More about Northcliffe
The Northcliffe Pioneer Museum

Northcliffe Pioneer Museum
Wheatley Coast Road
Opposite the Post Officeb

Yvonne Cash 9776 7022
Johan Flanagan 9776 7284
Carole Perry 9776 6777


Inside the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum

The Pioneer Museum has an outstanding collection of original items used by the Northcliffe Group Settlers more than 80 years ago, illustrating their domestic life and work on the dairy farms, on which the district of Northcliffe was founded.

The original Group 121 bush school, teacher’s cottage and hospital memorabilia bring back countless memories, and the large collection of family photographs is of special interest to those researching their family’s life in the 1920s.

The George Gardner exhibition in the Museum’s mill cottage displays aboriginal tools used within the past 8000 years, fossils 3000 million years old and 1200 rocks and minerals from around Australia and overseas.  The collection also includes the George Gardner  photographic record of all native wildflowers growing in the Northcliffe region.

The Robey  Engine, brought to Northcliffe in 1924 to help build the timber Group Houses, is also on display. 

The Pioneer Museum and Machinery Shed, the electric barbecue and gazebo dedicated to the Northcliffe Pioneer Women are set in the spacious picnic grounds of Jubilee Park. They nestle beside the jarrah and karri Forest Park where several of the original tracks that hauled cut timber to the Northcliffe mill fifty years ago are today’s bushwalking trails, especially beautiful in the wildflower season.


The relocated 59 year old R&I building, in addition to bank memorabilia, houses the museum's inaugural display of the local timber industry.  This includes a photographic history of the Northcliffe Mill and a variety of saws and chainsaws.  In the grounds is the International Harvester Company Famous Portable Engine. Built in the USA in 1916, it came to Western Australia and from 1940 for many years was an essential part of the dairy on Group 107.


The portable International harvester engine built in the USA 1916


Northcliffe, the Town that Refused to Die
by Carole Perry Published in September 2014 by Digger Press, Albany.

Despite being abandoned by the government within 36 months of being established in the bush during 1924, hundreds of parents and children managed as best they could. They faced the Depression, the Second World War, bushfires, drought and poverty, delays and closure of their rail service, withdrawal of teachers and removal of schools. But still the community refused to leave.

The Leitch and Richards families between them provided 133 years of service to this tiny rural community. Surrounded by pasture and tall trees, close to the sea and experiencing the 2015 bushfire nearly 100,000 ha in size, Northcliffe's energy, pride and humour are continuing to overcome nearly a century of adversity.

This true story, into its 4th print, unfolds the creativity of a small and friendly town ... a town that simply refused to die.

Available from Northcliffe Pioneer Museum, Manjimup Newsagents, State Library, Royal WA Historical Society and the author, P O Box 377, Northcliffe 6262 Phone: 9776 6777, email:
Price $30 + p&p $10 per book.

Dr Lionel Frederick West, Northcliffe's only Doctor
by Carole Perry

Flocking into our isolated district stretching for 30 square kilometres came thousands of pioneering settlers, tradesmen and young children with the aim of building a town where none had ever existed before and replacing the forests with pasture.

This book tells the story of their Medical Officer of Health from Yorkshire and the obstacles he overcame during the 1920s in a concerted effort to improve their lives. With 100 references, a complete index, new information and many of the 28 photographs never previously published.

Available from Northcliffe Pioneer Museum, Manjimup Newsagents, State Library, Royal WA Historical Society and the author, P O Box 377, Northcliffe 6262 Phone: 9776 6777, email:
Price $30 + p&p $10 per book.

Enquiries to 08 9776 6777 or


Part of the George Gardner Rock and Fossil Display

Northcliffe Pioneer Museum is always keen to meet descendants of the early families and residents, and indeed everyone who shares an interest in Northcliffe's history. Memorabilia, stories and photographs are the backbone of the museum's neverending collection.

Helping people from across Australia and overseas, the museum offers to undertake local family research and provide stories, photographs, local poetry and maps. The museum continues to collect memories and pictures, all of which extend the knowledge of Northcliffe's rich and diverse history.

The museum contacts: write to P O Box 116, Northcliffe, WA 6262, or phone 08 9776 7022 or email Carole Perry

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    Books suggested for reading

      1. Northcliffe Remembers by the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum, 2nd printing
      2. Northcliffe. I Remember When ... edited by Alison Daubney
        Above two books are available for sale through the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum
      3. Dr Lionel Frederick West, Northcliffe's only Doctor.
      4. Northcliffe, the Town that Refused to Die by Carole Perry, Digger Press 2014
        The above 2 books are published by Digger Press, Albany and sell at $30 each. Available at Northcliffe Pioneer Museum, Manjimup Newsagents, State Library, Royal WA Historical Society and Carole Perry, P O Box 377, Northcliffe 6262 [9776 6777]. P&p please add $10 per book.
      5. Contested Country by Professors Patricia and Ian Crawford
      6. Rails Through the Bush by  Adrian Gunzburg and Jeff Austin, Light Railway Research Society of Australia 1997
      7. *I Miss the Hungry Years by Don Symes
      8. *The Northcliffe Experience by H S Burge
      9. *Northcliffe Group Settlement Scheme 1924-1934 by N Cooper
      10. *Northcliffe and Pemberton – A South West Saga by H S Burge
      11. *Story Behind the Manjimup Northcliffe Railway Line by H D Evans
      12. *Sites in the Northcliffe Area by G Gardner
      13. *The History, Landscape & Heritage of the Warren District by Christopher Berry, UWA for the National Trust
      14. *The Past is Always Present by Joseph Cooper

    * Out of print but mostly available through libraries

About the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum
Early 20th century saw the Warren District in the South West develop quickly when Western Australia was invited to supply 50,000 sleepers from the local forests for the transcontinental railway.  By 1911 this led to the railway extension, construction of the town of Manjimup and local government changing its name from Warren to Manjimup Road Board.  Just 13 years later “the new district south east of Pemberton, which opened specifically for Group Settlement, commenced in January 1924”. Northcliffe appeared on the maps for the first time.¹

The Northcliffe Pioneer Museum features possibly the most comprehensive display of Group Settlement history in Western Australia.² Open every day 10 am to 3 pm the stories, photographs, engines and machinery, tools and memorabilia, “the memory bank of a nation”,³ show us the resilience and imagination of Australian and migrant families who worked their very hardest in the most trying of circumstances to develop their 160 acre (64 ha) dairy farms in a landscape of towering forests, sand dunes and swamps.

The Northcliffe Pioneer Museum began in Group School 121, but over the years has expanded to include the local timber industry, tobacco and banking. The museum is also custodian of the George Gardner Rock and Fossil Collection of some 1200 items.  In 1985 it was Mr Gardner’s enthusiasm that created the 300 ha Forest Park and with museum members he recorded 500 local wildflowers on film. The park, an A class Reserve, is behind the museum and the photographs are on display.

The web pages reveal the rich culture of the original Northcliffe community and a visit to the museum will be hard to resist.  Allow time when you come to meander along the bushwalks through the towering trees and be a part of history when you walk the trails.

Maps and accommodation bookings are available at the Northcliffe Visitor Centre, Muirillup Road Northcliffe WA 6262.The Northcliffe Visitor Centre is open daily.
Phone: 08 9776 7203, Fax: 08 9776 6066, Email:

¹ Group Settlement Scheme by I L Hunt
² South West Development Commission, Bunbury, Western Australia
³ Collections Council of Australia supported by the Dept of Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Northcliffe Pioneer Museum Telephone 08 9776 7022. 08 9776 7284. 08 9776 6777

How the Group Settlement Scheme Began
How the Group Settlement Scheme Began
Houses of Parliament, London:
“The development of the population and wealth of the whole British Empire is the key to the problem of postwar (WWI) reconstruction. The heavy burden of war debt makes this development an immediate and urgent necessity ... withdrawal of population from the United Kingdom tends to reduce the competition for employment, increase wages and raise the standard of living”.¹

Mr James Mitchell, later to be WA Premier:

“I believe that by means of improved estates men can be suitably placed for dairying  ... the industry in the South West offers immense possibilities”.²
See also Group Settlement Finance, Building the Town and Group Settlement Lifestyle

WA Government Prospectus:

“The prime forest areas are not to be touched and only the easily cleared areas are selected.  At the inception of the operations four or five members proceed to the settlement and erect temporary slab and iron huts for accommodation until the cottages are built”.  Other government papers record that migrants were “to subdue the vast virgin forests” and assure migrants that “solitude is unknown, school provides the educational wants of children and rail or motor keep the settlements in easy touch with the conveniences of the cities”.

