The rise and fall (and rise) of Smith’s Lake

• Road building across Smith’s Lake linking Bourke & Charles Streets, North Perth October 1939. SLWA 226486PD.

• For Sale by Auction: An advertisement for ‘Lakeside Estate’ circa 1905. Photo from the State Library of WA, 55/15/16.

THIS week’s tale from the Vincent Local History Centre archives takes us back through the history of Smith’s Lake and its many transformations from Noongar wetland to vehicle dumping ground to modern-day suburban oasis.

CHARLES VERYARD RESERVE is located on a former wetland known to the local Noongar people as Danjanberup (or Janjanbering/Danjanbirup).

European colonists named the area Three Island Lake and later Smith’s Lake after local farmer John Smith – a discharged sergeant in the 21st Regiment who was granted land in the area in 1840.

The arrival of convicts from the 1850s provided a source of labour for farms and large-scale public works, including drainage of the wetland areas north of Perth through to Claise Brook.

Gradually the lake area diminished as it was developed for farming and market gardening.

In the early 1900s, land to the south of Smith’s Lake was offered for sale as part of the Lakeside Estate. The area in and around the lake and to the north continued to be used for farming and market gardening with smaller plots often leased by Chinese market gardeners.

Many locals recall the Chinese market gardeners farming in the area until the late 1950s. 

Between the wars, the City of Perth gradually acquired much of the area as recreation reserve, and to extend Bourke Street east to connect Charles and Loftus Streets. It was not until 1939 that this extension was completed, connecting North Perth to Leederville.

Military equipment

During this period, the southern end of Smith’s Lake was used as a dumping ground for old vehicles, and reportedly old military equipment. Many locals recall playing in the swamps and market gardens and scavenging rubbish from the dumps as children. Brian Mouchemore, (born in 1946) recalls; “Smith’s Lake was, I suppose, my primary discovery when I was a little kid. I wandered down the end of the street and found this great area – with lots of bird-life and things going on and you know, the whole populace of young children in the area were always at the lake.

“Through the centre of Smith’s Lake there was a drain which we used to get into, particularly in summer. It was fairly fresh spring water and we used to get in there and sometimes the water would be 18 inches to 2 feet deep and we could swim in there and slide on the slime on the side of the drain. Towards the southern end of this drain, there were a few large ponds with springs in them and we used to swim in those.”

In the early 1950s, locals suggested the City of Perth turn the ‘eyesore’ of Smith’s Lake into playing fields, recreation reserve and a sporting complex. The cost and difficulties with drainage knocked the idea on the head. However, Perth council proceeded to re-plan, reclaim and resume land in the area. Seventy-six residential and 10 commercial lots were created, along with Charles Veryard Reserve.

In the late 1990s, a Smith’s Lake Precinct Group was formed to coordinate efforts to rehabilitate the former lake and wetland. In 2002, planting, artworks and historical signs, including a ‘speaking rock’, were installed at Smith’s Lake as part of the former Vincent Wetlands Trail.

Today, all that remains of the former wetland is the compensating basin on Bourke & Kayle Streets known as the Smith’s Lake Drainage Reserve.

To learn more about Smith’s Lake, read A Short History of Smith’s Lake (2001) by Sally Lake. It’s at the Vincent Local History Centre or via the library’s online catalogue:

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