Buckland Hill is Perth’s number one forgotten landmark, and that’s only because we can’t remember the other ones.  It has featured prominently in the history of Perth since 1697, before fading into relative obscurity during the 1980’s.

Indian Ocean from Buckland Hill.
Unforgettable views of the Indian Ocean from a somewhat forgettable landmark.

Buckland Hill is located just north of the mouth of the Swan River, and was originally part of a group of coastal hills known as the Seven Sisters.   The Sisters were mined extensively during the 1890’s for their limestone, which was a popular building material in the early days of colony.  Fortunately, the hill’s most important guest landed in 1697, well before the Tonka trucks appeared.

 
Fremantle Harbour from Buckland Hill.
Looking across to Fremantle Harbour and Garden Island.




Back in 1696 a Dutch explorer called Willem de Vlamingh, was sent on a mission to locate survivors from a missing trading ship called the Ridderschap van Holland. It was presumed shipwrecked on the Western Australian coastline during 1694, with 325 people on board.  At that time the world knew next to nothing about our coastline, so Vlamingh was heading into unchartered territory.
Rottnest Island from Buckland Hill.
  Rottnest Island from Buckland Hill.
Perth from Buckland Hill. The three vessels of his expedition anchored offshore on 29 December 1696, and first explored the uninhabited Rottnest Island.  They became intrigued by the great number of fires burning on the mainland after sunset. Buckland Hill was the highest coastal peak, and presented an ideal landing site for an investigation of the mysterious camp fires.  So at sunrise on 5 January 1697, they set ashore with a well-armed expedition of 86 men.  It was during this morning that the expedition would have likely climbed Buckland Hill, becoming the first Europeans to sight the greater Perth metropolitan area.
Perth City from Buckland Hill.  
Even after anchoring offshore, and climbing up Buckland Hill, the expedition did not immediately notice the Swan River.  In all likelihood only a small despatch of the full contingent would have climbed the hill.  Missing the waterway was no big oversight, as the river was harder to spot back in those days.  There were no lines of cleared vegetation to enhance their view, and the river mouth was blocked by a limestone bar. Furthermore, the expedition was tormented by flies, which still distract the attention of residents to this very day.
Swan River from Buckland Hill.
The river is easy to spot today, as the vegetation has been cleared for housing, and their million dollar views.
That afternoon, at what is now known as Freshwater Bay, the expedition first encountered the river.  Seeing it was a large basin of brackish water, they initially assumed it was only a lake.  The obstructive limestone bar at the mouth of the river, had made the water rather stagnant, and the opening less obvious to a vessel anchored offshore.  They camped there overnight.
Freshwater Bay.
 Freshwater Bay.  First point of contact with the river and overnight camping site of the expedition.
On the morning of 6 January 1697 they spilt up into three groups, to seek out the elusive local inhabitants. They discovered some huts and footprints, but did not encounter any people.  Unfortunately, several members of the expedition ate some fruit, and became very sick. The ill explorers made a difficult retreat back to the shore, and were evacuated to the ships.  Those members of the party who did not consume the dodgy nuts, stayed onshore. They explored the beach, and territory in proximity of the river, still looking for wreckage from the Ridderschap van Holland. No wreckage was found, though they had the good fortune to discover the obscured river mouth.
 
Keulen Map of the Swan River. The remaining crew returned to the fleet on 7 January 1697, and confirmed the discovery of the river.  They had captured two young Black Swans, prompting Vlamingh to name the river, “Zwaanenrivier”, better known today as the Swan River.   Encouraged by this discovery they revisited the river on 10 January 1697, with long boats. The expedition managed to travel upstream as far as Heirisson Island, becoming the first Europeans to sight the future location of the Perth central business district.

Pictured left, is a map drawn in Amsterdam after the  expedition, by a cartographer named Gerard van Keulen. 
You can see the Swan River, and the limestone bar which once obscured the river mouth.  The bar was removed 200 years later when the port was constructed.  Rottnest Island can be seen opposite the river mouth.  The narrow island near the mainland is called Garden Island.
 
Perth Water.
 Perth Water.  Where the 1697 river expedition turned around after their 16-20km journey upstream.
They returned to their vessels on 12 January 1697, and sailed away the next day. Despite concerted efforts, they were unable to establish contact with the indigenous population, or find any conclusive evidence of the Ridderschap van Holland. Unfortunately, Vlamingh, and later expeditions gave the western coastline a rather bad rap, which discouraged exploration of the region for quite some time.   In fairness, this was a time before air conditioners, and roll on fly repellent.
 
