Historical Society volunteer, Norma Schulz at the reopened Police Station Museum

Bridgetown’s recently re-opened Police Station Museum is an outstanding testament to the hard work of the Bridgetown Historical Society and in particular to the drive and vision of its Chairperson, Mary Elgar.

Mrs Elgar is the author of A Mere Country Village, the definitive history of Bridgetown.

Her writing and editorial prowess is readily apparent throughout the museum in the wealth of painstakingly crafted interpretive signs that guide visitors through its rooms.

One thing that’s readily apparent as you stroll through the old police station is that Bridgetown’s history stretches back a lot, lot further than when Europeans started calling it home.

It had been home to the Pibulmun/Wadandi people for countless generations before that.

Their story of dispossession, mistreatment, stolen wages and stolen generations is on the museum’s walls.

But recognition and reconciliation was in the air at the re-opening ceremony when special guests Sandra Hill, traditional custodian of the land, and Rachelle Cousins, Vice Chairperson of the Undalup Association, heard Mrs Elgar speak of how their people were deeply affected by European settlement, and how WA’s history also had a “dark heritage”.

The old police station dates back to 1880 and there’s no mistaking it’s early role as you wander through the old cells and gaze at the leg irons and powder flasks for muzzle-loading guns. That was standard police equipment for the day.

On the walls you’ll find stories brought to life by Mrs Elgar’s accounts of Indigenous loss, of burglaries and even obscene language charges.

There’s tragedy in the form of William Anderson who died in a fire at the police station on the 9th of September 1898.

Hard life

But it wasn’t just police and their prisoners doing it hard. Life was tough all round, especially for the settlement’s women who slaved over housework with boilers, manual wringers and the most primitive of irons.

Electricity didn’t reach Bridgetown until 1924.

As you wander to the back of the museum, you’ll pass a fascinating history of the very thing that gave Bridgetown its names – the bridge.

Bridgetown’s rich agricultural history has been brought alive in the display of farm equipment and historical photographs.

The beautifully restored cart and Excelsior Apple Grader from 1910 are well worth a look, as are the butcher’s and blacksmith’s equipment.

The re-opened Police Station Museum is a testament to the hard work, dedication and devotion of the Bridgetown Historical Society and to its volunteers, like the knowledgeable Norma Schulz, who was welcoming visitors with a smile on the Saturday I visited.

She said the opening was especially beautiful because of the attendance of the first settler Hester and Harse families as well as Sandra Hill, a member of the stolen generation.

She’s full of praise for Mrs Elgar’s efforts.

“She is the driving force behind the museum, and she wanted to include the Aboriginal story at the time of settlement as a true account of history,” Ms Schulz said.

She, and the rest of the Bridgetown Historical Society have certainly achieved that, but their ambitions for the museum don’t end there.

Oral history

The next stage in the museum’s redevelopment will be the installation of a push-button audio system for the Society’s collection of 70 oral histories, but they’ll have to find a further $21,000 to bring it to fruition.

They’re hoping to raise that with sponsorships of $500 for each audio button. Sponsors will get a plaque with their name on it.

If you’re interested please email Mary Elgar at bridgetownhistory@iinet.net.au.