Delving into a new tourist attraction… the Horsepower Highway

Snowy marks the entry to Mt Trio.
Snowy marks the entry to Mt Trio.

While there wasn’t quite snow on the peaks of The Great Southern’s Stirling Ranges, Snowy, the tractor is perfectly poised to take on the slopes when the next flurry arrives.

Snowy is the final tractor in a line of retired farm machinery that lines a route from Broomehill just outside Katanning, to the base of the Stirlings.

I was there for the opening of the Horsepower Highway on 26 September, as part of Great Southern Treasure’s annual Bloom Festival, and spring was just starting to make itself felt in the deep south of the State.

The 70km scenic route through Gnowangerup is a quirky way to begin an exploration of WA’s southern mountain region.

The rain had held off, wheat was bursting in the fields and a flush of yellow was showing across the vast fields of canola.

My journey got started with a luxury night at Katanning’s Premier Mill Hotel.

Opened in 2018, the lovingly restored old flour mill is a piece of artwork in itself and the industrial workings of the building have been incorporated into the slick, modern room designs, helping to create an unexpected oasis in the wheatbelt town, tucked away a little inland from the usual tourist route between Margaret River and Albany.

The Horsepower Highway kicks off just outside Broomehill, a little settlement on the outskirts of Katanning gazetted in 1890 and built to service the Great Southern Railway.

Keep an eye out for the sign announcing the start of the route five km out of Broomehill on the Broomehill-Gnowangerup Road.

You need to download the Horsepower Highway app to get the full story on the tractors that line the route.

There’s a story on each one of these pieces of machinery and if you are not careful the journey can be a blur of rust on the edge of the fields.

It’s possible to pull off the road at many of the tractor sites to take pictures (something plenty of others were doing as I pottered along the route), but many of them aren’t obvious at first glance.

Look a little closer and each of these old workhorses has a story to tell.

A favourite for the kids will be number 17 on the trail, Diesel with his sleepy eyes, tired from early mornings and late nights working in the fields. The old tractor is one of the earlier diesel engine examples on the highway and makes a great photograph with the Stirling Ranges as a backdrop.

Sleepy eyed Diesel with a Stirling Range backdrop.
Sleepy eyed Diesel with a Stirling Range backdrop.

Number 20 and the final stop on the highway is Snowy. This old Fordson Major was modified in cold countries with skis to adapt to snowy conditions and is perched at the entry to the Mt Trio Bush Camp with its Bluff Knoll Ski Club.

Mt Trio has earned quite a reputation as the spot for cozy fires at the ski club as winter snowflake hunters try to track the white stuff on Bluff Knoll, which makes Snowy a perfect emblem.

Bright pink Lucinda, sits between water tanks that provide emergency water for bushfire fighters. They have been painted by freelance artist Jerome Davenport to celebrate the contribution of women in rural communities.

Bright pink Lucinda in front of the water tank celebrating the contribution of regional women to the community.
Bright pink Lucinda in front of the water tank celebrating the contribution of regional women to the community.

Faces on one of the tanks features local paramedics, firefighters, farmers and other women of all ages who have made contributions to rural life.

The app tells visitors more about each of these women.

The other tank features the everlasting flowers of the tank’s sponsor Lucinda’s Everlastings.

Tractor number 14 on the road is likely to get a boost in popularity when the new Mad Max film is released in 2023.

Mad Max (the tractor) was so decrepit that creator John Byrne from Mt Trio turned to all sorts of other agricultural bits and pieces to contribute to his creation which creates an imposing figure on the side of the road.

Mad Max, a mashup of machinery.
Mad Max, a mashup of machinery.

Another of my favourites is the bright yellow and red Moordidjabiny Ngort tractor decorated by the local Goreng-Noongar community. The name means strong together horse and features handprints of the local families.

And big green Lizzy, a steam tractor imported in 1889 to help clear many of the original properties around Gnowangerup, is hard to miss, parked in front of the shire offices.

The Horsepower Highway is an initiative of local community group GNP360 and was funded by the Federal Government.

It was officially opened on 26 September by State Minister for Regional Development Alannah MacTiernan at a function held at the Lucinda water tanks as part of the Bloom Festival.

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Journalist and public relations specialist Allen Newton has worked across major media organisations in Western Australia and PR locally and internationally. He and wife Helen Ganska operate Newton Ganska Communications. Allen started his journalism career at the long defunct Sunday Independent and went on to become the founding editor for news website PerthNow, Managing Editor of The Sunday Times and PerthNow and then Editor-In-Chief of news website WAtoday. As well as news, he has been an editor of food and wine, real estate, TV and travel sections. He’s done everything from co-hosting a local ABC television pop show, to editing a pop music section called Breakout with Big Al, and publishing his own media and marketing magazine.