Doodlakine ... our capital city?

Kent AcottThe West Australian
Doodlakine store owner Jack Kyros in the town said to have been suggested as Australia’s capital. Inset: The store in 1938.
Camera IconDoodlakine store owner Jack Kyros in the town said to have been suggested as Australia’s capital. Inset: The store in 1938. Credit: Picture: Sharon Smith

It is almost impossible to imagine that Doodlakine — the tiny Wheatbelt town 215km east of Perth and home to only about 25 people — was once put forward as the site for Australia’s capital city.

But that is what happened about 110 years ago.

Who made the original suggestion is not known — and it may have been made with tongue firmly in cheek — but Perth-born academic Margaret Grose believes it was born from the perceived lack of concern being shown by the populous States of NSW and Victoria for WA and the rest of Australia.

After Federation in 1901, Melbourne became the nation’s temporary capital.

The search for a permanent capital was concentrated around Sydney, with Dalgety near the Snowy Mountains initially chosen before Canberra was selected in 1913.

But Dr Grose, a senior lecturer, ecologist and landscape architect at the University of Melbourne, said the long list of earlier candidates appeared to have been largely lost from the national memory.

She said it was a hotly debated issue at the time, with one of the concerns being the establishment of a capital that gave politicians equal travel issues.

At one stage, WA senator Staniforth Smith accused NSW of being “unconsciously biased” in the selection of the site and said it should be “well away from existing towns”.

Dr Grose said it appeared Doodlakine was not referred to in Federal Hansard in relation to the national capital site.

Doodlakine local Jack Kyros stands in the opening welcome to Doodlakine which was once considered as Australias capital city.
Camera IconDoodlakine local Jack Kyros stands in the opening welcome to Doodlakine which was once considered as Australias capital city. Credit: The West Australian

“It is likely that ... it was put forward by either the press — perhaps The West Australian ... — or by the State Parliament,” she wrote in an article published in 2005.

“Doodlakine is likely to have been ‘submitted’ ... as a result of various responses by the most isolated State to the search and debates for a capital dominated by the two most populous States, who were accused in the House of living off WA’s mineral wealth while charging excessive tariffs on imports to their own countrymen.

“That Doodlakine was suggested points to the divisions and frustrations between the States at the time, to the high ‘No’ vote for Federation in WA in 1900, to the apparent lack of concern from the more populous States to the costs to WA of its distance from any capital in the south-east, to WA issues — such as the rail link — caused by its size and to a widespread concern about the parochial dominance of the two most populous States ... to the neglect of the bulk of the country.”

Jack Kyros, the owner of the Doodlakine General Store — the only business still open in the town’s main street — said the town’s moment of fame had taken on legendary status.

“It’s something we still laugh and talk about, usually over a beer,” he said.

“Most of the farms in the district have been in the same family since those times more than 100 years ago.”

And to ensure Doodlakine’s unlikely fame is not forgotten, special car number plates were made several years ago marked Doodlakine: The Forgotten Capital.

Does your town have a claim to fame? Contact us at kent.acott@wanews.com.au

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