Window on WA's Great Southern region

Wandering the far south of Western Australia

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It's little wonder that WA is often called 'the Wildflower State' - but there's another name for its locals. 

I have to admit that I am a 'sandgroper'. This less-than-flattering nickname was long ago given to residents of WA, probably because soil in the coastal areas is very sandy.

Growing up in this part of Australia, it is only natural that I developed a lifelong love for the Western Australian spring and all it brings. Although I now live thousands of kilometres away, just seeing pictures of these wildflowers always triggers a severe case of nostalgia. 

So, indulge me, please.

Not interested in flowers? Read on, as there is so much more in this rich and beautiful part of the state: sandy white beaches, rugged mountain ranges, wartime memorabilia, stunning produce, as well as dangerous cliffs - and even a famous dog-shaped rock!

If you are a flower-lover, the best time to visit most parts of Western Australia is during spring, when hundreds (some say several thousand) species of wildflowers blossom. Many are unique to this part of the continent, and some are not found anywhere else in the world.

The good news is that 'spring' in WA may last from June to October, depending on the region - and the season. If you want to be sure of seeing them at their best...

...make friends with a local resident and ask them to second-guess when their region is going to be in full blossom - OR contact the information centre at Kings Park & Botanic Garden, OR if heading to the Great Southern Region contact this page...  

JUST FOR FUN test your skill at guessing the names of these common but very beautiful south-western WA flowers (above).

(Answers at the end of this page)

~~~

 

Heading south from Perth

The magnificent Stirling Ranges (above) is as far as we will go, but there's so much to enjoy along the way.

Perth is just over 400 kilometres north of the beautiful coastal city of Albany, the major city and port in the region that is rightly called the Great Southern. And, of course, we travel south on the Albany Highway. 

Come along with us, settle back and enjoy the roughly five-hour drive through beautiful farming country. That's if you don't take a break - which you really should - at one of the country towns along the way.

Just off the highway is this town which, until recently was often bypassed, despite its lovely rural scenery. Originally a rail and timber town on the banks of the Hotham River, it had begun to decline until the discovery and establishment of a bauxite mine in 1979, followed by a gold mine in 1987.  

This rodeo rider, channelling the more rural past, reminds us that Boddington now has an annual Sculpture Competition and examples may be seen throughout the town.

Because of the recent industries, the town has become a thriving centre, and worth a side trip that hardly adds anything to the mileage as another road out of town links, further south, to the highway.

On other trips we had stopped at the Williams Wool Shed about half-an-hour south, for a snack or a coffee - and I could sneak in some shopping. The shop's fine woollen clothing and souvenirs are so fascinating that we didn't dare stop this time, as we still had a 250-kilometre drive ahead before reaching Albany.

Next, there is Kojonup, about a hundred kilometres north of Albany.

During the early years of white settlement, this was an important staging post for horse drawn mail coaches, heading to the southern coast. In the very early days, because of its isolation, a Military Barracks was built here, and there was also another vital drawcard - a freshwater spring. Today the Kojonup Pioneer Museum shares this site, displaying local memorabilia and artefacts.

The thriving town is now the commercial hub for a rich agricultural region that is known and well-respected for its fine wool and wheat. Even this street-art (above) pointing towards the town's craft and gift shop in the main street, lends itself to the creative and colourful use of one of these local products!

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Albany, the coastal city that has it all.

Not everyone realises that settlement of Albany, in 1826, predated the Swan River Colony in 1829. Originally it was called Frederick Town in honour of Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, but became Albany in 1831.

The locals agree that this is a great city, and proudly display bumper stickers - even on their bikes!

Who, me? Can't stay away from food? Well, possibly, but more likely, if there is a Farmers' Market anywhere, I feel duty-bound to check it out.

After all, here the produce will be freshest, and where else can you chat with the local producers and gather all sorts of insider information about a town?

We were very interested in this sheep's cheese, not only because it looked delicious, but it is a cheese that is often difficult to find. It pressed a nostalgia button too, because the Porongurup Range is east of Mount Barker and near to Kendenup, a small town where I once lived for a while. Sadly those mountains were not on this trip's itinerary, so this artisan cheese would simply have to do.

The aromas of these loaves led us directly to the stall of a local baker, Bred coThis bread has become well loved in the region, and now others are singing its praisesOf course we bought some, realising that we could not eat it all while it remained fresh but nevertheless, paired with the cheese, it made the next few on-the-road lunches seem like feasts.

Obviously, we had no way to cook these, but we ogled them. Technicolour caulis??? What next!

Of course, we were looking forward to dining in Albany during this whistlestop trip. Locals had recommended this place, Six Degrees, on the waterfront, and we were not disappointed.

Pub grub at its best, with a relaxed vibe. This beef burrito was just right to end a busy day of travel.

A couple of doors along the same street we found this interesting place. G&Co operates a wood-fire bakery, coffee house and communal table. 

And this cafe. There's certainly a place for everyone's tastes in this town....

Dining in Albany...

