by Janice Calcei
Updated: 10 April 2023

Quick Links:

The Shire of Dardanup is made up of the localities or townsites of Burekup, Crooked Brook, Dardanup, Dardanup West, Eaton, Ferguson, Henty, Millbridge, Paradise, Picton East, Waterloo, and Wellington Mill.

Pre 1829
The first inhabitants of the area were Nyoongar people of the Wilman, Kaneang and Wadandi language groups who lived from, and travelled across the land; towards the coast in the warmer months and inland in the cooler months. The level clay plains around Dardanup were once thickly covered in grass trees and dotted with jarrah and marri. Nyoongar people cared for the land, burning country as they went to promote new growth and attract game like yongka (kangaroos) and kwer (wallabies).

The name Dardanup is believed to be derived from the Aboriginal name for the area which was “Dudingup” though the meaning of the name has been lost over time.

Back to top

European settlement in the Dardanup district began in the area after an expedition south of the Swan River Colony by Lieutenant William Preston and Dr Alexander Collie in November 1829. The large rivers feeding into the Leschenault Inlet were named for them. This journey of exploration and another one by John Septimus Roe (Surveyor General) with James Stirling and prospective settlers in March 1830 led to the opening of land around this area for selection. In 1830, the Colonial Government granted 24,292 hectares (60,000 acres) of land to James Henty, who arrived in Western Australia’s Swan River Colony in 1829 and was placed in charge of his family’s landholdings and stock. A further 41,700 hectares (100,000 acres) was granted to a Colonel Latour. Take-up of land in the area was slow, and settlement often short-lived when European farmers experienced productivity difficulties in the area, particularly when grazing livestock. It would be some time before agriculturalists and farmers understood the problems associated with soils.

From 1838 three early settlers, with their estates, were instrumental in shaping European settlement in the Bunbury area; James Stirling, the Governor of the Colony, Charles Prinsep, a member of the Calcutta Bar and Advocate General for the East India Company, and the London based Western  Australian Company represented by Marshall Waller Clifton from 1840, attempting to establish Australind. For further information about Australind, have a look at: The Australind Settlement. For more about how the demise of Australind affected settlement in the Ferguson area see: Ferguson.

Back to top

Charles Prinsep and Thomas Little

Charles Prinsep wanted to invest in land in Western Australia to breed horses for the Indian market.   He sent his agent Thomas Little, along with Little’s family, household and labourers to the Swan River in 1838 aboard the Gaillardon. Within a week of arriving on 4 February 1838, Thomas Little proceeded to Bunbury aboard the Lady Stirling and commenced negotiating the purchase of land. 

Land proved difficult to acquire at the time because large grants issued in 1830, though never improved, under the conditions of grant, could not be resumed by the government until 1840.    Little purchased Belvidere farm north of Bunbury for Prinsep. Leschenault/Wellington Location No. 24 was a coastal strip of 1,832 acres between the western edge of the Leschenault Inlet and the Indian Ocean.  The sale was completed in 1839.   It was from here and across the Inlet that Little would have seen the arrival of the first Australind settlers in 1841.

After this, Little could afford to wait until more fertile areas became available upon the cancellation and resumption of the 1830 grants (Staples, 1979, p. 55).  It may have been this imminent availability of better land that attracted Little to the Bunbury area in the first place.

After about a third of these grants were resumed, in 1843 Little was able to buy 780 acres, Leschenault/Wellington Lot No. 25 at Dardanup as his own investment.  In 1844/45 he purchased a further 380 acres for himself, Lot No. 45, which became Dardanup Park. This land was previously known as “The Pools”, and had been farmed by the Rev. John Wollaston and his sons, William and George. The had built a cottage there (Wollaston, 1954, p. 114). These families had become close friends since the Wollastons’ arrival at Picton in May 1841, despite the Littles being Catholic and the Wollastons Anglican.

Within a few years Little purchased more land for the Prinsep Estate at Dardanup, 640 acres from William Richardson Bunbury, Lot No. 28, a square mile of country lying just at the foot of the Darling Range.  Through this block ran Paradise Creek which gave its name to the land and the locality, Paradise Farm.

Both Paradise Farm, Lot No. 28 and Little’s Lot No. 25 are described on maps as “level clay plains in winter”, an early indication of the drainage problems which would occur for farmers around Dardanup. 

