Coordinates: S34°29′10″S 117°37′44″E
Kendenup is a small town lying in the rural heart of the lower Great Southern - 345km south-east of Perth and 75km north of Albany, with a population of approximately 1,290 (Australian Bureau Statistics 2006). It is close to the Stirling Range National Park, with its surrounding countryside offering excellent mountain climbing, bushwalking and birdwatching facilities. Kendenup was one of the original stations on the Great Southern Railway line and the site of Western Australia’s first goldmine. In the early years of European settlement, the area was one of the largest established farming enterprises with a station boasting upwards of 30,000 sheep.
The earliest known record of Europeans in the area was when Dr Alexander Collie and his Indigenous companion Mokare, led an expedition from Albany up the Kalgan River and overland to the base of the Porongurups in April 1831. Collie was granted 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) in the region, then known by its Indigenous name Moorilup.
In 1838, Captain John Hassell sailed from England to Van Diemans Land in HMS Dawson, intending to settle on a 500-acre (200 ha) grant on the Tamar River. Running low on water, he stopped off in Albany and met Government Resident Sir Richard Spencer who persuaded him to acquire land in the area. Hassell purchased George Cheyne's Location 27 and after returning to Hobart and New South Wales, arrived back in Albany on March 6, 1840 aboard HMS China. His stock included 800 sheep, 12 cattle and 10 horses which he walked overland to establish a homestead and farm which he called Kendenup – another Indigenous name for the area. Hassell acquired further properties and by 1850 had expanded his operations to 25,000 acres (10,000 ha) freehold and 38,000 acres (15,000 ha) leased.
After establishing his Kendenup farm, Hassell went to live in Albany where he ran an import/export business which managed the farm's wool sales to England. In 1872, three years after the State Government had offered ₤5,000 for gold discoveries in WA, Hassell submitted stone samples from Kendenup. After it was confirmed the stones were gold bearing, Hassel sent a five-ton ore-crushing consignment to Victoria which returned four ounces of gold. Encouraged by these prospects, Hassel formed the Standard Gold Mining Company, which he registered on December 15, 1874 with a capital of ₤3,000. Unfortunately, his mine, which was situated 2km south of the town, failed to live up to expectations and only produced another 10 tons of gold-bearing ore. The mine, which went into voluntary liquidation on June 5, 1876, is still visible. Hassell died on August 15, 1883, survived by his wife, five sons and a daughter.
The homestead is referred to in Daisy Bates’ famous book The Passing of the Aborigines, where the author recalls how an old Aboriginal woman facing death was determined to return to Kendenup because, among many reasons, she had fond memories of the Hassell family.
“Old Yeebalan of Kendinup found herself in the Dumbleyung district when palsy and blindness came upon her. Her white protectors tried to dissuade her, but she promised them she would go back to the Hassals of Kendinup whose sheep run had been her father's group area, and who had been good to her in her young days. They gave her food and money for the journey, and she immediately handed it over to the derelicts in camp in return for their hospitality, as in their primitive sense of honour every native must. Months later, after a solitary journey through the white settlements, she crawled towards the old Kendinup homestead where she had so often sought and found food and clothing. It was empty and deserted. Yeebalan made her last camp in the gully and died a few days later.”
After many years of stagnatation, the Hassell family sold the property in 1920 for £45,000 - less than £1 an acre - to rural entrepreneur Jack De Garis. De Garis proceeded to subdivide the land into approximately 10 and 60 acre (4 and 24 ha) lots, selling them to settlers through 10 year interest-free debentures to grow fruit, vegetables and other farm produce for a total of £150,000. However, the project was under-capitalised and lot sizes too small to be fully viable. In 1923, after a peak of about 350 settler families the debenture sales dried up and De Garis' dream of turning 'a wilderness into a garden' was shattered.
His company went into liquidation and a Royal Commission, headed by commissioner William Grogan, was established to inquire and report into the settlement at Kendenup. Fraud by De Garis had been alleged prior to the commission but he was exonerated in the findings. In 1925 De Garis wrote the aptly titled The Victories of Failure: A Business Romance of Fiction, Blended with and Based on, Fact. However, the disappointment of his Kendenup business took its toll and De Garis gassed himself on August 17, 1926. Between November 4, 1943 and May 13, 1946 an internment camp housing 200 Italian prisoners of war was established, with internees deployed as farm labourers. Nowadays, the area’s traditional farming industry is making way for the tourism, wine and food industries.
Kendenup has a temperate climate with warm to hot summers and mild to cold winters. Although summer temperatures can exceed 40C, the average is around 26C. Overnight winter temperatures can drop below zero degrees, but daytime winter temperatures average 10-13C. Rainfall averages from around 24mm (1inch) per month in January to over 100mm (4 inches) in July. On March 2, 2005, Kendenup recorded 125mm of rain in the 24 hours to 9am.
Kendenup has two general stores selling fuel, groceries and liquor.