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History South Perth


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in short

The history of the area now known as South Perth before permanent European settlement was broadly similar to that in other parts of what became the Swan River Colony. The area was probably inhabited by peoples of the Noongar tribes, and they had little contact with other peoples. Early Dutch and French explorers reported their presence, but no recorded contact was made. No contact is known to have been made with travellers from any other country. The Dutch expedition commanded by Willem de Vlaming in 1697 was the first to discover the major river and note the presence of black swans on the river. They named it the Swan River.

Early European settlement

1845 map of South Perth by A Hillman

After the permanent settlement of the British and the establishment of the Swan River Colony, most development tended to take place north rather than south of the Swan River in the town of Perth and also in Fremantle, the port suburb. The area was already unofficially known as "South Perth" but was relatively untouched. By 1831, the land along the river frontage had been allocated amongst seven people, and the land was being partially used for agriculture and dairy farms. A mill was built in 1833 and a ferry across the Swan river via the Narrows was established.

Established settlement

There was some conflict between the European settlers and Indigenous Australians, in which one of the leaders was a chief known as Yagan. After his death, local leadership went to a chief variously known as Galute or Kalyute. He led further resistance, but this was countered by a punitive expedition, which resulted in the deaths of fifteen Aboriginal people and the end of organised resistance.

By the 1850s, there was some further development of the area, with more ferry connections and the construction of the Causeway and the Canning Bridge. The area was further surveyed and lots allocated to pensioners. By 1858, the area was officially marked on maps as "South Perth" and some roads had been constructed.

The 1860s saw the realisation that large-scale farming in the district had no future, although dairying, timber cutting and vegetable growing continued. By the 1880s, a number of Chinese gardeners had arrived and they set up market gardens on land on the foreshore, between Suburban Road (now Mill Point Road) and the Swan River. After the discovery of gold in Kalgoorlie in 1893, a number of Chinese, who had been unable to take up Miners Rights in the goldfields for racial reasons, joined them in South Perth. The Chinese worked very hard and grew good quality fruit and vegetables, which the local population were happy to buy. In the 1920s, the Chinese started to market their produce to the wider population of Perth via the James Street markets. The Chinese market gardens successfully operated for many years, despite many attempts by local authorities to serve them with notices alleging uncleanliness or health hazards. They lasted until the 1950s before they were dismantled.

With the help of convict labour, the district received more settlement and better roads. Nevertheless, the South Perth area still had a small population.

The 1880s South Perth land boom

The real estate boom of the 1880s, which coincided with the discovery of gold in the Kimberley saw a slow but appreciable growth in the number of residents. Several of Perth's more substantial citizens saw South Perth as a peaceful and tranquil suburb, and by the end of the 1890s, the population was about 400, with many elegant homes. The Zoological Gardens and the Royal Perth Golf Club were opened in 1898 and the area became popular with tourists from the town of Perth across the river.


Chronology of main historic events relating to South Perth:

1697 - Sighting by Dutchman, Willem de Vlaming. ‘Swaene-Revier’ was named.

1801 - French ships ‘Naturaliste’ and ‘Geographe’ visited; an expedition led by Captain Françios Heirrisson examined the Rivière des Cygnes as far as the mud flats now Heirrisson Island.

1827 - First British exploration of the area to prevent the French from colonising the western side of the continent. Melville Water, Point Belches and Canning River named.

1829 - South Perth peninsula reserved for suburban expansion of Perth.

1831 - Settlement slow. Foreshore areas facing Perth Water, Melville Water and Canning River divided amongst only 7 people.

1833 - First land grant: William Shenton who built a mill at Mill Point and became the first permanent resident.

1834 - First suburban lots offered for sale by the Government.

1892 - South Perth Roads Board District formed by excision from City of Perth, bounded by Melville Water, Perth Water, the Perth-Albany road, the Perth - Fremantle road, and South Terrace.

1892 - First meeting of the South Perth Road Board.

1898 - South Perth Roads Board extended to Canning Bridge.

1917 - South Perth residents voted against Greater Perth Scheme.

1902 - South Perth became a Municipality.

1904 - Laying of the foundation of the Municipal Office corner Mends Street and Mill Point Road.

1905 - Municipality divided into three wards.

1922 - South Perth became a Road District.

1955 - Manning, Salter Point, Mount Henry and Waterford annexed to South Perth from the Canning Road Board.

1956 - South Perth became a Municipality.

1959 - South Perth declared a City. The current municipal offices were opened in 1960, coinciding with the opening of the Narrows Bridge directly linking South Perth with the CBD. The foyer of the Civic Centre offices included a linoleum-cut mural depicting the history of the area to date.

1833 Canals

Rivers were at this time seen as the ideal means of transporting goods and were increasingly engineered by dredging, to accommodate larger loads. The Swan River was remade for transportation purposes by removing sandbars, filling and dredging channels.

The first change made to the natural environment after European settlement was in 1831 when a canal was cut making Burswood into an island. (Camfield Henry, Correspondence and legal documents 1829-1865, Acc 1459A).

