Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society

Early Days, Volume 3, 1938-1948

The Champion Bay country - historical highlights and personal reflections

Alfred Carson

Carson, Alfred 1939, 'The Champion Bay country - historical highlights and personal reflections', Early Days, Vol. 3 Part 2: 13-22.

In this article the author has collected together particulars of the historical events and prominent personalities in the pioneering of the Champion Bay district—which extended from the Arrowsmith on the south to the Murchison River in the north. The area was not the first to be opened up after the establishment of the Swan River Colony and its story is not nearly so well known as it should be. Mr. Carson has filled a real need in this account.

THE Champion Bay Country, the subject of this paper, is that part of Western Australia whose natural port is Champion Bay and of which the town of Geraldton may be said to be the metropolis. The districts embraced in this region extend from the Arrowsmith River on the south to the Murchison River on the north. Their history greatly differs from that of the earlier settlements along the Swan and Avon Valleys, as it does also from the history of those other early settlements on the Canning and further south. The earliest settlers of the Champion Bay country had not to contend with quite the same difficulties or to experience anything like the same privations as were faced by the newcomers to the older settled districts. There was about their lives less of that aura of romance which, as we have learned from many papers read before this Society, surrounded the vanguard of West Australian colonists. Some of the earliest settlers of the Champion Bay country had had already their pioneering experiences elsewhere in the colony; some were possessed of considerable capital or could command considerable capital. Others, as in the case of a majority of the miners, had come to the colony under labour contracts and therefore with prospects of assured weekly wages; while other again were ex-service men who were in receipt of Imperial pension. I mention these facts to show that the first settlers of the Champion Bay country, regarded from an economic aspect, were comparatively well favoured.

Situated about 300 miles from the seat of Government, little or no attention was given to the effective occupation and development of the Champion Bay country until the early 50s of the last century. Twenty years and more, that is, were to elapse from the foundation of the colony to the exploitation of this northern province. Something of its physical character and agronomic possibilities had been revealed by the explorer, Captain (later to become Sir George) Grey. During Grey’s tragic overland journey—that race which he had with death from Shark Bay to Perth in 1839—he had no opportunity for examining this region in detail. He did, however, see enough of it to be impressed by its suitability for pastoral and agricultural settlement. Parenthetically, it should be said here thht while Grey did the country good service in even sighting this country he did it a disservice when, shortly after, he sought in London to pose as mentor to the company which had just embarked on founding a settlement at Australind. He advised the company to transfer its activities to the northern district which had impressed him as being better suited for its purpose than was the


area it had selected. Moreover he hinted at the invalidity of the title by which the company’s land was held. The immediate effect of these representations was to lead to divided counsels in London and had not a little to do with the ultimate abandonment of the Australind project.

It was not due to Grey but rather to the Gregory Bros, that the actual settlement of the Champion Bay country was embarked upon. What Western Australia owes to these intrepid explorers has, to our shame be it said, scarcely been given due recognition. It was they who, in 1846 and 1848, may be said to have added between them this vast new province to the colony. Their exploration of, and their discoveries in, the Champion Bay country more than confirmed Grey’s impressions. To them belongs the credit of locating wide areas of agricultural land on the Irwin and Greenough Rivers, much pastoral country within easy distance of a port, vast lodes of the base metals on the lower Murchison and at what is now Northampton, and coal in the bed of the Irwin River. Because of these discoveries the settlement which soon followed was on lines not possible elsewhere in the colony. In the Champion Bay country alone did development of the three great primary industries of wool growing, wheat growing and mining begin and proceed practically simultaneously.

Because it was from mining the town of Geraldton received its first impetus, it is fitting perhaps that reference to this industry should be given precedence in this paper. The Gregorys’ discovery of extensive lodes of galena or lead in the bed of the Murchison River and at Northampton was soon turned to account. Governor Fitzgerald visited the Murchison and being satisfied as to the value of the lode, which was there opened up for his inspection, encouraged its exploitation. Soon a company was formed in Perth to develop the mine, and the locality was named Geraldine. Throughout the fifties and early sixties this property was profitably worked by Captain Sam Mitchell for a company of which Mr. R. Habgood, of Perth, was chairman. The ore was carted to and shipped from Port Gregory, some 50 miles from Geraldine and where there existed a whaling station, and where, after the inauguration of the convict system, there was established a penal settlement and a guard of Imperial soldiers. The prisoners were, some of them, engaged on the erection of buildings of which only the ruins remain, and others on the collection and refinement of salt of which there were incalculable quantities in the local salt pans.

