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Mullewa, WA

Wheatbelt town noted for impressive buildings designed by Monsignor Hawes

Mullewa is a typical northern wheatbelt town whose primary raison d'etre focuses on the railhead and the bulk loading facilities. For visitors its appeal lies in its spectacular springtime wildflower display and, most importantly its range of fine relgious buildings all created and built by Monsignor John Hawes. 


Mullewa is located 462 km north of Perth via Coorow and Three Springs, 99 km east of Geraldton and 282 m above sea level. 


Origin of Name

It is accepted that Mullewa was named after Mullewa Spring which was identified on a pastoral lease in 1869. Exactly what "mullewa", sometimes spelt "mullewah", actually meant is open to dispute. Some sources claim it is a local First Nations word meaning "swan". Others say it means 'rain', 'a land of plenty', and 'a place of fog'. 


Things to See and Do

The Buildings of Monsignor John Hawes
Mullewa, as well as Carnarvon, Geraldton, Kojarena, Northampton, Yalgoo, Tardun, Morawa, Perenjori, Wiluna and Nanson, has religious buildings designed (and often built) by the famous Western Australian architect-priest Monsignor John Hawes. Between 1915-1939 Hawes designed a large number of churches and church buildings in the Central West and along the coast. 
Although some of Hawes' buildings are larger and more imposing, Mullewa has the greatest number of Hawes' buildings. There is the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Holy Apostles St Peter and St Paul, the Priest House (now known as the Monsignor Hawes Priesthouse Museum) which stands nearby, the Mass Rock on the outskirts of town, and the headstone for Selby John Arnold in the town's Pioneer Cemetery. The Priest House in Mullewa is open to visitors July to September from 10.30 to 12.30 each day.
Hawes was Mullewa's first resident parish priest. He arrived in the town in late 1920 and started building the church in 1927. It was to be his most personal and most original church and, as he wrote at the time, his devotion to the task was complete. "I am building into these stones at Mullewa, poor little feeble church that it is, my convictions, aspirations and ideals as to what a church should be."
For more information check out the excellent https://www.monsignorhawes.com which is dedicated to the work of Monsignor Hawes.
There is also the very detailed Monsignor Hawes Heritage Trail which includes a map and a total of eleven places of interest. Check it out at https://www.visitgeraldton.com.au/Profiles/visitgeraldton/Assets/ClientData/Monsignor_Hawes_Heritage_Trail.pdf.

The Church of our Lady of Mt Carmel and the Holy Apostles St Peter and St Paul
Anyone interested in the architecture of Monsignor Hawes should inspect this building which is regarded as "the jewel in the crown" - the finest of all his structures. Hawes started doing sketches for the building while on holiday in England in 1920. The building which was mostly built by Hawes - he was architect, foreman and labourer - is an attempt to recreate a Romanesque church typical of the village churches in Italy and Spain. It is a low church designed to keep the sun out and to blend into the harsh semi-desert environment. Hawes, who saw each of his churches as expressing some aspect of his faith, saw the church and its buildings as symbolising the antiquity of Christianity.
The church has been internally altered in recent times. It is claimed that one of the gargoyles is a caricature of the Bishop of Geraldton with whom Hawes was engaged in a bitter dispute at the time of construction. The bell tower has seven bells the largest of which was cast in Oregon as a railway bell and the pipe organ was given to the church by Hawes' mother.
There is an excellent and detailed description of the church at http://www.monsignorhawes.com.au/thebuildings_mullewaoutlady.html. The description notes of the building: "On entering this quaint building to the right one can see the baptistery which is lit by natural light, the side altars moulded and decorated in typical Hawes style. The choir gallery at the west end houses a small pipe organ purchased by Hawes in memory of his mother who remained a Protestant all her life.
The nave consists of five bays spanned by transverse pointed arches which support the roof timbering. The dome over the sanctuary is constructed of handmade concrete blocks, on the summit of the dome is a circular lantern with glazed windows which filter natural light over the altar. The base of the bell tower has a purpose built slit in the wall so that the bell ringer can sound the consecration bell at the correct time. The tower contains seven bells."

