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Lake Gwelup is significant to the local Mooro Nyoongar people as an ancient ceremonial site. 
The Lake was used for hunting, water source, camping, and a meeting place. 

The Name

The name "Gwelup" refers to a small swamp located within the southern portion of the suburb. 



It was derived from the Noongar word "Gwelgannow" meaning "to shift position". Hence, Lake Gwelup was referred to as "the lake that shifts position". The name first appears in Lands Department records in 1878 as "Gwelup Swamp".


Land near Lake Gwelup was first granted to Thomas Mews in 1831. It passed through several owners before being acquired by Henry Bull of Sydney in 1891. 


 Lake Gwelup Primary School opened in 1914. 


In the 1960s, the area which presently accommodates The Willows Estate also offered a 6 hectare peat deposit which was mined for local agriculture. From the 1970s, Gwelup transformed from a rural area to a modern residential suburb. Only a few market gardens along North Beach Road remain as a reminder of earlier times. The Mitchell Freeway's extension to Erindale Road in 1984 and to Ocean Reef Road in 1986-87 facilitated the area's development.


The triangle bounded by Lake Gwelup, Porter Street and North Beach Road is the oldest residential section, having been opened up by the Metropolitan Region Planning Authority in 1967 for urban development - other parts were built and settled in the late 1990s when the swamps were drained. Controversy has arisen as to the effect of both the draining and of some building practices on the groundwater in the catchment region.

Situated on the western side of the suburb of Gwelup, lies the remainder of the once broader Lake Gwelup and accompanying bushland nature reserve. As one of the few wetlands that has a mostly intact native bushland, Lake Gwelup is home to a wide variety of local and visitor birds (waders, raptors, ducks etc.) as well many frogs (notably Moaning Frogs Heleioporus eyrei), reptile species (e.g. dugites, skinks and long necked turtles). Native flora in the bushland include Marri (Corymbia calophylla), Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), Flooded Gum (E. rudis), Tuart (E. gomphocephela) as well as at least four species of Banksia, many annual wildflowers (incl. orchids) and fungi. One of the most spectacular species of visiting birds is the Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus).

Throughout the wetland regions, aboriginals hunted for kangaroo, emu, snakes, tortoise, mudfish, gilgies and water birds and their eggs, to name a few food sources. Aboriginal sites are known to have existed in a few locations in the Gwelup-Balcatta region.

The Old Plank Road

The old plank road to City Beach, no date (Cambridge Library Local Studies)


“When you think of a plank road you’ve got to think how Perth was developed… The Darling Ranges were full of big trees and they had steam sawmills around Perth. The whole of Perth’s roads were made of wood blocks. There were no stone roads. Roads built out of sleepers were called corduroy roads. Generally, there were two sleeper tracks with a span space in between built for horses and carts and trucks with solid rubber tyres.

The plank road just followed the natural surface of the land. It wasn’t smooth. Planks were laid down and wriggled their way into the sand under the weight of carts” (1)

Plank road with group of women on their way to the beach, circa 1920s. L to R: Nell Townsend (nee Simmonsen); Madge Frank; Unknown; Blanche Peacock (nee Paul) and Dolly Hopkins (Courtesy of Coyle Family). In this image you can see that the jarrah planks have been tarred over, this was a move by the council to help prevent tyre punctures caused by splinters in the wood.

The city to beach plank road took five months to construct. Work which began in September 1916 was completed in February 1918. The plank road was opened by Perth’s Lord Mayor Sir William Lathlain (mayor from 1918-1923).

