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Busselton, WA

Beautiful seaside resort town with impressive jetty and many holiday attractions

Busselton is a delightful seaside holiday resort characterised by green parks, a collection of significant historical buildings and an impressive jetty. It is an idyllic location lapped by the Indian Ocean and with impressive pure white beaches. In 1832 John Bussell, when he first saw the area, described it as "Here was a spot that the creative fancy of a Greek would have peopled with Dryad and Naiad and all the beautiful phantoms and wild imagery of his sylvan mythology. Wide waving lawns were sloping down to the water's edge. Trees thick and entangled were stooping over the banks." Today it is an ideal holiday destination with a wide range of interesting activities.


Busselton is located 223 km south of Perth via Mandurah and Bunbury.


Origin of Name

Busselton is named after the first settlers in the area - the Bussel family. In 1832, only two years after they had settled at Augusta, John Garrett Bussell led a party north and discovered the Vasse River area. He moved to the area in 1834. As early as 1835 people were starting to call the main settlement on the Vasse, Busselton. The Bussell family wanted the town named Capel after a relative in England. In a letter written in 1835 Fanny Bussell wrote: "The town at The Vasse is named Busselton in honour of its first settlers. We should have liked it called Capel, but the name was given at Perth without our knowledge."


Things to See and Do

Busselton Heritage Trail
This really is a brillliant idea. What they have done is created a dedicated Busselton Heritage Trail website (see https://www.busseltonheritagetrail.com) where they explain: “The Heritage Trail walk begins at Railway House near the Busselton Jetty, which is culturally significant as an early Western Australian timber structure and a valuable relic of the City’s early past and its connections with the timber industry of the South West. It is also important as a regional landmark and as a popular tourist and recreation facility. Take a trip on the Jetty train to the Observatory … Discover the history of the City of Busselton as you walk along Queen Street then, turning left after St Mary’s Church of England, to the Butter Factory Museum complex situated on the northern bank of the Vasse River. It comprises the original brick and weatherboard two-storey building and the connected administration buildings. The oldest of only seven known in the State, the Butter Factory stands as a good example of post-Word War I industrial architecture.
“You can access the tour by purchasing a 14 day subscription. This provides access to over 45 minutes of video content, hundreds of images and heritage audio recordings. The Busselton Heritage Trail is operated by The Rotary Club of Busselton Geographe Bay and all proceeds are returned to the community.
The visitor signs up and the entire community of Busselton benefits. It costs a very modest $10 for two weeks of access and provides information on:
1. Busselton Jetty
2. Ballaarat Engine
3. Railway Station
4. Pioneer Cemetery
5. The Esplanade Hotel
6. The Tub
7. Lighthouse
8. ArtGeo Gallery
9. Old Court House
10. Settlement Art Sculptures
11. Weld Theatre
12. Old Post Office
13. AR Bovel and Son
14. Vasse Hotel
15. Old Fire Station
16. Sussex House
17. Commercial Hotel
18. Prospect Villa
19. St Mary’s Church
20. Old Butter Factory

The highlights of the Heritage Trail include:

1. Busselton Jetty
The Busselton Jetty is one of the wonders of the district. It extends out into the quiet waters of Geographe Bay. The original jetty was built of jarrah and completed in 1865. The first jetty was 528 feet (160 metres) but drifting sands and the shallowness of the bay resulted in the construction of an additional 430 feet (131 metres) jetty in 1875. An extra extension was added so that today it is 1.8 km long. It is recognised as one of the longest jetties in the world. It was closed to shipping in 1972 and damaged by a cyclone in 1978. It is now used by fishermen and holiday makers. There are a number of activities connected to the jetty. A train travels 1.7 km to the end of the Jetty. There an Underwater Observatory at the end of the jetty where visitors descend 8 metres via a spiral staircase to inspect a forest of vividly coloured tropical and sub-tropical corals, sponges, fish and invertebrates. There are eleven viewing windows at various levels within the Observatory where visitors can inspect some of the 300 marine species that live beneath the Jetty. There are also Mermaid Tours, Evening Tours and Underwater Helmet Walks. An Interpretative Centre and Museum offer insights into the Jetty’s past. For more information check out https://www.margaretriver.com/members/busselton-jetty.

