Swarbrick Art Loop WA: A Trail of Reflection and Conservation

Just so you know, this post contains affiliate links. If you buy something through them, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. It's one of the ways we keep bringing you free content. Learn more in our Disclosure Policy.

The Swarbrick Art Loop is a captivating section of the Walpole Wilderness Discovery Centre, especially for those who cherish nature and its preservation.

Various sculptures adorn the trail, each a call to contemplate our bond with the natural world and our impact upon it.

The stainless steel Wilderness Wall of Perceptions is at the Swarbrick Art Trail’s heart. It’s a mesmerising sight, inviting reflection on our place in the world.

Quotes are etched in leaf shapes on the wall, spanning a spectrum of views—from the appreciation of the forests and calls for preservation to attitudes of conquest.

I’m reminded of my family’s role in clearing these magnificent karri trees and the fine line between survival necessity and conservation.

As a young boy of 16, my grandfather arrived from the UK, working for the early settlers in the southwest of Western Australia. One of his jobs was to help in the felling of these magnificent karri trees.

Shelley standing in front of The 39 metre stainless steel mirror wall which shows the reflections of the forest with white feathers etched in it with quotes on them.
The Wilderness Wall of Perceptions ©Lifejourney4two

It’s almost unfathomable today to think that there was a time when the destruction of these majestic forests was considered necessary for survival and progress. 

In saying that, though, there is still some opposition over the new laws that came into effect on the 1st of January 2024, making it illegal to log native hardwood in WA.

It is a difficult narrative when many locals’ lives still depend on the region’s timber industry.

Swarbrick Art Loop envelopes this history and invites us to engage in a vital conversation about our environmental footprint. 

This is more than a walk through the woods; it’s an invitation to observe, listen, and ponder our role in the legacy of these splendid forests.

The Swarbrick Forest reflections

Swarbrick Art Loop Walpole: At a Glance

Here’s a quick overview of what you need to know to visit Swarbrick Art Trail:

  • Art Sculptures:  A selection of art pieces designed to challenge your perceptions. 
  • Distance: 500m short loop walk through old growth karri forest 
  • Difficulty: Class 2 (Easy walk)
  • Time Required: Approximately 15 minutes
  • Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible
  • Location: 8km north of Walpole on North Walpole Rd
  • Cost: Free entry
  • Rules: No dogs allowed; adhere to ‘Leave No Trace’ principles to protect the environment
  • Facilities: Parking and toilets
  • Trail Highlights:
    • Reflect on the Past: Begin your journey with the ‘Wilderness Wall of Perceptions’, a stainless steel mirror encouraging reflection.  
    • Engage with the Art: Encounter each art piece as a dialogue on our relationship with nature.
    • Embrace the Present: Immerse yourself in the tranquillity and beauty of the ancient Karri forest.
    • Consider the Future: Ponder the evolution of conservation and our collective role in shaping a sustainable world.

Swarbrick Walpole and Walpole Wilderness Map

The Journey Along the Swarbrick Art Loop

You start the Swarbrick Art Loop by passing the “Door of Perception”.

A welcome to the forest to “Discover the diversity of people’s relationship with this wild area through time.”

Swarbrick Art Loop door of perception - a blue dooor placed against a tree among the forest
The start of the Swarbrick Art Trail

Reflecting on Change: The ‘Wilderness Wall of Perceptions’

Next, you’ll arrive at the Wilderness Wall of Perceptions, a reflective surface that demands a moment of pause.

If you pass by here too quickly, you overlook the very essence of the mirror’s purpose.

Read the quotes and learn about the thoughts around these great tingle and karri trees.

The mirrow wall at Swarbrick Art Loop showing the white feather etchings on it between the forest paths
The Wilderness Wall of Perception – seen from the other side

Ignoring these words overlooks the very essence of the mirror’s purpose.

This region, deeply rooted in the timber mill industry, faced a dilemma as the global opinion shifted towards climate change awareness and the imperative of protecting our natural environments.

The Impact of Early Settlers

The logging debate was never black and white in an area steeped in the livelihoods of early pioneers struggling to farm the land.

Two leaves with quotes on the mirror on the Swarbrick Art Loop, Walpole
Two of the many quotes on the wall of reflection

The best crop for jarrah forest soil is jarrah trees… the wastefulness of trying to grow grass for possible short-term pastoral needs is suicidal and reprehensible in the extreme.

John Ednie Brown – Conservator of the Department of Woods and Forests (1904)

Forests instead of being regarded as assets were looked upon as irritating excrescences on the face of the earth, to be sawn up, ring barked or otherwise destroyed to make room for the settler.

C.E Lane – Poole, Conservator of Forests Western Australia (1917)
Leaf with etched quote on the mirror with refection of shelley taking the photo and forest in the background
Conquering the forest

If only you could see the pastures, you would realise with me the pleasure one feels in conquering nature”

A group settler in 1927

A Personal Connection

I cannot help but be drawn to this above quote.

