Clontarf Hill contains one of the only remaining stands of old-growth tuart trees in the Fremantle area and forms essential habitat linkages for native flora, fauna and birds. The site has significant Indigenous, European, and ecological heritage
Clontarf Road, Fremantle , WA, Australia
Type of Place
Pre-European settlement: Mythological stories relate Clontarf Hill as being part of a limestone ridge that was created by the Waugal, the sacred rainbow serpent. The hill holds the story of a mother and her two sons who are the protectors of Derbal Nara (Cockburn Sound), and who protect Derbal Nara from the Booyl-a-gatak, or sorcery coming from the north-west.
Clontarf Hill was also a camp site along the walking track or bidi that linked the Whadjuk of the Swan Coastal Plain with Nyoongar groups in the south-west. These walking tracks which began in Perth and wound along the northern bank of the Swan River. The bidi crossed the river at North Fremantle and continued down to Clontarf Hill where it headed inland to Bibra Lake and then south to Rockingham and Mandurah.
1840: Alfred Durlacher surveyed the Cockburn coast describing in his field book the view looking west across Manning Ridge and Clontarf Hill as a ‘barren sandy limestone range’ with a ‘gradual slope, rather broken, with a few banksias and blackboys’. The general country around Clontarf Hill he described as, ‘country timbered with white gum, zamia, blackboys, wattle, with little good grass’. He also remarked on the plethora of swamps in the area.
1830: In a letter dated August 27th, Sydney Smith, (the agent of Captain George Robb) and the earliest known British settler in the vicinity of Clontarf Hill gave his address as Hamilton Hill and this was the first recording of the name by which the suburb has become known.
1858: Irishman John Healy arrived in Western Australia and took up land grants in Spearwood, Hamilton Hill and Bibra Lake. He occupied a large estate of 300 acres (121 hectares) north of the present Healy Road and encompassing most of what is now Beaconsfield named Winterfold Estate. The western end of his property included Clontarf Hill where he grazed his cows. Healy operated a dairy which at one point supplied most of the milk supply of Fremantle. Clontarf Hill was formerly known as Hamilton Hill. Clontarf is thought to have been named by John Healy.
Clontarf is the anglicised version of the Irish form, Cluain Tarbh, directly translated as the ‘meadow of the bull’ which is apt considering much of Healy’s acreage was referred to as ‘bullock paddocks’.
1923: An outbreak of the Rinderpest (an acute viral disease affecting cattle with death rates almost 100 %) in the dairying districts of Fremantle and Cockburn occurred. As there was no known inoculation or cure, the wholesale slaughter of stock was seen as the only solution. An area was marked off for quarantine and in the space of one month, 1500 cattle, 1000 pigs, 300 goats, and 30 sheep were slaughtered and buried in lime pits. This was the only outbreak of Rinderpest in the history of Australia.
1899: George Robb’s original land grant was divided up into 42 sections. The Dixon family bought thirteen sections, around one quarter of the whole subdivision. Henry Septimus Dixon had 24 acres at Ommanney Street near Clontarf Hill, five acres of which was around a swamp where Dixon produced a thriving market garden, which is now buried under part of Dixon Park and the adjacent road reserve.
1913: The Davenport family moved onto land on Clontarf Road which was a bush track without scheme water or electricity. At that time, Hamilton Hill was known by some Fremantle locals as ‘the Never-Never’ as the whole district was bush. They started a dairy on a property adjoining the Healy’s and their Dairy ran sixty cows and one bull. Milk was delivered by horse and cart in two 10 gallon drums which were dished out for four pence a quart and eight pence a pint. Boys from Clontarf orphanage were employed to work on their dairy and Annie Baker recalls one 16 year old boy saying ‘this is funny, I come from Clontarf orphanage to live in Clontarf Road and work at Clontarf Dairy’.
Annie Baker (nee Davenport) recalls an ‘old gentleman’ living at the foot of Clontarf Hill in a one roomed house. He worked at William Detmolds Ltd, a printing, bookbinding and stationary firm in Fremantle. The house has since been demolished.
1907: The Fremantle Roads Board encouraged settlement in the Winterfold Estate district. This was facilitated by the partial construction of Healy Road. A need for relatively cheap and durable building materials led to the opening of several limestone quarries in the vicinity of Clontarf Hill, one of which was in Beaconsfield. The labourers in the quarry were predominantly of Irish extraction and they lived in shanty huts nearby including on Clontarf Hill.
1912: The Newmarket Hotel was built and became the social and community hub of the west Hamilton Hill district, where on Friday nights the place was packed with workers from Robb’s Jetty, wharfies, foundry workers, gardeners, and horse trainers. It was also the place where goods and services were swapped and bartered and punters could exchange items like, meat, eggs, crayfish and vegetables. Des Carter recalls that, ‘all its life the Newmarket was a working man’s meeting place’.
