The inland areas – Upper Great Southern and Wheatbelt – really didn’t capture my imagination and beg me to stay. I passed through them in less than a week, stopping only one night in each location. But I did, oddly considering the relative lack of variety, enjoy the scenery – including this stunning view that captured my attention between Wickepin and Kulin, I love the block colours that jumped out at me. And I also uncovered some gems along the way as well…
Yongergnow Australian Malleefowl Centre – Just on the edge of a small town called Ongerup – north east of the Stirling Ranges – is a great community owned and run enterprise comprising a malleefowl conservation / interpretation centre and a community resource centre, with café. Having participated in a malleefowl survey in 2009 at Eurardy Station north of Kalbarri, but not having actually seeing any malleefowl on the occasion (and hardly any tracks even) I figured this was my best chance!
After a yummy coffee and cake, I really enjoyed reading the fantastic and professional interpretation exhibition that has been put together. This details the history of the local area, the development of the land for agriculture and its impact on malleefowl populations, and how the local community banded together to form the Malleefowl Preservation Society.
The most extraordinary exhibit was the huge steel ball – standing up to stomach height – that would be connected to a bulldozer (or two) by a massive chain in order to clear huge areas of woodland in a hurry – a common practise as late as into the 50’s. Awesomely inventive and determined, but heartbreakingly easy to destroy in hours what had developed over millennia, taking with it precious wildlife habitat and I have no doubt, many animals as well.
After a quick look at the gallery showcasing local artists’ work, there was nothing for it but to brave the stormy weather outside to visit the aviary and see if I could spy one of the elusive creatures. After a short while I did – I watched a pair of them poking about for a while, then returned to the sanctity of the building – now able to tick that one off.
On getting back out to Sweetie, I discovered I had left my lights on. L Fortunately a bloke who had arrived not long before had noticed they were on, and the café lady had come out to check whether I would be able to get away. Without question or comment, she summoned the bloke (her hubby?) Lindsay who came out with jumper cables and his capable 4WD to my rescue. After an embarrassing search for the battery (I didn’t even know how to get at it! fortunately Lindsay had some ideas) it was jump started relatively easily and I was on my way again. Considering that the weather was still pretty shocking and this whole episode was conducted in light rain and a biting wind, I am incredibly grateful to these good people for helping me out.
Henry Jones Building, Broomehill – Tucked away a street back from the main road is an extraordinary row of shops that are under restoration, slowly being brought back to life by its extraordinary owners. Out the back is a new two-storey tower building with toilets on the ground level and a B&B room upstairs. The two storey corner part of the original building, formerly a general store, is completed and operates as a café / wine bar showcasing local wines (from the vineyard of the building owners in fact). It is a fantastically eclectic and characterful creation, much like the owner whom I met – Annabel. The original store counters are still there lining each side of the building, the original cubed shelving behind them and now full of all sorts of things – books down one side, wines and glasses down the other and heaven knows what else tucked away in between! The room is dominated by one huge long table thjat sits in the middle of the floor space. Next door is more dining space, with a piano on one wall, and a fire at the back of the room and cosy chairs pulled up around it. A spell-binding place where I’m sure I could pass many happy hours on a regular basis were I to live in that area!
When I called in on a Sunday afternoon, a group guitar class was just wrapping up and it was all a bit chaotic – the building has apparently become quite the community hub. Eventually after the hubbub had subsided and I had requested a glass of wine, Annabel appeared with a bottle and two glasses – and proceeded to sit and have a drink with me. J We had a good chat about the building, the process of restoration, the community support, the lack of interest of the local Shire (who had originally been requested by the community to buy the buildings to save them from destruction but would not), local tourism etc. She was an interesting lady and it’s evident how much the final result and success of the place has emerged from her eccentric energy.