Buckland Hill Today. Height of Buckland Hill as it appeared to Vlamingh. 
Buckland Hill Today. BASE Jumping is prohibited. Probable height as it appeared to Vlamingh in 1697.
Buckland Hill has featured prominently in the history of Perth, though back in 1697, it was a more prominent feature.  It is now somewhat flatter, after extensive limestone quarrying during the 1890’s, and being levelled for the construction of a water reservoir in 1924.  Just prior to the reservoir, Buckland Hill was a healthy 66 metres high. Today it is a disappointing 60 metres above sea level.  When Vlamingh first sighted Buckland Hill, nearly two centuries before the quarrying started, it was a significant coastal landform, and a much more attractive proposition to climb. Height of Buckland Hill during the Jurassic Age! 
   Exaggerated height when depicted in Europe (1700's).
Pictured here is an engraving (1726), based on an earlier drawing which was lost from the expedition of 1696-97.  It shows Vlamingh’s ships at the mouth of the Swan River, and a healthy number of Black Swans. Importantly, and on the left of image, is the first known depiction of Buckland Hill.  Early European artists had a habit of greatly exaggerating Australian landforms, based upon their interpretations of geographical features found in Great Britain, and Europe. The landscape is a lot flatter around the Swan River, though the image still serves to highlight the significance of Buckland Hill for the expedition. Earliest depiction of Buckland Hill (1726). 
  Earliest depiction of Buckland Hill around 1726.
Buckland Hill had to wait another 130 years for what was in historical terms a near miss. Captain James Stirling surveyed the area in 1827, prior to the arrival of the first settlers in 1829.  Buckland Hill was in the mix as a possible site for the initial settlement.   However, after a rather unfortunate beaching at Arthur’s Head in Fremantle, they decided to simply pitch their tents there.  Stirling’s insight has not been lost on the owners of the multi-million dollar residences, which now populate the Buckland Hill precinct. Buckland Hill.
  Buckland Hill (Earth)

Regretfully the hill was never named after Willem de Vlamingh. Captain James Stirling decided upon “Buckland” Hill, in honour of Mr William Buckland.  He was an English theologian, and early palaeontologist, who made a name for himself, by making a name for the first dinosaur fossil.  Mr Buckland never climbed the hill, or even set foot in Perth.  He even had a ridge on the Moon named after him, and we’re 100% sure he didn’t climb that one either.
Dorsum Buckland on the Moon.
William Buckland.
William.
William de Vlamingh.
Willem.
                              Dorsum Buckland (Moon)
Willem de Vlamingh may been short changed in the naming stakes, but how can you compete with the guy who discovered the Megalosaurus. Just like Buckland's dinosaur, Vlamingh literally vanished off the face of the earth.  We can partially blame the culture of his employer, the Dutch East India Company. They punished their mariners with heavy fines for slow passage, and only evaluated expeditions from their potential trading opportunites. Vlamingh reported negatively on the coastline, and the possibilty of trade.  His original charts were locked away in a company vault, and eventually lost.  Perth was established as a British colony, and he never fully received the recognition he deserved.
 
Scholars are not even sure the above painting is actually of Willem de Vlamingh, though we think it looks like him. To smooth things out, a nearby parkland, and road was named in Vlamingh's honour in 1998, some 300 years after his expedition.
 


Boasting an impressive coastal presence Buckland Hill has been used as both a navigational aid, and a surveying point.  A beacon was erected on the hill as early as 1850, to provide a guiding light for shipping, and land transport. In 1875 a triangulation station was constructed on the peak, as the consequence of an extensive coastal survey of Western Australia in 1873/74.  A more permanent marker was constructed between 1878 and 1880, using local limestone, and convict labour.  This structure became known as the Monument or Obelisk, and in many ways defined the hill for generations to come.
The Buckland Hill Monument.
  The Monument Today.
The Monument during the aquatic years. In 1924 a concrete water reservoir was constructed on the southern side of the obelisk, and was later extended during 1935/36. The extensions had a big impact upon the Obelisk, leaving it surrounded by fresh drinking water. This made life difficult for employees of the Land and Surveys Department. However, some of the former workers recalled some great times around the obelisk, and the occasional negative split on the swim back to shore.

In 1983 it was deemed necessary to cover the reservoir with a roof.  A decision was made to relocate the Obelisk 48 metres south west of its original position.  This was a big deal as it was a primary point in the Geodetic Survey of Western Australia.
Monument Island.  The Aquatic Years 1935-1983.  
Many academics held differing positions on its relocation, though they finally settled on Latitude 32 01’ 04.6”  Longitude 115 45’ 35.3”.  To the casual observer it is located on the west side of the hill, overlooking the ocean.
 
