Tracks and roads: crossing the country
The use of the land and the extraction of its resources have depended on the movement of people, goods and produce. The tracks and roads of the area have evolved from being the narrow footpads of the original inhabitants’ linking waterhole to waterhole to being formed roads and even a bitumen national highway. Each track and road has a story behind it that illustrates the changing use of the country and the developments in the forms of transport. Other later methods of communication such as aircraft, radio, telephone, television and computers have been an essential part of the livelihoods and social needs of the people of the area.
The first travellers across this vast landscape were the Aboriginal Creation Spirits who laid out the Dreaming tracks between important ceremonial sites and landmarks. The humans whom they created made their own networks of local tracks on which they moved about their traditional lands. The tracks linked water holes and enabled the groups to travel through and live in the otherwise dry country.
The explorers from the 1840s to the late 1860s were shown and followed these tracks, assured of at least limited supplies of water for their horses along the way.
Following the explorers, the shepherds and pastoralists moved in with their flocks, digging out the wells to provide more certain water. As the pastoralists took up more permanent occupation, installed windmills and erected fences, they widened the tracks for horse and camel wagons to bring in stores and ship out the wool. Sandalwooders also used these tracks. The old Dalgary Road is one of the old ‘native tracks’ eventually upgraded to a rough motor track. It was late abandoned as a main route and became an internal station track used for the 'mill run’ to check and service windmills and fences.
Roads developed slowly in the area. The railway from Midland Junction near Perth , built and run by the Midland Railway Company to service the expanding agricultural settlement to the west of Charles Darwin Reserve, was opened through to Mullewa in 1919. This provided more convenient access into the Ninghan – Whitewells area; from the south through Wubin via Jibberding, and from the west through Perenjori.
The arrival of the motor car in the 1920s saw the construction of the first main road. The winding camel track between Wubin and Paynes Find was straightened, cleared and graded in 1927. This became the Great Northern Highway, Australia ’s National Route 95. It extends, from Midland Junction near Perth to Kununurra in the far north-west of Western Australia . The thick, red, straight line marking the Great Northern Highway bisects the area and dominates today’s maps.
From 1925 to 1948 Whitewells homestead was an outcamp of Ninghan Station. The station tracks which took a roundabout route between them and across to Wanarra Station homestead was straightened, cleared and graded in the 1960s to become the Wanarra East Road. It also provided a direct route from the Great Northern Highway westwards to Perenjori.
An access road into the Mt Gibson Goldmine was constructed through the south-east corner of Charles Darwin Reserve (then Whitewells Station) in the 1980s. The most recent major road in the area was the Goodlands Road long the south-east boundary of Charles Darwin Reserve. It provided a short cut from the Great Northern Highway to the town of Kalannie to the south-east.
In 2006 the journey by car from Perth to Charles Darwin Reserve is a 300 km, 4 ½ hour trip along wide bitumen roads. The roads roughly follow the original major Aboriginal tracks which became the settlers’ horse and camel roads. Along the way we find towns and roadhouses for fuel, food and water, and maps or instructions if we are not quite sure which road to take. As we hurtle along the bitumen or carefully negotiate the gravel, seeing the bush whizzing past as a blur, it is instructive to ponder how this road came to be here, and how people travelled before it existed, and how tracks and water are inseparable in this arid land.
The Travellers Atlas shows a wide red line marking the ‘primary road, sealed’ of the Great Northern Highway. It cuts across the south-east corner of Whitewells Station. Wanarra East Road is a ‘minor road, unsealed’, and the Dalgary Road is shown as a ‘track’, although it is now in various parts an internal station track, a private access route to farmland and grazing leases, and abandoned and overgrown. The Wanarra East Rd is also marked as a ‘track’, but it too is now an internal station track not accessible to the ‘traveller’.
The blue ‘caravan park/ facilities’ symbol at ‘White Wells’
homestead indicates the era when Whitewells Station was catering for tourists.
As so often happens, the area of interest falls across two map sheets.
West Australian Travellers Atlas Edition 3, 1998, published by the Department of Land Administration, courtesy Landgate