This ride is fascinating - travelling on and near the Mason & Bird trail we will pass one of the earliest Mill sites in Perth, see the oldest all-wooden bridge in Australia (still with wooden rails for the horse tramway) and visit the original source of Perth's drinking water (which killed 425 Perth residents). You can even visit a house that one of the mill owners designed, as well as visit the grave from 1876 of a two day old child of a mill worker.

To get the full ride gpx or the ride route summary, select the "Route Sheets" tab above, and click on the download buttons for each.

The Mason and Bird Heritage Trail follows the route of an 1870's tramway from Mason Mill to the Swan River. Mason Mill was the first sawmill in the Darling Range, built in the early 1860's, and was processing the abundant timber close to Perth. The tramway operated between 1872 and 1882 to transport the jarrah timber from Mason's Mill to the Canning River. From there, it was taken to Fremantle. The trail crosses an old wooden bridge which was part of the route of a 14.5 km wooden-railed horse-drawn tramway. The wooden bridge was built by convicts and ticket of leave men (ex convicts). It is believed to be Australia's oldest all wooden bridge. In more recent years the route was used as an access road to Victoria Reservoir.

Another use for the Mason & Bird Heritage Trail is to get from Maddington train station to Pickering Brook if you want to join the Munda Biddi Trail.

Here is a 60 second video on what you will see:

Some back ground first: Captain Charles Fremantle declared the Swan River Colony on 2 May 1829. The first fleet of settlers arrived in June 1829, disembarking with their possessions on the sandy beaches north of the Swan River. The first reports of the new colony to England early in 1830 described the poor conditions and the land as being totally unfit for agriculture. They said that the settlers were in a state of near starvation. Regardless, a few more settlers and additional stores were dispatched. By 1832 the settler population of the colony had reached about 1,500. In 1833, the first dirt track between Perth and Fremantle was cut through the bush. The difficulty of clearing land to grow crops were so great that by 1850 the population had only increased to just under 6000. In 1849, Perth became a penal colony and in the next 16 years received an influx of over 9000 convicts, swelling the labour force enormously. Perth's early buildings had been rudimentary and simple, however with the arrival of convict labour, new buildings of colonial authority arose including the Fremantle Prison, Government House, the Perth Town Hall, The Cloisters, and the Swan River Mechanics' Institute.

Timber was needed and the harvesting had reached out to the start of the Darling Range. Ben Mason had shown a lot of interest in  Henry  Yelverton's saw pit, established in 1853 just 4 miles from Fremantle at Robbs Jetty. At this mill, all the sawing was done by the pit saw method, with one sawyer on top and one at the bottom. Pit-sawing was very prevalent at the time. In the 1860's he built his first timber mill at the corner of Welshpool Road and Lesmurdie Road. Sheoak shingles for roofs, posts and rails were produced with some timber going to make charcoal for use in Perth foundries. In1864 Mason acquired a licences to cut timber over an area of 640 acres near the head of the Bickley Brook. Mason built a new mill to work this timber license, and it was known as Mason's Mill (along the existing Mason Mill Rd and in the vicinity of the Heritage Rose Gardens). Mason's Landing was the site of the State's first powered saw mill, that started production in 1868.

Originally, bullocks were used to cart the timber down to Mason's Landing on the Canning River near Cannington. Shallow-draught barges carried the timber down river. They were poled through the shallows to the deeper water near Salter's Point, there to be taken in tow by a steamer for transport to Fremantle. In summer time even the shallow-draught barges often grounded in the shallows and i t would some times take nearly a fortnight to deliver their loads to the boats. Mason found it difficult to meet export contracts.

The Mason Mill camp now employed 138 men, all of whom resided at the Mill. Although 138 men does not sound much of a work force by today's standards, it represented over 1% of the total male population in WA at the time. To be in the same position today, a company would have to employ tens of thousands of men.  The Mason and Bird company also employed around 350 "ticket of leave" convicts between 1865 and 1881.

