Early History of Carnamah
The traditional owners of what we now call Carnamah are the Amangu,
group of Aboriginal people from across parts of the Mid West region of Western Australia.
Following the establishment and expansion of the Swan River Colony,
the district remained isolated between non-indigenous settlements on
Plains and at Irwin. In 1861 Scottish immigrant Duncan Macpherson took up a number of pastoral leases in the district, which
it is believed he used for the periodic grazing of livestock.
By 1866 James Nairn and his family had settled in the district.
James was English by birth and had arrived in the Swan River
Colony with his parents in 1829. He initially worked as a blacksmith
with his father in Perth and for a number of years leased the property
in York. He established the 33,000 acre
Station in Carnamah, which included the springs Billeroo
and Noolooroo. After an unknown duration on Noolooloo
James and his
family shifted to Dongara, with the station continuing under the
management of his son Frank.
Duncan Macpherson, who had taken up pastoral leases in Carnamah in
1861, took up residence in the district with his wife and eight
children in 1868. The Macpherson family had been based in the
Newcastle-Toodyay district since 1848 where they had leased a
property called The Byeen
. Following a disastrous drought and a
large debt Duncan was evicted from The Byeen
and it was this
unfortunate occurrence that resulted in him shifting to Carnamah.
The Macpherson family initially resided in a three roomed stone
cottage near the Yarra Yarra Lakes but a short time later settled at
Carnamah Spring where they built an impressive large stone
homestead. Duncan and his sons took up additional pastoral leases
and established Carnamah
Station, which at its peak was over 120,000
acres in size. Most of Carnamah
Station’s employees were Ticket of
Leave convicts, Chinese immigrants and Aboriginal people.
In 1874 Carnamah’s remoteness was lessened with the
establishment of a telegraph office at the Macpherson family’s
homestead. The office was conducted by Duncan Macpherson’s
daughter Elizabeth for the first two months and then by his daughter
Margaret. For a few years, in true pioneering diversification, Duncan Macpherson was the contractor to
deliver mail to inland districts and stations between Perth and
For over 25 years the Nairn and Macpherson families were
the only settlers in the Carnamah district. During this time the
Macpherson family was reduced in size with the death of Duncan’s
wife Mary in 1888 and the departure of their elder sons. Meanwhile
the Nairn family grew in size as a result of Frank Nairn’s marriage
to Harriett Emma Long of Coorow
Station in Coorow. A number of Frank and
Harriett’s children were born at their home on Noolooloo
In 1894 the Midland Railway
line went through and a
established near the Macpherson family’s homestead, and named
Carnamah after their station. The Midland Railway Company
built the railway line in exchange for land from the Government.
Among this land was almost all of Carnamah east of the railway line.
This marked a big reduction in the size of the Macpherson and Nairn
families’ stations as much of the land they had held in pastoral
leases from the Government was now owned by the Midland Railway
Company. Both families leased a lesser amount of land from the
Midland Railway Company, and fortunately for the Macpherson family
they held a large amount of land west of the railway line.
The arrival of the railway marked the dawn of further settlement in
the district. Railway workers were stationed at Carnamah, including
a railway stationmaster, fettlers and a ganger. In 1907 Louis P.
Parker began farming at Winchester (the southern half of the
Carnamah district). Lou and his brother Joe had been cutting timber
around Carnamah for use in mines since 1900. Others, including
Herbert C. Markham, are known to have worked through the district
cutting sandalwood trees for export.
Duncan Macpherson died in 1898 and his sons George and Donald became
the joint proprietors of Carnamah
Station. They traded in
partnership as Macpherson Bros and bred horses in Carnamah which
were shipped to Singapore after being herded overland to Perth. They
also bred and grazed sheep and cattle, cut and transported timber to
the Great Fingal Mine in Cue, and carted goods and supplies from
Perth to mining operations at Rothsay. Following George’s death in
1904 Donald became the station’s sole owner. Over the years that
followed the station slowly reduced in size as Donald began leasing
lesser amounts of land. Donald and his unmarried sisters Margaret
and Elizabeth continued to reside in the family’s large homestead.
Meanwhile the Nairn family’s pastoral operations in the district had passed to a third generation with Frank Nairn retiring to Dongara
and his elder sons Edward and Harold taking over the grazing of
livestock in the district. The two Nairn brothers leased 9,000 acres
of land from the Midland Railway Company, owned the freehold blocks
surrounding Billeroo Spring and Noolooroo Spring, and had 1,600
acres in Conditional Purchase leases at Petan Creek in Winchester.
