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Toodyay (W.A.)



Toodyay is a town located in the Wheatbelt region in the Avon Valley, 85 kilometres north-east of Perth, Western Australia. Toodyay is connected to Perth by railways and a handful of major roads. Toodyay was an early settlement of Western Australia dating from the 1830s. In early 1931 at the time of the Great Depression payable gold was found at Yinnding Creek (eight miles south west of the town).

Toodyay, one of Western Australia’s oldest towns, is nestled in the heart of the beautiful Avon Valley. Being only one hour’s drive from Perth it is the ideal destination for both day visitors and those venturing further into the Wheatbelt or the Chittering Valley.

Being an hour’s drive from Perth, Toodyay is a popular venue for tourists. A picturesque circuit of Toodyay Road through Gidgegannup, Toodyay, Chittering Valley and Great Northern Highway attracts motorists and motorcyclists.

Other destinations include olive oil farms, lavender farms, holiday retreats, hotels, restaurants, caravan parks, an emu farm and an archery park. Toodyay railway station is served by Avonlink and Prospector passenger trains on the route from Perth to Northam and Kalgoorlie.

The townsite of Toodyay was established 3 kilometres upstream from the present townsite, at a bend in the river. A small town grew there with government and commercial buildings, although it was subjected to regular flooding. By the 1850s there were three inns and two schools, as well as a gaol.

The area displays a vast wealth of cultural and natural heritage that can be appreciated throughout the year, with the changing seasons offering a new perspective of the landscape with each visit. The beauty of the hills and the magnificent Avon River are a sight to behold, whilst the townsite maintains the charms of a past era. The architecture, much of which reflects the convict era, retains high levels of authenticity and integrity.

With its museums and historic buildings, arts and crafts, emu and alpaca farms, gardens, native flora & fauna, magnificent vistas, wonderful cuisine and so much more, Toodyay should be explored by everyone! The ideal starting point for any visit to Toodyay is the Toodyay Visitor Centre, where the friendly staff can provide you with further details on what to see and where to stay.

The Heritage Council of Western Australia lists well over one hundred places of historical significance in or near Toodyay, including cottages (some of which are now ruins), homesteads, shops, churches, parks and railway constructions. Its State Register of Heritage Buildings includes the Gaol, Connor’s Mill, Toodyay Public Library (built 1874), the old Toodyay Post Office (designed by George Temple-Poole and built 1897) and the old Toodyay Fire Station (designed by Ken Duncan, built 1938), as well as several other historic sites.

The historic architecture of shops and residences along the main street, Stirling Terrace, presents a distinctive frontage termed the Stirling Terrace Streetscape Group.

Some of the buildings are also listed on the Australian Heritage Database. They include the Freemasons Hotel (built 1861), the Victoria Hotel (late 1890s), and Old Unwins Store on Stirling Terrace, and Butterly’s Cottage (c. 1870) on Harper Road.

The Newcastle Gaol, in Clinton Street, completed in 1864, was in use as a state prison until 1909. It is now preserved as a heritage building and tourist attraction, the Old Gaol Museum.

In 1870, a steam-driven flour mill, Connor’s Mill, was built on Stirling Terrace by George Hasell. The mill was also used to generate electricity in the early twentieth century. Saved from demolition in the 1970s, and restored to demonstrate the milling process and machinery, the mill now forms the museum section of the Toodyay Visitor Centre.

Toodyay is therefore privileged to have two museums that provide a wonderful insight to the region’s past, these being the Old Gaol Museum and Connor’s Mill.

In addition there are a number of self guided walk and drive trails in the area that provide for a wonderful days outing for the whole family.

To discover more of Toodyay’s heritage, visit the Toodyay Old Gaol Museum and Connor’s Mill or visit the Toodyay Visitor Centre, which has a number of local history books on sale. An extract from the Shire of Toodyay’s Municipal Inventory also provides a Historical Overview.

The original village of Toodyay was one of the earliest inland towns in Western Australia. A habitat of the Ballardong Noongar people for thousands of years, the Avon River valley was discovered by Ensign Robert Dale in 1830, leading to exploration by settlers including James Drummond, Captain Francis Whitfield and Alexander Anderson.

The first village was established in 1836. Drummond established his homestead Hawthornden nearby. The original location is subject to flooding, which led to its abandonment in the 1850s, and a new townsite was established on higher ground 2 kilometres upstream. By the beginning of the twentieth century the townsite of Newcastle had grown, while the Toodyay townsite had disappeared.

In 1910 the federal government asked the Newcastle Road Board to consider a name change in order to avoid postal confusion arising out of the town of the same name in New South Wales. The Road Board and the community agreed and the name of Toodyay was the obvious choice for the ‘new’ name. The old townsite of Toodyay became known as ‘West Toodyay’.

In 1861, Western Australia’s notorious bushranger Moondyne Joe was imprisoned in Toodyay for stealing a horse, but escaped. After a series of crimes and prison terms, he was on the run again, returning to Toodyay in 1865 to steal supplies for an attempt to escape overland to South Australia.

Little is known of Joseph Johns’s early life. Born in Cornwall, England around 1826 and raised as a Roman Catholic, he was the third of six children of blacksmith Thomas Johns and his wife Mary. It is likely that he contracted smallpox in his youth, as later records describe him as “pockmarked”. His father died some time between 1832 and 1841, and Johns and his three brothers took work as copper miners. In 1841 the family was living at Illogan, Cornwall, but by 1848 Johns had migrated to Wales, taking work as an iron ore miner, probably at the Clydach Iron Works.

Johns caught an unbranded stallion, and branded it with his own mark. This was effectively horse-stealing, and when the police heard of this they arrested him at their first opportunity. The horse was taken as evidence, and Johns was placed in the Toodyay lockup. Sometime during the night, Johns broke out of his cell, and stole the horse once more, taking also the local magistrate’s brand new saddle and bridle. He was caught the next day, but while on the run he had killed the horse and cut his brand out of the hide, thus destroying the evidence.

Consequently, he received only a three year sentence for jail-breaking, whereas a typical sentence for horse stealing was more than ten years.

While Johns was serving his sentence, there were a rash of convict escapes and attempted escapes, but Johns remained well behaved. His good behaviour earned him a remission on his sentence, and he was released on a ticket of leave in February 1864. He then found work on a farm in Kelmscott, but in January 1865 a neighbour’s steer was killed and eaten, and Johns was accused of having done the deed.

Johns was to protest his innocence of this crime for the rest of his life, but was nonetheless found guilty and sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude. Johns was determined not to serve what he felt was an unjust sentence, and in early November he and another prisoner absconded from a work party. They were on the run for nearly a month, during which time they committed a number of small robberies.

It was during this time that Johns first adopted the nickname Moondyne Joe. They were finally caught 37 kilometres east of York by a party of policemen that included the Aboriginal tracker Tommy Windich. For absconding and for being in possession of a firearm, Moondyne Joe was sentenced to twelve months in irons.

The remainder of John’s life consisted of periods of good behaviour punctuated by occasional minor misdemeanours and brief jail terms. In January 1879, he married a widow named Louisa Hearn, and they spent some time prospecting for gold near Southern Cross.

In 1881, while exploring the countryside around Karridale, he discovered Moondyne Cave. In his later years, he began acting strangely, and was eventually found to be mentally ill. He died of senile dementia in the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum (now the Fremantle Arts Centre building) on 13 August 1900, and was buried in Fremantle Cemetery.

The annual Moondyne Festival is a light-hearted celebration of this darker side of Toodyay’s history.