The town is named for a five mile belt of Eucalyptus Salmonaphloia which was used by pioneers as a landmark halfway between the port of Esperance and the mining town of Norseman. The tree is a tall and straight variety that lives in semi-arid environments and has a smooth salmon coloured bark - hence the town became Salmon Gums.
The land around Salmon Gums is marginal agricultural country with poor quality soils and an unreliable water supply. In 2011 water had to be carted in to the Salmon Gums Quarry Dam in order to water local livestock. These conditions made early farming extremely challenging.
The Port of Esperance became an important launchpad for the thousands of miners who arrived there, making their way to the goldfields to the north. Stories abound of prospectors arriving at Esperance and fashioning a wheelbarrow out of anything they could find to carry their meagre belongings into places like Norseman and Coolgardie.
It's unclear when people began settling around the Salmon Gums district. With no gold to be had and dismal farming prospects it's unlikely that any major settlement occurred prior to 1900. It's rumoured that a basic supply depot was established to service travellers between Norseman and Esperance. The grand old Salmon Gums hotel was made from local stone but it wasn't constructed until 1926. The hotel is a great example of federation masonry laid by an Italian stone mason named Mario Chidilla.
An official settlement was proposed in 1910 and the name Salmon Gums proposed in 1916. The town was officially gazetted in 1925. Plans for a railway between Norseman and Esperance had long been on the drawing board and Salmon Gums was to be used as a watering depot.
'Soldier Settlers' had been moving into the Salmon Gums district for a few years following World War 1. The Soldier Settler scheme allocated 9 million acres of Western Australian land to veterans of the war. The idea was to sell or lease the land cheaply in order to further settlement in the remote corners of the country and also to recognise the contribution of the fighting men. Receiving land at Salmon Gums may not have been a blessing. To retain the land the veteran had to reside there for five years. Farming at Salmon Gums was difficult. Many Soldier Settlers, from all over the country, simply walked off the land because of difficulties with the environment and a lack of capital. Another region that attracted Soldier Settlers was the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland. Farming in the lush tablelands could offer no comparison to farming around Salmon Gums.
Agricultural Research Stations were established at both Esperance and Salmon Gums and have discovered a noticeable lack of trace elements in the soil. These discoveries have helped boost farm production. Nothing can be done about the meagre 350mm of rain that falls every year though.
'The Mail' (an Adelaide newspaper) reported in 1931 that the Police Department were dispatching a group of 'Camel Corps' to investigate a suspected murder. Arthur Johansen, aged 21, had made his way to safety at Salmon Gums after he and another man were reported being murdered by 'wild natives' west of Lake Amadeus in the Northern Territory. Tough times.
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