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Willem de Vlamingh's ships, with black swans, at the entrance to the Swan River, Western Australia, coloured engraving (1726), derived from an earlier drawing (now lost) from the de Vlamingh expeditions of 1696–97



The first detailed map of the Swan River, drawn by François-Antoine Boniface Heirisson in 1801





The river was named Swarte Swaene-Revier  by Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh in 1697, after the famous black swans of the area. Vlamingh sailed with a small party up the river to around Heirisson Island.

A French expedition under Nicholas Baudin also sailed up the river in 1801.

Governor Stirling's intention was that the name "Swan River" refer only to the watercourse upstream of the Heirisson Islands. All of the rest, including Perth Water, he considered estuarine and which he referred to as "Melville Water". The Government notice dated 27 July 1829 stated "... the first stone will be laid of a new town to be called 'Perth', near the entrance to the estuary of the Swan River."

Almost immediately after the Town of Perth was established, a systematic effort was underway to reshape the river. This was done for many reasons:
to alleviate flooding in winter periods;
improve access for boats by having deeper channels and jetties;
removal of marshy land which created a mosquito menace;
enlargement of dry land for agriculture and building.

Perth streets were often sandy bogs which caused Governor James Stirling in 1837 to report to the Secretary of State for Colonies:


At the present time it can scarcely be said that any roads exist, although certain lines of communication have been improved by clearing them of timber and by bridging streams and by establishing ferries in the broader parts of the Swan River ...

Parts of the river required dredging with the material dumped onto the mud flats to raise the adjoining land. An exceptionally wet winter in 1862 saw major flooding throughout the area – the effect of which was exacerbated by the extent of the reclaimed lands. The first bucket dredge in Western Australia was the Black Swan, used between 1872 and 1911 for dredging channels in the river, as well as reclamation.




Swan River in 1918, showing the then as-yet largely undeveloped Mill Point area

Notable features


A number of features of the river, particularly around the city, have reshaped its profile since European settlement in 1829:




1909 map showing Heirisson Islands and alignment of the Burswood Island canal

Claise Brook – named Clause's Brook on early maps, after Frederick Clause. This was a fresh water creek which emptied the network of natural lakes north of the city. Before an effective sewerage system was built, it became an open sewer which dumped waste directly into the river for many years during the 1800s and early 1900s. The area surrounding has been mainly industrial for most of the period of European settlement and it has a long history of neglect. Since the late 1980s, the East Perth redevelopment has dramatically tidied up the area and works include a landscaped inlet off the river large enough for boats. The area is now largely residential and the brook exists in name only with the lakes having been either removed or managed by man-made drainage systems.

Point Fraser – early maps showed this as a major promontory on the northern side of the river west of the Causeway. It disappeared between 1921 and 1935 when land fill was added on both sides, straightening the irregular foreshore and forming the rectangular 'The Esplanade'.

The Esplanade – the northern riverbank originally ran close to the base of the escarpment generally a single block width south of St Georges Terrace. Houses built on the southern side of St Georges Terrace included market gardens which ran to the waters edge.

Heirisson Islands – a series of mudflats that were slightly more upstream from today's single man-made island which has deep channels on each side.
Burswood – early in the settlement the Perth flats restricted the passage of all but flat bottom boats travelling between Perth and Guildford. It was decided that a canal be built to bypass these creating Burswood Island. In 1831 it took seven men 107 days to do the work. Once completed, it measured about 280 metres (920 ft) in length by an average top width of nearly 9 metres (30 ft) which tapered to 4 metres (13 ft) at the bottom; the depth varied between nearly one metre and six metres. Further improvements were made in 1834. The area on the south side of the river upstream from the causeway was filled throughout the 1900s, reclaiming an area five-times the area of the Mitchell Interchange/Narrows Bridge works.

Point Belches – later known as Mill Point, South Perth. Originally existed as a sandy promontory surrounding a deep semi-circular bay. This was later named Millers Pool and was eventually filled in and widened to become the present-day South Perth peninsula to which the Narrows Bridge and Kwinana Freeway adjoin.
Point Lewis (also known as 'One-Tree Point' after a solitary tree that stood on the site for many years) – the northern side of the Narrows Bridge site, and now beneath the interchange.

Mounts Bay – a modest reclamation was done between 1921 and 1935. In the 1950s works involving the Narrows Bridge started and in 1957 the bay was dramatically reduced in size with works related to the Mitchell Interchange and the northern approaches to the Narrows. An elderly Bessie Rischbieth famously protested against the project by standing in the shallows in front of the bulldozers for a whole day in 1957. She succeeded in halting progress – for that one day.

Bazaar Terrace/Bazaar Street – in the early days of the settlement this waterfront road between William Street and Mill Street was an important commercial focus with port facilities including several jetties adjoining. It is now approximately where Mounts Bay Road is today and set well back from the foreshore. It had a prominent limestone wall and promenade built using material quarried from Mount Eliza.

River mouth at Fremantle – the harbour was built in the 1890s and the limestone reef blocking the river was removed at the same time, after 70 years of demands. The dredging of the area to build the Harbour effectively changed the river dynamics from a winter flushing flow to a tidal flushing estuary. It was also at this time that the Helena River was dammed as part of C. Y. O'Connor's ambitious and successful plan to provide water to the Kalgoorlie Goldfields.









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Places visited


Event date / locationEvent typeTitle / summaryVenue / hostPublication link
2019.08.27 / Applecross Heathcote Reserve google map visit how that view Heathcote Reserve fbk grp wa tourism 
2019.09.13 / Point Fraser Perth activity bike along the river Birds of colour Point Fraser fbk grp wa tourism 
2019.09.15 / Crawley Perth riverside Photo spot instagram or bust Blue Boat House fbk grp wa tourism 
2019.08.21 Google map people / paths Heirisson Island 2019.08 Drifting HI & LQ  
2019.08.10 Google map people / paths Kings Park wk 2 2019.08 wk2 360 step inside  
Showing 5 items from page Places visited sorted by edit time. View more »


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