In 1833 a tender was released for the construction of a dyke to block channels between islands with:

"duble stake and a wattled fence filled in with clay, three feet above low water and three feet high." 

When the first canal was relatively unsuccessful, a second canal was cut in 1834.

In addition the River was straightened in an effort to correct what were seen as nature’s shortcomings. The arguments used to dredge and straighten the river were utilitarian and health based.

1849 Bridge debate

The Narrows bridge idea is "ridiculous"

From the earliest days of settlement, suggestions for bridging the River at the Narrows were advanced, but generally dismissed. In 1849 for instance, the editor of the Perth Gazette scoffed that the proposal to erect a bridge or communication between "the mill point and the opposite shore under Mount Eliza" was:

"A scheme so ridiculous and extravagant that it could never be entertained for one moment, save by the most inveterate theorist. For the execution of any such work, where are the funds to be found? And even if these were forthcoming, there are many plans of much more general utility, which claim the first attention." [59]

1869 dredging

In 1869 a steam dredge Black Swan was ordered from England at a cost of £3000 and assembled in Fremantle. It was a significant investment for a small colony and the Black Swan, 90 feet long and able to dredge to 12 feet, became the symbol of what was seen as development and progress in Perth. It was launched by the Governor who claimed it would remove obstructions to navigation by dredging river channels, in particular by clearing a permanent channel through the Causeway flats and deepening the River near the jetties at William and Barrack Streets.

By the time the Black Swan was launched in October 1869 the community had persuaded authorities that they needed a recreation ground. The dredge, unsuited to dredging in shallow waters began work on channel deepening in the river but by 1870 it lay idle and rusting at the Government jetty. The costly investment appeared to face technical and political barriers to its use and was described as "the steam dredge affair."

1880's Ferry

A ferry service from Perth established in the 1880s made the area much more accessible and in 1898 two major attractions opened — the Perth Zoo and the Windsor Hotel.

1989 Dredging

Writing to the Editor of the West Australian in 1899 South Perth resident EA Douglas complained that with over 1000 people living in South Perth there needed to be further dredging in the approach to Coode Street jetty. The walk to the Causeway to catch the bus was difficult and he stated that there were many with blocks of land in the vicinity of Coode Street who were anxious to build homes. He also pointed out the difficulties for those doing business in the area as loaded barges could not get within a quarter of a mile of the Coode Street jetty and the sharp incline coming from the Mends Street jetty made access difficult


1900 Boat Ramp

Photo taken from the West side of the South Perth Boat ramp, behind the ramp in the distance is Mends St Jetty

the boat ramp continues as does the Old Mill which is an heritage museum site 

Sailing off South Perth, c1900

Swan Keeper tending swan adjacent now-defunct Millers Pool, near the Old Mill, South Perth, c1900.

Perth can be seen in the background.

1905 photo

1918 photo

1922 photo

It is less than a kilometre from Perth's city centre, but its relative isolation on the opposite side of the Swan River has shaped how South Perth has developed over the years.
In the early days of the colony, there was no easy way of crossing the river so few people chose to settle there.
"The history of South Perth, industrially, dates back to 1833 when the well-known windmill was built just near where The Narrows Bridge is now,"

The low-lying land on the peninsula was flood prone and attracted only Chinese market gardeners and dairy farmers.

1930's Beautify

From the mid 1930s the reclamation work to "improve and beautify" South Perth got underway in a stop start fashion as the dredge was constantly needed elsewhere. A retaining wall was slowly built from Mill Point along Melville Water and a riverside road developed. 

Discussions began on reclaiming from the Mends Street jetty east towards Millers Pool. Those protesting against the reclamation of Millers Pool led by architect and Perth City Councillor Harold Boas, stressed the historical significance and beauty of this natural feature of the river front as well as the aesthetics and the need to retain the panorama from Kings Park.

 Those in support the reclamation complained about the mosquitoes harbored in the area and the costs, including the health costs, of keeping the Pool.

1938 close markets

In 1938 it was announced that the reclamation between Mill Point and Mends Street Jetty including all the low lying market garden areas between the Causeway and Mends Street Jetty would proceed.

 The passionate debate for and against the preservation of Millers Pool began again with the Town Planning Board supporting its retention, but by early 1940, the Chinese Gardens between Coode and Mends Streets had been resumed and work was underway. Renamed McCallum Park, plans for the area included provision for sports grounds, seven acres of shrubbery, 25 tennis courts, a riverside drive and an area overlooking the park nearer Canning Highway subdivided for housing.

1954 build bridge


As the population in the South Perth district increased, there were calls for dredging of the River around the jetties to enable access by larger steamers as well as access across the Narrows. Nothing further was done about the bridge at this time and although there were attempts to establish a pontoon ferry service for vehicles across the narrows from as early as 1910, it was not until the late 1920s and early 1930s that the various options for crossing the river at Perth were more seriously considered. In 1940 the South Perth Road Board called for action to deal with the increasing traffic on the old, very inadequate and increasingly dangerous Causeway, still the only crossing for vehicles between North Fremantle and Belmont.

