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Yalgoo, WA

Quiet wheatbelt service town with important Monsignor Hawes church

Yalgoo is a tiny historic settlement on the road from Geraldton to Mount Magnet. The appeal of the town is that it is genuinely historic. There’s little left of this once thriving town and what does remain is old and untouched. The appeal of the town lies in the Heritage Trail (many of the buildings no longer exist) and the impressive Monsignor Hawes' church, the Dominican Chapel of St Hyacinth. 


Yalgoo is located 590 km north of Perth on the road from Geraldton to Mount Magnet.


Origin of Name

There is some debate about the origin of the town’s name with some sources claiming that it is derived from an Aboriginal word ‘yalguru’ or 'yalgo' meaning ‘blood’ thus suggesting that the area was connected with initiation rites. Other sources, however, suggest that the name comes from ‘yalgru’ or 'yalguru' meaning ‘bloodwood’, a term used to describe the Yalguru bush which abounds in the area, and has blood red sap.


Things to See and Do

Yalgoo Heritage Trail
In 1988, as part of the Bicentennial celebrations, a series of excellent Heritage Trails were published covering many of the most interesting towns in Western Australia. The Yalgoo Heritage Trail is still available and can be downloaded at http://www.yalgoo.wa.gov.au/profiles/yalgoo/assets/clientdata/document-centre/tourism/yalgoo_heritage_trail_.pdf. Many of the places mentioned are now nothing more than sites where once important historic buildings stood. The places of genuine interest (and they are marked according to their numbers on the Heritage Trail) are as follows:

1. Yalgoo Railway Station
The railway from Mullewa to Yalgoo was opened in July 1896. It was 120 km long and the Railway Station, a handsome long building with wide verandas and thick stone walls, was opened soon after. In fact a local, seeing there was no refreshment room, was allowed to to sell liquor for an hour before and an hour after a train arrived. When the complex was completed it had a goods shed, stockyards, a house for the Station master, a proper refreshment room and a carriage shed. There were also timber houses for the gangers, a water tank and a Railway Barracks for the train crews. The railway line was closed in 1978. The station is in Piesse Street. 

6. Court House Museum
Located in Gibbons Street, the Court House, which was moved from Day Dawn near Cue in 1921, was originally nothing more than a brush humpy which served as a court, post office, mining register, and registrar of births, deaths and marriages. That original Court House lost its roof in a storm in 1921 leading to the Court House from Day Dawn (it had been built for £357) being transferred to the site. The transfer cost £242/5/8. It was opened as a museum in 1974 and today has displays of old photographs, gold rush history, the usual displays of old domestic items and some interesting Aboriginal artefacts from the local area. For more detailed information check out http://inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Inventory/Details/d4911006-4055-40c0-ad11-22dc44951afb. It describes the building as "The former Courthouse is a timber framed building which is clad in corrugated iron. It has verandas to all sides and timber framed windows with bars. The corrugated iron dutch gable roof, which has been painted green, has three air vents and vents in gablets. It is a dominant feature of the building and extends to cover the verandas which are supported on slender timber posts. There is a double entry door to the eastern elevation."

18. Dominican Chapel of St Hyacinth
The Heritage Council website explains that "The Dominican Convent Chapel is a small stone building located to the west of the townsite. The corners of the building have stepped buttresses while the gable ends feature stone crosses at the apex. The chapel has a tiled roof and features a tall weatherboard bell tower (belfry) painted white with a steeply pitched pyramidal corrugated iron roof. The tower has a stone base. The upper section of the tower has four slit openings while the east elevation features a pointed arched timber door. Immediately to the north of the chapel is a grotto which has caved in. All that remains of the convent/school, which was located to the east of the chapel, are two stone chimneys."
The chapel is the work of famous Western Australian architect–priest Monsignor John Hawes. Between 1915–1939 Hawes designed and helped to build a large number of churches and church buildings in the Central West.
When Hawes arrived in Yalgoo, shortly after he had arrived in Western Australia from Europe, he was overwhelmed by the heat and isolation of the town. In a letter to a friend he described how he "just flopped about and struggled to exist". In 1920 Hawes designed the wood and stone Dominican Chapel of St Hyacinth for the Dominican Sisters who were working in the town. Not only did Hawes design the building but he regularly travelled by horseback from Mullewa to oversee the construction and to work as a labourer for the local builder. It is the most humble of all Hawes’ churches. Completed in 1922 it is a very simple place of worship. Hawes’ attention to detail on the altar decoration, the windows and the niches for the statues is impressive and memorable.