The Imperial, Commonwealth and Western Australian Governments share a dream.
During a visit to Manjimup in 1916 James Mitchell explored the possibility of land settlement and, as a result, the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act 1918 was passed.  This first attempt at settlement had been unsuccessful, due in part to the new farmers facing debts greater than anticipated, progress on the farms was excessively slow and the settlers shared a sense of loneliness.

James Mitchell’s frustration increased after he had been knighted, especially as his long held dream of closer settlement between Denmark and the Frankland River had been condemned. In viewing Northcliffe’s potential he drew on his memories of advice he had received as Minister for Lands in 1910-1911 when a proposal for a townsite had been made on the western bank of the Gardner River. On becoming Premier he complained, “(I deplore) the sending of 1000 golden sovereigns a day to the eastern states for butter, cheese and other milk products” ² and he authorised the construction of a track from the Warren Bridge to the proposed townsite of Northcliffe.³

Consultations took place between the three governments.  The imperial government agreed to loan £34 million ($68 million) at a low rate of interest and the two Australian governments agreed to settle migrants from the British Isles with Australians wishing to join the scheme.

The Group Settlement Scheme was at first designed for agriculture with fruit and vegetable production, but finally it became a single purpose plan to establish dairying.  Unfortunately, in his enthusiasm, Mitchell had minimised the drawbacks of the Mediterranean climate and the very important fact that the abundant rainfall fell between April and October, which would leave the dairy farmer with a lack of feed during the dry, warm and hot summer and early autumn months.4  Nonetheless, the Group Settlement Scheme was established, families were encouraged to apply and the Migration Committee for Devon and Cornwall (UK) promoted the “first class (tracts of) land, temperate climate and ample rainfall suitable for intensive culture, dairying and fruit growing ... The future prospects of success in life for the children are unlimited”.

Governments were confident that their promotion would be appealing. Britain’s population had doubled since the outbreak of World War I and the1920s economy was in a shaky condition.  Tens of thousands were unable to find work and Western Australia was being sold as the answer to those seeking a secure future.  Lord Northcliffe, not to be overshadowed by Lord Beaverbrook’s Empire Free Trade Campaign in his rival newspaper the Daily Express, praised Sir James Mitchell in his Daily Mail and London Evening News: “It is a great imaginative scheme which ... will have a great influence upon the future of the Empire.  I seem to see ... rural villages which will be the admiration of the whole civilised world”.  And one of those was soon to be Northcliffe.5
See also  Group Settlement Finance and Building the Town

Despite the fact a small portion of the costs was expected to be recovered, too many people applied so ballots were held to choose the families who would “leave the crowded cities and, for six weeks, cross the world in slow coal-burning ships to make a new life as farmers in the south west corner of Western Australia”.   

By 1921 Group Number 1 had arrived.  There were fourteen blocks eight miles west of Manjimup and by November the Group Settlers, a mix of Australians and British migrants, had felled 220 acres of timber and cleared 40 acres. Five group houses had been erected along with some fencing.6   Group 2 came next near Pemberton and then throughout 1923 expansion in the Warren district was described as “spectacular”.  On the 3rd January 1924 road gangs only just beginning to turn the often impassable track from Pemberton into a road of sorts looked up in amazement when they saw descending upon them the very first Northcliffe Group Settlers on their way to Group 94, which lay to the west of where the town would be.  Settlers for Group 95 arrived just two days later, to be followed after eight weeks by the Northcliffe group said to be in “the most remote south west corner of the entire scheme”. 9
However, the local newspaper reported that the rate of expansion and influx of settlers brought insoluble problems for the administrators.  The Royal Commission sitting between 23rd September 1924 and 10th March 1925 found that, of the total of 3,391 settlers, 1106 had left their holdings.  The paper wrote of the “widespread gloom and despondence, inequalities in the land types causing dissatisfaction ... delay in housing, lack of hospitals, poor water supplies and hopeless transport arrangements”. 

1927 saw the closure of Jack Carriggs’ timber yard, which had been operating in Northcliffe for the scheme since 1924, and his sawmill in the forest north of the town.  The Public Works Department closed its roadworks and PWD horses were made available to the groups.  Work on the railway line, still five years from completion, continued.

By 1929 “4,500 men and their families had been part of the South West Group Settlement Scheme but records show the greatest number at any one time was 2,442”. 7
The Blackwood Times, the weekly newspaper which covered Bridgetown, Manjimup, Pemberton and Northcliffe, reported “By 1934 only 1,315 settlers and their families remained on the blocks right across the South West and of these 727 were early Australians and 588 were immigrants”.  While not everyone agrees with the newspaper’s bleak figures, it continues the report by claiming “85% of the settlers walked off the Northcliffe holdings” 85% of the settlers walked off the Northcliffe holdings in the first five years. The exodus from Northcliffe has been alarming and no one is taking over the vacant holdings”.8    In 1930 the Agricultural Bank of Western Australia took complete control of the Group Settlement Scheme from the state, commonwealth and imperial governments, the bank was in time to recall its debts and for many of the settlers this was the last straw.  See also Group Settlement Finance

At the 21st Anniversary of Northcliffe Mr William Johnson from the Manjimup Trading Store was heard to say, “I raise my hat to all these settlers who have weathered the storm: those early years when you lived in shacks, tormented by flies and mosquitoes, without any amenities, a disgrace to the government then in charge”.  Nonetheless for many of the pioneers, who had been forced to escape the dairy farms, happy memories persisted and many of them joined the Northcliffe Settlers Association in Perth.  Between 1988 and April 2000, when the association closed, generous contributions were made for the upkeep of the Pioneer Cemetery and construction of a retirement village.

¹ My Political Life by Leo Amery, English Cabinet Minister responsible for Imperial Policy
² Mr James Mitchell, later Premier of WA, then Lt.Governor and Governor of WA
³ The Founding of Northcliffe, an extract from Group Settlement by J P Gabbedy
4 The Group Settlement Scheme by I L Hunt; Bureau of Meteorology’s Northcliffe
  Monthly and Yearly Rainfall 1925 – 1945, p.2993
Living Today 27.10.1977
Manjimup Warren Times 20.10.1971
7 Countryman 1.3.1979
8 Blackwood Times 11.1.1935
9 Group Settlement, Parts I & II  by J P Gabbedy

Northcliffe’s Early Landscape    
For at least 27,000 years the Nyoongar people of the Koreng, Minang, Bibbulmun and Kanean tribes¹ lived in the South West of Western Australia, although it is believed their journeys through the Northcliffe region may have been for as little as the last seven or eight thousand years.  The South West, including Northcliffe, was a wilderness with a covering of tall eucalyptus forests of jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), marri (E.calphylla) and karri (E.diversicolor), one of the world’s three tallest trees.  Sandy loams and red earth were predominant, with karri requiring an average annual rainfall of 1000 mm.  This forested wilderness, abundant with fauna and plant food, was well adapted to a climate of winter rains and summer drought with occasional fires started by lightning.  Swamp reeds, zamias and blackboys dotted the land with peppermint trees close to the coast.  The Nyoongar people have left ample evidence of their occupation including discarded artefact material, evidence of rock tool fabricating sites and shell middens along the coast. 2 3 4

In the 1800s there were freeholders on the land and at first the Nyoongar people worked with them, but during the 19th century the last of the local Aboriginal people left the Northcliffe district.  The 120 year tradition of droving cattle to the D’Entrecasteaux coast for the summer months finally came to an end; an original diary detailing the musters was written with care on a shed wall and can be seen at the museum in Northcliffe.  It was the Group Settlement Scheme that considerably changed the land.

