Almost exactly halfway between Perth and Albany, the dusty outback town of Wagin toils away beneath a vast expanse of nothingness except for clouds swirling on a background of blue.
As the outback scrub gives away to hills of faded gold, the Southern Wheatbelt region is dotted with cattle languidly grazing in paddocks while lorikeets and galas nibble on roadside picnics of seeds. The quintessential outback town of Wagin is at the crossroads of the Great Southern region; with Albany to the south, Bunbury to the West, Esperance to the south-east and Perth 225 kilometres to the north.
The countryside is sparsely littered with old homesteads on vast fields of wheat and sheep stations. Originally occupied by the Aboriginal Noongar tribe until it was settled in the early 1800s, and located near a series of ancient lakes, Wagin is one of the most heritage-rich rural towns in WA. Pronounced as “way-gin” it’s named after the Noongar word meaning “where the emus watered.”
After turning off Albany Highway onto Arthur Road visitors are welcomed into town by an outdoor gallery of corrugated-iron creations crafted into brightly-painted comical depictions.
The streets reveal equally quirky discoveries like Unicorn Street where I stumble across Wagin Cottage Garden Bed and Breakfast (formerly Buckinghams Bed & Breakfast). Invited in by the hosts, I’m shown around their sprawling gardens, complete with an abundant kitchen garden and beautifully restored 20th-century cottage.
Later that day, I join a group of farmers’ wives at the Palace Hotel. We’ve connected via a mutual friend who spread the word that their town is going to appear in an international travel magazine. As one lady after another appears with welcoming smiles and immaculately dressed children in tow, I note there’s only one little girl out of the rambunctious brood, “There must be something in water,” several pipe up. Well-educated and full of invaluable tips about the region, they all unanimously agree their favourite thing about living in Wagin is each other.
The sense of pride and community spirit is evident every which way where many of the clubs and associations are run by volunteers. This is perfectly demonstrated at the Wagin Historical Village; the largest memorial to pioneers in the state and run entirely by volunteers. Without such generosity the town would have lost The Betty Terry Memorial Theatre (formerly the Little Gem Theatre), built in 1937 and retaining much of its Art Deco charm, it’s the only theatre for 200 kilometres. When owner Christine Rich discovered the production companies were converting from 35mm film to digital, she tirelessly fund-raised to upgrade the facilities to a state-of-the-art 3D Digital Projection and Audio system. She has also applied for a grant to implement a trainee program to keep movies alive in the wheat-belt.
At the heart of WA’s sheep industry, every March Wagin swells from 2,000 to 20,000 for Woolorama, the largest agricultural show in the state. Over two days, the community and visitors from far and wide come together to celebrate agricultural life and their 50th anniversary on 11-12 March 2022. In support of the industry, the nearby Katanning Saleyards opened in 2014 as the largest undercover cattle yards in the state and is capable of holding over 1.5 million sheep annually, and exports all over the world. Katanning is located approximately 50 kilometres south-east away, and on Tuesdays, visitors can watch the truckers and sheepdogs unload the sheep and enjoy dinner in the café or breakfast on Wednesday mornings after the auction. Katanning is also on WA’s Public Silo Trail and you might enjoy 8 Reasons to Follow WA’s Public Silo Trail.
It’s no wonder Wagin’s most popular tourist attraction is sculpture of a giant ram named Bart, who steadily watches over the town. Standing seven metres tall, 15 metres long and weighing four tonnes, Bart was built in 1985 and is a must visit on your way into town.
Anyone taking the time to visit Wagin will be royally rewarded with a good yarn from any Wagin-ite and an insight into the lives of the farmers quietly supporting one of WA’s most important industries. Something to contemplate on a climb up granite formation Putapin Rock for panoramic views of those working so hard below; a fitting finale to any outback experience.
236 km south of Perth and approximately three hours via Albany Hwy. Extreme temperatures reach the high 30’s Dec-Mar and overnight minimums of two degrees Jun-Sept. The sun is harsh so always apply sunscreen and wear a hat. Carry extra water when travelling and beware of kangaroos on the roads especially at dawn and dusk. Wildflower season runs Aug-Nov. On the last Saturday of October Wagin Burnouts is a drag racing festival open to spectators and has free camping sites.
Where to stay:
The Wagin Motel provides clean and comfortable motel rooms with breakfast. Also, in town the Wagin Cottage Garden Bed and Breakfast offers charming rooms with breakfast, the Palace Hotel Wagin offer comfortable rooms and the Wagin Caravan Park is west of the town. Ellerslie Lady by the Lake Spa and Retreat has cottages and a day spa. Check Airbnb for other options.
What to eat:
Palace Hotel is the most popular and Molly Brown’s in Mitchell Hall serves quaint fare. The Woodanilling Tavern about 25 km south is a local favourite especially for its roast dinners and live entertainment. The Highbury Tavern about 30 kms north-west is a typical outback pub with a steakhouse and beer garden.
Giant Ram Tourist Park features the second largest ram in the southern hemisphere measure over 15 metres high and honours the town’s prosperous wool industry.
Woolorama runs 11-12 March 2022 and includes sheep shearing, wool handling, sheep dog trials, dog high-jump, cattle judging as well as fashion parades, art exhibits, kids’ rides, a rodeo and live music.
Wagin Historical Village is one of the most authentic reconstructions of farming community in Western Australia and is also home to Wagin Tourist Committee Information Centre.
The 10.5 kilometre Wait-Jen Walk Trail has the Noongar name for “emu’s foot print” and follows the ancient dreaming trails formed by the mythical Wagul. Signposted the trail meanders by four lakes, natural vegetation, kangaroos and nocturnal animals. The lakes evaporate in the dry season and the shimmering salt flats are best viewed and photographed at sunset.
31st December marks 50 years since the land speed record was broken at 429 miles per hour (690 km/h) by Donald Campbell on Dumbleyung Lake in his Bluebird K7 boat. Covering an area of 52 square kilometres it’s a natural habitat for waterbirds, water-sports and picnics.
Follow the plaques and take a self-guided walk especially to the Wagin Library and Art Gallery which also houses a small art gallery.