5 Weird Perth History Facts You Probably Didn’t Know.

People of Perth, 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 maybe, you just want to sound like a learned, cultured person with a vast knowledge of Western Australia’s History, if just 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 Western Australians, 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 Labor 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 and Perth city shall thrive!  

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 for the people of Perth, 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 in the British settlement, which deterred others from coming and population growth stagnated. Western Australia was never meant to be a penal colony but things were grim. It wasn’t until 1850, some 21 years after it’s founding that the influx of convicts arrived to save the day. The boost in convict 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

For Europeans and Aboriginal people, Rottnest Island has a long and controversial history. The island has a dark past, being used to imprison aboriginal people and isolate them from their country. 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 history and have been passed on for thousands of years. The island is known as Wadjemup to the local aboriginal people (Wadjuk Nyoongar) 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 of hundred years before the English got their sticky fingers into the Australian pie and before any European settlement, 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 (Jakarta) 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 the settlement of the swan river. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-05-14/author-raises-prospect-of-dutch-settlement/4689488.

As we know, Aboriginal people have lived here for thousands of years so it’s not too far fetched that a group of Dutch might have survived if they had some help from the indigenous people

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 Europeans 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 Western Australia’s coast for a suitable site for a settlement. There was genuine worry that the French would create the first european settlement on the West Coast before the British, creating a French thorn in the side of the Australian colonies. 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. Drop this Perth history fact on your French friends to blow their minds.