Heritage

A Short History of Bridgetown

Bridgetown is a town in the South West region of Western Australia, approximately 270 kilometres (168 miles) south of Perth on the Blackwood River at the intersection of South Western Highway with Brockman Highway to Nannup and Augusta.

The area was previously known as Geegelup, which was believed to mean "place of gilgies" in the Noongar Aboriginal language, referring to the fresh water crustaceans that live in the area. However, recently discovered research made available through the Bridgetown Tourist Centre suggests the actual meaning of Geegelup may be "place of spears".

In 1857, Edward Godfrey Hester (now honoured in nearby Hester) and John Blechynden settled in the area. In 1861, convicts built the road from Donnybrook into the area.

Bridgetown's name was first proposed by surveyor Thomas Carey in 1868, for two reasons, "as it is at a bridge and the Bridgetown was the first ship to put in at Bunbury for the wool from these districts", and was approved and gazetted on 9 June 1868

From then until about 1885, many buildings including the primary school (1870), post office and two hotels were constructed, many of which are still standing today. In 1885, the Bridgetown Agricultural Society was formed and local farmers produced sheep, cattle, dairy products, timber, fruit and nuts. The gold rush from 1892 onwards brought prosperity to the town and saw a considerable increase in settlement. In 1907, a number of significant buildings including the police station were erected.

Until the 1980s, the land surrounding Bridgetown was almost exclusively used for broadacre agriculture and improved pasture. From the late 1970s, the area became increasingly attractive to tourists as a peaceful and picturesque country town an accessible distance from Perth. Some people, attracted by the aesthetic qualities and rural lifestyle on offer, sought to move to the town permanently, and this resulted in a strong demand for residential and hobby farm allotments, at a time when there was, coincidentally, a global downturn in agricultural markets. Many farmers sold up, and much of the most aesthetically pleasing land was subdivided and sold to urban refugees. The demographic change had a profound impact on the town's industry, replacing demand for farm services with demand for services in the tourism and recreation sectors. However, Bridgetown has evolved successfully from its farming roots, and has become a uniquely beautiful town in which to live, work and play. Tourists are welcomed and there are many shops, cafes, and accommodation choices for them to spend a few days in the tranquility of Bridgetown's environs.

Reference: Taylor, Fran. 2014. Bridgetown the early years. Settlement of the Warren Blackwood District in the south west of Western Australia. Book One.

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