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A Fortunate Life

Our Trails

A Fortunate Life

Distance: 310 km Approx. Travel Time: 3.5 hours

This trail connects two towns. It begins as a story of two men who were shaped by remarkably similar circumstances.

George Throssell and Frederick Piesse were both sons of policemen and they were both eldest siblings that entered the workforce early to help support their families. Both are considered founding fathers for their towns and progressed from commercial success to long careers in public affairs.

George Throssell became Northam's most successful businessman after star ting a general store on Fitzgerald Street in 1862. Throssell held the seat of Northam in the Legislative Assembly for fourteen years He influenced the decision to route the Eastern Goldfields Railway through Northam , guaranteeing the town would grow into the principal centre for the region Frederick Piesse, with his brother Charles, after following the construct ion of the Great Southern Railway with a portable store, set up permanently just south of where the northern and southern construction crews met. The town that grew there became Katanning.

The Piesse brothers started the Premier Roller Flour Mill which furthered the economic growth of the district, as well as a winery and many other enterprises Piesse also served in the Legislative Assembly for nineteen years.

The young George Throssell learned about business in Walter Padbury's mercantile firm in Perth. The young Frederick Piesse? He learned his trade at George Throssell 's store in Northam .

We start the drive south by heading first to York. Not far from where we turn onto Peel Terrace (which becomes the York Road as we leave town), is the confluence of the Mortlock and Avon Rivers. This is an important meeting place of the Ballardong people, whose country we'll be travelling through for the first part of today. We follow the Mortlock upstream for a w hi le on York Road before we cross the valley and join with the Avon River about seventeen kilometres from York. If you have timed your journey well, you'll be arriving in York when the museums, restaurants and coffee shops are open.

The nearly two centuries since the area was first settled has left a rich history which has been wonderfully preserved. Like its sister town 66 kilometres away in Toodyay, York wears its history on the facades of nearly every building you see on the main street.

Our suggestion for a walk around York would be to first park at the Old Four Mill.

From York we follow the Avon River south to Beverley . But instead of joining the Great Southern Highway we suggest staying on the east side of the Avon River by taking the Beverley York Road. This road passes through some rich farming country then jo ins the Great Southern Highway five kilometres north of Beverley Your first stop in Beverley will appear on your left just as you enter the town. The Dead Finish Museum is housed in the original hotel built here in 1872. At that time, the Dead Finish was in the centre of town but the coming of the railway in 1886 drew commerce closer to the river.

A rarely told story of the early settlement of Western Australia is the story of sandalwood. Before the sheep herders, the railway and the wheat, there were the sandalwood cutters. Sandalwood trees are native only to India and Australia and in those days the wood was as precious as gold. Early settlers had a ready source of cash if they could cut and dry the wood and then find a way to transport it to the nearest port Sandalwood oil was prized as a perfume, used in religious ceremonies and in medicine before the discovery of penicillin. The sandalwood cutters were the first Europeans to move inland and follow the tracks from one granite outcrop and water hole to the next As they cut tracks, settlers, prospectors and farmers would all follow in their wake. The stocks of sandalwood in Western Australia were decimated over the first 100 years of colonisation and there are not many stands remaining. Th ere are sandalwood trees in the garden of the Dead Finish though. There is also an example of the 'Harper Fence', developed by innovative pastoralist Charles Harper as a way to construct reliable fences in the days when steel wire was scarce and expensive.

Small country town museum rules apply at the Dead Finish. Opening is usually only on weekends and subject to the availability of volunteers. If you call the Beverly Shire Council ahead of time and enquire though, you may be able to arrange a private viewing .

If you take a short diversion off the Great Southern Highway, down Vincent Street, into Beverley, you'll find the beautifully preserved Railway Station. Further along the street there's an art gallery displaying painting, sculptures and photography from a talented group of local artists. The streets of Beverley have many interesting and beautiful exam p les of public art to enjoy as well. On the weekends try driving south on Lukin Street, then look for the sign for the Aerodrome on your right just as it becomes Bremer Road. The Beverley Soaring Society, one of the biggest glider clubs in Australia, operates from the field and spectators are welcome. Beverley has a strong aviation history and some of this is on display in the Cornerstone Building which also houses the town's Community Resource Centre. Along Vincent Street, among the range of Federation era buildings, you will see two striking examples of Art Deco architecture. The Beverley Town Hall and the Hotel Beverley were both designed by William G. Bennet who was responsible for the Raffles Hotel and the Plaza Theatre in Perth.