¹ Settler Footprints from Star: Muir Family by Alison Muir
² The History, Landscape and Heritage of the Warren District by Christopher Berry, Geography Dept, UWA on behalf of the National Trust 1987
³ Sites in the Northcliffe Area by George Gardner
  A Dedication to the Earlier Nyoongar People by Mavis Daubney
  Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia,Vo.58, Part 2, 1975 by C E Dortch, WA Museum
  Caring for our Country – Aboriginal Artefacts by WA and Australian Governments
  Aboriginal Mollusc Exploitation in southwestern Australia – Middens by Charles E Dortch and others
4Contested Country by Professors Patricia and Ian Crawford

Group Settlers’ Lifestyle -The Group Home - The Garden - Transport

The Group Home
Jack Carrigg won the contract to supply the timber for the homes.  He had a wood yard in town and a sawmill in the forest where he worked with Bert Suggars and others, along with their teams of bullocks and horses, usually eight to a team.¹  At first the earliest families were each supplied with a government issue bell tent.  Once five acres (two ha) had been cleared for each family, the dense virgin forest laboriously reduced to woodland, the scheme provided more substantial accommodation in the form of shacks. This was the official word for the row of 20 buildings, each seven metres by three metres, made of corrugated iron, home for the families until each had a cleared a further 20 acres (eight ha).

The timber group homes were all identical.  Each had four rooms, there was a verandah back and front, a wood stove and a water tank.  There were neither doors, nor windows so the families fitted sugarbags.  Flooring was not provided and enterprising families found ways of surmounting this, especially to overcome the cold weather. Each house block was also fenced.²

Pinewood boxes, in which the pairs of kerosene cans arrived in the store, became the settlers’ furniture, crafted into tables, chests-of-drawers, babies’ cradles, bench tops and more besides.  The kerosene enabled the lanterns to extend the families’ days, when the evenings were spent not only in caring for the family meals but to enjoy the pleasures of shared relaxation, games of cards, reading books and craft work executed for pleasure and not necessity.  At first the beds were hammocks and settlers recall hearing the dingoes at night.  Families improved their homes with curtains for doors, windows and cupboards, material being available at the store. Mothers saved up when possible for sewing machines and made their family’s clothes.³

The Garden

It quickly became imperative to provide their own food. Seeds were available from the store and, aside from growing vegetables, chickens were reared and the government encouraged the breeding of pigs to enable families to cure bacon and ham.  Native fauna provided the families’ meat supply at first and when funds were low, but meat became available from the town and was delivered to the groups the furthest out. The women prepared corned meat and safes became important; some families dug a well for storing food.


Children were able to walk to school, otherwise everything was far away. And at first there was no transport through lack of funds.   Groups relied on those who could afford a cart.  Farmers made wheels from karri logs three inches thick (six cm) with a wire hoop nailed on for a tyre.  The axle was also made of wood. A horse and sulky took the mail to the groups, carried in a heavy canvas bag sealed with pink wax.  When the PWD’s work came to an end in 1927 the horses became available and made life easier.


The Cinema
Allan Jones Picture Circuit 1923 - 1980s.
Raycophone 35 mm Projector on display at the Museum.

For over a century, in many parts of the world, there was nothing to equal the magic of the Flicks. This was true for our Western Australian rural communities. Every week farmers and townsfolk came together to watch a major film and enjoy cartoons.  With the Pathe News supplying Australian and overseas events, the Picture Shows played a major part in raising morale, especially when times were tough. 

With the Group Settlement Scheme bringing flocks of migrants to the South West, Allan Jones extended his Picture Circuit, the Pemberton and Manjimup entertainment being expanded to five towns. This took plenty of courage. Each night Allan loaded the back of his 1924 Buick car, carefully balancing a number of tin trunks on the running boards. This is where he stored the highly inflammable spools of film. Covering the trunks with a blanket to keep out the dust and hopefully the rain, he set forth on almost impassable tracks battling bogs, floods, bushfires, storms, fallen trees, or straying stock and wildlife which separated him from the small country halls many kilometres away.

Posters at the local stores announced the forthcoming attractions, and in some rural towns children, given free tickets, rung a handbell as they ran through the town proclaiming, “Pictures Tonight. Roll-up. Roll-up”.  When films were first shown there was a one minute break every 20 minutes when the spool was reloaded during the entertainment. Throughout those early performances Allan Jones hand-turned the bio-machine.  If an operator became absorbed in the film and forgot to turn the handle, the film remained stationary and burst into flames.

A pianist was essential to bring life to the silent films and occasionally the wrong piece of music turned a drama into a comedy.  An interval, when Robbies soft drinks were served, divided the shorter features from the main film.

With great excitement, in1928 the silent movies came to Northcliffe.  Held at first in the original hall, which the Larsson brothers had built in 1927 on Lot 2 a few blocks north of the current hotel, the venue was finally moved in 1929 to the Northcliffe Buffaloes newly erected Town Hall, still standing today.  For the following 50 years the Picture Circuit was a regular visitor and during this time another 20 towns were included. For the first 20 years entry remained the same at 2/- [two shillings or 20c] for adults and 6d [sixpence or 5c] for children.

By the 1930s Talkies had replaced the silent Flicks. On view is the original Raycophone 35mm projector, which was operated weekly in the Northcliffe Town Hall from the late 1930s. The display includes the amplifers and speakers. The Talkies had an immediate and profound effect on Australia. Favourite movie stars were idolized across the nation, although admiration for the silent performers continues to this day.

Within 30 years Allen Jones had 34 cinemas across the South West and, although the roads had improved since the 1920s, “travel was still a bit scary in the 1950s” with treacherous gravel and frequent wet and windy nights.  George Burford who, with George Hooper, cared for the Manjimup, Northcliffe, Pemberton and Kojonup Picture Nights remembers there were only two occasions during his 21 years of employment with Allan Jones when hazardous roads prevented a Picture Night from arriving safely in Northcliffe.

Dorothy Jones, Allan's wife, was the pianist during the silent films, she handled all the office work and organised the sale of candy.  
Casual staff were employed to organise the rows of wooden chairs and sell tickets at the door, although in the first two decades there were no tickets at all. In the 1950s Bev and Wendy Richards were assistants at a time when George recalls having to use his D2 International van AC/DC alternators to show the films because Northcliffe townsite was still without power.  On Picture Nights the theatres and halls were always packed and occasionally a film attracted so many people there was insufficient room inside and some patrons were turned away. No doubt with mixed feelings amongst the communities, every week at each show there were some patrons who insisted on retaining their favourite chair and this was often in the back row.

The Raycophone 35mm film projector, once the mainstay of city and rural entertainment for over 100 years and on show at the museum, is almost completely discarded today in favour of the new digital technology.  Northcliffe is privileged and delighted that, although no longer in use, we can marvel at the ingenuity of Australian manufacturers who brought the Talkie Picture Nights to rural Australia. Northcliffe is indebted to Ron Jones, Jones Cinewest and the Australian Museum of Motion Picture and Television for their handsome donations.

Due to the ingenuity and enthusiasm of one man the Allan Jones Picture Circuit was a remarkable success. Throughout all the changes from silent films to the Talkies, from building his own cinemas across the South West, installing Cinemascope, Open-Air Picture Gardens and Drive-Ins, Allan Jones devoted five decades of his life to show business.  Every week his Picture Circuit entertained people in 34 towns.

“Through my 50 years of showmanship I have always endeavoured to provide patrons with the most popular films, the best possible presentation and a loyal and consistent service”.

Thousands of Western Australians would agree that Allan Jones never let them down.