The Priest House
Next to the church is The Priest House, now known as the Priesthouse Museum, which is open to the public from 10.00 am - noon. It is run by parish volunteers. It was completed in 1930 and ready to be used as a presbytery. It is now a museum. It is a unusual and charming building in a low cottage style with red cordoba tiles, an inglenook fireplace, half-panelled walls, latticed bow windows with box seats. 
The large green door to the east of the building when entered one can read the inscription in latin ‘ Janus Patet Cor Magis’ which when translated means ‘ The door opens wide but my heart more so’. The furniture was designed by Hawes and built in Perth. It has a collection of Hawes' memorabilia including a plaster bust of Donatello's Laughing Boy which he made as an arts student and a cup he won at the races in Yalgoo. Inspections can be arranged tel: (08) 9961 1165.

Mass Rock
Located 1.6 km east of Mullewa on the Mount Magnet Road is an area known as the old Show Ground. It was here that Monsignor Hawes carved a simple altar in the rock and held mass for the local Aborigines. This was not racism but a recognition that the Aborigines were unlikely to attend mass in the formal and very European surroundings of the church. The Monsignor Hawes site (http://www.monsignorhawes.com.au/thebuildings_mullewaoutlady.html) notes: "A shoulder of rock can be found on the hill slope overshadowed by gum trees, portion of the rock has been leveled to serve as a table for the Mass celebrations. It is here that Mons. Hawes would gather the local aboriginals with the sound of a bell and encourage the young children to tidy and decorate the altar in readiness for Mass. Mons. Hawes had intended to build a mission style church on this site but this was never built.

Pioneer Cemetery
About 1 km north of the town on the Mullewa-Carnarvon road is the Pioneer Cemetery. There are two examples of Monsignor Hawes work here. At the western end of the cemetery is a grave and altar to Iris McDermott, the daughter of the Mullewa midwife, Maggie McDermot. There is also a stone was carved for Selby John Arnold, one of the altar boys in the Mullewa Church, who drowned in the town dam when he was only twelve. For more information check out http://www.monsignorhawes.com.au/thebuildings_mullewapioneercemetery.html.

Mullewa Town Heritage Walk
This is a 1.1 km loop (it takes 30-40 minutes) around the town centre which passes 22 places of interest. A map and detailed descriptions of each place can be downloaded at https://www.visitgeraldton.com.au/Profiles/visitgeraldton/Assets/ClientData/Town_Heritage_Walk.pdf.

Mullewa Rail Heritage Loop
Covering a distance of 1.4 km (about 30-40 minutes) the Railway Heritage Loop has interpretative panels which tell the story of the opening of the railway from Geraldton to Mullewa in 1894; the inland line to Northam in 1915; and the railway houses which developed in Mullewa in the 1940s. The loop has thirteen information boards and includes the Station Master's House, the Railway Institute and the Railway Station.

Mullewa's Murals
The murals, depicting aspects of the town's history, are scattered around the town. A good starting point is Callaghan Park off Gray Street near the railway line.

Aboriginal Gallery and Workshop
Opened in 2008, the Aboriginal art gallery and workshop is located in Jose Street opposite the Town Hall. It is a rare opportunity to see local Aborigines working on art works and to buy local work from the art gallery.

Mullewa Scenic Lookout
Located off Maley Street (it can be accessed by road or walked to on the Mullewa Bushland Trail). Local information advises: "The Lookout gives expansive views over town and the surrounding bush and farmland, and has 8 large interpretive panels which outline the key stories of the district. Take a thermos of tea or a sandwich and enjoy the ambience of this lovely location."


