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
Summer Siesta concerts. March, Vintage on Avon, Summer Siesta
concerts. April, Avon Valley horse festival. July, Northam
Art Prize. August. Avon River Festival, Avon Descent, Eisteddfod.
September, Agricultural Show. October, State pony club
championships, Northam Cup, Motorcycle festival. November:
Multicultural festival. December: Christmas Festival.
Post office 1908
Former primary school
Former post office
Grand hotel 1895
Old railway station 1900
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.
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 surveyed area.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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. (He was the first West Australian to be awarded this
medal.) 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
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 setup 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
Northam is famous for a colony of
that were brought in by Oscar
Bernard. Its other claim to fame is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge
in Australia. 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.
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
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. & 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
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
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.
Tall Tales & 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.