Print

Albany, WA

Historic township on Western Australia's southern coast.

It is hard not to fall in love with Albany. Impossible not to be entranced by a city where the view down the main street, York Street, is straight out into the deep blue waters of Princess Royal Harbour. This historically important city on the wild south coast of Western Australia not only offers the visitor magnificent views over King George Sound (one of the country's great deep water harbours) but it is rich in elegant public buildings, historic homes, store houses and wharves, and gracious churches. It is Western Australia's oldest European settlement.  Also, and this a vital element that makes it so special, the coastline to the south is dramatic and seductively beautiful. The huge rocky outcrops, the violence of the Great Southern Ocean when it is wild and windswept, the unforgiving monotony of the infamous Albany Doctor (a wind that is supposed to blow in the afternoon but often is howling by 7.00 am), the beauty of the beaches with their pure white sands, and then, as if by the magic of nature, the quiet waters of Princess Royal Harbour which is entered through a narrow channel between Point King and Point Possession. Albany, unlike so much of Western Australia, is cool and wet. It receives an average of 942 mm of rainfall per annum and its average summer temperature is only 22.4°C. A cool respite from a state that is mostly deserts and blistering heat.

Location

Albany is located 419 km south of Perth on the Albany Highway via Kojonup and Mount Barker. The coastal scenic route via Busselton, Margaret River and Denmark is 648km.

^ TOP

Origin of Name

Albany was originally a military outpost named Frederick Town. On 7 March 1831 it was formally proclaimed  part of the Swan River Colony. In 1832 the outpost's name was changed to Albany to honour the son of King George III, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York and Albany.

^ TOP

Things to See and Do

Albany's Heritage Walk Trail
In 1988, as part of the Bicentennial, the town created five heritage walks including this excellent walking trail which originally featured no fewer than 39 places of significant historic interest. Today it is much more manageable with a mere 17 and a pleasant circular walk which starts at the Old Gaol, heads down to the harbour and the replica of the Brig Amity, goes back up Parade Street, runs for three blocks along Duke Street and Peel Place, and then heads back down York Street to Stirling Terrace. The walk can be accessed at http://www.historicalbany.com.au/walktrail.htm. The places of particular interest include:

(1) Old Gaol -  Located at Residency Road, this series of buildings was constructed  in the 1850s as the Albany convict hiring depot. It is an unusual part of Western Australian history. By 1850 Albany was no longer a penal colony but convicts were still being hired out as artisans and farm labourers. This practice continued until 1868. In 1872 the now-redundant hiring depot was turned into the local gaol and divided up so there were separate sections for white men, white women and Aborigines. Today it is leased by the Albany Historic Society and is part of the Western Australian Museums which means it combines permanent exhibitions with travelling exhibitions. Among its permanent exhibitions are (i) the Residency Building described as "telling the stories of the Great Southern’s natural and social history, from its early geological formation, its indigenous history through to early settlement and on to the area’s modern day events such as the introduction of the wind farm, the largest in Australia" - The Residency was originally built as a store in the 1850s but converted into the Government Residency from 1873-1953. It was where the Residency now stands that Major Lockyer landed in 1826 and decided to establish Albany (ii) the One Teacher School Room, a celebration of early Western Australian education; and (iii) the Eclipse Building which includes the "Eclipse Island Optic [a set of lenses from the old Eclipse Lighthouse], consisting of three glass lenses, each three metres high. The optic rotates silently on its bed of mercury and lights up the building." The museum is open from 10.00 am - 4.30 pm daily. Check out http://www.albany.asn.au/convictgaolalbany.html

(4) Brig Amity Replica - the original Amity was built in Canada in 1816 and a decade later it was the vessel that carried the first settlers to Albany. It arrived on 24 December, 1826 and anchored in the bay near where the replica, which was built in 1976, is now located.

(9) Patrick Taylor's Cottage - reputedly the oldest "surviving dwelling" in Western Australia this remarkable eleven room wattle and daub house was built in 1832, is surrounded by a pretty garden, and is now in the hands of the Albany Historical Society. It was sold to Patrick Taylor for £200 and he lived in it until his death in 1877. Located at 39 Duke Street it is open from 11.00 am - 3.00 pm daily, tel: (08) 9841 5403 or check out http://www.historicalbany.com.au/patricktaylorcottage.htm

(11) St John's Church - The Anglican Church of St John the Evangelist was consecrated on 25 October, 1848 in front of 170 people, reputedly the entire European population of Albany at the time. It is recognised as the oldest consecrated church in Western Australia and is a fine example of a severe, square Anglo Saxon style which is common in rural England.

