The small little town of Witchcliffe is located 9kms south of Margaret River, in the State’s south-west agricultural region. It is often overlooked by tourists passing through.
The town was thought to be named after the nearby Witchcliffe Cave which was recorded by a surveyor in 1900. The name Witchcliffe, more than likely, came from the prominent Bussell family, who had also named their nearby property ‘Wallcliffe House’, which was built near rugged coastal cliffs.
Adelaide Timber Company
In 1922, the townsite was established during the State Government’s Group Settlement Scheme , thanks to a flourishing settlement group from Rosa Brook. The following year the Adelaide Timber Company and WA Jarrah Forest LTD established the Witchcliffe sawmill. At East Witchcliffe, where the saw mill was located, there were twenty houses, twelve Bachelor quarters, a boarding house and a general store all built to service the mill workers and their families. A few years later the Adelaide Timber Company took over the total running of the mill.
On the 20th of October, 1924, the Busselton-Margaret River section of the Government Railway, was officially extended to Witchcliffe, to help service the saw mills. Originally the town, which was really only a railway siding and a few stores, was to be named Newraligup (now Forest Grove ) but instead it was given the name Narawary. However the Post Office had already been named Witchcliffe, so the siding was renamed Witchcliffe, in 1925 and in the following year the town was gazetted.
The Town Folk
Following the establishment of the East Witchcliffe Mill, the tiny town of Witchcliffe grew, Mrs Macaulay ran a little sweet shop, Mr Jack Staples ran the group stores at the Witchcliffe Siding and the garage (now the Witchcliffe Farm Service), further north the Rodgers Family built a butchers shop, the C.W.A (Country Women’s Association) Hall was built, the Witchcliffe Hall (now Darnell’s Witchcliffe Store) was built and the Witchcliffe and Forest Grove (Naralingup) Schools were built. Of special note, the first teacher at the Forest Grove School was John Tonkin who would later become Premier of Western Australia in 1971.
Today some of the group schools are still being used throughout the community for various purposes. The Witchcliffe Hall, which was later to become Darnell’s Store, was built by Tom Hopson, who worked at the East Witchcliffe Mill. In 1938 Bill Darnell and George Shervington bought the store. Later, following the death of Mr Shervington, Bill and his son ran the store.
Even as early as the 1920’s Witchcliffe had a Girl Guides and Boy Scouts Association. If you pop your head into the C.W.A Hall at Witchcliffe you will notice a piano. This piano was the centre of a dispute in the 1940’s when it was given to the Forest Grove School. The Witchcliffe Social Committee and locals were up in arms over the decision, as they had worked and saved hard to buy it. As a result the piano remained in Witchcliffe and sits proudly in the hall.
During the 1950’s the government closed one third of the W.A.G.R rail network, which included the Busselton-Flinders Bay line in 1957. In 1972, the East Witchcliffe mill was destroyed by fire later to be rebuilt at a different location. The Worsley Timber Co. presently runs the mill.
Today, Witchcliffe is a small but thriving community with a cafe, service station, liquor store, restaurant, antique and art& craft shop. Sadly, Darnell’s Store has closed its doors, but there is a chance that the facade will be saved, as it is such an important and significant landmark. Fortunately many of the original buildings have survived including the CWA Hall, Forest Grove School, Town Hall and the old East Witchcliffe Mill sign.