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Where Flowers Grow Wild

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Where Flowers Grow Wild

Distance: 420 km Approx. Travel Time: 5 hours

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This trail begins with a half-hour drive to Goomalling. The Ballardong Noongars knew this area as a place of possums, particularly the silver-grey Goomal. In 1846, Alfred Hilman, an assistant government surveyor and the brothers Gerard and Anthony LeFroy found water on their way to exploring the country deep in the interior to the north east.

The party noted it was "rich grassy country" but none took up land in the area. It was George Slater who first established a property around Goomalling Spring in the early 1850s. We pass by George Slater's original homestead on the Goomalling Wyalkatchem Road. The owners have preserved the building, and it can be viewed by appointment; contact the Goomalling visitors centre for more details.

Like most of the smaller towns in the Northern and Eastern Wheatbelt, the town of Goomalling owes its existence to the railway The town was gazetted a year after the line was built in 1902. The original railway station can still be seen in the main street. Further along Railway Terrace to the west, you can see Goomalling's unique concrete grain storage domes, capable of holding 44,000 tonnes of grain. The only ones of their kind in the southern hemisphere, the locals call these domes 'The Dolly Twins' which is a country music reference that we don't quite understand.

The next step in our journey, to Oak Park, will not only deepen your understanding of Australian ecology, it will give you a window into Ballardong Nyoongar culture and Australian Indigenous culture overall.

The Noongar people divided their calendar into six seasons: Birak - the burning season or first summer, Bunuru - second summer and the hottest time of the year, DJeran - when the ants get busy and the beginning of cooler weather, Makaru - the wet season and a time of abundance, Djilba - the flower season and first spring, and Kambarang - second spring and the season of b irt h. What the early European settlers did not understand, often fatally, was how much this country could change between seasons. Even the broad Avon River would stop flowing some years during Bunuru, to become a series of shallow pools. The key to survival for anyone who wanted to move through this country in the dry seasons was the gnamma.

A gnamma, or gnamma hole, is one of the many examples of how the Nyoongar people gave nature a little bit of help in making the land more survivable. The often naturally occurring depressions or fissures in the rock were gradually enlarged by fire and chipping with stone tools. Water would both drain down, and seep up, into these holes. Gnammas were covered in sticks, branches and rocks to keep the water from evaporating. The population of Western Australia went from 49,782 in 1891 to 100,515 in 1895, as word spread of gold. The water demand caused many natural springs and gnammas to be drained or lined, in an attempt to create a more permanent supply. The few gnammas that are left are often inaccessible or remain a closely guarded secret We've found the remnants of one though, a little way north of Goomalling.

European settlement of Oak Park started in 1890 . The small community would meet for picnics and to play cricket in the field over the road from the gnamma. There was a community hall, a cricket club and a school. You have a few options of marked walking trails in the reserve that take in the unique flora and fauna, as well as the remnants from when this was a small community centre. Oak Park is one of the many ghost towns that can be found throughout this region. You'll find signs that tell the story of this place as you wander about.

From Oak Park, we continue east to connect with the Northam Pithara Road and head north. Just before we reach the small town and grain receival site of Konnongorring, we suggest a quick side trip up the Dowerin Konnongorring road to the Gabby Ouoi Ouoi Lookout. From here you can command a vast view to the north and east. You can compare the view to the display of before and after photographs on the lookout from the Gabby Ouoi Ouoi Catchment Group; an association of local families and farming groups that have slowly rehabilitated the area to reverse the degradation caused by years of clearing and agriculture. The area is seen as an example to other Landcare groups across Australia .

In case you were wondering about the main industry of the next town that we pass through, Wongan Hills, then all doubt will be removed as you drive up the main street. The rows of giant agricultural machinery on display are impressive Cropping is big business now, and the quaint notion of the small family farm is mostly long gone in these parts. Wongan Hills' central location in one of Western Australia's most productive agricultural regions has created a cluster of machinery dealers and associated services that make it an unusually busy town.

If we are in the seasons of Djilba and Kambarang, the first and second springs, you will have noticed already that we have entered wildflower country.

Almost every town on the rest of our journey has wildflower viewing spots too numerous to mention. Wongan Hills has Gathercole reserve, 10 kilometres to the south-east of town and Reynoldson Reserve, 22 kilometres north-east of town. There is an excellent visitors centre in the main street that can offer more detail. Also, the old Wongan Hills hospital has been converted into a museum but like many country museums, is only open to the public on a Sunday. However, if you check in with the visitors centre, they may be able to arrange a private viewing for you depending on the availability of volunteers.

Driving further north we pass through the small towns of Kondut and Ballidu on our way to Joining the Great Northern Highway just south of Pithara before heading on to Dalwallinu. Here we are leaving Ballardong country and enter the eastern edge of the 17,000 square kilometre Yuat land where it borders with the vast Kalamaia territory.

Dalwallinu is the resting place of one of the most influential business-people in Western Australian history. Born in Prussia in 1862, Friederich Wilhelm Gustav Liebe worked on the construction of the Budapest Opera House and the National Assembly building in Bulgaria. After first migrating to Victoria, he was responsible for the markets at Newmarket and a hotel at Lilydale. After moving to Perth, he built (to name a few) Midland Railway Station, Queens Hall, the Fire Station on Murray and Irwin Streets, the Commercial Bank on St Georges Terrace, His Majesty's Theatre, additions to the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Commercial Hotel in Moora and the Peninsula Hotel in Maylands. He also served on a committee that established Perth's first sewerage system and established a quarry in Kellerberrin.

In 1908 'Gus' as he was known, decided to trade 'the trowel for the plough' and pursue an interest in Agriculture. Some suggest that he may have left Perth for the country to escape pre-World War One anti-German sentiment but there was also a severe downturn in building work at this time.

Farming near Wubin, he went on to become the biggest grain grower in Western Australia. It was claimed that Gus was the first individual farmer in the world to grow 100,000 bags of wheat in one season. He was noted for his innovations in both wheat and sheep production.

A prodigiously strong man for most of his life, not long before his death a friend found him panting in distress near one of his sheds. "I just had an argument with the bull, and the bull won." He said. "That would not have happened ten years ago"

Gustav Liebe is buried in one of five identical marble graves at the Dalwallinu Cemetery. He is buried alongside the two children of his long-time business partner Joseph Klein . Albert Klein and his sister Amalia Collins' graves lay next to Amalia's husband Sidney Guildford Collins and their son Sidney Arthur Collins. Albert and Amalia referred to Gus as their 'dearly beloved uncle'. He had taken them in and cared for them following the deaths of their father and mother.

North of Dalwallinu can be found some of the best wildflower viewing in Western Australia. Seeing wildflowers in the eastern areas: like Kalannie with its rare Wreath Lechenaultia, will depend on the amount of winter rains. We suggest calling in at the Dalwallinu Visitors Centre first, before heading into the bush. There is a loop that takes in Kalannie then follows the Rabbit Proof Fence north, before reaching Great Northern Highway north of Wubin. This loop will take in a few prim e wildflower viewing spots, but we recommend speaking with the locals about the particular flowering season and the road conditions before you head off.

There is still plenty to see if you stay on the highway though. Just north of Dalwallinu is the town of Wubin which has an excellent museum; with displays of machinery and wheat handling equipment which are right next to the modern bulk handling facilities for an easy comparison of how things have changed.