Whole town goes on the market — for the second time in two years


Updated

November 09, 2018 09:40:24

A once-thriving West Australian timber town is up for sale for the second time in two years.

In its 70 years, the Tone River settlement has transformed from a bustling mill town into a school camp, and even a film set.

The former wilderness retreat closed in 2008, leaving the site suspended in time, welcoming only visiting kangaroos and quendas, until it was sold by the WA Government in July last year for $559,090.

This time around, there is no listed asking price and the town will be auctioned.

The new owner abandoned plans to renovate the property, and so most of it has remained in its former condition.

“Walking into the office, it’s a bit like the Mary Celeste,” said listing agent Colin Wallbank, likening the town to a famously abandoned merchant ship.

“The calendar is there at 2008 and nothing else has happened since, so it’s quite intriguing.”

The property is zoned Tourism Enterprise, so people cannot live there full-time, only an onsite manager and caretaker can live there permanently.

The ‘Australian Dream’ times 20

With more than 20 homes, a town hall, an office, tennis courts, and even a private cricket pitch surrounded by pristine bushland, the town is a unusual listing.

But the sale is not unprecedented.

In Australia, timber towns and mining settlements were established across the country throughout the 20th century.

As industries changed, these towns closed along with associated mills and mines, and people dreaming of becoming their own mayor finally had the chance.

“I’ve heard some very interesting ideas,” Mr Wallbank said, who has had interest from people in WA, in Sydney and from as far afield as China.

“In some ways, this is a full circle opportunity.”

Nearby Donnelly River was similarly sold by the State Government 10 years ago.

Bought up by a group of people who had connections to the historic mill town and an interest in preservation, the township is now one of the South West’s most popular tourist destinations.

In Tasmania, the Tarraleah township, built for the thousands of workers of Hydro Tasmania early last century now exists as a sprawling tourist village.

I’d go back tomorrow if I could

But for former residents, Tone River is not just a quirky property listing or tourist attraction.

“It’s still in the minds of people who lived here many years ago,” Mr Wallbank said.

“It’s stirred a lot of memories for people who lived here.”

Seventy-year-old Ruth Munn was the first woman to work in the mill, stacking timber.

“I was the first girl — myself and Margaret Haskett — we were the first,” she said.

“It was a job, and it was fun, we had good times. That was in 1964.”

Mrs Munn moved to Tone River as a toddler and called it home until its closure in 1978.

She recalled a place that had a strong sense of community.

“My mum and Mrs Pickett, they would cater for the weddings, and if you needed a bridesmaid dress made, somebody out there would make it for you,” she said.

“It was good, we all helped each other out.”

Her close friend Janice Rowe, 67, agreed, recalling a raft of sporting competitions and secret excursions.

“We used to hitchhike into town when we were younger to get fish and chips and no one knew where we were, and then we would hitchhike home,” she said.

“We never played up, we weren’t game to play up, but we just had to make our own fun.”

She met her husband in the town, where he used to send wood down to her office with messages written on the logs.

“I used to tell him to bugger off,” she said.

That was a few years before Murray Rowe had a milling accident that nearly cost him his hand.

The life-long friends, now based in nearby Manjimup, have a pipeline dream of buying the town themselves and moving back in with some of the original residents.

“We’d go in together, all the Tone mob if we could, and put money in for it,” Mrs Munn said.

“It would be marvellous,” Mrs Rowe said.

“I’d go back tomorrow if I had my way, so would Ruth. Murray said he wouldn’t, and I said well you can stay in Manjimup.”

The settlement will go to auction on Wednesday, November 14.

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First posted

November 09, 2018 08:50:32



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