2. Ballaarat Steam Train
Located at Railway House on the Busselton foreshore, the 'Ballaarat' steam train is reputed to be the oldest train in Western Australia. It was built in Victoria in 1871 and shipped across to Western Australia where, for only a few years, it hauled timber from Yoganup to Wonnerup. It was given to the local council in 1934, reached Busselton in 1937 and was mounted in Victoria Square in 1939. In 2012 it was renovated with over 550 volunteer hours being spent to sandblast it and to remove the rust. The City of Busselton website explains that "It was installed at the Railway House whilst the construction continued on around it – the building opened in March 2017. Railway House itself is a renovated railway station with a rich history of its own, before becoming the premises of the Busselton Visitor Centre. The Ballaarat Room houses an interpretive exhibition of the timber industry which underpinned the economy of the region, as well as a display of donated artefacts and a history ‘walk.’" Check out https://www.busselton.wa.gov.au/Community-Services/Cultural-Development/Ballaarat-Engine for more detailed information.

3. Railway Station
Listed by the State Heritage Council, and originally located on Stanley Street, this building now forms part of the Visitor Information Centre. The new location was opened in 2017 on the Busselton Foreshore and combines the old railway station with an interpretative centre which explores the district's timber heritage and includes the Ballaarat steam train. It was constructed from jarrah weatherboards and, when built in 1894, included a goods shed, locomotive shed, single men's quarters and Station Master's house.

5. Esplanade Hotel
Located on Marine Terrace and built in 1898 (with numerous modifications over the years), the Esplanade Hotel is a typical, upmarket hotel designed to cater for holidaymakers from Perth who wanted to be close to the beach and enjoy the charms of the town in a sophisticated environment.

8. Cultural Precinct - ArtGeo Cultural Complex
The town's Cultural Precinct is located at the beach end - 4-7 Queen Street. It is a combination of an historic court house (now a gallery), an exhibition space, artists studios, a courtyard, the Weld Hall Theatre and Aboriginal gardens.

* Merenj Boodja Bush Food Garden
Located at 4 Queen Street, this unusual bush food garden was created as a community project. The plants depict the six seasons that are recognised by the local Nyoongar Aboriginal people. For more information check out https://www.artgeo.com.au/discover/mereng-boodja-bush-food-gallery.

9. Court House
Located at 4 Queen Street, the Old Court House was built between 1860-1897 and, at various times, has operated as a court house, a government administration centre and a land agency. Today it functions as an arts hub and heritage site. Its attraction has been explained as: "Wander through the Courtrooms, Magistrates Room, Bond Store, Police Station, Gaol Cells and Exercise Yard and learn about the colourful law and order history and notorious characters that frequented these buildings. Explore the cold, dark gaol cells and imagine being locked up for 14 days for disorderly conduct in a public place behind one of the heavy wooden doors. Browse the Gift Store in the old Courtroom where you'll discover a stunning range of high quality locally crafted art, jewellery, pottery, glasswork, cards, photography and woodwork. Enjoy a coffee and bite to eat from the Lockup Coffee House either outside in the sunshine or amongst the history and art inside.  Heritage Tours run during school holidays, long weekends and special events, please check our website for details." Check out https://www.margaretriver.com/members/artgeo-cultural-complex for more details.

10. Busselton Settlement Art Project
Located in various locations at the end of Queen Street (around the Cultural Precinct) are five "figurative sculptures of individuals selected to illustrate Busselton’s history as an early and successful regional WA settlement". The sculptures were created by Greg James, a well-known artist from Fremantle. They depict Gaywal, a local Aborigine; a Whaler's Wife; a Timber Worker; the founding father of the town, John Garrett Bussell; a Spanish settler; and a Pioneer Woman. More information and detailed descriptions of each of the sculptures are available at https://www.busselton.wa.gov.au/Community-Services/Cultural-Development/Busselton-Settlement-Art-Project. The additional information is provided on PDF files.