A year after this, in 1928, my grandfather first set foot on WA soil.

His letters to his parents tell of his journey from Fremantle, where he disembarked, to his first job in Forest Grove amongst the karri forests of the southwest.

The journey was very interesting being through thick forests nearly all the way. Forest Grove is in the height of the Karri Forest, right away from civilisation. The station is a shed by the track surrounded by forest and has no platform at the station.

I am working for English people who have taken a block, cleared it of trees, and started a dairy farm. The country around here is very interesting, and I think I should like the life very much indeed.

Geoffrey Whittle, age 16 ,Nov 1928

He later had to change jobs and could only find work in the wheatbelt of Western Australia. In comparing his new place of work to that of the southern forests, he wrote:

I really did love that country; the thick shady forest ablaze with colour, the stately Karries and the sweet scent from the numerous flowering shrubs were lovely compared with these dry lifeless sandy stretches of shade less scrub.

Geoffrey Whittle, 1929

Even though he helped clear the trees, using gelignite and ring barking, he loved the bush.

And I’m sure he would be overjoyed to see these magnificent forests protected for future generations.

My grandfather at age 16 wearing a  jacket and tie
My grandad, Geoff Whittle, at age 16

After two years of trying to make a go of it in Western Australia, he returned to the UK. But he visited several times when I came to live here. The last time was for his 90th birthday, and to that day, he deeply loved the Australian bush.

my grandad stood by a river with trees in the back ground in WA. He is wearing a shirt and tie ans raincaot and holding a walking stick
My grandad, visiting me in WA, age 90 years old

Support for the Forests

Swarbrick-Art-Trail-mirror-leaf with a quote
A Turning point in the forest campaign came in June 1998 when West Coast Eagles coach and WA folk hero Mick Malthouse said on commercial TV that the south-west forests were being devastated and CALM was a contradiction in terms

Today, as we grapple with the effects of climate change, the importance of protecting our forests and ecosystems has become a global concern, and society is much more aware of the need to protect our world.

The Swarbrick Art Loop embodies this shift, offering more than just art installations amidst the forest. It presents an open-hearted journey through the Walpole wilderness and an intimate look at the historical human struggles entwined with this ancient forest.

From the indigenous Noongar peoples to the colonial settlers and the local timber industry workers to the environmentalists, the Art Loop narrates the story of this land.

Timeline etched into the mirror on the Swarbrick Art Loop
Timeline etched into the mirror of the Wilderness Wall of Perception

The Art Sculptures on the Trail

Each piece of art is a statement, an interaction between us and the forest, stirring emotions and prompting us to contemplate our bond with the planet and our collective responsibility to protect it.

A rusty coloured scuplture with a swirly shape between two pillars
“In the middle of two message sticks, Norne the black snake is visually thick and seemingly foreboding.
It evokes thoughts that in wilderness wild things roam.”
– Peter Farmer
A risty circle with lots of tiny dots in it - it looks a little like a gong
5000 Seeds is a geometric ideal that reflects the eternal nature of the Source (of life)…a veil in which to interpret the forest, manifesting an alternate window to the forest.
The view is flattened like an intrinsic mosaic of vibrating particles.”
Lorenna Grant & Alan Clark
The Colonial totem art sculpture of an old hand saw
“The Colonial Totem is drawn from the hand tools used in early forest clearing.
These tools represent human endeavour and courage in the colonising of Western Australia.
The Colonial Totem is an historical window of attached meanings.”
– Lorenna Grant & Alan Clark

a gold ring strung above the trees in the forest
“The Golden Torus is the ancient geometric metaphor of unity. It symbolises the interconnectedness of all things.” – Lorenna Grant & Alan Clark
Huge white feather suspended between the forest trees
The Ghost Feather

The Swarbrick Art Loop is a testament to humanity’s evolving ideals and necessities—a living chronicle of our relationship with the earth and a mirror reflecting our role in its future.

Why is it Called Swarbrick Art Loop?

Here, I explain what the Swarbrick Art Loop symbolises and why it bears the name Swarbrick. 

This trail is a homage to the relentless efforts of environmental activists who fought to preserve the Swarbrick forest block. 

At the turn of the millennium, the region was at a crossroads, with community opinions on protecting the forests divided.

Campaigners spent years trying to stop the logging of the Swarbrick Forest Block – camping out in the cold and rain during winter months and doing everything they could to protect the land. 

Unfortunately, they lost most of the forest, but the outcome did have a silver lining. The Walpole Wilderness was developed and set aside as a protected environment.  

Another perspective of the stainless steel mirrored wall

 Jess Beckerling, an instrumental voice in the campaign, remarks on the sea change in local attitudes now:

These days, Walpole really celebrates the forests… The Walpole Wilderness Area is a massive drawcard for tourists to this area. And the Walpole community is really behind the National Park and those wilderness areas.”

Jess Beckerling (quoted in Heartland Journeys)

For a closer look at the conservation story, Jess Beckerling’s insights in this video shed light on the pivotal moments and the community’s journey towards embracing the cause of environmental protection.

