Deep in WA’s South Western forest region, Donnelly River Village is now a well-preserved vestige of the State’s rich timber milling heritage thanks to an enterprising group of cottage owners. Source: Domain
The village, midway between Nannup, Bridgetown and Manjimup, faced an uncertain future until recently.
The mill closed in 1978, and eight years ago the entire precinct of 35 cottages were put on the market for $3 million.
The sale came to the attention of Fremantle resident Sue Hall. Ms Hall had been on the lookout for a forest getaway for 25 years.
After visiting the village, she was smitten and set about scheming a way to secure her dream.
Ms Hall reached out to the public through social media and an advert in the paper, seeking like minded heritage lovers interested in joining with her in buying the 1950s mill cottages.
Establishing a new legal partnership, the 35 cottages were each offered for $75,000, giving each owner a one in 35 share in the village. At a time when crowdfunding wasn’t hip, the response was fast and phenomenal.
In 2010 Wheatley Village Pty Ltd was inaugurated by a group of similar-minded and impassioned investors.
The community has carefully renovated the workers cottages, which are now offered as holiday accommodation, with each owner having responsibility for maintaining a particular cottage with their own funds.
Cottages ooze rustic charm, with wood fires, original Metters wood stoves and oldfashioned but comfy furniture.
The highlight is the setting, with front verandahs overlooking a stunning forest and village outlook, with neighbours chatting and kids playing on the flying fox while kangaroos and emus mingle with the human residents.
There is a village shop and hall, lodge and old boarding house, making the venue a popular place for bush weddings and functions.
The work of Ms Hall and her fellow owners in preserving the historic village was commended recently with a gong from WA’s State Heritage.
The community of 35 owners were announced winners of the 2016 Western Australian Heritage Awards for a public or private organisation. Judges applauded the innovative ownership model and conservation plan for the village.
“(Donnelly River Village) is now a pleasant holiday destination that celebrates its cultural heritage as a former timber town and gives guests and visitors an insight into life in simpler times,” said the award judges.
“An innovative ownership model, with owners directly involved and guided by a conservation plan, it is an exemplar of good heritage management of a fragile site.”
Built in 1950 by Bunning Brothers in partnership with the WA state government, the regulation Type 8 fibro weatherboard cottages echo Australian retro.
After World War II, demands for Karri and Jarrah wood drove the expansion of the mill precinct, which came to include a general store, a post office, butchers shop, swimming pool, social club and school.
In its heyday the socially progressive township notched up a claim for the suffragettes cause by allowing women to be members of the Donnelly Mill club, possibly leading WA at the time.