Hillside Farmhouse was designed by Sir Talbot Hobbs, a leading architect and built in 1911 for Morris Edwards in the historic Wheatbelt town of York in Western Australia. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 lens mounted via a Fotodiox adapter, Cokin circular polarizing filter and +3 stop graduated neutral density filter. Exposure 4 seconds, f16, ISO 50.
Following hot on the heels from last week’s entry about MONA. David Walsh is not the first person to try to bring a bit of culture to the denizens of Hobart. Way back in 1842 Lady Jane Franklin wife of the governor Sir John Franklin felt that there was a “lack of cultural institutions” in Tasmania. She sought to remedy this with the help of the convict architect, James Blackburn, by building a classical edifice on the slopes of Mount Wellington set in 400 acres parkland. This building was to be the centrepiece of a botanical garden and hopefully instil some cultural aspiration into the good people of Hobart. Fat chance! The Franklins left Hobart in 1843 and the building and land were transferred to the Anglican Church, notably Christ College. After nearly 100 years of neglect by the church the building became an apple shed. Apples are very important to Tasmanians. The nice thick stone walls probably made it a very good store. In 1949 it was acquired, along with 5 acres of land by the Hobart City Council and then leased to the Art Society of Tasmaniawho are now using it as it was originally intended.
The Avon valley was officially discovered by Ensign Dale in 1830 when Governor Stirling saw that the newly established Swan River Colony was going to starve unless it found some decent arable land. Of course the Nyoongar people knew about its existence all along and the upper reaches of the Avon were very important to their dream time stories. As we drive out of Perth on the Great Eastern Highway it’s difficult to imagine how hard it was for Dale all those years ago. What takes us an hour today in a car took him nine days of sheer heart breaking slog. The going was so bad that his horses became bogged in mud and it took all day just to travel one mile or 1.6 Km and he named one spot the Vale of Misery. Ensign Dale opened up a parcel of land the size of Tasmania, although in many cases it was not until the 1860’s that the townsites were established. In the tradition of Nineteenth Century explores he named many of the places after his friends, family and places back in England where he grew up.
Ensign Robert Dale of the 63rd Regiment of Foot is perhaps one of the great unsung heroes of early colonial exploration. Everyone remembers Burke and Wills, and Leichhardt because they lost their lives and that heroic failure mythologized them. Ensign Dale’s exploration and surveying of the Avon Valley, the Canning River and Mount Barker region was of vital importance to the survival of the early settlers in Western Australia. His survey of King George’s Sound in Albany was considered an important work then and is seen as an important artistic and historical document today. While undertaking this achievement he never got lost, he did not loose any men and he maintained excellent relations with the local aboriginal population. In total he mounted seven official expeditions and the journals from them were published in 1833. He was appointed to the post of temporary assistant government surveyor and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. He acquired a lot of property with two town allotments in Albany, a thousand hectares in York and a further 750 hectares in the Swan Valley. But as quickly as his star had risen it fell. He was placed under virtual house arrest by his commanding officer in mid 1832. Soon after he became embroiled in the ugly saga of Yagan’s murder where he was ordered to take Yagan’s pickled head back to England and explain the situation to the Colonial Office and they stripped him of his rank of Lieutenant. Disenchanted Dale resigned from the military and went into business with his brother Thomas importing mahogany. In 1853, at the age of forty-four, he died of tuberculosis in the English town of Bath on the banks of the River Avon.
Today tourists drive out to the Avon Valley to see historic heritage towns, atmospheric homesteads, rocky outcrops and to picnic along the banks of the River Avon. A pleasant spring time trip would be to drive out to Toodyay and then follow the Avon down through Northam, York and Beverley returning to Perth via Westdale and the Brookton Highway. If time permitted you could arrange to stay overnight in Northam or York to get the most out of the trip.
85 km northeast of Perth Toodyay was settled in 1836 and named after the Nyoongar name for the area “Duidgee” which means place of plenty. The original townsite was prone to flooding so it was abandoned in the 1850’s and relocated 5 km and renamed Newcastle. In 1911 the name was changed back to Toodyay because people confused Newcastle in WA with Newcastle in NSW. The Heritage Council of WA list over one hundred places of historical significance in or around Toodyay. Some of these are:
Newcastle Gaol – this was constructed in the 1860’s using convict labour in response to Moondyne Joe’s repeated escapes .
Connor’s Mill on Stirling Terrace was built in 1870 and was as the name suggests a flour mill, it was then converted into an electricity generating plant, and is now the Toodyay Visitors Centre.
Toodyay Post Office – designed by George Temple-Poole and built in 1897
Toodyay Fire station – designed by Ken Duncan and built in 1938
Toodyay plays host to several events throughout the year, the major ones are:
The Moondyne Festival is held on the first Sunday of May and celebrates Moondyne Joe’s life with re-enactments of Colonial life.
The Festival of Food coincides with the Avon Descent and provides culinary delights from all over the world, cooking demonstrations and free entertainment.
Theo’s Run is a convoy of classic cars and motorbikes that starts in Midland and travels to Dowerin via Toodyay.
Toodyay’s Moondyne Festival is the story of Western Australia’s favourite Bushranger, Joseph Bolitho Johns, aka Moondyne Joe is a classic case of where truth is stranger than fiction. Transported to WA as a convict, given a ticket of leave and released, some would say that Johns was a victim of society while others would see him as a recidivist, but what ever your viewpoint it is a fascinating story of a man who is hard done by, has a disdain for authority, who makes repeated escapes from custody and ends up spending his last days in Fremantle Asylum suffering from dementia.
