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Toodyay, WA

Historic Western Australian town - an easy day trip from Perth.

The charming and historic town of Toodyay is located on the Avon River. Today it is a popular day tripper destination with large numbers of cafes and gift shops. The primary appeal of the town lies in the exceptional museum inside Connor's Mill and the genuinely fascinating histories that are told inside the Newcastle Gaol. On weekends it is popular and often crowded. An ideal place to drive from Perth and spend the day.


Toodyay is located 87 km north-east of Perth.


Origin of Name

It has been suggested that 'toodyay' is a corruption of the Noongar word 'duigee' which possibly meant 'place of plenty'. Given its location on the Avon River this would be entirely appropriate.


Things to See and Do

Connors Mill
Connors Mill is accessed through the Toodyay Visitor Centre at 7 Piesse Street. The three storey building was constructed by George Hassell for Daniel Connor, a prominent local businessman, in 1870. Its function was to grind the locally grown wheat and it operated as a flour mill from 1870-1925. In 1925 it was converted into a power station. It provided power for the town until the 1950s. Today the mill has been converted into a brilliant, roaring and chugging, three level demonstration of how the original steam-powered wheat mill operated. It is open from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm daily, tel: (08) 9574 2435.

Newcastle Gaol
The Newcastle Gaol Museum is located on Clinton Street and is a fine example of the quality of modern Western Australian museums. Set in a simple stone building which was constructed in 1865, it consists of a neat row of small cells, a kitchen, constable's quarters, storeroom (now the 'native cell') and exercise yard. It was designed by Richard Roach Jewell who designed the Perth Town Hall and Pensioners Barracks in St George's Terrace, Perth.
Since it was built it has changed usage five times. It started as a prison when Toodyay was still known as Newcastle; became a hiring depot for convicts; was used as the local police station; before being rented out and used as a private home. It was used as a private house from 1929-1940 after which it fell into disrepair. In 1962 it was purchased by the local council in 1962 and turned into a museum which has recently been carefully rethought so that it offers a powerful history through cells devoted to Moondyne Joe, the local Aborigines who were gaoled in the building, and the fascinating story of the three Dorizzi Brothers. Each year the museum has a number of special events and special exhibitions.

There are three highlights at Newcastle Gaol:

(a) The Moondyne Gallery
One of the special exhibits is the Moondyne Gallery, a celebration of Moondyne Joe, Western Australia's most infamous bushranger. It is located in one of the cells and records the history of Joseph Bolitho Johns (1827-1900), the son of a Welsh blacksmith who was transported for ten years for stealing three loaves of bread, some cheese and a piece of mutton. Joe was a convict who arrived in Perth on 1 May, 1853. Upon his arrival he became a ticket of leave man. He was conditionally pardoned and moved to Toodyay in 1860. In 1861 he was accused of unlawfully branding an unbranded horse. He was taking the horses to a place known as Moondyne Springs on the Avon River. He was subsequently arrested and incarcerated in Newcastle Gaol for the crime. While waiting to be tried he managed to escape and during his escape he stole the Resident Magistrate's horse and bridle. This was the beginning of the legend of Moondyne Joe. He was an enterprising thief and escapee. Shortly after his escape he was recaptured, charged and served three years.
Released in 1864 he was convicted in 1865 of killing an ox (he protested his innocence) and sentenced to ten years. He regarded the sentence as unfair and this prompted him to attempt to escape four times between 1865-67. Three of his attempted escapes were successful.
On 17 September 1866 he carried out his most daring robbery - he formed a gang with three other men and held up Everett's Store in Toodyay while Governor Hampton was staying in town. The gang managed to escape with guns, supplies, clothing, ammunition, and, eccentrically, 'thirty-six fancy ladies handkerchief'. This robbery was later mythologised with some accounts recording that Moondyne Joe had captured the Governor and cut off his beard.
A few weeks later, on 29 September, he was recaptured and sent to Fremantle Gaol where he was chained by the neck to a post. A special cell was built and when it was completed the Gaol Governor proudly declared that if Joe escaped from such a strong cell he would be given him his freedom. Joe remained in the cell for only four months. He feigned ill health and was allowed into the exercise yard where, in one of the most daring escapes ever to occur at Fremantle Gaol, he built stones up against a wall, dug a hole through the wall, left a dummy hanging up to give the impression he was still in the prison, and escaped in his underwear. This time his escape was successful and he remained free for nearly two years.
Adding to the legend, he was recaptured at Houghton's wine cellar where he had gone to celebrate his two years of freedom. At the time he had long flowing hair, was wearing a wheat sack and had a large stick as his only form of protection. He returned to Fremantle Gaol where he remained until 1871. Two years later he was pardoned.
After this be led a respectable life becoming a stockman, tree-feller, carpenter and shipwright. He married a widow, Louisa Hearn, and became something of a celebrated dandy living in the Vasse district where, it is claimed, he discovered the cave near Margaret River which bears his name.
In 1887 he returned to Toodyay and from there he travelled to the goldfields where, although he was now 60 years old, he prospected for some years. After the death of his wife in 1893 he lived at Kelmscott where he became destitute and senile. In old age he was known as 'Old Mad' Moondyne Joe. He died in the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum on 13 August 1900.
Time has conspired to make him a far more adventurous and daredevil character than this portrayal suggests. As the Australian Dictionary of Biography observes: "Moondyne Joe is popularly described as Western Australia's only bushranger of note. No Ned Kelly, he neither held up mail coaches nor attacked banks; he raided poultry runs, visited half-way houses and perhaps stole horses. Yet through his determined bids for freedom against the harsh prison discipline of the convict period he became a romantic figure in the eyes of the public. His small triumphs over authority inspired John Boyle O'Reilly, a Fenian convict who escaped from Western Australia to the United States, to write in 1887 a novel on convict life in Western Australia featuring a fictitious and highly romantic Moondyne as central character. The twentieth century has seen further romantic legends grow around his name."
His cell at Newcastle Gaol has a detailed plaque about his personal history and an interesting photograph of this notorious man.