In 1908 they purchased Yarrabubba
Station in Nannine, after
which they ceased their operations in Carnamah and left the
district. Their 1,600 acres in Conditional Purchase leases were sold
Perth accountant James L. B. Weir and farmed by his brother-in-law
Frederick W. Parrick.
By 1910 a number of farmers had taken up virgin land between the
railway line and the Yarra Yarra Lakes. Among them were Robert S.
Parsons, Green Bros, Alfred J. Hollingsworth, and Dewar Bros. The
Macpherson and Nairn families and most of these early settlers were
predominantly involved in the grazing and breeding of livestock. In
1913 Arthur G. Darling settled on 16,080 acres on the east side of
the railway line and in 1915 became the first farmer in the district
to grow wheat on a large scale.
The first known organisation to be formed in Carnamah was the
Carnamah Progress Association, which was operating in 1912 when the
Carnamah State School was established. The next year the townsite of
Carnamah was declared, although it would be years before an actual
town would come into being.
Up until 1909 the Midland Railway Company had only made one land
sale in Carnamah, which was an 11,000 acre block of virgin bush to
Donald Macpherson. In 1910 the Company devised the Improved Farms
Scheme to accelerate land sales and settlement in the district,
which would also increase traffic and profits for their railway. The
scheme was to subdivide some of their land into “Ready Made Farms”
of about 400 acres in size. These farms were partially cleared of
virgin bush, fenced and were to contain a four roomed house, 1,000
gallon rainwater tank and a dam. This resulted in a large number of
clearing, fencing and building contractors working in the district
in 1912 and 1913 – as 45 Ready Made Farms were created in Carnamah
The Ready Made Farms
were heavily advertised in newspapers and as a
result about 20 families purchased and settled on the farms between
1913 and 1916. Most of these settlers were British citizens from
Scotland, England, India and South Africa – and many had no practical
knowledge of farming. Ready Made Farms in Carnamah and Winchester,
in order of purchase, were taken up by:- John Raffan, Christopher H.
Hoskyns-Abrahall, Hans Haussler, John W. Colpitts, John Lawson,
George W. J. Reid & Amy C. Taunton, John Lang, H. Randolph Christie,
John McIntosh, Edward W. Bell, Robert Niven, James E. Hunter, W.
Henry Watson, Bowman & Forrester (John Bowman, Robert C. Forrester
& James K. Forrester), Richard Robertson, John S. Rooke, Charles
W. J. Turner, James H. Rankine, A. Dibgy Nelson, and Agnes S.
The farms had been drastically overpriced and the local conditions
falsely represented by the Midland Railway Company. Most of the
settlers soon realised the farms were so overpriced that they’d
never make enough money to be able to pay for them. The settlers
demanded the prices of their farms be reduced as they had been
misled about factors such as rainfall, expected yields and profits.
The Midland Railway Company initially rejected their claims – to the
end that the settlers formed an association to tackle the Company
and wrote several letters to leading Western Australian newspapers.
This onslaught of bad feeling about the Company’s Ready Made Farms
resulted in a halt of land sales in the district. By 1919 those on
the Company’s farms declared that the prices of the farms would have
to be significantly reduced or almost all of the settlers would be
forced to abandon their properties. After almost four years of
battling with the Company the settlers were finally given a fairer
deal and the prices of their farms were reduced by 40 percent.
When most of the settlers on the Midland Railway Company’s farms had
arrived in the district the townsite of Carnamah consisted solely of
the railway siding, Henry Parkin’s house and the Davieson family’s
general store. In 1916 the Parkin family opened a second general
store from their home, and later established a blacksmithing
The first large social event to occur in Carnamah was a Sports &
Races Day which took place on 4 May 1916. The day consisted of
children’s sports in the morning, horse races in the afternoon and a
dance in the local railway goods shed in the evening. The event was
very well attended by Carnamah residents in addition to visitors
from neighbouring districts and raised £48 for the Red Cross, who
were in need of funds due to the First World War. Despite having a
small population over 30 men from
Carnamah and Winchester served in the Armed Forces during the war, and
these brave men were Killed in Action. The end of the war was marked
in Carnamah with the holding of Peace Day Celebrations on 19 July
Between 1919 and 1923 the Repatriation Department established four
soldier settlement estates in the district by purchasing land from
Donald Macpherson, the Midland Railway Company, Louis P. Parker and
Arthur G. Darling. These four parcels of land became the
Yarra Yarra, Carnamah, Winchester and Inering estates. Each estate
was subdivided into a number of farms and these were allocated to
about 40 ex-servicemen from the First World War. This significantly
increased Carnamah’s population as with these men also came their
families and the need for large numbers of farmhands, labourers,
clearers and contractors.