After a few years, however, owing to falling prices and the cost of haulage, the further profitable prosecution of mining at Geraldine was impossible. Mining operations there then ceased, and this cessation synchronising with uneconomic conduct of the salt works, the convicts were transferred to Geraldton. In the meantime mining operations were being carried on at Wanneranooka, the name by which Northampton was first known. Here copper was first discovered as early as 1842 by a shepherd who is reported to have parted with whatever rights he had in the property for £100. The shepherd’s name was Mason and he was employed by James Drummond, whose name appears in the Parmelia’s passenger list as an agriculturist. In 1850 the Wanneranooka copper mining company was formed, Mr. George Shenton, the father of the late Sir George Shenton, being one of the principal shareholders. Another of the earliest developed lead mines in the district was the Wheal Fortune, also at first worked as a copper mine. The chairman of directors of the Wheal Fortune Copper Mining Co. was Mr. Lionel Samson, of Fremantle. Some time ago there was published in the “West Australian” a photograph of the office and other buildings of this company which were erected over 70 years ago.

Of this particular mine there is told a rather good story. News had been received by the miners of an impending visit of the Governor. They were a patriotic band of Cornishmen, anxious to demonstrate fittingly their loyalty to the Queen and her representative. They had no cannon with which to fire a salute, and as the few fowling pieces they possessed would, they agreed, make a poor job of a feu de joie, they decided on using explosives for their purpose. Twenty-one charges of dynamite were accordingly laid and the time fuses so arranged that explosions would take place at minute intervals. The plan was a complete success, the Governor receiving what must surely have been a unique Royal Salute. When the Hon. J. M. Drew heard this story many years later, he was inclined to take it with a grain of salt. However,


the locations of the dynamite charges were in verification of the story pointed out to him, and he had taken a photograph of them.

To continue our story of mining at Northampton. Very little copper was actually mined. The Wheal Fortune, Wheal Ellen, the Badera, and a number of other mines were worked for lead, all of exceptionally high grade. Northampton grew and flourished. Captain Mitchell, who came to the district from Geraldine, and Mr. Charles Crowther, a Geraldton merchant, were soon to be engaged in developing the mining industry on an extensive scale. Cornish miners were brought out in such numbers that Northampton became very much of a Cornish town. These miners were a fine body of men, and with their wives and families a real acquisition to the population of the country. In the late 60s and early 70s the price of lead was such that mining for it could be and was profitably carried on although the ore had to be carted by horse teams over a bad road for 32 miles. A report was current when the price of the ore reached its apex that Messrs. Crowther and Mitchell were tendered and refused an offer of £40,000 for their interest.

The product of the Northampton lead mines was exported, some of it to Wales, whither it was shipped as ballast on the wool ships, and to Adelaide. In the latter service two sailing vessels were regularly engaged, the barquentine Orwell and the three-masted schooner Cleopatra. Incidentally, the master of the Cleopatra, Captain Fothergill, became so enamoured of the colony that he, with his wife and family, decided to settle here. In pursuance of this resolve he built and was for years mine host of the Cleopatra Hotel, Fremantle, and for a time Mayor of that town.

From the year 1870 the price of lead steadily declined, and in 1872 Government and Parliament were forced to the conclusion that the industry could only be saved, if it was to be saved at all, by the provision of a railway. It was not, however, until 1879 that the railway materialised. But not even the lowering of haulage freights thus made possible nor the erection of smelting works at Geraldton long staved off the inevitable collapse which was primarily due to the rapidly increasing world production of lead ore. The Northampton mines were not finally closed down, however, until their total production amounted to 240,000 tons, valued at £950,000.

No sketch of Northampton would be complete without some reference to the


town’s most philanthropic and public-spirited townsman, Mr. W. Horrocks. Mr. Horrocks in those early days carried on a mercantile business and was a friend of all good causes. He erected a number of neat cottages which were leased at a low rental to the miners; but perhaps the character of the man was best exhibited by his gift to the town of a beautiful church picturesquely situated on Gwallia Hill where it seemed to dominate the little village as Northampton then was. This church was free to all denominations, a privilege of which the protestant bodies availed themselves, alternating their services by mutual agreement. But to-day this old church is a pile of ruins and a standing reproach both to the religious bodies it served so well and to the local authorities who might have combined to preserve the sacred edifice as an historical memorial of which both could have been proud.

