Denmark: It’s Like Being In Another Country
It’s the place I would be living at if I wasn’t living here in Queensland.
It’s what I’ve said since my first visit … that would have been in 1972.
Denmark. Not the flat country in Europe that juts out into the North Sea and Baltic Sea, but the town in south west Western Australia, with rolling green hills and a spectacular coastline washed by the southern ocean.
It’s about four and a half hours by road from Perth, and was where Olympic champion swimmer Shane Gould went to as a way of trying to find value in life away from the spotlight.
Away from fame built on sporting success. She was looking for authenticity, a more balanced lifestyle, a place to raise a family.
Denmark seemed a perfect place in many ways.
Good farmland, reasonably sized town, the forests and the sea.
And here it is again, as part of a road trip through the Great South West of this huge state that takes up one third of Australia.
With an area of 2.646 million square kilometres, it is the second-largest country subdivision in the world – surpassed only by Russia’s Sakha Republic.
Texas, by comparison, is 696,241 square kilometres. And Alaska is 1,481,348 square kilometres.
A drive through the Walpole-Nornalup National Park in the south-west of the state includes such areas as Valley of the Giants that comprises ancient forests of red tingle eucalypt and karri trees.
The Valley of the Giants features a 700-metre long tree-top walk … the elevated walkway suspended 40 metres above the ground and through the canopy of the magnificent trees.
The forests remind you just how immense the state is.
And there are surprises at any bend in the road, such as the vineyards of boutique wineries the region is known for.
The region was the setting for the Simon Baker screen adaptation of Tim Winton’s book, Breath.
Winton is a master at evoking memories of people and places in the Australian landscape and Breath is somewhat a coming-of-age novel that uses surfing for the characters at the heart of the story to discover how far one breath will take you.
It was, in many ways, what so many of us went through in our teenage years in Australia’s coastal communities.
I had always pictured the book as being set in this part of Australia, even though the places he writes about can be compilations of various locations.
Pemberton, with its heavy timber milling background, Margaret River, for its powerful surf, Cape Leeuwin for its waves breaking out to sea.
And Denmark for its sandbar at the river mouth … and the ocean beach.
It’s a breathtakingly raw coastline. Washed by the swells from the Southern Ocean.
And the bright green colour of the water inside the inlet on a cloudy day is like no other.
There is archaeological evidence of fish traps in Wilson Inlet of aboriginal people having been in the area for 40,000 years.
English explorer Thomas Braidwood Wilson arrived in the area in 1829 while conducting an expedition from Fredericktown, later to become Albany.
He named the river after Dr Alexander Denmark RN, his friend and former tutor at Naval Medical College, England.
As you can see, it has nothing to do with the country of the same name.
In 1893 the Millar Brothers set up a sawmilling operation to service the Western Australia goldfields.
The early explorers described the trees as being of gigantic proportions.
The karri are a type of eucalypt and one of the tallest species in the world.
A whim in Randall Park serves as a reminder of the teams of horses used to drag the logs to the mills.
A whim was a Western Australia invention from the 1880s. When a four-wheel jinker broke, it was found that two wheels would suffice – the end of the log dragging along the ground.
Old photos on display around the town show also that in the early 1900s dairying became the new industry and farmers sold their milk to the State Farm butter factory.
The old butter factory is now a fine art and craft gallery operated by the Goundrey family.
Denmark, like so much of the great south west, is known for its produce … one of the most diverse and engaging tourism, food and wine regions you will come across.
Located along the southern coasts and expanding into the farming hinterland, the region stretches from Albany, Denmark, Mt Barker, Katanning and Ongerup to the Margaret River region that includes Augusta and Cape Leeuwin, then to Capel and Vasse in the north.
It is noted for foods such as oysters and seafood, cereal crops, beef and lamb, vegetables and dairy products.
Wine varietals such as shiraz, pinot noir and riesling compete strongly on the world stage.
Plantagenet, Vasse Felix, Capel Vale are just some of the labels you will come across. Along with craft breweries, meaderies, cideries and whisky distilleries.
Places to visit include Elephant Rocks near Denmark, Peaceful Bay. And don’t forget the tourist drive around Denmark … it’s not long, but so nice through the winding forest and wineries.
Don’t go the Muir Highway, unless you need to get somewhere fast. Zzzzz, it’s boring.
Ocean Beach is 10-20 minutes down the river from Denmark town centre.
It’s on the western side of the river and estuary and is quite amazing for swimming and surfing as well as simply appreciating the sea and beachscapes.
Denmark is on the Bibbulmun Track, one of the world’s great long distance walk trails that stretches 1000km from Albany up to Perth.
Walkers will need to plan ahead before crossing of Wilson Inlet as there are three main routes – an alternative by road to the east of the inlet, by boat from the Nullaki Peninsula to the town or seasonally across the river-mouth sandbar.
It’s on this eastern side of the river that former Perth businessman Alan Bond orchestrated the sale of this pristine peninsula of land, high overlooking the Southern Ocean … against all odds.
The area used to be national park and probably the best land anywhere to be seen. There is even a gate to give the area a degree of privacy. But the feeling of release at being on this near-deserted stretch of beach is so indicative of the Denmark region.
Talking with a barman at Boston Brewery I reflected on Denmark, what it has to offer and why it had such appeal earlier in my life.
It was the quintessential country town in a beautiful coastal area.
The town was big enough to have all services yet away from the crush of a large city.
You could achieve a good life in balance. A small holding to farm and look for work in the nearby port city of Albany.
There is an agricultural college in Denmark, for those wanting to work the land. And many young people would probably want to move away from the area to seek a career in the wider world.
The distance from Perth is both a blessing and a handicap.
The developing wine and hospitality industries are providing employment where once it was timber.
The barman tells me he loves the area and wants to publish a book of the photos from his travels.
That, in many ways, sums it up.
When you visit, eat the beef, milk and produce from the area. It’s the best.
Read the book Breath before you go – and see the movie – then spend your time looking for the scenes that inspired the writer.
Better still, use the setting to start your own book.