Ongerup is a small service town of around 120 people located on the Southern Highway in the Shire of Gnowangerup, 388km south east of Perth, 153km north east of Albany and 54km east of Gnowangerup. Ongerup means place of the male kangaroo in local Noongar language. The area was first explored in 1848 by the inaugural Surveyor General of Western Australia John Septimus Roe during his five month expedition from the Avon River to the Stirling Range. In the 1870s the Moir family moved to the area and began grazing sheep along the Warperup Creek. In 1910 the land was surveyed into 1,000-acre blocks priced at 10 shillings per acre before the townsite was gazetted in 1912.
A 94km branch line from Ongerup to Tambellup on the Great Southern Railway main line between Perth and Albany opened on January 6, 1913. It served the growing agriculture industry, until drought and WWI brought a halt to government assistance and caused many holdings to be abandoned. The railway line closed on October 13, 1957. A timetable from 1937 shows two trains a week left Ongerup; on Tuesdays at 6.55pm and Fridays at 4pm. Connections of around 12 hours were available from Katanning to Perth, arriving approximately 30 hours after leaving Ongerup. In 1918 living quarters were constructed on Eldridge Street for railway workers based in the town. The building survived the closure of the railway and now houses the Ongerup/Needilup District Museum which opened in 1978.
The Gnowangerup Star and Tambellup-Ongerup Gazette newspaper was launched on August 21, 1915 with the final edition being printed in 2003. In 1927 the first Ongerup Public Hall was built, but was replaced by the current building in 1953. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, kangaroo hunters and mallee bark strippers came to the area. The bark was sent to Germany for use in tanning. The town was flooded when 119.4mm of rain, almost a third of the annual average fell on February 17, 1955. The inaugural Ongerup Shears competition was held over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend of 1983, attracting international and national shearers in the run up to the Perth Royal Show. The event was discontinued in the 1990s.
Today, the main attraction in Ongerup is the Yongernow Australian Malleefowl Centre, opened in 2007 and situated on Jaekel Street. The community owned, award-winning educative and research centre was designed to raise public awareness of the plight of the malleefowl and its habitat. Once common in the area, the malleefowl has become endangered, largely as a result of extensive land clearing and predatory feral animals. Visitors to the centre can observe the State’s only captive malleefowl in its natural bush aviary. Other attractions include a native food garden that illustrates an important aspect of Indigenous life and the multi-media Fowlplay interpretive exhibition, which enables visitors to discover millions of years of mallee history.
Photo kindly supplied by Vicky Bilney
The Yongernow Australian Malleefowl Centre is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays (9am – 4pm) and Saturdays and Sundays (10am – 4pm). For further information, phone the Yongernow Australian Malleefowl Centre on 9828 2326 or go to http://yongergnow.com.au/about-us/ongerup/