings of a regulated timber industry caused more mills to shut, and this decline has continued to this day. Today Dwellingup has a population of 850 people and although some vestiges of the timber industry remain it is bauxite mining that is the big money spinner in the area. Tourism has also come to play a large part in the local economy.
The tourist Centre has mud maps for a series of walking and cycling trails:
- Bygone Buildings – a 1.5 Km walk around the township looking at the history of the town and its buildings.
- Holyoake Hike – 6.5 Km walk following the Bibbulmun Track as it runs beside the railway track down to the site of the old Holyoake Settlement.
- The Early Days – takes you on a 3.9 Km walk that explores the timber industry when the town was founded.
- Cage In The Bush – is a 4.5 Km walk around the Marrinup Settlement and the No. 16 Prisoner of War Camp. There is an informative display in the Tourist Centre that tells the story of the POW camp and seeing it would add to the enjoyment of the walk.
- Marrinup Falls – a 1.4 Km walk around the waterfalls at Marrinup.
- Marrinup Cycle Trail – a 7.9 km mountain bike trail suitable for riders of all abilities.
- Turner Hill Cycle Trail – is an 8.9 Km MTB trail that is rated as moderate with a long uphill section followed by a steep downhill.
The Captain Fawcett Commemorative 4×4 Track is an easy to medium grade 105 Km track that passes through some of the best Jarrah Forest on the Darling Scarp. The map and trail notes are available from the Tourist centre. If you are more of an aquatic person then the Swamp hen Trailis a 15 Km long canoe trail along the Murray River.
The Forest Heritage Centre is housed in an amazing jarrah leaf-shaped rammed earth building set in native bushland. The building contains a gallery which showcases uniquely crafted timber furniture, a shop selling giftware and a school where you can study all aspects of furniture design and building. In the grounds there is the Yokine Binda wildflower trail, a viewing platform and guided tours that tell how the timber industry worked and visits an active jarrah saw mill.
By 1984 the Dwellingup rail line had ceased to operate, but a group of railway enthusiasts saw the potential to create something unique and formed the Pinjarra Steam And Hills Railway Preservation Society. Not the catchiest of names so it was changed to the Hotham Valley Tourist Railway. The operation is totally staffed by volunteers and they run three basic tours.
- Steam Ranger – runs between Pinjarra and Dwellingup
- The Restaurant Train – leaves the Dwellingup Station and passengers enjoy a five course meal as the train travels through the forest at night. Pick up can be arranged from Perth and Armadale at extra cost.
- The Dwellingup Forest Train takes passengers from Dwellingup to Etmilyn. On the way is a running commentary about the railway and the timber industry. At Etmilyn there is a thirty minute stop over which gives passengers chance to stretch their legs on the walk trail there.
Beside there being a station in Dwellingup there is also a small rail depot with engine sheds that house engines and rolling stock. Just looking at them brings out the inner twelve-year-old, but this is better than a Hornby railway set because the railway is always looking for volunteers, so you could get the chance to drive the trains.
Western Australia’s worst bush fire began with several lightning strikes some 15 miles outside of Dwellingup, within two days the town was a burning inferno. The residents had to evacuate to the town oval as 132 houses and many other buildings were destroyed by the flames. Eight hundred people were left homeless, many left town never to return, but those that stayed on rebuilt the town and carried on. There is an exhibit telling the story in the Tourist Centre
One of the oldest settlements in Western Australia and consequently it has loverly old buildings that are well worth looking at, and Edenvale Homestead is the finest of them. Located in the centre of Pinjarra the house was built-in 1888 by Edward McLarty, and his son Sir Robert McLarty who became state premier lived much of his life there. The dinning rooms have photos, documents and other artefacts from the McLarty family. The outbuildings are now used by a number of different groups and are well worth exploring. The Barn and Art And Craft Centre displays a large variety of locally produced artworks which are available for purchase. They also hold art workshops in the building on a regular basis. Liveringa is perhaps the oldest building on the site and dates from the late 1860’s. Today it is being used as an art gallery. The Roger May Museum is named after a local collector of old engines and vehicles dating from 1918 and onwards. The collection was rescued from Fairbridge in 1993 and they have been lovingly restored by local volunteers so that they all work. Next door to Edenvale is St John’s Church which was built-in 1863 to replace the 1848 whitewash wattle and daub building. The current building is in the Victorian rustic style, and much of the wooden fittings were made by convicts in Fremantle Prison. Close by is the Heritage Rose Garden which has a collection of 400 roses, many are wild varieties which are the ancestors of todays varieties. The Old School House (built-in 1896) now houses the Pinjarra Quilters Group and has items on display and for sale. The Heritage Tearooms – ever popular, you can enjoy morning or afternoon tea here, or a light meal at lunch times while sitting either inside Edenvale or outside in the courtyard or on the verandah. Opening times are 9 am to 4 pm.