The Buildings of Monsignor John Hawes
Yalgoo, as well as Carnarvon, Geraldton, Kojarena, Northampton, Mullewa, 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.
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 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.


Other Attractions in the Area

Jokers Tunnel
Located 10 km on the Paynes Find Road is Jokers Tunnel, a 100 m tunnel which was cut through a hill by the Joker Mining Syndicate. No one is sure why it was called the Jokers Tunnel. Some believe it was named after the syndicate but more cynically some people believe it was simply dug to take advantage of money which had flowed into the gold mining town from England. "Sorry, your money is all gone. We found nothing. But look at all the work we did." A colonial joke? Who knows. Read more at http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2014-09-18/jokers-tunnel-yalgoo/5751594.

The No. 3 Rabbit-Proof Fence
There is a sign marking the local point of the last of the Rabbit Proof Fences which runs from Yalgoo to Kalbarri. It crosses the road between Mullewa and Mt Magnet.  Now known as the state barrier fence and focusing on wild dogs and emus more than rabbits, the signs say there are cameras, there are fines and there are poison bates. It is regularly patrolled and well maintained.
There were three Rabbit Proof Fences in Western Australia and one, famously, was used as a guideline for three young Aboriginal girls in the 1930s who walked the length of the fence to make their way back to their families. To see sections of the fence, ask in the town and to understand its significance see Phil Noyce's 2002 film Rabbit-Proof Fence or read Doris Pilkington Garimara's book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence upon which the film was based. For more information on the fence check out https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/invasive-species/state-barrier-fence-overview.

Yalgoo comes alive with spectacular displays of wildflowers between July and October. The area is notable for its carpets of everlastings, the unique and distinctive Wreath Flower (Leschenaultia macrantha), bright orange wild pomegranate, bright pink native foxgloves, many species of orchids, grevillea, acacia, purple darwinia and dampiera, thriptomene, smokebush, woody pear, cassias, eremophila, blue cornflower and yellow bells. Check out http://www.yalgoo.wa.gov.au/wild-flowers.aspx for more information.

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 needs 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 was home to people from the Yamatji Aborigines.

* The explorer A.C. Gregory came through the area in 1846.

* The explorer Robert Austen traversed the district in 1854.

* It wasn’t until the 1870s that pastoralists moved in with sheep and cattle.

* Yalgoo was first recorded as Yalgoo Peak by the surveyor John Forrest in 1876. 

* The area was first settled in the early 1890s when prospectors travelled through the region on their way to the Murchison goldrush towns of Cue and Mount Magnet. 

* In 1892 five prospectors - Knight, Parsons, Rice, Moxon and Evans - discovered gold at Yalgoo and established the Emerald Reward Mine on a site which is now just behind the Shire Council offices. 

* Yalgoo was declared a separate goldfield in 1895.

* The townsite of Yalgu was gazetted in January 1896. At the time it had 7 hotels, 12 stores, 2 saddlers, 2 butchers, 3 bakers, 3 blacksmiths, 2 hairdressers and 2 tent makers serving a vast tent city.

* In 1898 the railway line from Mullewa to Yalgoo was opened. 

* By 1900 there were 200 people in the town and 1,300 in the district.

* The town continued to prosper until about 1903 when the gold started to dwindle. 

* In 1908 the Emerald Reward mine was closed down.

* The spelling was officially changed from Yalgu to Yalgoo in 1938.

* The railway closed in 1978 but the station (on the south side of town) is still in near–perfect condition.

* Today a shire office administers nearly 3.5 million ha of country where large sheep stations and speculative mining operations are the major industries.


Visitor Information

There is information at the Yalgoo Caravan Park, Gibbons Street, Yalgoo, tel: (08) 9962 8472.


Useful Websites

There is an official website with lots of information about the town and the district. Check out http://www.yalgoo.wa.gov.au.

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  • My family lived in Yalgoo in the early 70’s, there used to be railway workers living quarters near the lines, my family lived in them while my father worked for the WAGR.

    Paul Horneman