History

5 Perth History Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

Western Australia has a wild history. Full of characters, legends, myths, and outright ridiculous stories. I thought we could take a look back in time at some interesting tidbits you can use to drop some knowledge bombs on your friends and family.

Arm yourself with some potent knowledge bombs that you can keep in your arsenal for when you’re down the pub with your mates or just want to sound like a learned, cultured person for a moment. Here are 5 Perth History Facts you probably didn’t know.

Western Australia voted 2-1 to secede from the rest of Australia in 1933.

That’s right my fellow Westralians, we shouldn’t even be part of this bloody country. We are always getting shafted by those uppity Easterners and technically we should have seceded from the rest of Australia in 1933 and taken all that mining money with us. On the eighth of April 1933, a referendum was held on ‘The State of Western Australia withdrawing from the Federal Commonwealth’. A two to one majority vote in favour of leaving was returned. Wexit, WAxit, WAOut! Unfortunately, the referendum happened on the same day we voted out the government who was in favour of secession. The new Labour Government wasn’t too keen on the idea but did approach the UK Parliament eventually. However, we lacked the momentum and political will to make it happen and the movement died with the outset of WW2. One day, Westralia shall be free.      

Convicts saved the Swan River Colony.

The land of milk and honey that Captain James Stirling (First Governor of WA) promised the first settlers of the Swan River Colony was a lie. The early years of the fledgeling colony were dreadful indeed. Food was scarce, building materials either poor or also scarce and the labour desperately needed to build the new colony was, you guessed it, scarce. For months that turned into years, the Swan River Colony was a pretty sad place to live. Letters sent back to England detailed the hardships of life by the Swan which deterred many others from coming and the colony stagnated. It wasn’t until 1850, some 21 years after it’s founding that the convicts arrived to save the day. The boost in labour and resources arriving from Britain enabled much needed growth and was a turning point in the colony. Cheers convicts.  

5 Perth History Facts

Rottnest Island used to be part of the mainland

Rottnest Island has a long and controversial history. The island has a dark past of aboriginal imprisonment and abuse. While today it’s a popular holiday destination for tourists, locals and people who spend far too much money on boats. The Dutch who first named the island named it after the world-famous Quokka’s which can only be found there. Unfortunately, they thought they were giant rats, so Rottnest translated is Ratnest. Quokka Island would have been much better. Anyway… around 7000 years ago the last ice age was ending and rising sea levels sealed off Rottnest from the mainland. These events are recorded in Aboriginal oral histories and have been passed on for thousands of years. The island is known as Wadjemup to the local Noongar and artefacts dating back to 6,500 years have been discovered at various sites on the island.

The first Europeans to call WA home were Shipwreck survivors.

A couple hundred years before the English got their sticky fingers into the Australian pie, the Dutch had already named the place New Holland. The Dutch East Company was dominating world trade and had set up lucrative outposts in Batavia (Jakata) and all around the Indian Ocean. The Dutch were well aware of the dangers of the WA coast and the harsh conditions it offered. Many Dutch ships were ruined on our shores and it’s thought some shipwreck survivors might have made a new home in WA. One famous case was the story of the Vergulde Draeck, a Dutch ship bound for Batavia but was wrecked off the WA coast in 1656. Seven survivors managed to navigate back to Batavia in a small boat to bring news of the wreck and that there were 68 men and women left stranded on the coast. Rescue missions were mounted but ran into their own disasters and the survivors were never found. 

Speculation was rife over the years of the fate of the Vergulde Draeck survivors, but no trace was ever found. An article in a Perth newspaper in 1834 claimed an explorer had encountered a ‘lost white tribe’ living in the interior of Western Australia who were of Dutch descent. However, searches of the area could never confirm his story. In recent years this story has been investigated more intensely with some believing they have found evidence that a lost white tribe did flourish in WA for hundreds of years before settlement. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-05-14/author-raises-prospect-of-dutch-settlement/4689488

5 perth facts

Western Australia could have been French.

Bonjour, mate. Yep, instead of smashing pints and devouring chicken parmies we in WA could very well have been sipping fine reds and lathering our baguettes with froie gras. The French were actually the first to lay claim to Western Australia in 1772, two years after Cook had claimed NSW for the British. French interest in the area would rise and fall with the fortunes of the French Empire under Napoleon and numerous scientific expeditions would explore the coast. This did not go unnoticed by the British and was a major contributing factor in sending Stirling to scout the coast for a suitable site for a settlement. There was genuine worry that the French would colonise the West Coast before the British. However, by the time the French got their act together after the Napoleonic wars, the Swan River Colony was in full swing.

You can still see some French legacy in WA, with many of their expeditions mapping and naming places that are still used today. Esperance, for example, was named after the French expedition ship of the same name, just pronounced in a French accent.    

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