For ABC Saturday Breakfast, Hidden Treasures often finds itself in the job of discovering suburbs we normally just drive through on the way to somewhere else, or suburbs that just seem to be too suburban to be of interest.
Our next Hidden Treasure is a lot more. Our next Hidden Treasure challenges a perception that’s been around since the 1970’s. Our next Hidden Treasure challenges you to stop awhile in a part of Perth that’s far from suburbia but still part of the metropolitan area.
When I was a kid, I’d listen to the stories my dad and his mates would tell on the veranda of our little holiday house in Shoalwater Bay. From Japanese Army Helmets found on the end of Garden Island to giant sharks off Woodman Point, these stories always seemed to be something they’d overheard on the boat ramp.
Fun Fact: Boat ramps were the internet of the day.
One of the stories I remember hearing, when I was dragging a Jatz cracker through the French Onion dip, was how fish caught in Cockburn Sound would arc when cooked in microwave ovens because of the metal content caused by industry pollutants.
Irrespective of the truth and accuracy of this story, it’s a bit metaphoric for how we felt about Cockburn Sound in the 1970’s, and the area we know as … Kwinana.
Well, most of the industry is still there but there’s also a lot more in Kwinana, including a strong sense of community that is proud of new facilities, old heritage and even older culture.
Let’s start with a remarkable wetland and bush walk experience that is ridiculously close to the Kwinana Freeway but you wouldn’t know it.
The Spectacles Wetlands is named for its aerial view which shows two circular lakes joined by a narrow drain, making it look like a pair of spectacles.
The Spectacles is 360 hectares and part of the wider Beeliar Regional Park and has great Noongar interpretative signage along a 5km heritage walk trail and explains the perspective and special importance of the area to Noongar Elder Joe Walley.
As well as the Aboriginal Heritage Walk Trail, there’s a boardwalk over the wetlands which feature a paperbark forest and lead you to the Biara Lookout which is the perfect location to sit quietly and watch the lakes resident birdlife.
This is the reason why I’d do a day out in Kwinana. Come to the Spectacles and then do the other things we’re going to talk about but come for the trails and boardwalk, the wetlands, Aboriginal stories and big spiders in big webs and a paperbark forest partly submerged in wetlands that provide amazing reflections from the still water.
Chalk Hill has a panoramic view to Rockingham, Wadjemup and the Darling Escarpment. It’s also where local Aboriginal people who worked at the nearby refineries used to live because prior to the 1967 Referendum, Aboriginal people didn’t qualify for housing. Going further back in time the hill was used by local Aboriginal groups to light signal fires. It’s a nice steep walk up a sealed path and short dirt track.
Sitting at the bottom of Chalk Hill is Smirk Cottage. This small, two bedroom cottage built in the 1900’s, cared for by the Kwinana Heritage Group and around the grounds are lots of examples of old agricultural machinery and equipment and who doesn’t love sitting on an old tractor.
Just four years ago the Adventure Park won best park in Australia. It’s got boardwalks, flying foxes, climbing nets, a tree maze, water play, squirting pelicans, great birthday party facilities that you can hire, including one with a kitchen! If you’ve got a kid that is too cool for playgrounds there’s a huge skate park next door.
For walkers and cyclists and with multiple entry and exit points along the 21 kilometre route try the Kwinana Loop Trail. Look for the Aboriginal heritage signs along the route to get a better understanding and connection with the bushland you’re travelling through.
Amongst the smoke stacks, desalination plant and refineries is a pristine beach for horses. In summer there can be dozens of good looking horses splashing about, lying back on a blanket reading the form guide or playing volleyball like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. On my visit I met a champion of WA trotting, Mighty Conqueror. It may sound like an ambitious name but he’s got the wins and the prize money to make him worthy of the name.
The SS Kwinana shipwreck is a big cargo and passenger steamship that ran aground in the 1920’s onto what we now call Kwinana Beach. In the 1960’s, inspired by South Fremantle Oval, it was filled with concrete. It’s good to walk the length of an old ship and imagine where the bow was and the bridge and the boilers, and on the sides you can still see rusty steel plates and rivets.
For a day trip feast, whether you like it greasy by the beach or grilled at a table there are plenty of great fish and chip shops in Kwinana.
Kwinana is a hidden treasure not because it’s reinvented itself but because its learned to live with itself and tell a bigger, better story.
The industry is still there but look closer and you’ll find ancient stories, wetlands, views, shipwrecks, beaches for long legged champions and adventure parks for little legged champions.