Kojonup is located on the Albany Highway between the towns of Arthur River and Cranbrook (that is
located slightly east of Albany Highway).
Kojonup is the largest town on the highway except for Mount Barker and is an important rural service centre.
There is a historical walk trail that leads visitors around the town to most of the historically significant buildings.
The area is becoming known for wine production as well as the production of olives and olive oil.
A larger than life wool wagon was constructed and opened as an attraction in 2001. The project pays homage to the early wool industry.
The area was first explored in 1837 by surveyor Alfred Hillman who with a small party had set out from Albany to survey a route for the
Albany to Perth road via York. On February 28th Hillman was directed to a fresh water spring by a group of Aborigines. Hillman wrote in
his field book 'This would be a good place for a station.'
An army barracks was established in January 1838 to protect the mail on the Perth to Albany run. It was staffed by members of the 21st Regiment of Royal
British fusiliers and led by Lieutenant Armstrong. For some unknown reason the barracks seem to have been abandoned by August 1838 and later re-occupied
by the 51st Regiment. (Armstorng had died suddenly while stationed at Vasse.)
In 1840 (another source says December 1838) Hillman returned and surveyed the townsite. The party ran critically short of water on the journey and Hillman
pressed on ahead with horses to reach water at Kojonup. The party eventually all made it to the spring to find not only fresh water but also a crop of vegetables
planted by the 21st Regt. that had been abandoned and left to grow.
On September 9th 1840 some town lots were offered for sale but until a solution to the poison bush problem was found the Kojonup area was to remain unpopular.
Sheep and cattle being taken through the area were sometimes muzzled to stop them eating the dangerous plants.
Edward John Eyre brought a flock through en-route from Albany to York
and lost over 200 animals.
Early attempts at grazing in the area failed as poisonous plants killed off the sheep. Alfred Symons was the first settler to be granted land but he abandoned the
100 acres he was granted after losing too much money. By 1843 the area had been all but abandoned. By 1846 most land owners did not live on their properties
in the area and the most people there were either just passing through or were shepherds.
The colonial botanist (Drummond) investigated possible causes of the poisoning and discovered that a shrub with a pea like flower was the likely cause. The
Agricultural Society conducted their own experiments at Guildford and the York Road Poison was named.
A detachment from the 96th Regiment of Foot led by Cpl. Richard Norrish, replaced the 51st. 23 months later the detachment was sent to Perth but Cpl. Norrish
decided he wanted to stay in the area and was discharged from the army. He and his family returned to Kojonup in 1849.
Norrish planted both wheat and barley and the first grain was harvested in 1850.
With the arrival of convicts in W.A. there were also a number of Pensioner Guards whose job was to supervise they convicts both during
the voyage and while they served out their sentences. The term 'Pensioner' is misleading to modern readers who view the term as meaning people in their mid to late
60s or older. The Pensioner Guards were in fact returned British service men, many of whom were in the prime of life and were fit and healthy. They were offered a
much better prospect in Australia than they could have hoped for back in England so many came out and made their homes here.
A number of Pensioner Guards were stationed at Kojonup, that by now was becoming a small settlement. Convicts were there to work on building the Perth to Albany
road and parties were supervised by Lt. W. Crossman who was engineer in charge. By 1855 the rough cut road had been established and work was to continue to
improve it over the years.
By 1863 the Pensioner Guards had established small holdings for themselves and had 35 acres under crop.
In 1870 John Forrest and his expedition to Adelaide passed through the town
and the following year the Districts Road Act created the need for the establishment of a local Road Board.
The railway, that may have brought prosperity to the town, went to Katanning instead and Kojonup continued to stagnate.
The town seems to have been a little out of control in the early days with one report stating:
'Kojonup has become notorious as a most drunken and lawless place.'
The old barracks were subsequently used as a school, a church and later as a private dwelling. In 1963 it was purchased by the local council and is now a
museum. It is one of the many buildings on the register of the National Trust.
Said to be named after an Aboriginal word, koja, meaning stone axe. Another possible source of the name is thought to be the Aboriginal word kogynup
meaning edible bulb.
Ruby Penna wrote the following about the naming of the town:
I'll tell you of its origin as it was told to me
Those granite outcrops rising in the near vicinity
Were the places where the kooja - the native axe was made
By fixing sturdy handles to a sharpened granite blade
They tell me natives used to build a campfire on the spot
Till granite rock beneath the fire was rendered piping hot
They sluiced with water from the spring that trickles to this day
Inducing a contraction for the rock to flake away
Came the sorting and the shaping and the sharpening with care
The adding of a handle - quite an intricate affair
Strong sinews of the kangaroo to bind it tight and neat
With manna gum to strengthen it the Kooja was complete.
TALL TALES AND TRUE
Man shot by own gun.
James Stewart used to get rid of dingoes in the area by setting up a rifle with a trip wire. He would wake early (4am) and go out to disable the trap in case
anyone else might be in the area.
One morning it was very foggy and he mistook his location walking right in to his own trap. He was shot in the leg and crawled part way home before his family
heard his cries for help.
He subsequently lost the leg due to gangrene and drank two glasses of whisky and smoked a pipe as the doctor removed his leg. After the wound healed he
made himself a wooden leg out of a jam tree and was able to get around again.
At Easter time in 1847 troopers at the barracks woke one morning to find 300 or so Aborigines surrounding the building armed with spears. When they got
within about a hundred yards of the barracks they stopped and sat down. Three of their number approached the building and Corporal Norrish grabbed his
musket and advanced on them. After a short confrontation the Aborigines retreated and it appeared that they were looking for two natives, Bimbert and his
The group returned around two weeks later and found Bimbert and George's wife and child near the barracks. They were promptly speared, Bimbert five
times and George's wife speared about thirteen times (two spears actually went through her child as well). Troopers advanced on the scene after hearing
the commotion and the large group of Aborigines started to move off. At this point George arrived and on seeing the condition of his brother, his wife and his
child he flew into a berserk rage. The troopers fearing that the large group would make quick work of George followed him out but arrived to find George in
his fury had speared three warriors and driven the rest away.
Not much hope was held for the recovery of Bimbert or George's wife, but recover they did. Bimbert lived until 1898
Apex Park, Farrar Reserve, Kojonup Spring, Lake Towerinning, Rose Maze, Koja Place, Historical walk trail, Farrar Reserve, Myrtle Benn Flora and Fauna Sanctuary.
Spirit of Kojonup (train) runs on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month.
BUILDINGS OF NOTE
Military barracks 1840s, Elverd's cottage, Royal Hotel, Glen Lossie 1864, Former post office 1897, Commercial Hotel - Western Australia's oldest continually licensed hotel.