Chapter 2: Revisiting History And Culture In Western Australia
Renowned as the land of the black swans and rich aboriginal culture, Western Australia is also the second largest state in the World.
Western Australia attained the right to self-government along with five other states to create the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. Regarded as the oldest culture on Earth, from dream time art to the didgeridoos, the Australian Aboriginal culture exhibits unique and fascinating characteristics.
1. Australian Aboriginal History
The Australian aborigines are one of the most diversified, harmonious and courageous cultures on earth. Today, there are 700+ traditional societies with up to 200 languages forming part of the Australian aboriginal culture. Offering the best mix of opportunities to soak into native history and culture via the national parks and heritage sites, WA is a historian’s dream! The best places to learn aboriginal history when caravanning in WA are at the Museums and Art Galleries on the Burrup Peninsula. At the rock shelter in Pilbara are artefacts such as stone tools, charcoals, necklaces, fish traps and even quarries on display for public viewing.
Much can be learned about aboriginal history by examining their rock art. Other aboriginal attractions in WA include Djinda Kaal Aboriginal Art Gallery in Wheat Belt, Bardi Dancing in One Arm Point, and Barramundi Dreaming (Concert) in Kununurra or at Karijini Visitor Centre.
Located at the entrance of Swan River, Port of Fremantle has been an important part of Western Australia’s Maritime history. The earliest maritime landing in WA was by Portuguese sailors in the 1500s, while recorded history documents the one in 1616 by the Dutch East India Company at Dirk Hartog Island as the first foreign landing. Almost fifty years later, in 1681, John Daniel, an English navigator demarcated the West Coast of WA, which became what is now the Rottnest and Wallabi Group (Houtman Abrolhos) of lands.
Many more sailors and conquerors landed on the coast of WA subsequently and Cape Leeuwin was sighted during a charting by Mathew Flinders during the same invasion. A famous tale is of the ship Batavia, which was wrecked on its maiden voyage in 1629 when it collided with the Morning Reef in Abrolhos. The tragic part is that after a handful of the ship’s crew went out searching for food and sullage, they decided to abandon the rest. When the search and rescue found the Batavia Wreck, it was 3 months later and too late because hundreds of survivors had mutinied and died already!
The best places for a caravanner to relive the Maritime History of WA is at Cape Leeuwin, Cape Vlamingh, Rottnest Island, Batavia Wreck at Fremantle, The Western Australian Museum at Geraldton and Point D’Entrecasteaux.
3. Colonisation and European Settlements
Great Britain made its claim on the Australian Subcontinent on 29 September 1791 on the tip of peninsula via George Vancouver, who named many places around as the Possession Point, Princess Royal Harbour and King George Third Sound. The first European to land on WA was Willem de Vlamingh, a Dutch sailor, who was the one who christened Swan River, owing to the Black Swans he saw there.
As European and colonial settlers began expanding, a new French Colony was established on the West Coast in 1801. To match up, NSW’s Governor Ralph Darling established a new king-Major Edmund Lockyer at King George Sound in 1826. In one year, Major Edmund had successfully captured the whole of Australia and claimed the western portion as the King George Sound.
By 1831, the King George’s Sound was moved from NSW to Swan River Colony, which was renamed Perth after Perthshire in Scotland. Even today, a walk through Fremantle or Perth is perfect to see the flashes of chilling history in early and late 19th century WA.
The subsequent decades saw the surrounding the virgin hills and sparkling valleys of Perth thriving with agriculture and beginning of industrialisation.
To enjoy the best of the Colonial and European History of WA, visit prime historic sites like the Benedictine Monastery at New Norcia, Fremantle Prison in Fremantle, Mines at Wittenoom Gorge, Great Eastern Highway in York, First Sheep Farm in Avon Valley, Toodyay on Balardong Nyoongar land and the Port of Albany.
4. Convict History
One of the Penal Colonies of the colonial rule was Australia, not WA; however, in 1850 until 18 years, 9000 convicts were brought to WA via ship. To help extend the first settlements, the convicts were used as cheap labour for construction, first of which started with a prison for themselves.
Often referred to as Fremantle Gaol, the prison is 15 acres long, with gatehouse, cellblocks, tunnels, cottages and boundaries and took 8 years of convict labour to build. The convict labour was used in the state for half a century thereafter.
Noted as a historical site since 1991, Fremantle Prison has a recorded history of receiving 105,000-180,000 visitors in ten years. Caravanners can trot the gruesome history of Fremantle Prison through its convict database, 150,000 exhibits and re-enactment plays staged inside. Some other things to remember checking out when in Fremantle are the anonymous artworks of aboriginal, walmajarri and other convicts who dwelled in the prison during its early years.
Prisoners of Fremantle Prison, WA include Scott (AC/DC) John Button, David Birnie, James Wilson and Jimmy Pike.
5. The Great Gold Rush of Western Australia
It was in 1893 that the alluvial gold deposit was first struck by Paddy Hannan at Mount Charlotte, next to Kalgoorlie. During the same time there were other accounts of gold rush in WA such as Halls Creek (Kimberly Gold Rush), Southern Cross (Yilgarn Gold Rush), Cue (Murchison Gold Rush) and Coolgardie.
Until the Gold Rush, life in WA was equally harsh for both convicts and colonial settlers. But overnight, people from all around the world began rushing to WA for the precious glitter. With a population of 49,782 at the time of Gold rush, within 5 years, the same grew up to 100,515!
Currently, the gold mine in Kalgoorlie, called Super Pit Mine stands as the evidence of WA’s gold rush history. The gold mine is 3.5km long and 1.5km wide, slightly smaller in area than Uluru. Super Pit mine has an annual turnover of 850,000 oz. A renowned part of Golden mile, Super Pit Mine ranks among the few places on Earth with the highest gold density per square mile.
The best places to relive the gold rush history of WA are Super Pit Mine in Kalgoorlie, Golden Quest Trail at Coolgardie-Laverton, White quartz at Yilgarn Hills and Grand Gold Rush Architecture at Menzies.
6. Western Australia’s Vital Role in the World Wars
Owing to its location, WA played a crucial role during the World Wars. The coastal destinations such as Fremantle, Rottnest Island, Broome, Geraldton and Albany served as primary locations for attacks as well as transportation during the war. Soaked in wartime history, these places are historically preserved today. In 1941, HMAS Sydney defended the motherland from the German Kormoran, a raiding ship, close to Carnarvon. Unfortunately, both ships sank and the crew of 645 on HMAS Sydney were lost as well. A year later, nine Japanese planes attacked Broome and killed 88 civilians, leading to the capture of Christmas Island. The initial convoy of ANZAC left the port of Albany at King George Sound.
WA’s World War history is most vivid at Broome, Army Museum in Perth, Geraldton, Cape Gloucester, Fremantle Harbour and King George Sound. Visit the National ANZAC Centre in Albany Heritage Park, for a detailed walk-through on the history of Western Australia.
7. Cultural Face of Western Australia
Due to a diverse and active migration history spanning hundreds of years, Western Australia has now become one of the most culturally diverse places on Earth.
In 1849, the population of WA was 1148, which drastically increased to 31,000 by 1911 and in 1947 WA had 272,528 people onboard! The main inhabitants of the hinterland initially were the tribes of Aborigines, Oceanic and Torres Strait Islanders. Today, a wide array of ethnicities, linguistics, lifestyles and traditions constitute the cultural landscape of WA.