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

Early Days, Volume 5, 1955-1961

Mingenew Story

Robert Stephens

Robert Stephens, 'Mingenew Story', Early Days, Volume 5, Part 5: 59-79.



The purpose of this monograph is to present, as in an hour glass, a brief record of one small facet of the early pastoral expansion of the Swan River Settlement from which the State of Western Australia has emerged.

Confined to an area of the watersheds of the Upper Irwin River and its tributaries the story provides a cameo of the pioneer settlement growth and development of that portion of the Victoria District within the boundaries of the Upper Irwin Road Board District (now Mingenew) and of the town of Mingenew, its civic, business and cultural centre located on and surrounding the age-old spring from which both the town and the road board district derived their names.

Prior to the arrival of Captain James Stirling, R.N., at Swan River commissioned to found a Colony in south-west New Holland, Dutch navigators during the previous three centuries had roughly charted its long coastline. This, more often by accident rather than design, on their trading voyages to the East Indies. On their charts they had named the most prominent physical features but had gained little, if any, knowledge of its vast interior.

Captain Stirling’s first datum peg of the Western Australia to be was driven at the mouth of the Swan River on the 1st June, 1829, where, a month previously the leader of his advance guard. Captain Charles Fremantle, R.N., had formally claimed possession for the British Crown of the whole of Australia not already occupied as New South Wales. After fixing the site of Perth on the 12th August following he promptly organised an examination of the country and coastline southward as far as King George’s Sound (where an outpost of New South Wales had been established late in 1826) and east-ward to the sources of the Swan and Avon Rivers. His object the locating of the. land-hungry settlers who had arrived with him and the larger numbers who continued to arrive in later ships. During 1830, already apprehensive of a shortage of suitable land for those who sought it, he sent the cutter “Colonist” northward as far as latitude 29° South to spy out the prospects for settlement east of the coastline. The cutter’s master, Lieutenant Preston, R.N., closely hugged the shore but found neither inlets, harbours, rivers nor even fresh water in any useful quantity. His report confirmed the opinions of the Dutch navigators as to its sterility.

This discouraging survey prevented any further examination northward for almost two decades.



The strange antipodean character of New Holland’s climate, soil and vegetations coupled with the almost total lack of any internal communication by water, added to the unsuitability of the majority of the first settlers for their task utmost wrecked the vision splendid of the Colony’s founder. That the settlement survived at all was largely due to Captain Stirling’s tenacity of purpose together with the energy and enterprise of the smull select band of sturdy pioneers who were determined to prosper and always had their eyes lifted to the ever-expanding demand from Bradford for merino fleece wool.

By 1835 these pioneers had proved that large areas on the inland plateau east of the Darling Range extending southward to the Poron* gorup and Stirling Ranges were almost ideal for merino sheep.

At the end of that year the number of sheep in the infant Colony had grown from the 1,469 landed in 1829 to 8,119. By 1838, when Captain Stirling left to rejoin the Royal Navy the sheep population had increased to 20,829. For the first time, but not the last, wool saved the Colony from failure.

In the early days of development the main concentration of the pioneer pastoralists centred in the watersheds of the Upper Swan and Avon Rivers where the sheep did well and the flocks multiplied. Soon other natural pastures were sought southward, eastward and later northward. Then horses and oxen had to be bred to provide communication for there were no navigable rivers. Soon nomad shepherds and flocks were scattered over large unfenced areas.

By the beginning of the 1840s the ever-increasing flocks and herds gradually compelled expansion immediately north of the Swan and Avon Valleys, with the shepherds in the van, and the theme of this monograph must follow them.


For a decade after its foundation the inland areas of the Swan River Settlement north of the sources of the Swan and Avon Rivers remained unknown. The first gleams of light upon the nature of the lands behind the sterile forbidding coast were accidentally shed by Lieutenant George Grey (later Sir George) when following the loss of their whaleboats at Gantheaume Bay, he and his party walked 300 miles to Perth. During this journey Grey discovered rivers (whose blind mouths had earlier prevented their discovery from the sea) and located the fertile valleys of their watersheds. These rivers Grey named were Hutt, Bowes, Buller, Chapman, Greenough, Irwin. Arrowsmith and Hill, and this new province he discovered he named Victoria to honour his young Queen.

The Irwin River and its tributaries in the Victoria Province were later destined to provide the stage of this story’s theme.

During 1836, three years prior to Grey’s discoveries, George Fletcher Moore, a young lawyer whose hobby was exploration, had


discovered the river which now bears his name, lie thought that the flat and undulating watershed of the Moore River compared very favourably with the lands already successfully occupied for sheep pasture on the Upper Swan and Avon Valleys. The favourable reports of Grey and Moore of an immense area of suitable land coupled with the increasing number of sheep and other livestock already mentioned slowly forced pastoralists northward. Some of these during the 1840s were Anthony O'Grady Lefroy (who founded Wale-bing), Captain Scully (Bolgart) and Fathers Salvado and Serra (New Norcia).

Despite chronic labour shortages and difficult economic conditions the pastoral industry continued to expand. Figures to the end of 1846 showed that the sheep population had grown to 102,084, horned stock to 7,583, and horses to 1,727. The sheep produced 291,368 lb. of wool valued at £13,363. Because of this the Government took steps to locate new grazing areas. The discoveries of Moore and Grey were a beckoning finger to the green pastures northward.

