Located 214 km south east of Perth, Wickepin is a typical wheatbelt town with the usual grain silos, railway line and bulk loading facilities.
Settlement in the area was slow. People were unwilling to live far from the major access routes through the area. It is likely that the first settler was an ex-convict, William Justin Smith, who took up land east of Harrismith in 1868. Inevitably the area saw the sandalwood cutters and shepherds move through it but few were interested in settling permanently.
Like so many of the towns in the Great Southern region, Wickepin came into existence as a result of the construction of the Great Southern Railway line which joined Perth and Albany in 1889.
Wickepin started as a watering point named Yealering. The area was opened up for settlement in 1893 and by 1906 the town was starting to develop. The arrival of a branch line from the Great Southern Railway in 1909 resulted in the building of a police station and the establishment of a Road Board.
The highlight of the area is Albert Facey¹s House. The success of Facey¹s autobiography A Fortunate Life (1981) is one of the remarkable events in recent Australian publishing history. Originally published by the local Fremantle Arts Press in 1981 the book was subsequently published by Penguin and enjoyed such success that it sold over a quarter of a million copies and was made into both a play and a successful TV mini-series.
Facey was born in Victoria but grew up on the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie goldfields. After his father¹s death the family moved to the area around Wickepin. It is this area which he describes so vividly in his book.
As a young man Facey served at Gallipoli and upon his return he became a farmer under the Soldier Settlement Scheme. It was as a result of this scheme that he returned to the area south of Wickepin in 1922. He worked as a wheat farmer for the next twelve years before the Depression forced him to simply walk off the land and return to Perth where he was employed on the Perth tramways.
Things to see
A.B. Facey¹s House
In March 2000 A.B. Facey's house was moved into the main street of Wickepin and it was formally reopened, staffed by volunteers, in October 2000. The house is open from 10.00 am-- 4.00 pm seven days a week. In the summer months (December, January and February) it is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This is the house that Facey walked out of during the Depression. The fascination of the building, apart from its connection with the literary history of the area, is that nearly all the rooms have the original Facey furniture in them. The house is much more than just another wheatbelt dwelling. It is a unique opportunity to view the harsh and simple lifestyle of the small wheatbelt farmer in the early 1930s. If the building is closed it is possible to gain access by visiting the nearby Wickepin Newsagency or by contacting the Wickepin Shire Council on (08) 9888 1005.
A.B. Facey¹s Heritage Trail
There is an excellent Albert Facey Heritage Trail brochure for people who loved A Fortunate Life or are just interested in the early history of the Wickepin district. The Heritage Trail, which is 86 km long, includes the Wickepin Boarding House where Facey stayed in 1912 while working for the Western Australian Water Supply, the Wickepin Hotel, and Archie McCall¹s Farm where Facey lived before being sent out to Cave Rock to work when he was only eight years old.
The trail also covers the history of the area looking at Tarling Well, Tarling Hall and the Inkiepinkie School. Most interesting of all are the instructions which describe the locations of the various farms - the Meikles, the Phillips, Moran¹s Farm and the Bibby¹s Farm - where Facey worked. Anyone familiar with the book will find this Heritage Trail brings the story to life and is a powerful reminder of the harshness which characterised life on the wheatbelt around the turn of the century.
Remarkably Facey is not the only major literary figure to have emerged from the area. The poet and playwright, Dorothy Hewett was born in Wickepin on 21 May 1923 and many of her plays and poems deal with the area.
Other attractions in the area include Lake Yealering which is noted for its abundance of water birds. It is also an ideal place for a picnic or for aquatic activities - swimming, boating, and windsurfing.
In season the wildflowers in the area, like so much of the wheatbelt are spectacular. They are particularly impressive around the lakes.
For tourism information see Wickepin website.