Other Attractions in the Area

Butterabby Grave
To get to the Butterabby site take the Mingenew Road west of Mullewa and proceed along it until you reach the sign: "Gravestones - Butterabby".
The grave is on private property and is marked by a single piece of stone on which is written 'In these graves lie James Rudd speared here at Butterabby 23 Sept 1864. Also Garder, Wangayakoo, Yourmacarra, Charlacarra, Williacarra. Natives sentenced in Perth and hanged here 28 Jan 1865 for the spearing of Thomas Bott at Butterabby 22 August 1864.'
The grave is a reminder of the conflict which led to the deaths of both Europeans and Aborigines throughout Australia as graziers moved sheep into land which the Aborigines had used for thousands of years. Inevitably the Aborigines killed the sheep and fought the pastoralists. When James Rudd and a convict labourer, Thomas Bott, moved to Butterabby in 1864 they were moving into an area where Aboriginal -European relations were already tense. On 22 August, after Bott had only been in the area for about three months, he was attacked by a group of five Aborigines who speared him, beat him up and took everything they could from his hut. Bott survived until 18 September during which time he identified his attackers. The attackers were caught, taken to Perth and tried, found guilty, returned to the site of the murder and, watched by as many members of their tribe as the local authorities could find, were hung from a nearby gumtree.

Mullewa Bushland Trail
This 2.3 km walk is on the edge of town takes around an hour to complete and offers an insight into the landscape via a number of interpretative panels. It looks at bush tucker, the geology of the region, the mulga and saltbush and provides possibilities to see kangaroos, euros, lizards and bungarras (goannas) and plants used for bush medicine. There is a map and detailed descriptions of places of interest along the way which can be downloaded at https://www.visitgeraldton.com.au/Profiles/visitgeraldton/Assets/ClientData/Mullewa_Bushland_Trail.pdf.

Wildflower Walk
Starting and finishing over the road from the Mullewa Caravan Park on Lovers Lane at the western end of the town, the Wildflower Walk is an ideal way to familiarise yourself with some of Western Australia's most impressive wildflowers because many of the interpretative signs focus specifically on particular wildflowers. Thus:
"Waypoint 1 - Prostanthera magnifica and Calytrix sp. 
Prostanthera magnifica is one of about 90 species known as the ‘mint bushes’ because of the aromatic foliage of many species. Indeed it is related to a number of herbs including mint, thyme, oregano and sage. The calytrix genus consists of about 70 species which include many fringe-myrtles and starflowers. The species found here however has no widely accepted common name." It is hard to imagine a better way to introduce the learner to the marvels of Western Australian wildflowers.

How to See WA Wildflowers - A Guide
When planning a trip there are a number of very simple rules.
(1) Start by downloading Your Holiday Guide to Western Australia’s Wildflowers at http://www.westernaustralia.com/en/things_to_do/forest_and_flowers/pages/wawildflowers.aspx#/. It is a comprehensive guide to the wildflowers. There are over 12,000 species and 60% of them are found nowhere else on the planet.
(2) There is a tendency to say "But I won't know what I'm looking at" but that is rubbish. There are a number of great books and the best, by far, is the answer to "Wildflowers for Dummies" titled "Colour Guide to Spring Wildflowers of Western Australia". It is privately published by Wajon Publishing Company, written by Eddie Wajon, and comes in three volumes – 1. Kalbarri and the Goldfields, 2. Perth and the Southwest and 3. Esperance and the Wheatbelt. They can all be purchased online from Kings Park & Botanic Garden in Perth. Check out https://www.aspectsofkingspark.com.au
The publication's design masterstroke is that the flowers are listed according to their colours and all the pages are colour coded. Thus Mr and Mrs Wildflower Illiterate, when gazing at a Spiny Synaphea, only need to open at the "yellow flowers" section and flick through until they find the colour photo which matches the reality. The company can be contacted directly on (08) 9310 2936. 
(3) No one should ever underestimate the power of local knowledge and assistance. The Western Australian wheatbelt, probably because of the declining prices for both wool and wheat and the increased levels of salinity, has decided that the spring wildflowers are a good for the local economy and worthy of patronage. When innocently asking where I might see a wreath flower (they are a flower which naturally forms itself in a circle like a wreath – particularly appealing to those with a morbid interest in death) at the local coffee shop in Morowa I was told that there were some in the area but the person who knew was at the information office. 
At the information office I was advised, and this is verbatim, to "drive down the main street until you see the road that crosses over the railway line, drive across the line and past the Police Station and Fire Station (or is it the SES), turn right at the next road, continue up past the sheds for a couple of hundred yards [metres haven't arrived here yet] and you'll see some beside the road". Absorbing the instructions I headed off and three minutes later, having noticed a sign reading "Wreath Flowers" on a fence, I found the plant. 
Morowa also publish a leaflet titled "Morowa Wildflower Drives" which, if you were thorough, could keep you in the area for a couple of days.
At the next town, Mingenew (which, for lovers of Australian Big Things now boasts the Big Wheat Stalk – known locally as "Big Ears") the information centre provides both a map and a list of locations with details like "20 km on the Pingelly road on the left hand side there are some excellent wreath flowers". And at Watheroo there's a wonderful local mud map with wryly enthusiastic comments like "Heaps of banksia, grevillea, snake bush etc along the road" and, getting quite technical "Rare and Endangered. E. Rhodantha (rose mallee) Only large patch in the world".
(4) There is a logical route which can be honed or expanded according to the amount of time you want to spend. 
The best starting place, if you want to get a good foretaste of what you are about to experience in the wild, is to visit Kings Park & Botanic Garden in the heart of Perth. Apart from offering sensational views over the Swan River and the Perth CBD the gardens boast a 17 hectare area which has more than 1700 native species of wildflowers. This is, not surprisingly, rather pristine and not very wild but it does allow you to develop a working knowledge of devils pins, kangaroo paws, desert peas, everlastings, starflowers, grevilleas, firebush, a range of orchids and hundreds of other natives. 
You really don't need to be a flora expert. All you need are your eyes and a sense of wonder because the Western Australian wildflowers in spring really are as remarkable and significant as a unique part of Australia as Uluru, the Great Ocean Road or Cradle Mountain. 