Honouring Historical Roots

But why was it called the Swarbrick Forest Block? 

Tom Swarbrick, born in 1888 in Albany, settled in Walpole at Rest Point, and his endeavours were instrumental in shaping the community.

He built a sawmill, the iconic Swarbrick jetty, an eight-bedroomed guest house and piloted boat trips along the Walpole and Nornalup Inlets. 

In fact,  the spirit of Tom Swarbrick’s legacy sails on with the WOW Wilderness eco-cruises, which echo his early voyages, inviting visitors to experience the beauty and serenity of the inlets while fostering an appreciation for the region’s natural wonders.

This Forest Block was named after Tom Swarbrick in 1964.    

Nornalup Inlet
Nornalup Inlet, Walpole

The Swarbrick Forest Block: A Conservation Milestone

Today, the Swarbrick Art Loop showcases nature’s resilience and is a testament to the community’s shift towards sustainable forestry and conservation.

The transformation from a site of intense logging to one of protection and natural beauty mirrors the broader changes in Western Australia’s environmental policies.

In January 2024, native tree logging was banned in Western Australia. WA’s Forestry Minister, Jackie Jarvis, noted the significance of the ban on native logging:

“We couldn’t keep logging the forest in the way we were when those trees just don’t regenerate. These are beautiful, 100-year-old trees, and we just cannot keep chopping them down at the rate we were.”

This statement underscores the state’s decisive action to protect around 2 million hectares of forest, aiming to restore the wilderness to its condition before European settlement and contribute to the region’s resilience against climate change (ABC News).

The Swarbrick Art Loop reminds us of our environmental responsibility and is a tribute to those who have contributed to preserving this precious landscape.

It stands as a living history lesson, inviting us to step into the narrative of a community that has come full circle—from supporting the timber industry to championing the cause of conservation.


Beyond the Loop

Extend your Swarbrick Art Loop adventure with these other attractions in and around Walpole, each offering a unique slice of the region’s natural and cultural beauty:

  • WOW EcoCruise Walpole: Embark on the Walpole WOW EcoCruise for an enlightening journey through stunning inlets. Explore the WOW EcoCruise in detail.
  • Coalmine Beach Heritage Trail: Discover serene walks just 2km away on the Coalmine Beach Heritage Trail in Walpole. Uncover the Coalmine Beach Heritage Trail secrets.
  • Knoll Scenic Drive: Enjoy breathtaking views a short drive from town on the Knoll Scenic Drive in Walpole. Experience the Knoll Scenic Drive.
  • Giant Tingle Tree: Witness ancient eucalypts 10km from Walpole at the Giant Tingle Tree.
  • Circular Pool: Find tranquillity at Circular Pool, a natural wonder 15km away.
  • Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk: Walk among towering tingle trees 18km west of Walpole on the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk.
  • Conspicuous Cliff: Marvel at the Conspicuous Cliff and beach with spectacular ocean views 20 km southeast of Walpole.
  • Greens Pool: Dive into the crystal-clear waters of Greens Pool in Denmark, about 65km east of Walpole.
  • Denmark: Explore the charming town of Denmark, WA, known for its wineries and beaches, roughly 70km east of Walpole.
  • Pemberton: Venture into Pemberton’s towering karri forests for scenic drives, approximately 120km southwest of Walpole and explore its huge inland dune system at Yeagarup Dunes.
direction sign on the road  pointing towards other  attractions
The three areas of the Walpole Wilderness Discovery Centre are Swarbrick Art Loop, Mount Frankland and the Tree Top Walk.

Swarbrick Art Loop: A Journey of Understanding

As we depart from the Swarbrick Art Loop, we carry the echoes of those who have passed before us and the knowledge that our actions today write the stories of tomorrow.

This is not just a walk through the woods but through time and conscience. 

We leave with a renewed commitment to our planet, inspired by the art that so delicately frames the story of this land and its people.

Ready to see the forest in a new light?

Visit the Swarbrick Art Loop and join the conservation, reflection, and change narrative.

Next: Read our guide on the best things to do in Walpole and its surrounding area.

Pin on Pinterest for Later

Swarbrick Art Loop Pinterest Pin

Honouring the Land’s Legacy

We recognise the Menang people as the traditional owners of the land where Mount Frankland South National Park stands today. Their connection to the land is a poignant reminder of the enduring relationship between people and this ancient forest.


These are the travel resources we recommend and use when planning our trips.

For a more thorough list visit our Travel Resources page here.

Photo of author


Shelley, a former primary school teacher with a law degree, and her husband Lars co-own Lifejourney4two. Their adventure began in Perth, Australia, and has since taken them through Europe and Africa in motorhomes and bush campers. Shelley's travel guides combine practical advice with engaging stories, mirroring their shift from 'One Day' to 'Day One'. Together, they aim to inspire others to embark on their own travel dreams.

Leave a comment

Pin It on Pinterest