11. Weld Hall Theatre
Located at 13 Queen Street, the Weld Hall Theatre was built between 1874-1881. It has been listed on the State's Register of Heritage Places in recognition of its significant historical and cultural value to the local community. The Register explains its significance: "Weld Hall, a single storey brick building with a galvanised iron roof in the Victorian Italianate style, has cultural heritage significance as the place associated with various community organisations including the Mechanics’’ Institute, Returned Services League, and Working Men’s Association, reflecting its important public education role ... Also the place is one of the oldest remaining structures in Busselton and is an important reminder of the role of the Mechanics’ Institute in promoting education and cultural development in the community prior to formal library and education facilities being created. The place still retains a social role and contributes to the community’s sense of place. It has a striking visual form and plays an important role in the Queen Street streetscape at the corner of Queen and Adelaide streets.
"Construction of Weld Hall began in 1874 following the grant of land to the Weld Mechanics' Institute and Working Men's Association and £10 towards building costs ... In the late 1850s, the Swan River Mechanics' Institute was established, with a Busselton chapter founded in 1861. This was particularly important - with the foundation of a Mechanics' Institute considered a milestone in the development of any town.
"The Mechanics' Institute in Western Australia elected to adopt the name of Frederick Aloysius Weld, Governor of Western Australia from 1869 to 1875, perhaps to distinguish itself from the Working Men's Association. Unusually, there is no evidence of a foundation stone and the original plans are missing. The names of the architect and builder are similarly not known." Check out http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/Details/62b317b9-04a3-4df8-b1c8-00c00c7da902 for more details.

14. Vasse Hotel
Located at 38 Duchess Street, the Vasse Hotel has been changed many times since it was built in 1906. Still it is listed by State Heritage because, as they explain, "The Vasse Hotel, a two storey brick, stucco and iron roofed Federation Filigree style building with substantial additions, has cultural heritage significance as a local landmark, as a substantial fragment of a fine buildings and for its contribution to the Queen Street streetscape. It is also significant as a meeting place and a place for social occasions since 1906." They describe the building as "The original section of the building had a two-storey timber construction filigree style verandah, brick walls, stucco decorative treatments, an iron roof, tall double hung sash windows and timber-framed doors. It is a distinctive element in the streetscape and like most country hotels takes full advantage of its corner to make an architectural statement." For more detailed information check out http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/Details/ce4a85af-2ec1-46d5-b2ac-76fb1e74a20c.

19. St Mary's Anglican Church
Located on the corner of Queen Street and Peel Terrace, St Mary's Anglican Church was built in 1844-45 and claims to be the oldest stone church in Western Australia. It was built as a result of the commitment of John Molloy and John Garrett Bussell, the latter had trained as a clergyman. The WA Heritage Council (see http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/Details/73802a42-ede3-40ad-9052-58289efdbed4) had a physical description: "A stone and shingle roofed church in the Victorian Gothic style in a graveyard setting. St Mary’s Anglican Church is a Victorian Romanesque style building in the Norman manner, constructed in limestone with a shingled roof. The place is set in a graveyard where many of the early families of Busselton buried their dead. The grounds are grassed and a number of peppermint trees provide shady and green setting that is further enhanced by the presence of the Vasse River. It has an auditory plan, and sanctuary, entrance porch and vestry and belltower. The walls are constructed of local limestone and the nave is three bays long, and the bays are articulated with pilasters and round head windows with label moulds. There are stained glass windows. The floors are of timber." The establishment of the church was slow. The church wasn't consecrated until 1848 and it was another decade before a resident clergyman arrived. The Rectory (1870s) has wide verandas and an unusual hexagonal bay window.

20. Heritage Butter Factory Museum
Located on Peel Terrace, the Old Butter Factory Museum was built in 1918. It is an excellent folk museum. The rooms are still known by their butter factory names - 'The Churn Room', 'The Cream Holding Room', 'The Cream Tipping and Washing Room'. The museum's displays of photographs, equipment and memorabilia are a comprehensive history of the local area. The museum's website explains that the museum: "traces the family, social, civic, commercial and maritime history of Busselton. Everything from agriculture to whaling; from crockery, clocks and cameras to sewing machines, travel and transport is included ... the exhibits demonstrate Busselton’s diverse agricultural, forestry and maritime history. Special attention is focused on the famous 1920’s Group Settlement Scheme which shaped much of the development of the South West." There is a Group Settlement humpy and a small country school in the grounds. Check out https://busseltonmuseum.org.au for more information. Tel: (08) 9754 2166.

Waljin Aboriginal Garden
Located beside the Vasse River at 38 Peel Terrace, the Waljin Aboriginal Garden has been listed on the State Heritage Register (see
http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/Details/f72a80a5-14be-4aa5-afad-ff86a5fcfa9c). It is cultural significant as an interpretative garden created by the local Nyoongar Aboriginal people The Register records: "The garden comprises a number of concentric circles approximately 20 metres in diameter at the widest point. The circles are alternately planted with native plants and paved to provide access to the central circle via a maze effect. The centre has a seat/platform in the form of a snake. The plants are noted with their respective uses to the Nyungar people."

