Attractive historic village in the Darling Ranges near Perth.
Located 25 km from Perth in the beautiful Darling Ranges, Kalamunda prides itself in its proximity to the city and yet its rural isolation. The Kalamunda & District Tourist Association proudly declares 'There are few places left in this world where one can, within 45 minutes of a capital city, enjoy native bushland, magnificent escarpment views, drive through beautiful working stone fruit and apple orchards, meander along scenic bush trails, or wander around an historical village. Kalamunda is such a place.'
The first European settler in the area was a carpenter named Benjamin Mason who was granted a licence to fell timber (mostly jarrah) near Kalamunda in 1864. By 1866 Mason had constructed his own timber station and 100 men and their families were living in the area. In 1870 Mason formed a partnership with Francis Bird and it was this partnership which effectively opened up the Kalamunda area. By 1872 Mason and Bird had built their own horse drawn wooden railway line and timber was being transported from the mill the 15 km to the Canning River for shipment down to the port of Fremantle. It is still possible to see the site of the original timber station on Mason's Mill Road, which runs off Canning Road at Carmel.
In their excellent history of the area, Cala Munnda: A Home in the Forest, John Slee and Bill Shaw offer a graphic description of the problems the early timber cutters faced: 'A pair of sawyers would select a suitable tree and then cut a scarf in one side with their axes and fell it be cutting through from the opposite side with a cross-cut saw. They would then dock the trunk of the tree into suitable lengths with the saw. The next step was to dig a saw pit in the ground. This could be 6 metres to 9 metres long, 1.2 metres wide and 1.2 metres or more deep. A team of horses would drag a section of the docked log up on to skids which were placed across the saw pit, so that the log lay lengthwise along the pit. One man then stood in the pit and the other on top of the log, and with a pit saw they would proceed to cut the log into planks of various thickness, cutting to a chalk line, or a line made from the sooty bark of a jarrah tree rubbed into the string. This unbelievably laborious task was carried out every day in dozens of saw pits around Perth'.
Although Mason and Bird were the first timber cutters into the area the combination of transportation problems and competition had driven them out of business by 1882. Their property which was put up for auction in October 1882 included the mill, the railway, a manager's dwelling, 25 workmen's cottages and a 12 stall stable. The company was in such dire straits that there was not a single bid.
The township of Kalamunda came into existence in 1881 when Frederick and Elizabeth Stirk took up 10 acres of land and built themselves a wattle and daub cottage. Their dwelling was the first to be built in the future township of Kalamunda.
The Stirk Cottage still stands on Kalamunda Road just north of the town centre. It is a simple, vernacular three room house which, when it was originally built, was roofed with jarrah shingles. These shingles have been replaced with corrugated iron.
Twenty years after the arrival of the Stirks (1901) the townsite of Kalamunda was approved. It was reputedly named after the local Aboriginal words 'cala' meaning 'home' and 'munnda' meaning 'forest' - 'a home in the forest'.
In 1891 the timber potential of the area attracted the Canning Jarrah Timber Company which took up a 100 000 acre timber lease and built a zig zag railway between their mill and the main railway connection at Midland. So steep was the climb that the engine had to alternate between pulling the load and pushing it. The government took over the railway line in 1903 and it was run until 1949. Today there is little left of the village which grew up around the timber company however the old zig zag railway has been turned into a scenic drive which offers superb views over Greater Perth and the broad coastal plain.
In the 1920s Kalamunda, like so many cool mountain retreats around the capital cities, became a popular health resort. The Kalamunda Hotel (the second in the area) was built during this time and was famed as a resort until World War II. It is now little more than a local pub.
Since World War II Kalamunda has grown to meet the increasing demand for property within commuting distance of the city centre.
Things to see:
Mason and Bird Heritage Trail
There is a Mason and Bird Heritage Trail brochure which presents a walking trail from Bickley Reservoir which retraces 3 km of the original Mason and Bird timber railway. It is available from the City of Gosnells Historical Society.
Today the reminders of the district's early history are contained in the History Village and along the interesting Cala Munnda Heritage Trail.
The History Village, which is owned by the Shire and run by the local Historical Society, is open from 9.00 a.m. - 11.00 a.m. Thursdays and Saturdays and 2.00 p.m. - 4.30 p.m. Sundays. Located on the site of the old Upper Darling Range Railway Station its buildings include the district's first state school, the original Post Office (1901), a settler's cottage and two original railway stations - one dating from the 1890s and the other from 1927. A replica sawpit and a working windmill are also part of the display.
Cala Munnda Heritage Trail
The Cala Munnda Heritage Trail, a 42 km driving circuit, starts at the History Village, passes the town's oldest surviving shop (1908), the two Kalamunda Hotels in Railway Road (1902 and 1927), the old Methodist Church (1918), Agricultural Hall (1896) and moves through Lesmurdie and Walliston before returning to Stirk Cottage. It is a comprehensive look at the history of the district which encompasses the most important old buildings as well the district's early timber history.