The history of the Geraldton-Northampton railway is surely unique in the annals of railway construction in Australia. Certainly Western Australia furnishes no parallel to it. No other line in the State—regard being had to its length and its engineering factors—has been so costly, has taken so long in building, and none has excited so much acrimonious controversy or been made the subject of so many jests. The first step towards the building of a Government railway in the colony was taken in 1872. In that year tenders were called on the initiative of the then newly constituted Legislative Council for an engineering survey of a route from Champion Bay to the mines at Northampton. The successful tenderer was a Mr. Major, of Melbourne, who undertook the survey at a cost of £35 per mile. Shortly after, at the request of the Government, Mr. Major presented plans and estimates for the construction of the proposed work. These provided for a line 33 miles 66 chains in length, with grades of 1 in 40, and with 451b. rails and a gauge of 3 feet. The cost of construction was estimated at £87,704. a sum considered sufficient to equip the line with rolling stock and necessary station buildings.

In view of the low standards contemplated for the line, the expediency of providing for a wider gauge and more rolling stock, these estimates were considered inadequate. In the light of recent railway development it is interesting to note that 40 small goods wagons and two engines weighing from 16 to 18 tons each comprised the proposed equipment of the new line. On February 24, 1874—modified plans and specifications having in the meantime been prepared— tenders were called for the construction of the railway, with the result that that of Mr. D. Proudfoot, of Dunedin, New Zealand, was accepted. Owing, however, to ill-health Mr. Proudfoot relinquished his contract, forfeiting the deposit of £500 which he was required to lodge as a condition precedent to his tender being accepted. Some months later, Mr. James Palmer of Melbourne undertook to construct the line without equipment for £50,000, and Mr. H. E. Victor was appointed supervising engineer. The first sod of the line was turned by Governor Weld on October 22, 1874, the handsome polished wheelbarrow used by His Excellency on the occasion being now among the treasured archives of the Geraldton municipality. The railway, according to the terms of the contract was to be completed by March, 1876, or a year and six months from the signing of the contract. But owing to a multitude of causes, including the adoption of the 3 feet 6 inch gauge, considerable alterations to bridges and culverts, deviations and subsidiary works not originally provided for, this line of 32 miles in length was not opened until July 26, 1879, the ceremony being performed by Governor Ord just on five years after his predecessor had inaugurated the work.

Due to the causes already mentioned the estimated cost of the line advanced from £87,704 to £109,704 and ultimately to £115,000. Throughout the long period during which the work was in progress, there was continuous trouble. Incompetence and even dishonest practices were imputed to many concerned. From time to time the contractor was in financial difficulty, absorbed in disputes writh his own staff and with the Public Works authorities, while in the Legislative Council the Government was frequently upbraided for its lack of control and wasteful expenditure. The following is a fair sample of the parliamentary criticism of the administration of the work while under way. Mr. Walter Padbury. not by any means a captious critic, in moving on one occasion for an inquiry in connection with the railway, said: “There had been going on for some considerable time a very lavish expenditure altogether unnecessary and unwarrantable in connection with the supervision of the construction works.” From the list before him he


noticed that “no less than 16 persons were employed in supervising the construction of a line 30 miles long, a ridiculous and ruinous staff to maintain. Three persons at the outside,” he contended, “would be a sufficient number for all the work to be done while the line was in the hands of the contractor, who no doubt was an honest as the generality of contractors.”

Mr. Charles Crowther, another member of the legislature, characterised the expenditure on supervision as “the most outrageous expenditure ever incurred in the colony. The labourers employed by the superintendent engineer were in some instances worthless men who could not obtain employment at any other work and as a rule were one day engaged in demolishing what they had done on another. The system of supervision was not only lax but indefensible.” The same speaker denounced the superintendent engineer for deciding to take the railway line through the main street of the town without so much as consulting the municipal authorities in whom the administration of the roads and footways of the town were presumably vested. These speeches, as I have said, are only samples of the kind of parliamentary criticism that was levelled against the Commissioner of Public Works and other responsible persons while the line was under construction.

