Wildflower wonderland

Trip Start Jan 30, 2010
Trip End Dec 01, 2010

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Flag of Australia  , Western Australia,
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We have timed most of our big adventure so well – a green desert (late Wet Season, frequent heavy rains), the Todd River flowing, gold in the pans, flies going away for Winter, national parks opening just as we arrive, whale sharks still around for us, turtles arriving early, dugongs migrating back early, and now wildflowers in late Winter. All planned of course!

The tourist hook for this part of Western Australia, particularly in late Winter and Spring, is the profusion of wildflowers that bloom. There are wildflower trails to drive, regular updates on websites as to where flowers are blooming and locally organised guided walks and talks. It is big business, which keeps some small country towns functioning. The bush and roadsides are carpeted with everlasting daisies, bottlebrushes, banksias and tiny, delicate orchids. Oh, and there are the green wattle trees, which are brushed with feathery yellow pompoms, giving off a golden glow. It is no wonder that Australia's colours are green and gold – oh, so very wattle. All in all, the landscape is truly beautiful. And we were driving through it all. Talk about good timing.

We were heading back inland – eastwards – into drier parts of WA. This area underwent dramatic change in the late 1800s with the discovery of gold. Towns of over 5000 people sprang up, almost overnight, grand buildings were constructed, railway lines were built, the gold ran out and the towns 'died' as people moved on to find more gold. There are town with grandiose Victorian-era buildings, wide streets and a scattering of houses with populations of less than 50. Rusting mine equipment, disused and crumbling railway infrastructure and broken glass bottles also 'decorate' these towns. One shire we visited has a total population of 119 in an area covering over 6000 square kilometres, and the local gold mine is closing with a loss of 35 jobs. Talk about sparsely populated areas!

We stopped at a small town called Mullewa, one such former gold-cum-railway development, roughly 100 kilometres from the coast. It is a wheat railhead town, with some mining still occurring, so it is not as small as some places we've visited, and is still 'alive'. There are two main tourist attractions in the town.

The first revolves around Monsignor Hawes' buildings. There is the church of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, which is said to be his masterpiece, in that he commissioned, designed and built it to his very personal specifications. It is full of quirky details which were fun to find, interpret and appreciate. On our visit we were given a private guided tour by a very enthusiastic volunteer. She took us into roped-off areas, explained some of Hawes' symbolism, pointed out unusual features, let the girls ring the church bells (future campanologists, perhaps) and encouraged us to wander and enjoy. And enjoy we did. The church is byzantine/romanesque, built from local rock or handmade concrete or mud bricks, somewhat out of proportion and very much out-of-place in the Australian bush. It beautifully maintained, and very much the jewel of Mullewa.

We also visited the nearby Priest's House, also designed by Hawes. We fell in love with the place. It is small, Arts and Crafts in style and very liveable. Once again we had the place to ourselves, with a very enthusiastic guide to entertain us. She was a real character, and told us lots of stories about her time in Mullewa and about the house too. It was a very hands-on experience, as Briggie danced to a record on the wind-up gramophone, we all coveted the lead-light reading-window, marvelled at the small kitchen, had a go at pulling the old-fashioned front doorbell (yes, it was a bell) and smiled at the small dog-door specially built into the wall.

The other main hook for Mullewa is the wildflowers. We arrived in time for the annual wildflower show, held in the town hall. It was a good introduction to what we could see, although we had been enjoying the displays by the side of the road for the last few days, when driving south from Kalbarri. In order to entertain tourists in the non-flower season, the shire has constructed lots of interesting walks, with interpretive signage along the way. They have created the Town Walk, the Monsignor Hawes Interpretive Walk, the Bushland Walk, the Wildflower Walk and the Railway Heritage Walk (phew, lots to do in such a small place!). We really feel like we know Mullewa, as we completed every walk, read every sign and used every street!

But it was time to head off, if only to avoid the mayhem that was to descend on the town. Their agricultural show was coming to town on the weekend, and we decided to avoid the expected crowds and take off to discover new places and experience new things.
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