The shire of Dumbleyung covers 2540 square kilometres with a population of 671. The town is small with a smattering of shops, most of which were closed on the Tuesday afternoon when we walked the Main Street. The general store was open though so we managed to get the supplies we needed.
We were on our way through to the bigger wheatbelt town of Wagin, but having never passed through Dumbleyung before, and noticing on Wiki camps that the Grand Old Dumbleyung Inn offers free parking for caravans in exchange for patronage we just had to stop over for a night. We owed Dumbleyung that much after the hospitality they showed Paul’s mum and dad in 1990.
Before I tell you about that though, first Dumbleyung’s moment of fame. New Years Eve 1964 Englander, Donald Campbell broke the water speedboat record in his speedboat, the Bluebird, on Lake Dumbleyung. He had set out to break both land, and water speeds in the one calander year of 1964. Earlier he’d succeeded in breaking the land speed record on the dry salt plains of Lake Eyre in South Australia. His plan to break the water speed record was meant to happen on Lake Bonney, also in South Australia, but circumstances meant his choice of lake needed to be moved. Lake Dumbleyung in Western Australia became the choice. He was within hours of the year ending when the conditions were right for take off, and success.
There’s a little interpretive museum in town where a 20 minute movie tells the story, and it’s well worth taking the time to watch it. It’s also worth the short drive out of town to see Lake Dumbleyung, well it was worth it for us, and it was certainly worth it for Donald Campbell. The Lake is mostly dry, but this year it was full due to our heavy winter rains. It’s huge, so hard to imagine it can ever completely dry up.
Lots of little towns offer free caravan parking in exchange for patronage, but most times we’re in to much of a hurry to get to where we’re going. We have enjoyed our visits to the little places on the occasions we have stopped though and this was no exception. However we did have another reason for this stopover.
Paul’s mum & dad and uncle & auntie had borrowed our old car in 1990 while on a visit from the UK. I’m not sure where they were heading, but their travels brought them through Dumbleyung, where the old car boiled and cooked the engine. They had to wait in town for the new parts to arrive, so ended up staying in The Grand Old Dumbleyung Inn for four nights, only the Inn wasn’t the grand place it had been in 1911 when it had been built. Like so many country hotels it had been severely neglected. So their accommodation was memorably dismal, but despite that, they had the best time of their whole holiday while in Dumbleyung. The hotel staff, the farmers, and the townsfolk rallied around them, taking them to nearby towns for outings, and laughing and joking with them around the bar in the evening. They said they really felt like they experienced Australia in that four days in Dumbleyung. That’s where the beauty is in these little old forgotten towns, its in the people! I can still see the merry twinkle in my mother-in-laws eyes whenever Dumbleyung was mentioned. She clearly remembered the dismal accommodation, but the hospitality of the townsfolk far outweighed any lingering bad memories.
Sadly the old inn hasn’t yet been re-vamped. The inside is grimy and neglected with peeling paint, dingy lighting and dated furnishings. The facade is still grand though, so who knows what will happen in the future. If enough of us travellers decide to broaden our horizens to include visits to these little, forgotten places, then maybe one day the Grand Old Dumbleyung Inn will indeed be made Grand again. I’d like to see that!