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Mount Barker, WA

Small rural township near the beautiful Porongurup National Park

The small town of Mount Barker is known as the gateway to the Porongurups. It is a quiet, pleasant town surrounded by gently rolling hills and with an unusual winding main street. There are a number of historic buildings in the town and the historic Police Station, built by convict labour, is of particular interest. In recent times the district has become an important wine growing region accounting for 37% of Western Australia's wine production.

Location

Mount Barker is located 369 km south east of Perth on the Albany Highway. It is 51 km north of Albany.

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Origin of Name

Mount Barker was first explored in 1829 by the Albany penal colony's surgeon Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson with a small party consisting of two convicts, an Aboriginal guide named Mokare, a soldier and a Mr Kent, Albany's commissariat officer. They reached Mount Barker which Wilson named after Captain Collett Barker, the settlement's commandant.

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Things to See and Do

Mount Barker Heritage Trail
In 1988, the Bicentennial Year, a series of remarkable Heritage Trails, many with the help of the local Historical Societies, were created in Western Australia. They were brilliant guides to the history of particular towns and districts. The excellent Mount Barker Heritage Trail: Settlement and Development of the Mount Barker District brochure covers all the town's main attractions.
The Mount Barker Heritage Trail brochure can be downloaded at https://www.plantagenet.wa.gov.au/Profiles/plantagenet/Assets/ClientData/Documents/MtBarker_Heritage_Trail.pdf. It explains: “The Mount Barker Heritage Trail is a 30 km drive tracing the development of the prosperous Mount Barker farming district. It features sites of historical interest within the Mount Barker townsite and immediate district, including the Mount Barker Lookout, the area’s first bridge and St. Werburgh’s Chapel – one of the few churches in Western Australia built on private property by a landowner.

1. Plantagenet Wines
Plantagenet Wines cellar sales are located at 45-46 Albany Highway. One of the first settlers, George Egerton-Warburton planted grapes on his property as early as 1859 and by 1861 he had produced his first wines. The family continued to produce wines and in 1902 they won all the prizes for wines at the Mount Barker Agricultural Show. In 1965-1966 the WA Department of Agriculture acquired 2,023 ha and grew grapes with a view to making the district an important grape growing area. By the 1970s the area had commercial vineyards and some of the Mount Barker wines were winning awards at Australian shows. Today there are more than 100 vineyards in the area. Plantagenet Wines provides an opportunity to taste the local Rhine riesling, chardonnay, chenin blanc, frontignan, hermitage, cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir. Its cabernet sauvignon was rated as one of the four best in Australia in 1978.

2. All Saints Church
Located on the corner of Albany Highway and Nunarrup Road, the All Saints Church, built in 1900, was Mount Barker’s first stone church. The foundation stone was laid by the Governor of WA on 5 November, 1926. The church’s stained glass window is particularly impressive.

3. Old Post Office
Located on the corner of Albany Highway and Ormond Road, the Old Post Office was designed by the famous architect, George Temple-Poole and was one of six built between 1892-1893. The total cost was £933. The building continued as a post office until the 1960s and eventually purchased by the Council in 1986. Since then it has been occupied by the Plantagenet Arts Council as an arts and crafts centre. It is listed by State Heritage.

4. Park Hotel (Plantagenet Hotel)
Located at 9 Lowood Road, the Plantagenet Hotel was built for local orchardist and apple grower, William Sounness, between 1912 and 1914.  If you look carefully you will notice that there are apples on the struts of the veranda – two on every prominent strut.

5. Lookout on Mount Barker Summit
Located 6 km south west of Mount Barker via Mount Barker Road and Tower Road, is Mount Barker Summit and the TV Transmission site which boasts a tower which is one of the tallest free-standing structures in the Southern Hemisphere. The first European to climb Mount Barker was the explorer Dr TB Wilson and his party in 1829. They were able to view the surrounding countryside and determine the route of the next stage of their exploration. Mount Barker is 404 m above sea level and the panoramic views from the observation stand and the Captain Collett Barker Memorial Stone offer vistas which include the Stirling and Porongurup Ranges and Wilson Inlet at Denmark.

6. Hay River Bridge
Heading south-west out of Mount Barker on St Werburgh’s Road, the visitor will pass the remnants of the Hay River Bridge. The bridge was specifically built to help the local farmers get their produce to Albany during times of flooding. They petitioned the government to build a bridge and, eventually, the Royal Engineer who was attached to the Convict settlement in Albany designed the bridge and chose the site. It was built by Edgar Metcalfe, a carpenter from the USA, and completed in 1858. It remained in use for 110 years – only closing in 1968.

7. St Werburgh’s Chapel
Located 13 km south-west of Mount Barker via St Werburgh’s Road (it is on Chapel Road), St Werburgh’s Chapel “is a fine example of Victorian Rural Gothic Architecture. The building is believed to be the only surviving church in Western Australia originally built on private property by the landowner … It was built between 1872-1874 for George Egerton-Warburton. Some sources indicate that the walls were built by Samuel Swift while the woodwork was done by David Brow and Thomas Rodgers. Egerton-Warburton completed the plastering himself. The chapel was consecrated on 21 June 1874 by Bishop Hale of Perth. In 1878 the vestry was built, and in 1880 the bellcote was added to the vestry. The Chapel remained as the only place of worship in the Mt Barker region until 1900.” For more information check out http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/PrintSingleRecord/bafcc529-4008-41a2-885f-66b5c75a189e.

