1 Jan 2016

The Convict Fence

This morning's weather forecast for New Year's day is for a hot day (35°C), and with winds up to 30 kph.

Added to this, wind gusts of up to 50 kph are expected.

I decided not to go riding today.

By 9:30 am, however, it didn't seem too bad, and, noticing that the river tide was at a low then, I decided to have a little ride out to photograph the convict fence.
The Canning River near where we live is broad and very shallow, as you can see with the exposed mud flats at low tide above.  Notice also that line of sticks jutting out of the water in the distance.  More on that later.
At low tide, the birds were feeding.  The pelican on the left is skimming the water with its beak for food and the one on the right has just raised his head to swallow something.
 Above, ibises and ducks feeding in the shallows, and below, a cormorant drying its wings.
Now here's a closer look at that row of posts in the river that I mentioned earlier.
Back in the 1860s, timber was cut in the hills (the Darling Range) to the east of Perth.  This timber was then transported via a horse-drawn railway to a point on the river now known as Mason's Landing, also very close to where we live.

I searched my picture collection to see if I had any pics of this place, and this one is the only one I could find.  Mason's Landing is now a park and the pic shows  Flem playing there about 4 years ago.
From Mason's Landing, the lumber went by barge via the Canning and then the Swan River down to Fremantle for export.

However, as the Canning was also very shallow even in those days, sometimes the barges were stuck on the mud and sand banks, leading to financial loss for the timber suppliers.

The solution was this fence which was built by convict labour.
Currently, only the posts are left standing.  These are made of WA jarrah, a very hard wood.  Interleaved between the posts were branches from nearby trees and shrubs, and these have not survived.

The idea was for the convicts to dredge the centre of the river by hand and throw the silt over the fence, thereby creating a deeper channel for the barges.

There were a few little jetties on the river and I went on them to search out vantage points to photograph the fence.
I parked my bike next to a little armchair on one of the jetties, which I presumed had been left there by a fisherman to make his outings more comfortable.
The manual dredging had limited success.  A paddle steamer was later used to dredge the river and this appeared to be more successful.

An interesting and detailed history (with pictures of the wood cutting and transportation) can be found here.

A very interesting though long video of the timber industry in WA in the 1920s can be found here.


  1. Bonjour. Enjoyed your history of the river. Nice birds too. Where are the non-feathered ones? Happy new year!

    1. Happy New Year to you and C. too. Hope you had a White Christmas in BC.

  2. Interesting pictures and story of the Darling River. There's a nice poem by Henry Lawson of the river in
    Where is the source of Darling River? I had some pleasant memories of the Murrumbidgee River and its surroundings when I used to go trout fishing along its tributaries with friends when I was studying at ANU in 1969-72.

    1. I may have misled you with my mention of the Darling Range. The river here is the Canning River. The source of the Darling is I think in Queensland. BTW, my favourite Henry Lawson is here: http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/lawson-henry/faces-in-the-street-0002003

    2. My mistake in mixing up the Canning River (whose source is in the Darling Scarp) with the Darling River. BTW the source of the Darling River is in northern New South Wales according to
      Thanks for the link to your favourite Henry Lawson poem. Happy New Year!

    3. I don't really know enough about the rivers in the eastern states. Haven't seen much of NSW too, even though I spent some time in Victoria and Tasmania because my elder son began his working life in those states. All the best for 2016 to you and family.

  3. Very interesting. Thankfully, it was nothing like the infamous Bridge of the River Kwai. Lovely shots. Love the birds especially the pelicans. The only thing near a pelican here is Pelicana, the Korean fried chicken franchise. LOL!!!

    1. haha, we don't have that franchise here. We have had bull sharks swim up the river this far inland (about 16 km) and I have see dolphins here too. I blogged about that once: https://i82muchblog.blogspot.com.au/2006/10/dogwalk-dolphin.html

  4. Hi Uncle Arthur!! How are you? Send my regards to Aunty Cheryl

    1. Hi Fiona. Long time no see. Good to hear from you. I didn't know you read my blog. Regards to your mum and Justin.

  5. Hi Arthur & Cheryl,

    Happy 2016!

    Nice history about the convict fence. Seemed daft to use hands to dredge the river, the current would send the silt back faster than they can scoop.
    Love the birds. Poor cormorant looks quite worn.

    1. Thank you, and a happy and prosperous 2016 to you too.

  6. Hi Arthur, your post is very informative and picturesque. At my very 1st visit to Perth many many years ago, we spied on the Swan River, attracted by the swans swimming gracefully there, as it was across the Hotel we stayed in, and next to a quiet boulevard.

    I think we took a ferry ride near the river mouth and saw all the boats and yatches staked at the backyards along the river. we did not realise that the River leads to Fremantle, which we went by rail(self-service)and distinctly remembered the Fish & Chips cum Seafood Outlet(special price for Seniors,not for us as we were younger then)and of course the coloured houses and Fremantal Market.

    Did not realised also that there were so many other sea-birds down the river. As for the Cormorant, we saw it at Dali (Yunnan) where they use them to catch fishes by gagging the gut of the hugh bird, so that the owner could take the fish out before it goes into the stomach. It was a real sight to watch Cormorant Fishing in China. It looks like you are staying just down the river from our hotel.

    1. Hi sweetee,

      You probably stayed at a hotel nearer the city of Perth, which sits at the confluence of the Canning and the Swan Rivers. We are about 12 km from Perth as the crow flies, in a southerly direction and close to the Canning River.

      Yes, the Swan flows to the Indian Ocean and Fremantle sits there at the mouth and is the main port for WA. Not as busy a port as Singapore though.

  7. r curtain down now? would opening it up "open" up that corner? I love what you've done recently. Place looks amazing! xxprivacy fence gate