1920’s and 1930’s: The suburb of South Fremantle was known as South Beach and Hamilton Hill was known as Silly Town. In 1833 the first horse race in WA was held at South Beach and South Fremantle and Hamilton Hill became a hub for horse trainers. Many racing stables were clustered in the neighbourhood around Clontarf Hill, particularly along Newmarket Street where people involved in the racing fraternity settled.
Dick Jones lived at the base of Clontarf Hill and was farrier to many of the horse trainers in the district. The iron rings that still hold up the brick chimney at Robb’s Jetty site were hand-made by Dick Jones. Every Sunday Dick Jones, Bindy Williams and other men of the district would meet at Randwick Stables in a shed that they called ‘the church’, to share a drink and discuss the winners and losers in the horse races.
1939: Bert Winfield Allpike, a 21 year old labourer was charged with having used premises in Healy Road, Hamilton Hill, as a common betting shop. In August 1942, a local newsagent was arrested for using his car as a place for betting also in Healy Road. In ‘Sillytown’, illegal betting shops were common.
A unit named 55AA Company was formed to operate the search lights and coastal emplacements.
1942: The company was expanded into four sections and search light stations were set up at various locations including Clontarf Hill.
1944: A Special Operations (known by the code name Z) camp was set up at Clontarf Hill. The main camp at was on Garden Island where members were trained in covert operations such as one person submarine operation, fold boats, and laying charges on target ships. The Healy Road camp was set up to support the Garden Island facility with supply, maintenance, and administration. It only lasted for two months until Sept 1944 but remains of the ablution block and loading bay remain on Clontarf Hill today.
1948: Frank Brbich and his family who ran a market garden growing onions, cabbages, beans, and other seasonal produce moved to Clontarf Road when For Frank and his friends, Clontarf Hill, known to the boys simply as ‘The Hill’, was a wonderful adventurous playground, which offered plenty of fun and excitement and they spent much of their spare time roaming the hill and playing in the slit trenches left by the army searchlight stations. Frank remembers making ‘gings’ and bow and arrows, using the trenches as cover in battle games. They also made kites from bush sticks and brown paper and flew them from the top of the hill as well as trapping rabbits which were taken home to their parents to cook up in a stew. The flying fox (which had been used by the army) ran from the top of the hill down the steep slope to the ablution block on the southern side was also great fun for kids until at some point it broke. In a small cave on the eastern side of the hill, Frank and his friends discovered an army bayonet, dagger, bugle and lantern and he remembers his friend climbing up on the hill in the mornings and blowing the army bugle. The cave has now been buried under housing development on the eastern side of the hill
Bev Carter (nee Jones) and her sister Valerie remember growing up on the edge of Clontarf Hill, climbing the hill and walking over to the area that is now Dixon Park where there was a large mulberry tree as well as almond and pear trees. The ground was muddy and swampy and the girls would climb the mulberry tree and feast on the fruit, then race home, change into their bathers and walk down to the beach to wash off the purple mulberry stains.
Every Guy Fawkes night, the local kids would make a huge bonfire on top of the hill. The fire pile would often be so high that they needed ropes to haul the branches to the very top of the pile. Frank recalls one Guy Fawkes night one of his friends threw in a small cannon that he had pinched from the Blessing of the Fleet in Fremantle. The explosion could be heard all across Beaconsfield and Hamilton Hill and the boys got into a lot of strife from this little prank.
Early 1950’s: At the base of the hill on the west side, a gardener known as ‘Marko’ cleared vegetation and established a market garden which ran north along the base of the hill. Marko had a small shed and pump house and watered his garden from a well which is still in existence.
On the eastern side of Clontarf Hill, Miss Showell ran her poultry farm. Bev and Valerie Jones remember visiting Miss Showell and helping her to collect and clean her eggs. Showell Street commemorates the site of Miss Showell’s poultry farm.
1973: The Fremantle Eastern Bypass (FEB) was included in the Perth Metropolitan Regions Scheme (MRS) as a Controlled Access Highway reservation and was part of the Western Suburbs Highway that was to link with Roe Highway Stage 8 at Clontarf Hill.
1992 Fiends of Clontarf Hill (FOCH) was formed to preserve Clontarf Hill as a conservation area and community open space.
The Transport Action Coalition (TRAC) ran a highly visible and successful community campaign against the construction of the FEB. Members of TRAC, under the band name “The Agitators”, composed, recorded and released a song titled ‘Ode to Eric’ which was directed at the then transport minister Eric Charlton.
1997: 300 people walked the route of the FEB, culminating in a concert and blessing ceremony at Clontarf Hill. Father Donovan from Christ the King parish called for local people to stand up and fight for the hill and conducted a ‘Blessing of the Hill’, in the spirit of advocacy for the preservation of the hill as a place of natural heritage.
2002: FOCH was awarded a Citizenship award as part of the Australia Day Community Awards in 2002. Since their formation FOCH have planted thousands of local species of trees and shrubs on and around Clontarf Hill, and have removed tonnes of rubbish and invasive species on clean up days.
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