Albany's Goldrush Buildings
Stirling Terrace is a remarkably beautiful street which runs above the harbour from York Street to Spencer Lawley Park. Although the street's highlight, the Old Post Office, was built in 1869-70, the street really is a comment on the way mining can impact, and enrich, an entire community. The Western Australian goldrushes of the 1890s, particularly those around Kalgoorlie, led to thousands of wide-eyed prospectors sailing to Albany. They would catch a coach north to York and then the train east to the goldfields. Consequently Albany saw a mining-led building boom with the Albany Courthouse (1895-96) with stone its arches and an unusual asymmetrical flared arch; the London Hotel (1909); Albany House (the old Union Bank building - it was completed in 1878); the Western Australian Bank (1885);  the Royal George Hotel (1885) and the Argyle Buildings (1890s) were all built within a couple of decades of each other.

Still the Stirling Terrace centrepiece is the Old Post Office, now the University of Western Australia's Albany Centre, which was listed on the National Estate in 1992. Construction of this historic building started in 1868. It was to include a post office, court house, municipal and road board meeting rooms and a customs house. It was completed in 1869 at a cost of £4,184/18/9. Today it is recognised as the oldest Post Office in Western Australia. It was substantially altered in 1895 with the turrets and the distinctive 25 m shingled clock tower being added. Check out http://www.albanygateway.com.au/visitor/historical-albany-great-southern/uwa-albany-centre-old-post-office-35-stirling-terrace.html for a very detailed history of the building and the town's postal services.

Stirling Terrace also has the old Albany Court House (1898) designed by George Temple-Poole it has stone arches and an unusual asymmetrical flared arch; the London Hotel (1909); Albany House (the old Union Bank building it was completed in 1878); the Empire Buildings at 146-152 Stirling Terrace which date from 1912; the Western Australian Bank (1885);  the Royal George Hotel (1885) and the Argyle Buildings (1890s).

The Old Farm
Check out http://www.nationaltrust.org.au/wa/old-farm-strawberry-hill to find out whether the Old Farm is open. It has been closed and only the gardens are open for inspection. Located at 174 Middleton Road, the gardens are open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm, tel: (08) 9841 3735. The National Trust recognise the farm as one of the most historically important buildings in Western Australia. The National Estate entry on the farm explains in great detail that it is "a fine early example of a country gentleman's residence and estate, comprising a main residence and associated ancillary buildings ... The Old Farm dates from 1827, when the site was used as a vegetable garden and to cultivate maize to supply the small military detachment established at King George Sound ... In 1831, Dr Alexander Collie, the first Government Resident, built a 'comparatively comfortable little dwelling house' close to the government gardens. This estate and the adjoining 43 hectares were purchased from the government in 1833 by Sir Richard Spencer ... Wattle and daub additions were made to the original dwelling house c. 1834, and sheds and stables were also erected in this period. The larger two-storey residence, built by William Diprose for Spencer in 1836, was joined to the earlier wattle and daub structure. At that time a stone barn was also built by Diprose nearby. Spencer's estate was the centre of social activity for the small community until Lady Spencer left for England a few years after her husband's death in 1839.

"In 1870 the original wattle and daub home was destroyed by fire and the house and farm gradually began to deteriorate.

"In 1889 Francis Bird, a successful architect, purchased 'Strawberry Hill' and extensive renovations were carried out. It was renamed 'The Old Farm' in 1890 in memory of the pioneers who founded it, and again became an important venue for social functions of the time.

"In 1956 the Western Australian Government purchased the farm and it was gazetted as an historical monument ... There is some dispute as to whether 'The Old Farm' is the oldest house in Western Australia. It is certainly the finest surviving, however, and played a significant role in the settlement of the region. It stands today amid gardens which include plants and trees grown from the seeds brought out from England by Sir Richard Spencer."

^ TOP

Other Attractions in the Area

Mount Clarence
There are a number of locations around Albany with panoramic views over Princess Royal Harbour. In the case of Mount Clarence it has views over the harbour to the south and the Porongurups to the north. The top of Mount Clarence can be accessed via the Avenue of Honour which leads up to the Desert Mounted Corps War Memorial, a memorial with a remarkable history. It was originally located at Port Said in Egypt (where Australian soldiers who had left from Albany landed when they reached Africa before heading for Gallipoli) and was unveiled by W. M.'Billy' Hughes in 1932.