~~~

 

Australia goes to war

The Anzac Peace Plaque, commemorating the battle of Lone Pine has been erected in Peace Park near the city centre.

In 1914, my great-uncle along with 41,000 other strong young men, left Albany harbour bound for the excitement of their lives. They thought.

My relative fought at Gallipoli, but returned home with severe injures, a broken young man who died a couple of years later. One of his brothers made it to the Somme, in France, but he never returned.

The Great War affected almost every family, and it was in 1930 that a local padre led a group of his parishioners to the summit of Mount Clarence  to lay a commemorative wreath to honour the fallen. This act is regarded as one of the first dawn services to honour lives lost in war.

Today, on the summit of Mount Clarence, the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial stands, replicating one that had been commissioned to stand on the banks of Port Said in Egypt in 1932. This is the site of the annual Anzac Day dawn service in this city.

Now, in a chain of events, this memorial overlooks the islands in the channel at the mouth of King George Sound (below).

Flowers are everywhere and here, amongst the long views of the sound and the memorials, we discover old man's beard (no explanation needed) and pimelea, commonly known as rice flowers.

Even the memorial itself has suffered. During the Suez crisis, the original memorial in Port Said was destroyed by Egyptian Nationalists. The masonry was salvaged and brought to Australia for re-erection. Here is the duplicate, unveiled in 1964. Bullet marks from the Suez conflict can still be seen on the granite blocks.

It is worth taking some time to read the moving words on the plinth below the crumpled 'letter' above it.

The poignant quotations were obtained from original letters and postcards sent by Australian soldiers to their loved ones during their deployment in World War I.

 

This sculpture, inscribed on aluminium, was inspired by a fragment of a love letter that a soldier had sent to his loved one and is in the shape of a torn piece of paper with the words 'MY DEAREST LOVE' laser-cut through it. Take time to read the rest of the soldier's words too.

High on Mount Adelaide, in the Princess Royal Fortress, the National Anzac Centreopened in 2014, a century after the soldiers left for war, is much more than simply a museum.

The rest of the Princess Royal Fortress is also worth exploring. Allow plenty of time for your visit as there is much to see on the 240-hectare site.

The grounds surrounding the centre bring much to life. Here, you will find the RAN and HMAS Perth Interpretive Centre (above) the Princess Royal Battery, bunkers, trenches, Nissen huts, original naval guns, torpedoes, missiles and much more.

~~~

 

Back in the town, we see this recipe in a shop window, a sweet reminder of the desperate days gone by, and better times ahead. 

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If you had to name this rock...what would you call it?

As a small child, visiting Albany, I was always fascinated by this huge granite rock. You can get an idea of the scale from the footpath and the trees beyond. 

Dog Rock has long been a treasured landmark and it is close to busy Middleton Road that leads to stunning Middleton Beach. The local Noongar people know the rock as Yacka which means 'wild dog tamed' and it is thought to be an ancient territorial boundary marker.

Seen as a traffic hazard, local authorities painted the white 'collar' on it in 1938, to make it more visible. After several suggestions to remove or destroy it, Dog Rock is now classified by the National Trust.

You can be sure Dog Rock's not going anywhere!      

~~~

 

Albany rocks....

From a distance, looking over Princess Royal Harbour towards Albany, everything appears calm and cosy. Yet, driving south just a few more kilometres, along Frenchman Bay Road...

...we enter an ancient land.

These scattered boulders, imbedded now, are souvenirs of many millenniums of the rough and tumble of the chilly and often-violent Southern Ocean...next stop Antarctica

In recent years, Torgadirrup National Park has been tamed a little - boardwalks and viewing platforms of both The Gap and Natural Bridge have been added - but the environs remain dangerous.

Wild and remorseless, the waters have smashed into these cliffs forever, sculpting them and destroying boats and taking people's lives in their wake.

At a safe height, a strong lookout area has now been built above the churning waters. Even from this distance, the noise and ozone is sobering, the strength and intimidation of millions of tonnes of wild water, so close to our feet, makes us realise how terrifying it must have been for early sailors trying to navigate this unknown shore.

The Natural Bridge is exactly what it says - the product of millions of years of erosion by whipping winds and cliff-high waves gnawing at the underside. 

For the brave (think reckless and foolhardy) it might beckon as a challenge, but read on, to see what one young man experienced...

This National Park is located less than a twenty minute drive from the centre of Albany, but in that short time you cross from a modern harbour and waterside city to a destructive giant's ages-old playground - raw beauty meeting imminent peril.

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Old meets new in Albany

This replica of the two-masted Brig Amity has never sailed a voyage and remains ashore.

However the real Amity, hailed originally from Canada. Her name meant 'friendship' and we suppose, in a friendly deal, in 1824 the brig was sold to Australia's colonial government . 

In 1826 the government contracted for the transportation from Sydney of 21 soldiers and 23 convicts to establish the brand-new settlement at King George Sound, later the site of Albany.

It was a rough and dangerous six-week trip across the wild waters south of the continent before they arrived at the shore.

