Further West to Wagin

31 May 2014


The massive salt Lake Dumbleyung is the background to the memorial of Donald Campbell who broke the land speed record here in December 1964.

The day dawned with some mist, but fine, and we are going further west, firstly to Lake Grace.  Lake King and Lake Grace are part of a string of salt lakes in this area.  As we drove out of the township of Lake King we saw what we had missed the previous day, the General Store, the old Goods Shed, the huge silos and bins that store the grain.  Not long after we left the motel we encountered Lake King as we drove along the causeway through the centre of the lake.  It was a very eerie feeling, almost like being on another planet, the sky and clouds reflected in what little water is presently in the Lake.  As we drove further west we could see other salt lakes, almost like mirages in the distance.


The eerie appearance of Lake King, one of the large salt lakes in the south east


Newdegate was the next town, very empty and quiet, no sooner are you entering the town and you are leaving it – a photo of the pub, that is now for sale or lease, was my only memento of Newdegate.  And nowhere to have a coffee.

After we left the town we passed Lake Bryde, another salt lake.  The roads from Lake King to Lake Grace are unbelievably straight.  As you approach the crest of a hill the road is laid out in front of you, like a straight but undulating roller coaster, you come to the crest of the next hill and there is the same panorama.  Much of the scenery is similar, sometimes scrub, but then lush pasture with sheep and cattle, and still the unending acres of wheat and grain fields.  Where would we be without our farmers.

Lake Grace is a pretty town, wide divided main road, and we were crossing our fingers we could find a cafe.  The Arjo Caffe was a welcome sight for coffee and raisin toast, then a chance to walk along the main street.  The railway station building stands alone, there is a railway line but not sure what uses the rail now.  The Station Master’s Cottage is now the Information Centre.







Caffee Arjo a welcome stop (left) and the old Station Master’s Cottage (right)

What did interest us was that there is an Australian Inland Mission (AIM) hospital museum in Lake Grace and it is only one of three remaining such hospitals.  The AIM, known as the “bush department” of the Presbyterian Church, was the vision of Reverend John Flynn OBE who wanted to see that “hospital and nursing facilities are provided within a hundred miles of every spot in Australia where women and children reside”.  From 1912 AIM created 15 nursing homes in remote locations across the continent, staffing each with adventurous and resourceful nurses.  The Lake Grace hospital was opened in April 1926 and served an area of almost 10,000 square miles.  The wards and verandahs were often crowded with beds (averaging 18 patients) and the local doctor had to use one corner of the verandah, enclosed with weatherboard and fly-wire, as an operating theatre. It ceased operations in 1952, replaced by the Lake Grace Memorial Hospital.   By 1983 the building was vacant and in disrepair.  Finally Lake Grace Shire Council voted to save the building from demolition and restore it as a museum.  We were not able to gain access to the interior of the hospital, but walked around the outside, wondering how staff would have coped with so many patients in such a small building.


The Australian Inland Mission hospital at Lake Grace, now a museum

Our next port of call was the little town of Dumbleyung, made famous by the late Donald Campbell who broke the world speed record on the salt Lake Dumbleyung on 30 December 1964, exceeding 276.33 mph in his boat “Bluebird”.  There were some interesting items to see in the main road such as the old railway station, and a memorial to the women of the Country Womens’ Association, together with some relics of old farm machinery. Then it was time to go out to the memorial to Donald Campbell on Pussy Cat Hill, on the road to Wagin.







The memorial to the Country Womens Association (left) and the old railway station (right)

It is necessary to drive through private property that is obviously used for growing grain and had been recently ploughed, to access the memorial on the hill overlooking the lake, and the stone memorial erected by the daughter of Donald Campbell.  The wind was really blowing by this time and we had to put on our jackets (and beanie) to try to keep warm.  On the way down we pulled in to the Lake Dumbleyung Nature Reserve, but did not venture down to the lake’s edge.


The flat and massive salt Lake Dumbleyung where Donald Campbell’s land record was made

After leaving Dumbleyung we decided to do a detour through Katanning as this had not been on any of our earlier itineraries.  However it was Saturday afternoon, almost the entire main street had been dug up to be replaced, we found a coffee shop that had closed 5 minutes earlier – just felt as though we should not have been there!  So headed off in our last leg to Wagin, the capital of the sheep area.  Our motel is quite comfortable, the town is a little crowded as it is a long weekend in WA (Foundation Day) and there is an historic car rally tomorrow – should be fun!  Several members of the vintage car club are staying at our motel and it was interesting seeing the different cars arriving.








Only place open in town for dinner was the Palace Hotel that is adjacent to our motel.  The Palace Hotel was built in 1905 by Paddy Durack who had a large estate east of Wagin called BehnOrd2, and is a relative of the famed north west Durack cattle farming family, with wide sweeping verandahs around the first floor.  The dining room has pressed iron ceilings and lovely stained glass windows, and although we had to wait a while for the meal of Grilled Barramundi with Garlic Prawns, and Rack of Lamb, it was worth the wait and was delicious.  No room for dessert! 

Tomorrow we will see the historic cars, and explore Wagin.

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