An important meeting place

ARCHAEOLGISTS have confirmed the Swan River area has been inhabited by human beings for at least 40- 50,000 years.

During that time the Aboriginal people have been the custodians of the land on which Perth now stands and used the Swan River and its surrounds as an important source of food.

As a result the area also became an important cultural meeting place for the Wadjuk Noongar tribe, who have gathered here for many thousands of years. This was all to change in 1829.

Although Europeans had known about Western Australia for several centuries, it was some years after the foundation of the penal colony in New South Wales before any interest was taken in the western coast.

In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, the west suddenly became a place of interest to the British when intelligence information suggested the French were exploring the area.

After centuries of conflict at home, the British were keen to avoid the prospect of French neighbours in the Antipodes.

To help prevent this situation, a small British settlement was set up on the southern coast in 1826, which was logistically in the wrong spot.

WITH WA Day fast approaching, heritage buff RICHARD OFFEN shares the fascinating tale of how Perth was founded in 1829 by an English woman felling a tree.

To find an alternative, Captain James Stirling was despatched to explore the west coast for a suitable spot for a major settlement.

Having spent time exploring the Swan River in March, 1827, he was overwhelmed by its beauty and misled by the lushness of the flora into thinking it was similar to the most fertile parts of Italy and thus perfect for the settlement of a colony.

Following a recruitment drive for settlers back in Britain, the ‘first fleeters’ left England early in 1829 and arrived off the mouth of the Swan River at the end of May.

The founding of Perth was marked when Mrs Helen Dance felled a tree on the King’s birthday, 12 August, 1829.

Following the ceremony, Perth, named after the birthplace of Lord Murray the British Parliament’s Colonial Secretary at the time, gradually took shape as a town despite the problems of sourcing suitable building materials.

This meant many were still sleeping in tents long after the declaration of the township.

WA Day, held to commemorate the founding of the Swan River Colony in 1829, is on June 4.

I have always found it very interesting that in a fiercely male-dominated society as Britain was in the 19th century, Captain James Stirling should choose a female to chop down the tree to mark the forming of the city.

My daughters have suggested it was because he wanted the job done properly!

The early days of the Swan River Colony, must have been absolutely terrifying for the settlers.

They had no place to call home, no idea what could be eaten and what was dangerous and greatly troubled by rats, fleas and sand flies.

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