Bert Bailey, Noah Beery, Wallace Beery, Buffalo Bill Junior, Clara Bow, William Boyd, Betty Bronson,  Lon Chaney, Charlie Chaplin, Syd Chaplin, Betty Compson, Jackie Coogan, Ricardo Cortez, Bebe Daniels, Richard Dix, Douglas Fairbanks, W M Fairbanks, Louise Fazenda, W C Fields,  Greta Garbo, Janet Gaynor, Hoot Gibson, Raymond Griffith,  Jack Holt,  Buck Jones,  Buster Keaton,  Harold Lloyd,  Victor McLagen, Douglas MacLean, Thomas Meighan, Adolphe Menjou, Tom Mix,  Raymond Navarro, Pola Negri,  Mary Pickford, Tyrone Power,  Esther Ralston,  Lewis Stone, Gloria Swanson, Norma Talmadge and Rudolph Valentino.
For more than 50 years people living in the Northcliffe district and across the South West must have seen hundreds of films, featurettes and cartoons.  How many of these films on Northcliffe Pioneer Museum’s new collection of posters did you see in a rural town all those years ago?
The Viking Queen, Trinity Is Still My Name, Showdown, The Italian Job, The Man Hunter, Kill Charley Varrick, Man of La Mancha, Midnight Cowboy, Lost in the Desert, Petersen and Clash of the Titans.  In 1972 Walt Disney Productions celebrating “50 Happy Years in Entertainment” offered special showings of  The World’s Greatest Athlete. As children do you remember seeing The Day After – Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, Snowball Express, The Last Flight of Noah’s Ark and, of course, Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore?  Do you remember watching Dean Martin, Rock Hudson, Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Sandra Dee, Peter O’Toole, Sophia Loren, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Thompson, Jacki Weaver, Wendy Hughes, Arthur Dignam, Charles Tigwell, Maggie Smith, Ursula Andress, Claire Bloom, Flora Robson and Laurence Olivier?

Robbie’s soft drinks and packed nights at town halls and theatres on Picture Nights are long past.  Descendants of pioneering families and residents of the early years of the 20th century are encouraged to visit Northcliffe Pioneer Museum’s Picture Theatre equipment and appreciate the ingenuity required for the entertainment of yesteryear.

Preparing the dairy farms

The government issued instructions on the method of forest clearing and each settler was given an axe and a crosscut saw.  Karris above a certain dimension were ringbarked but the problem of disposing of an immense 200 foot long dead tree, frequently half full of water, was not foreseen. Standing trees were frequently blazed to avoid people getting lost in the bush, especially for the children who had errands to run.³

Each family was given six to eight cows to milk, although the cost was to be repaid in time.  The government supplied a bull for service, which cost 50 pence a serve with one free serve if the first was unsuccessful.  A dairy, separator and chaff cutter were provided. A horse-drawn plough with a disk to make one furrow at a time was the usual method of farming.  The women also tilled the land with a Dutch hoe seen in the Northcliffe museum.  Silage was made for the cattle by filling a hole with hay as farmers had practiced in England for hundreds of years.  Barbed wire, which had been invented in America in 1873, was provided for the fencing but the fence posts had to be prepared and, for many of the settlers, new skills needed to be learnt. A good fence was important because there were plenty of kangaroos and wallabies and the settlers’ pasture was precious.

Bushfires were a constant threat in the summers. There were no fire trucks, dozers or tractors so instead settlers used wet sugar bags and green bushes to beat out the flames or make firebreaks.  In all the years of Group Settlement in the Northcliffe area, while haysheds and houses were lost, the community never lost a life. The loss of pasture, however, was a disaster because dry feed was destroyed, milk yields dropped as did the cream cheque and the family’s already meagre income. 

The Group Settlement Scheme - Care of the settlers


While the Imperial, commonwealth and state governments were planning a dairy industry where ‘the South West offers immense possibilities’, they were also mindful of the medical care required for the families spread across large distances, sent there ‘to subdue the vast virgin forests’.  They agreed that there would be a need for the governments to provide medical assistance, however costly, and employers should also be aware of their responsibility for safety in the workplace.¹ 

Families on the Northcliffe Groups were especially vulnerable. Set amongst the thick eucalypt forests over 350 kilometres south of Perth, the new isolated township was to be specifically established for the Group Settlement Scheme.   The nearest towns were 60 and 30 kilometres to the north and north west and 160 kilometres to the east ².  One access road was scarcely more than a droving track and the second was to be constructed through the forest from Warren Bridge 25 kilometres
away ᶾ.   These new settlers from England and Scotland with a few Australians amongst them were true pioneers.  Mostly inexperienced, miles from anywhere, their needs were to be met by a town yet to be carved out of the bush where none had stood before.

Health Care
A District Medical Officer was appointed to care for the Northcliffe settlers, who in time were expected to number 1,500.  Never reaching this figure, there were nonetheless some 500 families spread throughout the district on 28 groups, many of which continued to be isolated for some time by lack of roads and transport.  Dr Lionel Frederick West arrived from England to care for them.

A local hospital was provided and, prior to its construction which was delayed by some months, a small government cottage was made available for this purpose. 4

From the start it was recognised the Group Settlement Scheme would need a compulsory contributory hospital and medical fund.  From the regular sustenance wage of 10 shillings settlers received for clearing their farms health contributions were regularly deducted.   Mandatory family rate was 2s.3d a month to cover hospitalization, and 4s.4d. to cover the need of general medical attention.  Settlers frequently took weekend work to extend their meagre earnings because out of these they also had to repay the loans or advances on the costs of the journey by sea, the farmland, the stock and the plant.5

But the settlers had also brought with them the fear of being buried as paupers should they die so this was overcome by the founding of a branch of the United Ancient Order of Druids.  Lodge Number 88, Northcliffe was opened on Sunday, the 7th December 1924.  Membership entitled a funeral allowance of £20 with an additional 10s.0d for the settler’s wife.

Sick pay was also available: £1 weekly for the first 26 weeks, 10s.0d for the next 26 weeks and 5s.0d. a week thereafter.5

Workers Compensation
To assist families to cope with unexpected costs incurred by accidents, the Western Australian government encouraged employers to insure their workmen for hospital medical expenses incurred by accidents in the workplace.  When employers frequently failed to do so the Workers Compensation Act was passed.
Under this Act the employer was held responsible for the hospital maintenance charges for every employee who was injured at work.

Medical Staff  ¹
The District Medical Officer, attending doctor or hospital staff were responsible for reporting Infectious Diseases and issuing Death Certificates.

Infectious Diseases
Between 1924 and 1931 only five cases were reported: two on Group 97 and one on Group 98 in 1924 and another in the town the same year.  The final patient was on Group 141 in 1931. Patients recovered and there is no mention of district outbreaks within the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum’s archival material or in the story collection.

Medical Certificate of the Cause of Death under the Births, Deaths & Marriages Act 1894 with Amendment Act 1907.
This certificate was to be given to the person required by the Act, or to a Resident Magistrate of the District and delivered to the Director Registrar.

Northcliffe Hospital ‘s income 1926 – 1934  7
Hospital charges to be met included midwifery checkup  £1, rising to £1.15.0 by 1932,
confinement remained at £4.10.0 and theatre fee remained at 10 shillings and sixpence.
Of 2,400 receipts, most were recording hospital fund subscriptions and maternity visits. There were, however, other ways the hospital received an income:

  • Sale of a calf
  • hire of cans and crutches
  • sales of emulsion and gauze
  • sale of gifts at the Royal Agricultural Show 5th November 1929
  • hospital garden fete and Mile of Pennies 7th December 1929
  • sale of cushions and a bath
  • Railway Construction Dance in the town hall 1st August 1931
  • Group School 143 Dance on 29th May 1934
  • Union Control Committee Christmas choir
  • Bed and Breakfast for Mr C.Hall, District Architect

a total of £156.4.0

Electric Light Fund donations:

  • Group School 143
  • Mothers Union
  • General Donations
  • Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes
  • Hospital Staff and Northcliffe Trading Store

a total of £114.10.6

Patients’ Travelling expenses:

Donated by the United Ancient Order of Druids

Contributions towards patients’ hospital charges:

Carriggs and Pemberton sawmillers

Pemberton Hospital, Tennis Club, Medical and Memorial Funds, Bunnings Bros Ltd Timber Merchants, Insurance companies for Workers Compensation: South British, State Accident and Government Actuary.

