The View From Mount Clarence

A look back at settlement along Western Australia's South Coast

Getting Started

Originally Published on Blogger – 27 March 2014


I used to live at the foot of Mount Clarence, on the beach side near to Eyre Park. Later, when I was about ten or eleven, we moved across to Mira Mar, the hill over by Lake Seppings, and I was able to look south at Mount Clarence and see it from a different perspective. When we played footy it was mostly at Centennial Oval, in the northern shadow. I went to CBC, on the town side of Mount Clarence, when that school was located on Aberdeen Street. During P.E.classes sometimes we ran cross-country around Mount Clarence’s western flank. My dad was a doctor and he used to visit the tug pilot’s house down by the old Deepwater Jetty. From there I’d look back up the steepest face of all then out to the narrow channel where the ships came in.

Much later, long after I’d left Albany and Western Australia altogether, I had a dream. In the dream I was at the summit of Mount Clarence looking over the panorama and I woke with a powerful sense of its presence. Immediately I sought physical copies of those images through my old photographs and any I could find on the internet, allowing myself to wallow in the strong feelings that come with the memory of growing up in a particular place at a particular time. Nostalgia, I think they call it.

Western Australia's South Coast area.
Western Australia’s South Coast area.

The idea behind beginning this blog is to support some historical fiction writing I’m doing. ¬†When I woke up that day a couple of years ago with that overwhelming sense of Albany’s presence hunting me down, I began to realise how little I knew about the place. You see, my father brought his immigrant Irish family to Albany in 1967 and put them into the catholic schools while he went up to the hospital to do his work. A little over ten years later I was gone. Not entirely, because I did visit (and still do), but I never lived in Albany again. I had arrived aged three and left on my fourteenth birthday. In 1985 I left Australia altogether. Looking back on that ten year period in Albany gave me the desire to know more. That iconic image of King George’s Sound from the height of Mount Clarence, stretching from Bald Head to Bald Island with Breaksea and Michaelmas Islands between, bears a resonance I just can’t shake.

During our early time at Albany, when we lived at the bottom of Wittenoom Street on the Eyre Park/Middleton Beach side of Mount Clarence, I met a Noongar brother and sister. They were fostered by a prominent pair of Albany citizens who lived in the house just above ours. Being the same age as me and my siblings we became friends. On Sunday afternoons we’d comb the side of Mount Clarence while our parents ate roast dinners and talked politics. In the dream I had, Harry made an appearance. Not his sister, but Harry was there, reminding me that my childhood was influenced by him and by the local indigenous population he was a part of. I decided this was an area I needed to know more about. All those years later I had no idea of who Harry really was. I didn’t know his family or his family’s history. In fact, I didn’t know anything about Aboriginal history at Albany or anywhere along the South Coast at all.

Eyre Park in 1961. When we first moved to the bottom of Wittenoom Street it looked a lot like this.
Eyre Park in 1961. When we first moved to the bottom of Wittenoom Street it looked a lot like this.

I interpreted my dream, ultimately, as a message to look back and see how other immigrant people had come to Albany and how they got on, or not, with their daily lives in the town and with the native population they found there. I chose to do this by setting myself the task of writing ten stories, starting at a point near enough to first contact and progressing as the history allowed me to do so. I thought ten stories might bring me all the way up to 1977. They could have, had I let them, but the history I found only got me to the turn of the 20th Century. The posts that follow here dig in and around the individual stories and help to shed light on the integrated history of South Coast settlement, beginning and centred at Albany but stretching, on both sides of the racial divide, all the way to the South Australian border.

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