The remainder of the row of shops – all with residences attached – is a work in progress but there are already businesses planning to move in. Of particular interest is the old bakery – the ovens are still intact out the back – wouldn’t it be great to see that get off the ground! I love a proper old village bakery, unfortunately they are increasingly becoming a thing of the past…
Wagin Historical Village – Tucked away near the recreation ground / ag show ground is a collection of buildings and displays painstakingly brought together by some very dedicated local volunteers who wanted to preserve and present aspects of local history. Whole buildings have been relocated, or replicas built to showcase a wide range of types of settlements and structures and the things that brought them to life. There are shelters as built by the first Aboriginal inhabitants of the area – through early pole and hessian tents, wattle and daub huts, an old one-room school, the old fire station, a general store, the blacksmiths, the post office, the town hall, the first church, (gorgeous!) and more. A real labour of love, and the place was still fairly well kept for such an extensive property and completely volunteer run. A great find and really enlightening.
Barna Mia Animal Sanctuary – In the Dryandra Woodland reserve about 30kms north west of Narrogin is a small DEC enclosed animal sanctuary which I read about possibly as early as when it was first opened in 2002. The centre runs night-time tours as an educational tool, providing an opportunity to see endangered nocturnal animals in their natural setting. Having always wanted to go there, finally I had the chance!
It was an incredibly cold night so I pulled layers on top of layers and headed out there just on dusk. It was a rewarding experience! We saw a quenda, woylies, mala, bilbies (so shy!), lots of boodies and an interloping possum come for the free feed. The boodies were funny little creatures – noisy, energetic, scrapping with each other over the food trays that were put out. In pioneer days, they used to be a real nuisance attacking explorers and settlers campsites, helping themselves to anything they could get their little paws on and making a right racket in the process.
Albert Facey Homestead – As I child I recall watching the film A Fortunate Life and I think I even read the book – perhaps we studied it at school? I was fascinated by the stories in it, and by the author of the autobiography, who had started his working life at the age of 8 on the land, later fought in WWI before returning to the land and only learned to read and write as an adult – later penning the book.
In Wickepin, I visited the simple four-room homestead that he built to live in with his wife and children at his property 16kms out of the town centre. The Faceys reluctantly left the farm in the Depression, as did many others at that time unable to make ends meet, but the homestead continued to be used by future property owners and expanded.
However after the book was released, the value of the homestead building as an attraction and record of pioneering farmers’ life was realised. It was opened as a tourism attraction in situ, but eventually it became preferable to relocate it. The Shire bought the building, shifted it to the town centre and restored to its original proportions in the process.
It now sits proudly and prominently alongside the main road, adjacent to a really well designed travel stop / visitor precinct that beckons in passing traffic. It is incredibly well kept and still contains many items that were made and used by the Faceys when they resided in it.
I had a good chat with the duty volunteer about the homestead, the history, and the Wickepin community. I was really impressed by the look and feel of the town – it felt like a loved place with a lot of community buy-in. Her husband had been Shire President for some 30yrs in the not so distant past, and it had been one of his determinations that Wickepin would not give up and die, as did so many other small rural communities. It seems to have paid off.
Tin Horse Highway, Kulin – In my old life as a grants coordinator with Mid West Development Commission, I remember this project being picked on by the metro media and opposition when it was announced as a Regional Grants Scheme recipient – you know the old story, “The government won’t build us a stadium in the city, but they’ll fund tin horses in Kulin” (an anti Royalties for Regions rant). What wasn’t clear in the simple title and funding amount, which was all that was included in the recipient list, was the intention to develop an attraction that would put Kulin on the map and give them a point of difference – and hopefully return some economic benefit to the community. It seems to be doing the job, albeit if only in a small way – the only other couple who was staying in the caravan park with me that night had deliberately chosen to pass through Kulin on their way to Hyde Rock because they knew about the THH.
Originally started as a temporary promotional activity for the annual Kulin Bush Races meet and focussed on the area near the turn off to the race venue, the attraction has grown and is added to each year. It now stretches 15km from the town centre west to the race venue turn off, with a wide variety of styles, characters and situations on display. There’s a range of artistic value, but most are very entertaining and I found myself laughing out loud as I drove on by.
The other intriguing thing about Kulin is the water slide / aquatic centre. The slide dominates the town – it’s huge! It would tower over the ones that used to be in Geraldton when I was a kid, but I recall that attraction wasn’t viable and combined with H&S concerns it was demolished sometime in the 80s I think. How can Kulin make theirs work I wonder?? Especially as it’s a summer-only attraction and they have a very small local population. Very intriguing…