The Toodyay Moondyne Festival has Joe and his gang running riot in the streets of Toodyay. He holds people up, consorts with floozies, avoids the incompetent police and the annoying temperance ladies, is arrested, put on trial and escapes. With local people dressing up in period costume the end result is a gigantic al fresco pantomime with heaps of audience participation (chants of “Free Joe” and “Behind you” ). Alongside the theatrical mayhem there are bush poets, market stalls, displays from the 1860 Regiment, vintage cars and mustache and cleavage competitions. A brilliant day out for all the family.
Northam is 98 Km from Perth on the Great Eastern Highway and it is the largest town in the Avon Valley. With its central location in the valley it makes the perfect base from which to explore. Up until 1891 it was the poor relation to York, but this changed with the coming of the railway linking Perth with the Goldfields and the town became an important staging post. During the 1940’s and 50’s Northam became an important centre for housing displaced European refugees and migrants, in fact the Northam Accommodation Centre was the third largest such facility in Australia. By the time it closed some 23,000 people had passed through its gates. There is a photographic exhibition telling the story at the Northam Visitor Centre. There is a historic town walk that enables visitors to experience the town’s history, some of the significant places on the trail are Morby Cottage – home of the founder of Northam and built in 1836 – and the Old Railway Museum which was built in 1886. More details for both venues can be had by contacting the Visitor Centre. The town hall on Fitzgerald Street is a wonderful example of concrete carbuncle architecture from the 1970’s.
Northam is also the eastern terminus of the Kep Track a 75 km long mountain bike and walking trail that starts in Mundaring and follows the water pipeline the engineering genius CY O’Connor built to take water out to the Goldfields of Western Australia. The name Kep comes from the local Nyoongar word for water. The Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail follows the pipeline in its entirety all the way from Mundaring Weir to Kalgoorlie 650 km to the east, and it also passes through Northam.
Northam is the staring line for The Avon Descent, which was first held in 1973, and there were only forty nine competitors. The event has grown so much now that this year there were over 800 competitors and 2000 plus support crew. In more ways than one it deserves the title the “world’s greatest white water event”. The 134 km two day event starts at Northam and finishes at the Riverside Garden in Bayswater with an over night stop at the Boral Campsite just outside Toodyay. For the majority of entrants the aim is just to complete the course, but for the elite athletes it is a chance of competing in a unique endurance race. The race happens on the first weekend of August every year. It kicks off on the Friday night in Northam with a float parade and firework display. On Saturday morning the event kicks off proper.
Currently I’m laid up at home recovering from shoulder surgery and consequently I haven’t been able to get out and about so I thought I would dig deep into the archives and post material that I wrote and photographed a while ago for a book project that got canned by the publishers because of the GFC (and I don’t mean Geelong Football Club).
The monastic town of New Norcia is 132 Km north of Perth and as you drive into it you could be convinced that you had driven into a little bit of Spain. The monastery was founded by the Spanish Benedictine Monk Dom José Benito Serra in 1847. His vision was to create an evangelical Christian self-sufficient agricultural community for the local indigenous people. By 1860 the Nyoongar population had been decimated by disease and the emphasis of the mission changed to one of educating Aboriginal children from all over the state. New Norcia was unique for its time because although like other Nineteenth Century missions had the goal of “civilizing” and evangelizing the Aboriginals, Dom José Serra chose to do it in such a way that sympathetic to their culture. At its height the monastery had eighty members, most of whom were Spanish lay brothers. Presently there are now just eight monks, none of whom are Spanish, and there are seventy staff who work on the farm and in the other related businesses that support the monastery.
The best way to see the town is to take the two-hour town tour (11 am and 1:30 pm daily) and tickets can be purchased at the Visitor Centre. On the tour you visit the various buildings that make up the monastic complex, visit the monk’s own chapel, the Abbey Church and get to see the amazing Baroque style interiors of the college chapels which are not otherwise open to the public. While on the tour you will hear about the history of New Norcia, the life of Dom José Serra and learn something about the life of a Benedictine monk. There is also a self guided walk around the New Norcia Heritage Trail. This is a 2km walk suitable for people of all abilities that takes you around the buildings but not in them as the walk has been structured so as to have minimal impact upon the life of the monks. The walk starts at the Museum and Art Gallery and follows a marked trail with information boards around the town. Thee is an optional side trail, The River Trail, which adds an extra 1.7km to the walk that takes you out to the Bishop’s Well and onto Bishop Torres Beehouse. The River Walk is not suitable for prams or wheelchairs. Allow a leisurely 2-3 hours to do the whole walk.
The Museum and Art Gallery has one of the largest collections of moveable religious art in Australia. There are many fine religious painting here that range from pre-Renaissance pieces by European masters to contemporary Australian art. In the museum there are fascinating artefacts that tell of the founding of the monastery and what life was like for the monks and the Nyoongar population. There is also a gift shop selling a variety of souvenirs and religious paraphernalia. Some of the goods on sale have been produced at New Norcia and these include olive oil, bread, biscotti, nut cake, wines, religious art and music. The monastery runs a program of retreats where you can stay in the Guesthouse with the aim of regaining and renewing a sense of balance and spiritual peace. There are a range of spiritual and cultural events that members of the public can participate in as well. The details for these can be found on the website.
The New Norcia Hotel was built in 1927 to provide accommodation for an anticipated visit from the then Queen of Spain, who later had to cancel her trip. The hotel offers old world European hospitality with accommodation, coffee on the terrazzo, the chance to sample some of the monastery’s wine or beer in the bar and enjoy fine food in the restaurant.
In the early days of New Norcia the only way to get there from Perth was by walking and Dom José Serra and the other monks did this regularly. The Camino Salvado is a project to turn that walk into a modern-day pilgrimage. The trail starts at St Joseph’s Church in Salvado Road Subiaco and traverses the 160 Km out to New Norcia over seven days. If you fancy the idea of becoming a modern-day pilgrim see www.caminosalvado.com for more details.