A trio of assistant surveyors, the Gregory brothers, trained in the Colony and already acknowledged experts in probing nature’s secrets from the Colony’s hinterlands, were sent to explore the country north-east from Toodyay. After passing Bolgart Spring a course was set north-west towards the coast at what was later to be known as Champion Bay. En route, on the banks of a northern branch of the Upper Irwin River two substantial coal seams were discovered. For a while they held promise of a valuable industry but that prospect faded when experts reported that the quality of the coal was so poor as to be almost useless.

The survey made by the Gregorys was so encouraging that two years later a second expedition was despatched to examine a much larger belt of country as far north as the Gascoyne River. That same year the census revealed a sheep population of 141,123.

The leader of the second expedition was Augustus C. Gregory, and one of his volunteer assistants Lockier Clare Burges. The Colonial Secretary, Dr. R. R. Madden, in the leader’s letter of appointment ordered—

“You will bear in mind that the primary object of this expedition is the examination of a new tract of unknown country . . . the discovery of new land of an available kind for pasture has become ... of paramount importance ... on which the interests and perhaps the fate of this Colony depend.”

The Colonial Secretary had another worry, the provision of an adequate labour force, if available pastures were discovered. Largely influenced by the newly arrived Governor Fitzgerald a majority of the people, the pastoralists and the Legislative Council began to favour the British Government’s request for the Colony to become a penal settlement as the best means of providing the labour force.


On his return to Perth, after having reached the Murchison River, Augustus Gregory was able to report the discovery of 325,000 acres suitable for sheep pasture of which 100,000 acres, in his opinion, was "better suited for agriculture." In addition he reported the existence of grassy plains covering almost the whole of the country between the Moore and Irwin Rivers and of galena lodes in the vicinity of the Hutt River.


The extensive new pastures were discovered by the Gregory brothers in the large area which Grey had named Victoria Province. Flocks were available and there was ample land but labour was still lacking for this and every other developmental task to be done in the Colony.

A public meeting specially called for the purpose, and held in Perth during February 1849 approved of an application being made to Earl Grey to make the Colony a penal settlement as the base for the operation of his cherished scheme for the reform of the best of the inmates of English prisons, with the proviso that all the incidental expenses of the scheme be borne by the Imperial Government.

The Imperial Government, with its prisons as overpopulated with felons as the Swan River Settlement with sheep, lost no time in accepting the invitation, and on the 1st June, 1850, the 21st anniversary of the Colony’s foundation, it became a penal settlement with the arrival of the ship "Scindian," the first of a long line of convict transports. The "Scindian" brought 75 convicts together with the officials necessary for the convict establishment.

The commencement of the penal establishment saw the birth of a new province in the area named by Grey, Victoria, with its main seaport town named Geraldton in the centre of its coastline on a bay between the mouths of two of Grey’s rivers, the Greenough and Chapman. The bay was named Champion after the Colonial schooner which rendered yeoman service during the birth and infancy of the new province. So much so that during the next two or three decades it was generally known as the Champion Bay district.


The focus of this story now moves to a small portion of the Victoria Province, the site of the two original pastoral leases in the watersheds of two branches of the Upper Irwin River. Copies of these leases, preserved in the State Archives were made available by the Battye Librarian (Miss M. Lukis, B.A.)

The two leases, each of 20,000 acres, recorded as Blocks 1 and 2 were selected during September 1850, to be operative for the year 1851, by Edward Hamersley and Samuel Pole Phillips trading as Hamersley & Phillips. Renewed for 1852 the Blocks 1 and 2 became leases 29 and 30 respectively.


In the lease number 29, mention is made of a marked flooded gum about the centre of a large spring about 20 chains south from the east extremity of a remarkable ironstone hill in the valley of the east branch of the Irwin River about 171 miles S.W. from the coal seams on the Irwin River discovered by the Gregory brothers already mentioned.

A lease (No. 802) of 20,000 acres granted to J. de Boulay in 1856 shows that Messrs. Hamersley & Co. still held their original leases 29 and 30, and positively identifies the large spring datum pegged- with the marked flooded gum as Mengenew Spring. One of the datum pegs of de Boulay’s lease 802 was “160 chains south from a remarkable flat topped hill, Mount Melaria,” another grazing lease (No. 894) granted to M. Morrissey for 8 years from 1/1/1857 mentions both Mount Melaria and Mengenew Spring. All the descriptions are in the handwriting of the Surveyor-General, John Septimus Roe, with the place names mentioned so spelt.

(The source of what follows, unless otherwise stated, is the Archival records provided by the Battye Librarian.)

J. T. Reilly in his published “Reminiscences of Fifty Years in W.A.” quotes in full an obituary of Samuel Pole Phillips who died at Culham, his home in Toodyay, during June 1901, which appeared in the “Northam Advertiser." The following extract is relevant:

“Mr. Phillips pioneered the district of Irwin, where he took up 20,000 acres of finely grassed and well watered land. Thither he removed the whole of his cattle. He was afterwards joined by Messrs. Vigors, Burges and Hamersley. They subsequently formed themselves into a company for carrying on the cattle breeding industry. Later when the partnership was dissolved his share consisted of 8,000 acres in fee simple and between 100 and 200 thousand acres under pastoral lease."

