History


The following information was provided by Stan Gratte, OAM, Local Historian and a Life Member of the Wonthella Progress Association.

Geraldton was settled as a port for lead mining and pastoral activities in 1850.  By 1856 it became obvious that the area chosen for the town had severe problems from drifting sand hills and thought was given to shifting the town about three kilometres north to what we call Bluff Point.  A large area of land was set aside for the new Town site but means were found to settle the drift sand in Geraldton and the shift never eventuated.  This land became commonage and vested in the Geraldton Town Council.

Historic Geraldton - Marine Terrace 1869

Marine Terrace, Geraldton 1869

Photo courtesy of the Geraldton Historical Society

Geraldton Map showing the Commonage

A prominent farm property nearby named Woorree was owned by a popular solicitor named Arthur Du boulay.  In 1886 he obtained portion of this commonage land for farming purposes.  The Murchison goldfields in our hinterland was found in 1891 and a gold rush of major size ensued.  The railway was extended to the Murchison goldfields, a distance of 500 km, by 1896.  Plans were made to build a large railway workshop and facility on the commonage.  This project was built nearer town and the section of commonage many years later was set aside for a super phosphate works and until a few years ago was still used for that purpose.

However in 1896 Solicitor Du boulay had his section of the commonage surveyed into ¼ acres blocks for railway men’s homes.  The railway village never came about and our Wonthella had many years as an area where small lots of land could be got very cheaply.  No real road or facilities existed.

This area attracted a very hardy type of real battler.  People who had little, except grit and determination of an outstanding character. They usually had a cow or goats, grew a garden and possibly got work on the wharf or elsewhere.  The excellent soil was much of the attraction but affordable land was the main thing.  The area didn’t have a name but was generally called “The Commonage” or sometimes “East Geraldton”.

HISTORY NOTE

There have been Marsden’s living in Wonthella since 1923. In that year John Edwin and Charlotte Marsden moved out from central Geraldton to take up an area of native bushland to build their house on the north-east corner of the present Howard and Seventh Streets. However, only bush tracks existed in 1923. The locality was known as East Geraldton in the Geraldton Road Board. 

From the Geraldton Regional Library Information Sheet No 26. 

 John Edwin & Charlotte Marsden - Photograph courtesy of Joe Marsden.pdf

John Edwin and Charlotte Marsden.

Photograph courtesy of Joe Marsden & The Geraldton Regional Library Information Sheet No 26

Click here to read the Marsden Family story

O'Malley's shop - centre, right - now supermarket from 252, 6th Street (1)

Wonthella in 1955

Photo taken from 252 Sixth Street.  O’Malley’s Cash Store is centre right and you can see the outline of the Superworks on the horizon.

From 1927 onward saw change.  The old railway land was sold for the superphosphate works and at the same time the adjoining land now called Webberton was sold to settlers in small lots.  At the same time the tomato industry became very profitable.  This meant closer settlement and the ¼ acre blocks became an attraction.

The tomato industry grew very fast because of Geraldton’s mild winter climate without frosts but a reliable rain fall.  This was coupled to the excellent soil of Wonthella and vast quantities of tomatoes were sent to Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and later Singapore and many places to the North of Australia.  The productions rose to three train-loads a week in the 1950.  By 1930 many people were in the area and they were of exception character generally the real pioneering types with plenty of drive and energy.

George Allen Photos - Tomato Growing (18)

 A George Allen photo courtesy of the Allen Family

Geraldton Guardian Article Tue 20 Nov 1923 Page 2 East Geraldton Progress Association courtesy of Trove

An article on page 2 of the Geraldton Guardian dated Tuesday 20 November 1923 makes mention of the East Geraldton Progress Association.  Wonthella was originally known as “The Commonage” and “East Geraldton”. Courtesy of Trove

At the time the Wonthella Progress Association was formed.  At first the association didn’t have a name as our suburb didn’t really have one.  Their first job was to approach the railways for a station and the railways offered the name “Wonthella” which derives from the aboriginal word Wanthellarra – to give.  This is a very appropriate name as the pioneers were very generous people as most battlers are when they consider the cause a good one.

“Wonthella has always been a very special place. I came to Geraldton, nearly 60 years ago and it was very, very evident that Wonthella was different from the rest of Geraldton. It really started off as a self-help community. People who bought blocks, and a lot of them – and it was out in the scrub. A lot of people built their own home or they had homes reconstructed from houses that came down from the Murchison Goldfields. They were isolated. There was no way into town. There was no direct line. There was nothing like there is now. There were bush tracks and because of this, this established the ethos of Wonthella which remains today”.
Jim Trevaskis, Oral Historian
Extract taken from the Geraldton Regional Library Oral History Morning on “Wonthella” The Early Days hosted by Jim Trevaskis. Click Here to view the Geraldton Regional Library Transcript
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Looking west down Third Street in the 1950’s…Photo of Ann Coote (now Luk) with local children.  Photo taken by John Luk.