Historical Society seeks assurance over Old Settlement site future

Heritage headache: Members of the Margaret River and Districts Historical Society say they want to ensure the future of the Old Settlement site. Photo: Nicky Lefebvre
Heritage headache: Members of the Margaret River and Districts Historical Society say they want to ensure the future of the Old Settlement site. Photo: Nicky Lefebvre

The Margaret River Regional Environment Centre has joined with the region’s historical society to issue a formal request to the Shire to be included in future planning for the sport of mountain biking in the region, after concerns were raised over the use of the Old Settlement site on the banks of the Margaret River.

In a letter to the Shire and co-signed by a number of community groups including the Friends of the Barrett Street Reserve, the Friends of the A Class Reserve and Lifecycle Bikes, the centre and the Margaret River and Districts Historical Society said the natural environment of the region was becoming “increasingly impacted” by mountain biking activities.

“Currently there is disquiet about the increased use of traditional ‘walking’ tracks by fast moving mountain bikers, which is changing the amenity of some areas within the Shire,” the letter reads. 

“Many community members are expressing misgivings about the appropriateness of mountain biking in certain areas.”

MRDHS Old Settlement Curator Elwyn Franklin told the Mail that the group was keen to stress that they were not “anti-biking.”

“In fact, we have a number of mountain bike riders and cyclists in our group, and we appreciate the popularity and suitability of the region for the sport,” Ms Franklin said.

“Our concern is over the central hub of MTB operations in Margaret River being placed in such a historic, important part of the community, and due to the increasing popularity and traffic, this special area is being impacted.

“We have no issues with the Hairy Marron and many of us frequent the cafe, the staff there are always great and very helpful.

“We also understand that the cafe has created a great central meeting point for walkers, cyclists and tourists to convene on the banks of the river.”

Acting AMR Shire chief executive Annie Riordan said the intention of the Old Settlement Concept plan was to reinvigorate the site.

“The inclusion of mountain bikers and mountain biking facilities encourages use of the site as a meeting place, an activity and exploration hub, and a resting a relaxation place,” she said.

“These users are exposed to historical and cultural aspects that they might not have otherwise sought out. This creates sentiment and attachment that encourages respectful use of the region.

“The Shire will be preparing a Trails Strategy 2017-18 which will include an audit of all existing trails and design to resolve current issues including user conflicts and lack of strategic linkages.”

The MRDHS said their lease did not allow access the Blacksmith Shop or areas directly outside buildings, making upgrades and the addition of other relevant items impossible.

“We have important historical items in storage which are not able to be displayed or used because we are restricted to the outside wall of the buildings,” Ms Franklin said.

The Blacksmith Shop was built by Malcolm Paine, who at 86 years of age continues with blacksmithing and teaching others the skill. 

Mr Paine constructed the existing brick forge, and Ms Franklin said there was concern over the future of that forge. 

“We understand there is a plan for the Blacksmith Shop to be sublet to the Men’s Shed, to which we are in agreement,” she said. 

“The off road cycling group do not recognise this building as having historical value and want the forge dismantled now, before the Men’s Shed move in. 

“The MRDHS sees using the Blacksmith Shop as a logical future step in showcasing the skills and tools of the Blacksmith and the perfect building to safely display these and other historical items. 

“Saddles and other horse gear, crosscut saws, rabbit traps, machinery and tools used by the Group Settlers and many other donated items currently resting in a sea container off site. 

“MRDHS is more than happy to see the Men’s Shed have the use of the building but we are hoping the forge and the character of the building will be kept intact.”