8. Ruins of the Old Bush Inn
Located in Marmion Street to the west of the Agricultural Showgrounds, are the remains of the Old Bush Inn which was established in 1860 by William C. Cooper. For many years it was the only building in Mount Barker and consequently it operated as a watering hole and a resting place for the Royal Mail and coaches heading south to Albany.

9. The Old Railway Station
Located off the Albany Highway, and clearly signposted as the Visitor Information Centre, the Old Railway Station was constructed in 1923 and restored in 1994. At the time of construction it “was regarded as a most imposing and up to date structure. The terracotta roof tiles and the roof timbers and other timber work were of special note. The internal bricks for the building were made locally at the Kendenup Brickworks, part of the De Garis close settlement experiment. The new station, built in 1923. provided excellent facilities for passengers travelling on the Great Southern Line.” See http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/Details/bc05eb56-7f5f-44ea-87a7-7f02062829c2 for more information.

10. Old Police Station Museum
Located on the Albany Highway, the Old Police Station Museum complex is a journey into the early history of the district. Built in 1867-68 by a convict road party it originally consisted of a living quarters, a coach house and stables for the police horses. It didn’t have a lock up until one was built in 1887. Between 1868 and 1887 prisoners were tied to a log outside during the day and to the leg of the kitchen table at night. Notes on the Police Station by the Plantagenet Historical Society note that: 'The station was built of the local ironstone, set in a sturdy jarrah framework, the stones cemented together in mud. The walls were then plastered over, and the plaster marked into large rectangles to resemble the blocks of Portland stone used for public buildings in England at the time. The walls were 14 inches thick. The roof was made of jarrah shingles ... Timbers for the roof and flooring were pit sawn, and the iron nails were hand made.' The police station was closed in 1908 and taken over by the Plantagenet Historical Society in 1966, restored and opened to the public in 1971. The museum is open Saturday and Sunday 10.00 am – 2.00 pm or by appointment. Tel: (08) 9851 2505. Check out https://www.facebook.com/mtbarkermuseum/ for more information.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Vineyards in the Area
The area around Mt Barker is a significant wine growing area. There are a number of vineyards and a number of important wine makers. In areas like the Mount Barker region, where there are a large number of cellar doors, it is best to refer to the specific knowledge provided by the local tourist information sites. The Mount Barker Wineries site (http://www.mountbarkerwine.com.au/wineries.html) provides details of opening hours, phone numbers and contact points.

Porongurup National Park
Located 28 km to the south-east of Mount Barker, the Porongurup National Park covers 2600 ha and is notable for its remarkable and massive ancient granite domes.
The Porongurups are only 12 km long although they have more than 20 peaks which rise over 600 metres with the highest peak reaching over 700 m. They are recognised as a relic area with tall karri trees and over 750 native plant species. The main activities in the park are bushwalking, driving the 23 km through the park, and picnicking with a number of trails leading from the Tree-in-the-Rock picnic area and the Castle Rock picnic area. There is a 2.2 km walk to the remarkable Granite Skywalk. See https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/porongurup for details.

* Trails from the Tree-in-the-Rock Picnic Area
There are four trails which head out from the Tree-in-the-Rock picnic area.
Bolganup Heritage Trail - a short 600 m loop (30 minutes) through the karri forest.and across a small creek.
Devils Slide Trail - 5 km (1-3 hours) with views from the highest peak in the range. (see https://trailswa.com.au/trails/nancy-peak for more details).
Hayward Peak Trail - 3 km (2 hours return) a steep walk to Hayward Peak.
Nancy Peak Walk - 5.5 km (2-3 hours) a circuit with panoramic views (see https://trailswa.com.au/trails/nancy-peak for more details).
Wansborough Walk - 4 km one way (2-3 hours) through karri forest.

* Trails from Castle Rock and the Porongurup Skywalk
There are two walks from Castle Rock.
Castle Rock Walk Trail - steep 2.2 km (one way) taking 1-3 hours with the highlight being the Granite Skywalk, a remarkable viewing platform up a 6 m ladder. The skywalk balances on the edge of the granite outcrop and offers dramatic and panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. The walk passes the Balancing Rock.
Walitj Meil Walk Trail - a 1 km loop walk with views across to the Stirling Ranges. See https://trailswa.com.au/trails/walitj-meil-walk-trail for a map and details.