Under the chairmanship of John Lang a local committee was formed to
raise the necessary capital to have a hall built in Carnamah. The
committee members were successful at their task and the Carnamah
Town Hall was officially opened by Donald Macpherson on 17 February
1921. The hall was used for the district's first agricultural show
later in 1921, which was conducted by the Carnamah-Winchester branch
of the Primary Producers' Association.
By this time the town had only a few more buildings – among
them being Robert Palfreyman’s one roomed humpy and “Teddy” Edgar J.
Clark’s small house. Later in 1921 Louis P. Parker, formerly of
Winchester, shifted to the Carnamah townsite where he had a general
store and large stone house built. Alfred L.
Trotter shifted from Moora and opened a bakery and
general store. In 1924 a stone hotel was built, which was initially
run by Mrs Martha L. J. Davies. The next additions to the town
included Green Bros’ butcher’s shop, D. Standish O’Grady’s garage,
Carl F. W. Kroschel’s tearooms, and Parkin & Son’s
Local farmers Donald Macpherson, Arthur G. Darling and John Bowman
all served representing Carnamah on the Upper Irwin Road Board
(later renamed the Mingenew Road Board). In 1923 the Carnamah
District Road Board was declared and on formation spanned from Three
Springs in the north to Gunyidi in the south, with Carnamah as its
administrative centre. An election for the new Board was held on 17
November 1923 with John Bowman and Donald Macpherson being elected
as members for Carnamah, William M. C. Lawson for Winchester, and
others to represent Three Springs, Coorow and Marchagee. Carnamah
farmer John Bowman was the Board’s first chairman.
The telephone arrived in Carnamah in 1923 and the first
townsperson to be connected was Louis P. Parker. The next year John
Bowman became the first farmer to have the telephone. Separate
telephone exchanges were established on the Inering Estate in 1924
and at Winchester in 1925.
In 1924 Donald Macpherson sold 11,000 acres of his land situated
between Carnamah and Three Springs to Edward and Harold Nairn, who
had grown up on Noolooloo
Station and had been graziers in Carnamah
until leaving over a decade earlier. Harold and his wife Eva shifted to
Carnamah shortly afterwards, marking the return of one of the
district’s earliest pioneers.
By this time local farmers were starting to grow large amounts of
wheat and Carnamah began to be seen as a successful and worthwhile
agricultural district. As a result, the Midland Railway Company was
able to sell almost the entirety of its remaining land in the
district. By the end of the 1920s the farming population had soared
and large amounts of land had been transformed from virgin bush to
paddocks. Carnamah soon attracted attention for being one of the
highest wheat producing districts in Western Australia.
The growth of the Carnamah townsite stalled before very quickly
catching up with the sudden growth that had occurred in the
remainder of the district. In 1929 and early 1930 the town grew at
in incredible rate, often remarked to have “sprung up overnight like
a field of mushrooms.” By 1930 the town boasted five general stores,
three tearooms, hotel, boarding house, post office, bakery, tailor,
dentist, chemist, doctor, hospital, solicitor, builder, four
mechanical garages, two churches, accountant, two banks, newsagent,
hairdresser, barber, power station, two butchers and a number of
commission agents who were sellers of agricultural machinery and
farm requirements. Within another few years the town also boasted a
vet, its own newspaper, police station and a resident police constable. A small townsite had also been established at Winchester
and consisted of a general store, school and a few houses.
Local clubs in existence around this time included Football, Tennis,
Cricket, Badminton, Race, Basketball, Athletic, Golf, Dingo, Girls
and Repertory. Other organisations such as an Agricultural Society,
Literacy & Debating Society, Toc H group, Adult Education Circle,
Masonic Lodge, Manchester Unity of Oddfellows Friendly Society
Lodge, Boy Scouts, Traders Association, Ratepayers & Citizens
Association and Parents & Citizens Association were also operating
in addition to branches of the Country Women’s Association, Returned
Soldiers League, Primary Producers Association and Wheatgrowers
With the financial depression came a horrific drop in wheat prices.
