History of Perth, Western Australia

History of Perth, Western Australia

:"This article details the History of Perth from the first human activity in the region to the 20th century. The article covers aspects of all of the Perth metropolitan area, including the modern CBD."

The city of Perth in Western Australia was named by Captain James Stirling in 1829 after Perth, Scotland, in honour of the birthplace and parliamentary seat in the British House of Commons of Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.

Aboriginal History

The first inhabitants of Australia arrived from the north approximately 40,000 to 60,000 years ago and eventually spread across the whole landmass. These Indigenous Australians were well established in the area around Perth by the time European ships started accidentally arriving en-route to Batavia (now Jakarta) in the early seventeenth century.

Before the establishment of the Swan River Colony, the indigenous Nyungar people occupied the southwest corner of Western Australia, hunting and gathering. The lakes on the coastal plain were particularly important to the Aboriginal people, providing them with both spiritual and physical sustenance.

The area in which Perth now stands was called Boorloo. Boorloo formed part of Mooro, the tribal lands of Yellagonga, whose group was one of several based around the Swan River, known collectively as the Whadjug. The Whadjug was a part of the greater group of 13 or so dialect groupings which formed the south west socio-linguistic block still known today as Nyungar (“The People”), or sometimes by the name Bibbulmun.

After settlement in 1829, the European settlers gave the name “Third Swamp” to one of a chain of wetland lakes stretching from Claisebrook to Herdsman Lake. Nearly seventy years later, in 1897, 15 hectares of Third Swamp would be gazetted as a public park and two years later renamed Hyde Park. Hyde Park is now one of Perth's most attractive and popular parks.

From 1831, hostile encounters between European settlers and Nyungars – both large-scale land users with conflicting land value systems – increased considerably. This phase of violence culminated in events such as the execution of Whadjug tribal chief Midgegooroo, the murder of his son Yagan and the massacre of the Pindjarep people.

By 1843, when Yellagonga died, his tribe had begun to disintegrate and had been dispossessed of their land around the main settlement area of the Swan River Colony. They retreated to the swamps and lakes north of the settlement area including Third Swamp, formerly known by them as Boodjamooling.

Third Swamp continued to be a main campsite for the remaining Nyungar people in the Perth region and was also used by travellers, itinerants and homeless people. By the goldrush days in the 1890s they were joined by many miners enroute to the goldfields. [ [http://www.vincent.wa.gov.au/eservice/townofv/history.htm History of the Town of Vincent] , unattributed, from Town of Vincent 2001 Annual Report, p.52 (possibly J. Gentili)] As Perth expanded with the gold rush the Nyungar people moved to Lake Gnangara where they were isolated from the European community until changes in the laws that recognised Aboriginal people during 1960s. The camp remained occupied until the early 1980s when it was converted to a school for Aboriginal children.

Early European Exploration

The first Europeans to sight the land where Perth is now located were the Dutch.

Most likely the first visitor to the Swan River area was Frederick de Houtman on 19 July 1619, travelling on the ships "Dordrecht" and "Amsterdam". His records indicate he first reached the Western Australian coast at latitude 32°20' which would equate to Rottnest or just south of there. He did not land because of heavy surf, and so proceeded northwards without much investigation. Appleyard, R. T. and Manford, Toby (1979). "The Beginning: European Discovery and Early Settlement of Swan River Western Australia", University of Western Australia Press. ISBN 0-85564-146-0]

On 28 April 1656, the "Vergulde Draeck" (Gilt Dragon) en route to Batavia (now Jakarta) was shipwrecked only 107km north of the Swan River near Ledge Point. Of the 193 on board, only 75 made it to shore. A small boat that survived the wreckage then sailed to Batavia for help, but a subsequent search party found none of the survivors. The wreck was rediscovered in 1963. [ [http://www.abc.net.au/backyard/shipwrecks/wa/transcript_vergulde.htm Shipwrecks Audio Transcript » GILT DRAGONS & ELEPHANT TUSKS ] ]

In 1658, three ships, also partially searching for the "Vergulde Draeck" visited the area. The "Waekende Boey" under Captain S. Volckertszoon, the "Elburg" under Captain J. Peereboom and the "Emeloort" under Captain A. Joncke sighted Rottnest but did not proceed any closer to the mainland because of the many reefs. They then travelled north and subsequently found the wreck of the "Vergulde Draeck" (but still no survivors). They gave an unfavourable opinion of the area partly due to the dangerous reefs. The Flemish captain Willem de Vlamingh was the next European in the area. Commanding three ships, the "Geelvink", "Nyptangh" and the "Wezeltje", he arrived at and named Rottnest on 29 December 1696, and on 10 January 1697 discovered and named the Swan River. His ships couldn't sail up the river because of a sand bar at its mouth, so he sent out a sloop which even then required some dragging over the sand bar. They sailed until reaching mud flats probably near Heirisson Island. Vlamingh was also not impressed with the area.

