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Pemberton Southern Forests Western Australia


Pemberton -film location for Jasper Jones

Visiting Pemberton Western Australia is like stepping back in time. It was the perfect location for the recent filming of Jasper Jones, starring Toni Collette and Hugo Weaving.

Pemberton is one of the few remaining south west towns  that still have surviving buildings from earlier times. Rustic timber mill houses, a main street, meeting halls and back alleyways all speak of yesteryear.

Pemberton mill town workers' cottages Pemberton, Western Australia
Mill workers' cottages

Pemberton Millhouse Cafe, Pemberton, Western Australia
Vintage cars on a jolly, stop at a main street cafe

Pemberton Misty morning karri forest near Pemberton Western Australia
Misty morning karri forest near town

A Brief History

Pemberton history goes back a long way. Nyoongar people hunted, gathered and traveled extensively throughout the region for thousands of years. By comparison Europeans have only been here for a blink of an eye. 

karri forest mist australia
Pemberton forest

Grazing and Timber

Around 1860, European settlement started with grazing and pastoralists. In 1907 the construction of Trans Australian Railway Line created a huge demand for thousands of wooden sleepers. Meeting this demand a hardwood timber mill was established in Pemberton and supplied by the local forests. Prized hardwoods, such as karri and jarrah trees were used in the construction of the Indian Pacific line.

Cattle grazing Autumn Pemberton Western Australia
Cattle grazing Autumn

Early Agriculture

Yet agriculture in the south west was still struggling. In a bid to boost population and clear more land for agriculture, the State Government embarked on the Group Settlement Scheme around 1920. The Scheme enticed post World War One British ex-servicemen and their families to take up farming. Many applicants to the Scheme had no agricultural experience. Nor where they made aware that the land promised was uncleared karri forest. With little more than an axe and spade supplied by the government, the settlers were faced with clearing land for crops and cattle with their bare hands. Needless to say, it was an abject failure with many families starving and walking off the land.

Beedelup Falls above Karri Valley Dam

Hops and Tobacco

Tobacco were grown within the region for a short time.  During World War Two there was a tobacco shortage and production was at its peak. However production declined not long after.

Hops for beer making was grown for nearly 50 years. They were used by Perth's Swan Brewery. To irrigate the hops, Waterfall Dam also referred to as Karri Valley Dam was constructed at Beedelup Brook. Eventually the hops market became less viable. Eastern States hops could be produced at lower cost, which spelt the end to that industry.

Gourmand Awards Karri Valley Dam Karri Valley Resort Pemberton
Relaxing early morning fishing at Karri Valley Dam

A second wave of migration of European migrants occurred after World War Two. Agriculture was still slow to develop until tractors became more widely available. This lead to the rapid clearing of land. Many of the migrants came from farming backgrounds. What followed was an expansion of cattle farming and agriculture.


Four National Parks

With time other industries such as tourism developed. The town's close proximity to several national parks gave visitors a range of attractions. There are towering karri forests, secluded rivers, inland sand dunes and rugged coastline.

White sand and tannin water Donnelly River

Donnelly River Pemberton
Sunset, Donnelly River D'Entrecasteaux National Park

Donnelly River Cruises near Pemberton.
Majestic rivers and rugged coast Donnelly River near Pemberton.

There are several national parks adjacent to Pemberton.  These include the Warren National Park, Beedelup National Park, Gloucester National Park, and the D’Entrecasteaux National Park. There are rugged coastlines and extensive inland sand dunes.

Winter flow, Lefroy Brook, karri forest, Pemberton, Western Australia
Winter, Lefroy Brook Pemberton

D’Entrecasteaux National Park, Western Australia
Limestone cliffs D’Entrecasteaux National Park

Yeagarup Dunes, Pemberton region, D’Entrecasteaux National Park, Western Australia
Sunrise and low mist at nearby Yeagarup Dunes D’Entrecasteaux National Park

Others consist of heavily forested regions with sheltered rivers and creeks. Farmlands and vineyards boast large  dams which characterise much of regions’s unique landscape.

Warren River at Moons Crossing, Pemberton region, Warren National Park, Western Australia
Warren River at Moons Crossing Warren National Park

These parks and the proximity to the Southern Ocean contribute to a clean environment for food, wine and tourism.

