by Terri Gibbs & Janice Calcei
Updated: 18 January 2023
On a survey sheet in 1844, surveyor Henry Mortlock Ommanney remarked that the Ferguson River, “flows through property surveyed for Dr. John Ferguson”. The river was so named and the long valley into the hills east of Dardanup took its name from the river.
The first European settlers on the Ferguson were Jesse and Jane Gardiner. Jesse was a sawyer from Bisley in Gloucestershire who had opted in1842 to emigrate aboard the Trusty to the Australind settlement in Western Australia. He came as a labourer rather than as a land-purchasing settler, thereby securing free passage for himself, his wife Jane and their four children.
Australind was a land development scheme overseen by the London-based Western Australia Company . It was to take up the 100,000 acres of the Latour grant awarded in 1830 but as yet undeveloped. A number of poor decisions by the Company, including the last minute possibility of moving the entire settlement to Port Grey, as well as the possible resumption of the grant by the colonial government, led to a loss of confidence by investors in the scheme. Poor communications between Australind and the Company contributed to its demise as did economic uncertainty in England in 1840-41 with the bankruptcy of Wright and Company, the Company’s Banker. Investors withdrew capital and prospective settlers, who were to pay £100 each to cover the cost of their own transport, some entitlement to land, and the cost of transporting labourers, were put off. The company was winding down in early 1843 and by the time the final few Australind migrants arrived aboard the Trusty in 1844, 464 people had travelled to Australind. There were too few settlers with sufficient capital to provide work and too many labourers. Most eventually left the settlement to find work elsewhere in the colony.
Jesse Gardiner persisted at Australind. It is likely he found work in and around the settlement and then for Marshall Waller Clifton, the Chief Commissioner for the Western Australia Company. Jesse was rewarded in 1854 by gaining the occupancy of land in the angle made by the junction of the Wellesley and Brunswick Rivers at the very western end of Melville Road. His son Bradley settled on this Brunswick farm while Jesse himself transferred his interests to land on the Ferguson River just before 1850. Other settlers who came to the Ferguson at this time were E Higgins and J Hough.
Jesse donated land for the Ferguson cemetery with graves dating from 1850, and his son Ephraim Gardiner donated land for the building of the Ferguson Church in 1879. The publishing of tenders in the newspaper show Jesse delivered the colonial mail between Bunbury and Dardanup, and vice versa, twice a week on horseback in 1867, and perhaps longer, for £38 per annum. This would have been a significant supplement to farm income at the time. Jesse and Jane’s descendants still farm in the valley today.
The Ferguson Road was then known as Kojonup Road and was the main route from Bunbury and Dardanup through to Boyup Brook and the Great Southern.
John Charlton Fowler established a farm of 200 acres on the Upper Ferguson River in the 1870’s, at Wellington Location 542, calling the farm Sergeant Dale. To supplement his income and help with the cost of clearing the land and to establish himself with house and outbuildings, he went harvesting sandalwood from the Darkan-Kojonup. He carted the sandalwood back to the shipping agent, Thomas Haywards of Bunbury, for shipment to China, where he received cash and/or goods for his farm.
Over the years, an extensive orchard was established on the farm. Wheat was planted in the early days for their own consumption and was taken to the Forrest Flour Mill at Picton to be ground into flour. Nyoongar people from the area would help to harvest the wheat and in payment for this, John supplied them with flour, plug tobacco and clothing, fruit from the orchard when in season and red cloth which was greatly admired. He also learnt to speak the language.
Emma Gardiner (nee Gibbs), wife of Owen Gardiner and daughter-in-law to Jesse and Jane, lived at Mountain Spring Farm, and was a midwife, delivering most of the babies in the district.
Two businesses attempted to mill commercial quantities of jarrah from the area in the late 1800s, but failed due to the lack of transport infrastructure, particularly rail lines and rolling stock for haulage. 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 made the business unviable and led to its closure by 1883. In 1880 the Bunbury Jarrah Timber Company, was granted a lease of 4000 acres across what is now the Upper Ferguson Road and a mill was opened on 28 January 1881. Transport costs and disputes with the government led to this company winding up in July 1883.