In 1846, Little purchased a further 805 acres of land for Prinsep, just south of Paradise Farm at Dardanup, Lot No. 61.  This would become Prinsep Park.  Finally, in about 1850 Prinsep purchased from James Henty the 20,000 acre grant for which Henty had received his title in fee simple after relinquishing the original 60,000 acres granted in 1830.  This brought the Prinsep property up to 23,277 acres.  The Henty block is described on maps as “thickets of grass trees with open forests of red gum (marri) and mahogany (jarrah)”. 

These purchases by Little and his connection with Prinsep would be instrumental in establishing export markets in India for Dardanup’s resources and produce. Little resigned or was dismissed as Prinsep’s agent and farm manager in about 1852. The supervision of Prinsep’s interests passed to businessman Wallace Bickley of Fremantle and oversight of the estate passed to William Owen Mitchell, Bickley’s son-in-law (Staples, 1979, p. 125)

Little moved from Belvidere to Dardanup Park, around the late 1840s. He brought with him his farm manager, John Fowler and wife Elizabeth (nee Dicey). It was at Dardanup Park, that their son John Charlton Fowler was born on the 7 May 1849, their fifth child.

1838-1844 (Wellington 008) map showing the Little and Prinsep lots. Land to the west is described as “level clay plains” while further east it is described as “light sandy lands dense thicket of grass trees in an open forest of redgum”.

One of the problems soon discovered by settlers with livestock was that grazing animals lost condition when pastured only on the sandy soils near the coast. “Coasty” cattle were witnessed improving in condition when they escaped and were found foraging in the nearby foothills.  It was noticed however that animals grazing in the hills for too long would also lose condition. Without fertilisers even the hill country could not sustain cattle all year round. Stock needed to be moved between the two areas.  The Prinsep estate was split between coastal and hill country, ideal for raising stock.  At the time, few understood the makeup of the soil and the reasons the land was not productive.  It was not until the application of superphosphate and the introduction of subterranean clover in the hills and the addition of missing trace elements in coastal soils, mostly in the 20th century, that productivity improved.

The 1840s saw an influx of Irish immigrants into the district who were leaving Ireland to escape the severe famine being experienced there at the time. Thomas Little and his wife Eliza helped settle Irish families on small holdings as tenant farmers around what is now the town of Dardanup. These early settlers were mainly farmers and led a largely subsistence lifestyle, growing their own vegetables and grapevines, producing their own meat as well as earning a small income by selling some of their produce in nearby Bunbury. They also brought with them their Irish Catholic ways of life which were to eventually influence the development of the area and the early services and facilities that would be established.

At this time, the area that was to become the Shire of Dardanup came under the governance of the Wellington Road Board.

Back to top


Bunbury – From our own Correspondent.
Thursday, October 3…It is; gratifying to witness the great improvements being made by Mr. Little, at Belvedere; the whole of Dardanup plain which a short time since, was covered with grass trees, is now cleared ready for the plough, and is being fenced in; certainly this would not give a stranger an idea that Western Australia is at a stand still.

Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News, 11 October 1850
1838-1844 map (Wellington 019) showing the two lots purchased by Thomas Little, Nos. 25 and 45, and three lots eventually purchased by Prinsep Nos. 28 (from W R Bunbury), 61, and 9 (from J Henty). Lot No. 45 spanned the Dardanup townsite.

In 1856, a survey of the Dardanup townsite recorded a population of 111; 76 of whom were members of the Little family or employees of the Little estate. Being a staunch Roman Catholic, and with a number of compatriots also living in the area, Thomas Little played a leading role in establishing the Irish Catholic community in Dardanup. In 1852, Little made land available for the building of the district’s first Catholic cemetery and Church. The foundations for Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception were laid in 1854 and the stone and iron church was opened in 1857.

The first Roman Catholic Primary School had commenced in 1854 in the home of Thomas Little. The teacher was Mr Clancey, followed by teachers such as Anne McKinley. When the Catholic Church was completed in 1857, the School moved into the Church, and then to a small school building to the east side of the church. This opened on 15 September 1857 with 25 children. In 1860 there were 40 pupils enrolled in the school.  In 1880 the little Catholic school of approximately 15 pupils was taken over by the Government and run as a State school under the guidance of Miss J Maguire, and later, in 1882, by Miss Mary Anne Cleary. 