(b) The Dorizzi Memorial Cell
Around 1929 the gaol was rented as a private home to the Dorizzi family who ran a wood yard and general cartage business. The signage in their special cell explains: "The gaol was an unusual home. The boys had a cell each as their bedroom and the parents slept in the front rooms ... the Second World War saw three of the boys, Tom, Bert, and Gordon enlist in the 2/4 Machine Gun Regiment, along with another young man from Toodyay, Reg Ferguson ... While defending Singapore, the Dorizzi brothers and Reg Ferguson were captured by the Japanese. As prisoners of war, they were transferred to Sandakan in North Borneo to build airships for their captors. They all suffered starvation and sadistic cruelty during this time. Gordon Dorizzi died on February 11, 1945, aged 28, the same day as his brother, Bert, aged 26. They were amongst the prisoners who were shot for applauding the Allied planes as they bombed the Japanese airstrips. Tom Dorizzi, aged 31, died during the Sandakan-Ranau death march on 11 March, 1945."

(c) The Native Cell
The visitor enters the 'native cell' and, in the darkness, watches a video and listens to a description of what life was like for Aboriginal prisoners. The signage includes a letter to the Colonial Secretary from the Gaoler reporting on the conviction of a "native" for one month's hard labour for " unlawfully spearing and wounding Abo" and an explanation that the cell "was originally used as a storeroom, but within two years was used for imprisoning local Ballardong people. The iron bar and the shackles are the last remnants of the original use of the cell. Ballardong were commonly imprisoned for drunkenness or petty theft but other charges included carrying out traditional punishments or 'absconding from their employer' - trying to leave an unfair work contract. Most sentences were only for a few days to a month, longer sentences for more serious crimes were carried out in the prisons at Fremantle or Rottnest." The cell is a genuinely haunting and memorable experience.

Police Stables
Over the road from the Newcastle Gaol are the restored Police Stables (1891) which replaced earlier stables on the site. They have a display bridles, saddles and equipment used to maintain the police horses.