From 1896, a large timber mill was developed at Wellington Mills. A rail line was built in 1899 to transport timber to Dardanup and then along the Boyanup line to storage yards or the port at Bunbury. The Mill provided a boost to local farmers who had often just subsisted to this point. They could now send sons to work in the timber industry, supporting the family in bad seasons and expanding in good times.
The Ferguson Agricultural Hall was built in 1905 on land donated by Peter Buckenara. The cricket pitch in the paddock behind, owned by Mr Buckenara, was opened in the same year. This hall was replaced by a new one in 1966 and the old building was demolished shortly afterward.
The railway between Wellington Mills and Dardanup was used by the mill people for transport. There were also sidings with sheds at Fowler Hill, the Nine Mile, Ironstone Road (the Seven Mile), and the Five Mile. These were used to pick up and deliver goods and passengers. Ferguson farmers benefitted by using the stops to take delivery of farm supplies and to transport their produce to the mill, Dardanup and Bunbury.
The last passenger train from the Mill was in 1929 and the last train ran in 1934. For some years afterward a motor powered tram occasionally ran the line. Mr Joe Zagami who owned the old Mill Manager’s house at Wellington, also ran a covered-in truck, a charabanc, as a bus service between Wellington, Dardanup and Bunbury.
Farmers in the Ferguson would drive cattle to the Dardanup sales, when required, up until 1940. Mail was delivered by horse to the Upper Ferguson Postal district three times a week. From January 1920 to December 1923 H Gibbs delivered mail in a sulky, after this Mr Hulme did the run by car. Cream separators began to be used used instead of standing milk for cream.
Gold was found in Ferguson. J J Chapman dug a 100-foot-deep hole behind the hall about one kilometre up the hill and alluvial gold was taken from Waterfall Gully. BHP sunk two bores in the district to 1080ft and 600ft but gold was not found in commercial quantities.
Between 1914 and 1945, the mounted police would ride through the district to collect statistics (census) forms.
Most of the original settlers had grazing leases in the bush as their farms were too small to support enough cattle to provide a living. Bob DeCain had the Ironstone lease and ran sheep there until the fifties. Red runner and water bush were excellent feed in the bush. The zamia palm gave cattle the rickets, though sheep rarely succumbed. By the 1930’s, forestry cattle runs were closed.
Edmund Stephen brought radio to the district in 1920’s, and inspired his sons to start a radio servicing business in 1936. It was not until the 1960’s that television arrived and the use of radios declined.
Sport brought the community together. Tennis courts were built on the opposite side of the Ferguson Road to the Hall and badminton court lines were painted on its floor. The cricket ground and pitch on the paddock ran from behind the Hall to the tree lined creek became home to Ferguson Cricket Club. The team won Country Week in 1928, and the Donnybrook premiership in 1949. The Club also won the Henry Gubler trophy and the Boan’s trophy.
Peter Buckenara had a telephone line put in from Dardanup to Ferguson in the 1920’s. By the 1940’s party lines were connected by a telephone exchange housed at Melburnup, operated for many years by Jennie Gibbs. This changed communication for the area. By the 1970’s an automatic exchange completely modernised the telephone system. A new century required internet connections with dial-up on existing phone lines, then through satellite dishes and eventually in 2016 new phone towers saw locals give up their house phones in favour of a complete mobile service.
In 1950 a ferocious bush fire destroyed much of Ferguson, its infrastructure and stock feed along with the Ferguson Church. The church was rebuilt and opened in 1954 as St Aidan’s.
The 1950’s saw the green revolution storm into the district as clover and superphosphate increased farming production. Mechanical equipment efficiently replaced the horse. Large tracts of timber were felled by bulldozers and burnt in wind-rows to clear paddocks for pasture and haymaking. Dams were easily built with bulldozers and later excavators. A concrete water trough was seen in every paddock.
