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Back in 1870, Western Australia had a population density of 0.009 people for every square kilometre of land.  That was roughly one person for every 109 square kilometres.  Either way, that was a lot of free space.  Though apparently not enough, and so began the Perth Foreshore Reclamation Project.  Over one century, and one square kilometre later, we now have a perfect patch of grass to pitch touring circus tents.
All of this land has been reclaimed from the river.
The Shore-Bank Reclamation Supreme Court Gardens & Barrack Square.
Much of the land between the Perth business district, and the Swan River shoreline has been reclaimed. From the 1870's, and right up to the 1960's various projects have increased the available foreshore land. Even the historic site of the Perth CBD had to be improved, as the surface was a rather sandy, and marshy river terrace. This made it unsuitable for building foundations, and the market gardening activities of the early settlers. Over time, many of the small lakes across the Perth site have been drained. Forrest Place which is opposite the city railway station was once a wetland known as Lake Kingsford. Even today many buildings have below ground pumps to divert spring water.
The sandy soil was unsuitable for growing crops during the early years of the colony. There were other reasons why the land was reclaimed. Transportation was often a problem, as the streets of Perth became sandy bogs. Cart wheels sunk into the deep sand. River travel was the preferred option, however the foreshore area was very marshy, and extremely shallow. Long jetties had to be constructed out into the river, to where it was deep enough for the boats to dock. Flooding was also a problem along these mud flats during the winter months. To make matters worse, mosquitoes became a health concern for the settlers.
Sandy and Marshy - Hay St in the 1870's.  
Perth's First Hoon Driver (1870)

Hooning around in your buggy, was a popular pastime in the early days of the colony.  The soft sand created very poor road surfaces, and this encouraged some vigorous cart driving.  Narrow cart wheels quickly became bogged in the deep sand.  A Sunday drive was affectionately known as, "Ploughing the Fields".  Governor Stirling was even prompted to write back to England about the problem.  Pictured here is evidence of Perth's first hoon driver.  Wheel ruts were left in the sand, after this early pioneer drove his cart recklessly down William Street.  It is a mid-morning in 1870, and the recently opened Wesley Church can be seen on the left.  The roadside on the right is now used as a taxi rank for Perth commuters.
Evidence of Perth's first hoon driver - (Ploughing the Fields).
  Evidence of Early Hoon Driving.
The long jetties prior to the reclamation. With the wetlands now being drained, and prepared for building projects, a new public attitude swept across Perth. During the 1870's the people of Perth decided they needed squares and parklands to improve their quality of life. It was then agreed to fill in the spaces on the river foreshore, between all the long jetties. The first project commenced in 1873, between the Barrack and William Street jetties. It was completed by the mid 1880's, and is now known as the Esplanade Reserve.
Mid-1860's: Long jetties in the Swan River.  
Author's Note: The above picture looking down St Georges Terrace was taken from C.Y. O'Connor's office in the recently completed Pensioner Barracks.  Astute readers will notice some erratic cart wheel tracks in the foreground.  A closer examination of the tracks, revealed a well worn route used by the Pensioner Guard, to negotiate the muddy road up to their Barracks.  There was no evidence of pre-1870 hooning.  (Surely there must be a Government grant for this sort of research).
The Perth Foreshore 1897 - Esplanade Reserve.
The Esplanade Reserve in 1897 still looks a little swampy.
In this 1897 picture of the Perth foreshore, the reclaimed land of the Esplanade Reserve is clearly visible. The Old Court House(highlighted) can be seen on the river bank.  The Town Hall still dominates the skyline.
The Supreme Court Gardens
The next stage was to establish a botanic garden in Perth. It was decided to reclaim the space between the Barrack Street and Government House jetties. This project was undertaken in 1904-05, and eventually extended to Victoria Avenue. The Supreme Court was built on this foreshore during 1902-03, and originally had a water frontage.  The reclaimed area is now known as the Supreme Court Gardens. Supreme Court Gardens. The Supreme Court Gardens Reclamation.
Supreme Court Gardens. The 1904 Reclamation Work.
Fill Me In!   The materials used for reclamation, included general household rubbish, excess soil from levelling St Georges Terrace, stones and rubble, cleared vegetation, river sludge from dredging the Swan River, and the kitchen sink.
These two pictures were taken from nearly the same position, over a century apart.  In 1904 the Old Court House can be seen behind the Water Police Boatsheds, though it is totally obscured by the Supreme Court in the current image.  The newly reclaimed land was  swampy, and very dangerous to walk on.  Worst of all, it presented a health risk, and stunk like a rubbish tip!
To tidy things up, the reclamation continued east to Bennett Street, and was completed in 1921. This area is now known as Langley Park. For aesthetic purposes, the eastern corner at Point Fraser was improved between 1921 and 1935. This involved the extension of Langley Park to Plain Street.  In 2004 an artificial wetland named Lake Vasto was opened on Point Fraser.  This was to recapture some of the original character of the foreshore, now lost to all the reclamation! The Reclaimed Foreshore in 1935.
          The Swan River Reclamation (1935).
Heirisson Island over which the Causeway Bridge crosses, had its swampy terrain reclaimed in an extensive process, spanning from the 1930's to 1950's.  The area west of William Street which extends into Mounts Bay, was left relatively untouched, until the construction of the Narrows Bridge (1959), and Mitchell Freeway Interchange (1967).
   The Perth Foreshore Today  
The Supreme Court Gardens and Swan Bell Tower. The Esplanade Reserve looking towards Kings Park. 
The Supreme Court Gardens and Swan Bell Tower.  The Esplanade Reserve. 
The Barrack Square - Located at the southern end of Barrack Street.