Evidence that these immense areas were utilised is presented in Kimberly's “West Australia" in a biography of William Dalgety Moore. This records that in 1854 Moore resigned his post in the survey office to become a jackeroo at Hamersley & Co.'s outstation on the Upper Irwin River. Promoted later to manager he held the position until he resigned in 1862. Without mentioning any particular year the biography tells that the station carried 2,000 cattle, and from 7,000 to 8,000 sheep and that the annual turnoff of cattle, sheep and wool were overlanded to Perth for sale.

It was then the accepted custom of the pastoralists in all parts of the Colony to secure control of any permanent water within their leases by the purchase of small areas surrounding such springs or soaks. In 1867 Samuel Pole Phillips secured Tillage Lease No. 4524 comprising 100 acres surrounding Mingenew Spring. Seven years later, in 1874, he purchased a 40 acre block adjoining Erregulla Spring. These two springs drew their perpetual supplies of pure water from what the State's Geological Survey Department has defined in its


Bulletin No. 108 as the Mingenew Sandplain Ground Water Province and its water as a mineral.

Mr. W. S. Oliver, born in the locality, in his published reminiscences, tells that in his boyhood Mingenew was pronounced “Min-ino” by the local aborigines and meant to them "Place of Many Waters." A map in the Lands and Surveys Department shows both Mingenew and Erregulla Springs, also small Victoria locations 400 and 687, held by Michael Morrissey and Samuel Pole Phillips respectively. On it also appear the sites of Irwin House on lease No. 4899 and live other pastoral leases numbered consecutively from the homestead (Irwin House) lease, the whole comprising an area of 34,000 acres on the Irwin River held by Lockier Clare Burges who had been a member of Augustus Gregory’s 1848 exploration party.

The location of Strawberry Hill appears near adjacent corners of pastoral leases 4901/2. Another lease No. 4744 of 6994 acres in the name of Lockier Clare Burges appears north of J. du Boulay’s original lease and Mount Melaria, near the source of the Lockier River which honours its holder's first Christian name.

Neither Edward Hamersley nor Samuel Pole Phillips erected homesteads on their Upper Irwin pastoral leases. These appear to have been controlled from Lockier Clare Burges' Irwin House. The MW.A. Almanack 1866" lists a bare dozen names as residents in the whole of the Irwin District subdivision of the Victoria District. Of these, two only, Lockier Clare Burges and Hamersley & Co., are listed as stockowners, the remainder being classified as farmers.


For nearly forty years the Mingenew outcamp remained a centre of loneliness in the immense pastoral leases previously mentioned, its only visitors the stockmen and shepherds employed by their owners. The pioneer Swan River Settlements on the Upper Swan and Avon Valley, following the Gregory Brothers' discoveries of the extensive grassy plains between the Moore and Irwin Rivers were soon linked by a bush track with the stations which were established. Following the ever-beckoning finger northward they were Coorow (William Long), Carnamah (Duncan McPherson), Three Springs, Arrino (N. W. Cook) and Yandanooka (Thomas Whitfield).

At Yandanooka the track turned north-west to bypass Mingenew Spring and reach Dongara via Irwin House, Strawberry Hill or Yardarino as the traveller's mission dictated. For those whose business was al Dongara and northward a more direct track paralleled the coast from Perth via Dandaragan.

The late George Gooch's Memoirs as edited and published by the Rev. F. W. Gunning confirm the fact that during 1870/5 the Upper Irwin River country was stocked with cattle owned mainly by the Phillips and Burges partnership branded MU" and by John Morrissey. The headquarters of the former being Irwin House and the latter Yarragadee.



A journal kept by Thomas Scott and preserved in the Battyo Library records its author’s travels in the Colony during 1870-74. After landing at Albany these travels led to all the then principal towns as far as Northampton. The portion relevant to the Mingenew Story was the record of its author's journey during 1870 to what he called the “Northern Goldfields." Its centre was Peterwangy Hill near the source of the Upper Irwin River, where one of the first discoveries of gold in the Colony was made in 1868 by a shepherd.

Whilst en route to this goldfield Scott wrote:

“When within 50 or 60 miles of the gold regions we had the good fortune to come up with a party of four who were completely fitted out for six months' prospecting."

Invited by the party's leader to travel in company Scott did r»o. As his journal mentions neither place names nor homesteads it seems logical to assume that the prospectors journeyed northward from Yandanooka direct to Peterwangy Hill. Confirmation of this is the fact that Scott's only comments on this section of his journey refer to bird life and dingoes. Mingenew Spring could have been the attraction for both as well as the prospectors as its permanent fresh water made it a watering place for kangaroos, emus and smaller marsupials. Prevalence of dingoes could have accounted also for the fact that the two original leases were used mainly for cattle and not sheep.

Be this as it may, the “Northern Goldfields" centred on Peterwangy Hill proved but a false dawn of the Rev. Peter Plancius’ Golden Province. It received its quietus at the end of 1870 from a report by Henry Y. L. Brown, the then Government Geologist, preserved in the “Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council." Portion of the Report reads—

“As regards the prospects of Peterwangy turning out to be a payable goldfield ... I am obliged to record my opinion that gold will not be found in any quantity, nor over a wide area of country."

