Manjimup - Culture and History

The name Manjimup is probably a local Aboriginal word meaning 'rushes near the waterhole' or, as some sources would have it, 'edible root of bulrush at watering place'.

The Manjimup district was first settled in 1856 by the timber cutter Thomas Muir. He was followed in 1862 by George and Sarah Giblett who built at Balbarrup to the east of Manjimup. Giblett's house (1870) and the Dingup Church (1896) still stand in the tiny village.

Manjimup town was declared in 1910 and the following year the railway from Perth arrived. The district saw its population increase dramatically when it became part of the less-than-successful Group Settlement Scheme after World War I.

An excellent information board near One Tree Bridge describes the problems experienced by 'The Groupies' as they were known.

'In 1920 One Tree Bridge bore witness to one of Western Australia's more disastrous land settlement schemes. The Group Settlement Scheme was set up by the Western Australian Government after World War 1 to resettle returned soldiers and immigrants. Part of the idea was to give Western Australia's rural economy a boost by opening up more land for agriculture. Twenty families of Group 10 settled the land near One Tree Bridge. They lived in rough temporary huts provided by the Government until 25 acres of each family's ballot-allocated 100 acres was partially cleared. Then they could move to their respective blocks and get down to the serious business of farming. Clearing took 6 months, the bush was thick and the trees enormous. Most of the group settlers had no experience of farming and very little bushcraft. With only crosscut saws and axes they were faced with clearing some of the world's biggest trees from their land. Many group settlers left unable to handle the conditions and meet the repayments on their land and equipment and the loans they had to take out to buy stores. Those that stayed the longest scratched a living from dairy produce as they struggled to clear enough of their land to farm. The great depression of the 1930s heralded the end of most of the Groupies. The price of butterfat collapsed and their main source of income disappeared.'

Today the district's principal industries include timber and timber products, fruit growing, canning, vegetable growing, dairying, fat lambs, wool and grain.

Both the Forestry Department and the local council have gone to considerable trouble to tell the story of the early history of the Manjimup area. At the One Tree Bridge, which is 20 km out of Manjimup on Graphite Road, there are a series of displays telling the history of the area and offering rare insights into the privations and hardships which were a necessary part of settlement in an area where giant hardwoods resisted attempts to clear the land.

The story attached to the One Tree Bridge, as told on these boards, is worth repeating as an insight into the development of the whole timbered area of the South West.

'For a short time the valley of the Donnelly River provided inspiration for one of Australia's great poets. Adam Lindsay Gordon came to the karri country with his partner Lambton Mount in 1866. Here they bought 20 hectares of land on the eastern bank of the Donnelly River opposite what is now One Tree Bridge. They built a thatched two room slab cottage and became the first settlers in the valley. Gordon then leased 20 000 hectares of the surrounding country known as Mt Lewen Station and drove almost 5000 sheep to the property from the port of Bunbury. Heavy rain, dense scrub and poisonous forage took their toll over the next couple of years. Like many of those who followed him Adam Lindsay Gordon left Mt Lewen discouraged and dispirited. Most of the poems that he wrote during his stay were destroyed when he left except for one incomplete manuscript of the old station written about a station in South Australia he had visited years before. He has been remembered in the Manjimup area in the names of roads and forest plants.

'Until 1904 the only way across the Donnelly River near here was a hazardous natural rocky ford about 500 m upstream of the present bridge. The opening of the graphite mining venture demanded a safer crossing. Hubert and Walter Giblett located an enormous Karri tree and using their skill as axemen felled it so it dropped across the 25 metre wide river to form the basis of a bridge. The superstructure was hewn from nearby jarrah trees - crosspieces or bolsters were cut and set into the karri log then slabs of jarrah were laid across each end of the bolsters. Finally hand hewn jarrah decking was laid naturally resting on the slabs to provide a non slip surface for horses and bullocks. In 1933 during a bushfire the top of a burning blackbutt tree fell onto the bridge setting alight the hewn jarrah decking. The decking was replaced with sawn jarrah planks placed lengthwise on the log as you can see them today. Curbs and rails were also added for safety. The bridge was finally declared dangerous in 1943 but no alternative crossing was provided for local farmers until a second bridge was opened downstream in 1948. On the particularly wet and stormy winter of 1964 the old log bridge broke and fell into the river. Lack of central support, the uneven unprepared foundation under its western end, and use by heavy equipment such as bulldozers all undoubtedly hastened the bridge's demise. The Forest's Departments Glenoran work gang pulled the old bridge out onto the west bank in 1971 where they faithfully rebuilt the structure. The rebuilt section is only 17 metres long because a section broke off in the storms of 1960. After more than 80 years of use and weather the log is still sound - testimony to the great strength and hardness of karri.'

'Graphite was first found near the Donnelly River by a shepherd minding Adam Lindsay Gordon's sheep. In 1904 H J Saunders opened the mine and the first 65 tons of ore was shipped to New York. All companies that tested it declared it too fine grained and the flakes too resistant to concentration to be commercially useful. This was the start of a great swindle. In 1916 a glowing prospectus was circulated amongst investors in London. For an investment of £8000 investors could expect an estimated profit of £1.5 million. The prospectus waxed lyrical about the quality of the ore. 70 000 tons in sight of finest quality graphite, 95% pure carbon (in fact the average carbon content was 29.3%), only three miles from the nearest railhead (in fact 30 miles through dense karri scrub to Bridgetown), the Western Australian government had been buying from this deposit for years (it had never bought any though it tested a sample once and found it useless). Consulting Engineers Lecherich, Gibson and Christie were sighted as authors of the exploration report (they denied having written it), the graphite lease has changed hands many times since then. No one has had much success with it.'

It would be a delight if every area of Australia boasted such detailed historical descriptions. All that is left now is a rather pleasant picnic spot and the remnants of the huge tree which served the area so well for so long. Adam Lindsay Gordon's cottage is long gone and the graphite, well, it was never really there in the first place.

People who would like to leave their cars behind can see both the Four Aces and One Tree Bridge as part of the Forest Products Association's Timber Tour which also includes a visit to Deanmill, the most modern hardwood mill in the region. The tour, which lasts from 9.30 a.m. - 1.00 p.m., is conducted on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. For more details contact the Manjimup Tourist Bureau on (08) 9771 1831.

The Department of Land Administration has produced an excellent map of the area titled Southern Forests which identifies all the major attractions in the area as well as providing town maps of Manjimup, Pemberton, Bridgetown and Nannup.