A Short History of Births, Deaths and Accidents in the Northcliffe district
The birth of a baby
The earlier hospital registration of births is missing.  This is unfortunate because 1924 saw a near complement of 400 families taking up farms on some 20 groups.  Only the establishment of Groups 141, 142, 143, 147 and 150 are recorded as late as 1929.    Families still living today in the Northcliffe district are confident that there may well have been as many as 90 babies born each year in the early years of settlement.

However, published on the 11th January 1935 the local newspaper, the Blackwood Times,stated ‘85% of the settlers walked off the Northcliffe holdings in the first five years ... the exodus from Northcliffe has been alarming and no one is taking over the vacant holdings’.  By the 1930s, with the reduced population, the number of babies born each year had dropped to an average of 18.  The birth of a baby brings joy to everyone and found amongst the pages of the local hospital’s neatly handwritten Day Reports Book is this story:

Day 1 – Baby is born.  (Details of the birth follow).   Baby suckling.
Day 2 -  Baby is very cross during whole day.
Day 3 – Baby is cross at times.
Day 4 – Baby is sleeping all day.
Day 5 -  Baby is suckling well
Day 6 – Baby is discharged. In good condition.

But sadly not all families were to welcome home their babies or children:
These are the recorded deaths, either during gestation, within a few days or weeks of birth, one is the loss of a triplet while the other two siblings survived, and there are two young children in the list.  The child’s first name is included if available:
1924 and 1925 – there are no records
1926 – 7 including Joy, Betty, Joyce and William
1927 – 4 including Betty
1928 – 1
1929 – 7 including Charles, Athol, Barbara, Dorothy, Alice and Maureen
1930 – 3 including Carol, Bessie and Jack
1931 – 4 including Walter, Gweneth and Rose
1932 – 5 including Frederick, Gordon and Daisy
1933 – 5 including Arthur and Raymond
1934 – 3 including William and Mary

There are no more records.  Pairs of kerosene cans were sold in pine wooden boxes and most families retained these boxes to be skilfully crafted into furniture.  They were also made into beautifully lined coffins for Northcliffe’s precious babies, and headstones however simple are in the cemetery in memory of these tiniest of pioneers.

Patients attending Northcliffe Hospital under the Workers Compensation Act
1924 to 1927 – there are no records. Description of injuries are not recorded until 1933.
1928 – 7, 1929 – 3, 1930 – 1, 1931 and 1932 there are no entries,1933 – 2, 1934 – 29, 1935 – 10.

Injuries included head abrasion, cuts on legs and septic wounds, eye injuries, crushed and fractured legs, arms, feet and fingers, back problems and burns.  Some patients attended Pemberton Hospital for X-rays. Employers were mostly the Public Works Department, the Railways, the Sustenance Gang, the Deeside Camp and the Stock Department.

Northcliffe Hospital Day Reports for 12 months 1933 to 1934 (the only records available)
Meticulously recorded by hand each day, these records offer an excellent glimpse into the day-to-day running of a bush hospital. 
Throughout each day while babies were being born, or bathed, or weighed, or mothers cared for, the staff were kept busy with the other patients, who seemed to number four or five at any one time. 

Some patients were taken out to the verandah to sit in the sun.  On the wards and in the theatre other activities included appendectomies, tonsillectomies, amputation of a toe, burns – on one occasion the top half of the body; adenoids came out, broken legs and feet were attended to, septic wounds seemed to reoccur and there was a case of pneumonia.  Angina attacks and rheumatoid arthritis appeared and teeth were extracted.  Sadly there were the babies that did not succumb to treatment: ‘Baby twitched and moaned and frothed at the mouth. Brandy and glucose were given but died in two hours. Relatives not present’. ‘Baby had convulsive spasm, deteriorating, pulse rapid and feeble and death occurred’. On the occasion of the loss of children there are comments – ‘Parents present’ or ‘Family notified’.

Northcliffe’s District Medical Officer 6
While the passing of family members is disturbing and very sad, surprising and shocking is the sudden death of the doctor himself.  Dr West’s Death Certificate unexpectedly appears within the pages of the worn, grey hard-backed book.  Placed between the Death Certificates of Athol who died 12 hours after his birth and Barbara who survived for 18 days we find the certificate for Dr West signed by Dr Abbott of Pemberton.  Despite six years of unceasing loyal service, with no evidence that he ever left the district to take a holiday, Dr Lionel Frederick West was as unceremoniously recorded as was his grave: a Lot 5 marker, a mound of earth and little more, to remain that way for 60 years.

Perhaps this apparent lack of ceremony more than anything signifies the perilous economic situation the remaining pioneers were facing.  The population of the town had dwindled during the previous two years as a result of the closure of Jack Carriggs’ timber yard and sawmill and the termination of the Public Works Department roads project.  Neighbours were relinquishing their farms and one school had already closed.  The pioneers who remained continued the unrelenting job of developing their dairy farms from the bush and forest but still for very little gain.  For many, things looked bleak. There were rumours that the Imperial, commonwealth and state governments were planning to resign from the scheme.  There appear to be no records of how many people attended the funeral of the Northcliffe community’s loyal doctor, but maybe it is not so difficult to understand why Lot 5 remained a simple grave for many years to come.

¹Northcliffe Pioneer Museum
²Pemberton, Manjimup and Denmark. Walpole was another Group Town being established in 1920s
ᶾ Middleton and Pemberton-Northcliffe Roads
4 Northcliffe Remembers by Northcliffe Pioneer Museum
5 The Group Settlers Parts I and II by Jack Gabbedy
6 Dr West. Northcliffe Pioneer Museum’s Interpretive Stories Library.
7 Northcliffe Hospital Receipt Books
8.Northcliffe, the Town that Refused to Die by Carole Perry, Digger Press 2014

Dr West, Northcliffe's only Doctor, with the story of the Northcliffe Hospital

Dr Lionel Frederick West, the only doctor Northcliffe has ever had.
Dr West, Group Settlement Medical Officer in the most remote south west corner of the whole scheme, brought with him from England 33 years of experience as a surgeon, physician, radiologist and pharmacist.¹, ²

When he arrived in May 1924 the town barely existed.  Other than three cottages and a shop, there were no houses, schools or official hospital and the roads to the farms were almost non-existent.  By the end of June more than 1000 adults and 1500 children were living in tents spread across Dr West’s district which, mostly forested, was 30.5 square km in size.3, 4.

Horrified with the conditions and in the absence of a doctor’s residence, Dr West set about improving both.  He purchased a piece of land opposite the hospital site and built a very small timber building.  A curtain divided his new home into two rooms and his pride of joy was his piano, on which he sat the photograph of his five surviving sons, aged between 19 and 28 years at the time. His vegetable garden was to give him endless relaxation. 4, 5.