Stirling Range National Park
The central appeal of the area is the beautiful and dramatic Stirling Range National Park which boasts 15 peaks over 900 m and 50 peaks above 600 m. It is the only significant mountain range in the southern half of Western Australia and offers the visitor jagged cliffs, sheltered gullies, superb panoramic views and a staggering 1500 species of flora - many of which grow nowhere else on the planet. There is a 42 km drive through the park, most of it on good dirt roads suitable for 2WD driving, allows the visitor to experience an area of great diversity and beauty.
The geology is fascinating. A brochure on the park explains: "The Range was formed over 1000 million years ago when this area was a shallow sea and sediment was deposited on the granite lowland. After the sea receded the area of the range sank. The surrounding area gradually eroded back to basic granite and the Range was slowly uplifted, eventually weathering to its present form. The Chester and Red Gum passes mark the courses of river that flowed south during the early stages of formation. Ripple marks can still be seen on the exposed rock."
For many visitors the Sterling Ranges National Park is about bushwalking. The main trails include:

Mount Magog (856 m) - 8 km return. Hard, 3-4 hours. Please note there is no path for the final 1 km to the summit.

Mount Talyuberlup (783 m) - 3 km return. Moderate, 2 hours. Caverns and precipitous rocks at the summit of this mountain make this an exciting climb. It is also known as TALYUBERLUP peak.

Mount Hassell (847 m) - 4 km return. Moderate, 2-3 hours. It is suitable for families and can be attempted by young children.

Mount Toolbrunup (1052 m) - 4 km return. Hard, 3 hours. This walk is often regarded as the best in the Park. Excellent 360° views from the summit, and dramatic rocky outcrops provide spectacular scenery.
All walks are steep and uneven. There is detailed information and advice at http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/stirling-range with discussions of the features of each walk.
The flora in the park is incredibly rich and it is reasonable to expect to see scarlet banksia, Cranbrook bells, dryandra, orchids, flowering gums and grass trees. It has been estimated that between August and November it is possible to see over 1000 species of wildflowers and the park is known to be home to over 180 species of birds including black and white cockatoos, eagles and emus.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Bibbulmun First Nation Noongar people.

* In 1826 Major Edmund Lockyer reached King George III Sound with orders to establish a settlement. It was later named Albany.

* Mount Barker was first explored in late 1829, nearly four years after the establishment of the penal colony at Albany.

* The penal colony's surgeon Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson with a small party consisting of two convicts, an Aboriginal guide named Mokare, a soldier and a Mr Kent, Albany's commissariat officer, set off from Albany on 2 December 1829 to explore the hinterland.

* The party reached the site of Mount Barker in late 1829 and then turned west and south reaching the coast near the site of Denmark.

* By the 1830s a military barracks had been built in the district.

* By 1835 the road from Perth to Albany had reached the district around Mount Barker.

* The first settler into the area was Sir Richard Spencer, the Government Resident in Albany. In 1835 he bought 1,940 acres from the Lieutenant Governor of the Colony of Western Australia, Captain James Stirling, who had been granted 100 000 acres in the area.

* This farm was successful and although Spencer died in 1839 his wife continued to operate the farm until her death in 1855.

* Spencer was followed by Lieutenant George Egerton-Warburton who married Spencer's daughter, Augusta, and took up land upstream in 1842. He named his property St Werburgh after an early English Saxon church.

*  The Hay River Bridge was built in 1858 and used continuously until 1968.

* In 1859 George Egerton-Warburton planted grapes on his property.

* In 1860 William Cooper purchased land on the Mount Barker plains. He built the Bush Inn.

* In 1867 a police station was built by convicts. It was opened in 1868.

* In 1871 the first meeting of the Plantagenet Road Board was held at the Bush Inn. 

* In 1872 George Egerton-Warburton's eldest brother, who was the Squire of Arley Hall and the rector of Northwich, sent £500 for the building of a church on the property.

* In 1877 the Governor of Western Australia, Governor Weld, stayed overnight at the Bush Inn.

* In 1880 the Bush Inn became a stopping point for the Cobb & Co coaches which plied the road between Albany and Perth.

* A lock up was added to the police station in 1887.

* In 1889 the railway from Albany to Beverley was completed.

* Between 1892-1893 the Mount Barker Post and Telegraph Station was built.

* The WA Land Company gazetted a townsite in 1893.

* The government took over the railway line in 1896.

* The townsite was resurveyed and gazetted in 1899.

* In 1900 All Saints Church was consecrated.

* Mixed farming was established towards the end of the nineteenth century and by 1910 there were 75 commercial orchards (mostly concentrating on apple growing) in the area.

* In 1912 the Plantagenet Hotel opened its doors.

* In 1917 the Mount Barker Fruitgrowers Cool Storage Co-operative was established.

* An impressive railway station was built in the town in 1923-1924.

* In 1965-66 the Department of Agriculture planted 2,023 ha of vineyards in the district.

* The Mount Barker Fruitgrowers Cool Storage Co-operative was closed in 1975 and the orchards have largely been replaced by vineyards producing a range of excellent wines. That year saw the first commercial wine, Plantagenet Wines, sold.

* In 1986 the Post Office was purchased by he Shire of Plantagenet.

* In 2020 the town featured in the movie Rams starring Sam Neill and Michael Caton.

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Visitor Information

Mount Barker Visitor Centre, Old Railway Station Building, 622 Albany Highway, tel: (08) 9851 1163, Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday and 10.00 am - 3.00 pm on Saturday and Sunday.

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Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out https://www.mountbarkertourismwa.com.au.

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