The quaint coastal resort town of Margaret River is located in the Augusta-Margaret River Shire, 283kms from Perth in the South-West Region of Western Australia. The region is known for its rich agricultural soils, hardwood forests and wineries. The major industries includes viticulture and wine production, dairy and beef cattle, sheep, horticulture, fishing, surfing and tourism.
The Early Years
The Bussell family were the first family to settle in the area. Alfred Bussell built the first homestead, Ellensbrook, in 1857. This site that would eventually be recognised as the potential Margaret River town site.
The first Europeans to settle in the area were originally from Augusta, who, in the 1830’s tried to settle in the coastal area but became disgruntled with the harsh terrain. They searched for more fertile land further north eventually settling in the Margaret River region.
During the late 1860’s the area was used for timber cutting. The Higgins family, along with the Bussell family, were one of the first to settle in the area, setting up stables for the passing coach horses that used the Busselton to Karridale track. By the time Margaret River was officially called a town (1912) there were still only three houses.
Group Settlement Scheme
It wasn’t until after World War I (1914-1918) that the Margaret River town site really became established.
The Western Australian Government, wanting to attract migrants into the country areas during the 1920’s, set up the Group Settlement Scheme. The aim of the scheme was to open the sparsely populated and uncleared land of the State’s South-West, to migrants from Europe. The scheme required settlers to work co-cooperatively in clearing blocks for farm land and in return they would receive their own block.
The Scheme, though a social and economic disaster for the State, helped open up agricultural land in the south-west and put Margaret River on the map.
Busselton – Margaret River – Flinders Bay Railway
The 1920’s was a boom time for Western Australia with an increase in population (due to immigration programmes),a well expanding wheat industry and the establishment of a new dairy industry in the south-west. It was during this prosperous time that the State Government completed the Busselton- Margaret River Railway line.
In 1925 the Margaret River – Flinders Bay section was completed. The railway was built to open up the area and make agriculture and timber transport easier. Today, several of the old railway lines have become part of the Rails to Trail Project.
Birth of the Wine Industry
Over the following years the region established itself as a thriving agricultural area through beef, dairy and sheep farming. In the late 1970’s the wine industry was developed and quickly became the regions most famous asset.
Even though vines had been grown in the Margaret River region by migrant settlers as early as the late 1800’s, it wasn’t until the late 1960’s that the region began to develop into a commercial market.
In 1965, Dr John Gladstone wrote a report, following the decline of the wine industry in the Swan Valley, suggesting that the cooler climate of the State’s south-west region should be considered for growing vines.
In 1966 the first vines were planted by Bill Vasse and Dr Tom Cullity. Mr Vasse planted half an acre of Cabernet Sauvignon & Rhine Riesling vines on his property and Dr Cullity planted a quarter of an acre of trial vines on his property at Burekup.
Dr Cullity, happy with the success of his trial vines established the Vasse Felix vineyard. In 1971, five years after planting the vines, Vasse Felix won its first award and the following year released its first commercial wine. This marked the beginning of the phenomenally success of the Margaret River wine industry.
A large variety of grapes are now grown in the region including, Rhine Riesling, Semillion, Chardonnay, Verdelho, Traminer, Sauvigon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are over 700 hectacres of vines planted and 28 producing wineries in Margaret River.
Margaret River Today
Today, Margaret River is the largest wine producing region in Western Australia. Margaret River has a population of approximately 9,000 and attracts over 1.5 million visitors each year.