Both opinions still remain unchallenged.


As its advocates had predicted the convict period had the effect of substantially increasing both the Colony's population and its material wealth. The former grew from 5,886 in 1850 to 25,084 in 1870. The livestock figures tell a similar story for the same period. They are, with the 1850 figures in parenthesis:—Sheep (260,186) 608,892, cattle (32,496) 45.213; horses (9,555) 22,174.

One effect of these increases was the creation of a popular demand for an elective system of Government. For the purpose of this story this demand must be confined to the system of local government designed to replace the earlier system of non-elective Town Trusts, established in the Colony in 1838.


The first Act under which Municipalities were created in the larger towns was assented to on 2nd January, 1871. At the same time the Colony's first Road Districts Act for the country areas became operative. Under its provisions the original Irwin Road Board came into being. Its boundaries and their subsequent amendments are given in Table 1 annexed. This Table shows the Board’s territory during the fifteen years subsequent to its creation ultimately comprised an immense area which extended from the western coastline and its adjacent islands to the border of South Australia. Although its population remained very small "W. H. Knight’s W.A. Almanack 1875" lists the population of the Board's area, including Dongara as 90. Issues of the Almanack for the years 1883 and 1887 gives the total population as 157 and 140 respectively.

Halley and Wilson’s Monograph "The Victoria District" lists the following pastoralists as operating in the area in 1878, Messrs. Broad, Whitfield, Foss, Fane, Smith and Lee Steere.


During the fifteen years subsequent to the proclamation of the Kimberley Goldfields in 1886 further discoveries of payable goldfields were made which extended south from it in an immense belt of auriferous country which after bulging westward to the Murchison River turned south-east to include the eastern goldfields before terminating on the Phillips River.

This period saw the following Goldfields proclaimed, the date of which is bracketed:—Kimberley (1886), Pilbara (1888), West Pilbara (1898), Ashburton (1890), Gascoyne (1897), Murchison (1891), Peak Hill (1897), East Murchison (1895), Yalgoo (1895), Mt. Margaret (1897), North Coolgardie (1895), Broad Arrow (1896), North East Coolg&rdie (1896), East Cbolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Boulder (1894), Yil-gam (1888), Dundas (1893), Phillips River (1900).

At long last the dream of the Rev. Peter Plancius of New Holland's Provincia Aurifera had become a reality.

Although situated well outside the boundaries of the location of the original Upper Irwin and Lockier Rivers pastoral leases datum pegged on Mingenew Spring, the subsequent influence of the goldfields mentioned upon the economy of Western Australia, and more particularly of those fields within the western curve of their immense auriferous scimitar upon this Mingenew Story has dictated the above reference to their discoveries.

The effect of the resultant injection of a steady stream of gold from them upon the western Colony's economy soon became apparent. Its population bounced upward in number from the 25,084 of 1870 to 179,708 at the end of 1900. In the immense areas of the gold discoveries, generally hitherto unoccupied except by small tribes of nomad aborigines new townships mushroomed into being, some of them within the boundaries of the Irwin Road Board. Their growth led to the creation of new road boards. The excisions from the


territory of the Irwin Road Board were to continue for the following forty years and more as shown in Table 1.

This monograph's theme must now concentrate its si>otlight upon the Irwin Road Board and more particularly to one of the excisions, that of the Upper Irwin Road Board created in 1901. Before doing so it may be opportune here to record that the story of beginnings so far told is equally applicable to all the road boards listed in the Table 1 mentioned.


Until 1879 Western Australia’s small population spread over its immense territory had precluded the possibility of railways. In that year a Government railway was opened to link Northampton with the port of Geraldton. Its purpose was to facilitate and cheapen the transport of ore from the mines working the galena lodes earlier discovered by the Gregory brothers.

The decade of the 1880s saw the opening of many more railway lines. These were Fremantle-Perth (1881), extended to Chidlow’s Well (1884), York (1885), Beverley (1886). On the 1st June, 1889, a line built on the land grant system was opened to link Albany, via Beverley, with Perth.

In the year of the discovery of the Kimberley goldfields the Government signed a contract with John Waddington on the land grant system for a line to connect Midland Junction with Walkaway. This contract prescribed its route which followed that of the bush track mentioned earlier linking the stations on the Victoria Plains north of the Moore River but with one exception. Instead of turning northwestward from Yandanooka the proposed railway line was to continue north to Mingenew Spring before continuing west to Dongara. The Midland Railway Company, formed for the purpose, acquired Waddington’s contract.

Mainly because of the lack of adequate funds the birth pangs of the Company were severe and protracted. By 1890 these were alleviated with financial help by the Forrest Government and the ultimate completion of the line assured. Construction of the line by the contractor, Edward Vivian Harvey Keane, was commenced simultaneously from termini at Midland Junction and Walkaway, the latter having been linked with a Government line to Geraldton opened on the 1st July, 1887.

Copies of correspondence between the Government and the Midland Railway Company preserved in the “Legislative Council’s Votes and Proceedings 1892/93M record that by 1892 the contractor was running two trains per week between Walkaway and Arrino, making a total of 154 miles completed and opened up to the 27th February, 1892. The first train on the completed line ran through on the 24th November, 1894.



