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CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Situated just over one hours drive from Perth in the beautiful Avon Valley, Northam is the second largest inland town after Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
This attractive town is located on the banks of the Avon River.
Northam is just over an hour's drive from Perth and thanks to a weir across the river there is always a picturesque view and a quiet shady spot to sit and relax.
The town retains a large number of interesting historic buildings and also offers a good range of shops for travellers to explore.
The local Tourist Information centre is located next to the river and has a parking area for caravans. Although it is a day use only area there are 2 power points that caravans and motorhomes are welcome to
use while they are parked. From here it is only a short walk to the main shopping area.
The town has the only colony of white swans (Cygnus olor) in Western Australia. The swans were brought in by Oscar Bernard. While white swans in the northern hemisphere migrate during the northern winter the ones at Northam show no signs of
wanting to move. There are thought to be about 80 white swans along the Avon River but they have not survived anywhere else in the state.
Another 'claim to fame' is the pedestrian suspension bridge across the Avon River. At 117 metres long, it is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Australia. Capable of holding 400 people and withstanding 150 Kph winds,
1428 metres of steel rope was used in its construction. Two fifty six tonne anchor blocks support the bridge. It was built in 1985 at a cost of over $82,000.
The Avon Descent (an annual white water event) starts here each year and has gained an international reputation and following. The inaugural event was held in 1973 and there were 49 competitors. In 2003 there were over
800 people competing.
The area was explored by Ensign Robert Dale in 1830 and the surrounding area was settled in 1836.
It was not until 1844 that the town started to develop. (One source quotes that the town was gazetted in 1833 but other sources quote surveying being done in 1847 and lot sales in 1849-50.)
The most reliable source we have come across to date states that the townsite boundaries were established in 1836 and that lots were not surveyed until 1847 and no sales were made until 1849-50 in the
The first land grant was approved in December 1830 but of the first 16 grants that had been made by the end of 1831, only 4 had been settled. This was the usual pattern of greedy rich men gobbling up land
they never intended to settle and holding it until there was a market, then flogging it at an inflated price - one thing history teaches us is that nothing really changes.
The first building in the townsite was an inn that opened in 1845. By 1846 it had closed and another inn opened to take its place. Hotels in Northam in the early years had a difficult time due to the small
population. They changed hands, opened, closed and opened again several times - then along came the temperance movement to make things even harder.
Initially there was great confusion over the boundaries of the town and adjoining properties and at one stage it was even suggested that the original town site should be re-located.
As with other parts of the state, relationships between Europeans and Aborigines were at first relatively peaceful, but as more settlers moved in and land was taken up conflict was inevitable. After settlers
Peter Chidlow and Edward Jones were speared to death in 1837, there was a great outcry with the Perth Gazette printing:
'The district of York may be considered, at present, in a state of war.'
During the next few weeks there was almost a policy of 'shoot on sight' adopted by the settlers and the number of Aborigines killed was never recorded. However distasteful, the effect was substantial and the
local tribes were beaten into submission.
When John Hutt replaced James Stirling
as the Governor, there was a change in policy toward the Aboriginal people with Hutt declaring; 'the absolute necessity which exists, for not allowing any outrage, either on the part of the white population towards
the Natives, or vice versa to pass unnoticed.'
When Eliza Cook and her baby were murdered by Aborigines in 1839, Hutt's wishes were disregarded by settlers who embarked on yet another round of reprisals.
If European fire power wasn't enough, the remaining tribes were crippled by malnutrition, liquor and disease. By 1841 they no longer posed a threat to settlers.
It has to be said the reprisals for any death, natural or not, was the Aboriginal way, and they must have expected the settlers to take revenge after killings took place. What they seem to fail to have taken into
account is that Europeans would not just take revenge on a life for life basis as was the tribal way. Europeans would embark on wholesale killings until the Aborigines were subdued.
For quite some time Toodyay (or Newcastle as it was then called) to the north and York to the south, were the only towns in the district. Northam took much longer
to get established but when it finally did, it was to greatly outpace its two nearby neighbours.
By 1879 the town was declared a municipality and a town council was duly elected. This resulted in changes to the town for the better but in the process a road was put through what had once been used as the
town cemetery. Relatives of the deceased were advised to remove the remains before the road was constructed but nothing happened, so the council put the Hawes Street through, right over the graves.
The building of a railway from Midland was hotly debated by residents of Toodyay, Northam and York and at first it looked as if the line would go directly to the oldest (and at the time biggest) town, York.
This enraged the residents of Toodyay who fought against the proposed route and with voices from Northam joining in, the decision was finally made to send the line to Spencer's Brook (near Northam) and
then send spur lines to each of the three towns from there. When the railway was extended to the east and the goldfields, it was Northam that was chosen as the starting point. This was the trigger for Northam
to boom and overshadow both York and Toodyay.