In 1956 during the Suez crisis it was damaged and desecrated. Three years later it was shipped back to Australia. Unfortunately it could not be repaired and so a sculptor was commissioned to remodel the 9 metre tall statue which depicted an Australian soldier helping a New Zealander. Two models were made. One is in Canberra and the other was unveiled at Albany by Prime Minister Menzies in 1964.

Princess Royal Fortress, Mount Adelaide
It is strange how time manages to draw a curtain on the feelings of past generations. Towards the end of the nineteenth century (ironic given the scale of the two world wars of the twentieth century) Australia became convinced that it was vulnerable to attack. Huge fortifications where built on Middle Head in Sydney in the 1870s and 1880s and in 1893 the Princess Royal Fortress was built at Albany (the only significant  port between Perth and Port Lincoln) against the possibility of invasion. The fort was continuously manned from 1893-1956. After 1956 the complex was a school, a migrant camp and a holiday camp. By the 1970s it had fallen into disrepair and was being vandalised. In 1987 the restoration of the site began. Today visitors can inspect the Guard House, the Canteen, the Officer Commanding's Residence, the stables, barracks and married quarters, and the various guns and artillery storage points. There are special exhibitions dealing with the involvement of the local Aborigines in the Australian Defence Forces and the role of Padre Arthur Ernest White who, because he held a special service for the dead of World War I at Albany's St John's Church on 24 February, 1918, has become known as "The Father of the Anzac Dawn Service". It is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm daily, tel (08) 9841 9333, check out http://www.albanygateway.com.au/visitor/tourist-attractions/princess-royal-fortress.html

Quaranup-Point Possession Trail
The Quaranup-Point Possession Trail is a 1.6 km walk from Albany's old Quarantine Station, now called Camp Quaranup, to Point Possession where George Vancouver claimed Western Australia for Great Britain. It is accessed by driving towards Torndirrup National Park on Frenchman Bay Road and turning left onto Quaranup Road. The Quarantine Station was built to isolate passengers on ships where there was a fear that disease might have broken out. Work began in 1874 and by 1880 the original hospital and caretaker's quarters had been expanded to include a doctor's quarters, servant's quarters, isolation wards, a morgue, laundry, wash house, store, dining room and a special area for the first class passengers. The trail to Point Possession starts at the Camp Quaranup Car Park and passes the morgue, nurse's quarters and graves to continue to the outcrop where George Vancouver claimed the territory. There is an interesting account of what the quarantine station was like in 1895 at http://www.albanygateway.com.au/visitor/historical-albany-great-southern/camp-quaranup.html

Torndirrup National Park
It has always seemed strange that Western Australia's government parks and environment agency,  which went by the sublime acronym - CALM (Conservation and Land Management), has become the positively banal Department of Environment and Conservation. Such is bureaucracy. Enough! The Torndirrup National Park, now run by DEC not CALM, is a park of surpassing beauty with an outstanding number of impressive natural features including  The Gap, the Blowholes, the Gorge, Natural Bridge and Newles Inlet.

When I first visited the area CALM had a beautifully illustrated publication, Rugged Mountains, Jewelled Sea: The South Coast Heritage Trail Network by Libby Sandiford (still available from second hand shops) in which she wrote: "Flanking the south-western side of King George Sound, Torndirrup National Park (named after one of the local Aboriginal tribal divisions) provides not only breathtaking coastal scenery ranging from rugged granite cliffs to sandy beaches, but excellent views of both the southern ocean and hinterland. From the prominent hills it is easy to see why the harbour was favoured by sailing ships, and to contemplate the changes made since European settlement. In winter there is the added excitement of sighting albatrosses and whales.

"Torndirrup National Park is renowned for its rugged coastal features such as the Gap and Natural Bridge. For the more adventurous a greater appreciation of this coastal region can be gained by walking out towards Bald Head. This medium grade 10 km return walk take you along the crest of Flinders Peninsula to Bald Head, the landmark that guided explorers into King George Sound, and past the 'coral beds' that so intrigued the early explorers. Captain Vancouver noted in 1791: 'coral was entirely in its original state, particularly in one level spot...white sand occupied the space, through which the branches of coral protruded.' This 'coral', however, has no marine origins. The calcetrations have solidified around what were once tree and shrub roots. Subsequent erosion has exposed their many shapes."