By 1890 it became evident that Mingenew Spring was destined for a more important role than that of an isolated outstation in a large pastoral lease by reason of its permanent supply of pure water and location near the western bulge of the Golden Province. During 1893 Mr. F. W. G. Liebe, a sub-contractor of Keane’s, commenced the construction of the railway station.

The then owner of the former tillage lease No. 4524 of 100 acres selected by Samuel Pole Phillips, by now a freehold of the same area, was his son, Samuel James Phillips, who held it as Victoria location 1188. With an intelligent anticipation of the site’s future the latter secured the professional assistance of Henry Sandford King (later he was Secretary for Mines), then in the vicinity engaged on the survey of the Midland Railway Coy.'s land. He was instructed to subdivide the former tillage lease into 156 town allotments served with all necessary streets and access roads.

The site of this private town was on the southern boundary of the new railway station opposite the site of the new railway station to be. Its plan, in which it was named Mingenew, was registered and numbered 573 by the Land Titles Office during 1891. On it the streets appeared and were named—Railway (to provide access to the railway station), today portion of the Geraldton Highway, King, Irwin, Bride, Shenton, Victoria, William, Moore, Enanty, Linthorne, Spring (serving Mingenew Spring of the original datum peg now Reserve No. 957), Broad, Fogarty, Lee Steere, Oliver and Lockier.

Appropriately the names chosen did honour to some of the pioneers of the Irwin Road Board District and their association with the new town's creator in the development of the district it was designed to serve.


Perhaps this is the place to record a thumbnail sketch of Samuel James Phillips, the new townsite's planner. Born during 1856 on the banks of the Irwin River he was educated at Bishop Hale's School in Perth. From school he moved to complete his education on his father's pastoral properties on the Upper Irwin and Lockier Rivers and began an association with their pastoral activity which continued for the remainder of his useful life. While still a young man in 1863, he began a long connection with the public life of the district of his birth when elected a member of the Irwin Road Board and continued for many years, during several of which he held office as its Chairman. In 1885 he was commissioned as a Justice of the Peace. In 1890 he was elected member for the Irwin electorate in the Legislative Assembly—for the first Parliament under Responsible Government. He held this seat continuously until ill-health necessitated his retirement in 1904. He died on 21st June, 1920.

He never married. A quiet man, of a gentlemanly disposition he was extremely popular with the people of his district. He made a use-


ful contribution to the growth and progress of the district of his birth and Mingenew the town of his creation. It is a tribute to his modesty that no Mingenew street bears his family’s name. On the facts already chronicled in this story a lesser man would have found justification for the addition of a Phillipsville to the State's nomenclature of its towns.

His remains were laid to rest in the family vault at Culham, Toodyay. His monument is the Irwin district and his town of Mingenew on the Lockier River where his pioneer labours were woven into the tapestry of their history.


The new townsite's subdivision coincided with the proclamation of the Murchison Goldfields in 1891. During the following ten years a substantial increase took place both in the gold production and population of the (then) Colony. Expressed in ozs. the former grew in that period from 20,402 to 1,703,417 and the latter from 53,279 to 179,708 souls. Of the total gold production mentioned, that derived from the Murchison Goldfields for each of the years 1891 to 1894 inclusive expressed in ozs. totalled respectively 2,064, 24,356, 27,188 and 52,946.

The new town of Mingenew had its share of the trade created by the goldfields as it was in the track of all through movements. It passed an abundant supply of pure fresh water (a railway depot was soon to be). Its site was close enough, and on the direct route to the mining townships to the north and east for it to handle trade from the prospectors and miners who had created them and from the growing population that inevitably followed in their wake. By reason of its location it immediately became the trading and stock shipment centre for the supply of goods and services for cattle and sheep stations and their pioneers and employees already long established in the Murchison and the areas further north.

This period of rapid growth lacked a recorder in the form of a Mingenew newspaper. The most urgent concern qf its pioneer citizens was to house both themselves and their wares to cater for the demands of the evergrowing stream of goldseekers and their camp followers. The stream soon grew to a torrent by comparison with which the 1868 rush to the Peterwangy gold regions was a mere trickle.

Fortunately some records of this period are now available in the Archives of the Battye Library. They are the annual "Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council," "Mingenew Police Station Occurrences Book" and the annual issues of "Wise’s W.A. Post Office Directories.”' This story's limitations of both space and time dictate that a presentation of their picture must be compressed into a chronological cameo.


1892. Two hotels, three general stores had mushroomed into being.

1893. A railway station in course of erection used by the line's contractor conducting a bi-weekly rail service both ways between Walkaway and Arrino; the first resident Police Constable, his station, the former one-roomed pastoral outstation; the first general store, “The Little Wonder“ became a non-ofiicial post office linked by telegraph with Perth and Gerald-ton and through the former to goldmining centres of the world; a monthly mail service by horseback to Mount Magnet.

1804. An official Post Office on its present site opened, on 20th September; October, first State school opened; railway completed and operation of regular through service between Walkaway and Midland Junction operated. Mingenew—as a town name—first appeared in “Wise's W.A. Post Office Directory."