When completed the Geraldton-North ampton railway was, and even still is, something of an engineering curiosity. Apart from its steep grades it had, I venture to say, more curves and more pronounced curves than any other railway in the Commonwealth. Of recent years both grades and curves have been modified; but of the railway, as I knew it from 1879 to 1895, it used to be jocularly declared that while some of the worst curves were being negotiated the engine driver at one end of the train and the guard at the other might shake hands. This, of course, was an exaggeration, but it was quite true to say that those officers when rounding a curve were, despite the rattle of the train, within earshot of one another. I myself have been a passenger on the train when the late Mr. Maitland Brown, because of the near approach of the line to a curve and the character of the gradient, alighted from the slowly plodding and puffing train as it steamed into one of these nearly circular sweeps, entered the bush, shot a turkey and re-embarked with his prize as it emerged at the other end. I can testify further that this was not a singular occurrence. In those days it never took less than five hours and frequently took six for the train to cover the 32 miles which separates the towns of Geraldton and Northampton, and I believe I am right in saying that even to-day, much as the service has been improved, the journey normally occupies four hours. Stories to no end could be told of this remarkable railway. I have been told that when currency was short in Northampton an accommodating station master would issue a single ticket to Geraldton for a cockerel and a return ticket for two of these birds. That story, however, is probably apocryphal; I do not vouch for its accuracy.

Agricultural settlement of the Champion Bay country dates back to the year 1856. The records of the Lands Department show that between October, 1853, and June. 1857, land was taken up on the Greenough Flats by one company (Hamersley and Co.) and 21 individual settlers. The first purchaser was Mr. Thomas Brown, the first Government resident of Geraldton and father of Maitland Brown. Of the remaining 20, at least 12 are more or less well known to the present generation. Here are some of the more prominent of this pioneering band: Walter Padbury, Rev. George Saddler, Charles Crowther, I. Duncan, L. C. Burgess, George Shenton, T. Duncan, F. Waldeck (Mrs. Farrelly’s maternal grandfather) and F. W. Pearson. Except in the cases of four of these 22 early settlers, the holdings acquired did not exceed in area 40 acres. Between the year 1874 and 1882 a new element was introduced into this small population. Eighteen Imperial pensioners were alloted locations varying in area from 10 to 20 acres. All this virgin land, like that on the Irwin Flats which was settled later, was very fertile, wheat crops yielding for some years from 30 to over 40 bushels to the acre, and this without the aid of chemical fertilisers as are now universally applied. All the agricultural land on these alluvial flats was speedily alienated, and from the crops there produced the first shipment of grain from Western Australia was shipped to London. Unfortunately during the long sailing voyage home this cargo was most of it destroyed by weevils.

There is still living one of the very earliest of the Greenough settlers, a Mrs. Duncan, the daughter of F. W. Pearson and the widow of the T. Duncan whose


name appears in tlie above list of first purchasers of Greenough land. Mrs. Duncan is now 95 years of age and has been for several years past a hospital case, the result of a broken hip sustained in a fall. She has, however, all her faculties about her and passes the time in doing beautiful fancy work. She is an old friend of mine, and three years ago I called to see her to talk over old times. I thought to get from her a Press interview, but I had just recently been forestalled by a local journalist. She was quite willing to talk, but as she had already told her story at great length I did not think it fair to allow her to repeat her interesting reminiscences. These were published in the “Geraldton Guardian and Express,” and a copy of the issue in which they appeared is in our Society’s archives and may be consulted there by any member sufficiently interested to do so.

Mrs. Duncan’s father with his young family came to W.A. under an engagement to erect smelting works at Geraldine, but settled at Greenough, where he built the Hampton Hotel and carried on farming operations. Two of the most prominent men of Greenough who settled there shortly after the pioneering group were Mr. John Maley and Mr. Thomas Clinch, who, besides engaged in farming, each erected and conducted a flour mill. That there was room in these far off times for two flour mills at Greenough is of itself an indication of the original productivity of the district. In 1868 and again some years later the farmers suffered greatly from visitations of red rust, and in February, 1883, were afflicted by a calamity even worse than that of red rust in the crops.

