15 May 2014
Are we there yet?
By the time we checked out of the Perth hotel and packed the bags in the car, we were on the road by about 9.30am to drive the almost 300 kilometres to Merredin, in the heart of the wheatbelt. Trusting in the GPS (and some local knowledge of the roadworks currently in construction in Perth) we managed to navigate our way out of Perth and on to the Eastern Highway. All was gong well until we took a wrong turn off the highway, but with the help of the GPS we were soon on the correct road – all very frustrating and stressful and further proof that local knowledge is very valuable!
The first town we stopped at was York, in the Avon Valley situated 97 kilometres east of Perth. It is one of the most charming and picturesque towns in Western Australia. Founded in 1831 on the banks of the Avon River, it was the first inland European settlement in W.A. York has a long history and a unique past, with many of its old buildings still being utilised today. It has much to offer, from its naturally beautiful scenery to picturesque farmlands, and an abundance of activities and attractions. York is also well known for annual events and festivals, ranging from music, to arts and crafts, to vintage motor vehicles, cultural sporting events and its historical gardens and roses.
The Castle Hotel, the first pub in York, first inland European settlement in Western Australia
The well maintained and restored Post Office, next to the courthouse (left) and a quaint building now a cafe (right)
We had time to wander along the main street, and decided to have an early lunch before setting off for our next stop, at Northam. Situated on the Avon River in the heart of the Avon Valley and less than 100 km from Perth, Northam is the perfect base from which to explore the Avon Valley and the Wheatbelt region.
The people of the Ballardong tribe, who are part of the Nyungar race, have inhabited the Northam area since long before European settlement. The Avon River (Gulgulga Bilya) has retained its cultural significance to the traditional Nyungar people and there are numerous Aboriginal heritage sites along its banks. European settlers started to take up holdings in the area in the early 1830s, when surveyor Ensign Dale noted the fertility of the land, particularly in comparison to the sandy plains of the settlements around Perth. The town of Northam was gazetted in 1836 and, in Western Australia, is second only to Fremantle for the number of heritage listed buildings.
The Northam River Pool, Northam
After walking along the main street, we discovered the Northam River Pool, adjacent to the main street. It has been a delightful sunny and warm day with white clouds, beautifully reflected in the still water.
Our next short stop was the town of Meckering, which had been almost totally destroyed in an earthquake in October 1968. About 20 people were injured, thankfully there were no deaths. The town has been rebuilt and now includes a Memorial to the town lost in the earthquake, and a beautiful Memorial Rose Garden.
The memorial to the Meckering earthuake in October 1968 (left) and the colourful Memorial Rose Garden
By this time we were well into the wheatbelt country, with kilometre after kilometre of fields stretching to the horizon. As we drove through the small town of Tammin we noticed the only large structure, a huge wheat silo. We were to see many more of these travelling through the wheatbelt.
Driving in the wheatbelt is a real experience, the majority of the roads are as straight as a ruler, you can see for kilometres ahead of you, and the surrounding country reminds one of Dorothea Mackellar’s words “a land of sweeping plains” At one stage the road was lined for several kilometres with dramatic red gums, and here and there the spectacular ghost gums, with interesting native grasses and shrubs lining the roadway The bird life was out and about, we noticed some beautiful green parrots which I believe are Mulga Parrots, brightly coloured and quite beautiful.
Finally we reached our destination of Merredin, found the hotel easily and checked in. There was enough time to explore so we drove to the town centre, and were able to photograph the old Railway Station building (now replaced), and the art deco style Cummins Theatre – more photographs tomorrow morning when the light is better. We decided to eat in the hotel’s dining room and had a delicious meal of barramundi for me and a steak for Pete – no dessert, could not fit in another mouthful!
The old railway station and museum at Merredin, now replaced with a newer version
The lovely old Cummins Theatre (left) and The Commercial Hotel (right) in Merredin, W.A.
Tomorrow we have a drive of about 188 kilometres to Hyden where we will spend two nights and have the opportunity to explore Wave Rock and other fascinating places around Hyden.