Buckland Hill.
Current position of the Monument on Buckland Hill.  (Subject to change without notice.)
 

There has always been an air of mystery about this unusual structure. It has stood ominously on top of the hill for well over a century, and when illuminated at night freaks everybody out.  It has appeared in the coat of arms of a local government authority, and in the nightmares of local school children. Such was the mental imagery of the monument, residents soon referred to the hill as Monument Hill. This name is now used interchangeably with Buckland Hill.  It is affectionately known as the “Monnie”, and is probably in need of some in the next few years.
The Monument at night.
  Scaring good folk since 1880.
 



Admittedly, Perth has never been invaded by a hostile force, though during World War Two we had the big guns ready. Two 6 inch gun placements were constructed between 1942/43 on Buckland Hill. Located just north of the mouth of the Swan River, this elevated position was ideal for picking off enemy ships.   Fortunately the ships never arrived, and the big guns never fired a shot in anger.

Pictured Right is a 3.7 inch Heavy Anti-Aircraft gun.  It might not work, but it sure looks real from a small dinghy bobbing 100 metres off shore on an overcast day with no visual aids.
Leighton Battery Anti-Aircraft Gun. 
  Anti-Aircraft Gun.
Leighton Battery Observation Post.  A top secret underground tunnel system was excavated beneath Buckland Hill to provide operational support for the guns.  Over 300 metres of tunnels were carved through the limestone rock, to connect several strategically located rooms.  These rooms were used for various purposes, including storing the ammunition, sleeping, and observing the enemy.  The Leighton Battery remained operational until 1963. 

Pictured Left is the Observation Post.  All the display mannequins have been decorated in World War Two uniforms, and have neutral facial expressions, because they never fired a shot in anger.
Observation Post.  
Admittedly, the opportunity of ever firing a shot in anger had somewhat diminished after the war had finished, though not to be discouraged the Battery continued to shoot off a daily round.  The fun stopped in 1963 when the Coastal Artillery Branch was disbanded. Today (Well actually Sundays 1000-1500) you can follow a guide through the tunnels, and experience life below the ground in a World War Two artillery battery. 

Pictured Right.  A complex tunnel system links the underground rooms.   Always maintain visual contact with your tour group, or a small search fee may be charged.
Leighton Battery Tunnels. 
Tunnel system under Buckland Hill.

The Australian Department of Defence has reminded me that if you live overseas and are thinking of invading Perth, we can get those bad boys back in action real quick.

 


Between 1928 and 1964 a wild and dangerous motor cycle race known as the Harley Scramble, was run around the slopes of Buckland Hill. Resulting in injury, and tragically death, the Scamble met its own demise after some residential development projects encroached on the track.  The start/finish line has been commemorated by a roadway named Harley Terrace, which has been sensibly restricted to a 50km/hr speed limit.

Eastern view of Buckland Hill showing Harley Terrace.
  Eastern view of Buckland Hill showing Harley Terrace.
These are five great reasons to visit Buckland Hill, and that doesn’t include the stunning views of the Indian Ocean, and surrounding metropolitan area.  You’ll even catch a glimpse of the Swan River, something the Vlamingh expedition initially missed in 1697.

Admittedly you will find more challenging climbs in a school playground, though on a positive note it won’t take long to get to the top.  We recommend the coastal route, as border disputes with private residences have restricted the alternative ascents.  Start your climb early in the day. You will avoid the sea breeze, and free up the remainder of your morning.  Take plenty of water, as there is none available on the summit.  Well, that is not quite true, but the reservoir is only available to residents connected to the local water scheme.

You can walk around the reservoir, though you should stay on the path near the fence.  Always be mindful of snakes.  Weather on the summit should not be a problem.  Frostbite is unheard of, however fly bite has been reported.  Following several incidents of twisted ankles, BASE jumping has now been prohibited from the hill.  
Buckland Hill Coastal Route.
The popular coastal route up the western face of Buckland Hill. 
Just a small word of warning. Buckland Hill is a lonely place, which is something that comes with being a forgotten landmark. Always visit it during daylight hours with a friend, or perhaps even two.  The Vlamingh expedition numbered 86 when they first climbed the hill, though we doubt this is still necessary today.  
 
Enjoy the climb!  Remember....   "It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." 
  Sir Edmund Hillary 
 

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