On the back of the horse-breeding industry established by Prinsep and Little at Prinsep Park, horseracing would also become a significant community event in Dardanup. The first races were held in 1857 at Little’s property, Dardanup Park.

The first Dardanup Post Office was established in 1867 and began delivering mail by horse in the same year.

Dardanup Park in 1873

In 1868 depression hit the area, coinciding with the cessation of convict transportation to Western Australia. Compounding this, Dardanup’s export market of horses to India, initiated by Prinsep and Little, collapsed in 1871. Charles Robert Prinsep’s son, Henry, faced bankruptcy after a shipload of timber and horses headed for the Indian market, sank in the Hooghly River in 1870. The load was uninsured. The Prinsep estate was sold to Henry Whittall Venn after it was put up for sale in 1877 (Western Australian Times, Tuesday 15 May 1877).

In 1877 Thomas Little passed away at Dardanup. Little had faced financial problems for some years after the failure of the vintage and his wheat crops and had sold up in the late 1860s to pay creditors, although he continued to live at Dardanup until his death. George Shenton Senior was the purchaser but on 5 March 1867, on his way from Perth to Bunbury to take possession of the property, the boat The Lass of Geraldton, capsized off Mandurah in a storm and Shenton drowned. When Little died in 1877, the properties were in the hands of George Shenton Jnr, apparently still part of his late father’s estate, who put them up for sale in 1878 (Western Australian Times, Friday 15 February 1878). This land was purchased by Henry Whittall Venn, George Shenton’s brother-in-law. Venn who had married to Charlotte Shenton in 1874,

Harry Venn’s nephew, 21 year old Frank Evans Venn, joined his uncle in 1896 at Dardanup Park. By that time, Harry Venn was operating on a holding of over 28,000 acres, most considered very productive land.

Dardanup Park and Prinsep Park were to continue as the pre-eminent properties in Dardanup under the new ownership of Henry Venn. There were significant cultivated areas of oats and hay, as well as holdings of sheep, cattle, pigs, poultry and dairy. Horse-breeding was also to continue as a successful major activity.

The late 1870s and 1880s signaled an improvement in the local economy and industry with the emergence of timber milling in the area. Maurice Coleman Davies was granted a timber lease in 1875 and built a mill in about 1877 on Wellington Location No. 352, at the top of Pile Road. The cost of the transport itself and of contributing to road maintenance made the business unviable and the mill closed by 1883. Another attempt to mill jarrah commercially was made by the Bunbury Jarrah Timber Company, at a mill built in 1880, south and west of where the town of Wellington Mills would eventually be established. This mill was opened on 28 January 1881 but again high transport costs led to it winding up in 1883. The mill and equipment were sold and the mill continued for some years more before being destroyed by a fire and finally closing in 1889. Despite several years’ hiatus, timber milling was to re-emerge as an important industry in Dardanup in later years.

In the small locality of Ferguson, the first Ferguson Church was constructed next to the Ferguson Cemetery in 1879. While the land for the adjacent cemetery had been donated by Jesse Gardiner in about 1850, it was Jesse’s son Ephraim who provided the land on which the church was built.

Back to top

Land that was subsequently to form the Eaton Area was purchased by David Taylor during this period.

In 1880 the Catholic School in Dardanup established by Little had been taken over by the State Government, but it continued to operate from the cottage constructed by Little next to the church.

Nyoongar people continued to live around Dardanup, working as farm labourers. Conflict between settlers and first nations people over land use, as well as waves of disease to which they had no immunity, had decimated their population throughout the 1800s. George Fee notes this population decline on Christmas Day in 1892 although he continues to mention hiring Nyoogar workers to help with tasks like potato planting and digging. George Fee had a permanent aboriginal worker known as Joe Carpenter (also called Joe Mallinby) who was brought from the North West as an orphan by George’s uncle John Fee. Joe is mentioned as a farm worker/stockman from about 1894. He worked on and off for the Fees, served as a police tracker and was known at one point to live on the Venn’s Dardanup property. He died in Bunbury in 1954. Billie Coonan was also mentioned as a farm worker and Jimmy Burdak as a visitor. (Fee Diaries, 2002, pp 90, 93, 146, 270).

