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Bridgetown, WA

Charming historic farming and timber town

Bridgetown is a charming town nestled amongst the hills and located on the banks of the Blackwood River. In the early years of its existence the town prospered as a service centre for the local farmers and as a timber town. By the late 1970s it was attracting visitors as a peaceful country town within easy distance from Perth. Holidaymakers decided to move to the area and local farmers subdivided and sold their land which resulted in a boom in tourism and the growth of shops, cafes, and accommodation options.

Location

Bridgetown is located 258 km south of Perth via Bunbury. It is 94 km south-east of Bunbury and 155 m above sea level.

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Origin of Name

On 4 June 1868 the town was officially proclaimed and named Bridgetown. The official recommendation, by Surveyor T.C. Carey, of the name stated: "Herewith I have the honour to forward a plan of the town site laid out at Geegelup. Some of the settlers wish me to suggest the name of Bridgetown - as it is at a bridge and the Bridgetown was the first ship to put in at Bunbury for the wool from these districts."

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Things to See and Do

Bridgetown Heritage Places
There is a 194 page list of 49 interesting Heritage Places in Bridgetown. The details are extraordinary - detailed information about architects and buildings, about the materials used, about the people who had the buildings constructed. There are excellent photographs of the buildings - many of which are private residences. To really explore the town's rich heritage check out https://www.bridgetown.wa.gov.au/documents/17/municipal-heritage-places-bridgetown. It is a remarkable resource.

An Example: Ford House
This is part of the total information provided by Heritage Places of Bridgetown. There is even more if you check out pages 20-23. Yes, it is that detailed.
Historical Notes: Ford House was built in 1896 by John William Blechynden Jnr for William Ardagh Gardner (WAG) Walter and his wife Lucille Jane Walter (nee Thomson, granddaughter of John Septimus Roe Esq. Surveyor General). The five acre lot was purchased from John Blechynden Senior, part of his original freehold property, the first in Bridgetown. Ford House was named after Walter’s father's house in Taunton, Somerset, UK, of which it also imitates the ground floor design. WAG Walter was the first Magistrate in the South-West and the Mining Registrar during the tin boom in Greenbushes. His brother John (Jack) Walter was the owner of Peninsula House and their wives, Lucille and Louisa were sisters, Thomsons of Brookhampton. WAG remained at Ford House for only nine years.
There have been various changes to Ford House residence over many years. The ‘Jarrah Room’ was once the dining room and originally had three entry doors, with now only one remaining. An outbuilding, which can be seen in early photos (three stall wash house and boiler), was removed from the western side of the house. In the 1970’s many cornices were removed due to disrepair, the steel roof replaced and the barn moved. In the 1980’s the entrance hall was modified from a T shape to an L shape, an ensuite added to the master bedroom and the dining room turned into a kitchen. In the 1990’s the brick work was re-tuck pointed and the wall between the wash house and the pantry removed. This space was renovated as a kitchen, with an original window exposed which had been bricked over. Since it was purchased by the current owner in 1995, the ballroom has been converted to a bedroom and ensuite; an original fireplace restored using the original tiles. Old carpets were lifted, exposed original floorboards polished and insulation added.
Aesthetic Value: Ford House is a handsome homestead character dwelling with scenic views overlooking the Blackwood River, notably less than 500 metres from the Bridgetown commercial zone, yet set in a semi-rural location.
Social Value: Numerous Ford House owners over the years have made it a very social place: The Walters held dances, tennis competitions and large gatherings. Often they had people visiting or staying over, sometimes waiting for the river to subside before being able to cross. Ford House remains very socially significant at present, used for accommodation, retail outlet, fetes, open gardens and numerous fundraising activities."
For more information about Ford House - Accommodation and Guest Services - check out http://fordhouse.com.au.

Brierley Jigsaw Gallery
Located at 154 Hampton Street is the Brierley Jigsaw Gallery, an interesting, and very unusual display of jigsaw puzzles which have been mounted and hung on the walls. There are over 100 jigsaws on display - it is reputedly one of only two jigsaw museums in the world. Perhaps the most famous jigsaw in the collection is a huge 5000 piece work of Rembrandt's The Night Watch donated from Holland. It is open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday - Friday; 10.00 am - 3.00 pm Saturday and 10.00 am - 1.00 pm on Sunday. Tel: (08) 9761 1740 or check out https://www.bridgetown.com.au/brierley-jigsaw-gallery.

