A Road Trip into the Past: Discover WA’s Unique History on the Working Life Heritage Trail
Delve into the historic past of WA’s South West region on a road trip from Harvey to Cape Naturaliste.
Mix the business of the past with the pleasure of the present on this meandering history drive. The Working Life Heritage Trail links steam trains with timber-milling hamlets, interactive mine shafts with wartime dugouts and an 1880s gaol with the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere. Quick, start the car.
Depart Perth and head towards Harvey, a pretty town surrounded by farmland, citrus orchards and dairies about 1.5 hours’ drive away. Stop at the Harvey Heritage Precinct, and the cottage that author-illustrator May Gibbs lived in as a child. It’s surrounded by a rose-dotted garden that features a 19th century-style fountain. The precinct also harbours the state’s first internment camp, purpose-built during World War ll to house “enemy aliens” such as Italian and German migrants.
Continue for 40 minutes to the regional city of Bunbury, pausing at King Cottage Museum where you can step inside a preserved 1880s house, handmade by brickmaker Henry King, that’s full of historic artefacts. Then visit the Bunbury Museum and Heritage Centre, which opened in 2016 and brims with objects revealing the area’s Indigenous culture, its shipwrecked coast and its whaling and maritime history, and shines a light on early settlers.
On the one-hour drive to Balingup, you’ll pass through a number of endearing towns, one of which is Boyanup. Pull up and have a look at two vintage steam locomotives at the South West Rail and Heritage Centre (only open on the fourth Sunday of every month, or by appointment). Further down the road, the Balingup Heritage Precinct covers the oak tree-lined Avenue of Honour and a heritage exhibition housed in the old Packing Shed – don’t miss the replica World War I dugout.
En route to Bridgetown, 20 minutes’ drive away, pause to try on miners’ clothing at Greenbushes Discovery Centre, where you can pass through a simulated working mine shaft, complete with mine blast sound effects. Then head to the lock-up, circa 1880, as you explore Bridgetown’s Old Gaol.
Nearly 40 kilometres south, fruit, vegetable and truffle farms cover the hills around Manjimup, edged by some of the world’s tallest trees. Pioneers and entrepreneurs developed the region by harvesting its abundant sources of wood, and the area’s milling history is told in the Manjimup Timber and Heritage Park. Allocate some time because the park contains the State Timber Museum, the Age of Steam Museum, a replica fire lookout tower and the Manjimup Historical Society. There’s also a cafe and playground.
The story continues in Pemberton, 25 minutes’ drive away, which was a timber town right up until 2016. Cruise along the main street and park when you see the original forestry houses – quaint weatherboards that are now dwellings for the town’s residents. Walk along these streets frozen in time, and head to the top of Brockman Street to catch a glimpse of the old mill, which was built more than a century ago. You’ll also spot it from an enjoyably rickety tram ride that cuts through the heritage precinct.
Travel for half an hour south to Northcliffe, where busy sawmills drew some 1500 settlers to the hamlet. Hear how – through blood, sweat and tears – they cleared the land, via the displays in the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum that tell their stories. There’s also a 90-year-old trading store and Group Settlement home and a bush school filled with desks.
It’ll take just over one hour to drive north-west to Nannup, where you can follow the Nannup Heritage Trail on foot. Be guided by interpretative signs that share stories and photographs of the town’s key houses and people, allowing you to learn about the past lives of these sites and buildings.
It’s only 40 minutes’ drive to Busselton, where an 1865 State heritage-listed jetty proudly wears its title as the longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere. It’s 1.8-kilometres long and you can either walk it, or take the tiny train to the underwater observatory, but first duck your head in at the interpretive centre and recently reinvigorated museum.
Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse is an enjoyable 40-minute motor to the tip of Margaret River’s northernmost point. Restoration of the working tower’s historic precinct was completed in 2019 and the lighthouse tower itself is due to reopen by June after significant works. A patch of grass, a cafe and a playground lead to an expansive deck lookout across the Indian Ocean, and you can learn about the lighthouse keepers’ daily lives on a guided tour.