1895. First agricultural hall appeared on site of present Road Board hall; first monthly mail coach ran to Mount Magnet.

1896. Town's first Race Meeting held on 27th January; tenders called in February for erection on present site of first police station and quarters; commemorated by an athletic sports meeting, agricultural hall officially opened on Foundation Day (1st June).

1898. The town's population had increased to equal that of Dongara surveyed in 1852, the year in which Mingenew Spring had been a datum peg of Samuel Pole Phillips’ 20,000 acre pastoral lease.

1900. The townsite, on its tenth anniversary, comprised two hotels, the “Mingenew" and the “Midland," four general stores, three blacksmiths and wheelwrights, nine general carriers and one saddler.

This year saw a drop in the Colony’s gold yield from its peak of 74,667 ozs. in 1898 to 27,689 ozs. and much lower still to 14,751 ozs. by 1903. This caused the decline of many of the towns that had mushroomed during the Golden Decade.

In spite of this and a loss of trade occasioned by the opening of direct railway links, via Geraldton with Mullewa (1894), Cue (1898) and Nannine (1903) the town of Mingenew held stable. More fortunate than many of the goldfields towns, as the production of alluvial gold declined, and as its through trade to the goldfields became channelled by rail far more reliable and permanent avenues of wealth began to fill their place. Ceres, the benign goddess of agrf-culture, moved into an area forechosen as her habitat as Augustus Gregory had foreseen in 1848. By 1903 an area of 1,082 acres cropped for cereals in its environs returned a harvest which averaged 15 and 40 bushels of wheat and oats respectively. These were but a token of future annual streams of golden grain to the ultimate increases of which the railway grain storage silos today bear witness. In spite of its growth during the first ten years it remained an unproclaimed de facto town.



What is today the Mingenew Road Board contains slightly more than one twenty-fifth of the area of the original Upper Irwin Road Board’s territory when first excised from the original Irwin Road Board on the 25th October, 1901.

It is unnecessary to repeat the story of the Colony’s phenomenal increase in population and wealth which began with the gold discoveries. Here it must suffice to note that it led to an ever-exiianding demand for many things, one of the largest being agricultural and other primary products. The Forrest Government and its successors endeavoured to meet this demand by opening suitable areas of virgin land. As these developed consequential demands were made, and met, both in them and in the new areas of the Golden Province, for the creation of municipalities and road board districts. Table 1 in the appendix records the names of the new road boards whose territory from 1887 and subsequently was excised from the area of the Irwin Road Board, and also from that of the Upper Irwin Road Board after its creation, when the latter's area comprised some 19,300 square miles with a total population of 500. When these took place it reduced the area of the Irwin Road Board to 1,600 square miles.

At the initial meeting, held in the Mingenew Agricultural Hall on the 29th January, 1902, the Upper Irwin Road Board’s first elected members took their seats. They were:—J. A. Beaton, E. A. Field, M. J. Morrissey, W. S. Oliver, M. J. Ryan, S. J. Watson.

From these W. S. Oliver was elected and took his seat as the new Board's first chairman.

At this meeting W. H. Linthorne became Acting Secretary. At the second meeting he was appointed Secretary and Treasurer at a salary of 30/- per month, raised at the May meeting to £25 per annum for 12 months.

Two new members of the Board in the persons of F. Angel and R. J. Raynor took their seats at the May and November meetings respectively.

For a decade after its creation the town of Mingenew was, of course, within the territory of the Irwin Road Board, but no evidence has obtruded that the Board, which held its meetings at Don-gara, some forty miles to the westward, gave any attention to its requirements. One reason for this could have been that its site had not been proclaimed as a townsite.

Be this as it may, at one of the earlier meetings of the Upper Irwin Road Board a member asked if Mingenew was a declared townsite, and if its streets were public roads. Referred to the Undersecretary for Lands, in his reply that official ignored the latter query and advised that no way was known by which a privately surveyed townsite could be proclaimed a Government townsite, but that it could be proclaimed a municipality when it had reached sufficient importance.


So Mingenew remained a de facto town although this did not prevent its progress.


The Board’s Minutes of its natal year were as meagre as the town's public utilities. The few works approved comprised one chain of kerbing in the main Railway Street and two chains in Victoria Street together with the clearing of Shenton Street from Railway Street to the corner of the State School fence.

The receipts and payments statement for the 14 months period to 31st December, 1902, fails to show clearly whether the works referred to were carried out.

The statement mentioned records the total receipts as £379 (derived from Government Grant £300, License Fees (Carts £37, Dog £20, refunds £22). The payments totalled £377—a record of the sowing of a grain of mustard seed.

By 1905 it became clear that the de facto town was unlikely to become a ghost town like so many of those of the year of its vintage. At the December meeting of its Road Board held in the most aptly named Agricultural Hall plans were adopted for the erection of the Board's own office. Tenders for its erection were invited early in 1906, and one from Messrs. Cumming and Fletcher for £146 was later accepted.

The decision to erect the hall in the private township which had become the district's business centre vindicated the opinion of its discoverer, Augustus Gregory, that the rich lands in the watersheds of the Upper Irwin and Loekier watersheds were "better suited for agriculture” than the grazing areas further afield.

Prices of lots in the township had risen steadily in value and about this period lots 33, 35 and 36 realised £6, while few were available for sale.