Starting in July 1947, the formation of the Milk Board of Western Australia and in1974 the Dairy Industry Authority saw the expansion of the dairy industry through the quota milk system. New dairies were built throughout the district over 40 years. Black and white Friesian Holstein dairy cattle dotted the hills as farmers chased higher production. Deregulation of the diary industry in 2000 saw the beginning of its decline in Ferguson.
Mr A Gibbs ran a transport service in the 1950’s and the early 1960’s, picking up passengers from Ferguson, Wellington Mills and Dardanup, to feed into the Donnybrook to Bunbury Bus service. By the early 1960s it was apparent there was a need for a high school bus to be established. The tender was won by Coopers Bus Service of Benger. The drop off points were the War Memorial in Stirling Street and the bus rank in Prinsep Street.
Electricity services were brought into the area in 1961 the when the State Electricity Commission contribution scheme began connecting power to Ferguson and by 1964 to Wellington Mill. Prior to this residents and farmers used generators to supply household and farm electricity.
The Upper Ferguson school closed in 1971, and was amalgamated with those at Wellington Mills, Waterloo and Dardanup to form a new school in Hayward Street, Dardanup. Primary school bus runs were tendered to transport the children to the new location.
During the 1970’s jungle warfare training was conducted in the forestry near Wellington Mills. Live ammunition was used and Bald Hill was bombed during these exercises.
In early April 1978 Cyclone Alby caused extensive damage throughout the district. It fanned up seasonal burn-off fires that had been lit by farmers and the Forestry Department. The Department of Fire and Emergency Services reports there were 65 Bushfires in the South West region that day. Once the grass had been burnt from the paddocks, strong winds blew the top soil away, leaving the hills brown not black. It was possible to walk from Ratcliffe Road to Irishtown Road and Donnybrook without climbing a fence, as they had been burnt out. Fleeing livestock and wildlife crossed country where the fences had once been.
The planting of vineyards and the production of wine had ebbed and flowed in Ferguson since the 1860’s. The late 1990s marked the beginning of new era of wine production. What began as small vintages among settler families in the mid 1800s has grown to become commercial wine production using hundreds of acres of vineyards. By 2010 Ferguson also had two prospering breweries; The Wild Bull and The Moody Cow currently known as the Bush Shack Brewery.
Traditional farming has felt the pressures from the plantation timber industry and hobby farmers wishing to settle in the valley on smaller acreages. While this gave rise to higher land prices and a reduction in land for farming, the change has also brought new residents into the Valley.
- Staples, A C; They Made Their Destiny, History of Settlement, Shire of Harvey, 1829 – 1929 (1979), Shire of Harvey, Harvey.
- Shipping Intelligence; Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 – 1847), Saturday 10 December 1842, page 2.
- The Colonial Mails; Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), Wednesday 4 December 1867, page 2.
- Shire of Dardanup, Local Heritage Survey, November 2016 – Final, https://www.dardanup.wa.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/105/2014/05/LHS_2016_final-issue_November_2016.pdf. Accessed online on 12 December 2021
- Hall, Michael, John Charlton Fowler of Sergeant Dale, Ferguson, Western Australia, 2021.
- John Charlton Fowler, provided by Michael and Margaret Hall
- Emma Gibbs, provided by Janice Calcei
- The Kalgoorlie leaving Wellington Mills, provided by Janice Calcei, originally from Victor White.
- Opening of the Ferguson Cricket pitch provided by Steve and Terri Gibbs
- Cricketers and supporters in front of the Ferguson Agricultural Hall, provided by Michael Hall.
- Mrs Kerr’s Birthday, provided by Elizabeth Noordhoek.
- From the State Records Office, Western Australia, Cons_3869_Wellington_019_141 – Locations along the Preston River by H.M. Ommanney – R. Austin – Fieldbooks 13 and 6.