The 1890s saw the construction of the Perth to Bunbury Railway Line through the district, with the Bunbury to Boyanup line opened to steam engines in 1891 and Burekup being declared a railway siding in 1893. The station at Burekup, with its cattle yards and loading ramps, was to provide convenient transportation for local produce – such as grain, citrus fruit and potatoes which was sold to nearby regions and around the State – and so inevitably created an impetus for flourishing farm activity in the area.

The Dardanup Roads Board: Early settlers often built and took care of local roads by choosing suitable tracks and filling ruts caused by carts, sometimes building their own bridges. Soon they joined forces to petition the government to build bridges and provide funds for road work. From 1860 permanent Roads Committees were formed, set up under Government authority to recommend and supervise repairs to official roads. They had the power to organise road repairs by cooperation between settlers but not to levy local settlers for funds to do repairs. From 1871 the Roads Districts Act set up elective Road Boards. Until 1894, the roads of the whole Wellington District were in the care of the Wellington Roads Board, encompassing Bunbury and a rural district extending from the Upper Preston, Capel, the Harvey River and the southern half of “The Coast” north from Australind, thus including Dardanup. At a public meeting in 1893 it was agreed to divide the district into Bunbury (roads five miles from the town) and Wellington, which remained unchanged, however the argument continued regarding the lines for division. In June 1894 the Government proclaimed the new district of Bunbury and the first Bunbury Roads Board was elected in August with Thomas Hayward as Chairman. The Wellington Roads Board was then re-constituted. The Dardanup-Ferguson-Boyanup area was represented by Thomas Maguire, J Hough, Forbes Fee and A. Shivers. Residents petitioned for a further split, along the line of the Collie River, into north and south districts. The southern district was to remain Wellington, and the northern to become Brunswick or Harvey. The Under Secretary of Lands, Cecil Clifton, suggested Brunswick and Dardanup and this was agreed at the Wellington Roads Board meeting on November 10 1894. (Staples, 1979, pp. 212-214).

In 1896 the Canning Jarrah Timber Company applied for and were successful in being granted a timber concession, by the Lands Department of Western Australia, to mill jarrah from the hills east of Dardanup on the Ferguson River. The town of Wellington Mills was built from 1897 with the first load of timber transported by train to Dardanup in July 1900. This timber town was to become a significant milling centre for the State, serviced by the nearby Bunbury Port.

The Dardanup townsite experienced growth during this period. An Agricultural Hall was built in 1894, in 1895 the new Post Office was constructed and in 1896, the new State School – the first in Dardanup – was constructed, designed by the well-known Government Architect of the time, George Temple-Poole. In the early part of the 1900s shops and the current hotel (1905) were also established.

Development was also starting to occur in other localities such as Waterloo, with a Hall built and opened in 1897.

The formal establishment of townsites as well as further or improved infrastructure was to continue after the turn of the century. The horse races, which was still a popular activity with the local community, were held at Tyrrell’s farm in Waterloo and at Dardanup Park in Dardanup. The Ferguson Agricultural Hall was built and opened in 1905, the Burekup townsite was mapped out in 1906. The Wellington Mill Post Office was built in the same year. With a small but established Anglican community now living in the district, in 1906 land owned by Mr and Mrs Venn was gifted for the purpose of building a church, being St Mary’s Anglican Church in Dardanup.

Dardanup Park -1899 with Henry Whittall Venn on the front porch
Dairying at Dardanup Park 1899. Henry Whittall Venn is shown in white, behind the fence.
Source: Western Mail, 9 December 1899. Taken by Greenham and Evans Photographers (1895-1900).

Henry Venn passed away in 1908 and his estate passed to his nephew Frank Venn. There had already been one land sale before his death in 1905. In 1908, most of what remained of Venn’s acreage was sold up and the Frank Venn took over about 2,200 acres.

The timber industry at Wellington Mills flourished and was at its peak during this time. The railway used to transport the timber to Dardanup also benefitted rural industries in the district because large quantities of chaff were required to feed the horse teams hauling timber to the mills. The railway was used to deliver goods to farmers, and to pick up their produce.

The Dardanup to Bunbury trains provided much needed transport for local residents to visit the larger town for business, shopping and social events.

In 1913, with the First World War looming, a training camp site for the 25th Light Horse was selected at Dardanup.