Investigations concluded that another bridge was needed as in peak periods, the Causeway was already operating with a traffic density approaching capacity and in the next 10 years the estimated growth in population south of the river would be 100,000. The building of the Narrows bridge was no longer a long range proposal, its need was seen as urgent and Cabinet approved its construction in August 1954. In late 1954 boring rigs commenced work to test the nature of the river bottom at the Narrows site and reclamation work was commenced.

It was open by December 23, 2007

Aboriginal History 

of South Perth

The following extract has been taken from page 47 of Hughes-Hallett, D. (2010) Indigenous history of the Swan and Canning rivers

'It is believed by Lyon (in Collard et al, 1996) that the South Perth area was the country of Beeloo Nyoongars or river people. The Key Nyoongar figure at the time of colonisation was described by Lyon as Munday. Nyoongars who used this area were known as Gareen and their place was Gareenup.

An important camping and fishing area was situated between the present day Richardson Park and Mill Point (Gareenup) and this area was referred to as Booryulup or the place of the Booryul or magic people. This area has since been covered by the Kwinana Freeway. The area stretched for approximately one and a half kilometres of foreshore and 150 metres into the bushland to the east of Melville Water. Today the foreshore reserve is called Milyu which is an Aboriginal but not Nyoongar word for samphire.

The Como foreshore was a place for digging holes or Beenabup. Nyoongars referred to the area of rushes near Millars Pool as Goorgygoogup. The South Perth foreshore side of Perth Waters is known by Nyoongars as Gaboodjoolup or ‘the place of the shore’. Further east is Joorolup or ‘place of the jarrahs’.

It is recorded (Bates, 1992) that Nyoongars would camp in the South Perth area when the beere or banksias were flowering and extract honey from the blossom. A spring which was on the Melville Water side of South Perth was widened by the Nyoongar at this time of year and blossoms were left to ferment in the water. The fermented drink was then consumed as part of this special occasion. 

After colonisation, one of the earliest recordings of Nyoongar presence in the area occurred when a party of thirty men from the Bidjareb (Pinjarra) Nyoongar attacked Shenton’s Mill. The leader of the party, Gcalyut, was later jailed.

After about 1850, a camp near the present day Causeway was established and occasionally Nyoongars would use the South Perth area (Florey, 1995). During the 1930’s and 40’s the Parfitt and Pickett families, among others, lived here. At this time other families visited the area to catch prawns, bees, fish and crabs'.

Please note: The local Aboriginal people and traditional owners of this land in the City of South Perth are often collectively known as the Noongar people. There are a number of alternative spellings in use for the word Noongar. After consultation with Aboriginal Engagement Strategy Working Group (AESWG) and others, the majority agreement was to use the spelling Noongar. This will be used by the City of South Perth in a consistent manner. The AESWG, after discussion decided that Noongar, meaning male, does not fully represent our group and community and therefore will refer to the traditional Aboriginal people of our areas as the Noongar/Bibbulmun people.

Setting up camp of the Naval Survey Expedition, At The Mill Pool, Perth,Western Australia

Picture: Setting up Camp of the Naval Survey Expedition, at the Mill Pool, Perth, Western Australia, by Frederick Rushbrook Clause, 1828, oil on Canvas, from the Holmes á Court Collection.

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39 page reference as well as individual zones
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what we do 

Our Project: 

as we map places and create tourist info page we may also create a page on history

the history pages are slow to compile as it is not our priority, we welcome contributions


Tour zone Icons

last five (5) by latest edits: see table bottom of page (sort by any column)
Name / URLTheme / FeaturesDate / Comment
Zone North Mends St Jetty Jetty / Ferry / Cafe / zoo / hotel / river bike trails  
Zone East: Coode St Jetty Jetty / Cafe / boat hire / river bike trails  
Zone West: Mill Point Swan River Bridge / Museum / river bike trails  
Virtual Tour South Perth Swan River Drone Swan river 2019.05.25 updated 
Swan River Icons Swan river  
Showing 5 items from page tour zones South Perth sorted by edit time. View more »

Virtual tours South Perth 
last five (5) by latest edits  
(Prefix H: before name is index to other categories)
Name / LinkFeatures / ThemeDate Comments
Ferry Tram Museum Replica Heritage Tram 2020.10 1st draft 
Funcats Watersports Watersports 2019.10.30 draft 
South Perth foreshore Google Street View - step inside 2019.05 trails riverside 
The Acai Corner Food Van on foreshore 2019.06.02 drafted 
Spinway bike station South Perth Bike tour South Perth and river trails 2019.05.01 in progress 
Showing 5 items from page Virtual tours South Perth sorted by edit time. View more »


Places visited

Event date / locationEvent typeTitle / summaryVenue / hostPublication link
2021.02 Rottnest Island Thrill ride: Jet Boat extreme fun Thrill boat ride fbk grp wa tourism - video 
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  
Showing 5 items from page Places visited sorted by edit time. View more »

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