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A Day in Northam

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A Day in Northam

Distance: 5.5 km Approx. Travel Time: 3.5 Hours

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If you linger for a while in Northam, you can begin to see its marry layers. How the Ballardong Njoongars, part of the oldest living culture on the planet , have shown their resilience despite the trauma of colonisation. Where the early settlers, looking for a better life after leaving the chaos of post-Napoleonic Europe, learned the hard way that this country isn't England.

Then how each of the next ages of Western Australian development: from the gold rush, the coming of the rail, to the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme, the Wheatbelt expansion, to modern agri-business and tourism - they have all been channelled through this town. It seems that every turn on our journey today tells a story. It would take more than a day to learn them all. This small collection is just a suggestion:

Balloons at Dawn

From April to November, the cold and still mornings in the Avon Valley create ideal hot air ballooning conditions.

Suspended above the landscape, seeing the rising sun illuminate a patchwork quilt of green and gold paddocks, with the mist rising off the Mortlock and Avon Rivers as they wind through it all - it's a picture that will stay in your mind forever. Local balloon company, Windward Balloon Adventures, has been operating in Northam since the 1980s and we recommend you contact them to book a flight. However, even if you don't fly, the colourful balloons can provide a magical sight as they drift across the valley. The company takes off from different locations depending on the prevailing winds.

The Mount Ommanney Lookout, which is on our afternoon drive, is an ideal balloon-spotting place. Nothing is guaranteed of course, but that's the magic of early morning balloon spotting. Take your camera.

A Morning Walk

To begin exploring Northam by foot, cross Minson Avenue behind The Farmers Home and walk across the park towards the amphitheatre Then make a right anywhere before the riverbank and head nort h-east towards the Peel Terrace Bridge. You can walk on the grass or a walking path, whatever takes your fancy. As you wander through Bernard Park, see if you can spot the series of cast iron scu lp tures here . The streets of Northam are dotted with public art. Fitzg erald street has twelve sculptures alone and you'll see these towards the end of the walk.

The ornamental lake to your right is the Swan Enclosure which serves as a protected habitat for Northam's flock of white swans . Introduced in the 1900s by Oscar Bernard, a Russian imm ig rant and later mayor of Northam, they are the only white swans in Australia to be breeding naturally in the wild. You might spot the swans here or anywhere along the river as we walk along.

If you look over the Swan Enclosure towards town you will also see the old Natio nal Bank Build in g standing alone on Fitzgerald Street. The National Bank Building was bui lt in 1888 and is an example of the Federation Free Classical architecture style. The old bank is just one of the many well-preserved historical buildings in Northam.

We then cross the Peel Street Bridge which was the first pre-stressed concrete bridge to be built in Western Australia. To your left, you can look down the length of the Northam Town River Pool. The Pool is created by the small weir that you can see to your right. The weir took four years to build from 1907 to 1911 Its rocky spillway is a familiar sight to Western Australian sports fans as the first challenge to be negotiated by competitors at the start of the Avon Descent. This two-day, 124 kilometre, down-river race from Northam to Bayswater is unique in how both motorboats and kayaks compete.

The river pool extends between the bridge you are crossing and the Avon Bridge that you can see near the mill in the distance. There is rarely a breath of wind in Northam in the mornings, so the surface of Town Pool can be a mirror that reflects the trees on the banks and the buildings in the distance. While you walk west on the north bank of the river, as well as the incongruous sight of white swans gliding about, look for herons, cormorants, ducks, teals and spoonbills. The Avon River is a biodiversity hotspot and the birdlife you will see on this walk is not as easy to see anywhere else.

Conveying (and gently bouncing) you back across the river is Australia's longest pedestrian suspension bridge - The Suspension Footbridge built in 1985. As you are suspended above the water on steel cables, you will be pleased to know that the bridge is anchored by two 56-tonne concrete blocks and is capable of holding 400 people while withstanding 150 kilometre per hour winds. As long as you haven't brought a lot of friends on a windy day, you should be fine.

When you are ready, we'll keep strolling along the riverbank, upstream towards the south-west (The Avon flows away from the coast through Northam in case you are confused). Looming towards you above the trees as you get closer to Gairdner Street, is the Flour Mill. The first mill was built on this site by Joseph Lockyer in 1849. It has passed through the hands of many owners since. It generated the first electricity for the town in 1892 and is probably the most important symbol of the region's economy.

Just before the Avon River Bridge (or the Gairdner Street Bridge or Flour Mill Bridge, as some locals call it), we take a path to the right, under the bridge, then walk between the river and the Mill. We'll follow the river on this peaceful path for a little way. The Ballardong called these waterways Gogulgar, and the path we walk here goes all the way to Burlong Pool, a site of great significance The path is also part of a network of trails around Northam called Dorntj Koorliny (walking together).

You'll notice the difference in the river as we walk upstream from the Town Pool. This is how it flowed before colonisation and dredging; in channels that swirl through a series of island s. The islands offer a safe habitat for birds and other animals that would be prey for foxes and feral cats on the riverbank.

At Millington Street, we leave the river and walk south towards the old Northam Railway Station and the Northam Heritage Museum. If you are not sure which street, look along the street towards Fitzgerald Street, and you'll see the distinct cream and maroon colours of its ornamental eaves and gables.