Sundews Jarrah forest Pemberton
Sundews Jarrah forest

Pemberton Artists

Artists have been drawn to the Pemberton region for years. If you are visiting the area call by the studio of Peter Kovacsy. Peter is a renowned artist who has been living and working in the region for several decades. Through the mediums of wood metal and glass, Peter references the environment and the interplay of light. He is the only local creative with a studio arts practice. His studio gallery is well worth a visit, you may even be lucky enough to see a work in progress.

peter kovacsy gallery 2008
Peter Kovacsy Studio

Climbing Giants

At around sixty metres tall, karri trees are some of the tallest eucalyptus trees in Australia. To the ever resourceful forest workers they also served as useful fire lookout towers. You can climb these lookouts but it is not for the faint-hearted. Two fire lookout trees open to the public. The Bicentennial Tree in Warren National Park and the Gloucester Tree in the Gloucester National Park.

Climbing the Gloucester Tree

Pemberton Cool Climate Wine Region

With its clean environment, proximity to the Southern Ocean and buffering by national parks the region  attracted the attention of the wine industry. Described as a cool climate wine region it offers the advantage of a slow and controlled development of the grapes. This is desired by wine makers for enhancing flavour development.

Pemberton cool climate vineyards
Morning mist lifting off vines near Pemberton

Initially just a handful of vineyards and cellar doors had set up around Pemberton. The Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation gazetted the Pemberton Wine Region in 2006. It extended south of Manjimup towards Northcliffe with Pemberton at its centre.

Pemberton Wine Region Book

In 2008 I published the hardcover book Pemberton Wine Region Western Australia. It is the first premium quality photography book to focus on this emerging region.

Pemberton vineyards
Vineyard beside towering forest

pemberton grape harvest
Hand picking grapes

The region's unique terrior is visually explored, showcasing its outstanding natural beauty. Images of majestic forests, rivers, massive sand dunes and rugged coastline capture the landscape that shapes the region’s wine and character.

Gourmand Book Awards 2010

Silkwood Winery Pemberton
Vineyard lunch beside the water

The book was the Australian finalist in two categories at the Gourmand Book Awards recently held in Paris 2010. The categories were Best Wine Photography and Best Book on New World Wines.

Australian Wine Region Pemberton Autumn Colours Picardy
Vineyard in Autumn

Pemberton wine region Autumn colour
Autumn in the vineyard
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Pemberton photos karri forest trees in mist Western Australia

Forest Pemberton Australia

Pemberton photos karri forests and wine region

Pemberton photos nearly always have karri trees somewhere in them. These Australian hardwood giants dominate the region and lend themselves to much of Pemberton's visual character and timber town history.

In 2008 I had only recently acquired my first digital camera. It was a Pentax K10D, with a 10 megapixel APS-C  CCD sensor. This is about 2/3 area of  a full frame 35mm film SLR. What was exciting about this camera was two fold: 1) it could take my existing Pentax K-mount lenses which I already owned and 2) I was in the throws of publishing a coffee table book about the beauty of the Pemberton region.

As a result, karri trees in mist Pemberton was one of my first digital camera landscapes during the photographing of my book Pemberton Wine Region. This relatively small file image has been successfully printed for a client requiring a customised image over 1.7 metre long and slightly over 1.1 metres high. The softness of the misty image does not lend itself to high degrees of sharpness and there the small file is adequate.

Pemberton's surrounding karri forest, valleys, and open farmland with large bodies of surface water create ideal conditions for mist to form in the coolest part of the evening. The mists settles in the low lying valleys and usually burns off quickly after sunrise, but for those who bother to get up early you will be rewarded from time to time with some truly ephemeral landscapes.

Karri trees in mist Pemberton was one of a few landscapes I included in the book made from digital media. Many of the landscapes were made on 6x12cm and 4x5 inch format films.

The digital camera was ideal for many of the working winery and vineyard images which I wanted to capture in a candid fashion rather than posed. Since publication I have received comments from the wine industry that my book contains some of the very few images of actual work being carried out in wineries and vineyards.  Most vineyards and wineries are represented with highly stylised images.


pemberton photos Cleaning wine fermentation tanks.

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Shrines fishing gods

Shrines fishing gods Blackwood River Augusta Western Australia

Shrines fishing gods: we were walking around Augusta just on dusk, down by the banks of the Blackwood River. A beautiful windless evening with barely a ripple on the water. The clouds’ reflections were creating abstract patterns with soft pastel hues. Fishing is obviously a popular activity and every 20 to 50 metres dotted along the banks you will find these little fish scaling tables in various shapes sizes and design. As they floated in their own reflections they reminded me of little shrines or temples. The oil rich yellow lipped mullet caught fresh from the Blackwood are among my favourite fish. May the fishing deities be pleased.

Shrines fishing gods Augusta Western Australia

Fishing Augusta Australia

Fishing Augusta Western Australia

Blackwood River Augusta