Villa Carlotta
It is rare for motels to have a section which is a genuinely historic building. The Villa Carlotta, at 110 Adelaide Street is now part of the Busselton Bay (Ithaca) Motel. It was built in 1896-97 and has such unusual design features as French windows and a tower. The State Heritage website (see http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/Details/61342472-8c5d-4544-89a3-8a07bee13193) records its history: "The place was built in 1896-7 and initially named Ithaca. Frank Backhouse built it for himself and his family. Backhouse had been an engineer in Coolgardie. In 1904 the place was acquired by the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions for a convent and school. It was used by the nuns and for boarders. The place was transferred to the Josephite Sisters in 1922 when they took over the school in Kent Street. The sister relocated in 1951 and Ithaca continued in use as a retreat for children and for holidays for the Josephite sisters. Then in 1952 the place was sold to a Mr. Rushton who may have given the place its present name and ran it as a private hotel. Following several changes in ownership the place was acquired by Troy Buswell in 1995 and the place continues to operate as a guesthouse ...Villa Carlotta is a single storey tuck pointed brick and stucco, aluminium tiled roof Federation Queen Anne style house, with a tall belvedere as a key design feature. It is set in well-tended gardens. "


Other Attractions in the Area

Augusta-Busselton Heritage Trail
In 1988 Western Australia produced a series of excellent Heritage Trail brochures for the Bicentennial year. The Heritage Trail, Augusta-Busselton covers the 100 km from Augusta to Busselton and traces the early history of the area through the movements of the Bussel and Molloy families who settled in Augusta in May, 1830 and subsequently moved up the coast looking for suitable agricultural land. The trail starts at Georgiana Park in Augusta and traverses the coast to Busselton to explore the jetty and the significant local buildings. The brochure can be downloaded as a PDF at https://www.amrshire.wa.gov.au/library/file/6%20Region/WalkingTrails/augbsnHeritageTrail.pdf.

Wonnerup House
Located 10 km north-east of Busselton off the Bussell Highway at 935 Layman Road, Wonnerup, Wonnerup House is run by the National Trust and open to the public. Set in beautiful gardens it has furnishings which date from the original settlers. The complex also includes the Dairy and Kitchen which predate the main house. Over the road are the Teacher's House (1885) and School (1873). The National Trust notes of the building: "The house built in 1859 was not the first on this site. George Layman built a rough hut there in 1837. Four years later, having cleared a small farm by hand, he built a more substantial home for his family. Tragically he died that same year, speared by one of his Aboriginal workers. Layman’s widow Mary and their five young children remained on the property. In 1858 tragedy struck again. Mary’s second husband was drowned in a boating accident and the house at Wonnerup was destroyed by fire. The following year George Layman Jnr married Amelia and they started the construction of the buildings we see today. Between 1873 and 1875 a small one-room, one-teacher school was built across the track from the house." For information about opening times tel: (08) 9752 2039 or check out https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/places/wonnerup.

Forest Adventures South West
Located 18 km up the coast from Busselton at 12 Ludlow Park Road, Forest Adventures South West is spread across 3.2 ha of the Ludlow Tuart Forest and offers two hours of fun and challenges on flying foxes and high ropes. The 77 activities include 500 metres of flying foxes, the opportunity to unicycle through the trees, Tarzan ropes, a 13 metre base jump, BMX on a bike and spider webs to climb on. For more detailed information check out https://www.forestadventures.com.au.

Ngilgi Cave
Located 30 km west of Busselton, Ngilgi Cave was discovered in 1899 by Edward Dawson who stumbled upon it while searching for missing horses. The following year he conducted visitors through the cave. Dawson continued to take tour groups through the cave until he retired in 1937. The cave takes its name from an Aboriginal legend which recounts a battle between a good spirit (Ngilgi) and an evil spirit (Wolgine). The cave has an impressive array of stalactites, stalagmites, helictites and shawl formations. There is an interpretative area recording Ngilgi Cave's history as well as a cafe, playground and barbecue facilities. It is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm (first tour at 9.30 am, last entry at 4.00pm). Check out https://www.margaretriver.com/members/ngilgi-cave for times and tours. The website points out "Extensive boardwalks lead you through the impressive chambers of this underground wonderland, with the junior explorer's tunnel providing fun for little ones. Along the way, lighting illuminates hidden marvels and signage allows you to learn more about the remarkable variety of calcite crystal decorations. Relish the rare opportunity to handle some cave crystals at the touch table - where a guide is available to answer all your burning questions. With a constant temperature of 20°C, the cave is an ideal place to visit year round."

