(1830 - 1850)
Early Years (1830 - 1850)
As much of the remaining land turned out to be quite sandy and unsuitable for agriculture, the first reports of the colony were not as glowing as Stirling had been led to expect. These reports, along with the difficulty of clearing land to grow crops, was a factor in the slow growth of Perth during the first two decades. Agriculture developed away from Perth in places like the Avon Valley, and along the southwest coastline.
Transport in the early years was primarily along the coastline and river system, and one of the earliest projects was the construction of a 280-metre canal creating Burswood Island. Two years later, in 1833, the first dirt track between Perth and Fremantle was cut through the bush. Other tracks from the towns to the districts of Canning Bridge Kelmscott, Guildford and Mandurah followed. The first bridge was causeway across the Swan River, little more than a primitive timber bridge, but connecting what is now the suburbs of East Perth and Victoria Park.
Early building activity laid the administrative, institutional and social foundations of colonial society. In 1831 the Round House was completed, providing the colony with its first prison; the Court House was opened in December 1836, doubling as place of worship until St George's Church was built in 1842. This wasn't the first church however; that honour goes to the All Saints Church in the Swan Valley, north-east of Perth, completed in 1841. The colony's first brewery, Swan Brewery, was established at the corner of Spring Street and Mounts Bay Road, near the base of Mount Eliza in Perth.
Relations between the Europeans and Aborigines were not always amicable, and sometimes resulted in violent skirmishes. On 11 July 1833, a senior warrior named Yagan, of the local Aboriginal tribe near the Swan River, was murdered after a bounty was issued for his capture following the slaying of a couple of settlers. By 1850, the population of the colony of Western Australia had increased to 5,886, while the population around Perth was still only about 1940, approximately equal with that of Fremantle.
In 1849, after a decade and half of meagre growth, Perth became a penal colony and in the next 16 years received an influx of over 9000 convicts. This significantly changed the social and economic dynamics of the colony. The convicts where involved in the construction of a large amount of infrastructure and this shaped the character of the city. Perth's early buildings had been rudimentary and simple, however with the arrival of labour in the form of a convict workforce, new buildings of colonial authority arose. These embraced the culture and aspirations of Empire in a remote settlement, and were largely constructed in the Gothic style so much in vogue in England at the time. Constructed of locally harvested clay bricks, mellow in colour and soft in texture, the public architecture of the colony was relatively small-scale as befitting a new settlement. Buildings constructed during this time include the Fremantle Prison, Government House, the Perth Town Hall, The Cloisters, Perth Gaol, and the Swan River Mechanics' Institute.
The convict workforce led to an improvement in the prospects of the colony, however Perth's underlying identity as a remote and rustic frontier town remained unchanged. Despite being proclaimed a city by Queen Victoria in 1856, fourteen years later a Melbourne journalist could describe Perth as:
"...a quiet little town of some 3000 inhabitants spread out in straggling allotments down to the water's edge, intermingled with gardens and shrubberies and half rural in its aspect ... The main streets are macadamised, but the outlying ones and most of the footpaths retain their native state from the loose sand - the all pervading element of Western Australia - productive of intense glare or much dust in the summer and dissolving into slush during the rainy season."
This village-like atmosphere of scattered single and two story brick or stone residences, surrounded by gardens, remained unchanged until the 1880s and 1890s.
The latter half of the nineteenth century, and in particular the last two decades, saw Perth begin to grow for the first time in a significant way. In 1877, a telegraph line from Adelaide to Perth was completed, vastly improving intracontinental communication. This increased the growth of colonial media, such as the first weekly newspaper, the Western Mail, which commenced publishing in 1885.
Government architecture continued to shape the central city. In 1874 large and impressive government offices were constructed, housing the Cabinet, Treasury, Titles Office and Post Office. The business district developed slowly with a mix of shops and cottages to the west of Barrack Street. During this time two events significantly shaped the development of both central Perth and the wider metropolitan region: the construction of a railway from Fremantle to Guildford, completed in 1881, and the Western Australian gold rushes, commencing in 1885.
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.
The location of the central Perth railway station had an enormous influence on the pattern and concentration of land uses within the city. With the railway line providing a boundary to the north, and the Government domain to the south, commercial and professional development was concentrated within the city's central axis, bounded by William and Barrack Streets. This created a vibrant walkable district, accessible by public transport, that remains to this day. The population growth provided the impetus for the expansion of infrastructure, services, and facilities, although not necessarily fast enough to cater for growing demand. In 1893, electricity generation was made available to the city of Perth, and the suburban rail line was extended from Perth to Armadale in the same year. In 1898, the Perth Zoo opened.
In 1897, Fremantle Harbour was officially opened. The harbour provided access to the Swan River for larger vessels, made possible after blasting the rocky bar across the Swan River mouth and dredging under the guidance of the colony's Engineer-in-Chief, Charles Yelverton O'Connor. On 28 September 1899, the first electric tram services commenced, operated by Perth Electric Tramways Ltd, with services from East Perth along Hay Street to Milligan Street. The Perth Mint, on Hay Street in East Perth, opened the same year.
Since at least 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, it became Australia's fastest growing capital. From 2001 to 2011, the city's population increased by 346,000, which is comparable to Sydney's 499,000 over the same period despite being only one third the size. As with Melbourne, most population growth was absorbed by the outer suburbs, primarily in the City of Wanneroo, and the southern coastal suburbs (Cockburn, Rockingham and Kwinana). 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. Major infrastructure projects completed included the $1.6 billion New MetroRail project, which effectively doubled the size of the Perth rail system, the Graham Farmer Freeway and Roe Highway.
Notable events include: