History of the Shire
Mount Barker was first explored in late 1829, nearly four years after the establishment of the penal colony at Albany. The penal colony's surgeon Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson with a small party consisting of two convicts, an Aboriginal guide named Mokare, a soldier and a Mr Kent, Albany's commissariat officer, set off from Albany on 2 December 1829 to explore the hinterland. They reached Mount Barker (which was named after Captain Collett Barker, the settlement's commandant) in late 1829 and then turned west and south reaching the coast near the present day site of Denmark.
Wilson's report on the area was favourable. Upon his return he wrote of one of the local creeks 'we observed that its banks were covered with luxuriant grass, sprinkled with yellow buttercups which put us in mind of home' and that the 'gently swelling lightly wooded adjacent hills are well adapted for sheep-walks'. The first settler into the area was Sir Richard Spencer, the Government Resident in Albany.
In 1835 he bought 1,940 acres from Captain James Stirling who had been granted 100,000 acres in the area. This farm was an immediate success and although Spencer died in 1839 his wife continued to operate the farm until her death in 1855.
A rough track was eventually established between Perth and Albany which had reached Mount Barker by late 1835 and by 1860 the traffic on the track was sufficient for William Cooper to build the Bush Inn to cater for passing trade.
The Plantagenet Road Board was gazetted on 24 January 1871 as one of 18 elected boards to manage roads and services in Western Australia, and initially included a reasonably large section of the Great Southern Region. On 1 July 1961, it became the Shire of Plantagenet following changes to the Local Government Act.
The area has always been agriculturally rich. Mixed farming was established towards the end of the nineteenth century and by 1910 there were 75 commercial orchards (mostly concentrating on apple growing) in the area. In 1917 the Mount Barker Fruitgrowers Cool Storage Co-operative was established. It was closed in 1975 and the orchards have largely given way to a thriving grape growing industry with high quality vineyards producing a range of excellent wines.
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January 21, 2009
Banner images by Rob Olver