Western Australia’s most frequented stock route from De Grey to Mullewa heritage listed

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Western Australia’s most frequented stock route from De Grey to Mullewa heritage listed

A major stock route believed to have been used by more livestock than all other routes in Western Australia combined has been heritage listed.

The 1,500-kilometre De Grey-Mullewa Stock Route has been added to the WA Register of Heritage Places, making it the first complete route, as well as the longest place, to be included.

The route ran from the first pastoral station established in the state’s north-west to Mullewa, a Shepard’s camp near a permanent spring in the Murchison region. 

In its heyday, it carried more than 130,000 head of sheep annually.

Black and white photo of buildings in among trees from above.
De Grey Station, pictured in March 1941, was the first pastoral lease in WA’s north-west.(Supplied: State Library of WA)

Key points such as wells and bridges have gained heritage status along old stock routes across the country.

WA Heritage Minister David Templeman said this addition to the list recognised the significance of a route itself, not just the infrastructure.

Green vegetation hangs down a round stone well.
Well 3 along the route, north of the Urawa River in Nunierra.(Supplied: DPLH)

“The inclusion of this stock route is a magnificent addition to the State Register of Heritage Places and shows it is not just built heritage of bricks and mortar that is conserved but expansive landmarks like the De Grey to Mullewa Stock Route,” he said.

“It is a physical reminder of the harsh conditions and immense difficulties early pastoralists would have encountered in transporting livestock more than 130 years ago.”

A well with a wooden fence around it in a red dirt landscape.
Well 9 on the De Grey-Mullewa Stock Route in the Murchison region.(Supplied: DPLH)

Establishing the route

The route was established after the state government offered a bounty for the first person to drive either 100 head of horses or 200 sheep from below the Tropic of Capricorn to WA’s north — an effort to encourage pastoralism in the region.

After an initial failed attempt, Edward Timothy Hooley and a team successfully made the journey in 1866 with a flock of 1,945 sheep — eight of which did not make it — from the Geraldine copper mine on the Murchison River to an area on the Ashburton River that later became Minderoo Station.

Later in the 1890s when the Goldfield region’s population was growing and pastoral runs in the north were flourishing, the WA government officially gazetted the De Grey-Mullewa Stock Route No. 9,701.

Black an white photo shows people and trees in front of buildings
A homestead on the De Grey River, circa 1900.(Supplied: State Library of WA)

It ran from the De Grey Station, which lies east of Port Hedland, and was established at a time before it was common to move stock over land to the north.

The run was to the first pastoral lease in the north-west, established in 1863 by Charles Nairn on behalf of brother-in-law Walter Padbury, with sheep brought over from Cossack Harbour.

Government sinks 55 wells

In the years that followed, droving expeditions along the route were still plagued by an unreliable supply of water and, at times, poisonous plants.

A water tank and wind mill on a grey, cloudy day.
Well 35, known as Coorabia, in Innawanga along the De Grey-Mullewa Stock Route. (Supplied: DPLH)

To secure a supply of water, the government sunk 55 wells from 1895 onwards, some of which remain in their original state today while others have been restored.

At its peak in 1934, more than 137,000 head of sheep and a couple thousand cattle were moved along the stock route.

Drought conditions the following year drastically reduced the number of sheep taken on the route to just 26,000.

Records show the use of the stock route began to decline from then onwards.

By the 1950s, it became common to transport stock with vehicles along roads that often mirrored the network of stock routes.

A black an white map of stock routes is visible on the page of an open book.
Mingenew was a regional centre for selling animals overlanded along the De Grey-Mullewa Stock Route.(Supplied: State Library of WA)

Some of the restored wells form part of the City of Greater Geraldton’s tourist drive, which retraces the route from Mullewa to the Greenough River Crossing. 

The 102-kilometre drive, named, The Old Stock Route Trail, was developed as part of Australia’s Bicentennial celebrations in 1988.

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