Places I Love: Margaret River – Australia’s only magic river

‘Did you know that Margaret River is the only magic river in all of Australia?’ asked our tour guide.

We were at the Margaret River Mouth, at Prevelly Beach with huge waves crashing out at sea and on the nearby rocks. Our guide invited us to sample native spinach and another fresh plant that tasted like wasabi. Once fitted with lifejackets and instructed how to paddle, we launched our 2 seater and 5 seater canoes, and headed into the river valley, past cliffs, pioneer and Australian sites on a Bushtucker Margaret River Canoe Tour – which I should say, to avoid any misunderstanding, is not a tour operated or guided by the local Wardandi/Wadandi & Pibelmen/Bibelmen Noongar Peoples.

The river is separated from the ocean by a huge sandbar; the water is clear and clean. Motor craft are not permitted on the river to protect its healthy eco system. We paddled upstream past forested kangaroo habitats and an osprey nest. Hairy marron, a rare and critically endangered marron live in the river, this is the only place in the world where they are found.

Hairy marron

To Noongar people, the Margaret River is known as Wooditijup, named after the magic man, Wooditch who created the river in the Nyitting or the Dreaming. Margaret River is one of the earliest sites of human occupation in Australia. Excavations in the limestone caves have uncovered artefacts dating back 48,000 years.

Margaret River first appeared on the map in 1839. Early European settler – John Bussell named the river after a step-second cousin Margaret Wyche, who never visited Australia. The Bussells went on to clear the land and farm the area with the help of local Noongar people.

After using soap bush leaves to wash our hands in the river and then sanitize them with eucalyptus leaves – it was time for lunch. This was my first bush tucker experience—what a spread, with 20 different wild foods to feast on! The amazing array included: slow smoked and marinated emu and kangaroo, crocodile meat, together with locally made pestos, chutneys, dips and baked wattle seed and bush tomato bread. There were dried rosella bush tomatoes, finger limes and quandong native peaches . . . yum!

We paddled past the ruins of Wallcliff House that burned down in a major bushfire in 2011. Once it was the centerpiece of the Bussell family’s 24,000-hectare estate.

We heard about how in 1876, Sam Isaacs (a Noongar man) and 16-year old Grace Bussell became heroes. They rode their horses into the ocean and rescued over 50 passengers from the steamship SS Georgette after it ran aground off Margaret River. The ship was on the way from Fremantle to Adelaide via Busselton. The rescue took four hours in very rough seas. Gracetown is named after Grace, she was given a very large area of land and received a silver medal and a gold watch in recognition of her services. Sam Isaacs received a bronze medal and much later in 1897, received 100 acres of land at Margaret River.

It’s NAIDOC week 7-14 July. This year’s theme is ‘Keep the Fire Burning! Blak, Loud and Proud, representing the enduring strength and vitality of Indigenous cultures, passed down through the generations despite the challenges faced. It honours the unyielding spirit of our communities and the unapologetic celebration of Indigenous identity.

I wonder when will Margaret River formally become Wooditijup?

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS by Jean Hudson @jeansodyssey except where indicated otherwise. Jean is our Shipping Correspondent and also a regular feature writer and photographer here on the Shipping News. You may like to follow up her informative Places I Love stories, as well as other feature stories and Freo Today photographs, right here.


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