The station was built in 1900 to replace the initial one built in 1896. When you are standing on the platform, think about all the boots that have tramped this way before you the thousands of eager gold prospectors who passed through Northam on their way to strike it rich; the many nervous diggers who were transported to and from the Northam Army Camp during World War Two and the Korean War; and the 23,000 shattered migrants who were part of the 11 million displaced Europeans after World War Two.

The railway gauge was standardised in 1966, and the new line bypassed this station. Now it serves as a museum that houses 1,200 items from all eras of Northam's town history . The steam locomotive and its carriages were used

to transport the crews who maintained the railways . The carriages have been so well maintained that you can get a feel for what life must have been like on a railway gang. The museum is staffed and maintained by volunteers, like most of the museums in country Western Australia; it is a testament to their passion for preserving the stories of the past.

George Throssell might lay claim to being the most influential figure in Northam's history Mayor from 1887 to 1894, he represented Northam in the Legislative Assembly from 1890 to 1904 and even served a short term as Premier. He was instrumental in bringing the railway through the town which

caused Northam to grow, along with his business interest s. Active in the Anglican Church, he was a foundation member of the Temperance Movement, which greatly influenced Northam society in the next 20 years, away from its former reputation as a hard-drinking town, he was also the first land lord of the Farmer's Home Hotel! The former Temperance Hall was also used as an isolation hospital during the influenza epidemic of 1919.

We turn left at Wellington Street and head west again, walking past the St Joseph's School (built -in 1912) and Catholic Church which was originally constructed in 1890 as a convent. Then we cut through the Northam Boulevard shops, which we are almost certain, were built sometime after the 1890s. We meet Gordon Street, turn right and join Fitzgerald Street just near the Post Off ice.

Built-in 1909 and crafted in the Free Federation style of most public buildings of the day, the Northam Post Office is strikingly original in design. It conveys some idea of the wealth flowing through Northam around the turn of the last century It'd be a simple matter now, to turn right and follow Fitzgerald Street back to the Farmers Home, but let's make a left, and see a tiny bit more of Northam before lunch. A little further west along Fitzgerald Street you will see the original Northam Advertiser Building The building was constructed in 1893 and the newspaper started its life as the Central Districts Advertiser.

'The Advertiser' was influential in the fate of many politicians like George Throssell and James Mitchell. Continuing along Fitzgerald Street, we pass the War Memorial and Gallipoli Lane before coming to the corner of Beavis Place. Across this corner, you will see the Old Town Council Offices and Library for a little dose of 20th Century Brutalist architecture to finish off the morning's steady diet of Federation style buildings.

Ok, now we can walk back for lunch. Cross over Fitzgerald Street, and we will walk back the way we came, but on the other side of the street. Passing the Post Office on our way to the Farmers Home, you will notice more Federation style architecture in the old banks, The Commercial Hotel and the antique shop. Don't forget the Sculptures on Fitzgerald either; each tells a story of Northam's history. In the Avon Street Mall, you will see a statue of Hugo Throssell VC. one of George Throssell's 14 children. Hugo earned his Victoria Cross medal for bravery in the terrible battles of Gallipoli in World War One. He was the first Western Australian to be awarded this medal in the war.

Now for the bad news. On this walk, we pointed out a dozen heritage buildings. Northam has more than 60. There is plenty more to explore Maybe another day. It is time for lunch .

An Afternoon Drive

We start the afternoon drive by leaving New Northam and heading over to where it all started, in the Old Northam on Katerine Road. On our way out of town, we pass the confluence of the Mortlock and Avon Rivers in Enright Park; this was a corrobboree site for the Ballardong people Large gatherings of Nyoongar men were recorded in the Northam area in the 1890s, up to 60 years after colonisation.

Then just before the Katrine Bridge on the right side of the road is the St Saviours Church, which is the oldest existing church in the Northam district, built around 185 0 . I t served a large group of English and Irish Settlers who lived in the Katrine area. Nearby is a small cemetery, with graves of prominent Northam pioneers. One of the names on the headstones he re is Simeon William Viveash, and it was one of his direct descendants who donated the land for Viveash Reserve , our next suggested stop Right at the corner of Katrine Road and the Northam Toodyay Road, you'll see a gravel road going to the left. Follow this down to an open parking area with picnic spots and a view of a long bend in the Avon River. Heading back to Northam on the Northam Toodyay Road we are following the Avon River on the other side from Katrine Road. You may remember, not long after leaving Morby Cottage, the quite grand sight of the Northam Wheat Silos appearing above the trees and paddocks across the river. On our way back, we pass these silos on the south side and have a chance to view the murals that have been painted on them as part of Western Australia's Public Sil o Art Trail. The whimsical black and white characters in their steam punk-inspired marvellous flying machines are by the London artist Phlegm. Th e abstract patterns and blocks of colour are by Atlanta based HENSE. You may not have a chance to stop and contemplate the murals or the artists choice of nom de plume though. This is a working bulk handling site and you can't park in its driveway. The Shire of Northam is working to create a safe viewing point but until they do, wave as you go past.

Soon after the Silos, we join The Great Eastern Highway and head towards Perth for Just over three kilometres before taking Mitchel Avenue towards Northam. Turn left up Mount Ommanney Road and drive up to Mount Ommanney lookout for our last stop for the day If you haven't already been up here chasing balloons in the morning, the lookout is a fine place to stand and see, in one sweep of view, the place that holds all of the stories you have learned today.