A history of the pioneering settlers is evident throughout the south west which, today, is rich in cultural treasures and memorabilia of a vibrant, multi-layered past. Western Australia’s first European settlement was in Albany in the 1820s. A ship sent to explore the West from New South Wales landed on the coast in 1826 and found safe mooring in King George Sound. The Brig Amity on the foreshore in Albany is a replica of that ship and boarding it gives a very real understanding of what conditions during the expedition might have been like.
Settlements in Perth and Augusta, near Cape Leeuwin in the Margaret River region, quickly followed. Convict labour and several migration schemes were used to maintain the workforce through early settlement and along with the enterprising pioneer families, they began the process of carving the land into what we know now as Australia's South West.
Each town has a unique story to tell and many have local museums, parks and monuments which are a wonderful source of information.
Buildings and sites of significance
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Located on the tip of Cape Leeuwin, where the Southern and Indian Ocean’s meet, stands mainland Australia’s tallest lighthouse, which is still in operation today. It was built in 1896 to provide a safer passage for ships carrying timber from the nearby then-bustling port of Hamelin Bay to England. The brilliant white lighthouse allows visitors the rare opportunity to take a tour of a working lighthouse that guards one of the world’s most dangerous shipping lanes. Close by, the old Water Wheel was constructed in 1895 during the building of the lighthouse when a spring was tapped to provide fresh water for the workers. Having turned to stone over the years, it is now one of Augusta’s favorite attractions. The nearby Augusta Historical Museum offers fantastic displays of early settlement life in Augusta.
Founding families of the Margaret River Region
On the edge of the Vasse Estuary Wetlands, 22 kilometers east of Busselton is Wonnerup House. Built by the Layman Family, it is an important surviving example of early farm pioneering in Western Australia. There is a stately homestead (built 1859) and earlier house (1837) which was later converted into a dairy, plus a kitchen, stables, and blacksmiths workshop, teacher’s quarters and school for visitors to wander through. These National Trust buildings have all been carefully restored, many with original items and furniture still on display.
Near Gracetown, is also open to the public. Built by the Bussell Family in 1857, the property has changed very little over time. The grounds include nearby Meekadarribee Waterfall, an important location for Aboriginal tribes, where legend tells that two spirits hid in a cave behind the falls.
Hidden Treasures of The Great Southern
The hinterland region of the Great Southern is an often-overlooked area of Western Australia, however visitors to some of the smaller communities will discover grand old homesteads, community halls and hotels from an era when the country relied purely on farming, to huge grain operations that showcase modern agriculture. All this is mixed in with award winning wineries, local produce, great scenery and that warm sense of country charm.
Tour a replica underground coal mine at the Collie Coalfields Museum, or visit the town of Greenbushes, a historic mining town where you can see how miners lived and worked.
In Albany, the Old Farm at Strawberry Hill is a National Trust property and was considered ‘old’ more than 100 years ago. It is recognized as the oldest farm in Western Australia, established as part of the first European settlement in the State in 1827.
In Busselton, the heritage-listed Old Courthouse was built in 1854 and is the oldest building in the town, comprising a courtroom, jail cells, stable, post office and bond store.
Pioneer parks and museums
Several museums throughout the region hold treasures of a pioneer’s past. See inside an original Freemason’s temple at the Boyup Brook Pioneer Museum, or view an impressive collection of antiques, coaches, vintage cars, and early pioneer equipment at the Wellstead Museum in Bremer Bay
The Dardanup Heritage Park
Is one of Australia’s finest collections of heritage items dedicated to our pioneering past, including a steam/diesel sawmill, mill settlement, engines, tractors, dozers, horse-drawn equipment
The Cranbrook Museum
Houses the history of the Great Southern Railway, located in a beautiful old station master’s house
King Cottage Museum
In Bunbury, the King Cottage Museum houses vast collection of memorabilia from the 1880s, donated by local families
Timber and Heritage Park
In Manjimup, the Timber and Heritage Park provides an insight into the logging heritage of the Southern Forests through an historical hamlet, vintage machinery and a blacksmith’s forge. A testament to the timber heritage of the town is the One Tree Bridge, which as its name suggests is a bridge made from a single karri tree and has survived since the early pioneering days