The Carnamah Connection, Western Australia

Carnamah Mural, Western Australia

Carnamah Mural, Western Australia

Watch your coincidences, the writers manual said. Spread them out, with no more than three or you’ll lose readers. So just WHAT was I supposed to do about all the Carnamah coincidences?

We arrived in Carnamah on Mum’s birthday. Coincidence #1.

A distant relative I’d never met before was staying in the caravan park. Coincidence #2.

The Carnamah Historical Society president knew more about my background and family history than I did. Coincidence #3!

Then there was … but wait! I’m getting ahead of myself.

Entrance to Carnamah, Western Australia

Entrance to Carnamah, Western Australia

Being in Carnamah at all was no coincidence.

But although it was a) the heart of the fabled Western Australian wildflower country ;b) a convenient distance from our previous camp site on the coast; and c) where my mother was raised, we approached it with some trepidation.

A selection of Carnamah Wildflowers, Western Australia

A selection of Carnamah Wildflowers, Western Australia

The last town we’d gone through wasn’t particularly inviting (nothing will induce me to divulge its identity!), and there wasn’t much about Carnamah in the tourist directories.

The new location ‘lucky dip’ worked both ways. Sometimes it was great. Sometimes it was OK. And sometimes it was crap.

Carnamah Streetscape

Carnamah Streetscape

‘We don’t have to stay here, you know,’ said Pilchard as we turned into the main street.

But my curiosity about this small town, the buckle in the Western Australian wheat belt where my mother spent her formative years, had increased the closer we got.

We had to stay one night because THIS was where she’d walked three miles to school every day (whose parents didn’t?). Where she lived on the family farm. Where she got her first job.

And where the wondrous wildflowers of the West of which I’d heard such glowing reports all my life actually were.

Nothing, but NOTHING comes close to the Western Australian wildflowers, I’d heard many times. Actually, EVERY time we saw any other wildflowers. Anywhere. Ever.

My nasty-girl side SO wanted to disprove that theory, I’d been almost disappointed to see what looked like ‘Wildflower World’ unfolding before me on the side of the road as we neared our destination.

But then we were driving down the main street and into the Carnamah Caravan Park. For a small town – hell, for ANYWHERE – this was a keeper. Neat layout, level sites (some drive-through), off the main road, new amenities, FREE WASHING MACHINE! Score!

Carnamah Bell (Darwinia carnamah)

Carnamah Bell (Darwinia carnamah)

Then to the Visitor Information Centre – and Score! The friendly helpful volunteer told us exactly where to find Mum’s favourite – the Wreath Leschenaultia. AND the Carnamah Bell (Darwinia carnamah), exclusive to Carnamah! Score!!

Out on the street, Black Cockatoos circled over the pub, singing their sad, sweet song. But these sounded different. They WERE different! Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo only found in Western Australia and a lifer for twitcher* Pilchard! Score!!

It almost made up for not finding a bakery.

And as we walked this TOP Aussie town’s botanic garden trail in successful search of the not-so-elusive Carnamah Bell, we agreed we’d lucked out. A family connection and a clutch of coincidences weren’t the only reasons to explore this area.

Carnamah Farming Country, Western Australia

Carnamah Farming Country, Western Australia

Mum spent her early years out of town on a farm. During the Depression of the 1930’s, local farmers, including my grandfather, had petitioned the government for a school, then donated time and materials to construct a suitable building. My mother and her siblings were among the Billeroo school’s first pupils, and my mother its last teacher.

I had to at least try to find it. Or what, if anything, was left of it.

The Carnamah Historical Society’s excellent website and databases gave a lot of detail about the area and its people – including my grandfather and the farm. Supplementing the actual museum, the website included a virtual museum and blog – a mini-masterclass in historical data management (Score!).

Fields of Everlastings near Carnamah, Western Australia

Fields of Everlastings on Inering Road near Carnamah, Western Australia

And their blog had a post about wildflowers in the area. Yes, they looked mighty fine.

So why not spend an extra day here, and see the sights?

Downtown Carnamah, Western Australia

Downtown Carnamah, Western Australia

Back at the caravan park, the neighbouring van turned out to contain my grandmother’s nephew, and therefore my 2nd cousin once removed. He’d dropped in to Carnamah on his way home to see if anyone knew what had happened to my grandmother’s family. He’d apparently asked at the Visitor Centre about 10 minutes after I’d been there, and coincidence blessed with the magic of small town connections had done the rest!

But so far, I was drawing a blank on the school location.

Tathra National Park Wildflowers, Western Australia

Tathra National Park Wildflowers, Western Australia

Pilchard and I had always planned to return home via Carnamah, but arriving on Mum’s birthday was also a coincidence. When I rang later that night and told her where I was, she didn’t believe it at first. That changed when I asked for directions to the school. But unfamiliar with the relatively new caravan park, she could only give me a rough idea.

But no matter. Already elated by the cousin coincidence and Carnaby’s Cockatoo and Carnamah Bell sightings, I was beginning to feel my connection to Carnamah. Almost.