Toodyay Living History Walking Trails
There is an excellent brochure - Toodyay Living History Walking Trails - available at the Visitor Information Centre which describes 36 historic buildings and destinations around Toodyay each of which is located along one of four trails around the town. The Blue Trail takes 60 minutes; the Yellow Trail takes 25 minutes; the Green Trail takes 20 minutes; and the Orange Trail is a short 10 minute walk along Stirling Terrace. Apart from the obvious highlights of Connor's Mill and the Newcastle Gaol, other significant buildings in the town include:

(5) Connors Cottage
Standing next to the Visitor Information Centre, and much modified over the years, this cottage was built around 1870 by Daniel Connor. It was rented out and, although it was originally built as a private home, over the years it has been a bakery and a restaurant.

(6) St Stephens Church of England (1862)
Built in a Romanesque style by George Hassell in 1862, St Stephens Church of England still has the original timber bell tower and pews which, reputedly, were sawn and built by convicts. It was one of the first buildings in the town and was consecrated by Bishop Hale, the Bishop of Perth.

(8) Freemason's Hotel (1861)
With the honour of being the first hotel in town, the Freemason's Hotel (originally known as the Newcastle Hotel) started life as a single storey pub but with the goldrushes of the 1880s and 1890s it became a popular haunt for miners and it was suitably, and impressively, upgraded. The second storey was added in 1891.

(13) Victoria Hotel (1864)
The first Victoria Hotel was built by George Hassell in 1864 with a billiard saloon being added in 1895 and the second storey in 1899. It was always popular for dances and social meeting because of the size of the long room and prior to World War I it was used by the local Light Horse Brigade.


Other Attractions in the Area

Pioneer's Pathway
There is a booklet titled Pioneers Pathway: The Wheatbelt Wander which starts at Toodyay and continues through Goomalling, Dowerin, Wyalkatchem, Trayning and Nungarin to Merredin. As the brochure explains it is: "a self-drive route that traverses the Wheatbelt following the well worn trail many prospectors once took on their way to the Yilgarn and Kalgoorlie Goldfields." It offers a number of suggestions of activities worth pursuing around Toodyay. It can be downloaded at http://www.pioneerspathway.org.au/ebook/PioneersPathway-2013.pdf.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around York was inhabited by the Balardung Aboriginal people for thousands of years.

* The district around Toodyay was first explored by Ensign Robert Dale who led a party from the Swan River into the upper reaches of the Avon Valley in October 1831.

* Between 1831-1836 settlers slowly arrived in the valley via the settlements of York and Northam.

* In 1836 a new route into the district was opened up by Captain Francis Whitfield, Alexander Anderson and James Drummond Snr (his work collecting native flora was vital to an increased understanding Western Australia's wildflowers) who managed to establish a trail from the Swan River to where Toodyay stands today. The route was not satisfactory but it remained in operation for twenty years.

* In the 1850s convicts cut a more direct route which reduced the journey from Perth to Toodyay by twelve hours.

* In 1860, as a result of regular flooding of the Avon River (the original township had been seriously flooded in 1847, 1849 and 1859), Toodyay was moved to higher ground. The original site is an example of settlers not heeding advice from the local Aborigines. They knew the area flooded and even joked about kangaroos getting bogged in the mud after the floods.

* In 1861 the settlement was moved 2 km upstream and named Newcastle after Lord Lincoln, the Duke of Newcastle.

* In 1876 the explorer Ernest Giles reached the town after crossing the Great Victoria Desert. The town held a formal ceremony upon his arrival which he later described in his journal. "We were received under a triumphal arch, and the chairman presented us with an address. We were then conducted to a sumptuous banquet. Near the conclusion, the chairman rose to propose our healths, etc; he then gratified us by speaking disparagingly of us and our journey; he said he didn't see what we wanted to come over here for, that they had plenty of explorers of their own etc. This was something like getting a hostile native's spear stuck into one's body."

* In 1911 Newcastle was formally renamed Toodyay because the original name was causing confusion with Newcastle in New South Wales.

* In 1917 Connors Mill was converted into a powerhouse for the town.

* Between 1922-1955 Connors Mill provided lighting for the town from 4.00 pm to midnight every night of the week.

* Today Toodyay has been classified by the National Trust and is a popular day trip weekend destination for people from Perth.


Visitor Information

Toodyay Visitor Centre, 7 Piesse Street, tel: (08) 9574 9380.


Useful Websites

The official website - http://www.toodyay.com/ - has useful information about accommodation and eating.

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