|The Perth skyline at night from Kings Park
Capital city of Western Australia. A delightful city which has the scale of a large country town.
Perth has changed dramatically in the last few decades. With a population around the million mark Perth, quite correctly, sees itself as a modern, dynamic city.
Perth is known for its great personal charm and beauty. The elegant riverside parks, the network of freeways and the languid beauty of the Swan River all combine to give the city grace and distinction.
Today the city is a pleasant mixture of colonial and modern architecture. The city is noted for its fine parks and gardens many of which run along the banks of the Swan River allowing both sightseers and the ubiquitous joggers pleasant views across the river.
The city's economic function within the state has changed since its inception. In 1832 it had a smaller population than Fremantle. It enjoyed a minor boom in the 1830s and 1840s when the area around it started producing substantial amounts of wool and wheat. Another boom occurred in the 1890s with the goldrushes at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. In the 1950s a number of industrial suburbs grew up on the outskirts of the city and in the 1960s and 1970s a property boom occurred as an indirect result of the iron and nickel booms of the time.
In this sense it is probably the only Australian capital city which is dependent on the economic well being of the state.
In his novel City of Men Gavin Casey astutely observes:
'When the crop fails the city fails. Townies who ask how the wheat-belt is looking aren't just making conversation. They want to know. It's a wheat-growing city, if you can understand the term. It doesn't make anything. It just buys and sells things, and the only places to which it can sell anything except the wheat and wool and gold are the goldfields, the wheat-belt and the grazing areas.'
The industrial development of the city in the 1950s partly changed this image but it still has more than a germ of truth. Even today the image of the Perth businessman is one of an entrepreneur not an industrialist, not a producer of goods.
|Palace Hotel in St George's Terrace with modern skyscrapers behind
History of Perth
The first European to sight the Perth area was the Dutch sailor Willem de Vlamingh who sailed along the coast in 1697 and named Swan River after noting the large flocks of black swans in the area. De Vlamingh was less than impressed with the region describing it as 'arid, barren and wild'. It is tantalising to contemplate what he would think if he could see the rich, green parks and gardens which now line the riverbanks.
The area was explored and chartered by both the French and the British in the early years of the nineteenth century. The French actually chartered the Swan River in 1801 but a subsequent expedition found the river unsuitable as a port.
It wasn't until 1827, when Captain James Stirling and the botanist Charles Fraser became enthusiastic about the potential of the river, that anyone seriously considered the possibility of a settlement.
Stirling and Fraser's timing was perfect. In both England and New South Wales there was a growing concern about the French interest in Australia. La Perouse, D'Entrecasteaux and Nicholas Baudin had all explored the coasts of the new continent and it was clear that, if settlement was a criterion of possession, the British could only claim the south east corner. Consequently there was much interest in establishing outposts on the western, southern and northern coasts.
This eagerness for new penal colonies was matched by a desire to close down the penal colony at Port Macquarie and open the area up to settlement. With this in mind a small contingent of soldiers and convicts had been sent to Albany in 1826.
Meanwhile Captain James Stirling, whose report on the potential of the Swan River had been received with little enthusiasm, had gone to England in 1828 to press for the establishment of a colony on the Swan River.
Stirling's report had been wildly enthusiastic about the potential of the Swan River. He declared that the district held 'out every attraction that a country in a State of Nature can possess' and that both the soil and the anchorage were ideal'.
Stirling managed to generate considerable debate in the British parliament and so, even though he was given limited government support, on 1 June 1829 he set sail from England as the Lieutenant Governor of Australia's first free colony. It is a fascinating thought (particularly with the entrepreneurial debacles of the 1980s still fresh in our minds) to register that Perth was founded, as no other Australian capital city was, on an amalgamation of limited government and entrepreneurs. This situation doesn't seem to have changed greatly over the years.
Stirling sailed with a small contingent of free settlers aboard the Parmenia while the HMS Sulphur brought a military detachment to the colony.
Stirling considered a number of possible sites along the Swan River but he finally chose a location 16 km from the mouth of the river and nestled under Mount Eliza. It was an ideal location.
In her book The Swan Valley: A Perspective in Time and Place, Dorothy B. Robinson explains the strengths and weaknesses of the location: 'The site was edged on the south and east by the river with its border of mud flats, and on the north by lakes and swamplands. On the west was a high limestone ridge, named Mount Eliza, with a rugged scarp to the river's edge. Mt Eliza provided a lookout point from which to watch for a potential enemy. It was a good defensive site.
|Hay Street Mall today
'The main street, Hay Street, was surveyed to run along the crest of a sand dune extending eastwards from Mt Eliza, with parallel streets on either side, and with streets at right angles leading southwards to the river and to northwards ending in lakes and swamps. A number of springs provided fresh water, as did the lakes to the north. The river being an estuary, its water was too salty to drink. However, the river was a source of supply of fish for food.'
The colony's early years were difficult. By accident the site Stirling had chosen was on a route used by inland Aborigines to reach their coastal fishing ground. Clashes between settlers and Aborigines were common place and in the 1830s one Aboriginal leader was shot by firing squad and in another incident a flour mill in South Perth was attacked.