The workforce attached to the Mill had their own lives and stories. Arthur and Annie Gibbs, who lost two children to malnutrition, had a stillborn child and whose home on their nearby farm was burnt down in 1894 by a worker who threatened to murder them both. Hotelier Steven Gibbs, who was jailed for cattle theft, whose tin pub was later turned into a boarding house. Or Mary Weston, who lost her first born Francis at two days old in 1876. You can visit his small, hand-carved jarrah grave marker in the bush on this route. This grave with its jarrah headboard and surrounding jarrah picket fence is recognised as the last remaining timber headboard in the Perth Metro Area and a rare surviving example of a bush burial. Her husband, Richard, built the "Daisy Bell' whim, used to haul logs from the bush to Mason Mill. Incidentally, the Westons had 2 children who did reach adult hood - Frank, who was born in 1876 as well, and died in 1953, and Betha, who only died in 1964.

Mason entered into partnership with a young architect named Francis Bird and commenced trading as Mason Bird & Company. Together they worked to improve the productivity of the Mill and reliability of supply. By 1871, their timber concession had expanded to 100,000 acres, for a term of 14 years, in return for constructing a wooden railed tramway from the Darling Ranges to the Landing at Cannington. The tramway would reduce the drag damage on the logs and improve productivity. They built the tram way in 1872, including the bridge near Hardinge Rd, over Mundy Brook. Horses pulled the wagons up to the mill, and they returned fully loaded under their own momentum with two brakeman controlling the speed. This Significant Site is recognised by permanent listing by the National Trust in 1989. It is arguably the oldest all wooden bridge in Australia - even the rails were wooden!

They also needed to dredge the Canning River for easier movement of barges. The channel was dredged by convicts who were given a bucket which they had to dip down in the mud, carry it, and tip it over a barrier "fence" they had built, then repeat the process until the depth of water reached up to their necks. The "fence" was reported to have been constructed of jarrah poles backed by casuarina logs and boughs felled on the nearby banks. The convict "fence" is still visible in the River in several locations today, along Riverton Drive North in Riverton. The old convict camp was at Watersby Cresent, Shelley.

The timber trade was never in a prosperous position. Timber was plentiful so the big buyers bargained for lower prices. Small mills throughout the South-West were amalgamating to enable them to bridge their financial difficulties. Mason & Bird were feeling the pinch, so by 1877, the Company discharged a great many men because of a shortage of orders. They also had large stacks of building timber on hand. By 1879, with the advent of a new railway to Guildford that bypassed the South East, all transport on the Canning River from the Canning Landing ceased and the Mill closed down. The Canning Mills were then being formed in 1880, a few miles to the south-east. Bird & Mason sold their machinery to them, meaning the workers then had another job to transfer to. Like so many pioneers before him, Mason's business collapsed due to lack of capital and transport difficulties. However, Mason and Bird made a significant contribution to the development of the early timber industry and the growth of the State.

Up to 1949, Pickering Brook was a stopping place on the Upper Darling Range Railway, but is now primarily made up of family run orchards. A small shop is located about 4km from the Munda Biddi trail, the only shop near the trail from Mundaring to Jarrahdale. If you ride from the Munda Biddi you will pass this tiny township.

Some short sections of the Trail can be rough and rocky in parts, but history abounds. You can clearly see laid "cobblestone" type paving in parts. There are also ancient looking stock yards in once cleared land that is now starting to revert to bush again. However, after the Mundy brook bridge the Trail becomes solid, undulating and easy to ride. After Bickley Dam, it becomes sealed, going through semi rural, the residential, and finally industrial areas.

You can also ride to the wooden rail bridge via an alternative route passed the two Victoria dams. The older dam was the first permanent water supply for the colony and also the first dam in WA. It included pipelines to Kings Park and into the reservoir on Mount Eliza, which is still there today.The original dam stood from 1892 till 1990, and it is still in place - in fact, it has been cut open, so it is even more interesting. The construction on the new dam started on 23 August 1990.

