Exploration of the Irwin Districts

Within fifteen years of the establishment of the Swan River Colony in 1829, the settlers were experiencing the problems of isolation, a small population and severe drought.

Although the British Government through the Colonial Office was well aware of potential opportunities outside the settled area of the Colony, it was reluctant to permit unchecked expansion.

This reluctance was founded principally on financial implications, which would have seen the necessity to provide public utilities such as roads and requirement to provide and pay for police and military protection.

Above: Irwin River Site of Grey’s crossing of Irwin River, near Mountain Bridge.
Below: Memorial Cairn erected by IDHS at the site of Grey’s Crossing

In 1839, Lt. George Grey had been forced to walk with his exploration party from Gantheaume Bay (Kalbarri) to Perth, following the loss of his boats and provisions in a cyclone. Grey gave European names to the landforms and rivers he traversed and noted the excellent grazing lands around the Greenough and Irwin Rivers.

Indeed, so impressed was he with this area he named it the Victoria District in honour of his monarch Queen Victoria. This name only now remains as the location name used in land titles.

Urged on by the settlers of the Swan River Colony the three brothers, Augustus, Frank and Henry undertook a further exploration of the Victoria District in 1845. They followed the course of the Upper Irwin River (near Canna) and travelled southwest to the present coal seam reserve near Mingenew.

An extract from their journal reads as follows,

“September 9th: At 7:30 am resumed a westerly course through grassy gum forest. At 1:00 pm entered a deep valley……..the brackish stream which was much enlarged, a running through a narrow grassy flat backed by high sandstone cliffs 80 to 100 feet high……..the banks of the stream became very high and stratified in remarkably manner…….we therefore entered the bed of the river to examine it and found two seams of coal……..in a short time had the satisfaction of seeing the first fire of Western Australian coal burning cheerfully in front of the camp.”

Unfortunately, when tested the coal proved to be of poor industrial quality. They followed the river westward to its mouth, noting the bird life and on the nearby reefs, the marine life.

The Gregory Brothers made a number of exploratory trips into the area. They were excellent explorers and surveyors, travelling widely throughout the Victoria District locating new pastoral land and proposing the location of stock routes.

One such route, close to the coast, joined Perth to Geraldton. As well as a stock route it became a well used road for travelers on horseback or on foot.

Previously into or out of the Irwin area was limited to sea travel. Parts of this route along with the ruins of stock watering wells remain in the Irwin Shire today.


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