The Carnamah Connection, 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.
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.
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.
‘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!
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.
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!).
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
And THAT coincidence made my Carnamah connection complete.
We came to Carnamah for several reasons. But now we’ve got several reasons to return!
* Twitcher = Bird watcher. Don’t ask me why …