Like much of the mid-west of WA, Mingenew boasts a rich history. If you are in town, be sure to visit Mingenew’s Historical Museum – open on select days in peak season (late July to September) or visit our Shire office to borrow the key and have a look inside. Our local history buffs love to share their knowledge of the district’s history. Here’s just a snippet.
Prior to European settlement, there were many small tribes of nomad Aborigines roaming throughout what is now the Shire of Mingenew. They pronounced Mingenew as ‘Minino’, which meant ‘place of many waters’, and the original European name of the area was actually Mingenew Spring.
It was in the early 1840s that the first discoverers were looking for grazing lands north of the Swan River, amongst them the now famous Gregory brothers. Heading north toward Geraldton, they discovered two substantial coal seams along the banks of the Irwin River. Whilst they initially believed the find was potentially a very valuable resource, the reality was that the coal was useless! Soon enough though, Augustus Gregory was to discover that the land around the river was, in agricultural terms, a ‘gold mine’.
In 1851, Samuel Pole Phillips and Edward Hamersley took up the first land leases in Mingenew and bred cattle and sheep. Mingenew was a farming oasis and they prospered with access to the area’s many springs and soaks. The original spring is located at our caravan park, very popular due to its numerous trees which provide ample shade.
The late 1800s provided plenty of economic benefit to WA in terms of gold discoveries. Although no significant finds were made in the area, with the 1890 construction of a railway line and twice weekly steam train, Mingenew found itself as a trading and shipment hub for both the resource and agricultural industries. Access to plenty of water made for a logical stop for steam trains to fill-up and the town grew substantially. Part of the 1893 railway station still remains today and is undergoing staged restoration.
In 1892, Mingenew had two hotels and three general stores and by 1894 the train ran between Walkaway and Midland Junction. By 1900, the townsite had two hotels – The Mingenew and The Midland – four general stores, three blacksmiths and wheelwrights, four general carriers and one saddler. While many of the colony’s townships were affected by the drop in gold yield in the early twentieth century, Mingenew’s agricultural-based economy ensured the town continued to prosper.
The Mingenew Aboriginal Reserve, ‘Littlewell’, was first established in 1938. In the 1950s, houses and ablution blocks were constructed on the 10-acre site, a well was fitted with a windmill and, eventually, town water and electricity were connected. In the 70s, with many of Littlewell’s residents moving into the town centre, the reserve was closed down.
All that remains today are the concrete slab foundations of the eight houses, laundry, ablution block and the steel base of the windmill. There are some scattered artefacts on the site, as well as the trunk of a large dead tree which is fondly remembered as a central meeting place.
Littlewell is a significant place with a rich history of connection, belonging and hardship for many Aboriginal families.
Former resident, Thomas Cameron said, ‘During my time on Littlewell in the 50s we were told stories by my grandfather about our culture, including bush tucker, yumbies and singing around the campfire’. Ex-residents of the reserve are the repositories of stories about significant sites such as Depot Hill, where ceremonies were conducted and babies were born.
Given its historical importance, in 2010 the Littlewell Working Group was formed, headed up by Mr Cameron. Members, all former residents, have a strong passion to share their stories and to commemorate the lives of the families who resided there.
To see and hear more about Littlewell, watch the videos on this page or contact the Mingenew Historical Museum.
Having Fun on the Littlewell Reserve
Yvonne (Bynder) Bradley, Thomas (Bynder) Cameron and Kathy Jacobs talk about their happy times growing up on the Littlewell Aboriginal Reserve.
Working and Living in Mingenew
Thomas (Bynder) Cameron and Tom Flanagan, a local farmer, talk about growing up in Mingenew and how members of the Littlewell community worked for local farmers.
Yvonne (Bynder) Bradley talks of her desire to record her personal story, the stories of her family and her community so that she can pass them on to her children. She remembers the difficult time when at the age of seven she and some of her brothers and sisters were taken from the Littlewell Reserve to live at the New Norcia Mission. After some years away from her family, she returned to Geraldton and Mingenew. She made it her business to reconnect with the surviving members of her extended family. Yvonne has written a manuscript which documents her personal and family research.
Life on the Littlewell Reserve
Thomas (Bynder) Cameron, Kathy Jacobs, Michael 'Buddy' Edwards and Emily Dalgety talk about the Littlewell Reserve as one big happy family where everyone looked after each other. They remember their excitement when their shearer fathers brought home bags of lamb tails which they would throw onto the campfire and eat. They look back on their childhood on the Reserve and discuss how it helped to form them as the people they are today.
Depot Hill, WW2 and the Littlewell Mob
Thomas (Bynder) Cameron and Tom Flanagan, a local farmer, talk about Depot Hill which is an important cultural site for the Littlewell Mob and how there are still relics of WW2 activities where troops were stationed during the War. Thomas remembers how men from Littlewell were employed in the Army Labour Force which supplied meat for the troops.
Memories Coming Back
Thomas (Bynder) Cameron and Tom Flanagan, a local farmer, talk about the days when government policy prohibited Aboriginal people from being in town after 6:00 PM unless they had given up their rights as Aborigines. They also remember the time when the Mingenew Pub had one bar for Aborigines and another bar for non-Aborigines.
Living in, Leaving and Returning to Mingenew
Michael 'Buddy' Edwards and Thomas (Bynder) Cameron talk about their lives on the Littlewell Aboriginal Reserve. Buddy remembers the happy times when everyone would play music and sing around the main campfire. For Buddy, life on the Reserve was like being a part of a large happy family. He also remembers that when his mother did not have a house to live in he was taken with some of his brothers and sisters to live in the New Norcia Mission. Later, he returned to Mingenew, worked on local farms, played in the Mingenew Football Club and visited his mother who lived in Geraldton.