Before European colonisation, the area had been inhabited by the Whadjuk Noongar people for over 40,000 years, as evidenced by archaeological findings on the Upper Swan River. These Aborigines occupied the southwest corner of Western Australia and lived as hunter-gatherers. The wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain were particularly important to them, both spiritually, featuring in local mythology, and as a source of food. Rottnest, Carnac and Garden Islands were also important to the Noongar. About 5,000 years ago the sea levels were low enough that they could walk to the limestone outcrops.
The area where Perth now stands was called Boorloo by the Aboriginals living there in 1827 at the time of their first contact with Europeans. Boorloo formed part of Mooro, the tribal lands of the Yellagonga. It is one of several groups based around the Swan River and known collectively as the Whadjuk. The Whadjuk were part of a larger group of thirteen or more tribes which formed the south west socio-linguistic block known as the Noongar (meaning "the people" in their language), also sometimes called the Bibbulmun. On 19 September 2006, the Federal Court of Australia brought down a judgment recognising Noongar native title over the Perth metropolitan area, in the case of Bennell v State of Western Australia FCA 1243. The judgment was overturned on appeal.
The first documented European sighting of the region was made by the Dutch Captain Willem de Vlamingh and his crew on 10 January 1697. Subsequent sightings between this date and 1829 were made by other Europeans, but as in the case of the sighting and observations made by Vlamingh, the area was considered to be inhospitable and unsuitable for the agriculture which would be needed to sustain a settlement.
Although the British Army had established a base at King George Sound (later Albany) on the south coast of western Australia in 1826 in response to rumours that the area would be annexed by France, Perth was the first full-scale settlement by Europeans in the western third of the continent. The British colony would be officially designated Western Australia in 1832, but was known informally for many years as the Swan River Colony after the area's major watercourse.
On 4 June 1829, newly arriving British colonists had their first view of the mainland, and Western Australia's Foundation Day has since been recognised by a public holiday on the first Monday in June each year. Captain James Stirling, aboard the Parmelia, said that Perth was "as beautiful as anything of this kind I had ever witnessed". On 12 August that year, Helen Dance, wife of the captain of the second ship, Sulphur, cut down a tree to mark the founding of the town.
It is clear that Stirling had already selected the name Perth for the capital well before the town was proclaimed, as his proclamation of the colony, read in Fremantle on 18 June 1829, ended "given under my hand and Seal at Perth this 18th Day of June 1829. James Stirling Lieutenant Governor". The only contemporary information on the source of the name comes from Fremantle's diary entry for 12 August, which records that they "named the town Perth according to the wishes of Sir George Murray". Murray was born in Perth, Scotland, and was in 1829 Secretary of State for the Colonies and Member for Perthshire in the British House of Commons. The town was named after the Scottish Perth, in Murray's honour.
Beginning in 1831, hostile encounters between the British settlers and the Noongar people –
both large-scale land users with conflicting land value systems – increased considerably as the colony grew. This violent phase of the region's history culminated in a series of events in which the British overcame the indigenous people, including the execution of the Whadjuk elder Midgegooroo, the death of his son Yagan in 1833, and the Battle of Pinjarra in 1834.
By 1843, when Yellagonga died, his people had begun to disintegrate after having been dispossessed of the land around the main settlement area of Perth. They retreated to the swamps and lakes north of the settlement area including Third Swamp, known to them as Boodjamooling. Boodjamooling continued to be a main camp-site for the remaining Noongar people in the Perth region, and was also used by travellers, itinerants, and homeless people. By the gold-rush days of the 1890s they were joined by miners who were en route to the goldfields.
After a referendum in 1900, Western Australia joined the Federation of Australia in 1901. It was the last of the Australian colonies to agree to join the Federation, and did so only after the other colonies had offered several concessions, including the construction of a transcontinental railway line from Port Augusta in South Australia to Kalgoorlie to link Perth with the eastern states.
In 1933, Western Australia voted in a referendum to leave the Australian Federation, with a majority of two to one in favour of secession. However, an election held shortly before the referendum had voted out the incumbent "pro-independence" government, replacing it with a government that did not support the creed of an independence movement. Respecting the result of the referendum, the new government nonetheless petitioned the Agent General of the United Kingdom for independence, where the request was simply ignored.
Perth's growth and relative prosperity, especially since the mid-1960s, has resulted from its role as the main service centre for the state's resource industries, which extract gold, iron ore, nickel, alumina, diamonds, mineral sands, coal, oil, and natural gas. Whilst most mineral and petroleum production takes place elsewhere in the state, the non-base services provide most of the employment and income to the people of Perth.
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