History Of Toodyay
The Ballardong Noongar people lived in this area for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. The people called the area Duidgee, meaning place of plenty and from which the word Toodyay is derived.
Life revolved around the practical aspects of food-gathering and survival interwoven with a rich and complex culture of spiritual beliefs and traditions handed down over generations through stories, dance, symbolic art forms and songs.
The river was central to life as provider of water and food and a sacred site on the banks a burial ground.
In 1829 a British colony was established on the Swan River, and the townsites of Perth and Fremantle were gazetted. Colonists began to take up land along the Swan River to cultivate crops and grow vegetables. Before long the best of the land was taken, and the colonists began to look further a field.
Ensign Robert Dale was the first British person to discover the Avon Valley, in 1830. He reported that the region was fertile and possessed a good supply of water. Over the next five years colonists took up Avon Valley land grants in the Toodyay area. In 1836 they set out from Guildford with a Noongar guide named Babbing, in order to inspect the land.
I learnt from Babbing that the place was called Duidgee and that it was a favourite haunt of the natives, no doubt on account of its natural productions (James Drummond, Perth Gazette, 21 & 28 May 1836).
The townsite of Toodyay was established 3 kilometres upstream from the present townsite, at a bend in the river. A small town grew there with government and commercial buildings, although it was subjected to regular flooding. By the 1850s there were three inns and two schools, as well as a gaol.
In 1850 convict transportation to Western Australia commenced. Convict hiring depots were established at Toodyay and York, and the buildings for this were established away from the Toodyay townsite on the opposite riverbank. A commissariat, depot, pensioners and sappers’ quarters were built there.
In 1859 while surveyors were marking out new allotments at Toodyay, the townsite once again flooded. Plans were then made to create a new town near the convict hiring depot. In 1860 the town of Newcastle was surveyed, at the site of the current townsite of Toodyay. The original Toodyay townsite was still occupied; although it was eventually abandoned. During the late 1800s the towns of Toodyay and Newcastle lived side by side.
By the beginning of the twentieth century the townsite of Newcastle had grown, while the Toodyay townsite had disappeared. In 1910 the federal government asked the Newcastle Road Board to consider a name change in order to avoid postal confusion arising out of the town of the same name in New South Wales. The Road Board and the community agreed and the name of Toodyay was the obvious choice for the ‘new’ name. The old townsite of Toodyay became known as ‘West Toodyay’.
To discover more of Toodyay’s heritage, visit the Toodyay Old Gaol Museum and Connor’s Mill or visit the Toodyay Visitor Centre, which has a number of local history books on sale. An extract from the Shire of Toodyay’s Municipal Inventory also provides a Historical Overview.