Towards the end of 1905 Surveyor G. M. Hunn subdivided some fifty odd quarter acre town allotments from Government Reserve No. 8356. This and what follows from the records in the Lands and Surveys Department. The new subdivision adjoined the eastern boundary of the private townsite survey and its Railway and King Streets extended to run through it under the same names. In addition this new survey provided for three additional streets named Loekier, Ikewa and Yandanooka.

This new area was duly approved by the Governor in Executive Council on the 21st November, 1906, and gazetted a few days later. The notice proclaimed that this new area was to be distinguished by the name of Mingenew.

The original township adjoining, whose foundation and subsequent growth during the previous fifteen years had brought the Government townsite into being, still retained its de facto name and


status. But not for long as some six years later it, too, was officially proclaimed. This on the 12th December, 1912, when the Governor in Executive Council

"approved of extending the boundaries of the Mingenew Government Townsite to include the land comprised in Victoria Location 1188."

This was not intended as a nice gesture on the part of the Government to commemorate the coming of age of the original townsite but to benefit the State’s revenue fund.

Because of its Gilbertian flavour the story behind the termination of the old town’s de facto status warrants its telling. Early in 1912 a police officer in the licensing district of Irwin drew attention to the fact that licence fees paid for the two wayside houses although situated in the main business centre of the town (the original survey) were £15 each annually, because that position was not •a proclaimed townsite. If, he pointed out, they had been erected within the proclaimed Government townsite their annual licence fee would have been £50 each.

Hey presto—-the private townsite’s de facto status was removed within a year.


For some nineteen years following its creation successive members of the Upper Irwin Road Board had sought, year after year, to have its name changed to Mingenew, but were always unable to obtain the sanction of the Department of Local Government.

After eating the bitter fruits of frustration for fourteen years the request was varied when an application was lodged to have the name "Irwin” removed from, and "Dongara” substituted in the name of the Irwin Road Board. This, too, was also refused.

At long last, at the end of 1919, possibly as a reward for dogged persistence, like that of the importunate man of the New Testament, the change of the Board’s name from "Upper Irwin” to Mingenew was finally approved by the Governor in Executive Council on the 10th December, 1919, and gazetted.


During the year of the private survey of the townsite of Mingenew, an expert Commission confirmed the opinion, made some forty years earlier by Augustus Gregory, of the latent agricultural potential of the area later to become the territory of the road board district of which the town to be was the civic and market centre. This is presented in the "Final Report of the Commission on Agriculture” issued by its chairman, W. H. Venn, on the 20th March, 1891, preserved in the “Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council 1891-2.” The relevant extract reads—

"No evidence was taken of an extensive belt of agricultural country on the Upper Irwin beyond Strawberry, of a belt of the richest soil in the Colony of large extent all of which


will be tapped by the Midland Railway Company. The future settlement of this great belt of country is not at the moment a question upon which the Commission feci they have to deal, as the future will entirely depend upon the rainfall in the locality and the operations of the Midland Railway Company/’

During 1909, almost ten years after the creation of what is now the Mingenew Road Board district's territory that "belt of the richest soil in the Colony” (by then State), was still being lauded in similar strain by those qualified to express an opinion. In the interim the rainfall had been proved adequate for cereal crops and the operations of the Midland Railway Company had already proved both serviceable and adequate. One such opinion was expressed in an illustrated journal, the “Victoria and Murchison Districts of W.A.” published in Geraldton during 1909. In one section of the journal, under the caption “A Magnificent Belt of Country,” its author records—

"The finest 200,000 acre block in the State for agricultural purposes, experts would say, was that which extended from Arrino to Nangetty.”

He then lists the larger holdings within the belt of country mentioned still (in 1909) solely used for grazing purposes, areas by then freehold, as large or larger, in some cases, as Samuel Pole Phillips’ original 20,000 acre grazing lease datum pegged on Mingenew Spring.

Still in their virgin state, save their fenced boundaries, they were described as still carrying wild oats, blue bush, salt bush, trefoil, barley grass and assorted herbage of the very highest stock fattening qualities. These properties comprised some 120,000 acres owned by F. Pearse, having a frontage of twenty miles to the Upper Irwin River. By then this immense property included the area of Michael Morrissey’s Yarragadee grazing lease selected in 1857.

Another holding, half the area of F. Pearse’s property, was owned by Emanuel Bros, and Samuel J. Phillips and situated at Yandanooka.

Some others mentioned were Richard Smith’s Nangetty Station of 30,000 acres, G. J. Gooch's 25,000 acre station Bacton. Smaller properties of from five to ten thousand acres each mentioned in the article were held by Messrs. C. Smith, T. Readhead, W. Kerr, C. W. O’Halloran, John Hearn, and one known as Grant’s Irwin Paddock.

Inevitably, after the lapse of half a century, ownership of many, maybe most, of these properties has changed. Changed for the better also has been their usefulness to the State’s economy by the application of the improved techniques of scientific agriculture which have been discovered during the period mentioned.

Today, in the 1958 year of grace, a large portion of the sand-plain country of the F. Pearse holding has passed under the control of, and forms part of Mr. Eric Smart’s (an acknowledged expert in the successful use of sandplain country) Erregulla Station.