For the next four and a half years Dr West devoted his time to the care of his patients while attempting to hasten improvements to the community’s settlement.  Northcliffe, the only group town across the south west built from scratch, was expected to be a progressive centre to service 3000 people. Despite the scheme’s promises, the earliest groups were forced to wait 12 months for their hospital, public transport was unavailable other than the train 30 km away, and the government’s apathy in completing the town’s drainage and in providing access to the groups infuriated the settlers and townsfolk. 4

With sickness amongst the adults, babies dying of gastroenteritis and an increase in accidents, Dr West’s warning that his complaints would be taken to the Imperial government in London had some success.  The hospital was built, in time the group cottages were fitted with floors and doors, and Dr West was invited to accompany the government’s six official visits to Northcliffe, which attempted to solve its problems during the following three years. 6

Dr West was most concerned with the isolation suffered by his group patients and tried to make regular, though time consuming, visits. Bill Beasley recalls: “Once a week he’d come, and he’d have a cup of tea with me and ma. You know, with anybody. A real thorough gentleman.”  And Jim Cooper remembers: “Dr West came every day to our shack to check on my sister Eve [who had pneumonia].” Impassable roads necessitated Dr West exchanging his Chevrolet for settlers’ carts, borrowed horses, wading through creeks and bush walking, his leather medical bag hanging from the saddle or slung over his shoulder. 7

The hospital eventually opened with 10 staff and three wards: six beds for the men, four beds for the women and four additional beds with cots for mothers and babies.  The theatre was always busy: Dr West, the Northcliffe surgeon, was responsible for other regional patients when Jardee Hospital near Manjimup was unavailable. 8

Until 1926 there were usually four inpatients at any one time while an average of two babies were born each week.  With development of the town, roads, railway line and farms, so the accidents inevitably increased.  With more than a thousand inexperienced settlers and labourers using crosscut saws, axes, mattocks, tools, machinery, guns and gelignite, with urban migrants handling stock for the first time, plus the additional problem of small children and toddlers exposed to campfires where pots and pans were frequently bubbling in the coals, tragedies were bound to happen.  Burns, fractures, abrasions, eye injuries, septic wounds and gunshot injuries were regularly presented to the hospital, and amputations were not uncommon.  “His skills are innumerable,” Alf Fry was frequently heard to say.  Dr Abbott agreed: “Dr West is a classic diagnostician of tremendous surgical skill even to the extent of plastic surgery in the repair of hands shattered by gelignite charges.” 9, 8.

Dr West considered, as M.O.H., he was fully justified in taking constructive action.  The illegal butcher, who refused to remove his unwholesome product from the outskirts of town, soon disappeared when his cart and meat were burnt to ashes.  There was another occasion when the government’s failure to fence and open the gazetted cemetery was resolved when Dr West was obliged to hold an autopsy one February. He explained to his cemetery committee that on such a hot day there was insufficient time to transport the deceased to Pemberton.  That is why Spider has always owned the privilege of being the first person buried at Northcliffe, although Constable Larkin was not amused. 4

For some time Dr West had been suffering from uraemia, a serious illness requiring constant treatment, and in 1928 his health began to deteriorate.  On August 30 he made his will, bequeathing everything to his wife in England, and he carefully verified that the freehold title to his property remained in order.  11, 1.

Christmas passed, and early in January 1929 the hospital was assessed during an unexpected visit by the Health Department and found to be of high standard.  At this time Dr West was supervising the care of an accident victim who required several weeks treatment.  During the month three more deaths unfolded: Dr West comforted a local family who lost a father and he consoled two sets of parents whose small children had died. 9.

Early February, feeling worse, Dr West asked Dr Abbott to care for the hospital patients for a day. Anxious about his deteriorating health, Dr Abbott admitted his friend and colleague to the care of the hospital .  He visited Dr West on February 4 1929.  On February 6 1929 Dr West died.  At the early age of 61 years, Dr West finally succumbed to a weak heart and uraemia, a disease he had borne so bravely while treating others. 9.

Dr West’s friends came to Northcliffe Cemetery to say farewell: all those who had fished with him in the Gardner River, played snooker, shared meals in the bush and enjoyed music around the piano. Settlers came from the farms on Groups 107, 141 and 143 and probably many more.  The nursing staff, the shopkeepers, and labourers from the Public Works Department, walked up from the town.  The Reverend Rabard from the Anglican church conducted the service for the doctor who had devoted 38 years of his life to healing others.  Dr Lionel Frederick West died a long way from home, the only doctor Northcliffe has ever had.


The government announced in January 1929 that, on behalf of the settlers, it was no longer prepared to collect their compulsory contributions to the Group Medical Fund.  Dr West refused to accept this added burden, especially for his patients living on the most isolated of the Group farms; the proposal was dropped. There is evidence that over the years Dr West had been making gifts of £10 or so to help families manage.  When asked about the cost of treatment, he frequently replied: “Pay me when you can”, and this was often in the form of a chicken or home grown vegetables.  Did the Group Scheme Board ever pay Dr West?  We shall never know; we do know that Dr West’s executors listed the Group Board as one of the debtors to Dr West’s estate. 1, 12

1.State Records, Perth. Confirmed July 12 2011
2.King’s College, London, UK. Confirmed August 9 2011
3.Founding of Northcliffe courtesy of Anne O’Donnell
4.Jack Gabbedy, Group Settlement Scheme Parts I and II. UWA Press.
5.Mrs IE Archer, Northcliffe Nurse. Northcliffe Pioneer Museum Interpretative Library
6.Ron Hitchins, Pemberton Northcliffe Saga. R.Hitchins
7.Bill Beasley, Tape 3. Northcliffe Pioneer Museum Library
8.Dave Evans, AM, Dr AG Abbott. Shire of Manjimup
9.Northcliffe Hospital. Records at Northcliffe Pioneer Museum
10.Don Symes, I Miss the Hungry Years. D.Symes
11.Clifford R.Anderson, MD, Modern Ways to Health Vol II. Australasian Conference Assoc, Melb.
12.Tapes in the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum Library
13.Dr West, Northcliffe's Only Doctor
   The Town that Refused to Die by Carole Perry, Digger Press 2014

Northcliffe’s Heritage

Northcliffe’s Heritage

Museums Australia and the National Trust define heritage as ‘something inherited from the past and valued enough to leave for future generations’.  The Northcliffe Pioneer Museum, begun by the community in 1975 and open every day, is said to have possibly the most comprehensive display of Group Settlement history in Western Australia.¹

Heritage Listing
The Heritage Council of Western Australia entries on the State Register:²

The original 1924 Store, Wheatley Coast Road.  Category A+ Highest Protection
Watermark Kilns, Karri Hill Road

Shire of Manjimup’s Municipal Heritage Inventory:

Northcliffe Pioneer Museum – 1925 Group School and 1927 Teacher’s Cottage
Original Garage belonging to Alf Jones, first mail contractor 1925
Northcliffe District High School – 1928
Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes Town Hall 1929
Two urban homes – 1929
Miller’s Cottage at the museum 1940s
RSL hall 1956, later the Red Cross Hall
Roman Catholic Church 1956
Country Women’s Association Hall 1958
Methodist Church, later Uniting Church 1959
Anglican Church 1962

Northcliffe Community additional information:

Northcliffe Bush Hospital 1925 removed to a local farm
George and Annis Bills Horse Trough 1936 replica at museum
Tobacco kilns 1950s authentic renovation on local farms
Arboretum 1977 dedicated to first shopkeepers
Group Settlement Pioneer Women honoured 2009 at the gazebo
Dr Ryan, Pemberton-Northcliffe-Shannon doctor 1937-1979 with additional dedication to Dr West 1924-1929 and nursing staff  (2012) 4

¹ South West Development Commission, Bunbury, Western Australia
² The Heritage Council of Western Australia, Perth
3 Shire of Manjimup
4 Shire of Manjimup Follow the Trail Project
  Northcliffe Pioneer Museum Interpretive Stories Library and information
  Dr Lionel Frederick West, Northcliffe's Only Doctor
  Northcliffe, the Town that Refused to Die by Carole Perry, Digger Press 2014

 Rural Education

For a school to be established a minimum of eight students was required, but some had as many as 30, in which case there was usually a monitor to assist the teacher.¹  The students of all ages were taught in the one room.  A fireplace was in a corner to heat the room during the winter months.  A rainwater tank was also provided.  No school was to be built more than five miles from the group homes because every child was expected to walk there.  Some of the original desks and books can be seen in the Northcliffe museum.  Parents were surprised to find that on arrival the promised schools had yet to be built and it was a year before the first two schools, on Groups 94 and 95, were ready to open.  Group School 121 is part of the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum, which in its time faced floods and bushfire.  There were 16 Schools, the furthest 19 miles from Northcliffe, but the townsite school, which started on the 2nd February 1928, was the only one to survive and continues to this day.

The school became the centre of the communities’ social life with whist drives, dances and sports events.  When no longer required, they were either used on site for storage or, more frequently, transported elsewhere.  One became the Northcliffe South West Dairy Co-operative Farmers Depot and another part of the Quinninup sawmill.  The sites have been identified by plaques and in some cases original trees planted by staff and students remain to this day.

