History of Perth

Mother Earth Travel > Australia > Perth > History

In 1697, a Dutch captain, Willem de Vlamingh, named a river after the black swans he saw on the water. The Swan River eventually became the base around which the city of Perth and its suburbs would grow.

Perth started out as a colony established by free pioneers, with 100 men, women and children being the first European settlers to arrive in 1829. Aboriginals however, had been in the area for thousands of years: there is an Aboriginal site in the Upper Swan area thought to be 40,000 years old.

The colony of Western Australia was proclaimed on 8 June 1829 on Garden Island. A short time later, Captain James Stirling sailed up the Swan River to an area that was to become the centre of Perth. On August 12 1829, the city of Perth was founded with the ceremonial cutting down of a Sheoak tree on a site close to the present Town Hall.

The hardships of colonial times meant that development of the city was very slow. In 1850, the Government was eventually convinced to transport convicts to the colony, following which, Perth grew steadily on the back of their hard labour. The Perth Gaol and Fremantle Prison were two of the first building tasks completed by the convicts. The Town Hall was the last building in Perth to be built by convict labour.

Named after the Scottish city, Perth was announced a city in 1856 by Queen Victoria.

The first port of call for migrants and visitors, the port city of Fremantle (pictured) was proclaimed on 3 June 1929. The different mix of cultures arriving in Fremantle was the foundation for the cosmopolitan atmosphere still found here today. Western Australia's oldest remaining building, The Round House, was built here by convicts between 1830 and 1831. Built as a gaol, the building housed eight cells and a gaoler's residence. The building soon became too small to house the growing number of convict arrivals and so the prisoners built their own "new home", the Fremantle Prison. The prison was completed in 1859 and only ceased being a working prison in 1991.

Thirteen kilometres from central Perth is Guildford, the only town in Perth to be registered by the National Trust of Australia. Together with Perth and Fremantle, Guildford was one of the first three original Swan River Colony settlements.

Established in 1829, Guildford was an inland port and market town, making use of the Swan and Helena Rivers to transport goods to and from Perth and Fremantle. The Guildford town site is arranged in the manner of a 19th century English market town, complete with a church square, main street and grid subdivision. Many of the town's original buildings and homes still exist and are open to the public.

The original commercial precinct, dating back to 1829, around Meadow and Swan Streets contains many historically significant buildings, including Padburys Cafe Restaurant (1869), the Old Town Gaol (1840), that today houses the Guildford Tourist Bureau, and St Matthew's Church (1873).

In 1881, the railway line to Fremantle was opened changing the town's development as river transport declined and rail became the focus.

Guildford is the gateway to the Swan Valley, Perth's wine producing region. Olive Farm Winery is one of the area's oldest vineyards. Established in 1829, the limestone wine cellar is still in use. The Swan Valley is also home to Western Australia's oldest church, All Saint's Anglican Church at Henley Brook. The church is in the area where captain Stirling made camp in 1827. Opened in 1841, it was originally made of mud brick, with a porch and belfry added in 1860.

The growth of Perth owes a great deal to the discovery of gold in the northwest of the state and again in 1887 at Southern Cross. Gold fever hit and the population doubled twice in a decade. The biggest gold boom occurred in 1893 when Paddy Hannan, Tom Flannagan and Dan Shea discovered gold 40km east of Coolgardie. Prospectors from China, Europe and the USA flocked to Western Australia in search of fortune.

The area around Kalgoorlie became known as the "Golden Mile". The biggest gold nugget ever found in Western Australia, The Golden Eagle, was found here in 1931. The Perth Mint was established in 1899 and refined much of the state's gold.

The 1960s saw Western Australia's mineral mining industry boom and in the 1970s natural gas resources in the North West Shelf brought further growth. The city skyline changed significantly during this time, with the building of many of today's office towers.

Perth became known as the "city of lights" in 1962 when the Challenger spaceship passed overhead. The lights in the office buildings of the city centre were kept on and the residents of Perth lit up their households as US astronaut John Glen orbited above. Thirty five years later, in 1998, Perth lit up again, with Glen this time passing by on board the Discovery space shuttle.

1987 was a very important year for Perth, with Fremantle hosting Australia's defence of the America's Cup. The region saw major renovations to many listed buildings during this period. World publicity put Perth on the global tourist map, since when Perth has never looked back and looks forward to a prosperous future.