The calamity of which I now speak was, for the Champion Bay country, an unparalleled river flood. For weeks before this event and on the date of its occurrence there had not been a drop of rain or a cloud in the sky where the deluge occurred. There had been no rain that week within a radius of nearly 100 miles of the flooded flats. There was, however, torrential rain in the upper watershed of the Greenough River, and as there were then no telegraphs by means of which the settlers on the flats of the Lower Greenough could be apprised of the approaching danger, they were taken by surprise, and in the dead of night when the river came down literally like a great wall of water. When the open flat country was reached the banks of the river did not serve as a restricting channel, and so the whole countryside known as the Greenough Flats became inundated. Three persons were drowned, and the loss of stock, fences and other property, including some houses, was very great. One of the sufferers from the flood, a Miss Pearson, a sister of Mrs. Duncan, told me of her own alarming experience. She was living with her aged and infirm mother not far from the river. During the night she happened to throw one of her arms over the side of her bed only to discover that the house was flooded and that many things in her room were afloat. Her first thought was of a tidal wave from the sea, and then she remembered that her father had mentioned to her when she was a child that the natives had told him of such river flood having occurred in the remote past. Her brother’s family happily lived near by and to them she bravely waded, gave the alarm, and assisted in helping her brother remove her mother and her brother’s family to high ground and safety.

I arrived on the scene at an early hour of the morning following that awful night. The flood was still rising and raging. That scene I am not likely to forget. Some ten miles by two of the flats, or nearly 20 square miles of country, presented the appearance of an inland sea. Nor am I likely to forget the heroic part which the then Government Resident, Maitland Brown, accompanied by a water policeman and a third party, played in rescuing marooned settlers from their inundated homes and from deadly peril. The rescue party manned a dinghy which with the greatest difficulty they piloted through both still and raging waters and broken down fences in their efforts to save human lives. It may give you some idea of the depth of the flood waters if I tell you that not merely were the cellars of the Golden Sheaf Hotel, but the dining and billiard rooms were flooded to the height of the window sills. Mrs. Farrelly’s own home stood on higher ground near by and was for 48 hours an island in the wilderness of waters. Such was the gravity of this calamity that relief funds were opened in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne. Some thousands of pounds were thus raised. The administration of the fund was entrusted to the member for the district, the Rev. W. Traylen. who faithfully and wisely performed his trust. By means of the relief


thus afforded, the loss and suffering of the afflicted farming community were substantially mitigated.

The history of the pastoral settlements of the Champion Bay country covers two widely separated periods. The first period extended from 1849 to 1862, during which station properties, none of them more than 40 miles from the coast, were taken up and stocked. These properties, so far as their location goes, form what may roughly be described as a segment of a circle with one end resting at the Bowes River in the north and the other on the Irwin River in the south. The names of the pioneers who took up this country will be familiar to many readers as household words. They are those of William Burges, J. Drummond, Thomas Brown, S. P. Phillips, Samson Sewell, the Brown Bros., John Sidney Davis, Major Logue, Caleb Sewell, M. Morrissey, Harry Cook and John Williams. To William Burges, of the Bowes, a kinsman of the Hon. W. Burges, of Tipperary, near York, belongs the distinction of being the pioneer of the pastoral industry in the Champion Bay country. He had accompanied the Gregory Bros, on their exploration trip in 1848, and doubtless his selection of land on the Bowes River in 1849—country which the Gregorys had highly appraised—was determined upon during that expedition.

The early settlers of 1849-1862 suffered severely from the ravages of scab. The almost microscopic parasite responsible for this affliction proved most difficult to cope with. For years it kept the early pastoralists poor and cost the colony dear. It involved the employment by the Government of a highly-paid staff of expert inspectors and entailed for the pastoralists the obligation of frequent musterings and costly dippings in chemical or nicotine baths. Not until the late 80*s or early 90’s was it that the colony was officially proclaimed free from this scourge which caused a high mortality rate in our flocks and incalculable damage to the fleeces.

Just another word about the Bowes property. Until a few years ago it seemed as if this station was, like Tipperary, to remain in the possession of the Burges family. However, when the Government was repurchasing estates right and left for closer settlement, Mr. William Burges of this city, and the latest member of the family to own the ancestral estate, yielded to a temptation to sell the property, portions of which are now owned by small farmers.