The colony was the first to be developed entirely by free settlers. It wasn't until 1850 that convicts arrived and by that time the basic structure of the settlement had been established.
The early growth of the city was slow. By 1849 the population was 1148. By 1891 it had only grown to 8447 and even in 1911 it was only a medium sized country town with a population of 31 300. The arrival of the Trans-Australian Railway in 1917 and the early success of the gold mining towns pushed the population to 272 528 in 1947 and the subsequent immigration from Britain meant that by 1981 809 035 people were living in Perth and its suburbs.
Things to see:
Located at the top of St Georges Terrace, Barracks Arch is all that remains of the huge Pensioner's Barracks which once comprised 120 rooms. The Arch is nothing more than a hint of the grandeur which once characterised this chequered building which was designed by the architect, Richard Roach Jewell. The building was completed in 1863 and was used by the Pensioner Guards (retired soldiers) until 1904. In one of those decisions which has reasonable people gasping with disbelief the barracks were demolished in 1966 to make way for the Mitchell Freeway. The Barracks Archway stands as a monument to the stupidity of politicians who refuse to heed either history or public outcry. The archway was saved only by the public fury which greeted the plan to totally destroy the building.
Central Government Offices
The National Estate description of the Central Government Precinct verges on the eulogistic: 'This area is the original core of Perth, and is a compact and harmonious group of 19th century buildings close to the site where a tree was felled in 1829, to mark the foundation of the capital. The significance of the precinct lies not only in the group of historic buildings within it, but also in the immediate surroundings, which include an extensive area of parkland.
'The Central Government Offices, the focal point of the area, is a complex of Victorian public buildings erected from 1874 to c. 1905. The northern half of the west wing was commenced in 1874, and in 1882 the lower two storeys of the east wing were built. Both of these sections were designed by the contemporary Government Architect, R. R. Jewell. The section linking these two wings was built from 1887 to 1890 to designs by G. T. Poole, and was at that time used for the General Post Office. [distances from Perth are still calculated from this point although the Post Office is no longer located here] The third storeys were added in 1896, 1903 and 1905. The north-eastern section of the complex was built in 1896, also under Poole's supervision. The present imposing complex is a unified group in Classical Revival style with mellow brickwork, elaborate stuccoed decoration and projecting pilasters. This group of early civic buildings occupies virtually an entire city block, and is historically important as the hub of the colonial administration.'
The larger area around the Central Government Offices includes Government House, Stirling Gardens, the Supreme Court, the Old Court House, St Georges Cathedral and St Andrews Church and the Perth Town Hall. It is a remarkable concentration of important buildings.
Located on St Georges Terrace just opposite Mill Street, the Cloisters have, in their time, been a Boys' school, a Girls' school, private houses, a training college for clergymen, a university hostel and a cafe. The building was designed by Richard Roach Jewell in 1858 and the bricks, which were fired at different temperatures in wood burning kilns, show a range of colours. This is another historic building which was only saved by public outcry. Now part of the Mount Newman office block the Cloisters would have been destroyed if the developers had had their way.
East Murray Street Precinct
So close to the centre of the city and yet, given Perth's penchant for destroying historic buildings, so well protected from the developers, the East Murray Street Precinct with its large Moreton Bay fig (which is listed on the National Estate) and its collection of harmonious buildings is an ideal walk for anyone wanting to recall the glories of Perth around the turn of the century. The importance of the precinct is that most of it was built between 1890 and 1914 when gold had made the state rich. Murray Street is a reminder of that 'golden' age and the buildings, including the Government Printing Office, Kirkham House, the Young Australia League Building (Walter Burley Griffin, designer of Canberra, did the original drawings) and the Fire Brigade Station, are all important parts of this impressive streetscape.
Located on St Georges Terrace in Government House Grounds, Government House was the culmination of a series of unsuccessful attempts to construct suitable accommodation for the colony's governor. The foundation stone was laid in 1859 and for the next five years convicts and tradesmen, working on a Tudor style design, built this remarkable two coloured brick building. The chequerboard pattern is characteristic of many Western Australian buildings of this period.
It was claimed that the first Government House, a hut built for Governor Stirling near the present site, was so badly constructed that when it rained he had to use an umbrella while answering official correspondence.
|The Perth skyline from the lookout on Fraser Avenue, Kings Park
Kings Park, otherwise known as Mount Eliza, offers a superb view of Perth and the graceful Swan River. It has been a source of pleasure to Perth residents since it was set aside as parkland in 1831 by the colony's first Surveyor General, John Septimus Roe. It was named Perth Park in 1872 and subsequently renamed Kings Park in 1901 to honour Edward VII's accession to the throne. Shortly afterwards the park was visited by the King's son, the Duke of Cornwall and York.
Since earliest settlement visitors to the Park have extolled its virtues but none so eloquently as Daisy Bates who gazed from the lookout around the turn of the century and imagined what Perth must have been like before white settlement.