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Mullewa was home to the Wajarri First Nations people.

* The area around Mullewa was first settled in the 1850s 

* The shire was declared in 1861. 

* In 1864 a group of local Aborigines killed a convict labourer, Thomas Bott.

* Pastoral leases in the district were identified in 1869.

* In 1873 the explorer John Forrest passed through the district.

* In the 1890s the town became an important stopover point between Geraldton and the Murchison goldfields. 

* The railway reached the town in 1894 and for a brief time Mullewa was the transportation node for the whole of the Central West.

* In 1927 the Church of Our Lady of Mt Carmel and the Holy Apostles St Peter and St Paul was consecrated.

* In 1980 the Priesthouse was converted and used as a museum.

* In August 1985 a local First Nations man, Victor Maitland Simpson, was attacked by Brian David Williamson, the publican of the Railway Hotel, after he had refused to leave the pub. Simpson subsequently died, the publican was charged with assault, and the local Aboriginal community, incensed by the death, did over $50 000 worth of damage to the hotel. 


Visitor Information

Mullewa Visitor Information, Town Hall, Jose Street, tel: (08) 9961 1500, Open Monday - Friday 8.30 am - 4.30 pm, weekends July-October 9.30 am - 4.00 pm.


Useful Websites

There is a useful section of the City of Greater Geraldton website. Check out https://www.cgg.wa.gov.au/live/my-community/mullewa.aspx. There is an excellent one page brochure with a good map of the town which can be downloaded at http://www.mullewa.crc.net.au/Profiles/mullewa_3/Assets/ClientData/Document-Centre/mullewa-town-map-and-info.pdf. It has all the walks around town marked on the map.

Got something to add?

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3 suggestions
  • I’d like to know how the locals pronounce Mullewa. I was born in Perth in 1955 and the pronunciation I grew up hearing was ‘Mullewah’, but in recent times have noted that in ABC news broadcasts and weather reports it is being pronounced ‘Mullewar’ (the last syllable as in war). I’ve noted the same with Morowa.

    So, what is the local – and most importantly, the local aboriginal – pronunciation, please? And if it’s ‘wah”, could someone please contact the ABC and tell them they’ve got it wrong?

    Ross Buncle
  • My family in Mullewa have always called is Mullawar.
    My Uncle was adamant that it was pronounced that way.

    Neill Barry
  • Priest House in Mullewa is open to tourists July to September from 10.30 to 12.30 each day

    Bernadette Drummond