The major features include:

The Gap
The Gap is a crevice between sheer, 25 metre high granite cliffs which, when the seas are wild and savage, can cause waves to reach the viewing platform. It is 300 metres from the car park.

The Natural Bridge
The surprise is the scale of the bridge. It is huge. It is accessible from the car park and has an excellent viewing platform. The platform is 300 metres from the car park. From the platform it is possible to view Cable Beach which lies to the east.

The Blowholes
Located a short drive from The Gap and clearly signposted, the Blowholes are natural crevices in the granite rocks where, when the sea is running a decent swell, water shoots high into the air. The experience, which involves a walk of a few hundred metres and a flight of stairs, can be disappointing if there is no swell. The views from the pathway can compensate for the lack of action.

Jimmy Newell's Harbour
Jimmy Newell's Harbour, which is accessible from Frenchman Bay Road, is one of the gems of the park. A quiet little inlet which is ideal for swimming and fishing it is protected from large waves. The 'harbour' was named after an ex-convict who, caught by a storm, managed to steer his fishing boat into the calm waters. For more information check out http://www.albanygateway.com.au/visitor/beaches-coastlines/jimmy-newell-s-harbour.html

The Department of Environment and Conservation website about the park is useful. Check out http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/torndirrup, tel: (08) 9842 4500.

Whaleworld
Whaleworld is located at the end of Frenchman Bay Road 22 km from Albany and at the edge of Torndirrup National Park. Given our current feelings about whaling it is amazing to register that as recently as 1978 the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company, which had started at Frenchman Bay in 1952, was still harpooning whales off the coast of Western Australia. The only reasons it ceased operation was a collapse in the price of whale oil and the uncertainty of an extension on their government licence. By 1974 the whaling company had already established a museum and souvenir shop. Whale World operates 30 minute tours which include entry to Cheynes IV, a whaling ship, as well as "A SpectraVision unit displays ‘A Day in the Life of a Whaler’ through the captivating projection of miniaturised people and three whale oil storage tanks converted to theatres now feature entertaining presentations including the world’s first 3-D animated whale film and a multimedia show.  The world’s largest marine mammal painting collection and a spectacular skeleton exhibit, boasting the state’s largest Pygmy Blue Whale skeleton on display, also add to the attraction." It is open from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm every day and tours begin on the hour, every hour. tel: (08) 9844 4021 or check out the comprehensive website at http://www.whaleworld.org.  

Whale Watching
The whale watching season at Albany is between June and October when Humpback and Southern Right whales come close to the shore for annual calving. There are a number of land-based lookout sites including Sandpatch (near the Albany Wind Farm), the Rotary Lookout, Bremer Bay and Point Ann. There are also a number of commercial operators who take cruises and tours out into the Great Southern Ocean. The Whaleworld website has a section devoted to whale watching with a list of recommended local whale tour operators. Check out http://www.whaleworld.org/All_About_Whales/Whale_Watching_Guide/

Albany Wind Farm
Ah! the joys of the Albany Doctor. On average there are only seven days a year when the wind is not strong enough to turn the turbines at the Albany Wind Farm. Located 12 km south-west of the city centre (via Frenchman Bay Road and Princess Avenue) the project was started in 2001 when twelve 1800kW turbines were established. In 2011 another six bigger turbines (2300kW) were added meaning that the wind farm can now produce 35.4MW of electricity and meet 80% of Albany's electrical needs. The Synergy website (http://generation.synergy.net.au/generating-electricity/sustainable-portfolio/albany-wind-farm) explains "The wind turbines do not have gearboxes, which helps keep maintenance to a minimum. They operate at variable speed, which means that the blades speed up and slow down with the wind. Wind as low as 7km/h set the blades turning but when the wind speed reaches 120km/h, the turbines slow down to prevent damage. At top speed the blades appear to move very slowly - one revolution every three seconds - however the end of the blades are travelling at 290 km/h.

The wind farm lowers greenhouse gas emissions by about 109,000 tonnes per year. The wind farm is open to the public. More information is available from the Albany Visitor Centre near the Albany train station at the bottom of York Street, Albany." There are boardwalks near the turbines.

^ TOP

History

* Prior to European settlement the area around Albany was inhabited by members of the Noongar people of the larger Minang Aboriginal language group.