For many people Pinjarra is synonymous with the Battle of Pinjarra. In 1829 the leader of the Pindjarup people was Calyute, a brave and resourceful man. When Lt William Preston first made contact with the Pindjarup around the Peel Inlet there was no conflict and relations were amicable. This did not last for long the influx of settlers put pressure on the Pindjarup and their traditional hunting lands. To save his people from starvation Calyute led a peaceful raid on Shenton’s Mill in South Perth to take bags of flour. Thomas Peel was affronted by the audacity and called for reprisals. He feared that if this went unpunished that settlers would not want to buy his land in Mandurah and this would stop him from making a buck. The press at the time called it the “Battle of Pinjarra”, but it was more like shooting fish in a barrel. The soldiers attacked the twenty mia mias (humpys or simple temporary shelters) on the banks of the Murray early in the morning. The men armed with spears and clubs tried to hold the soldiers off so the women and children could escape. Unfortunately the only place to go was the river which at this point is thirty meters wide and very shallow and offered no chance of escape. It was said by Robert Menli Lyon an advocate for indigenous rights in the colony that the soldiers “would as soon shoot an Aboriginal as shoot a kangaroo”, and they kept shooting until all had been killed. Sixty to seventy men, women and children were killed, eight women ad children were taken prisoner, no male prisoners were taken, all the wounded were shot. Only two settlers were wounded. Governor James Stirling made a pretty penny out of the whole affair as he took ownership of all the Pindjarup land in the Harvey District. There is a memorial park but it is a bit of a sorry affair, hopefully the proposed plan to put up a sculpture will lend it a bit of dignity and gravitas.
Just outside Pinjarra is Old Blythewood. Built in 1860 by John and Mary McLarty. This dynamic couple farmed 6100 acres, and ran a hotel and post office at the house. Later John would expand his business interests into bridge building and road maintenance. The house contains period furniture, some of it from the McLarty family and has a beautiful garden.
Also outside Pinjarra and set in thirty hectares of picturesque bushland is the 100-year-old Fairbridge Village is comprised of sixty buildings. Facilities include an art gallery, museum, cafe, pool, and walking trails. All money raised here helps support the charity run traineeships, apprenticeships, and specialized training for indigenous and disabled young people. There are guided historical tours of the village which tell how Kingsley Fairbridge while on a trip to England to visit relatives was shocked by the poverty he saw. In 1909 he established the Child Emigration Society and in July 1912 Fairbridge Farm School was established. From January 1913 to March 1983 Fairbridge helped 3580 children establish a better life in Australia. Other activities include canoe tours on the Murray River, mountain biking at Lane Pool and walks on the Bibbulmun Track. The art gallery runs a constantly changing exhibition programe and prides itself on selling more artwork than any other art gallery in the Peel region. There is also an artist in residence, workshops and an annual photo competition that culminates in an exhibition. Fairbridge Village also plays host to the annual three-day Fairbridge Festival of World and Folk Music. The event is a popular family camping festival that takes place in April. As well as a wide range of different musical styles (folk, roots, blues, Celtic, world music) there is a children’s festival, workshops, street theatre and a vibrant market.