Wreath Leschenaultia - not yet fully open!

Wreath Leschenaultia – not yet fully open!

The next day, our hunt for the wild wreath leschenaultias took us the back way to Perenjori. Whatever you’re thinking is the correct pronunciation probably isn’t, but after channelling the vibe, I could rattle off ‘P’renjsh’ree’ like a local. AND put it firmly on the ‘Wildflower World’ map!

After being in Carnamah 24 hours, I’d already had several independent referrals to the president of the Historical Society, who apparently knew everything there was to know about the area. But I hadn’t visited him at the historical museum. For a start, it wasn’t going to be open during our visit. And I’m not particularly nostalgic, sentimental or family oriented, so did it really matter if I found the school or not?

Anyway, what would a total stranger know – or care – about my long-ago connection to Carnamah?

A sign - Pot of Gold at Carnamah Caravan Park, Western Australia

A sign – Pot of Gold at Carnamah Caravan Park, Western Australia

After a hard day on the wildflower trail, the sky darkened into a sign – of sorts. And another caravanner – who turned out to be no relation whatsoever – suggested that as she’d lived here, my mother would appreciate photos of the Tathra National Park wildflowers. Coincidence?

Actually, more like Score! After booking in for a 3rd night, we discovered the national park’s unspoiled, rain-enhanced beauty was a photographer’s fantasy. Who knew wildflowers could look like this? And as another back road tour took us to Carnamah via Three Springs, another town I’d heard Mum mention, the canola fields glowed in the sunlight.

But, the Billeroo school location still eluded us. No one at the Visitor Centre knew where it was. But in an almost miraculous coincidence, the Historical Society Museum was open. And when I finally met president George Fowler, ‘Coincidence’ and ‘Score’ for once combined as I found my family’s next farm neighbour; my uncle’s best friend; and a motherlode of information about the area all rolled into one.

The Silver Bullet at the Billeroo School site, via Carnamah, Western Australia

The Silver Bullet at the Billeroo School site, via Carnamah, Western Australia

And THAT coincidence made my Carnamah connection complete.

We came to Carnamah for several reasons. But now we’ve got several reasons to return!

Red and George at the Carnamah Museum, Western Australia

Red and George at the Carnamah Museum, Western Australia

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* Twitcher = Bird watcher. Don’t ask me why …

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24 comments

  • My sister lives in Carnamah and I grew up in a town close by! Must admit I was a bit surprised to see a blog post about Carnamah pop up!

    • We’ve both got family connections there then, Anne! I love writing about parts of OZ not many other people have visited AND trying to show them what’s there and why THEY should visit! I hope I succeeded!

  • The Carnamah shop in question opened in 1914 as a three by three metre general store. It’s third owner had it rebuilt in 1927 and concentrated on drapery, millinery and footwear (clothes, hats and shoes). A larger and more isolated population in the later 20s and 30s justified such an enterprise. The shop has changed many times since but still sells clothes and hats. Sounds like maybe it’s just as well or there’d be some sunburnt tourists! Unfortunately you visited 36 years too late to enjoy the local bakery – which closed in 1976. The Carnamah Historical Society has just launched a virtual exhibit on some of the district’s past local businesses at http://www.carnamah.com.au/business-houses.html

  • My goodness! So much wonderful writings and pictures galore! I like the pictures and really was drawn to the farming picture of road with, what looked like red dust. Amazing country, Australia! Thanks for going that extra mile on a blog by writing such lively, interesting thoughts. 🙂

  • @Iris – Yes, if only we knew of our parents’ suffering … no snow for my mother, but heat and dust in summer!!! We too, have seen Britz vans doing socially unacceptable things – but then again, we’ve also seen a lot of Aussies doing socially unacceptable things too … Sorry about the face, hope it doesn’t put you off!
    @vnv4 – What looks like red dust really IS red dust!! Welcome, and so glad you enjoyed. Lots more like this to come!!!
    @TMWH – Call me misguided, but I take my signs where I find them! The locals assured me it didn’t always look like this …
    @diane b – You’re right – but weird how out of ~22 million people, I find THIS one! I bet the shop had to diversify to stay in business – but what a shame it didn’t diversify into baked goods … Why don’t you get TOH to mark his hats in some way so the new owners can share their hats’ adventures with you???!!!

  • In Germany the parents walked to school three miles uphill, too… and in the deep snow with bad shoes 😉

    The streetsign is beautiful! It sure gives credit to the beautiful wildflowers (we saw a Britz-Caravan right behind the sign asking not to pick the flowers… picking them…).

    Really amazing coincidences! Love the „pot of gold“-pic! Have a pic like that with our car back then (no kidding!)

    Wow, beautiful story! And now I have a face to the stories, too 🙂

  • That was a great post about Carnamah. Isn’t that called the sixth degree of separation when you bump into people who know or are related to someone you know. Our tour bus stopped there for lunch at the roadhouse. TOH bought a hat in that Draper and Newsagent shop. I remember thinking at the time that it was a funny combination for a shop. TOH had left his Yosemite NP hat in the last motel, like he has with numerous hats. He either leaves them behind or has them blown off on boat cruises. He is a bit like Hansel we could follow his hats around the world.

