History of Greenough
The original inhabitants of the Greenough Flats were a tribe of the Noongar Aborigines known as the Yabbaroo. They camped near the few permanent waterholes and mainly subsisted on the adjecca and anguwarra, two potato like plants which grew in abundance in the area.
In 1839 Lieutenant George Grey passed through the Greenough area onhis way back to Perth after the expedition he was leading was shipwrecked at Gantheaume Bay, near present-day Kalbarri. Grey named the Greenough River after his sponsor, Sir George Bellas Greenough, President of the Royal Geographical Society, and is reputed to have said “Here is the district that is destined to be the granary of Western Australia”.
The areas known as the front and Back Flats of the Greenough River were once vast lagoons that were gradually cut off from the sea and then filled with alluvial soil brought down by the meandering and frequently flooded river. The depth of this soil, accumulated over many years, resulted in extremely fertile land in which crops would be grown without fertilizer. However, it was a shortage of grazing land that led the Gregory brothers and other pastoralists to carry out private expeditions in the late 1840’s. Their favorable reports resulted in cattle and sheep being driven overland from Perth in 1850 and the establishment of pastoral properties at Glengarry, Ellendale and on the Flats by men like Thomas Brown, Major Logue and Edward Hamersley of the cattle company.
In 1857 Augustus Gregory surveyed roads and 30,000 acres of the Front Flats into small allotments so the land could be opened up for settlement. At the time of Gregory’s survey in 1857 four families took up small tillage leases on the Flats and a Pensioner Guards Village was established for veterans of the Crimean War who had come to WA as guards on the convict ships and been responsible for convicts at Fremantle and Port Gregory.
In the 1850s the Victoria District (incorporating the Irwin and Greenough River areas, Champion Bay later Geraldton and the area north to present Northampton)was the northern-most outpost of Western Australia. Early settlers in the Greenough area came from a variety of backgroundsand only some of them had previous experience in farming. Many were members ofthe strong Wesleyan community led by the Waldeck family, while others weretenant farmers for established pastoralists.
The early years of settlement were difficult. The first homes were temporary shelters and it was well in to the 1870s before stone was quarried from the ridge between the Front and Back Flats to provide building materials for more permanent structures. Timber for building was in short supply, so sun dried bricks were used for the first buildings. These homes, and many of the later stone buildings, were constructed in the lee of hills to avoid the ravages of the strong regional winds. Roofs were thatched with rush and calico was used for ceilings, doors and windows. The stone houses built in the 1870s and 1880s contained timber floors and glass windows these were mainly built by the people who had been successful in the area.
The agricultural methods of the early days of settlement were also very primitive. Although the soil of the area was so rich that it only required one ploughing before planting, some early settlers did not have even a single furrow plough – instead they dug their fields with a spade. Seed was thrown from a bag over the shoulder and then scratched into the ground with a crude harrow. The method of drilling seed was not generally accepted in the area until about 1900. Despite these methods good crops were gained from the alluvial Flats and these were reaped with a scythe. Threshing was done on a hard-surfaced area of crushed termite nests. Greenough was a land of great promise in the 1860s and the population increased rapidly until there were over 1,000 people living on the Flats. Schools, churches, stores, hotels, private and Government buildings were constructed, and communities formed.
However, this initial prosperity was not to last. The wheat crops of those days were not resistant to the fungus ‘red rust’, which together with fires, droughts and declining soil fertility caused many problems. The most devastating setback in Greenough occurred in February 1888, when theusually placid Greenough River became a raging, destructive torrent. Heavy cyclonic rain had fallen into the river’s headwaters hundreds of kilometers away, causing a devastating flood. Four people were drowned, animals were lost, and houses, sheds, fencing, haystacks and water points were either badly damaged or totally destroyed.
Rather than battle on, many left the area some to try their luck on the Goldfields, others to take up land in the new agricultural regions. Most of the stone buildings were deserted for many years. During the Great Depression of the 1930s some of the buildings were demolished and the stone was crushed and used to reconstruct roads in the district.
By the turn of the century the land itself had been depleted by the agricultural methods of the time. The Greenough Front Flats were over-stocked and over cropped without being fertilised or allowed to lie fallow. This century,with the help of modern farming techniques, fertilisers and the planting ofrust-resistant strains of wheat, the area has regained its fertility and once again prospers as a rich agricultural district.