¹ Countryman 1.3.1979
  Also Group Settlement Part II by J P Gabbedy
  Northcliffe. I Remember When .. edited by Alison Daubney
  The Town that Refused to Die by Carole Perry, Digger Press 2014

Advantages of the Group Settlement Scheme

Although Royal Commissions held in both Perth and London demonstrate the scheme was clearly a failure when set against the aims laid down by the commonwealth, state and imperial governments, there were nonetheless considerable benefits.  The railway system was extended to Northcliffe and the substantial dairy and timber industries were developed.  A township was established where none previously existed complete with shops, post office and hospital and the community built halls, which gave opportunities for travelling film nights and social dances.  Clubs and sports facilities laid roots, many of which remain to this day. Rolling pastures supporting the dairy and beef industries continue and cleared land has given the opportunity for alternative agricultural pursuits in the 21st century.  The wilderness has been reduced but there are four national parks, Boorara Gardner, D’Entrecasteaux, Greater Hawke and Jane, and to the north east is the Walpole Wilderness Area, all of them encouraging recreational pursuits and preserving native fauna and flora.

The original Group Settlers faced a difficult life.¹ Nonetheless, pioneer families who had sailed across the seas to the other side of the world to face enormous trials have left us with a rich inheritance and some pioneer families continue to farm the district.  Other families have established themselves in Perth, interstate and overseas.

 “I remember it as a wonderful time in my life. Northcliffe will forever be dear to me because I made many friends and think of Northcliffe with nostalgia. I will always have fond memories”.

¹ Group Settlement Poetry and Stories at the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum
  Northcliffe Remembers by the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum 1985 into 2nd printing
 Northcliffe. I Remember When. edited by Alison Daubney
  Group Settlement Scheme, Parts I and II by J P Gabbedy
  The Town that Refused to Die.

Group Settlement Finance - The Scheme

The imperial government agreed to loan £34 million ($68 million) at a low rate of interest.  The commonwealth and state governments promised to settle migrants from the British Isles and Australian unemployed miners and wharfies. The cost of the passage for the migrants was £22 for adults, £11 for children ($44, $22) to be partially repaid later by the settlers.1 The estimated cost of each block at £1000 ($2000) rose to £3,065 ($6000).2

The cattle from the eastern states were not of good stock and, to make matters worse, from 1928 beef prices in Perth halved.2   By 1932 stock, which had cost £40 ($80) a head, was selling for £3 and £4 at the abattoirs ($6 to $8)3 Milk cost 11s.5d ($1) to produce and was sold at only 8d (20c).  A Northcliffe Group farmer protested her family was being forced to pay off a farm worth £800 ($1,600) on an annual income of between £200 and £300 ($400-$600) when butterfat cost more to produce than buyers would pay.²  Some had attempted to make a supplementary income from sleeper cutting but a £5 load of sleepers fell to 30 shillings.

Already the scheme had cost £8 million ($16 million) and then in August 1928 another £500,000 ($1 million) was written off by the governments as “a dead loss” with little to show but a series of abandoned holdings.2

1 Opportunity for Devon and Cornish Families to form Groups by the Migration Committee
2 Living Today 27.10.1977
3Group Settlement: Tragic Story or Successful Failure? by Geoff Kitney reprinted in the Manjimup Warren Times 20.10.1971
  Group Settlement Scheme by I L Hunt

The Group Pioneers

Families were expected to open up a district described as “heavily untouched timbered areas with a creek or swamp land on each block where possible. Rainfall could be as high as 50 inches a year (1000 mm)”. 1 They were given a sustenance wage, calculated at 10 shillings a day for a 48 hour week, to develop at first five acres on each block (2 ha) and then an additional 20 acres (8 ha) for each family. Blocks were then balloted with each family being granted 160 acres (64 ha) of crown land.  The survey charge of £13.1s.0d ($26) was charged to the settler.  The intention was to develop “permanent pasture” or “intense cropping”.  The families were expected to pay for any necessary drainage.  In addition, the Agricultural Bank of Western Australia apportioned the amount to be charged for each block, which was seen as a bank advance payable in 30 years with interest for the first 10 years.  Plant and stock were supplied, also seen as an advance repayable in eight years, interest for the first three years.2

The reasons for the pioneers walking off their farms was not due to their lack of spirit.  They all worked hard, many families for several years.  However, transport remained a serious problem and the railway line was not ready until 1932 by which time many settlers had already left the district.  The Northcliffe community had seen the train as a vital thread in the life of the region and it was denied the governments’ promise of remaining in easy touch with the conveniences of cities. 3 Unable to make the interest due to the Agricultural Bank of WA on loans with which the cattle had been bought and farm improvements made, life became impossible.  Walking off was not restricted to Northcliffe but across the South West; for example, on Group 1 near Manjimup only five of the original families remained. 4

1 Bureau of Meteorological’s Northcliffe Monthly and Yearly Rainfall 1925-1945 p.2993
2Group Settlement Scheme by I L Hunt
3The Story behind the Manjimup-Northcliffe Railway Line by Dave Evans
4Manjimup Warren Times 20.10.1971

Building the Town and Working Life

Urban amenities contribute to a sense of place and bind a community together.¹ So it was for Northcliffe, the Premier’s dream as early as the 28th August 1911 when the District Surveyor Slade Drake Brockman and his surveyor E H Sutton mapped out a proposed town of 511 acres on the western bank of the Gardner River nestling amongst the tall, thick eucalypt forest.  When in 1920 a report was received indicating the town lots would be very wet in winter and the Assistant Engineer wrote warning “the ground is not anything like good”, others suggested drainage was possible and the plans continued.

No matter that the town was not yet built nor roads prepared, the first two groups of settlers arrived during the first week of January 1924 and, of the 57 groups arriving in the South West during the following six months, 32 of them were to come to Northcliffe though the final figure was 28.  With funds from either the Group Settlement Scheme or Public Works Department depending upon the location, two separate teams controlled the road building: one was centred on Northcliffe, the other was working its way southward from the Warren Bridge.  Gangs of 10 men were established at about one mile intervals and worked continuously including Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

The method of road building was to peg a middle line down the planned road.  The gangs then grubbed the ti-tree and scrub 10 feet (3 metres) to either side and axed the branches from the butts so that they could be laid flat as a foundation. In some cases the scrub was flattened with a huge karri log hauled by a team of horses, then the scrub was fired.  A horse-drawn tip-dray transported gravel from the outskirts of town, which was spread and consolidated by horse-drawn graders and rollers.

When approving the sale of the first town sites, Sir James reaffirmed the complete restriction on the sale of liquor. Three staff houses were the first to be built and on the 18th March 1924 the first sale of 22 town sites took place ranging from £12 to £20 ($24 to $40).  The name of the town was gazetted at this stage with the anticipated population conservatively put at 1,250.  Giblett and Johnson’s shop was first, Walter Giblett’s butcher’s followed. The group store and bakehouse were next. Then came the billiard room and barber’s, the blacksmith, boarding house, bootmaker, another butcher’s, another general store, grocer’s, greengrocer’s, post office, boarding house and public hall (prior to the town hall). Residences numbered 15 at this stage.

However, there was to be continual flooding, as forewarned, for most of the year.  Duckboards were laid down and blackboy trunks were used as stepping stones between the roads and the building sites. The Chief Inspector of Factories agreed, “Deep drains were dug in all directions, evidently to prevent the shops floating away”.

Before long there were 49 weekly sanitary removals at a charge of 1s.0d (10c) for each removal. At some stage the sanitary collector complained of his low wage of 15s.0d a day ($1.50) which was also to support his horse and upkeep of his cart.  The local authority also complained because most of the residents were using kerosene tins instead of the government issue pans, which were available at the Trading Store.  In the end the drainage problems resulted in the Surveyor General’s staff inspecting the town on the 9th March, 1926.

