The original inhabitants of the area were Aboriginal people of the Beeliar group, and their area extended south from the Swan and Canning Rivers. They were one of the first groups to suffer from European settlement and many of their traditions were lost during this period. Bibra and North Lakes have been recognised as significant areas of Aboriginal heritage and were known as Walliabup and Coolbellup respectively. The area between North Lake and Bibra Lake has been identified as the most significant Aboriginal heritage site south of the Swan River. Numerous Aboriginal campsites have been documented adjacent to the lakes. The Aboriginal people maintain strong links with the area and the Waalitj Corporation is actively involved onsite.
George Robb took up one of the first land grants of 2,000 acres during 1830. The current name, Bibra Lake, was named after Benedict Von Bibra, a carpenter who selected 320 acres of fertile land fringing the lake during 1843. When von Bibra first came across Bibra Lake he described it as a wide brown expanse that would become a lake in winter indicating a long history of varying lake water levels. Later owners used the fertile areas adjacent to the lake for market gardening and dairy herds. Seasonally changing water levels resulted in the high grounds being planted with wheat or oats during the winter months and the low grounds with maize or other vegetables as the waters receded during the summer months.
Joseph Meller took up 100 acres of land during 1887 and established market gardens and vineyards. The original mud brick home he built on Hope Road remains and has been converted to a family home. One of the largest communities of Chinese market gardeners established at Bibra Lake in 1897. The popularity of Bibra Lake for picnics and parties resulted in its reservation for recreation purposes as early as 1898 and tearooms were developed on the western foreshore. During 1905, Joseph Meller along with other settlers pioneered dairying in the district. From 1925 dairying declined as motor vehicles enabled dairy farmers to move to richer soils.
The area suffered during the economic depression of the 1930’s due to lack of electricity, inadequate roads and the distance to the markets. Despite these hardships the suburb continued to develop into a vibrant community and approval for a residential development was granted during 1977. Today it is a well-known tourist attraction offering a variety of choices including picnic areas, BBQ’s, playgrounds, an amusement park, Adventure World, a bungee tower, an 8 km cycle/walking path and passive walks through the conservation reserves.
Dream Becomes Reality
Inspired by the Herdsman Lake Wildlife Centre, a dream of the Wetlands Conservation Society to build a Wetlands Centre to service the southern metropolitan area was realised in 1993. The building was made possible through funding from the Commonwealth government of $296,000, the scouts of $50,000 and the City of Cockburn of $19,000.The building was constructed on land originally used as a family farm, then as a council dog pound and later as a Centre for scouting activities.
The Lotteries Commission and the City of Cockburn, through a Youth Link job-training program, funded the landscaping. Participating groups and the City of Cockburn funded the furnishing of the Centre. Gordon Reid Foundation for Conservation funded the display equipment.
The Wetlands Conservation Society played a major role in the establishment of the Centre and for the first seven years it managed the Centre under an agreement with the City of Cockburn. The Centre took over its own management following its incorporation in 2000.
Since the Centre’s construction, its staff, and its member groups have built up the Centre’s facilities to include gardens, recreational and landcare demonstration trails, grassed areas, barbecue area, nursery and an amphitheatre. The Centre has additionally acquired a range of educational resources including a substantial library. The Centre was a finalist in the 2006 WA Environment Awards and its work has been featured through the media including television appearances on Postcards, Gardening Australia and LotteryWest commercials. The Centre has developed into a thriving green business providing professional landcare services, education and hiring facilities for use by the local community. The Centre’s work is enhanced by the presence of the neighbouring Native Animal Rehabilitation Centre and Waalitj Corporation within the Bibra Lake environs.