Autumn in Albany
I’m currently in my hometown, Albany, Western Australia, 4.5 hours drive south of the capital, Perth and about half an hour north of Antarctica. Not really, but that’s how the wind can feel in winter. Not today though. As I write the sky is cloudless and the same azure blue as the ocean. This is autumn in Albany; slight breezes and perfect days. Also sometimes grey skies and rain; as they say here, if you don’t like the weather wait five minutes. Any amount of changeable weather is worth it, though, for the beauty of Albany at this time of year, and a townful of tourists seems to agree.
Autumn is an ideal time to visit Western Australia in general, and one of my favourite times of year. After months of heat the slightly cooler days are a pleasant change, but the temperature is usually still in the 20s (Celsius), great weather for enjoying the outdoors. Albany is particularly popular around Easter as Western Australians look for local getaways, and when Easter falls at the same time as the school holidays and ANZAC Day, the place starts buzzing, as much as such a laidback town can buzz.
Albany is historically significant for both its age and connection to the ANZACs. It was settled in 1826 as the first town in Western Australia, although the indigenous people, Menang Noongars, had been in the area for many years. Explorers had known about Western Australia for centuries but its remoteness meant it wasn’t settled until the British, who had already colonised Australia, wanted a settlement in the west. Thus a ship of settlers and convicts, headed by Major Edmund Lockyer, arrived in King George Sound and Albany was established.
However, the land was not viable for farming so in 1829 Sir James Stirling was sent to establish a new colony on the banks of the Swan River, which would become Perth. This left Albany to cycle through a variety of roles over the years as a port town; a stop for coal, a postal centre, a whaling location and, with the development of modern technology and chemicals, an agricultural centre, which it remains to this day, now a regional city of over 35, 000 people. It’s a popular tourist destination thanks to its natural beauty and prime fishing locations, and still an important location in regards to ANZAC Day.
One of the functions Albany served was as the last stop for Australian troops before they left for World War One in 1914. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) left a legacy in a country still finding its identity after federation and April 25 each year is dedicated to commemorating their sacrifice. This has extended to other wars, particularly World War Two and Vietnam, but the focus of ANZAC Day is generally WW1. Hence, Albany has become significant, particularly for those whose family members last saw Australia as they left King George Sound and never returned. Here are some ways to find out more about the history for yourself:
- ANZAC Service: Each year there is a march down the main street, ending at the ANZAC Peace Park for a ceremony remembering the sacrifice of those in the war. The march starts at 10am with the service at 10.30am.
- Dawn Service: This is a popular way to commemorate ANZAC day around the country. The first dawn service was, in fact, held in Albany, a tradition that continues on Mount Clarence every year, beginning at 5.30am.
- National ANZAC Centre: Opened in 2014, this is an interactive museum looking at stories from the war. It overlooks the sound where the troops left a hundred years earlier.
- Albany Heritage Park: Right next to the museum is the Princess Royal Fortress, built prior to WW1 but used until after WW2, so there’s lots to explore in the area. Walking (or driving) up the hill takes you past the Avenue of Honour and at the top of the hill is the Desert Mounted Corp Memorial. Mt Clarence also has some of the best views of Albany and its surrounds.
- Field of Light: A temporary installation of 16, 000 lights along the avenue of honour on Mt Clarence, a tribute to the ANZACs. I went earlier this year and it’s an impressive sight and an interesting new way to consider the ANZAC legacy. This runs until April 28, 2019 so if you are headed to Albany get in quick.
What else is there to do in Albany?
If you’re in Albany for ANZAC Day this year, or want to make a trip down here, there’s plenty of other things to do.
- Beaches: In town, there’s Middleton Beach or Emu Point, or if you’re up for a 20-40 minute drive, I recommend Frenchman’s Bay, Two People’s Bay or Nanarup.
- The Gap: Albany is known for its rugged coastline (make sure you are careful and follow any safety signs). The Gap is particularly impressive- waves crashing over the side of a gap in the granite rocks.
- Mt Melville: I’ve mentioned Mt Clarence but Albany is actually situated among three mounts- Clarence, Melville and Adelaide. Mt Melville has a dedicated lookout, nicknamed ‘the spark plug’ for its appearance, offering more views of Albany
- Boardwalk: A walking trail from Middleton Beach to the edge of the town centre. Walk a part or the whole thing (6 km) and get some of the best views of King George Sound.
- Hiking: Albany is around 40 minutes drive from the Porongurup National Park and just over an hour’s drive from the Stirling Range National Park, both of which are popular hiking destinations. Castle Rock in the Porongurups is popular, with the new(ish) Skywalk. For more of a challenge, Bluff Knoll in the Stirlings is the highest peak in Western Australia and, excitement, recently had snow. That’s right, it snows in WA. (At this one particular location.) Use caution, especially if you are unfamiliar with the area and/or an inexperienced hiker.
- Indigenous culture: Indigenous people have been in WA for many years and there are lots of important sites in and around Albany. There are many I am unfamiliar with so I recommend taking a tour to learn more about the local history.
- More history: For more of Albany’s history visit the museum precinct, with museum, old schoolhouse, and a replica of the ship that brought Lockyer and co to Albany. There’s also the Patrick Taylor Cottage Museum, which has been there since 1832 but I did not know existed until three months ago, and the first farm in WA, Strawberry Hill, which has pretty grounds.
How to get there from Perth
- Drive: Albany is just over 400 kilometres south west of Perth, meaning it takes around 4.5 hours to drive there if you stop at least once. Just get onto Albany Highway and keep going.
- Fly: It only takes 1.5 hours to get to Albany from Perth via plane, but tickets can be pricey.
- Bus: There is a Transwa service from Perth to Albany. There are three different routes and the whole journey takes around 7 hours.