* The first European into the area was Pieter Nuyts who, in 1627, sailed around the southern coast of Western Australia and across the Great Australian Bight in the ship Gulden Zeepaardt. Nuyts report was less than enthusiastic and consequently the Dutch in Batavia showed no interest in settling the barren coastline. Amusingly it was as a result of maps drawn by Nuyts that when the satirist Jonathan Swift wrote Gullivers Travels he located the land Gulliver visited after he spent time with the Houyhnhnms at almost exactly where Albany stands today. Swift wrote of the area (which he had never seen) "I saw no inhabitants in the place where I landed, and being unarmed, I was afraid of venturing far into the country.  I found some shellfish on the shore, and ate them raw, not daring to kindle a fire, for fear of being discovered by the natives.  I continued three days feeding on oysters and limpets, to save my own provisions; and I fortunately found a brook of excellent water, which gave me great relief."

* It is pure serendipity and coincidence that when George Vancouver entered King George Sound in 1791 he named the bay Oyster Harbour because he found oysters in the vicinity. Truth echoing artistic satire.

* Vancouver spent two weeks in the area and went on a naming spree. In two weeks he named Bald Head, Breaksea Island, Michaelmas Island, Oyster Harbour, Seal Island, took possession of the area at Point Possession and declared "This port, the first which we had discovered, I honoured with the name of King George the Third's Sound, and this day being the anniversary of Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte Augusta Matilda's birth, the harbour behind Point Possession I called Princess Royal Harbour." In spite of all the naming Vancouver was not impressed. He observed that the local soil was poor and claimed that the local Aborigines were extremely primitive although he did not record meeting any of them.

* In July, 1801 Matthew Flinders on his circumnavigation of the continent reached King George Sound.

* The French explorer, Nicolas Baudin, stayed in King George Sound from 11 February to 1 March, 1803. He reported on the poorness of the soils but wrote extensively about the wildflowers.

* During the 1820s the British became increasingly paranoid about the possibility of French settlement. This was common around the coasts of Australia at the time.

* On Christmas Day, 1826 the brig Amity entered King George Sound. It brought the first European settlers: Major Edmund Lockyer accompanied by troops and convicts.  Lockyer chose the site for the settlement beside a small stream which ran into Princess Royal Harbour near where the replica of the Amity now stands.

* The settlement was officially proclaimed on 21 January 1827 and named Fredericks Town after Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany, the second son of King George III. Frederick has enduring fame as "The Grand Old Duke of York" in the children's ditty. Lockyer was enthusiastic about the settlement arguing that it was the only deep water harbour on the continent's south western coast. He did point out that the voyage from Sydney was extremely difficult.

* In 1829 Swan River (modern day Perth and Fremantle) was established as a colony. Albany was never going to compete.

* On 7 March, 1831 Albany was proclaimed as part of the Swan River Colony. That same year the town was surveyed and blocks of land were sold to free settlers. Convicts were returned to New South Wales if they had not completed their sentences.

* In 1832 the name of the settlement was changed from Frederick Town to Albany.

* On 7 July, 1841 the explorer Edward John Eyre, with his Aboriginal companion Wylie, staggered into town after a gruelling crossing of the Great Australian Bight.  He stayed for a week at Skerrats Family Hotel on the corner of Stirling Terrace and York Street  and was memorably impressed by the genuine delight which the local Aborigines showed towards Wylie.

* In 1890 the famous writer, Henry Lawson, lived in the town for six months. He later wrote that: "Albany will never change much - it is a pretty town, but vague. It seems to exist only in a far-away-on-the-horizon sort of way; I like it all the better for that."

* In 1914 Albany was the gathering place for the ships that took Australian soldiers to Egypt and eventually to Gallipoli. There are memorials around town recording this event - the last view of Australia for those who died in combat.

* In 1978 the last whaling station in the area was closed.

* In 2001, courtesy of the notorious Albany Doctor (an incessant southerly wind) the town established the Western Power Wind Farm.

* Today Albany is an important regional service centre. The pleasant weather has also ensured that it is a popular with tourists and retirees.

^ TOP

Visitor Information

Albany Visitor Centre, Proudlove Parade, Albany, tel: (08) 9841 9337

^ TOP

Useful Websites

The Albany City Council has the Amazing Albany website - http://www.amazingalbany.com.au/ - which has useful information about eating and accommodation in the area.

^ TOP
Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

1 suggestion so far
  • There have been major developments in Albany (a new marina, Entertainment centre etc) but most importantly is the National Anzac Centre which is now a major tourist attraction.

    Dave Yendell