A tale of two towns
As we drive, wooden and brick buildings — among which are parked, incongruously, a number of campervans and caravans — rise up out of a rainy Wheatbelt landscape like spectres.
About 22km east of York, just off the York-Merredin Road on Ballardong Noongar Boodja, are the original and present townships of Greenhills.
Separated by a 3km stretch of road and boasting a number of old buildings and sites of buildings no longer in existence, the two form a small but significant chapter in the history of the West Australian Wheatbelt.
The presence of campers in the vicinity of the Greenhills Inn is easily explained. The proprietors offer camping for the night in exchange for the purchase of a beer and meal.
The presence of buildings, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and in two different locations, is also easily explained.
As I glean from one of many excellent interpretative signs dotted around the area, one of the early settlers, the Parker family, received the Greenhills district as a Crown grant of land. With the advent of the railway in 1898, the town simply moved to its present location.
Another sign describes St Andrew’s Anglican Church (1912) — the only building left standing in the original Greenhills; it is also still in use — as “charming”. But on this overcast day, and being aware of the nearby old cemetery where you can find the foundations of the original church (1882), I find the solitary dark timber construction distinctly creepy.
Heading back to the present Greenhills, I notice with sadness just how many of the interpretative signs stand before either old foundations or overgrown vacant lots. They are like grave markers. The York-Greenhills Railway. The schools. The Agricultural Hall. The sports ground. racecourse and tennis courts. All gone, along with the thriving community which they serviced.
Happily there are many buildings still standing; some, like the aforementioned Greenhills Inn — built in 1906 by publican Mary Ann McMullen as the Railway Hotel — remain very much in use.
Others, such as the tiny restored bakery just down the road, serve only as mementos of a bygone era.
The Greenhills Heritage Trail is 2.2km long excluding the 3km drive between the current and former townsites. It begins at the Greenhills Inn and ends at St Andrew’s Church. Should you find yourself in this part of the Avon Valley, it is well worth doing.
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