Distance: 342 km Approx. Travel Time: 3.5 hours
This adventure starts on the rolling hills south-east of Northam towards York. The first part of the journey crosses some of the very earliest colonised country in Western Australia.
Barely more than a year after Captain Charles Fremantle had declared the Swan River Colony for Britain in May 1829. Ensign Robert Dale led a party of explorers over the Darling Range into the Avon Valley. They encountered lightly wooded, open grassland that looked to be good sheep country. This was the western edge of the 114,000 square kilometres Ballardong Boodja - the country of the Ballardong Nyoongar people - and the valley of a river they called Gogulgar.
What those first Europeans saw, was the result of hundreds of years of fire-stick farming that had thinned the trees in comparison to the dense jarrah bush they had just travelled through. This shaping of the ecology through carefully controlled burning allowed food sources like the wild potatoes, djubak and kara, to grow more readily. The burning also created a more favourable habitat for the animals the Ballardong hunted like the yongah (kangaroo) and tammah (wallaby).
Farming and land use have changed since those times. Depending on the time of year, you'll see the dry brown paddocks of summer, the almost neon bright green of the growing seasons or the gold of harvest time as we follow the Mortlock River south and skirt the east side of the Avon River Valley. We leave the Mortlock at Carter Road and shortly after you'll see the Avon River to your west as it winds its way through the paddocks, northward to Northam. We follow the Avon further south for a short while, before turning east onto the Goldfields Road and the route that carried many a hopeful prospector deeper into the interior. It was a migration that was to establish the economic fortunes of the state.