  • What a beautiful place to have grown up! And what coincidences–truly a sign you were in the right place.

  • @Andrew – The mural made it to the top of the post because it strikes me anew every time I see it (egotistical though that sounds!) I’m almost afraid to visit again in case it seems ordinary next time …
    @Jill – I am now a WA wildflower devotee. Haven’t been to the spots you mention – YET!! But I see a lot more wildflowers in my future … and maybe even a few ‘how to take wildflower photos that actually look like the flowers’ lessons!!
    @Betty – Yes, it’s a rare foray into the personal for me!! Makes me realise how little I’ve done it … so watch this space!
    @Sallie – Mum even rang George for a chat after we visited!! And the coincidences were all real, so I guess there’s a place for them!
    @Ramakant – It was BIZARRE! And thanx for the compliment!
    @eileeninmd – I’ve never been that into the family thing – but this whole experience really changed my perspective!!
    @River – I was so busy talking to George I didn’t really get a chance to look round that much!! I guess that’s what ‘next time’ is for!

  • @Kate – I suspect you’re right – but it took a trip to somewhere I’d never been to feel it. But I need to take a few flower photography lessons before I post more wildflower pix!
    @Saucy Kod – Perhaps coincidence & fate are the same thing? Certainly had to eat my words about the wildflowers – she was SO right! And I thought the farm area would be really dry & dusty (probably is sometimes) so seeing it like this was a pleasant surprise!
    @Fernando – Welcome! So glad you enjoyed them!
    @SFlaGuy – C’mon! I’ve posted pix of myself before, albeit a little more flattering … but somehow, I don’t think there’s much comparison between small town Western Australia and a Steampunk RenFest!
    @Carole M – We really DID luck out here – it was ALL good!
    @Fun60 – Weirdly, I never thought of fate until a couple of comments mentioned it. But that’s probably the best word to describe what happened! Glad you enjoyed it!
    @Mary – I’m working out how to install ‘smellavision’ on my blog … going wih the flow really DOES pay off sometimes!! But sometimes not.

  • Must have been amazing to find someone accidentally who seems to know everything about you and your family. Lovely pictures!

  • Quite an amazing set of coincidences!
    The museum looks like a place I could happily browse in for quite a while.
    I love looking through old things.

  • What an amazingly beautiful area this is! Your coincidences (scores) definitely did NOT lose your readers…I loved this whole story. I’m very glad that your mom knew you visited and liked it…I’m sure that meant a lot to her.

  • I love reading about your Mom’s hometown. And seeing the beautiful wildflowers. Very cool running into a relative and learning more about your family. I have always wanted to do more research on my family tree. This is a great post!

  • yep, Western Australia is definetly the wildflower capital of Australia. And Perenjori is right in the middle of it. I am so lucky to live in WA! And a wildflower drive is the thing to do in spring. Have you been down to Hopetoun and East Mount Barren? Different wildflowers, but hundreds of varieties – spectacular as well in a coastal heath kind of way.
    ps – I would pronouce Perenjor i – Per-enj-jor-ri.
    I have only driven through Carnamah – but my dad used to go here often when he was truck driving.
    Another great post from you Red – if you pop over to my blog you will see red too!

  • wow, what a lovely couple!

    what a beautiful post. it totally uplifted my morning.
    enjoyed looking at your photos. love those beautiful flowers. how magical it would be to have a whole field of them!

    and thanks for the background history. it was appreciated and very interesting!

    safe travels~

    xx

  • What a great story. The wildflowers do look spectacular and so varied. Perseverance and fate went hand in hand on this trip.

  • good times for you visiting your Mum’s home turf; what a buzz that stopover proved to be. The wildflowers were a plus on the side too.

  • Excelentes fotografias….
    Cumprimentos

  • Yep, very well written, in spite of too many co-incidences. The mural is rather good.

  • Flowers flowers, everywhere, & not one I can smell. When coincidences are the unadorned truth, go with them. Never too many or too much of the truth. The universe of probability has a sense of humor too.

    Not finding a bakery is a very serious thing ;o.~Mary

  • This is a WONDERFUL log of your visit! I believe that you are more nostalgic about family than you admit…it is a splendid journey to read. Hope that you return and post more of those marvelous wildflower photos. Happy traveling!

  • So that’s what you look like. And like me you finally posted a photo of yourself surrounded by the locals. I have a new photo of myself and a local. I think you may have spotted her on my Flickr page.

  • Oh Red, I so enjoyed your visit and the history – was it concidence or fate? It seems that you Mom was right about the wildflowers and then the rainbow at the end of this journey – how great was that. I love the photos of farmland, for we have lots of farmland inland, here in New Brunswick. I am sure your Mom was excited to hear of your journey and now you will have a special place in your heart just to remember all the wonderful things that you experienced, and the reason to return. I very much like the photo of you and George – great smiles. Have a wonderful day.

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