The other portion, known as Yarragadee, has passed into the possession of F. Pearse’s grandson, Mr. (Colin) W. C. K. Pearse. who successfully farms it. Mr. Pearse is the present Chairman of the Mingenew Road Board.

The 60,000 acre property of Emanuel Bros, and Phillips was repurchased by the Government in 1913 and subsequently during 1918-22 subdivided into farms which were allotted to returned soldiers of the First World War. Some fifty-five farms in all.

Nangetty is today owned and farmed by Mr. W. Butcher. Gooch’s Bacton property subdivided into a number of farms has passed to and is being utilised by other owners. Other properties repurchased for subdivision by the Government since 1921 (what follows on the authority of the Lands and Survey Department) have been as listed hereunder.

Name of Estate Purchased from Area (acres) Date of Purchase

Guranu G. J. & G. G. Gooch 10,115 8/6/1922

Yanda E. Lee Steere 4,887 2/4/1946

Manarra Broad & Sons 9,200 14/7/1947

Yandanooka D. & A. Grant 5,235 14/7/1948

Depot Hills Yarragadee-Nalbarra Pastoral Company 4,214 19/8/1948

Yandanooka A. H. Beaton 1,922 15/7/1949


The last few grains of Mingenew’s Story, as they pass quickly through the hour glass, must pay vicarious tribute to the memory of all its Road Board members and executive officers, both under its original and present names, through the names of the Chairmen and Secretaries who directed and executed their collective efforts. Those of the former appear in Appendix II and the latter in Table II. Ample evidence that the seed of their labours did not fall on barren soil exists in the following picture of the harvest.


This picture was made possible by the information made available by the Road Board’s Chairman and Secretary. It presents a record, covering a century or more, of the transition of Mingenew Spring, an oasis set in the centre of an immense area of unfenced grazing leases, into a modern country town.

The area administered by the Mingenew Road Board covers 758 square miles with a population of 1.050, of whom approximately 550 reside in the townsite.

The town and the district it serves contains 652 miles of made roads, of which 43 miles are bitumen surfaced.


In addition to the Road Board Hull mentioned hereafter its public buildings comprise a Church of England, the foundation stone of which was laid by Mrs. Elinor Oliver in 1908; a Masonic Hall, the foundation stone of which tells it was laid on 25th October, 1926; a Dominican Convent of modern design opened by the Bishop of Ger-aldton on 5th December, 1954; and a Roman Catholic School building opened three years earlier; an Infant Health Centre building erected and opened in June 1957, all additional milestones in the town's growth to those already told in the story.

As this is written tenders have already been called and it is possible that when it is read during September one of those received will have been accepted for the erection of a modern District Hall. In addition the existing hall together with the Road Board's offices are to be renovated and modernised.

An adequate supply of electricity for all the lighting and power requirements of the town flow from the Road Board’s electricity undertaking acquired during 1949, for which many additional modern power production units have been installed.

Early in its history the water supply for the town was reticulated from the Mingenew and Erregulla Springs. Today the water is drawn from a reservoir located about half a mile south from the town. This is drawn from the Mingenew Sand Plain Ground Water Province through bores sunk into it by the Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Department. The pumps are powered by electricity drawn from the Road Board's electricity undertaking. Under this Town Water Scheme which has operated since February 1953 it made possible the compulsory installation of septic tanks within the townsite. During an earlier period the town's sports were held on land owned by the Midland Railway Company. Since February 1934, Reserve 20735, then gazetted for the purpose, has been developed as a sports ground and recreation reserve. Today this is furnished with tennis courts, bowling green, golf links, football, cricket and basketball fields. On it are also a horse racing track and agricultural show ground furnished with stalls, pens and outbuildings. Other public services comprise a bush fire brigade, hospital, public library, Silver Chain Bush Nursing Centre, Infant Health Clinic and a C.W.A. Rest Room.


An acknowledgment by the author of many of the sources from which the data for this monograph have been drawn has appeared in its text. Other sources are detailed in Appendix III. For any hurt caused by the unintentional omission from these, accident rather than deliberate design is pleaded, and any due apology hereby tendered.





Kimberly’s “West Australia,” 1897.

Twentieth Century Impressions of W.A., 1901.

Cyclopedia of Western Australia, 1913.

Battye’s History of Western Australia, 1924.

Western Australian Year Book, 1902-4.

Gunning’s Lure of the North, 1952.

Cross’ Journals of W.A. Expeditions, 1829-32-33.

Geological Survey Bulletin No. 108, 1954.

Australian Scenery, Natural History, Goldfields London 1856.

Parliamentary Hand-Book W.A., 1927.

Reilly’s Reminiscences of Fifty Years in W.A.

Story of a Hundred Years, 1829-1929.

Victoria and Murchison Districts of W.A., 1909.

Halley & Wilson’s Victoria Districts.

Sundry Publications and Records for Relevant Years, as under W.A. Almanack.

Legislative Council of W.A. Votes and Proceedings.

Government Gazette W.A.

Wise’s W.A. Post Office Directory.

Statistical Register of W.A.

Mingenew Police Station Occurrences Books.

Cook’s Business Directories, 1952-53.

Minute Books Upper Irwin (later Mingenew) Road Board.

Garry Gillard | New: 8 April, 2021 | Now: 15 April, 2021