Pinjarra is the starting point for the Hotham Valley Tourist Railway. Trains run at the following times: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday,
and Public Holidays 11am to 12.30pm and 2pm to 3.30pm. During school holidays, trains run daily.
The nearby Alcoa aluminium refinery is the largest in Australia. Alcoa donated the material to build a suspension bridge across the river and the work
was carried out as a training exercise by the Australian Army's 22nd Construction Squadron in 1985.
The town has recently started to see a lot of development but hopefully it will retain its small country town charm for some time yet.
There is a pleasant campsite at Heron Point on the Harvey Estuary. There is also a boat ramp and crabbing is popular there.
The area was first explored in 1829 by Lt. Preston and
Dr. Alexander Collie.
The town was established in 1833 (one source quotes land being set aside in 1831 and land being allocated in 1837.) Pinjarra is an attractive country town
which owes it’s existence to people like Thomas Peel
and the McLarty family.
Originally known as Pinjarrup by the Aborigines which is thought to mean place of the swamp. (Another source quotes the Pindjarup tribe as being the inspiration for
the name.) East of Mandurah, Pinjarra is the starting point for the
Hotham Valley Railway which still operates steam trains that take
tourists on day trips up into the hills to Dwellingup.
A military outpost was established in the town site in 1830 and Lt. H.W. Bunbury
was in charge. Bunbury liked the area and wanted to settle there but land prices were too high and he eventually transferred to Vasse. Governor Stirling was impressed with the work done by
Lt. Bunbury and named a small townsite on the coast after him. This was later to become one of W.A.'s largest regional centres. Bunbury did not settle in W.A. and eventually returned to England.
In 1852 the soldiers were withdrawn and the barracks were taken over by the police force.
The 'Battle of Pinjarra' or 'The Pinjarra massacre'?
We have read a great deal about this particular event in Western Australian history and it remains today, one of the most contentious matters in European - Aboriginal relations.
At one time we presented two different versions of this event in an attempt to give the point of view from each side of the argument but we have recently read a definitive
narrative of the battle written by someone who was there on the day.
Although the account is written by J.S. Roe
and it is written from the European point of view, we believe that it illustrates quite clearly what happened on the day and the
reasons the expedition was organised in the first place. Before Roe's account is given there needs to be a short discussion of what led to this event:
The tribe of Kal-yute had fiercely resisted the encroachment of European settlement and had been responsible for a number of attacks and killings. The European authorities
obviously wanted to put a stop to this insurgence and an expedition was organised with the twin goals of establishing a new settlement in the heart of the tribe's territory
and with locating and punishing the tribe for their actions against the settlers.
On October 27th 1834, James Stirling
led an armed force south into what is now the Pinjarra area. The force he led was made up of: John Septimus Roe, Thomas Peel, Captain
Theophilus Ellis, Julius Delmage, Patrick Heffron, Richard Goldsmith Meares, Seymour Meares, Charles R.B. Norcott, George Smythe, John Staunton plus 4 mounted police and
10 soldiers of the 21st Regiment.
Prior to the expedition's departure, both the military and the Executive Council were informed that the expedition was a surveying one and surveying work was carried out by
Roe at what was to become the Pinjarra town site, although from Roe's own journal we clearly see that there was more to this expedition than just surveying.
The battle took place early in the morning. Stirling and his party were travelling south and had crossed the river (a) when they became aware of a large group of Aborigines
(around 70-80) behind them on the north bank of the river (d). Stirling detailed Captain Ellis to take 4 men and go back to the Aboriginal encampment to question them about
the earlier attack on Nesbit (c). Roe (unarmed) and 4 other men waited with supplies on the south side of the ford (b).
Stirling took the rest of the party east along the south bank making for a second ford some half a mile away (e).
Hearing gunfire from the camp Stirling and those on horseback doubled back along the south bank of the river.
Captain Ellis had gone into the Aboriginal camp looking for the killers of Nesbit. Norcott (one of the men accompanying Ellis) recognised Noonar who was wanted for the killing
of Nesbit. Noonar threw a spear at Norcott who returned fire and the horsemen then charged the tribe which by this time were arming themselves with spears and starting to attack.
Ellis was hit in the head by a spear and was to die of his wounds a few days later and Heffron was wounded. Three of the horsemen were unseated during the charge.
