Here is another piece that I wrote for Esperance Tide, our gorgeous local magazine. The Museum Village is a collection of historical buildings in the center of town, each one of which has a fascinating history. This is the slightly extended version of the article, which was fascinating to research and write. Enjoy!
On Dempster street sits a collection of buildings that is well loved by tourists and locals alike, not just for the unique and interesting shops. The Museum Village also showcases heritage buildings that are a well-preserved time capsule of local Esperance history.
The Visitor Centre
Esperance’s Visitor Centre was first opened in 1967 in a small corner of Duncan Stewart’s store. As more tourists began visiting the town in the 70s, a purpose-built tourist bureau was established in what is now the Museum Village, and was officially opened in 1984. Unemployed young people were engaged to build the new tourist bureau, using a subsidy from the Commonwealth and State Governments.
Salmon Gums School
The old Salmon Gums School was originally built as a school room at the Princess Royal Mine in Norseman in 1906. When enrollments in the school at the mine site declined, the school was moved to the primary school site in Norseman. In 1926 the first school in Salmon Gums was opened in the Salmon Gums Agricultural Hall, with head teacher Miss Jessie Nairn appointed. As the Hall was used for other district social functions, the classroom frequently had to be packed up. In 1927, the district inspector of schools recommended that another building be sought. The decision was made to move the unused school building from Norseman to Salmon Gums. The contract to move the school was awarded to Mr. Eustace Pike of Kalgoorlie. The building was partially dismantled, and moved by Model T truck and by the recently completed Norseman to Salmon Gums rail service. Even the brick fireplace was dismantled and rebuilt. The school eventually outgrew the building, and a new complex was opened in 1972, with the old building scheduled for demolition. The headmaster, Bart Northam, intervened, and the well-travelled school building was transported to where it now stands in the Museum Village. The Village Sheep Shop operated out of the building for 33 years until it sadly closed down in 2018.
Hospital Matron’s House – now Recherche Gallery
After gold was discovered in Kalgoorlie in 1893, Esperance, as the closest port, experienced a huge population boom. In 1895, the first hospital (which also served as the Magistrate’s office) was opened. After a decline in the town’s population, the hospital closed in 1909, and was only used occasionally for emergencies. In 1926, a committee was formed to secure a hospital for Esperance. A hospital building was purchased from Wellard, in Kwinana. In 1929, the Wellard hospital was transported to Esperance by sea, on the SS Kybra. The contract for moving the hospital was awarded to G. J. Fairbanks, who was paid £2495 for the job. One of the buildings of the hospital was the Matron’s house, used as a residence for Hospital Matrons up until 1971. After that time, the building was used for a Physiotherapy clinic, and Pathology department. In 1983, the Matron’s House was moved to the Museum Village.
Police Sergeant’s Quarters – now White Sands Gallery
Esperance’s first Police Station was opened in 1879, and Constable George Truslove and Lance Corporal Walter Coppin were the first police officers appointed to the area. Their jurisdiction ran from Bremer Bay to Eucla. In 1927, the Police Sergeant’s Quarters was built, and was in use until 1986, when a new Sergeant’s house was built.
Schoolmaster’s Residence – now Esperance Café
Built in 1940 on the corner of Hicks and Dempster Street, this building was used to house the school headmasters up until 1961. After that, the building was purchased by the Shire Council, and used to house Shire employees. In 1978, the building became the site of the first Senior Citizens Centre. The current Senior Citizens Centre was opened in 1983. The building was then moved the short distance across Dempster Street to the Museum village. In 1984, it was opened as the Banksia Tearooms. Since then, a number of businesses have called the building home.
Sinclair House – now ESP
Laurence Sinclair first came to Esperance in the 1870s, working for Andrew Dempster as a shepherd. When the gold rush began, Sinclair travelled to Kalgoorlie in 1894 to join the search for riches. On the way back, he camped overnight, and in the morning, he discovered that his horse, Norseman, had kicked up a large gold nugget with his hoof. This was the beginning of the gold rush in the town that came to be known after the horse, Norseman. Sinclair and his partner sold the Norseman mining lease, and Sinclair continued prospecting without much success. Eventually, he went back to work for the Dempsters. Sinclair’s wife, Julia, was a much-loved Midwife in the town, and they had nine children. They built this house in the early 1920s. In 1981, Sinclair’s grandson gave the house to the Esperance township, and it was moved to the Museum Village.
