Author Archives: Rebecca Doughty

Toodyay Cemeteries Come to an End

To live in hearts we leave behind
Is not to die.
THOMAS CAMPBELL, Hallowed Ground

By Rebecca Doughty, Graduate Diploma of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student

My final blog is written in memory of the courageous and adventurous explorers who founded the town of Toodyay and specifically the early settlers who have made it the town we see today. The burials of these prominent and key figures in the Toodyay cemeteries are testament to the social and economic status they enjoyed in life.

The phrase above suggests an easy life and a rich one, but the lives of these important men and women did not come easy and the only wealth they had to show was that which they made themselves.

Nardie Cemetery houses the descendants of the Chitty and Ferguson families, both of whom were prominent members of society during the settlement of Toodyay. Generations of family members are buried either here or in the Toodyay Cemetery and descendants still reside in the town today, committed to its upkeep and contributing to the community as their namesakes did long ago.

Katrine Cemetery contains a large component of the Sinclair family, with large family plots and generations of burials. The Sinclairs who reside in Toodyay today have carried on family occupations such as farming and teaching and work in cultural heritage for the Shire of Toodyay.

Culham Cemetery boasts the burials of early founders and settlers of the Phillip and Syred families. Both families contributed considerably to the early settlement of the township and outlying regions, such as Bejoording and Culham, setting up a church, schools and a smithy. Descendants of the families remain in the region, contributing to the community, as did  previous generations of their families.

Toodyay Cemetery protects and reveres the families of Butterly, Harper and Drummond, all early founders and settlers of the region. Again, descendants of these families remain in the region and continue to support the community. Drummond was one of the original explorers and Harper the Reverend of the Avon Valley. Each of them have streets and monuments in their honour.

So ends my affair with the Cemeteries of Toodyay. Whilst it has been interesting, enjoyable and at times sad, on completion of my report for the Cultural Heritage Officer to add to the historical record of the region, it will also bring  a sense of righteousness to allow these souls to rest in peace.

Nardie Cemetery, Dumbarton

Thank you for reading and I hope you have enjoyed the stroll through the cemeteries of Toodyay, WA.

Great things have been achieved by those that lie here.

When do the dead die? When they are forgotten –
Laura Esquivel, The Law of Love.

By Rebecca Doughty, Graduate Diploma Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student

Documenting the burial sites found in St Philip’s Anglican Cemetery, Culham, Toodyay, was like meeting with old friends. A quaint little cemetery, exclusive to original pioneers and their descendants, my past research came over me like a wave. The little gothic church stood by as I recorded, photographed and documented the sites in reverence.

Seventy four burials were identified between 1830-1930, many of which shared a similarity in materials and style.

Syred Family, St Philip’s Cemetery, Culham

As I carefully picked my way through I recognised the names and realised the marital connections of the people who had founded the Toodyay region, donated the land for the church and cemetery at Culham and first settled further along the Avon River, at Bejoording and Bolgart.

Drummond Family, St Philip’s Cemetery, Culham

My arrival at Toodyay Cemetery, however, was met with a greater sense of  foreboding. This was the only cemetery which stood on the Main Street through town, where I was most obvious to curious eyes and it was also the largest cemetery of the four. The enormous space is divided into five sections: three were Roman Catholic which contained 71 sites and two were Anglican, which contained 157 sites. This cemetery took me two days to properly record. There were 228 burial sites in total and, again, an enormous number of familiar names from the district, such as Lee-Steere, Reverend Harper, Butterly and Chitty. Their descendants are still living here today.

Lee Steere Family, Toodyay Cemetery, Toodyay

As I had anticipated, my recording brought the attention of local residents and before long I was hosting an impromptu information session for a small group of elderly people, explaining my purpose, intentions and methods. Once they realised I was not there to desecrate the final resting places of their great grandmothers, aunts, relatives and friends, I was left to complete my work.

I returned home with my precious photographs, careful measurements and descriptions and set about analysing the results.

Chitty Family, Toodyay Cemetery, Toodyay

As I set up tables and documented total burials I felt privileged to be trusted by the Toodyay Cultural Heritage Officer, with such private and precious information; I held the history of the township in my hands and was determined to do it justice in my report.

Butterly Family, Toodyay Cemetery, Toodyay

And so the analysis begins and a careful study of those prominent names of the district. Just how were these people remembered in death and did the burial practices employed reflect the social and economic position they had enjoyed in life? We shall see.

And What Shall Become of our Dead?

