Esperance town centre takes shape

Water scarcities compounded by the complexity of sand on the coastal plain were acute problems for early Esperance settlers.

Over time the landscape around the town would be irrevocably reshaped as the sand hills were altered to make room for new access roads.

In 1893, when a gold find in the west was announced, it set off a rush to the new fields. Upon arrival at the settlement of Esperance, the prospector's sought to stock up on bare essentials and head north.

At the time there were three central sandy tracks in Esperance, and when walking anywhere it was through ankle-deep sand.

Andrew Street was a busy thoroughfare as the teamsters and travelers prepared for these epic inland journeys.

Common sights in the town centre were horse teams and long strings of pack mules and camel trains, bullocks and donkeys.

The most suitable means of transport for heavy haulage were large wagons pulled by teams of camels; carting contractors were doing a steady trade. The water along the route to the Goldfields was scarce.

This meant that horses were unable to travel the long distances without fresh water wells being established.

The size of the teams varied from a single animal to a dozen or more horse and camels harnessed together.

With such a high volume of people and draught teams on the track, conditions could deteriorate rapidly.

The large, undulating soft sand hills surrounding Esperance were obstacles to tackle, marking the beginning of an extended sandy and boggy route.

The first available fresh water was a watering place called the Two Mile well and trough, located on the west side of Norseman Road about two miles from the Esperance Post and Telegraph Office.

It was an important place for the hardworking animals and their drivers to rest after the back-breaking work of hauling heavy wagons through the deep sand.

The three mile marker peg was located north of Barney's Hill, a high scrub covered sand hill belt that became the land mark or naming point for the coach and horse drawn travelers. It was one of the first established watering points and later had a dam.

The weather station situated between Barney's Road and Fairfield Street is at this location.

This large rise is the only sand hill land feature remaining on Norseman Road after the dunes around Hunts Old Cannery.

The watering point established by the Esperance Bay Land Company at Barney's Hill has since been filled in and the road built over it.

Bukenerup Road was a track which was used when the shore around Lake Warden was too soft and the lake was full.

During wet weather, the wagons would become so bogged that they would have to be unloaded and loaded several times.

Bukenerup is a local Aboriginal expression for a favoured hunting and camping site and was one of the first tracks. The five mile peg from town was a strenuous section, being so sandy and the steepest slope of Six Mile Hill.

Here the teams would be "double- banked" using two teams of horses to pull one wagon to the top of the hill and then return to pull the other wagon up.

The teams would be rested and watered at Shark Lake before facing another hard haul to the next watering place at Gibson.

The fresh water soak called Gibson Soak was found by a teamster named Henry Gibson and his son William in 1894.The watering point was the last fresh water source on the track to Dundas and the Norseman goldfields.

In 1896 the state government took over the soak, erected a windmill, sank a well and pumped the water up into tanks set up on top of wooden stands. The precious commodity was expensive to buy along the inland track.

In 1896 Henry and Sarah Jenkins settled at Gibson and ran the Gibson Wayside Inn offering accommodation to the travelling public.

There was always fresh fodder around the soak which was popular with the horses and other animals.

The saying 'you can lead a horse to water but cannot make it drink' was apt here as the horses would not like to drink the water further up the track that had been condensed.

As Esperance grew, houses replaced the tents and the floorless makeshift iron roofed white washed hessian walled quarters that had sprung up.

A school, hospital, church and jetty were built. The railway began with the government jetty and the horse tramway on which trucks ran on rail tracks and carried goods to the Customs Office and around to the settlement of Newtown.

It was vital for the town to make improvements and extend the road system which began when the central streets were macadamised.

In an upgrade of the Esplanade some fencing and trees were planted for the Esperance Municipal Council as part of George Dance's sand cutting contract.

George Dance won the Esperance Roads Board sand-cutting contract and to improve the way through the formidable sand hills and strengthen the road link to the goldfields.

George Dance and his team used hand shovels to cut the sand and his horse and dray teams to cart it. In 1898 Dance also contracted to metal part of the Esperance and Norseman roadway.

The sandy surface was metalled using gravel. The sand hills situated just south of the present junction of Norseman Road and Goldfields road were named 'Dance's cutting' in appreciation of George Dance's worthy contribution.

When Esperance declined in the late 1890s, Dance followed the rush to the Phillips River goldfields and continued his work clearing bush, making roads and scooping dams.

In 1900 he built a cottage called 'Hampshire' in Morgan Street, Ravensthorpe which is now the oldest cottage in the town and known as Dance Cottage.