One of the best aspects of all this travelling has been the chance to get off the main roads and discover small country towns and the people who live in them. Hopetoun is 185 km west of Esperance, and another 50 km off the highway to the south coast. A large nickel mine nearby accounted for the population expansion a few years ago, and for the downturn more recently when it closed again.
However, Hopetoun is well named. The locals we met were enthusiastic about their part of the world, for so many reasons. The main one is the wildflowers – easily the most important resource of the region. Everyone seemed to be growing their own vegetables and sharing their knowledge. There is also a thriving Men’s Shed and a well patronised community Library/council centre, active writers’ and artists’ groups , and a very lively ladies’ lunch club! We only scratched the surface in the short time we stayed, but it reminded us of the resilience of rural Australia.
Our main reason for visiting was to catch up with some far flung relatives, but Hopetoun is also the eastern gateway to the Fitzgerald River National Park. My aunt Isabelle and cousin Mark, experienced bush campers and adventurers in their own right, showed us around the area, in particular the spectacular country on its western side. The Fitzgerald Biosphere is world famous. It’s a biodiversity hotspot, containing some 1750 plant species within its 1300 sq km area, about 60 of which are found nowhere else. Such as the strange and compelling Royal Hakea…
It deserves a closeup! It’s found nowhere else in the world except in this small, very infertile region. The hard scrabble soils meant that plants had to adapt special skills to survive. Others found only here include the delicate Quaalup Bell:
We climbed East Mt Barren, a high exposed hill overlooking the coast. The path was just a rock ridge with fewer plants on it than the rest of the slope, and made a lot more exciting by the strong winds!
A couple of years ago a violent storm and flood swept away the road into the park, taking a ranger’s car with it. The new road looks a little nervous, but the enclosed wetlands harbour huge populations of birds, such as the red necked avocet and pied stilt we saw feeding here in their thousands
We could have spent a lot longer here, not least for the great company every night over Isabelle’s great cooking and a few well earned wines. Mark took Lex surf fishing, 4X4ing across steep sand hills to get to the salmon fishing. Next time we’ll try to make it for the crayfish and abalone seasons!