Whicher Ridge Sensory Garden
Located 25 km south of Busselton at 200 Chapman Hill East Road, Chapman Hill, Whicher Ridge Wines has an award winning cellar door and the only wine sensory garden in Australia. The Whicher Ridge website (see https://whicherridge.com.au/the-creation-of-our-wine-sensory-garden/) explains: "A Sensory garden adds a little bit extra to a garden experience, by enhancing all 5 senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste as you wander through the garden. These gardens use fragrant herbs, such as rosemary and basil, and fragrant flowering plants such gardenias and lilacs, to excite the sense of smell. There are various plants and garden ornaments which are used to explore the sense of touch, such as the soft flowering plumes of ornamental grasses, the furry leaves of lamb’s ear, and smooth stones along a path or in a small dish to stimulate the sense of touch. Taste treats can easily be added through a sensory garden with fruits and seasonal plantings of vegetables as well as culinary herbs and edible flowering plants such as nasturtiums and violets, which the visitor can pick and crush between their fingers, smell and taste.
"A Wine Sensory Garden builds upon the sensory garden experience, with plantings around the garden themed to each wine variety. As a visitor to our Wine Sensory Garden, you walk out from our cellar door into the garden, (perhaps with a wine glass in hand!) into where each section represents one of our wines. There are beds for each of our wines Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Viognier."



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Noongar Aboriginal people from the Wardandi and Bibulman language groups.

* In 1801 the French explorer, Nicholas Baudin, with his ships the Geographe and Naturaliste, explored the coast around Busselton. He named the bay, Geographe Bay, after his vessel and named the river Vasse after a sailor who was lost, believed drowned, in the area.

* In 1831 John Garrett Bussell travelled to the area from Augusta.

* In 1834 John Garrett Bussell with the Turners, Molloys, Chapmans and Laymans moved north from Augusta to the fertile valley of the Vasse River. The Bussell party landed near the present site of the jetty, made their way up what is now Queen Street, reached the Vasse from where they travelled upstream to the land they planned to settle. The home, named 'Cattle Chosen', was built on the banks of the Vasse and it was here that John Bussell settled for the rest of his life. News of the success of the Bussells meant that the other families at Augusta quickly followed.

* In 1836 a townsite was laid out at the mouth of the Vasse River but even the surveyor described the area as a place where 'mud and water were far more plentiful than dry land, more fit for Dutchmen or frogs than British soldiers'.

* In 1837 the present townsite was surveyed. The settlement grew as a result of the port facilities available in Geographe Bay and the fact that produce from the area, particularly horses, was being exported to India. The area was so dangerous that people were afraid to leave their houses for fear of being speared by the local First Nation people.

* In 1837 the Layman family built their first home in the area. It was destroyed by fire in 1858.

* By 1839 the town had a population of 77.

*  On 22 February 1841 George Layman was fatally speared by a local Aborigine. He was only 31 at the time.

* A post office was established in 1842.

* St Mary's Church was built in 1845.

* By 1847 the town had been officially gazetted as Busselton.

* In 1848 a government school was established.

* In the 1850s convict labour arrived in the district.

* Wonnerup House was built in 1859 by the Layman family.

* In 1864 the first Busselton jetty was completed.

* By the 1880s there was a regular coach service from Perth to Busselton.

* In 1894 a rail service from Busselton to Bunbury started operating.

* The butter factory was opened in 1918.

* The town began to grow when the Group Settlement Policy moved people into the area between 1923-1926.

* By 1927 there was a railway link between Busselton and Flinders Bay.

* During World War II Busselton was home to a RAAF training base.

* In 1972 Busselton port closed.

* The Busselton Jetty was seriously damaged by Cyclone Alby in 1978.

* In 2012 Busselton was officially declared a city.


Visitor Information

Busselton Visitor Centre, 17 Foreshore Parade (on the foreshore near the jetty), Busselton, tel: (08) 9780 5911. It is open daily from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm.


Useful Websites

Check out https://www.margaretriver.com/stories-busseltons-best-kept-secrets.

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