Back to top

A significant change occurred in this area in the wake of World War I. The Western Australian Government sought out land where they could settle returned soldiers. “Soldier Settlement” schemes were designed to give employment to returned soldiers and to encourage closer settlement and greater productivity in agricultural areas. Land in Dardanup and Paradise was resumed by the Government and made available for purchase, under favourable lending conditions, to returned soldiers. About 2000 acres of this had been part of the Venn estate (South Western Times, Thursday 6 November 1947).

Dardanup Estate – 1923 subdivisions for Soldier Settlement scheme.

On the 11 May, 1923 the town site of Dardanup, the administration centre for the Dardanup District Road Board, was gazetted. Steady development continued in Dardanup and surrounding localities throughout this period.

Dardanup Townsite Plan, 1923 and cancelled 1970. From State Records Office of WA

The Sisters of Mercy Convent in Dardanup was erected in 1921 and opened in 1922. It provided classrooms and residential accommodation for the Sisters who were also the teachers.

Telephone services were connected to Dardanup in 1923. Viticulture had become widespread throughout the district in the 1920s, while later in the 1930s orchards were established in the hills area.

Sleeper cutting continued as a major industry in the district until the late 1920s.

In 1933/34 irrigation was extended into the district, with approximately 1029 hectares being irrigated in the first year. The establishment of a superphosphate works near Bunbury in the early 1930s enhanced the benefits from the irrigation network and, in turn, were reflected in the growth of the dairy industry. Cream factories were extended and daily pickups of milk and cream from producer’s properties were commenced.

Gymkhanas which had originally been held on a property owned by J. L. Gardiner were transferred to the Dardanup Recreation Grounds – which eventually became the Wells Recreation Park – from the 1st of January each year after 1930.

Construction of the first purpose-built Dardanup Race Course was completed in 1936 on a property owned by James Maguire: The Willows.

The District Fire Brigade was established in the late 1930s.

With the original Church of the Immaculate Conception no longer big enough to accommodate the growing population of parishioners, a new church was built in 1937, taking its name from the old church. When the current church was opened in 1938, the old church was deconsecrated and was used as a classroom by the Sisters of Mercy. The school has used this building consistently over the years for a variety of purposes: as a library, for gymnastics, basketry and woodwork.

Whole milk production extended into the district in the mid-1940s with the aid of government promotion of dairying. The main agricultural activities in the 1940s were potato and pumpkin growing.

By 1944 Albert Piacentini was running his own timber mill near Dardanup. In 1949 he was allocated a Cat D6 bulldozer on the condition he commit to clearing post-WWII soldier settlement land grants in the Margaret River area. Although the bulldozers were initially used to clear paths to access timber, the company changed focus during the 1960s when the business began to use bulldozers towards the mining industry, a relationship which it still maintains today.

During the Second World War, the Women’s Land Army was established in Paradise, with the women (and some men) being put to work growing food that would be processed and transported to feed the service men and women overseas.

26 October 1944 – Aerial view of Dardanup Townsite taken by Frank Craig, RAAF.

Back to top

A fire spread throughout the district in 1950 destroying many buildings in the Ferguson area including the original Ferguson Church, as well as houses and other buildings in the Wellington Mill townsite.

The first rural spur of electricity to Dardanup was established in 1951.

In 1950, the first purpose-built Dardanup Roads Board offices were constructed, replacing the former offices which had been operating out of a residence owned by Mr Hayward, who was the Roads Board secretary. Following on from this, a new Dardanup Town Hall was also built in 1956 replacing the old Agricultural Hall built in 1894. The old hall was demolished in 1956 .

Although the new Roads Board Offices and Hall in Dardanup signified, to a degree, the cementing of this townsite as the main administrative centre in the 1950s, this period also saw the rise of the importance of Eaton, with the Eaton townsite being formally established on 25 January 1957, and the Eaton Hall completed and opened in 1960.

In 1961, in line with the new Local Government Act, the Shire of Dardanup was officially gazetted.

3 March 1968 – Royal Western Ausralian Historical Society Special
Source: Weston Langford Railway Photography

Dardanup was no longer formally regarded as a railway stop after the last Station Master left in February 1962 although the line was still used for freight and occasional tourist trains.  Rail services were suspended on this line in March 2005.

