Avon Valley Drive
Travel east over the Darling Ranges for a leisurely drive to the three major towns of the Avon Valley - Toodyay, Northam and York. The oldest inland towns in Western Australia, all are farming towns and all are rich in Australian colonial architecture. Distance: 250 km
Leave Perth via Gt Eastern Highway. At Midland, take Great Northern Highway and then Toodyay Road to the little country town of Toodyay. The whole place has a quaint, almost alternative-lifestyle feel to it. Connors Mill, which is also known as the Moondyne Gallery & Toodyay Tourist Centre, was built in 1870 to grind the locally grown wheat. The mill has been converted into a three level tourist centre and gallery. The most interesting part of the building is undoubtedly the top level where there is a very detailed presentation of the life of the local 'hero' Moondyne Joe.
Connors Mill, Toodyay
Moondyne Joe's major claim to fame is that he was Western Australia's most famous bushranger. He was 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, arriving in 1853. He branded an unmarked horse and was gaoled in Toodyay for the 'felony'. He managed to escape, beginning a cat and mouse game which 'Joe' and the law played for the next forty years.
The Old Gaol in Toodyay's Clinton Street is an interesting stone building completed in 1862. It consists of cells, a kitchen, constable's quarters, storeroom and exercise yard. The museum at the jail houses a collection of unique colonial artefacts giving an insight into the lifestyle of the district's early inhabitants.
The Old Victoria Hotel (1899): a building typical of the charm of the town. The upstairs verandah looks more like a wave than a verandah. It seems to be twisting and collapsing in a myriad of different directions. Further up the main street is the Municipal Hall and the Toodyay Public Library building (1874) which are notable for the charming old style lamp posts outside.
From Toodyay, drive to Northam, the largest inland town in Western Australia and the commercial centre for the surrounding farming district.
From summer to winter, from north to south, and from high outcrops to deep river and stream valleys, the forests of Avon Valley National Park are constantly changing. The Avon River flows in winter and spring when the river churns over spectacular rapids. During summer and autumn the river diminishes to a series of pools in a bed of granite boulders and tea-tree thickets. The park features forests and granite outcrops, panoramic views over the Avon Valley and the chance to see a wide variety of birds and wildlife.
Northam is the home of Australia's only surviving colony of white swans and the starting point for the popular Avon Descent race, an annual whitewater race down the rapids of the Avon River that attracts entrants from many countries. Held each August, the 134 km whitewater/marathon race is recognised by canoers the world over as one of the great river races of the world. A Heritage Trail (free booklet available from the visitor's centre) takes in the town's colonial era buildings and the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Australia.
If you have the time, keep driving east from Northam to the rural community of Meckering, that nade international news in October 1968 when the town was destroyed by an earthquake. There are numerous relics from the earthquake in and around town that are easy to find.
Railway tracks buckled in the Meckering earthquake of 1968
Back to Northam, and further up the Avon River is York, the first township in the Avon Valley. Dating back to 1831, York is one of the best preserved and restored nineteenth century towns in Australia, a true monument to the architecture of the late nineteenth century.
The historic town of York was the first inland European settlement in WA, it is full of really beautiful old buildings. There is little doubt that it is one of the best preserved and restored nineteenth century towns in Australia. A true monument to the architecture of the late nineteenth century. The Heritage Trail Brochure - York to Goldfields Heritage Trail - traces the original route from York to the Goldfields and explains the pioneering work done by the remarkable Charles Cooke Hunt who laid out the line of wells and waterholes through the region during his journeys in the 1860s. It was during the period 1886 to 1900 that most of the town's impressive, and very solid, buildings were constructed.
The modern interest in these old buildings can be dated from 1967 when a misguided person decided to remove some verandah posts in the street and found that he was faced with the wrath of the local community. Since then the town has been deeply committed to the preservation of its heritage. Many buildings have been restored to the old splendour. The recent restoration of The York Hotel is a perfect example of the dedication of the business community to the preservation and improvement of historical buildings. Another hotel currently undergoing further renovation and upgrade is The Castle Hotel - the verandas and posts covering the full width of the two street frontage never were removed from this fine example of early Australian architecture. The town is classified by the National Trust as York Historic Town.
The Residency Museum, York
The Residency Museum is housed in one of tne oldest colonial houses in York. It was built in the 1840's as a home for the Resident Magistrate. It now houses an interesting and vital record of early colonial life.
York's Old Gaol &Court House was built from local stone and opened in 1895 by Sir John Forrest. The Court House has been restored by the National Trust - you may view the restored prison cells and court rooms. It is still used as Court of Petty Sessions.
York Motor Museum
York Motor Museum is recognised as one of the finest private collections of Veteran, Vintage, Classic and Racing Cars in Australia. Housing the Peter Briggs collection of approximately 150 vehicles, the museum presents the evolution of motor transport. Vehicles range from an 1894 Peugeot to the Williams FW07, which Australian Alan Jones drove on his way to becoming the 1980 World Grand Prix Champion. The building was formerly a motor garage and showroom and was the site of the oldest Ford dealership in WA.
The drive back to Perth is by the Great Southern Highway to The Lakes, then by Great Eastern Highway to Perth via Mundaring. Lake Leschenaultia, an old railway dam on the original Perth-Kalgoorlie line near Chidlow, makes a good stopping place for a barbecue, picnic or a swim on a hot day for travellers on their way back from Toodyay, York or Northam.