The Margaret River was first encountered by European immigrants not as a defined channel, but as a confusing network of streams and tributaries.
In 1832 John Bussell published his account of an exploration from Augusta to Vasse. Four men and a few dogs spent a week walking through dense forest and scrubland, surveying as they went. Hunting, drinking from the streams, sleeping wet in shelters made from sticks. There and back again.
Bussells’ account is deeply observant; rocks, soil, herbaceous plants and trees, tracks of animals and people, but most particularly the water. Rivulets, torrents, rain; basins, pools, channels; overnight supplies drawn from the hollow rings of dead grasstrees, saturation of clothing from close contact with the bush. He describes water in all it’s facets: direction of flow, depth, speed, turbidity.
They realize that the west flowing streams may flow into an unknown channel, “… the seaward and western branch of the Blackwood, or some other river, if such a thing exists between Cape Naturaliste and the White Patch.”
Somewhere near a southern tributary they meet an elderly Noongar man, too uneasy to respond to their attempts to speak his language, but who generously shows them the best place to cross a large stream.
Wooditch, or the ‘the unknown river’ already had a name, a history, thousands of years of lore and culture, but was re-named and known as the Margaret.
First published for Margaret River Spirit of Place on 27-10-2017
University of Western Australia