History of Perth

The city of Perth in Western Australia was named by Captain James Stirling in 1829 after Perth, Scotland. Before the founding of the Swan River Colony, the indigenous Noongar people were well established in the southwest corner of Western Australia, hunting and gathering. Like elsewhere in Australia, Aboriginal occupation of the coastal plain was unconsciously preparing the ground for European settlement. The ground they cultivated, the tracks they passed along, the native plants they cropped and the bush they cleared by fire all foreshadowed the siting and establishment of European settlements and homesteads. The lakes on the coastal plain were particularly important to the Aboriginal people, providing them with both spiritual and physical sustenance. The swamps to the north of the river provided food, meeting places, shelter, and familiar hunting grounds. Fish, turtles, oysters, crabs, birds and their eggs, frogs, edible roots, fungi, kangaroos and possums abounded.

From 1831, there were hostile encounters between settlers and Noongars that culminated in several executions and massacres that lead to the disintegration of the tribes and their retreat to the swamps and lakes north of the river. The first fleet of settlers arrived in June 1829, disembarking with their possessions on the sandy beaches north of the Swan River. No advance party had been sent, no land had been allocated, and no buildings had been constructed.

The discovery of gold in the Kimberley, Murchison and Kalgoorlie regions in the 1880s and 1890s, and the concurrent granting of responsible government to Western Australia in 1890 had a huge impact on the development of Perth. The physical nature of the city changed dramatically with economic prosperity and the increase of population as a result of gold rush immigration. In one decade the population of the city tripled, from 8,447 in 1891 to 27,553 in 1901. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Perth was totally transformed. Its streets were lined with elaborately styled multi-storey buildings, many of which were designed by members of a now large architectural profession, and the population had spilled over into new suburbs that encircled the city.

Following the construction of the towns and following the war there was an influx of European immigrants to Australia, with approximately 240,000 migrating to Perth between 1946 and 1970. By the 1970s, 21% of Perth’s population was foreign born, with mainly migrating from Holland, Italy, England and other European nations.

Since 1966 Perth’s growth rate has been continuously higher than the national average, however in the first decade of the 21st century, driven by the West Australian mining boom and associated economic development, Perth became Australia’s fastest growing capital.

From 2001 to 2011, the city’s population increased by 346,000. In recent years Perth has been getting a larger share of overseas migrants who, due to the demand for workers in the mining industry, are predominantly arriving on skilled migration visas. More than any other city in Australia, it has attracted migrants from the UK and South Africa. 

Notable events include:

  • 2008: The historic ban on uranium mining was reversed by the incoming Barnet Government.
  • 22 March 2010:  Storms caused hundreds of millions of dollar’s worth of damage and left 150,000 homes without power.
  • October 2011: Perth hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and the Queen visited.
  • 2012: Construction of Brookfield Place was completed. Formerly known as City Square tower, the skyscraper is the second tallest in Western Australia and the eighth tallest in Australia.
  • 2012: Construction began on Elizabeth Quay, a major redevelopment of the Perth foreshore.