In the 1860s young John Dunn whilst working on a sealing boat sheltering from a storm ventured with an Aboriginal tracker up the Phillips River. He could see the potential of sandalwood cutting and suitable sheep grazing land at Cocanarup. His father, James Richard Dunn, farmer at Woodburn in the Porongerups (near Albany) took out a lease for his sons. John, James, George, Robert, Walter and their sister Eliza were all involved in the establishment of Cocanarup Sheep Station. Over the ensuing years with the help of a stonemason named Reilly they built a house, blacksmith shop, smoke house, Chinaman’s camp, large shearing shed with attached stables and two underground water tanks, all of stone. The house still stands today. The brothers cleared around 81 hectares of land, using the jam tree posts from this land for picket fences around the holding paddocks on the 16-hectare freehold homestead block. The mortar used in the construction of the stone buildings was lime and sand collected locally and burnt in a kiln on the bank of the Phillips River near the homestead. Salmon gum tree timbers from the land were used for roof structures.
The lease of 80,964 hectares was boundary fenced using jam tree posts and heavy eight- gauge black plain wires. It was also subdivided into large bush paddocks. Some of these old fences can still be found in the bush. One of the station watering holes can be found 200 metres west of the Phillips River bridge on the south side, 50 metres off the highway.
Early writings and stories suggest that the Dunns enlisted the local indigenous people, the Noongars, in the establishment of the sheep station, including shepherding, necessary on account of high losses of sheep to dingoes. Considering the isolation of the area and the primitive conditions of the time, it would have been impossible for the Dunn brothers to accomplish what they did without the help of the Noongars.
The first sheep to arrive at the station were driven overland from Woodburn by 14-year old George following a poorly defined track through the bush, a distance of some 400 km. A number of these sheep died along the way through eating native poison plants (Gastrolobium sps). The number of sheep subsequently run on the station is unclear, but some figures scratched on the shearing shed door indicate around 2,000.
The Dunns transported the wool by wagon to Mary Ann Harbour (now Hopetoun), whence it was transported by ship destined for England. The brothers also had large grazing leases in that area. The remains of their shepherd’s stone cottage can still be seen near Dunns Swamp just out of Hopetoun.
During the 1870s conflict arose between the Dunns and the Aborigines to the point where in 1880 a native led John Dunn into the bush some six kilometres from the homestead, following sheep tracks. There was a confrontation and John was speared. His grave may be seen on the bank of the Phillips River near the homestead. There are various stories as to what caused this conflict and what happened as a result of John’s death. These differing stories are documented and can be found in the Ravensthorpe Museum.
Until 1959 the dirt road passing by the homestead used to be the main South Coast Highway but is now called Cocanarup Road. It is still accessible, but it is sign-posted ‘Four Wheel Drive only’. In wet conditions it becomes boggy and in heavy rain, when the Philips River flows, it is impassable. .Back to History