Monsignor John Hawes - priest, architect, stonemason, sculptor, woodcarver and, in the last years of his life, hermit - has left an extraordinary legacy of churches, priest houses and other ecclesiastical buildings in the remote inland areas of the mid-west. Whilst the cathedral at Geraldton (450kms north of Perth) is his master work, it is the in...more
Whilst nuggets of pure gold are sometimes found, most of the gold in this region is reef gold, that is it lies locked in rock. To see how a small operator separates the precious metal from that rock you need to visit the gold battery at Payne's Find. This is where the individual prospectors can bring their relatively small amounts of ore to have it...more
The solid stone buildings that line the main street of the tiny town (pop300) of Cue give a clue to just how wealthy the place once was. Gold was discovered here in the 1890s and when word of the rich finds in the region reached the outside world the rush was on. Within days of the first big find -260oz in just one week found near where the centre...more
Good winter rains bring the promise of a springtime bonanza of wildflowers to the desert. To see the dry red earth smothered in fields of flowers is an amazing sight that brings visitors from all over the world. Western Australia is listed as one of the world's botanical "hot spots" with thousands of plant species that occur nowhere else. There are...more
The tiny chapel of St Hyacinth that John Hawes built for the Dominican sisters in Yalgoo was one of his first commissions. Newly arrived in the outback, struggling with its heat, isolation and strangeness, he not only designed the church but often travelled the 120kms from his home in Mullewa on horseback to oversee the building work and work as a...more
There is a mystery about the paintings of Walga Rock. Among the ancient paintings is a clear image of a square-rigged sailing ship with two masts and square portholes. Whilst accurate dating isn't possible, experts are pretty sure it is at least 100 years old. Why or how it came to be here, 300km from the sea, is the cause of much debate, but it...more
There's just one last town to stop in as you head back to Perth from this trip - Perenjori. Another little wheat belt town, another small church on the John Hawes trail, lovely wildflowers and the strange and unique wreath leschenaultia that only grows in this locality, and on the barest earth. This beautiful plant is very elusive - you'll need to...more
Hidden away below the breakaways, the valley floor of Coalseam Park is a wash of colour in Springtime. Purple and yellow everlastings spread on and on under the trees while the sides of the valley are banded white and orange with traces of the soft blue-black of the coal deposits the area was named for. Look closely there and you will see marine...more
95 km south of Mullewa, in the town of Morawa, is perhaps the mosy idiosyncratic of all John Hawes's buildings - the tiny Hermitage he built for his accommodation when he visited yet another of the far-flung churches in his parish. The church is his work too, but it is this little house that perhaps gives the best clue to the character of the man....more
The arid semi-desert is behind us now and we come into the breakaway country between the townships of Morawa and Mingenew. High ridges fall into deep valleys, the views are wonderful and in Spring the ground is covered in sheets of colour as the wildflowers the region is famous for come in to bloom.more
Leaving Cue and heading west towards the coast, the road takes you through a few little towns and interesting, rugged countryside.The most activity you are likely to see as you drive into the tiny hamlet of Yalgoo is a mob of emus strolling down the main street. There's very little here to tell you that here too gold fever struck and a bustling,...more
Whilst the church was being built, Hawes - never very mindful of his own comfort - lived in a one-roomed shack but once the church was completed he was directed by his bishop to build a suitable presbytery. The priest house by the church (paid for by his own money) was the result - a gracious, low stone house with a deep arched loggia. The house is...more
Monsignor Hawes's vast outback parish was centred on Mullewa, 100km inland. The small town was a convenient staging post for people travelling from the port of Geraldton to the Murchison goldfields but by the time Hawes arrived there in the 1920s its main role was as the railhead for the wheat-growing region of the central west.Hawes spent 20 years...more
When the mine closed at Day Dawn and the town emptied vitually overnight, the Courthouse was moved to Yalgoo where it now serves as a museum with an interesting collection - particularly of photographs and items relating to the history of the gold rush in the region. There is also a very good display of Aboriginal artifacts from the locality.more
The vast monocline of Walga Rock has been used by aboriginal people for more than 10,000 years as a canvas for their art. Using ochre from a mine 60km away and white clay from nearby breakaways, they have left behind a great gallery of work - stencilled hands, geometric designs, representations of humans and animals, animal tracks, etc. This is the...more
Places like Walga Rock are so isolated and visitors are so few and far between it's not feasible to have the physical presence of an attendant at the rock. The protection of such a valuable site is enormously important and relies on the the sensitivity of visitors to this amazing place. Driplines have been installed above the paintings to protect...more
Gold fills mens' dreams. Individual prospectors and small companies have never left these goldfields but now the price of gold is strong there are bigger players back on the scene.Hill 51 at Mount Magnet, 80km south of Cue is the biggest operation in these northern goldfields. Mines are dangerous places and tourists aren't allowed on site, but...more
5km south of Cue lies Day Dawn - once a thriving settlement with thousands of men working the mine and the diggings. Now all that remains are a few sad ruins and this substantial building, the Great Fingal Mine Office. The office may be locked and shuttered, but nearby a mine has opened and gold is being mined again at Day Dawn, as it is all over...more
The best you can say about the places to eat in the outback is that it is filling. You'll find a reasonable steak or hamburger in the various pubs and roadhouses, and some places may offer a country roast or spag bol but there's not much else apart from the standard pies, sandwiches, etc that you find in these places. Breakfast will probably be the best meal of the day, the full works of bacon, eggs and all the extras.
If you stay at a farm stay or station you may have the option of a farmhouse meal in the evening and if you're camping or self-catering you can suit yourselves of course.
Distance and isolation mean public transport really isn't an option for seeing the region. Your own transport or an organized tour are your only options.
Driving yourself you need a minimum of 2 nights out of Perth to see everything, and that will entail a very long drive on your first day if you intend to spend your first night in Cue. 3 nights would be better, and even more if you wish to extend your visit to take in Geraldton with its Maritime Museum and John Hawes's magnificent cathedral and the historic hamlet of Greenough at the mouth of the Irwin River.
The roads are good on the whole, though there will be some driving on gravel tracks.
The life and work of Monsigner John Hawes is just one of the great stories about this region. There are so many others, including ones from my own family - my great-grandfather lived and worked in Day Dawn and my grandparents were maried in Cue in 1903.
The gold rush years brought wealth and prosperity to Western Australia, the colony that had struggled for its first decades saw its population grow, fine buidings sprang up in Perth and Fremantle and for a few years in the 1890s and the early years of the 1900s these little towns were bursting with people all filled with the dream of the riches gold would bring.
How many young men left these towns and their dreams just a few years later to go to fight, and maybe lose their lives, in Gallipoli, Palestine and in the Valley of the Somme?