In 1801, the French ships "Geographe" captained by Nicolas Baudin and "Naturaliste" captained by Baron Hamelin visited the area from the south. While the "Geographe" continued northwards, the "Naturaliste" remained for a few weeks. A small expedition dragged longboats over the sand bar and explored the Swan River. They also gave unfavourable descriptions regarding any potential settlement due to many mud flats upstream and the sand bar (the sand bar wasn't removed until the 1890s when C. Y. O'Connor built Fremantle harbour).

Later in March 1803, the "Geographe" with another ship "Casuarina" passed by Rottnest on their way eventually back to France, but did not stop longer than a day or two. [http://www.multicultural.online.wa.gov.au/wppuser/owamc/onlinenews_3_04/page8.html] [ [http://www.abc.net.au/navigators/captains/baudin.htm The Navigators - Captains - Nicolas Baudin ] ]

The next visit to the area was the first Australian-born maritime explorer, Phillip Parker King in 1822 on the "Bathurst". King was also the son of former Governor Philip Gidley King of New South Wales. However, King also was not impressed with the area.

So, of all the early visitors to the Perth area, none had a favourable opinion.

wan River Colony

The first explorer to have a favourable opinion of the Swan River was Captain James Stirling who, in March 1827, explored the area in "HMS Success" which first anchored off Rottnest, and later in Cockburn Sound. Stirling arrived back in England in July 1828, promoting in glowing terms the agricultural potential of the area. His lobbying was for the establishment of a "free settlement", unlike the other penal settlements at New South Wales, Port Arthur and Norfolk Island. As a result of these reports, and a rumour the French were about to establish a penal colony in the western part of Australia, the Colonial Office assented to the proposal in mid-October 1828.

The first ship to reach the Swan River was the "HMS Challenger" captained by Charles Fremantle on 25 April 1829. After anchoring off Garden Island, Fremantle declared the Swan River Colony for Britain on 2 May 1829. The "Parmelia" under Captain Stirling arrived on 1 June, and the official foundation of the colony took place on 12 August, with the chopping down of a tree by wife of the captain of the "Sulphur", Mrs Helen Dance. The two separate townsites of the colony developed slowly into Perth and the port city of Fremantle.

Early years

The fertile locations around Perth did not extend very far from the Swan and Canning Rivers and this land was quickly settled. The most fertile locations were upstream from Perth, and so the suburb of Guildford was also settled in 1829.

Much of the remaining land around the Swan River turned out to be quite sandy and unsuitable for agriculture and so the first reports of the colony were not as glowing as Stirling had been to suggest. These reports along with the difficulty of clearing land to grow crops was a factor in the initial slow growth of Perth during the first couple of decades. By 1850 the population of the whole colony had only increased to 5,886. Agriculture developed away from Perth in places like the Avon Valley and along the southwest coastline.

Perth was still seen as the administrative centre for the colony of Western Australia though.

Some events that occurred in the first few years of Perth's history are below:

*1831: The Round House is the oldest surviving building in Perth and was completed this year.
*1831: It took seven men 107 days to dig a canal 280m in length and 4m deep thus creating Burswood Island.
*1833: Relations between the Europeans and Aborigines were not always amicable with many intercultural skirmishes. Yagan, a senior warrior of the local Aboriginal tribe near the Swan River was murdered on 11 July of this year after a bounty was issued for his capture following the murder of a couple of settlers.
*1837: The colony's first brewery was established at the corner of Spring Street and Mounts Bay Road in Perth.
*1841: 10 January The first service was held in the All Saints Church
*1843: The first causeway across the Swan River was completed, little more than a primitive timber bridge.
*1848-1850: After 19 years of settlement, growth was very slow. The population of the area around Perth was still only about 1400.


Though the Swan River Colony was founded as a "free settlement", the initial settlers had many difficulties which compelled them to seek help from the British, in an offer to accept convicts. Western Australia therefore became a penal colony in 1850. Between then and 1868, over 9000 convicts were transported to Western Australia on 43 convict ship voyages.

During this period, the convicts were involved in the construction of a significant amount of infrastructure as well as some well known buildings like Fremantle Prison in 1855, Government House in 1864 and the Perth Town Hall in 1870.