'I can never look down on the panorama of that young and lovely city from the natural parkland on the crest of Mount Eliza that is its crowning glory without a vision of the past,' she wrote, 'the dim and timeless past when a sylvan people wandered its woods untrammelled, with no care or thought for yesterday or tomorrow, or of a world other than their own. Scarcely a hundred years have passed since that symmetry of streets and suburbs was a pathless bushland, a tangle of trees and scrub and swamp with the broad blue ribbon of river running through it, widening from a thread of silver at the foot of the ranges to the estuary marshes and the sea.'
There are a number of interesting brochures on Kings Park. Guide to Kings Park Botanic Garden provides a brief history (the Botanical Gardens were established in 1962) of the gardens and a map identifying the stands of jarrah, karri, tuart and heath in the park. The area has also been planted with flora taken from other 'Mediterranean' climates such as those in California and South Africa.
There are memorials to both John Septimus Roe and John Forrest in the park as well as a huge karri log and a Pioneer Women's Memorial.
Apart from being the one place every tourist in Perth gets taken to (it really does offer a superb view of the Central Business District) the park is also a popular place for locals and it is commonplace on weekends to see marriages ceremonies at various places in the park.
|London Court, St Georges Terrace
Located on St Georges Terrace, this shopping alley with its mock Tudor frontages is a popular meeting place for people shopping in the Hay Street Pedestrian Mall. It is a recent addition to the city being built in 1938 by Claude de Bernales. The arcade features models of Dick Whittington, St George and the Dragon, Sir Walter Raleigh and imitations of Big Ben in London and the Grosse Horloge in Rouen. Strictly a tourist trap it is a well known part of the city centre.
The Old Courthouse is the oldest building in central Perth. It was designed by Henry Reveley, the colony's first Civil Engineer, and completed in 1837. It is hidden away in a corner of Stirling Gardens beside the larger and more imposing Supreme Court Building.
Perth Boys School
Located in St Georges Terrace and now the headquarters of the National Trust of Western Australia (where most of the Heritage Brochures on Perth can be purchased) the Perth Boys School is one of the city's oldest buildings. The National Trust has published an excellent booklet Old Perth Boys School and the National Trust which provides a very detailed history of the building. It is available from the National Trust shop inside the building.
|St Georges Cathedral
St George's Cathedral
Located on the corner of St Georges Terrace and Cathedral Avenue, St Georges Cathedral was designed by the eminent Australian architect Edmund Blacket and built between 18791888. Blacket's design won against designs from England and Melbourne. The design was probably a compromise. Joan Kerr's book Our Great Victorian Architect: Edmund Thomas Blacket (1817-1883) states: 'Blacket's brick cathedral now looks very modest. The thirteenth-century brick style was certainly imposed for economic reasons...However Blacket's original design was more elaborate than the extant building suggests. The 1902-3 memorial tower to Queen Victoria is an especially poor substitute for Blacket's soaring monster. It would not have looked insignificant at the eastern end of the cathedral behind the south transept...The interior...is austere but dramatic, with all elaboration pushed up into the hammer-beam jarrah roof which is heavily decorated with tracery panels. Blacket seems to have been responsible for this, but it is not clear how much of the rest was his. Cyril (Blacket's son) took over after his father's death and certainly advised on the carving and installation of th rather mechanical bluestone columns.'
|Stirling Gardens in full bloom
Located on the corner of St Georges Terrace and Barrack Street, Stirling Gardens are a wonder to behold in springtime when the blooms and the exquisitely maintained lawns offer a dramatic contrast to the canyons of iron and concrete which surround it. The Gardens were first set aside in 1829 and opened in 1845. They are the state's first Botanical Gardens. In one corner of the gardens is the simple and stark Supreme Court Building and the Old Court House (q.v.).
St Mary's Cathedral
Located in Victoria Square this huge Gothic building was started in 1863 and completed in 1865. Amongst the builders of the cathedral were the Benedictine Monks from Subiaco who walked to the site every day to help with construction. It is a comment on the religious tolerance of early Perth that the land upon which the cathedral was built was originally set aside for the Church of England and was transferred to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. Over the years the cathedral has had many additions.
Located on the corner of Hay and Barrack Streets, the Perth Town Hall took three years to build. The foundation stone was laid on 24 May 1867 by Governor Hampton and for the next three years a large number of tradesmen and labourers (many of the labourers were convicts) worked to complete the design of two architects, Richard Roach Jewell and James Manning. There was a time when the clock tower was one of the prominent landmarks of central Perth and when the town markets operated in the building. In recent times there have been a number of alterations to the original plan although there have been attempts to restore it to its original glory. Around the corner in Barrack Street is a plaque which marks the point where Mrs Dance chopped down a tree and formally declared Perth a townsite on 12 August, 1829.
Over the road from Stirling Gardens, on the corner of Barrack Street and The Esplanade, is the Weld Club. The Club was formed in 1871, named after the then Governor of Western Australia, Sir Frederick Weld, and the club building was constructed in 1892 to a design by a young English architect, J. Talbot Hobbs. Its prominent position overlooking the river and its attractive gardens make it a natural part of the larger central city precinct.