Many local farmers made a loss on wheat over consecutive years, and
some were forced to abandon their properties. A large
number of Carnamah farmers had been deriving their income solely from the
growing of wheat and as a result mixed farming became more popular.
Many introduced livestock such as sheep and cattle to their
properties, and in 1933 a number of farmers began to grow barley for
the first time. The town of Carnamah was thriving and undoubtedly at
its peak during the early years of the depression. Through a mix of
financial strain, advances in farm machinery and the beginning of
farms getting bigger, the population began to decline. By the end of
the 1930s the town no longer had a vet, chemist, doctor, hospital,
tailor, dentist, solicitor or boarding house. Through unrelated
circumstances it'd also lost one of its general stores in a
Donald Macpherson, referred to as the “Father of Carnamah,” passed
away on 23 October 1931, aged 73 years. Donald was the first to
represent Carnamah on the Upper Irwin Road Board, a founding member
of the Carnamah District Road Board and had served as president and
patron of numerous local organisations. He was the leader of the
annual Carnamah kangaroo hunt and was known for his generosity at
the hunts for lending a horse to anyone who didn’t have one. On the
day of his funeral all businesses in Carnamah were closed as a mark
of respect. Donald was survived by his sister Elizabeth, known as Bessie, who continued to reside at the family homestead in
Carnamah until her death at the age of 87 years in 1939.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War a militia unit was
formed in Carnamah and trained fortnightly under the direction of
Ivan Johnson and David I. M. Bowman. Later in 1939 local branches of
the Red Cross Society and Australian Defence League were
established, and were followed by the Carnamah District War and
Patriotic Fund, Volunteer Defence Corps, and Air Observation Corps.
The first person from the district to enlist in the Armed Forces was
farmhand George M. McGowan, who enlisted in the Australian Army on 11
November 1939 and was Killed in Action on 23 May 1941. Large numbers
of men and nine women enlisted in 1942 and others to give the
ultimate sacrifice were Ivan Johnson, William E. Clark, Bernard A.
O’Hara and Kenneth Lally.
With so many men serving in the Armed Forces and the subsequent
labour shortage many local farms and businesses were kept going only through the
untiring efforts of the district’s women. The majority of local
organisations and social events were suspended owing to a reduced
population, petrol rationing, and a large workload for those who
remained. The district later fell into darkness with a compulsory
blackout of all vehicle, house and street lights. Celebrations
instantly began when the news of peace was received in Carnamah on
the morning of Wednesday 22 August 1945. The war was over and the
streets of Carnamah resounded with church bells ringing, kerosene
tins being donged by children and the constant tooting of car horns.
In addition to the devastating human casualties from the war it had
also adversely affected the town, claiming one of its banks and
the local newspaper.
● The Carnamah-Winchester
● Virtual Museum
- The Macpherson Family
Blog Post - The Story of Ah Sue: a Chinamen
● Virtual Museum -
● Virtual Museum
- Ready Made Farms
Museum - Roads to Government
● Virtual Museum -
Carnamah's Business Houses
Blog Post - The Story of Bulk Wheat Handling
Blog Post - Carnamah at the National Museum
Written by Andrew S. Bowman for the basis of a talk on the
history of Carnamah on The Way We Were program on 6PR 882 AM
radio on Sunday 4 December 2005.
Rusting Grader in Carnamah Paddock in 2004
The Macpherson's first home in Carnamah
on what later became the Yarra Yarra Estate
who was born in Scotland died at Carnamah
James & Sarah Nairn
The Macpherson's Homestead
located just east of the Carnamah townsite
Edward Frank William Nairn
Overseas Advertising of the Ready
encouraging the British to purchase and immigrate
The Parkin family's home The Gables
at 4 Yarra Street, Carnamah
Robert Palfreyman outside the Carnamah Hotel
at 22 Macpherson Street, Carnamah
Offices of the Carnamah District Road Board
built onto the front of the Carnamah Hall in 1926
Harvest on Roger W. Clark's Rosebury Row
by both horse and tractor
Harold Nairn and his wife Eva
1926 ticket to annual show and sports of
the Carnamah District Agricultural Society
Home & Agency Business of Raymond R. Wylie
at 17 Boojerabba Street, now Robertson Street
The laying of the foundation stone of the
Presbyterian Church at 9 Macpherson Street in 1927
Header of Carnamah's newspaper,
which was produced in Carnamah 1933-1945
also known as the "Father of Carnamah"
Home & Business of W. George Mulligan
at 15 Macpherson Street, Carnamah