Vision for historic hill

THE Friends of Clontarf Hill recently produced a booklet about the history of the hill, which last week took out top prize for unpublished works at the Fremantle Local History Awards. Written by poet and author Nandi Chinna, the booklet traces the hill’s significance, from pre-colonial days until it became a battleground of the Fremantle Eastern Bypass. FOCH stalwart Christine Duckham says they’ve got a strong vision for Clontarf Hill, having secured funding from Lotterywest for cultural interpretation.

Pre-European settlement: Mythological stories relate Clontarf Hill as being part of a limestone ridge that was created by the Waugal, the sacred rainbow serpent. The hill holds the story of a mother and her two sons who are the protectors of Derbal Nara (Cockburn Sound), and who protect Derbal Nara from the Booyl-a-gatak, or sorcery coming from the north-west.

Clontarf Hill was also a camp site along the walking track or bidi that linked the Whadjuk of the Swan Coastal Plain with Nyoongar groups in the south-west. These walking tracks began in Perth and wound along the northern bank of the Swan River. The bidi crossed the river at North Fremantle and continued down to Clontarf Hill where it headed inland to Bibra Lake and then south to Rockingham and Mandurah.

1840: Alfred Durlacher surveyed the Cockburn coast describing in his field book the general country around Clontarf Hill as, ‘country timbered with white gum, zamia, blackboys, wattle, with little good grass’. He also remarked on the plethora of swamps in the area.


1830: In a letter dated August 27th, Sydney Smith, (the agent of Captain George Robb) and the earliest known British settler in the vicinity of Clontarf Hill gave his address as Hamilton Hill and this was the first recording of the name by which the suburb has become known.

1858: Irishman John Healy arrived in WA and took up land grants in Spearwood, Hamilton Hill and Bibra Lake. He occupied a large estate of 300 acres (121 hectares) north of the present Healy Road and encompassing most of what is now Beaconsfield named Winterfold Estate. The western end of his property included Clontarf Hill where he grazed his cows. The dairy that Healy operated at one point supplied most of the milk supply of Fremantle. Clontarf Hill is thought to have been named by John Healy.

Clontarf is the anglicised version of the Irish form, Cluain Tarbh, directly translated as the ‘meadow of the bull’ which is apt considering much of Healy’s acreage was referred to as ‘bullock paddocks’.

1899: George Robb’s original land grant was divided up into 42 sections. The Dixon family bought thirteen sections, around one quarter of the whole subdivision. Henry Septimus Dixon had 24 acres at Ommanney Street near Clontarf Hill, five acres of which was around a swamp where Dixon produced a thriving market garden, which is now buried under part of Dixon Park and the adjacent road reserve.

1923: An outbreak of the Rinderpest in the dairying districts of Fremantle and Cockburn occurred. The wholesale slaughter of stock was seen as the only solution and in the space of one month, 1500 cattle, 1000 pigs, 300 goats, and 30 sheep were slaughtered and buried in lime pits.  This was the only outbreak of Rinderpest in the history of Australia.

1942: Clontarf Hill is chosen as a searchlight station by the Australian Army as fears of Japanese invasion intensified. Two years later mysterious Z unit of the army had a base there, supporting its training in covert operations.

1973: The Fremantle Eastern Bypass was first included in the Perth Metropolitan Regions Scheme as a controlled access highway reservation. Since its inclusion in the MRS the FEB has been the site of community campaigns won and lost and won again, with the fight to preserve Clontarf Hill at the forefront of the battle.

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