History blooms in Western Australia’s wildflower country
From June through November, Western Australia erupts in mass bloom with more than 12,000 wildflower species. As you spot wildflowers in Perth and up north, discover heritage landmarks, museums and stories along the way.
Perth’s Kings Park is one of the world’s largest inner-city parks – even bigger than New York’s Central Park – and perhaps the most colourful, too. In September, manicured flowerbeds bloom, while rare milkmaids, and pink fairy and donkey orchids grow wild around the nature trail.
But Kings Park, so called to mark the accession of King Edward VII to the British throne in 1901, is also a great introduction to the city’s local history. With ties to the Swan River’s Nyoongar dating back more than 40,000 years, the park has various Aboriginal sites including Beedawong, a stone amphitheatre used for Dreamtime storytelling and dance performances, and the Boodja Gnarning Walk, a bush trail exploring Noongar use of the land.
The lush grounds also boast more memorials than any other park in Australia. The State War Memorial, with dizzying views of the Perth skyline and river, is particularly worth the hike up Mt Eliza.
John Forrest National Park
About a 40-minute drive east of Kings Park, John Forrest National Park is a wildflower wonderland, with cascading waterfalls, towering jarrah and marri (red gum) trees, and more than 500 species of flora. Take a leisurely drive around Park Road to spy distinctive blooms like the feather flower and heart-leaf flame pea, or set out on a walking path to see them up close.
The park is also the site where CY O’Connor guided the construction of the Eastern Railway Deviation, credited with transforming WA’s then dismal railway system. The maverick engineer’s public works attracted criticism, and this is thought to have been a contributing factor to his suicide. Mystery remains – as do remnants of the railway, including a 340-metre-long tunnel.
More opportunities to discover O’Connor’s engineering prowess can be found in the rolling hills of Mundaring, carpeted with everlastings, myrtles and blue Leschenaultia. No 1 Pump Station – part of O’Connor’s ambitious Goldfields Water Supply Scheme – is a state treasure.
See immaculately preserved boilers and learn about the Golden Pipeline, the world’s longest freshwater pipeline at nearly 600 kilometres. It pumps 90 million litres of water per day, and has been operational since 1903. You can also see intact railway fragments at the turn-of-the-century Mundaring Station Master’s House.
A short drive inland, picturesque Toodyay bursts with lavender fields, olive groves and wildflowers. See convict-era architecture, hear the legend of bushranger Moondyne Joe at the Newcastle Gaol Museum, and watch wheat turn to flour at Connor’s Mill Museum, a steam-driven flour mill from the 1870s.
Further north, Australia’s only monastic town, New Norcia, has Christmas tree flowers and kangaroo paws – and plenty of monastic memorabilia. At the Museum and Art Gallery, visit the ground floor 19th-century New Norcia display, marvel at paintings by Spanish and Italian masters, and examine the botanical drawings of Charles Austin Gardner.
Be stirred by tales of the Aboriginal families that lived and worked in the community at the Mission Cottages Interpretation Centre or, on Saturdays in the Monastery Parlour, meet a monk who will tell stories from history. Much of the town’s striking Spanish-style architecture has remained unchanged since the late 1840s.
Monsignor J.C. Hawes Heritage Trail
Speaking of interesting architecture, the self-drive Monsignor J.C. Hawes Heritage Trail highlights 15 magnificent buildings created by architect and priest Monsignor John Hawes. It weaves north through eight country towns in the Murchison region, dotted with pompom everlastings, purple fairy orchids and the famous rare wreath flower.
One stop is Northampton, where Hawes designed the Sacred Heart Convent and the Church of Saint Mary of Ara Coeli. Deviate from the trail to visit the Oakabella Homestead, a sprawling ranch whispered to be WA’s most haunted property. As well as chilling tales of its inhabitants’ unfortunate fates – from a maiming in a dynamite explosion to a fatal crushing under a collapsing window – it houses a wide array of settler-era artefacts.
Still further north lies Cue, where bush tomato and emu bush unfurl in winter. This tiny ghost town – population 176 – once thrummed at the centre of the gold rush, and the main street still gives a glimpse into a bygone era.
The spooky Masonic Lodge, owned by the National Trust of Australia, is a rare example of corrugated iron architecture (and some spine-tingling ghost stories).
Also see the Cue Public Buildings, a cluster of five weathered granite public buildings designed in the Federation Arts and Crafts style. The previously dormant Post Office has been repurposed into the town’s community and visitor centre – an award-winning example of heritage tourism – co-existing with the still-operational Courthouse and Police Station.