The second period of pastoral settlement of the Champion Bay country began, as I have said, in 1870. The country then tackled ranged from 200 to 400 miles distant from


the coast and embraced the extensive area forming the watershed of the Murchison River and its tributary streams and billabongs. The first of the pioneers of this district was Mr. John Perks, a shepherd in the employ of Mr. Burges. He it was who spied out the land and persuaded his employer to take up country at Yuin. But to the Wittenoom Brothers, Edward (afterwards Sir Edward) and Frank, belongs most credit for the wide settlement which followed. Stations were established by them and others at Gabyon, Murgoo, Relele, Boolardy, Meka, Nookawarra, Mileura, Moorarie, Berringarra, Woolgerong, and Three Rivers. Among the more prominent squatters who followed the Wittenooms were W. Howard in association with Chan. Shenton, Thomas Little, the Walsh Bros., W. Butcher, Tom O’Grady, M. Morrissey, Lock Burges, John Drummond, W. Aitken and the Darlot Bros. Within 20 years of its first settlement the Murchison district possessed more sheep and was producing more wool and mutton than any other district of the colony. It was ideal sheep country, rich in natural pastures and top feed and an abundance of water. Indeed, the outstanding feature of the Murchison country is the height of its water table. Wells throughout the district are all of shallow depth, ranging from 20 to 40 feet, their supply never failing even after long rainless periods. The country when first occupied was in some respects compared with the Riverina country in New South Wales and to the Darling Downs of Queensland. Unfortunately, however, its recuperation after long dry spells has not been so complete as these eastern sheep lands, with the result that its carrying capacity has substantially diminished.

Having now completed a cursory survey of the hinterlands of Geraldton and their resources, a word or two must now suffice for the town itself. The purchasers of the first town lots in Geraldton were the Colonisation Insurance Co. and Thomas Henry Carter of Fremantle, the date of both grants being June 4, 1851. The town was declared a municipality in 1871. Like most of the older towns of Australia, Geraldton grew subject to the dictates of no town planner and consequently, from an aesthetic point of view, suffers sadly. Situate as it is on the crescent Champion Bay with its main street, Marine Terrace, stretching for two miles along the waterfront and following the contour of the beach, could have been made a street of which its citizens for all time could have been proud. But before its possibilities were realised much land was alienated on the sea side of the Terrace and more or less thickly built over. The result is that visitors approaching the town by steamer gaze upon ugly backyards and uglier outbuildings. The only remedy for this regrettable state of things is a repurchase scheme and the demolition of these eyesores, a costly undertaking at present beyond the means of the local government body and one which a little prescience in the past would have rendered unnecessary.

Between 60 and 70 years ago there seemed to be a grave prospect of Geraldton beng literally buried by sand-drift. At the back of the town there is a range of sandhills and at the time of which I speak several of these mounts of sand, bare of vegetation, had, with the strong prevailing southerly winds, so encroached on the town that one street was fairly blotted out of existence and several houses were already buried. As the direction of the drift was townwards, it could only have been a matter of time, had preventative measures not been devised, when the place of Geraldton would have known it no more. The gravity of the position was represented to Governor Weld by Mr. Maitland Brown, then member for the district in the Legislative Council. Mr. Brown suggested that the Greenough farmers who had suffered the loss of their entire crops by red rust should be employed with their teams in collecting seeds of native shrubs, in broadcasting these seeds over the bare hills, in cutting scrub, and with this scrub covering the hills as with a mantle. This scheme was approved and was crowned with success. Geraldton to-day has a pleasant green background, and on what were drifting sand dunes many houses have been erected, and on one of the once threatening drifting hills stands the noble Roman Catholic Cathedral.

When the penal settlement at Port Gregory was abandoned the convicts who had been engaged were, with their pensioner guards, transferred to Geraldton. Of their sojourn there the town has, as reminders, a number of old deserted public offices of which they were the builders. These buildings, useful enough in their day, possess no architectural charm. They included a


police station, Court House, Customs House and Soldiers’ Barracks. These barracks were demolished a few years ago and on their site there has been erected the finest block of public offices of any provincial town in the State. But with the history of Geraldton and of the Champion Bay country in these latter days I am not here concerned. My references to both have been to their beginnings, to their early history alone. Were it otherwise, there would be much of interest to tell of gold discoveries, railway extensions, and of that closer settlement which gives to Geraldton an assured future as a town and port.