Barrack Square is located at the river end of Barrack Street.  The Square was created in 1883, and was an important link in the early river transportation system.  Today it serves as a jetty and restaurant precinct. A regular ferry crosses the river to South Perth.  Some people think the river shoreline is too straight, and needs more curvy bits added. 
Barrack Square.  With an abundance of straight lines the 
precinct is also known as the "Set Square".
Hunting Down The Old River Foreshore.
Being Perth's oldest surviving public building, the Old Court House provides an opportunity to work out where the original river shoreline was. Back in the old days, the river waters lapped onto the base of the steps on the southern side of the building. The Water Police built their boatsheds just in front of the Court House. In the Government House Grounds, which are next door to the Old Court House, an old limestone wall still exists from the early days of the colony. The river boundary once ran along this wall, and continued past the Old Court House. The land was reclaimed during 1904-05, and is now known as the Supreme Court Gardens.  You should take an opportunity to visit the wall when the grounds are open. 
The Old Court House is behind the Water Police Boatsheds.
  Prior to the reclamation, the Old Court House 
was much closer to the river shoreline.
The Old Limestone Wall  
The Old Limestone Wall in the Government House Gardens. The limestone wall is located in the lower grounds of the Government House Gardens.  The river originally lapped the boundary line along the length of the wall. The present Government House was built between 1859-64, and is visible in the upper left.  The Governor kindly allowed us access to his garden, on the condition we located all his lost tennis balls. 
The Old Limestone Wall (right of picture) borders the Swan River in 1870. The Government House Gardens.
The limestone wall borders the river foreshore in 1870. The Old Court House is behind the Water Police Boatsheds. The original river flats and terrace, are still 
intact in the Government House Gardens.
Reclaiming The Future

Wetland conservation is an important priority these days.  Reclaiming land with household rubbish, and river sludge might have been ok in the 1880's.  Today it would be forbidden.  The opening of the Lake Vasto wetlands in 2004, reflects this change in public attitude.  Back in the mid 1800's, Perth office workers could enjoy a short lunchtime walk to the river foreshore.  The same walk takes twice as long today.  Most city workers will never walk down to the river during their entire career! 
Take me to the Waterfront Development Project Website! 
The State Government is now considering various plans to bring the city back to the foreshore, and re-establish the historic connection with the river.  The Future:  It looks impressive, though you 
have to bring your own lightsaber.
Admittedly the existing foreshore does look good.  It has also been an ideal venue for open air concerts, public protests, and pitching circus tents.  Find a friend with a soccer ball, and you'll have a great time on Langley Park.  Perhaps you might even rediscover the fossilized tracks of Perth's very first hoon driver (Australis Hoonaroundus).

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Event date / locationEvent typeTitle / summaryVenue / hostPublication link
2020.11.14 Applecross Swan river twilight sunset sail  free outings with members South of Perth Yacht Club fbk page - pic vid 
2020.09.25 Perth cbd swan rover new floating pub  The Raft fbk page 
2020.10.27 South Perth day adventure History the tram  Ferry Tram Museum fbk group wa tourism 
2020.10.03 South Perth Sunset river walk  Mindeerup Piazza fbk page pics  
2020.08.10 Burswood Icons of the trail Stunning food and views City View Cafe fbk grp wa tourism 
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