Northam's humble beginnings in 1836 transformed into a substantial town during the Premiership of Sir John Forrest in
the 1890's. The town's importance during this time is reflected in around 180 buildings of heritage value that still survive in the town.
In the ten years from 1891 to 1901 the population of Northam increased by 323% whereas York only increased by 13.5%. Toodyay actually decreased by 46%.
The gold rushes brought with them many people from overseas seeking their fortunes. When the rushes were over many of these newcomers went looking for somewhere to settle down and make a living. Such
was the case with a number of Chinese and Japanese who took up residence near Northam.
The local population was horrified at this development and responded by forming an Anti-Asiatic League in 1897. Rabid racism took over the local paper which screamed with headlines like 'Asiatic Scum' and articles
that quoted 'In our case might is right. The Asiatics must go. They are not wanted in Northam or any other part of Australia. The area where the Chinese settled (Sandfield) was referred to as 'vile and filthy'.
In other more tolerant parts of the state the Chinese were able to become part of the local community and made a significant contribution by establishing market gardens and other useful enterprises.
Having ranted about the 'vile and filthy' Chinese, the locals were none too clean and hygienic themselves. There was no proper sanitation in the town and raw sewage contaminated sources of drinking water resulting
in outbreaks of typhoid.
In 1902 the water shortage became so acute that the town was connected to the Mundaring Weir scheme before the project had been completed. Water that had been costing 4 shillings per
100 gallons now dropped to 5 shillings per 1000 gallons. This had been seen as a temporary measure but when the goldfields water scheme was completed in 1903 the water remained on in Northam and was gradually
extended to much of the town.
The town produced a hero of World War One, Hugo Throssell, who was awarded the Victoria Cross. Hugo was badly wounded but recovered and in 1917 went back into action at the second battle for Gaza. He was
wounded again and sadly his brother, Eric was killed in the same battle.
(Note: 32,231 West Australians volunteered to go to WWI which was 33% of all men aged 18 to 41. It exceeded the expected number by 400%.)
Hugo's experiences during the war led him to become a committed socialist, not something met with much enthusiasm buy other locals. Hugo's death was tragic as he had struggled to cope with the legacy of his wounds.
In 1933 it all became too much and he took his own life. He became yet another un-recorded casualty of World War One.
In 1933 something of a scandal occurred when the town's Aboriginal population was rounded up and sent off to the Moore River Settlement. The council had determined that they had scabies and were a health risk to
the white residents.
During World War Two, an army hospital was constructed in the town to cater for the rehabilitation of wounded Australian and American service men. After the war it was turned into the Holden Immigration Camp and
was home to many European immigrants who had come to make their new homes in W.A. A second camp was set up when the first was unable to cope with the numbers arriving and over 30,000 people were initially
housed at these camps before moving out into the community.
The town's name comes from a town in Devon, England and was supplied by Governor Stirling.
An example to the fragility of life can bee seen from the births and deaths notices in the Perth Gazette January 1875.
Firstly under births, the notice (Dec 21) of a baby girl born to J.T. and E. Smith of Northam. Then under deaths, the death of the Smith infant (Dec 26), and her mother Elizabeth (Dec 28), then only
8 days later (Jan 5), the death of J.T. Smith and his son Alfred James Smith. All in the same issue of the paper. Even with the loss of 4 family members in a little over a week, there were 9 Smith children
still living and they were cared for by the eldest son Richard.
TALL TALES AND TRUE
Avon River Monster.
For some time there were rumours of some sort of creature living in the Avon River. Some sightings were reported with one woman saying it looked somewhat like an alligator. Many people kept an eye out
over the ensuing months but no evidence was ever found to suggest what it might have been.
Avon River, White swans, Mt. Ommanney lookout., Suspension bridge, Pioneer's graves, Town hall, Flour mill, Railway station museum, Moby cottage 1836, Mitchell house, Apex Park, Old girl's
school, Old post office, Shamrock Hotel 1861, Old Bank of N.S.W. 1915, Commercial Hotel. 1902, Northam Advertiser. 1893, Victoria Hotel..
BUILDINGS OF NOTE
Old railway Station 1900, Town Hall, 1898, Buckland homestead 1836, Club tavern & stables 1907, Post office 1909, Avon Bridge hotel 1860, Grand hotel 1904, Uralia 1902, Byfield house 1902,
Court house 1896, Police station 1910, St. John's church 1889.
State : Central Wheatbelt
Federal : Pearce
Postcode : 6401
Local Government : Shire of Northam
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