The 142-ton ship went on to suffer many more journeys on various Australian coasts, before being grounded off Flinders Island in Bass Strait. The crew escaped, but this rime the valiant brig was totally wrecked.

What we see now on the harbour's edge is an exact replica, open to the public.

It is well worth taking a tour to gain an idea of the difficulties of sailing two centuries ago.

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Old meets new

As the first town in the state, it is no surprise that near the harbour, some lovely old buildings survive. The Old Post Office, was begun in 1869, and it is now part of Albany's University campus.

On the Amity Trail, there are several museums, including the Old Whaling Station (easy to visit on the way to The Gap) and many buildings, including cottages and the Old Gaol (1850).

Originally built in 1898, in a stylish Federation Carpenter Gothic style, the Peace Park Rotunda still overlooks manicured gardens and the harbour. It's an ideal place to relax and regroup.

Pick up details on other historical sites from the Albany Visitor Centre...

Nearby, at the contemporary end of architectural style is the Albany Entertainment Centre linked to the town by a high bridge. Managed by the Perth Theatre Trust this state-of-the-art building was opened in 2010.

Finally, we take a last look over the coastline that has seen so much in almost two centuries since white settlement, and thousands more before that.

Let's not forget that this is not only a bustling port-city welcoming cruise ships with hundreds of passengers eager to visit this outpost, but also a busy world-class facility loading grains, mineral sands and other exports to be taken across the world.

Those silos and loading facilities at the top of the picture (above) are truly vital to the economy of WA, as well as local producers.

~~~

Head for the hills ...the Stirling Ranges

On our final day we drove around a hundred kilometres north-east from Albany, and in that hour we had left the coast well behind, finding ourselves in rich agricultural country.

We had planned this trip for springtime, and so were not surprised that in many places the roadsides were rich with flowers. It felt that we were driving through a garden rather than countryside. Trees, shrubs, orchids and smaller flowers in various shades of red, orange, purple, blue and white flanked us for kilometres.

Our destination was this park, noted for the craggy mountain range, often simply called 'The Stirlings'.

The park is said to be home to up to 1500 species of native wildflowers...

...and this healthy, 3-4 hour return, hike-worthy destination.

Bluff Knoll (above) is a striking landmark, 1095 metres high, the highest peak in the southern half of Western Australia.

It is definitely photo-worthy as Gordon discovered!

In 2006, the Stirling Range received Australia's highest heritage honour when, in recognition of its outstanding biodiversity, it was added to the National Heritage List.

It would be impossible to sight all the flora in this rich region. As if having 1500 species is a record breaker, there are eighty species only found in the range. This is Kunzea, sometimes called tick-bush.

The Southern Cross flower is prolific in the Stirling Ranges, too, particularly at the base of Bluff Knoll. Every now and then it is possible to find five-pointed stars, we were told, with the assurance that those are as lucky as a four leaf clover, and definitely more delicate and beautiful.

If, like us, you only have time to reach the lookout at the base of Bluff Knoll, the trip is well worth the journey.

Looking one direction, from the lookout, there is endless bush and farmland.

Looking the other way, we see the foothills, and a Yakka or native grass tree, centre-stage in the photo. Interestingly yakka is neither a tree, nor a grass...Read this to find out what it really is!

There are facilities, including benches for returning hikers to collapse on - and this stunningly decorated mural.

Even the more common blossoms are worth examining. A branch of white gum blossom has the aroma of honey and may well be hosting bees if you look closely enough .

Nearing sunset we take some final photographs of one of earth's hidden gems.

The local indigenous people have another name for the Stirling Range. They call it Koi Kyenunu-ruff which translates as 'mist moving around the mountains'. Bluff Knoll is called Bular Mial.

At this altitude, mist gathers often, underlining the great spiritual significance of the area to the traditional Aboriginal people of south-west Western Australia, who regard this area as home to a powerful ancestral being.

We tear our gaze from the distant views and at my feet is this tiny white Trigger plant, with a role of its own too. When an insect brushes its stamen, the little trigger' - here tucked demurely behind - pops over and transfers some pollen to the visitor. 

Finally in the sunset, we turn and head back towards Albany.

 

It is time to say goodbye to this coastal city with a rich heritage - and surely an even brighter future.

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Next day, finally...we leave the town with a smile.

Dog Rock rocks! We discover that some smart (and agile) person had decorated the dog's 'nose'!

Guess that pretty well sums up the town itself: plenty of style for those who seek it, but also beauty, danger, nostalgia and a dash of whimsy.

Albany, your roots are anchored deep into the Great Southern soil of this continent. You may have been Western Australia's first white settlement, but your history is boundless, and your future assured.

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Names for those flowers at the top of the page:

1. Sun orchid

2 Spider orchid

3. Blue tinsel lily (Calectasia cyanea)

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FIND OUT MORE ABOUT Western Australian wildflowers...

 

Words and photographs: ©Sally Hammond

Video: ©Gordon Hammond

Sally & Gordon Hammond travelled independently on this trip.

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PLEASE NOTE: This trip was taken pre-Covid, so some places may not be open and operating as they were at the time we visited.

 

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