Prior to European settlement Western Australia’s south west was home to thirteen socio-dialectal groups who shared traditions and a common language with local variations. These groups, known collectively as Nyungar encompassed a triangle from Jurien Bay in the north to Esperance in the southeast (Berndt 1979, Tindale 1974, Tilbrook 1983). Before linguistic boundaries were formed these people were known by Europeans as the Bibbulmun and were said to be ‘the finest group in all West Australia’ (Bates 1938:59-61). The word Bibbulmun means many breasts, a name derived, perhaps, from the great fertility of the region or the number of women and children among the seventy subgroups.
Early European settlement in the Shire of Harvey dates back to the 1840’s when the first settlers arrived at Australind. At about the same time settlers were also moving southwards from Pinjarra to the Harvey River. The Harvey district was considered a superior choice with the abundance of streams, a good climate and rich soils.
By the late 1890’s the Harvey River area had become renowned for its orchards while the Australind hinterland was acknowledged as a mixed farming and dairying area. In 1845 a bridge was built over the Brunswick River giving rural settlers easier access to the settlement of Australind. Timber was also recognised as a major industry in the Shire by the turn of the century.
In 1893 the Perth to Bunbury railway line was opened. Yarloop became the hub of the railway network connecting sawmills in the area to the Yarloop workshops and the timber mill developed into the focal point of the railway system. The Harvey area prospered with the new transport facility enabling fruit, vegetables and stock to be railed to the city in a shorter space of time.
The administration for the area was initially established in Bunbury until the Brunswick Roads Board was formed and the first official meeting was held in February 1895. The district covered basically the same area the Shire of Harvey is today. Later the town of Harvey became the main centre for the district with the development of the timber industry and surrounding agricultural areas, as geographically it is centrally located within the Shire district.
In the late 1800’s a railway siding was built at Brunswick Junction. This also became a thriving town with a major railway complex and the centre of the dairying industry.
Harvey eventually outgrew Brunswick with the completion of the Harvey River diversion which enabled thousands of hectares of land, previously prone to winter flooding, to be cultivated. The Harvey Weir was constructed and officially opened in 1916 and much later the Stirling Dam was completed by 1947.
A major irrigation system was developed making Harvey an important agricultural centre for dairying, beef and horticultural pursuits which has continued into the present day. Citrus fruit, table and wine grapes, emu farming and other agricultural products are continually developing within the Shire.
In the latter part of the 20th century the emphasis changed again as Australind became a major population centre within the district far surpassing the inland towns. The environmental development of the Leschenault Peninsula, crabbing, prawning, fishing and other estuarine activities have increased dramatically in recent times.
Bauxite and mineral sands mining developed as significant industries within a controlled environment, eventuating in the Kemerton Industrial Park, within the Shire of Harvey. These factors together with the management of native and plantation forests have made the Shire one of the fastest growing country localities and an interesting district for tourists to visit.
Being such a diverse Shire with several population centres and major industries of agriculture, mining and timber, tourism has emerged as a new growth industry.
With new subdivisions in progress throughout the district, further industrial development, the construction of the Harvey Dam and more projects in the pipeline, the Shire of Harvey is advancing into the 21st century ready to take on the challenge of the next 100 years.