The plank road, known to us since 1948, as Oceanic Drive (when it became bituminised), was built to provide an access road to the limestone quarries on the Lime Kilns Estate. The quarries had been recognised from 1903 as “the best accessible deposits of high-grade limestone in the metropolitan area”. The Perth City Council has decided to continue the plank road past the quarries and out to the beach for two reasons. Firstly, the council had the funds to meet the overall cost of £2800 from the sale of 200 acres of coastal land to the Commonwealth Government for the Swanbourne Rifle Range. Secondly, the plank road would provide a means of accessing the beach for recreation. (2)

Two figures at the end of the plank road, walking to City Beach, 1920s (Courtesy West Australian Newspapers)

The plank road was laid directly onto the sand’ It was a two-track road. Each track was three planks wide. Each plank was 50mm think and 200mm wide. The railway-like sleepers were laid longitudinally and held in place by dock spikes driven into the sleepers (3)

Mrs Alma Robinson recalls that, as a young woman, “Cootesloe was the main beach that you went to. And you got to Scarborough along a track. I think it was a plank road too. City beach hadn’t come to life then. That came after the road went through.” (4)

Making of plank road, Osborne Park, 1913-14 (Courtesy of the Battye Library, State Library of Western Australia (3239B_61)). This image may depict the road remembered by Alma Robinson in her interview, but it also clearly shows how this type of road was constructed.

Remembering the plank road

Harry Morris

“The City Beach plank road was referred to as the Switchback. It didn’t switch the way the railway line at Kalamunda switched but it was up and down, up and down. I can remember hitting eighty mile an hour on that road. It was just single track you had to have faith that you didn’t meet anyone coming the other way. When you came over each hill there was a little siding that you could stop and move over. It had been put there for horses and carts. With the coming of motor vehicles people became more impatient and there was just as much road rage in 1930 as there is today, relatively speaking. There were no rules as to which driver would get off. Sometimes you met in between and someone had to back up.” (5)

Cattle at Perry Lakes circa 1930. The plank road is in the background (Cambridge Library Local Studies)

End of the plank road, no date (Cambridge Library Local Studies)

John O’Mahony

“My generation called the plank road ‘the Switchback’. It was a series of five hills and four deep valleys and gave us a thrill to drive it. Before the War, a friend and I used to ride our bikes out to the beach along the Switchback. It was terrific. We’d come back along the Boulevard because by then the Switchback was only one-way.” (6)

The jarrah plank road, known colloquially as “The Switchback”, circa 1920s (Source Unknown)

This Ford T belonged to H.E.K. Davies. It ran along the plank road and up and down the Switchbacks causing much hilarity. The small turning area at the beach was around logs hammered into the sand. (7)

Market gardens

During the twentieth century production from the Western Australia's market gardens and orchards moved from being purely for domestic consumption to being a significant export industry.

By the time Western Australia joined the Federation the demand for fresh vegetables generated by the population boom of the 1890s gold rush meant that the new State imported both fruit and vegetables. Potatoes were a major import. The boom also stimulated rapid growth in the local orchard and market garden industry. For example, the total area of land used for orchards, vineyards and vegetable growing rose from 1900 hectares in 1896 to 4600 hectares in 1903.

During this time swampland in the areas of Osborne Park, Balcatta, Jandakot, Spearwood and Waneroo were drained. These were added to North Perth, Bayswater, Midland Junction, South Perth, Victoria Park and Bibra Lake as centres for market gardeners.Between 1900 and 1920 the majority of vegetables grown in the State were by Chinese market gardeners. 

Over a third of the Chinese population of Western Australia was involved in the market garden industry, which was labour intensive and relied on farming techniques practiced in China. As a result most market gardens were located on peaty soils on or near lakes, swamps and drained swampland. By the late 1920s the number of Chinese involved in the industry had declined due to Australia's racist immigration restrictions.

At the same time the arrival of Italian and Slav families in Spearwood, Osborne Park and Wanneroo saw a new migrant group active in the industry. Resultant changes in farming practices, such as the use of butterfly sprinklers to regulate watering, meant that the sandy plains of the western coast were exploited for growing vegetables. Irrigation with underground water on fertilized sandy soils replaced the previous practice of using only drained swampland.

 By 1999 a total of 9,322 hectares were used for the cultivation of vegetables and fruit, supplying Western Australians with produce all-year round.

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