Bridgedale
Bridgedale is a fine example of a farming property which has slowly been absorbed into the town. It was built in 1862 when there were only two houses in the district. Constructed of bricks made from clay from the nearby river, the building was purchased by public subscription in 1969 and handed over to the National Trust. Of particular interest are the beautiful gardens and a tiny building behind the house where the original owner, John Blechynden, lived while 'Bridgedale' was being built. The building is not currently open but the grounds are open for inspection and there is a pleasant 1.5 km walk along the Blackwood River which starts at the house. For more information check out https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/places/bridgedale or tel: (08) 9231 6088.

St Pauls Anglican Church
Located at 34-36 Hampton Street, on the corner of Philips Street, is St Pauls Anglican Church (1911). The lych gate and wall were built in the 1920s. This charming church contains ecclesiastical pieces in brass, copper, and silver made by Herbert Augustus Gordon Holdsworth (1886-1965) an artist who lived in the Bridgetown area for most of his life.

Bridgetown Bridge
The Bridgetown Bridge, just down the road from Bridgedale, is reputedly the longest jarrah bridge in Western Australia. It is also a comment on Western Australia that the Blackwood River is the longest, permanently flowing, river in the state. The first bridge across the Blackwood River was built in 1862. The current one was built in 1981, one of the last made from jarrah, and is 129.6 metres long. The Heritage Places of Bridgetown website (https://www.bridgetown.wa.gov.au/documents/17/municipal-heritage-places-bridgetown) pages 171-173 explains: "The first Blackwood Bridge, in proximity to Ford House, was constructed in 1862, under the management of W Forrest (Lord Forrest’s Father), but was swept away by flood waters as it neared completion. The second Blackwood Bridge was built at the very end of Hampton Street, with ‘Bridgedale’ and the original Police Station on the western side of the bridge. In 1881 a third, stronger bridge was built by GW Floyd of Bunbury using convict labour, again with Joseph Smith as foreman. This bridge also started at the very end of Hampton Street, but skewed slightly to the south-east. The fourth bridge was built in 1936 under the management of Main Roads Department, at which time South Western Highway was re-aligned to its current position, as a continuation off Hampton Street at the junction of Carey Street, to cross the river on the western side of ‘Bridgedale’. This was the first of the bridges to be built using milled timber. The fifth and current bridge was built in 1981, at a time when wooden bridges were being phased out. The northern point for this bridge is alongside the previous bridge, but was built angled to the south east. The remains of the pylons to Bridge No.4 can still be seen below the northern parking bay beside the bridge, when the river is low."

Bridgetown Old Gaol and Police Station Museum
Located at 148 Hampton Street, the Bridgetown Old Gaol and Police Station Museum is housed in the 1880 Police Station and Lock Up. Over the years it has been significantly modified. In 1973 it ceased to be a police station and in 1992 it was renovated by the Bridgetown Historical Society. This included hand splitting 7,000 jarrah shingles to recreate the original roof. There is a booklet about the museum which can be downloaded at https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/437ced_41344a905b7a4e14bb1af5251ecf075a.pdf. It describes in detail the contents of the Main Booking Room, the Sitting Room, the Gaol Cells and the Kitchen. There are also exhibitions relating to John Allnutt and Bridgetown's Apple Industry; an historic butcher's cart; the Bridgetown blacksmith and the schools in the area. For more detailed information check out https://www.bridgetownhistoricalsociety.org.au/old-gaol.