By Rebecca Doughty, Graduate Diploma of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student

When among the graves of thy fellows, walk with circumspection; thine own is open at thy feet.  –AMBROSE BIERCE, “Epigrams of a Cynic”, 1912.

Katrine cemetery, Katrine, WA

My directed study project is to learn how Colonial and later burial practices, from 1830-1930, reflect attitudes towards death and the economic and social status of the settlers of the Toodyay region, Avon Valley, in Western Australia.

It was with great reverence and excitement that I took my first steps inside a graveyard. What would I discover? What would it all mean? And how would I decipher and interpret my results?

I started with a rigorous gathering and reading of resources: maps, tourist brochures and texts. This led me, in great anticipation, to identify and locate the four main cemeteries in Toodyay. I plotted each on my own map and set off to photograph and record the gravestones of location number one: Nardie Cemetery.

Nardie Cemetery is the original and first small cemetery in the area. It lines the bank of the Avon River and protects 40 burial plots dated to between 1830 and 1930. It is beautiful; large shady gum trees, a carpet of leaves on the floor, stately cast iron fencing and big, bold, strong headstones.

Nardie cemetery, WA

A bustle of organised recording ensued: photographs of each burial plot, recording the details of each headstone, taking compass points and documenting measurements. How exciting; I was on my way!

Katrine Cemetery is situated just 10km north east and so my journey continued. Burial plots of 21 individuals were recorded and photographed, measured and documented in the shade of large pine trees and St Saviour’s, a towering Gothic Church standing guard over the cemetery.

Katrine cemetery, Katrine, WA

Gentle discoveries were made as I came across matching names, prominent members of the Toodyay district and family connections from times gone by. Not to mention the new and exciting realisation that many of the headstones I was recording and researching belonged to the ancestors of the people whom I  live and work amongst today.

On completion of the recording of the two smaller Toodyay cemeteries, I reflected on the lives of the individuals who lie here, but also on those whose lives have been affected by their deaths.

Never before has such a true realisation of one’s own mortality been so clear and prominent as when once walks amongst the dead.

An exciting start to an enthralling directed study.

Next step: Continue my historical research and record and document Toodyay and Culham Cemeteries.

Centralisation: Farewell to Rural Schools

By Rebecca Doughty, Graduate Diploma of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management

The past few months have passed so quickly as I busily collate and organise all of this valuable information into some kind of centralised format. And as I do, I am reminded of the sadness which pervaded the Valley at the onset of centralisation of education.

The Government’s centralisation policy was developed for the ‘good of all children’ and implemented in Western Australia in 1946, but, like all Government decisions, it was not supportive of the many and varied teachers, parents and students who had established, operated and attended these small rural schools. Centralisation spelt ‘demise’ for hundreds of small, one-room, mud-brick schools and their small inadequate water tanks and resulted in numerous unemployed teachers as students were forced to attend larger schools in the townships.


Site of Katrine School, 1860-1879, Northam, WA.

Families with multiple children were forced to operate farms without their elder children, as the extended bus ride home far exceeded the light of day and school rooms fell into disrepair. Supportive community members who’d built them found themselves with no purpose or project to work towards.

Centralisation had the result of locking families out of their child’s education and locking children out of family responsibilities. Some would consider it the beginning of the end of rural Australia.

Towns which had previously supported 5-10 small outlying schools were now reduced to just one large one and, whilst larger towns benefited, many smaller ones died out, becoming little more than ghost towns.

Duke Street School, 1887-1954, Toodyay, WA.

Duke Street School, 1887-1954, Toodyay, WA.

As I gather the material together for my final report and Historical Schooling booklet, I take a moment to think about the families, the teachers, the school masters and the communities of those small rural schools. What strong, genuine and dedicated people they must have been to have believed so much in the importance of the education of their children that they held themselves responsible for the establishment of schools in their regions.

When no support was offered, either financial or otherwise, these people pushed on, determined to raise educated young men and women; they persevered to develop the agriculture of the Avon Valley and were unwavering in their resolve to give themselves and their communities the best possible start for the future.

Hats off to the Pioneers!!

And in much the same way, I will now complete my final report and booklets to share my new knowledge, understanding and respect for the story of the establishment of education in the Avon Valley, Western Australia.

Thank you for joining me on this fascinating journey.

Capturing the Essence of Education

By Rebecca Doughty, Graduate Diploma Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management.

I have been very fortunate to have enjoyed a fantastic start to my historical research with the help of library staff and various historical societies of the Avon Valley: Thank you all!

On to the next two tasks: a photographic expedition and tracking down some local knowledge.