Even in those early days of which I have been speaking, Geraldton did not lack cultural agencies. Apart from the State and Convent Schools, the town had its Dramatic Society, Musical Union and Working Men’s Institute, and last, but not least, its newspaper. The Working Men’s Institute has since been converted into a well stocked Municipal Library housed in a substantial brick building originally erected for a railway station and a stationmaster’s quarters. The Musical Union, unfortunately no longer in existence, occupied in the eighties a foremost place among the musical societies of the colony. Strangely enough there was in Geraldton at that time a galaxy of talent which gained for it a colony-wide attention. This society had a membership of eighty or ninety and was the first amateur body, not only in Western Australia but in Australia, to stage the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. It produced in turn “Trial by Jury,” “Pinafore,” “The Pirates of Penzance,” “Princess Ida,” “lolanthe,” “Patience,” and “The Mikado.” It owed this distinction to the fact that its conductor and inspiring musician was Mr. Francis Jerome Hart, a close friend of Mr. D’Oyly Carte, the producer of these operas at the Savoy, London. With such acclaim was the society’s production of these operas hailed that on one occasion Chief Justice Onslow, accompanied by Mr. Justice Hensman, travelled by steamer to Geraldton expressly to witness one of these performances, on which both bestowed enthusiastic praise. These two gentlemen may fairly be described as cognoscenti, since Sir Alexander was himself a singer and said to be the finest tenor south of the line, while Mr. Justice Hensman was a virtuoso of the violin and president of a kindred society, the Perth Musical Union.

As further evidence of the artistic heights to which the Geraldton Musical Union aspired and attained, mention should be made of its successful production of two other popular operas, namely, Balfe’s “Bohemian Girl” and Wallace’s “Maritana.”

Of Geraldton’s newspaper, the “Victoria Express,” all that need be said is that it was founded in 1879 and from that day to this, although its name has been changed more than once, has been among the most ably conducted journals and probably the most influential provincial journal in this country. For this reputation it owes most to the Hon. J. M. Drew, who, for many years as its principal proprietor and editor, applied those administrative and literary talents which have since distinguished his parliamentary and ministerial career.

A passing reference to the Abrolhos Islands would seem to be an essential part of a paper dealing with the Champion Bay country. This archipelago, distant about 40 miles from Geraldton and separated from it by the Geelvink Channel, possesses an historical interest for all West Australians, associated as it is with the visitations, accidental and otherwise, of the early Portuguese and Dutch navigators. It is not, however, of the historic associations of these islands I propose to speak, but of their claim to be regarded as. among the most alluring playgrounds and holiday resorts of the State. The Abrolhos form a chain of islands about forty miles in length from north to south and constitute, because of the variety of their animal and bird life and the wealth of their fishing grounds, a sportsman’s paradise. Twice I have visited these islands and so can speak of things I know and testify to what I have seen of them. As one of a party of thirteen I once spent a fortnight on the two largest islands of the group, named respectively the East Wallaby and West Wallaby. Both these islands at the time of my visit were honeycombed with thousands of mutton birds’ nests, wallabies abounded in the scrub, snipe could be found aplenty along the beaches, luscious oysters grew thicky on the rocks where they were easily accessible, seals gamboled singly and in pairs along the shore, while the fishing there was to the taste of the most ardent of our anglers. One morning four of our party in a dinghy got on to a schnapper bank and before lunch had landed 24 of these delectable fish. The school was so


ravenous for bait that our lines became tangled under the boat with fighting fish. No less exciting was our experience with turtle. Between the East and West Wallaby Islands there runs a narrow, shallow spit which seems to be the turtles’ happy hunting ground. On two occasions during our holiday we organised a turtle drive. Extending ourselves in line with short intervals our plan was to wade across the spit. The aggregate of our catch on these occasions was five fine specimens. The technique adopted in their capture was simple enough. Quietly we would wade the spit until a turtle was sighted. Chase would then be given and a capture effected by one of us falling on the back of the turtle, then turning him topsy turvy and pushing him ashore. On another occasion it was my privilege to visit Pelsart and Rat Islands in company with Mr. Florence Broadhurst, who had leased them from the Government. From these two islets very many thousands of tons of guano were obtained and shipped to Stettin in Germany for chemical treatment. This Abrolhos guano, of which comparatively little now remains, consists of the droppings—it may well be over years of time—of the sooty terns, birds not quite so large as the common pigeon. These birds frequent the islands literally in millions. At the time of my visit the ground was obscured by their presence when they were settled and the sky obscured when they were disturbed and took to flight.

Garry Gillard | New: 15 April, 2021 | Now: 5 September, 2022