2018 RWAHS Affiliates Committee’s State History Conference

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 Conference attendees in the Civic Centre hall, and the formal opening of the conference. Photos Nick Drew, 8 September 2018

Conference attendees in the Civic Centre hall, and the formal opening of the conference. Photos Nick Drew, 8 September 2018

The Cervantes conference kicked off brilliantly in the Lobster Shack, an icon in the town known for its lobster fishing fleet and processing plant. We were to find out over the weekend that almost the whole Town of Cervantes contributed in some way to this conference! The Member for Moore, Shane Love, gave an address of welcome, which was answered by our own President Bob Nicholson.

Saturday morning we all mustered in an enormous civic centre in which numerous tables covered in yellow tablecloths faced the stage (see photo), dominated by a large screen.  Marilyn Gazeley the organiser of the conference and President of the Cervantes Historical Society, did a wonderful job in her welcome to country speech and handed over to our president Bob Nicholson who chaired all proceedings. 

The first speaker for the day was Jan Beissel who spoke of her experiences as a nurse at Cervantes in the 1960’s. She was working in this small fishing village because her husband was one of the fishermen. By the late 70’s the town had a proper health centre with a Doctor visiting three times a week.

Ann-Marie Meredith was the second speaker, passionate about all things to do with caving. She spent her childhood at Jurien, just up the track from Cervantes, where she explored all the caves in that area. Ann-Marie gave us a brief history of the caves.  Unfortunately urban development is encroaching on the cave area so their future is very uncertain.

Jo Ottaway then spoke about the Old North Road- paying tribute first to her father Bill de Burgh who wrote the book of the same name. The three Shires involved along the stock route are co-operating to make the track a heritage protected site.

Anthea Harris (Nedlands Library) and Sandy Haywood then talked about Pinnacles and Stromatolites – very appropriate as Cervantes practically sits on the Pinnacles area.  While their salt-water habitat protects them from predators, humans have done enormous damage over time and when damaged or destroyed stromatolites they will not come back.

The next speaker, Ian Warne, told us how this town got its name. The ship Cervantes was wrecked on the shore here in 1844.  Built in 1836 in America this ship was named for the author of the famous book Don Quixote. Ian called for a data base on wrecked ships along our coast, there were over 300 of them and not enough has been done to collate what was known and to fill in the gaps. His attention had now turned to wrecks in the Swan River, and finding all the underwater evidence of infrastructure built to support the days of sail. 

Bob Sheppard, a military historian gave the next paper on military sites in the mid-west. This was a fascinating talk as Bob revealed in maps and stories the extent of fortification that was built in the mid-west during World War Two – he had identified 250 such sites. The peak activity was in 1942 when Japanese submarines were seen off Jurien Bay.  There was talk that the Japanese planned to land at Jurien and march south to Perth.  At the end people were keen to ask questions and tell of their knowledge of the Japanese threat.

South Perth’s invitation to host the 2019 conference was accepted. ‘Between Two Rivers’ is their logo and they are trying to establish more of the Nyoongar history.  Denmark will host 2020, Eastern Goldfields 2021 (it will be their 75th anniversary), with Maylands in 2022. The Merit Award, for the society judged to have achieved the most during the year, was awarded to Toodyay Historical Society.

Three papers followed – a little shorter than their predecessors. First Bill Passey on The Fishing Industry, then Peter Scharf spoke of Bees and Honey. Last speaker was Susan Hall on the Birtwhistle Wiki which can be seen on her Armadale Local History website. Bob Nicholson then wound up the day by thanking Marilyn and her team for a quite exceptional conference. They received thunderous applause before delegates retired to dress up for the following dinner. The final conference event was breakfast the next morning in the hall. A large team of women and a few men served up a huge country breakfast and bid us all safe travelling.

For more conference reporting, see here.

Matt Lloyd