Mill Towns of the Murray

Clydesdale Horse Team With Whim and Log Circa 1919

The Timber Industry in WA


The first recorded export from WA of Jarrah, known as Swan River Mahogany by the first settlers, was in February 1831.  The industry grew, with increasing demand for Jarrah in the form of sleepers, paving, piles and pales.


Before steam locomotives took over their role, Clydesdale horses were used for transporting logs from the bush to the mill and were used extensively in the timber industry during the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.


The lead horse is taken out of the Team
A teamster was responsible for the training and welfare of the horses.  He would harness a team of 10-12 horses to a whim, a log would be slung from under the whim and transported from where it was felled in the bush to the mill’s bush landing.  A whim has two 8 foot diameter wooden wheels with steel tyres and the log was slung between the wheels.  At the bush landing the logs would be loaded onto a set of 4 wheeled rail trolleys and hauled by another team of Clydesdales to the mill. Teams were also used to haul sawn timber to the rail siding at Pinjarra.


Railway sleepers, skilfully hewn by broadaxe, had become a very big export market.  Hewers in the bush were paid a licence fee of 10/- per month but by 1918 no further licences were being issued.


Hewn railway sleepers at a rail head in 1910


Dwellingup, originally known to the aboriginals as Dwelyingup and spelt Dwellingupp until 1915, is situated in the Shire of Murray 100km south east of Perth – nestled within a Jarrah forest at a height of 864 feet above sea level.  Primarily a timber mill town when gazetted in 1910, it became the administrative centre for a number of neighbouring mill towns which opened up after the opening of the railway from Pinjarra to Dwellingup.


Train transporting sleepers from Dwellingup in 1912.
Mill towns that emerged to service the timber industry were Marrinup, Plavins, Pindalup, Nanga Brook, Holyoake, Duncans, Huntly, Banksiadale, Hakea, Wuraming, Chadora, Amphion and Whittakers.


Though  Dwellingup still has two small timber mills, it is no longer recognised as a timber town but for fruit growing, tourism and bauxite mining.


A large majority of Dwellingup, including its hospital, police station, 2 service stations, a church, post office, town hall and 116 homes, was destroyed in a devastating bush fire on January 24th 1961.  


Early Dwellingup families, circa 1912

The heat was so intense that the roads melted and even gravel was exploding.  Many people lost all their possessions but miraculously there was no loss of life.  People gathered at the school, football oval and the hotel to escape the fire.


Marrinup, Nanga Brook and Holyoake were also destroyed : the only town to be rebuilt was Dwellingup.


The Dwellingup Hotel was built by Mr Hugh McNeil in 1911 and its grandeur reflected the importance of the timber industry of the time. It is the oldest building remaining in the town, having survived the 1961 fire.


McLarty Street, Dwellingup after the fire of 1961


There were no other hotels in the region – the nearest were in Pinjarra and Boddington. Mill owners opposed the building of hotels – concerned that the consumption of alcohol was a safety risk considering the dangers of timber production.  Many residents in Dwellingup also opposed the hotel and others demanded a condition that the hotel would be owned by the state or by the community.  It opened as a State Hotel in 1912 and Mr McNeil was compensated for the expenses he had incurred in its construction.


Government policy in the 1950’s led to the sale of State hotels to local communities. Dwellingup Hotel is the sole remaining original State hotel still owned by a community.


The railway that had reached Pinjarra in 1893 extended to Marrinup in 1909 and then to Dwellingup in 1910. Lines to surrounding areas followed and new mills with associated towns opened. The railway was vital to the growth of the area  -   the motor car was not introduced into Dwellingup until the 1920’s.


By the time the railway reached the Marrinup Valley in 1909 there were two vineyards in the valley.  It was said that ‘the wine from those vineyards fuelled the building of the Marrinup Railway!’


Millar's Mill was built in 1910 and a new Mill Town  —Marrinup  —  followed.


A school was completed by the end of 1911 for the 40 children already resident in the town.


By 1919 there were two Boarding Houses in the town. 


There was also a well used Hall which served as a Church for weddings. Elizabeth Blackburn and Arthur Savell were married in the Hall on the 16th June, 1923.


Philip and Barbara Kratochvill moved to Marrinup in the 1930’s.


They lived and worked on their farm which was adjacent to the POW Camp in the 1940’s.


The family is shown in 1938 on the farm truck which was used for delivering vegetables.  The original farmhouse is in the background.


In 1942, the Commonwealth Government leased the Marrinup Mill site for use as a Civilian Aliens Camp where enemy civilians could be held under supervision.  This was dismantled in 1943 when a POW (Prisoner of War) Camp was established in the vicinity.  German and Italian prisoners were housed and they were put to work to help with the severe labour shortage on the farms and to collect firewood for the Perth metropolitan area.  In May 1944 there were 200 German prisoners and 77 Italians. The POW camp was officially closed in August 1946.   Families continued to live in the Marrinup area until fire destroyed the townsite in 1961.


Holyoake No.1 Mill was burnt down in 1929 and replaced by a smaller mill which operated until 1959.  The townsite was a thriving community until destroyed by fire in 1961.


The Holyoake townsite was supported by a large number of shops with an excellent variety of merchandise. 


Creek Bros Store sold almost everything except groceries.


Dawkins Drapery serviced Holyoake from 1930 to 1941. Frank Dawkins was a cricket enthusiast and the source of cricket news in the town.  He made up a scoreboard outside his shop and below are the scores from the 4th test between England and Australia in February 1937 in Adelaide!   ‘G’ is for Gregory and ‘B’ is for Bradman.


Banksiadale was originally known as No.2 Railway Mill, Dwellingup and was renamed following suggestions from children attending the school.  The original Mill was built in 1910 and was the most modern and safe mill of its time.  After the Mill burnt down in 1963 and the Government finally closed the town in 1964, the site became a catchment area for the new South Dandalup Dam.


Leisure time in the Mill Towns was mostly spent outdoors where the locals enjoyed picnics, bush walking and a variety of sports. These included football, tennis, rifle shooting, swimming and cricket.


In 1952 the hills towns football teams combined as ‘The Hills Football Club’. The first coach of the combined team was Ron Fleming, a school bus driver from Dwellingup. The Hills teams won 5 Premierships in a row. 


Many of the descendants of the Mill Towns pioneers still reside in the Peel Region and are well represented in the town of Dwellingup.





















Murray Districts Historical Society • Old Schoolmaster's House, Henry Street • Edenvale Precinct • Pinjarra Western Australia