Hansel & Gretel

I didn’t know it was something Claire had wanted for so long, nor did I know she had in fact been looking for one, so when she spoke to me about a property down South, in one of tiniest villages in WA, I wasn’t very keen on the project.

I thought it would be too far, that we would not go that often, what are we going to do all that way down, etc etc but, her arguments kinda made sense and I thought yeah what the hell we might as well go check it out.

It didn’t take long for me to share her vision really, and that WE on December 25th, after spending Xsmas day in the local caravan park, we made an offer on a first block. Little did we know as we waited impatiently for the next two weeks that the unscrupulous real estate agent already had sold the block a month prior, and really was just fishing for more sales on other, less attractive blocks.

Then, in late January, Claire took a week off to go walkabout, some crazy bush walk along the coast of South West WA, from “Cape to Cape”. A walk that normal people would do in mid-season when the temperatures are cooler and fresh water is readily available for the adventurer. So she started on a Monday, from Dusborough, and walked for the next four days to Hamelin Bay, some 90km further South, where I would join her along with the boys on Saturday.

We picked her up, exhausted and slighly dehydrated but happy and proud of herself.

The WE went by, at the Hamelin Bay Holiday Park, between snorkels, swims, the odd eagle ray and stingray, and two quiet nights by the ocean.

On the way back, rather than drive home in one go we thought, hey why don’t we go back to Quinninup, maybe there’s another block for sale, who knows.

Sadly, the real estate agent didn’t have anything else to offer, and we turned around. However, as we crossed the boundary between the various blocks on sale (none were very nice, nor very big) and the national park, we saw a tiny little post with a phone number, right in the middle of a vacant block.

A few text messages later, and a week or so to convince the banks we were onto something solid, our offer was accepted. 2000sqm of forest, bordering a national park the size of Brussels, in a cul-de-sac, 100m from the lake, what else do you need really.

Here’s a bit of history I pinched from the local playground’s public board, which used to be the school.

Over 30.000 years ago, the Bibbulmun people settled in this area, which provided them with all their needs. They hunted for kangaroos, wallabies, possums, mallee hens, tortoises, and other animals. They also ate shell fish and caught fish in elaborate stone traps, some of which can still be seen today.

Another source of food was Zamia palm nuts, which were buried for several weeks to remove their poisons. In the Noongar language, Quinninup means “Place of Zamia palm”.

Although the French had sailed along the coastline as early as 1797, the interior of the Warren District was not visited by Europeean until Lieutenant Preston, Captain Bannister and Mr Smyth in 1831. The first extensive exploration of the area was by Assistant Surveyor Augustus Charles Gregory, in 1852. Gregory travelled through the country, in the vicinity of the Donnelly, Warren and GArdiner rivers but was not greatly impressed with the land as it would have been difficult to clear and was unsuitable for grazing.

The Muirs were the first white settlers in the area, settling in Topanup (Deeside) in 1856, and securing their pastoral leases in 1859. Other early settlers in the Upper Warren region were the Clarke, Blechynden, Mottram, Wheatley and Parson families.

For these early pionneers, life was hard and they needed to be self-sufficient, growing small quantities of wheat and vegetables, and running cattle, horses and sheep. The were no roads and Bridgetown, the nearest town, was 2 days by bullock cart. Bundury was a 5 days trip and Albany 9 days.

Peater Wheatley arrived in the colony from Ireland in 1859 and, with his new wife, took up land on the Warren River in the Quinninup area. Their homestead, “Clover Cottage”, still stands today. The Wheatley’s had 16 children, all born at Clover Cottage, with no doctor in attendance. Wheatley Coast Road is named after Peter Wheatley, and was originally the track he used when droving his cattle to their summer pastures in the area near what is now Windy Harbour.

Another early pionneer of the Quinninup area was Ted Kealy who settled with his family on ten acres on the North side of Quinninup Brook in 1907.

This ambitions plan was formulated in the 1920s by the then Premier Sir James Mitchell and the British Government. The aim was to create a dairy industry in brining out small groups of British families and settling them on small blocks of about ten hectares.

There were 148 Group Settlements. The first was setup in the Manjimup area (Northcliffe, Pemberton and Quinninup) in 1921, and this was followed by others between Augusta and Busselton, at Denmark and in the Peel Region. Settlers cleared land in groups of 20 families and the blocks were then allocated by ballots. Each family was provided with a calf, saw, spade, mattock and brush-cutting tools.

The scheme was a failure as it was under-resourced by the government and many of the settlers had no farming experience. They experienced great hardship in clearing the heavily forested land and preventing stock losses, and by 1925 thousands of families walked off their land. By 1936, only 300 people remained and only 2442 farms had been established out of the 6000 planned.

Despite its failings, the Group Settlement Scheme did open up 40.000 hectares of land and played and important part in the development of this area.

Quinninup Group Settlement 119 consisted of 18 families who sailed from England on the SS Borda, arriving in Albany in May 1924. From Albany they travelled by train to Perth and, two weeks later, travelled again by train to Jardee Mill. The men were then trucked to Quinninup to setup a camp on what is now Brian O’Hare’s property on Tinks Rd. Despite it being winter, they lived in tents while building the tin sheds which would be their family housing. For the first two weeks, the women and children remained at Jardee, living in the same rail coaches in which they had travelled from Perth and sharing one cold water tap between them. The families were then transported in 3 open trucks to the campsite. On the way it started to rain and didn’t stop for the next 6 weeks, turning the roads into quagmires. Arriving cold and wet at the camp, it was found that only 2 of the tin sheds had been built and 16 families had to live in bell tents.
It was certainly a hard beginning to what was to be equally hard life, and of the original 18 families only two, the Humphreys and Hulcups, still remain and farm at Quinninup.

Group 119 families: Booker, Bott, Copp, English, Hill, Howe, Hulcup, Humphrey, Irwin, Pease, Ray, Redden, Sewley, Spoon, Styles, Turville, Wells, William.

Construction of Millar’s Quinninup steam powered sawmill began in 1944. The mill took five years to complete and cut its first log in 1946. Both the town and mill prospered until the Quinninup sawmill was said to be the biggest in the State and valued at 90.000 pounds.

The original mill and town consisted of the mill, locomotive shed, mill office, staff housing, worker’s club, workers houses, store, hall, and the school. At its peak, it supported over 250 people.

On January 21st, 1962 disater struck and the sawmill was reduced by a firre to a mass of smoking wreckage. The fire was believed to have started in the sawdust between the mill’s large twins saws.

The mill was eventually rebuilt using more efficient technology, and with a resultant drop in the labour force needed, but logging in the area went into gradual decline, and the mill finaly closed for good in 1982.

The whole mill and town site was then bought by a private developper and some structures, including some of the workers houses and the hall, were dismantled and sold off. However, most of the houses, the worker’s club, school and store remained, and with the opening of the Karri Lake subdivision, the town, or to be more accurate the “settlement” continues to grow and prosper.

Our plot of land is at the end of a road that leads nowhere, there are currently only trees and no cleared land. At first we’ll plonk a caravan or some form of semi-transportable cabin like a caravan or a sea-container on wheels, and who knows in four to six years we might build a log cabin.

I should have listened to Claire sooner.

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