Northam’s Bushmen’s Home

At the same time as the organisers of Geraldton’s Bushmen’s Club struggled to establish it, Northam’s Temperance Hall and Bushmen’s Home went from strength to strength. Fundraising began on 31 October 1876 in the form of a bazaar held at the Mechanics Hall. A variety of “useful and fancy articles” were available for sale. On the committee were seven women: Mrs Clifton, Miss Ranford, Mrs Monger, Mrs Jones, Mrs Throssell, Mrs Gregory, and Mrs Morrell.

Along with the bazaar, they also advertised a public tea meeting. Adults could attend by paying one shilling and six pence, while children’s admittance cost a shilling. Further enticing people, “foot races, quoit matches, and all kinds of rural sports” would take place.

Advertising ran for two months. During that time, an additional notice advised of a “lottery and grand drawing of prizes.” Tickets cost one shilling. Ten prizes were on offer, with the first prize being a silver hunting watch and gold chain valued at ten pounds.

Construction of the building began in 1876. Initially, it was hoped that the cost would be about £500, but that later increased. When it officially opened in August 1877, it cost £751, including £50 for furniture.

The building was located on the corner of Wellington Street and Grey Street. It included bedrooms, a public dining room, a sitting room, a large room upstairs for meetings, and a committee room. Later additions would include more bedrooms, a storeroom, a kitchen, and a washhouse. Entertainment and recreational activities included: skittles, quoits, bagatelle, and a gymnasium.

The dedication and opening ceremony of the Temperance Hall and Bushmen’s Home took place on 30 August 1877. The Inquirer and Commercial News sent a special reporter and they noted that “Every preparation was made to mark the event and fix it in the memory of all who took part in the festivities, as a day never to be forgotten in Northam.

The crowds gathered for the event, and various people set up booths, selling toys, oranges, lollipops, and whirligigs to children. At 10 am, the sounds of music, horses, and carriages could be heard. The procession from York, resplendent in silk, velvet, and gold, marched to the Bushmen’s Home and then to church. After the service, they returned to the Home for the dedication of the hall.

At 4 pm there was a tea meeting, and in the evening, there was a concert and public meeting. So many people attended that some were refused admittance, and many stood throughout the entire night. People sang songs and gave speeches. Once it was over, they dispersed throughout the town to continue dancing and celebrating until the early hours of the morning.

According to a writer for The Western Australian Times, Northam was the first town in Western Australia to establish a Bushmen’s Home. Instrumental behind the cause was George Throssell, who embraced the temperance movement. One newspaper stated, “To the energy and perseverance of the Northam people, and to one man in particular – George Throssell – is due the credit of erecting a public-house which shall combine all the requirements of an hostelry without the fatal allurements which in so many instances have been the ruin of very many people.”

The Bushmen’s Home was declared a great success. Shepherds and bushmen patronised the home and, in October 1878, when comparing Northam’s achievement to Geraldton’s stagnation, the Victorian Express reported that the Home had “effected a cure for drunkenness.” They had hoped that Geraldton could emulate Northam’s success.

In June 1880, The Inquirer and Commercial News published an account entitled ‘Notes by a Traveller.’ Recommending travel among the eastern districts, they first stopped at Northam. As part of their travels, they visited the town and observed all the goings-on, including at the Bushmen’s Home. When they went there in the evening, they saw a large number of men playing billiards, sipping their coffee before a warm fire, or smoking their pipes. Newspapers lay scattered on the side tables and various types of non-alcoholic drinks were available. The home and temperance movement were working as intended, and they wrote, “Northam may well feel proud of what her ‘cold-water army’ has done in raising such a magnificent building for the promotion of the Temperance cause.

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