Continuing south on Th e Great Southern Highway, we follow the Avon River further upstream as it fades in smaller tributaries. We are also following the Great Southern Railway Lin e that brought all the next towns we see into being Constructed from 1886 to 1889, the railway was initially built to connect Perth to the Port of Albany. Some supplies did arrive in Perth by ship, but many shipping companies refused to damage their vessels on the windswept jet ty that extended one kilometre into the ocean from Fremantle. The Government had been advised by British engineer John Coode that the construction of a harbour at the mouth of the Swan River was impossible CY. O'Connor was to prove him wrong less than a decade later but in the interim, it was decided a rail link to Albany was the next best alternative.

We pass through what was the next station on the line, Brookton. Before the railway this town was home to sandalwood cutters and a single family, the Seabrooks, who built Brookton House. The government gazetted a townsite here in 1895. We continue south to another of the railway towns, Pingelly, twenty kilometres further along Great Southern Highway . We could continue all the way to Katanning on the highway, but there is another story to tell.

We think you'll be glad you added twenty-t wo minutes to the journey and went via Wickepin.

Leaving the highway and heading east on the Wickepin Pingelly Road, we cross paths with a much beloved figure in Australian literature, the late Albert Facey Born in Victoria in 189 4, Facey had no schooling. He taught himself how to read and write, which makes his memoir, published when he was 86, ever the more remarkable. 'A Fortunate Life ' is written in short chapters, each reading like you are listening to a laconic, humble, quiet Australian tell you a yarn. His life story of childhood poverty, labouring on farms for scraps, fighting with a boxing troupe and being wounded in Gallipoli seem anything like a fortunate life. But through his writing, Albert seems grateful for the simple joys. He loved the Western Australian bush.

Albert spent part of his childhood on the farm of Archie McCall near Wickepin. McCall and Albert's Aunt had taken him in when his mother gave him up. After World War One he took up a soldier settlement of some land, also near Wickep in Forced to abandon the farm during the Great Depression, he finished his career driving trams, ferries and buses .

47 Kilometres along the Wickepin Pingelly Road, just past the intersection with Russel Road, slow down and look to your left, across the road from a large dam. Here you can see some remains from a shack that was on Archie McCall's property. This is private property though, so do as the sign says and enjoy this little bit of history from the road.

L ake Dumbleyung was where Donald Campbell ripped across the water at 444.71 kph in 1964; the same year he flew across the dry lake bed of Lake Eyre at 690 kph to claim both the world land and water speed records in the same year. There is a replica of Campbell's boat, The Bluebird, in Dumbleyung's main street, across the road from the excellent museum dedicated to the record. Then, if you want to walk where Donald Campbell walked, pop into the Grand Old Dumbleyung Inn and stand on the grand staircase where he announced the record to the worlds press who'd all travelled to this little Great Southern town to witness the attempt. On the 52-kilometre drive to Katanning, you can take a short diversion up Bullock Hills Road to see the huge Lake Dumbleyung. Although well looked after by the Dumbleyung Shire, Bullock Hills road is gravel and corrugated in places, so go easy.

As we reach Katanning we'll drive down Austral Terrace towards the Premier Mill Hotel. If you look to the south along the facades of the buildings that line the west side of the terrace, you will get a glimpse of the days when this town was the powerhouse of the Western Australian economy. When Frederick Piesse threw the switch on the Premier Roller Flour Mill, a mere nine months after his brother Charles had returned home from Northam with the idea, the locals marvelled at how it started with a noise that 'was nothing more than the humming of a welI-spun top' (as was reported on the day) .

Despite its promising start, the mill had a troubled history as a manufacturer of flour. Although it seems this was something of a trojan horse for the production of power which saw the town exclusively supplied with electricity from the Mill's over-engineered power plant well into the 1950 's. As both a flour and a power mill it was bought and sold several times, shut down twice before closing for good in 19 77. It housed a museum for a while and was continually under the threat of demolition as locals fought to keep this icon of their town's heritage intact.

It took the same kind of vision and entrepreneurial daring that built the mill to save the mill. It was purchased by the DOME group from the Shire of Katanning for one dollar , on the condition that the property would be developed in a way that would inject life into the town while preserving its heritage listing.