Burekup was officially gazetted as a townsite in 1971.

The Dardanup Kindergarten was established in 1972 in the old State School building when the primary schools at Dardanup, Waterloo, Wellington Mills and Ferguson were closed and combined at a new school site in Hayward Street for the commencement of the 1972 school year. The new Dardanup Primary State School was officially opened on Friday 2 November 1973. The Dardanup Kindergarten was later shifted to a new building with a Child Care Centre in 1974. Funding for the project came from Council, the Kindergarten Association, the Public Health Department and the Lotteries Commission. The Eaton Pre-primary School was also opened in 1974.

Back to top

By 1976 the area under irrigation in the Shire had reached 6073 hectares. Whole milk production was now the main produce in the district, with vegetable, fruit and other crops forming only a minor part of rural production.

Dardanup Townsite Plan, from 1969 and cancelled 1979. From State Records Office of WA

Timber was still a major economic influence, with a large modern particle board factory (Wesfi) established in 1976 and pine sawmill (Wespine) also constructed along Moore Road, Dardanup West.

The Australind Bypass Road was opened in 1983.

A referendum was held in 1992 for the proposal for Australind and Eaton to separate from the Shire of Harvey and the Shire of Dardanup respectively, to form a new municipality with the name of Leschenault. The proposal was rejected.

In 1992, the new Waterloo Community Centre was opened, built over the top of the foundations of the 1952 hall building. The Waterloo Fire Station was opened in 1995.

Gnomesville in Ferguson was also established in the 1990s. This now significant tourist attraction began for quite a different purpose, with people placing gnome statues in the middle of the roundabout on Wellington Mill Road and Ferguson Road intersection as a silent form of protest against the construction of the roundabout. However, more contributions continue to be made to the collection of gnomes both from locals and visitors to the area.

In 1994, the centenary of local government, with the formation of the Dardanup District Road Board in 1894, was celebrated. The new Eaton Administration Centre was opened by the Premier, Hon Richard Court MLA on 20 November 1998. This Centre effectively replaced the 1950 Road Board Office in Dardanup, however because there was still a significant population in the Dardanup townsite, the Shire continues an administrative presence in the old offices including the library.

The Crooked Brook Forest Project commenced in 1994. Crooked Brook Forest is an area of jarrah forest seven kilometres from Dardanup. The project was initiated by a group of volunteers, in conjunction with the Department of Parks and Wildlife, to provide facilities to all able, disabled and elderly visitors, including the development of walking trails, viewing points across the valley, interpretation on the flora and fauna and barbeque/picnic facilities.

Some changes in the provision and development of schools were to occur during this period. River Valley Primary School opened in 1999 to replace the closed Roelands Primary State School as well as Burekup Primary State School which had been condemned and closed in 1997. Glen Huon Primary School in Eaton was opened in 2000.

Eaton Fair Shopping Centre located on the corner of Eaton Drive and Recreation Drive, Eaton opened in October 2000, marking a significant commercial development in the Shire. Dog Parking areas were introduced, the first being at the Council’s Administration Centre, Eaton.

Back to top

This was a period of significant change for the Shire of Dardanup as it has been required to transition from being a relatively small country Shire to an increasingly urban and development focused one. In particular the growth in population in the Eaton area, coupled with the commercial expansion of the Eaton Fair Shopping Centre in 2015 established a new focal point for the Shire.

It was also a transitional period for residents of localities, particularly the Ferguson Valley. With the de-regulation of the dairy industry in the early 2000s, the locality experienced diversification of the local economy with a number of tourism related ventures being established including cafes, wineries, restaurants and breweries. The area became a ‘tree-change’ destination and has a high number of residents living in the locality due to the high level of amenity.



  • Bunbury – From our own Correspondent, Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News (WA : 1848 – 1864), Friday 11 October 1850, page 2
  • Freehold Estates of the late C R Prinsep Esq, deceased, Western Australian Times (Perth, WA : 1874 – 1879), Tuesday 15 May 1877, page 3.
  • The Transfer of Land Act 1874, Western Australian Times (Perth, WA : 1874 – 1879), Friday 15 February 1878, page 3
  • Late Mr Frank Venn – Death after long illness, South Western Times (Bunbury, WA : 1932 – 1954), Thursday 6 November 1947, page 20

Image sources: