It was not until the arrival of the Great Southern Railway from Perth to Albany in 1889 that the township really came into existence.
The founding father of Katanning was Frederick Henry Piesse, an entrepreneurial merchant who, seeing the potential that the Great Southern Railway would bring to the area, designed a mobile store to follow the railway’s construction. It is wonderfully appropriate that the railway, which was being constructed from both Perth and Albany, met only 5.5 km from the present site of Katanning. The point where the two railways met is marked by a cairn west of the town.
The beginnings of Katanning can be described specifically because in May 1888 Piesse had three wagon-loads of goods unloaded near Elijah Quartermaine‘s house and a heap of sandalwood was dumped beside the railway. This was the beginning of F & C Piesse’s store which eventually became the town of Katanning. A statue of Piesse which was erected in 1916 stands beside the railway line in Austral Terrace.
In 1891 Frederick Henry Piesse built the Roller Flour Mill. It had the effect of encouraging farmers in the area to grow wheat and was very much at the heart of the town’s early economic success. The mill, which is located prominently on the corner of Clive Street and Austral Terrace, is now the successful and interesting Katanning Flour Mill Museum. The machinery is still intact and the museum has a number of interesting displays recalling the early history of the town. It will soon be restored by the Dome Café group.
To appreciate the importance that Piesse had on the early development of the town it is worth noting that virtually every building between the Mill and Piesse’s statue was either built by Piesse or built using bricks from Piesse’s brickworks. The man’s hand is on everything in the town. The Piesse Complex in Austral Terrace, now a modern shopping centre, was built in 1901 as a kind of department store. The Katanning Unit Hotel was built in 1889 using bricks from Piesse’s brickworks and the King George Hostel, on the corner of Albion Street and Austral Terrace, was built for Piesse’s son in 1913 and originally used to house mill workers.
Piesse donated 10 000 bricks to help with the construction of the Katanning Town Hall in Austral Terrace which was completed in 1896.
Around the corner is St Andrews Anglican Church which was opened by Mrs. Piesse in 1898 after her husband had donated 40 000 bricks. Surprisingly, for an area where timber is plentiful, the pews are made from imported New Zealand kauri.
It is appropriate to finish Piesse’s involvement with the town by visiting the grand family mansion ‘Kobeelya’ which F. H. Piesse built in 1902. Given that Katanning was only 14 years old at the time it is a remarkably urbane building. It must have seemed incongruous in a small country town to have had a seven-bedroom mansion with a billiard room, hot and cold running water, a ballroom, tennis courts and a croquet field. It is a fitting monument to the man who created the town.