To add some colour to the story, I wrangled my daughter on a photographic expedition with me through the Avon Valley; a way to stretch her driving practice and for me to photograph the sites and ruins of schools throughout the region. You’ll be pleased to know she drove exceptionally well and we captured a plethora of valuable images of schoolhouse ruins, grassy patches of earth where a school house once stood and tourist sites featuring old schools of the area.

Toodyay Catholic school (1902)1902 Catholic School Precinct, Toodyay, WA.

But this was not a task tackled without preparation. Our photographic expedition required careful planning and a myriad of maps. We left with three maps of three regions of the Avon Valley, a list of locations plotted in order of appearance, a route to travel, complete with highlighting, circles and underlines, a fully charged camera and, of course, plenty of snacks, lollies and chocolate, and drinks to sate our thirst.

St John's Girls' School Northam (1877)1877 St John’s Girl’s School, Northam, WA.

Locating the school in the region of Wattening was somewhat successful—we found a tall stone with a plaque reflecting the site of the Wattening School, but we were unable to locate the old school house of Bejoording. Photos abound of the schools of  Toodyay and Goomalling  and we even found a new site, unmarked, for the Blacksmith Corner School!! On to Northam to determine the location and current existence of Morby Cottage, St Joseph’s School and the old Girl’s School of St John’s. Greywell’s finishing school welcomed us as we shot through to the tiny Irishtown and then on to the small but once thriving town of Katrine, complete with school, shops and homes, now owned by just the one family.

Slater Homestead Goomalling (1854)1854 Slater Homestead Goomalling, WA

What an exciting experience! All those schools captured in my little black box, ready to write history. What an honour and a privilege to stand before history; very humbling, I must say.

Much to my dismay, local knowledge has proven a little more difficult to access. A letter/advertisement requesting contact from long time families of the regions was distributed through email to 24 Avon Valley schools, historical societies and Shires; my own school students assisted me by placing notices on noticeboards in the surrounding Avon Valley towns and a form was created to record any information provided. Alas, so far not a peep has ensued.

St Joseph's School Northam (1889)1889 St Joseph’s School, Northam, WA.

However, I shall soldier on; I will not be defeated. I happen to know that many descendants of the pioneer families still reside in this valley and I will find a way to tap into their intellect and valuable memories.

And so I carry on, notebook in hand, photos on my hard-drive and a wonderful daughter, who now has her licence, all thanks to the study of archaeology.

Until the next instalment, keep learning!

Konnongorring School Goomalling (1925)1925 Konnongorring School, Goomalling, WA.


Avon Valley Springs for Education

By Rebecca Doughty, Graduate Diploma Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student

Today I had my eyebrows waxed in what was once the front office of the School Master’s house at the Toodyay Valley School, Avon Valley in the late 1800s!!

My local parish Secretary tells me that she attended the Clackline school by horse and cart and my work colleague’s husband is related to one of the early pioneers of the region who was involved in establishing schooling in Northam.

So much information, so little time.

The decision to research the establishment of schooling in the Avon Valley was not taken lightly. Having recently become a teacher myself, I was genuinely interested in how education had developed and evolved from the time of settlement of the area, in the 1830s to the 1900s, until the Government started to assume the management of such important matters.

Whilst studying a pioneering family of the Avon Valley I came across mention of a number of small rural schools set up in churches and homes, sometimes operating in the front room or even on the porch.

They raise romantic notions of free-spirited country children joyfully learning their sums, hair shining in the sun or huddled together by the fire in winter, as the wives of farmers and Reverends instructed them in the ways of the world.

And so was born my burning desire to research those few, little, unofficial rural schools which took care of things in the early Colonial days, some of which are incredibly still standing today and many of which have long since gone, leaving just a shadow on this earth of their once busy classrooms.

You can imagine my surprise when I started to investigate and discovered that there were literally hundreds of these tiny schools all doing their bit for the education of the first generation of Australians after settlement.

This led me to ask myself a series of questions:
How were these schools established and by whom?
Who built them?
How many schools were there and where were they?
What happened to these schools and why?

The Avon Valley is a large area covering 5 large Shires in the Wheatbelt north east of Perth. Towns were established here in 1831 and schooling for the families of the pioneers began shortly afterwards.

An extensive literature review has divulged numerous schools which had been set up in each of the shires during the 1800s. Some secondary resources on the history of these schools are readily accessible, but many are out of print and require a visit to the state library; some are in isolation as they await funding for repairs, however community minded residents were kind enough to point me in the right direction to access the information I sought.

And so my research begins….