Travel back in time with a visit to world heritage-listed buildings and natural wonders in Western Australia.
From convict settlements to Indigenous meeting places, there’s so much to explore when it comes to history and heritage in this vast state.
Valley of the Giants
The Valley of the Giants is a region in the south west, popular for its iconic tree top walk, suspended 40 metres above the ancient forest.
For a unique historical experience, however, visitors should wander along the Ancient Empire Walk. This trail passes 400-year-old red tingle trees, which can only be found in Australia. The path offers clues into the lost world of Gondwana, the supercontinent formed about 550 million years ago after several ancient continents collided. You can walk into the hollows of these ancient trees, and immerse yourself in the beauty of the forest.
The Valley of the Giants is located on the traditional land of the Noongar people, and the name ‘tingle’ is believed to be similar to the Indigenous term for the ancient trees.
Fremantle Prison is the largest convict structure in WA, built in the early 19th century. It began as a place to house imperial convicts, with nearly 10,000 prisoners passing through the hallowed halls between 1850 and 1868. The prison remained in operation until 1991, even serving as a place to hold prisoners of war during WWII.
Now, this historic site is the location of many fascinating tours and attractions. The torchlight tour takes visitors into the prison at night to learn about dark and ghoulish tales of hauntings and hangings, as is definitely not an experience for the faint of heart. You can also sign up for a tunnel tour and explore the network of tunnels that run under the gaol, built by prisoners hundreds of years ago. Discover the original blast holes, sections only accessible by boat, and artefacts from days past.
Ancient fossil remains cover the walls of this beautiful cave, located 15 minutes from Margaret River. Here, you can venture along the boardwalks and platforms set up to take you to the heart of the cave system. There are more than 10,000 fossils, believed to be the largest collection of Megafauna (giant animals) in Australia. These creatures became extinct around 46,000 years ago. The most famous of these animals has to be the 50,000 year old ‘Zygomaturus’ jawbone, which is about the size of a cow.
To access Mammoth Cave, you will need to make your way through the stunning marri forest. Once you reach the entrance, you can opt to take a self-guided audio tour, which provides unique insight into the prehistoric world in front of you.
Just south of the town of Onslow sits the remains of the original town, Old Onslow. It was established in 1885 as a hub to export wool from surrounding sheep stations, named after Sir Alexander Onslow, the Chief Justice of Western Australia at the time. Sadly, changes in the Ashburton River made it difficult for ships to moor here, and by 1925 the town was moved 18 km away to the site of the modern town.
When visiting, some of the best ruins to explore include the gaol, the courthouse and the police station. You can step back in time, and imagine what it was like to live in this small port town hundreds of years ago.
Fremantle Roundhouse is the oldest surviving public building in WA. It was initially used as a convict gaol in the Swan River region, and has since been employed as a police lock up and accommodation for the Water Police.
This fascinating spot is open daily for visitors to explore, and is the home of several important executions, floggings, and famous prisoners. The roundhouse also offers amazing views over the harbour and ports of Fremantle, making it a great place to take some photos and soak up the landscape.
Elverd Cottage is the perfect place to learn more about the town of Kojonup and its history as a British Military outpost. Elverd Cottage was home to J.C.Elverd, a British soldier who was offered fifteen pounds and ten acres of land to look over the convict colony. It is one of the only surviving Pensioner Guards homes still remaining in Australia.
At the cottage, you can learn more about traditional farm machinery, wander through a colonial garden, and visit the blacksmith’s shop. Inside the building, you can also discover how prison guards conducted their daily lives.
For more history in Kojonup, try the self-guided historical town walk, which takes you past 52 important sites in town. This includes the Noongar Sharpening Rock and the oldest continually licenced hotel in Western Australia.
A list of important historical sites in WA wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the 45,000 year history of the Whadjuk Nyoongar people, the traditional owners of the land. In particular, there are many important Indigenous sites found in and around the city of Perth. By following the Whadjuk Country map, you will gain insight into the history of Australia’s First Nations People before the arrival of white settlers.
This includes the Swan River which, according to Dreamtime Stories, is said to have been carved by giant rainbow snake spirits. These spirits are known as Waugals and look after all fresh water sources.
The land beneath the Murray Street Mall is another interesting spot on this walk. It used to be an important trading place for the Nyoongar people, where they swapped important ceremony items such as Wilga (ochre). There is evidence of Wilga from Western Australia being traded as far as South Australia.
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