The story of Wanneroo Road

For thousands of years the Whadjuk Noongar people formed walking trails from the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River) to Wanneroo and beyond, generally following the linear and circular lakes.


The wetlands were a ready source of food and game for the Whadjuk People. So, when Europeans began arriving in Wanneroo, they were able to make their way safely through bushland to Wanneroo.


However, the first Europeans to follow the ancient trails to Wanneroo were cows.


The story of Wanneroo Road is central to Wanneroo’s European history and development. In the early days Wanneroo settlers made their way to Perth and back along bumpy, wheel-rutted sandtracks.


They fought hard to get the authorities attention to upgrade their route to Perth but were frustrated by a lack of understanding by government and too much petty squabbling and self-interest of settlers who lived along the road.


The first recorded incursion into Wanneroo by a European Colonist was in 1834, when John Butler led a small party about 20 miles north of Perth in search of lost cattle. Butler recorded seeing a large freshwater lake (Lake Joondalup) and a group of friendly Aboriginals, ‘who frequented Perth in the company of Yellagonga’.


Butler recommended the land be surveyed. Four years later in 1838, Surveyor General John Septimus Roe ordered Surveyor John Watson to carry out the survey. And although Watson surveyed the land and Governor Stirling awarded Wanneroo land grants in 1838, it was not until the 1840s that serious attempts were made to settle in the district.


Among the first to take up the land grants was an 1838 syndicate of former soldiers, Thomas Hester, George Hodges, James Dobbins and John Connolly, whose names now adorn streets and localities in Wanneroo and Joondalup. Their grants included part of what is now known as Perry’s Paddock.


In 1844 the Reverend John Smithies established a ‘Wesleyan Native Experimental Farm’ on the eastern shores of Lake Goollelal. The plan was to teach local Aboriginal people to farm and about Christianity. He had a tough run on both counts.


In 1849 Patrick Marmion established a small whaling station near Sorrento Beach. He had a tough run, too. The whaling station lasted three years. Marmion and Marmion Avenue, take their name from Patrick Marmion and his whaling station.


In 1848 James and Mary Ann Cockman were encouraged to settle in Wanneroo by Perth Merchant George Shenton, near the corner of Wanneroo and Ocean Reef Roads. It was there James and his eldest son John, built their second Wanneroo Home, Cockman House, in 1860, using local limestone and timber.


By 1862, sufficient land had been taken up by settlers growing vegetables and running stock, to merit serious consideration of a north road out from Perth. So, on the 10 May 1862, a northbound road was formally announced in the Government Gazette. Nine years later nothing much had happened.


However, on the 21 February 1871, Local Government was introduced in Western Australia, and the prospect of a road to Wanneroo became brighter. Just 16 days after the Perth Districts Road Board was formed, which included the Wanneroo district, the new Board received a petition from Wanneroo settlers, ‘drawing the Board’s attention to the wretched condition of the main line of road…’


In May 1871, Governor Weld and Perth Road Board Chairman Michel Smith, led a party along the sand track to Wanneroo, leaving at six in the morning and arriving back in Perth at eight that night.


Michael Smith and Governor Weld realised Wanneroo wetlands showed great potential for growing more food and stock for developing Perth. The Governor sanctioned the use of convicts to start building a road to Wanneroo.


It was decided it would be built from the cheapest material available; timber paving slabs cut from trees along the line of road. The slabs were 15 inches wide, eight inches deep and embedded in two rows with natural earth in between.


Wagon and cartwheels would travel over the wooden slabs and the horses travel in between. The road was designed nine feet wide.


To encourage the convicts to stay on the job, Board Chairman Smith made some suggestions:

‘As there appears to be great difficulty in getting suitable men (convicts) to keep up the requisite number for the party on the north road, the principal work being sawing blocks, I would suggest as an inducement for men to join the party, that, if possible, all men working there be allowed some extra privileges such as remission of time and tobacco supplies (similar) to what is allowed men working on the dredge.


‘I conceive sawing to be equally hard work and the men employed deserve some consideration.  It is desirable for the party to be kept up, for making of the road will be the greatest boons conferred upon the settlers of the Wanneroo district’.


By 1874 Wanneroo Road had reached Wild Dog Swamp, about three miles from Perth, where the convict party was withdrawn. However, public pressure brought them back for a few months, but convict transportation had stopped in 1868, and convicts as a public works resource was drying up.


Building the road was taken over by private contractors and done in little spurts as funding and public outcry demanded. By 1900 the road from the Wanneroo to Perth went two miles to the 14 Mile Peg and from the Perth to Wanneroo to the 10 Mile Peg. In between was a mix of sand and planks.

Over 38 years a road of sorts went 16 miles north from Perth with costs increased 800% to 8/6d a square yard.


In the 31 October 1902 Government Gazette, it was announced that on the 22 October 1902, a decision was made to designate and define the Wanneroo District as a separate Roads District.


The first meeting of the new Wanneroo Road Board was held at the Wanneroo State School on the 16 January 1903.


The seven-member board under Chairman Herbert Hocking and Secretary Frederick John Duffy had their work cut out to improve the road. The Board set about repairing the blocks knocked out of alignment by wagons and pushing the road beyond the 16 Mile Peg.


By the early 1930s Wanneroo Road in one form or another had reached Yanchep. It had taken 70 years to get there.