Blackwood River Walk
The River Walk starts at the Blackwood River Park, crosses the Blackwood River and then makes its way upstream for 6 km. It is a narrow trail which passes quiet pools and rapids. The vegetation is characterised by moss-encrusted logs, huge eucalypts and green pastures and the birds in the area include red tailed black cockatoos. There are more details and a map at https://trailswa.com.au/trails/river-walk-bridgetown/about.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Scenic Drives in the Area
It is a comment on the beauty of the surrounding area that the local website lists no fewer than eight scenic drives in the area ranging from a short 3 km drive to a lookout over the town through to a 113 km drive to Balingup and Nannup. Check out https://www.bridgetown.com.au/the-great-outdoors/scenic-drives for detailed information. The drives (which start at number 2 to avoid confusion with Highway 1) are as follows:
2. Bridgetown to Maranum Ford and Greenbushes - 51 km - includes the historic town of Greenbushes and the Blackman Highway
3. Bridgetown to Balingup and Nannup - 113 km - visits the boutique shops of Balingup and passes through farmland and bushland.
4. Bridgetown to Jarrah Park and Donnelly River - 73 km - takes in the walks in Jarrah Park (see above) and passes through stands of Jarrah, Marri, Karri and Blackbutt.
5. Bridgetown to Mattamattup Valley and Suttons Lookout - 5 km - drive to Sutton's Lookout and the view over Mattamattup Valley.
6. Bridgetown to Peninsula Road - 19 km - particularly good for seeing kangaroos in the wild.
7. Bridgetown to Allnut Street - 3 km - to the town reservoir with views over the valley.
8. Bridgetown to Mockerdillup Road - 22 km - through forests and beside John Allnut's apple orchard.
9. Bridgetown to Hester and Tweed Road - 71 km - to the timber town of Hester.

Bridgetown Jarrah Park
The Bridgetown Jarrah Park is located 20 km west of Bridgetown on the Brockman Highway. There are four walks in the park - the Shield Tree Walk, Fallers Brand Trail, Hollow Karri Trail and Blackbutt Trail. The fauna and flora in the area is impressive with the trails passing through stands of wildflowers (in the spring) as well as native wisteria, yellow flags, wattles, hovea, coral vine and many orchids.  There are also stands of Jarrah, Marri, Yarri (also known as Blackbutt).  This is the northernmost area for Karri. 
The fauna of the area includes kangaroos, western brush wallabies, honey possums, western pygmy possums, and numbats, Western Australia's state emblem. Birds include honeyeaters, white, yellow and scarlet robins, fantails, wrens, striated and spotted pardalotes, wattle birds, ravens, kookaburras, red and white tailed black cockatoos, golden and rufous whistlers, shrike thrushes, purple crowned lorikeets and many more. And reptiles include skinks, goannas, dugite and tiger snakes. Check out https://www.bridgetown.com.au/the-great-outdoors/forest-bush-walks/bridgetown-jarrah-park for more details.

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History

History:

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the district was home to the Nyungar Aboriginal people including the Kaniyang, Bibulmun, Wardandi and Mineng groups.

* The first explorer into the area was Thomas Turner, an Augusta settler, who traced the Blackwood River upstream to the Arthur River in 1834.

* In 1845 Surveyor A. C. Gregory explored the area and returned to carry out a survey in 1852.

* The first settlers in the area were E. G. Hester and John Blechynden both of whom arrived at around the same time in 1857. Hester settled at Blackwood Park while Blechynden took up 4,000 ha on the southern side of the river and a small holding, on which his house Bridgedale now stands, on the northern side of the river.

* In 1861 convicts built a road from Donnybrook into the area.

* In 1862 John Allnutt was growing apples in the district. He was soon followed by other settlers who found the soils and the climate ideal for a range of fruits.

* A bridge across the Blackwood River was built in 1862.

* The government acquired some of Blechynden's land in 1868.

* The town was officially proclaimed on 4 June 1868 and named Bridgetown on a series of recommendations: 'Herewith I have the honour to forward a plan of the townsite laid out at Geegelup. Some of the settlers wish me to suggest the name of Bridgetown - as it is at a bridge and the Bridgetown was the first ship to put in at Bunbury for the wool from these districts. The name of the brook 'Geegelup' is also a very good name and one by which the place is well known - besides keeping up the native name'.

* A primary school was built in 1870.

* In 1885 the Bridgetown Agricultural Society held its first meeting.

* A brief goldrush occurred in 1892.

* In 1898 the railway reached Bridgetown.

* In 1907 the Police Station was built.

* By World War II over 8,000 tonnes of fruit had been shipped out of the area.

* In the 1960s it was estimated that 100,000 cases of fruit were packed in the district.

* The local High School was completed in 1962.

* In 2000 the town was granted Historic Town Status

* In 2009 a serious bushfire destroyed houses in the district.

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Visitor Information

Bridgetown-Greenbushes Visitor Centre, 154 Hampton Street, Bridgetown, tel: (08) 9761 1740.

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Useful Websites

There is a local website run by the Bridgetown-Greenbushes Visitor Centre. Check out http://www.bridgetown.com.au.

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