History of Northam
The Early Years
Northam lies on the banks of the Avon River about a 100km east of Perth in
The area around Northam and York was first explored in 1830 by Ensign Robert Dale and a party of colonists, who
were looking for suitable agricultural lands.
The town site was surveyed in 1830 and the town was gazetted in 1833. Northam was believed to be named by
Governor Stirling after a village in North Devon, England.
By the 1830’s farmers had begun settling in the town and nearby properties eager to establish
GoldrushDuring the late 1800’s, gold was discovered in Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie, starting a goldrush like no other in the State’s history. Towns were being built
virtually over night as prospectors flooded into Western Australia to try their luck.
In the 1890's Sir John Forrest (State Premier) made a decision that would change the history of
this agricultural town. In 1891 Sir John Forrest announced, that Northam would become the point of departure for
the rail to the goldfields. The towns of York and Beverley were also vying for the honour. Northam would soon become the gateway to the eastern
goldfields and centre of development as a rail line, roads and C.Y.O'Connor's goldfields water pipeline passed through the town. How well the town prospered is
evident in its architecture. There are over 180 buildings in Northam, having both heritage and architectural
significance. Many of these buildings can be found on Fitzgerald Street and Wellington Street.
White Swans IntroducedThe White Swan was first introduced to Northam in the early 1900's by a Russian Settler.It is now
the only natural breeding place for white swans in Australia.
Dark PastA dark time in Northam’s history happened in 1933 when the entire Aboriginal
population of Northam was removed and placed in the Moore River Settlement. The reason for the action was a fear of
scabies. The Northam Shire Council, believing they were a health risk, ordered the police to round them up.
World War IILarge army bases were established in Northam during World War I & II and an
Australian General Hospital was built in 1941 to accommodate wounded troops from both Australian & American to
Immigration Camps (1940's-1960's)In the late 1940's to the early 1960's following the end of
the war the 118th Battalion Military Hospital became the Department of Immigration Reception and Training Centre
(Holden Immigration Camp), where thousands of refugees (mainly from Eastern Europe) were accommodated in camps.
This was the first time that the State had seen such a large influx of non-British migrants. Many came from
Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Greece.The camp originally housed the women and children of men who
were sent to work in isolated areas of the State.Another camp was set up at the Northam Army Camp (originally home
of the 10th Light Horse Brigade) following a coalminers strike. The strike had forced a virtual shut down of the
industry leaving a large group of migrant workers still in transit unable to be placed in employment. The army camp
provided temporary accommodation for over 4,500 migrants coming for Latvia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Hungary, Lithuania,
Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Italy. For over 30,000 migrants, Northam would become their first place of
residence in Australia.Many of the refugees later chose to settle in Northam and finding work on the water supply
scheme and railways.
Meckering Earthquake (1968)In 1968 Northam was shaken by the Meckering earthquake which registered 6.9 on the Richter scale, causing structural damage to
several buildings. The earthquake also forced many families in Northam to sleep outside for several days
because of fears that another quake was imminent. There were over 40 aftershocks in the days that followed
but no new earthquake occurred.
Avon Descent (1972)
In 1972 the Avon Descent was established, following a push by the local council to attract tourists into the
area. The whitewater boating event, which is considered to be one of the most challenging river races in the
world, starts at dawn at the concrete chute on the Avon River in late August.