A road trip through Western Australia's agricultural heartland provides a chance to spot wildlife and learn about some intriguing local history.
The roads and trails ahead of us are long and winding, taking us on a wonderful western adventure through the country, negotiating six Wheatbelt towns.
This is WA’s Dryandra Country, gateway to the Wheatbelt, and I am including the eclectic delights of Pingelly, Popanyinning, Cuballing, Wickepin, Narrogin and Williams.
Country folk, country fare and country pubs — and the bonus is a visit to the 28,000ha Dryandra Woodland, where you can learn the difference between a woylie, a bilby, a boodie and a mala — WA’s exotic, rare and vulnerable creatures.
Dryandra, off Albany Highway 170km south-west of Perth, is an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot where visitors can see, feel, smell and taste nature in the raw.
Camping, picnicking, walking or driving travellers might well chance across a tammar wallaby, an echidna, western grey kangaroo, Carnaby’s cockatoo, a rare rufous treecreeper or even the elusive bush stone-curlew.
The spotting of a numbat feels special, given that this is our State’s fauna emblem. At daybreak, a red-capped robin is a flash of brilliant colour in the ageless bush.
With 25 mammal, 100 bird and 50 reptile species, human-animal encounters are a certainty. Brushtail possums are easy to spot. Alert visitors will hear owls and possibly see camouflaged tawny frogmouths.
Guaranteed to amaze is the abundance of plants, with more than 850 species in the woodland of sheok, mallee, wandoo and brown mallet.
Bushwalks here are soothing to the soul and a welcome break from driving. Parks and Wildlife Service staff have mapped out walk trails, marked with symbols to keep visitors on the right track.
Gnaala Mia campground is in the most natural of bush settings. Caravan sites are spacious and well cleared, level and slotted amid slender trees. Services are delightfully basic: no electricity or water connections so bring your own water and torches. The camp kitchen has open fire barbecue rings. Chopped wood is stacked nearby.
Quaint cabins are available at Dryandra Woodland Village, operated by the Lions.
It’s late afternoon. A huge flock of coloured parrots swarms overhead before settling into branches of the taller trees as we exit the bush tracks and, reluctantly, point the car to the bitumen.
Time to tackle the towns.
Pingelly provides a handy caravan park, tucked behind the main street, with showers, toilet, laundry and gas barbecue.
The town has a pair of pubs where many yarns unfold. Local lad Neil Elvis Winmar is a luminary. The Aussie rules legend, better known as Nicky Winmar, was the first Aboriginal Australian to play 200 AFL games.
Across Pingelly’s main street, a weekend market is under way, featuring all manner of local products. We pick up armfuls of fabulous fresh fruit and vegies from a vendor rugged up against a stiff breeze.
Narrogin’s legendary Aussie rules player, Barry Cable, would probably consider Popanyinning only a drop kick away at 17km, and in no time we are inside “Poppo’s” local hall.
We meet local farmer Graeme Furphy, who turns out to be a direct descendant of Joseph Furphy, “father of the Australian novel” who, calling himself Tom Collins, wrote the sensational Such is Life.
Framed newspaper clippings around the walls relate a strange phenomenon: small stones mysteriously falling from the sky at nearby Pumphrey’s Bridge in 1957.
Witnessed by locals including Alma and Kevin Ugle, poor Cyril Penny was so close to the action he — and others — feared he was somehow jinxed. He packed up and left the district.
The Daily News followed the odd yarn for days. A reporter and photographer arrived, and not only witnessed the weird happenings but had to duck the falling stones. The mystery remains. Locals today get on with farming hay, oats, canola, wheat, barley and beef cattle.
Also available is fruit from the Garden Valley property, which was created in 1903 by George and Mary Patullo, who moved to Poppo with their five children, planting a lime tree for each of their four daughters.
It flourished into a major fruit and veg outlet, firstly for the district and then Perth.
We drive 20km to Cuballing. In days past, we were told, you might have seen possum hunters, weighed down with skins to trade, trudging along the dusty track near here.
Cuballing’s historic buildings include its old post office, now in private hands, heritage protected with period-style gardens. Narrogin has streets of preserved heritage buildings, hectares of manicured gardens and majestic rural drives in all directions.
Time to take the 38km trail to Wickepin, best known for the historic homestead of Albert Facey, the World War I veteran who penned the astounding A Fortunate Life.
The little home, moved into town from the bush, is well worth inspecting and enhanced by the informed insights of committed guides.
In Williams, the Woolshed is, as usual, a centre of activity. The outlet, with its woollen goods, souvenirs and tucker is worth a visit, a coffee or a bite.
Williams also has a heritage trail and nature reserve.
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