As Stirling's men arrived on the south bank of the river and spread out, the Aborigines came under increasing fire. As they retreated to the fords they found both occupied
by the rest of Stirling's men and were caught in crossfire.
The tribesmen then retreated into the river taking cover in the reeds but as Stirling's men held the high ground on the opposite bank there was little if any cover.
The map below shows the progress of the battle.
At this point we can refer to Roe's journal entry about the incident and compare what he had to say with what has been said by others since:
'8.35 proceeded SE... ...heard the call of natives to the northward, being close at hand we made for them... ...advancing for the purpose of bringing on an interview...
...the natives although making much noise amongst themselves, would not answer the calls to them. Capt. Ellis and Mr. Norcott, with three of the mounted police were despatched
across the ford to ascertain if the party belonged to the tribe of Kal-yute (which had recently committed some great outrages and for the purpose jointly with that of protection
for the present exploring party the mounted force had accompanied us.) In a few minutes the loud shouting and yelling of the natives told us the whites were discovered and
firing immediately commenced on the left bank... ...The firing continued upwards and followed the retreating voices of the natives for upwards of an hour.
On approach of the Police toward the natives, they started up from their fires, about 70 or 80 in number, and began retreating so soon however as it was ascertained that they
were the obnoxious tribe, the firing commenced at full charge, in which the chief, Capt. Ellis was wounded in the temple and knocked off his horse by a spear... ...the same
native wounded one of the police, P. Heffron, in the right arm so as to completely disable him... ...after the first charge which killed 4 or 5, the natives retreated to the
river intending apparently to cross over by another ford 1/2 a mile lower down - in this they were completely frustrated by meeting the remainder of the armed force headed
by the Governor... ...In this dilemma they took to hiding themselves amongst the bushes and dead logs of the river banks, and were picked off by the party on either shore.
This was not however done without much resistance on the part of the natives... ...between 15 and 20 were shot dead, very few wounded being suffered to escape, until at
length it being considered that punishment of the tribe for the numerous murders it had committed, was sufficiently exemplary... ...as the idea of prosecuting the object
of our exped was now at an end, on account of the severe example made of the natives, at 10.5 am - remounted and proceeded tow mouth of Murray.'
The battle has often been called a 'massacre' and to the extent that Aboriginal deaths from the fight were substantial (best estimates put the those killed directly and
those who later died from wounds at between 23 and 28) it would seem that this is a fair assessment. Unfortunately the word 'massacre' carries the implication that the
natives were unarmed and were killed without resisting. This is insulting to the memory of those who died and does not take into account that the warriors obviously chose
to stand and fight even though their weapons no match for European fire power.
A dictionary definition of the word massacre defines it as 'the unnecessary, indiscriminate killing of a large number of human beings or animals, as in barbarous warfare
or persecution or for revenge or plunder.' It is no use in denying that what happened on the day does indeed fit this definition.
The fact that some 35% of the Aborigines present at the battle were killed seems to suggest that once the battle started Stirling's men got out of control and possibly,
even probably, killed far more than they would have had to purely in self defence. It is impossible to say from this distance of years exactly what happened but the
attack does not appear to have been pre-planned. Suggestions that the attack was an ambush by Stirling's men and that hundreds of Aborigines were killed have absolutely
no basis and have never been substantiated.
It does appear, from everything we have been able to read, that it was the Aboriginal group that opened hostilities when Noonar attempted to spear Norcott when he knew
he had been recognised.
F.C. Irwin (who had been administrator of the colony in Stirling's absence) has been blamed, in some sources, for the conditions that led up to the battle at Pinjarra.
Irwin was a soldier first and an administrator second and had a very military view of how to deal with the Aborigines. His actions have been blamed for a lot of the
resentment felt by Aboriginal tribes who are said to have even burned his effigy when he finally left the colony.
(Note: This action along with many others has been badly mis-represented by varying groups with different agendas. The job of the historian is to find and record the
truth about past events and the use of this type of incident in a political sense is quite wrong as it promotes mis-information. This work has no agenda to push, we
freely recognise that Australia was effectively invaded by Britain and that land was taken from the Aboriginal people by force. In telling the story of how and why this
happened we believe that the truth is more important than the point scoring we have seen - mostly on internet sites.) See
Aboriginal Resistance for more information of the conflict between the settlers and the traditional land owners.