Australia’s first inhabitants were Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. They are believed to have arrived in migratory waves from south east Asia between 40,000 and 150,000 years ago, making Australia one of the oldest continents in the world both geologically and in terms of continuous human history. Australia’s Indigenous people now make up only 1.5 per cent of Australia’s total population, with approximately two thirds living in cities and towns and the balance living in rural and remote areas. Some of these people still maintain a traditional way of life.
Nyoongar people are the original inhabitants of south western Australia and archaeological evidence indicates that the area on which the city of Perth now stands was inhabited by relatively high numbers of Indigenous people for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans. The Nyoongar people are traditional hunter-gatherers who enjoyed the abundant food and water found along the coastal plain. Being conservationists by nature they took only what they needed to survive and had a high regard for life and the land.
Indigenous Australians believed that their ancestors created the land and were ‘great spirits of the dreaming’ who controlled the movements of the planets and stars, the seasons and the tides. Aboriginal law and custom evolved from the myths that grew up around these ancestor figures. They also believed that the process of telling these myths whether in dance, song or painting enabled them to draw on the power and influence of their ancestral spirits. In a culture which has no written language their very distinctive art form, which reflects a deep connection with the land and the environment, evolved over many millennia to record the beliefs and stories from the ‘Dreaming’, enabling them to be passed on to successive generations.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are among the most disadvantaged groups in Australian society today. Many of their problems relating to health, employment, education and general opportunity are directly due to dispossession from their lands and the resulting disruption to their traditional lifestyles and cultures that followed the arrival of European settlers more than 200 years ago. Indigenous Australians are fighting for respect and equality and for recognition as being the oldest living culture in the world. Public awareness of the process of reconciliation has increased significantly in the last decade and all sectors of society are adopting measures to improve relations with Indigenous people and to help us all live together more harmoniously.
EUROPEAN SETTLEMENT IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
The first recorded sighting of Western Australia by Europeans was in October 1616, when the Dutch navigator Dirk Hartog landed at Shark Bay near Carnarvon. Von Edels discovered land a little further south in 1618, while in 1619 Frederick Houtman sighted small rocky islands off the coast near Geraldton and named them Abrolhos, meaning ‘lookout’.
British authorities settled at the Swan River in 1828 and on May 2, 1829 ‘HMS Challenger’ commander Captain Charles Fremantle raised the British flag at the head of the Swan River and took possession of the territory. Captain James Stirling arrived on his ship ‘Parmelia’ and, with settlers in tow, founded Perth at a site near the present town hall on August 12, 1829. The Swan River colony experienced initial difficulties including a shortage of labour, financial problems and poor communication. To cope with such problems the British Government sent convicts to Western Australia from 1850 to 1868 to assist with development.
The discovery of gold in the 1890s resulted in incredible growth and necessitated the undertaking of many major public works. In 1901 Federation transformed Western Australia from a colony to a state of the Commonwealth of Australia with Perth the designated capital city.
Australia’s fourth largest city, Perth is home to almost 2 million people. It is the capital of resource-rich Western Australia and, as such, the administrative centre for more than one third of the country.
Offset by the vast tranquil waters of the Swan River, the beautiful city of Perth is a tourist’s delight. Modern and vibrant, it contrasts with its historic counterpart – the port city of Fremantle, accessible within 20 minutes by car from Perth.
Visitors commonly refer to Perth as the ‘friendly city’ and famous notables have also renamed the city after their personal experiences. Astronaut John Glenn called Perth the ‘City of Lights’ after his historic fly-over in 1962 and victorious America’s Cup skipper Dennis Connor referred to it as the ‘most isolated city in the world’. Most people find Perth bright, fun, friendly and ‘laid back’ (relaxing) but visitors are sure to find their own descriptions after their holiday.
For more information drop in to the WA Visitor Centre at 55 William Street (corner of William and Hay Streets), Perth or phone 9483 1111 or 1300 361 351.