When my mother was alive she constantly had to fend off jokes about her home town. Although born in Albany, on King George Sound and the oldest settlement in Western Australia, my “sand groper” mum lived many of her formative years in the tiny timber town of Yarloop. And it was that name that caused such mirth – although being a person of good humour she took it all in her stride.
Those early years coincided with the Depression and, like many families across Australia and around the world, the bread winner found himself without a job. The family was torn apart with my grandmother and the two youngest children sailing to Sydney to join East Coast family members. My grandfather, my mother and her elder sister stayed behind in Western Australia. Then my aunt and grandfather also moved to Sydney while my mother stayed with her grandparents in Yarloop where her grandfather worked in the timber industry.
Eventually a wealthy uncle paid her boat fare to Sydney and she joined the rest of the family. She remained very attached to Yarloop and often talked fondly about her life there: the stability of staying put in a secure environment at a time of such upheaval; of going to the pictures and holding hands with a boy when the lights went out – the same boy who continued to send her cards well into her 80s and who said he still carried her photograph in his wallet; her bittersweet farewell from Yarloop, happy at the prospect of being reunited with her family, sad at the thought of leaving her grandparents, friends and the embrace of that little town.
So to hear today that Yarloop has been all but wiped off the map in south-west Western Australia’s brutal bushfires is devastating news. How heartbroken my mother would be that the little wooden cottage she had shared with her grandparents, just across from the war memorial and next to the railway workshops, had fallen victim to the destructive flames. The cottage had been the focus of many a visit from the East Coast descendants over the years. The long-suffering owners had tolerated tours by me and numerous cousins and most recently my brother and sister-in-law late last year. My heart goes out to them and I hope they are safe.
Today I located some snaps from a visit I paid with my daughter about 10 years ago and my brother sent some from his recent trip. Despite the name, Yarloop is probably an early-settler mispronunciation of Yarlup Brook, only about five kilometres north and using the common Noongar-language place-name “up” ending.
Railway Workshops Museum, Yarloop.
My mother’s grandparent’s cottage, Yarloop.