Later Nineteenth Century

*1856: Perth is officially proclaimed a city by Queen Victoria. [http://www.perth.wa.gov.au/html/vis09_.php Home: City of Perth ] ]
*1877: The telegraph from Adelaide to Perth completed, considerably improving intracontinental communication.
*1881: The first suburban railway line opens from Fremantle to Perth and on to Guildford. The Armadale line opened in 1889. [http://www.pta.wa.gov.au/scripts/viewoverview_contact.asp?NID=1815 Public Transport Authority (History)] ]
*1885: The first "Western Mail" weekly newspaper commences publishing in Perth.

The 1890s were probably the most significant decade in Perth since its foundation in 1829. Due to the goldrushes in Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie from 1892-93 the population of Perth tripled from just 8447 in 1891 to 27,553 in 1901 (1891 and 1901 census). There were also railways built to the main agricultural regions.

*1893: Introduction of electricity to the city.
*1897: Fremantle Harbour is officially opened after blasting of the rocky sandbar across the Swan River mouth and dredging under the guidance of C. Y. O'Connor.
*1898: The Perth Zoo opens with two lions and a tiger. [ [http://www.perthzoo.wa.gov.au/ The Perth Zoo] ]
*1899: The Perth Mint opens [ [http://www.perthmint.com.au/gc/visit/visit_layout.asp?url=4 The Perth Mint (History)] ]
*1899: The first electric trams start running.

Twentieth Century

*1903: A pipeline from Mundaring Weir to Kalgoorlie is opened. This was a major achievement for its time by the state's first engineer-in-chief C. Y. O'Connor, who sadly committed suicide before the project was complete.
*1911: The University of Western Australia becomes Perth's first university. No teaching happens until 1913 though. [ [http://www.uwa.edu.au/visitors/about/history History of the University of Western Australia] ] It wasn't until 1975 that Perth's second university, Murdoch University opened.
*1926: The Swan River had a major flood in July of this year. This caused the Fremantle Railway Bridge to collapse just after a train had passed over it. See a picture courtesy of [http://www.ga.gov.au/urban/projects/nrap/perth_flood.jsp Geoscience Australia] .
*1929: Perth commemorated 100 years of British settlement.
*1930: Perth is connected to Adelaide (and subsequently the rest of the eastern states) by a telephone line.
*1958: The last of Perth's trams is retired from service, unable to compete with buses and cars.
*1959: The Narrows Bridge is opened.The 1960s and 1970s saw continued growth in Perth helped by discoveries of iron ore and natural gas throughout the state. This was when the skyline significantly changed with the construction of Perth's first skyscrapers.
*1962: On 20 February Perth became known as the "City of Light" when astronaut John Glenn passed over the city in his Mercury spacecraft as he became the first American to orbit the Earth. Perth became a blaze of light as thousands of street, porch, house and office lights were switched on to greet Glenn which were clearly seen by him. In 1998, Perth once again lit up its sky to welcome back John Glenn during his Space Shuttle Discovery space flight. [cite web|url=http://www.abc.net.au/tv/canwehelp/txt/s2160601.htm|title=Moment in Time - Episode 1|author=Australian Broadcasting Corporation|date=15 February 2008|accessdate=2008-07-14] [cite news|url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/digitallife/main.jhtml?xml=/connected/1998/11/05/ecnglen05.xml|title=Grandfather Glenn's blast from the past|work=The Daily Telegraph (UK)|date=5 November 1998|accessdate=2008-07-14]
*1962: The city hosts the Commonwealth Games, then known as the British Empire and Commonwealth Games.
*1964: Eric Edgar Cooke was the last person hanged in Western Australia.
*1970: The first match of Test Cricket in Perth is played from 11 to 16 December. Australia's opponent is England.
*1979: The WAY 1979 celebrations to commemorate 150 years of European settlement occur.
*1979: The city hosts the Miss Universe competition as part of the WAY 1979 celebrations
*1979: Fremantle railway line closed due to lack of passengers, reopened after change of government in 1983.
*1983: On 26 September, Australia II won the America's Cup, the first time a challenger had won it in 132 years. Although this event was off Newport, Rhode Island, it certainly was a significant day in Perth's history too. The Australia II challenge was financed by Perth businessman Alan Bond on behalf of the Royal Perth Yacht Club. Perth now had four years to prepare for the defence, and in these years Fremantle especially underwent considerable economic and cultural development.
*1985: Burswood Casino, Perth's only casino, opens for business. The resort opens in 1988.
*1987: The city hosts the defence of the America's Cup
*1992: The Joondalup railway line to the northern suburbs opened, becoming the first suburban passenger railway line built in Perth since the Armadale line 103 years earlier in 1889. This railway line runs mostly along the centre of the Mitchell Freeway.

ee also

*List of historic buildings in Perth, Western Australia

Further reading

* A.J. Koutsoukis (2002) "A brief history of Western Australia" Willeton, W.A. A & M Bookshop, ISBN 0949701076


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