The subsequent report contained drainage advice and made the following ruling:
“Unfortunately a good deal of the high land has been spoilt for residential lots by gravel pits, which were excavated in connection with the road works”.  The town, therefore, was to remain as it was. ²

The South West’s unique past and rich culture are found along the Working Life Heritage Trail where 20 places including Northcliffe afford the opportunity to explore the state’s industrial heritage. The Group Settlement Scheme was responsible for introducing the following industrial trades to the Northcliffe district:

  • Rural urban planning
  • infrastructure and road building
  • Felling, milling and management of timber resources
  • House building
  • Agriculture including sowing, harvesting, dairying and animal husbandry
  • Blacksmiths and Bootmaking
  • Bakery and Butchering including an abattoir
  • Cart building and vehicle mechanic with panel beating
  • Then the timber industry with all its trades expanded with the Northcliffe
  • Mill in 1949, Quinninup 1951 and Shannon 1952
  • And these mills led to the trades operating around steam trains, then diesel

Large machinery, tools and other items associated with these trades are on display at the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum, which is indeed a worthy partner along the South West’s industrial heritage Working Life Trail.

¹ Heritage Council and National Trust
² This is an extract from The Founding of Northcliffe, an early paper printed with the kind permission of Anne O’Donnell.
  The Town that Refused to Die by Carole Perry, Digger Press 2014

The George Gardner Rock and Fossil Display

The George Gardner Rock and Fossil Display


4.6 billion years ago our solar system was born and planet Earth began its history.  At first seas covered two thirds of our planet and volcanoes were erupting almost everywhere.  Over millions of years they left behind evidence found in lava, volcanic bombs, glass, cones and ash.  All of these are on display at the Northcliffe museum.


There are also samples of some of our oldest rocks.  There is sandstone containing zircons and minerals including ruby, gold and silver.


In time life was to begin in the oceans and the George Gardner collection shares with us the fossilized primitive marine animals from the ocean and the insects and plants, which came to inhabit our planet.


The Rock Display

Rocks are formed in one of three fundamental ways: either as a result of volcanic activity, or as sediments laid down as a consequence of the erosion of pre-existing rocks, or by the action of heat and pressure.  Whichever method, all the rocks were volcanic in origin.  Let’s look at some on display.


Pumice owes its origin to the bubbles of gas escaping through volcanic lava. Look carefully and sometimes you find some as you walk along the beach.


Gypsum and calcrete were formed as sediments.  There are also samples of limestone rock, the medium where skeletons and shells from the floors of ancient oceans are more frequently found.


Slate and marble were formed under heat and pressure.  Today, millions of years later, our buildings continue to display their beauty and versatility.



Over millions of years our planet changed its appearance.  When oxygen developed living things began to swarm in the oceans.  There were jellyfish, starfish, sea urchins, worms and coral. Four hundred million years ago there were aquatic beetles we call trilobites, and there were stromatolites, the oldest fossils of them all.  Plants began to spread out along the shores.  “Life was about to leave the nursery in the waters and come on to land”.  Insects arrived and the descendants of the plants, our very first forests.  All of these things we can see as fossils at the Northcliffe museum.



Mr George Gardner dedicated much of his life to earth sciences   His work recognised, he was made a Freeman of the Manjimup Shire and was awarded the Order of Australia.


Mr Robert Hardie, a friend, offered Mr Gardner his own rock collection and in 1982 the combined display was given to the Manjimup Shire.  The Northcliffe museum is indebted to the late Mr and Mrs Jessie and George Gardner and to their daughters Glenda and Janice for allowing this magnificent collection to be on display.


Mr Gardner co-wrote several papers with Mr Charles Dortch of the West Australian Museum as a result of their studies with the Nyoongar people.  With the encouragement of Dr Neville Marchant of the WA Herbarium, members of the museum assisted Mr Gardner to record on film 500 species of plants found in the Northcliffe and Windy Harbour districts especially Northcliffe Forest Park and the D’Entrecasteaux National Park.  These photographs are also on display.


On behalf of the Manjimup Shire and the Gardner family you are invited to step into the museum and travel back through millions of years.  For details of opening hours refer to the Northcliffe Pioneer Museum introduction.


Appreciation is recorded for the assistance offered over many years by Associate Professor Alex Bevan and Jenny Bevan, Senior Curator, Earth Sciences Museum, University of WA.


Australia. The Land Time Forgot by Geoff Higgins and Neil Hermes

Before the Beginning. Our Cosmic Habitat by Professor Martin Rees, Cambridge University

On Borrowed Time by David Lindenmayer (CSIRO)

Life Before Man by Louis Vaczek, Encyclopaedia

Naracoorte-Snapshots of Prehistoric Life by Alison Haynes


Windy Harbour Lens

The Windy Harbour Lens

Early History


Rear Admiral Bruni D’Entrecasteaux was a French navigator who explored the Australian coast in 1792 seeking traces of the last expedition of La Perouse.  Sailing from Cape Leeuwin to Tasmania his instructions were to inspect any possible harbor in a rowing boat.  On December 6 he sighted land, although the weather was poor, and he named the cliff above Cathedral Rock Point D’Entrecasteaux.


In 1925 or thereabouts children from the Leeds families, who had sailed from Yorkshire to prepare dairy farms on Group 107, went for an adventure one day.  They were the first of the group families on 107 to push their way five kilometres through the bush to reach the coast.  To their disappointment they reported to their parents there was nothing to see but ocean with bottles and cans washed up from the ships on to the long beach.


Group farmers were the first to push a vehicular track through to the coast, always difficult because the stretch close to Mt Chudalup was boggy throughout winter and sandy and difficult to negotiate in summer.  Closer to the coast another group family made a track to the ocean by following the tops of sand dunes.


The Windy Harbour settlement grew from 190 ha of crown land, surrounded since the 1980s by D’Entrecasteaux National Park which runs along the coast.  A holiday village and home to a commercial fishing industry, it offers the only two-wheel driving access to the south coast between Augusta and Walpole.


History of lighthouses


During the 19th century a considerable number of lighthouses were built along the eastern coast of Australia.  Less vessels, fewer shipwrecks and the impoverished economy of the state delayed Western Australia’s first lighthouse until 1851 when it was built on Rottnest Island. Then followed the discovery of gold and the expansion of the pearling industry during the 1880s, with further exposure of gold in the 1890s.  These developments led to an increase in the number of lighthouses along Western Australia’s coastline.


Following Federation in 1901 coastal lights became the responsibility of the Commonwealth with harbor lights that of each state.  By 1915 control of lighthouses passed to the Commonwealth.  Between 1900 and 1913 ten new coastal lights were built along the Western Australian coast with one light to every 170 nautical miles.  By comparison, New South Wales had a light for every 33.8 nautical miles.


Pt D’Entrecasteaux Lighthouse and the Windy Harbour lens


A lighthouse at this location was recommended as early as 1913, but it was not until 1960 that a light was provided in the purpose-built square cream brick tower.  In Western Australia it was the last light powered with acetylene gas.  There was a lantern house and traditional lens.  This lens is one of the only two remaining in Australia.


Over the years lighthouses around Australia were gradually adapted from acetylene gas to electric solar power.  One of the last was Windy Harbour. In 1989 the lantern house and lens were replaced with solar power.


The Windy Harbour solar powered lens


The VRB-25 lighthouse beacon provides a range of up to 22 nautical miles with a 100 Watt lamp.  This beacon can operate in remote, solar-powered locations, on unattended sites and requires maintenance no more than once a year.  More than 600 of these lanterns are in service around the world.  The two key reasons for the success of this rotating beacon are the precision optics and the reliable mechanism.


Northcliffe Pioneer Museum’s lens exhibit


In 2011 the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, custodian of the last two remaining acetylene gas powered lens, offered one of these to the Northcliffe community.  The Windy Harbour lens, the last light powered with acetylene gas, arrived at the museum in April 2012.  It is visited by many people, among whom are earlier residents who recall the days when the lens was operating in Windy Harbour between 1960 and 1989.