Grey Gypsies of Australia
Western Australia - 2010
After leaving Coolgardie, the last town on the goldfields trail, we set course on the Great Eastern Highway for Northam. This highway follows the pumping stations and pipeline that first brought water to the Eastern Goldfields. Civil engineers and others would find these sites interesting and most can be visited along the highway or close by. Northam is a bustling country town, only 100km from Perth in country and city all rolled into one. Terry's dad had trained there in the army in the 1940s and had urged us, before we left, to have a look round the three or four army bases he had worked in. We stopped at Kellerberrin and Cunderin on the way but found few traces left of the old army days, although we were unaware that a heritage museum of machinery and army items is located at Nungarin in an former WW2 Army Vehicle Workshop a  few kms north of Kellerberrin and can be viewed during the week or at other times by  phoning its caretaker. Charlie had particularly asked us to look up the hotel in Northam where he and his army mates used to drink and were particularly well looked after by the publican, a lovely lady called "Rosie". On our first trip through Northam we photographed all four hotels in the main street as Charlie, who is 90, couldn't remember its name. Later, with prompting from our previous visit, he remembered it was the Avon Bridge Hotel by the river, and the first pub the boys would pass if they were driving in from the army base. We were pleased to tell him it's still going strong. He worked at several army bases in the area, but the base at Northam, where he worked as a diesel mechanic was the only one left. Many former soldiers or their families are searching out these spots where dads or granddads served. The family history movement has guaranteed a stream of visitors to lots of far flung locations. Our first visit to the base established that you should book ahead to see this base. The security guards will arrange a time for your visit to coincide with times when the base in not in official use. Quite a few of the WW2 buildings are still standing: two cook houses; a mess hall; some mechanics workshops including the "cycle workshop"; some administrative buildings and a small iron building that looks as if it could have been the "brig" or lock-up. All these are the familiar corrugated iron buildings painted green. The hundreds of other barracks and ablution blocks that existed when this was a major training camp have been removed. You will need to be quick if you want to take a nostalgic look as this base has been selected by the Commonwealth Government to be made into a reception centre for illegal migrants. We hope some attempt will be made to preserve these relicts from WW2, maybe by re- erecting them as a cluster of buildings in some accessible part of the base as an historical record of those times. Northam, incidentally, is also the place with wild white swans on its river that are looked after by a swan warden and fed twice daily.
Northam
Avon Bridge Hotel - used by WW2 army personnel Army Camp where WW2personnel trained & worked Motor Vehicle Workshop Motor Vehicle Workshop
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