The Methodist Church – now Naturally Esperance
The church building was originally built in 1895 on Dempster street. Before this, Methodist Church Services were held in a rented school room. The first resident Minister was Reverend S. J. Rooney, who became a missionary to the Solomon Islands. After Rooney, there was no Methodist Minster in town, and the church relied on ‘missionaries’ who were stationed in Norseman. These ministers travelled by sulky or by bicycle between Norseman and Esperance, 200 kilometres of sandy, boggy track. Later, they travelled by motorbike, or on the weekly mail truck. When the town’s population dwindled, Sunday Services in the building stopped for a time, in about 1904. In 1912, after a dispute over ownership of land, the church was moved down Dempster street, then in the 1920s, the building was moved to yet another site on Dempster street. The Methodist ‘Home Mission Department’ decided to dismantle the church and move it to Ravensthorpe. The congregants managed to stop this move, reportedly by standing on the porch and refusing to move. The circuit Ministers worked hard, and had a large area to cover. One of them, a William Colenso, died in 1934 while acting as a minister in the district. His death certificate states the cause of death as malnutrition. Another Minister, Reverend Robert Boulter, had to ask the Synod for a special dispensation to pay for a motorbike to travel the district in 1934. He reported difficulties with the mud near Salmon Gums which would completely clog up the wheels of his motorbike, leaving him to resort to waiting for the train. In the 60s, the town’s population was increasing, so a permanent Minister was assigned to the town. In 1970, a new church building was built, and the old Church was moved to the Museum Village in 1979.
Original Hospital – now Soothe Remedial Massage and Pink Lily Beauty
In 1896, with Esperance rapidly expanding and a typhoid outbreak in town, the original Hospital was built at the site of the present day Hospital on Hicks street. The hospital had four rooms – the nurse’s room, servant’s room, ward, and a kitchen/bathroom. The hospital was closed in 1909 when the town’s population dwindled. The building was purchased by Mr Baird for £77 in 1929, and was relocated to the present site, where it was used as a BnB for some time.
The Old Court House – now Karnpi Designs Art Gallery and Gift Shop
Built in Andrew Street in 1896, this building was originally the Esperance council office. It became the local court house in 1898. In 1975, the service clubs of Esperance got together to move the heritage building to its present location, the first building of what would become the Museum Village.
Chemist Shop – now Esperance Sew and Sews
This building was built by Sam Lord in Andrew Street, opposite the Post Office. From 1895, the building was used as a stationery store, then a general store, and later a bicycle agency. It was run by many different people, finally being taken over by Mr Binnie, who supplied patent medicines, gifts, books and fishing gear. In the 1950s, J. E. Stewart took over the shop, becoming the first qualified Chemist in the town. In 1955, a Chemist from Kalgoorlie called Bert Elliot took over the store, and stocked general goods as well as being a pharmaceutical dispensary. In 1962, Len Barker took over from Mr Elliot. Mr Barker opened another Chemist shop, which was also located in Andrew Street. In 1970, Mr Keirath took over the two Chemist shops, and operated them until the late 1970s, when he moved into a larger shop. After this, the little Chemist Shop was moved to the Museum Village.
Doctor’s Surgery – now Brodeine and Deine
This building, built in 1900 and owned by the Daw family, came from Red Lake. It was relocated to Esperance when the Daws moved their business to Norseman. It was originally a small store located on Andrew Street, then used as an office. Doctor Tom Burcher used the building as a surgery when he arrived in town in 1966 to relieve the town’s sole doctor, Dr John Fenwick. Burcher stayed in town, as the town’s population was increasing dramatically, practicing in this building until 1973. After that, the building was not used again until it was later moved to the Museum Village.