Typhoid: In the late 19th century, the catchment area for Victoria dam was used for cattle and sheep grazing and also housed several timber mill settlements. Soon after completion, concerns were raised that this new water source was getting polluted by raw sewage from the timber mills as well as excrement from the livestock. Several cases of typhoid fever occurred at a timber mill in the catchment in 1892, at a time when typhoid fever became increasingly prevalent in Perth. Between 1895 and 1900, there were 4047 cases and 425 deaths from typhoid fever in Perth, and the water supply was suspected to be contaminated. In 1897 a sample of the water from the Mount Eliza reservoir, which was fed by the dam, was found to contain the bacteria causing typhoid fever, and strict by-laws were implemented to prosecute any cases of pollution of the water catchment. Also, a channel was cut to divert the Munday Brook water (polluted by the timber mills) away from the reservoir.

Bickley Reservoir was originally constructed in 1920-21 with the purpose of supplementing Perth's water supply. In 1936, the Reservoir was taken out of service and the water used for irrigation until 1944. Bickley Reservoir and the surrounding catchment area was set aside for recreational purposes. The Bickley Outdoor Recreation Camp (located adjacent to the reservoir), was established in 1948 and is managed by the Ministry for Sport and Recreation. Activities associated with the camp include canoeing, swimming, camping and orienteering. Recreational activities in the catchment include picnicking, bushwalking, mountain bike riding and horse riding. Facilities include barbecues, toilets, change rooms and water. There is plenty of shade available and the wildflowers are on show in the spring months from September through to November.

Mason's Landing is at the Canning River Regional Park. Woodloes House is nearby. Also at the Canning River Regional Park is the Kent Street Weir and the Castledare Minature Railway. The first ever Weir was constructed from sand bags at this site in 1911, and aimed to stop salt water from affecting agricultural land upstream. A permanent weir was not completed until 1927 and has since undergone numerous changes to its design and function.
Since the completion of the permanent weir, a 'weir pool' has formed upstream of the weir maintaining a relatively constant water level throughout the drier months. Because this weir pool is usually fresh water, the environment of the river upstream of the weir has become dominated by freshwater flora and fauna, including native fish (eg: Western pygmy perch, Western minnow), reptiles (eg: oblong tortoise), crayfish (eg: gilgies, marron), and terrestrial vegetation (e.g. Flooded gum).

In 1874 Bird designed and built "Woodloes House" a few hundred metres from Mason's Landing, on Woodloes St. It is one of the few remaining 19th century houses in the area. The homestead was restored by the City of Canning in the early 1970's and is open to the public on the third Sunday of the month, 2~5pm. There is a cairn dedicated to Mason at the Mason Landing site, and both sites are now part of the Canning River Regional Park.

The Castledare Minature railway is a 7 1/4 inch guage passenger-carrying miniature railway set in natural wetlands. The Railway has a station at the Park (the other Castledare station, Niana, is not in this park but near by). The public run days are on the 3rd Sunday of each from 10:00am - 2:00pm for diesel services only. The nearby Niana station has public run days are on the 1st Sunday of each month from 11:00am - 3:30pm except January. Steam & diesel services generally available. Niana Station is at Castledare Place, Wilson. See www.castledare.com.au

If you want to overnight along this Trail, accommodation can be found on Experience Perth . This website also has fabulous suggestions of things to do, attractions, activities and tours in the Perth region.

GPX files I have available:
Mason & Bird Loop (May 2015)
Pickering Brook to Kelmscot train via Mason & Bird Trail (Aug 2014)
Mason & Bird via Victoria Dam to Woodloes House (Sept 2014)

This page is the property of Follow My Ride, a website detailing off road cycle tracks near Perth and in Western Australia. This page is on the Mason and Bird Heritage trail.