Western Australia — History and Culture
The only state in the country that was not once apart of the New South Wales colony, Western Australia is also the only state that has sought secession from Australia in the past. Today, their culture is still very much a mix of outdoor paradise, wine enthusiasts and sport nuts.
Western Australia has had European contact since the 17th century, as Dutch, French, and British explorers continued to land (or be shipwrecked) along the coast during expeditions to the East Indies. Due to the harsh climate and seemingly lack of resources, visitors usually didn’t stay long. Serious mapping and exploration of Western Australia didn’t really begin until the colony of New South Wales was founded some two hundred years later.
Similar to Victoria’s beginnings, British colonists in New South Wales saw Western Australia as a potential settlement, and feared the French might take the area first. Therefore, a settlement expedition was sent to the southwestern region, where a penal colony was established in King George Sound in 1826. The area became known as Albany after 1832.
In 1829, a new territory was established upon the Swan River by Captain James Stirling and two towns began to develop. Fremantle, a port city, was formed along the coast, while Perth (the new capital) was located a few miles inland along the Swan River banks. Population grew slowly, with an economy based on wheat and sheep agriculture.
All this changed following the gold rush of the late 1800’s. Thousands of miners flocked to Western Australia, especially around Halls Creek, Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, where much of the gold was centered. The Kalgoorlie Museum (17 Hannan Street) is a great place to learn more about the increase in population, wealthier economy and inland explorations.
Following Federation in 1901, Western Australia’s population continued to expand. By 1933, a referendum was voted in favor of secession from the nation of Australia, possibly creating a separate sovereignty. Even though more than two-thirds of the state voted to leave, the British Government did not have power to do such a thing. In the 1960’s, Western Australia’s economy boomed with the establishment of iron ore and nickel mines.
The Western Australian Museum in the heart of Perth can teach you about the epic history of the state. In Albany, the first settlement, tourists can catch a glimpse of the state’s historical beginnings at the Convict Gaol Museum (267 Stirling Terrace, Albany) and Patrick Taylor Cottage Museum (37 Duke Street, Albany) – the oldest structure in the area.
Western Australia remains relatively hot and dry throughout much of the year, spawning an outdoor culture based on sports. Australian Rules football is the main code in Western Australia, followed by cricket, football and rugby union. It is not uncommon to head with locals to the nearby cricket, Aussie Rules or football game on the weekend. A barbecue or pub dinner either precedes or follows this. Due to its position closer to Asia, Europe and South Africa, Western Australia has a higher than average number of residents who were born overseas.