History of Western Australia

Western Australia is one of the oldest lands on Earth, and boasts an Aboriginal history that dates back more than 40,000 years.

Australian Aboriginals were the original inhabitants of Australia. They lived a nomadic existence, moving within fairly well-defined geographic regions, as they followed the seasons and food sources.

Indigenous Australians survived in harsh climatic and environmental conditions which ranged from cold temperate to hot tropical, coping with arid conditions and torrential rains. They have dwelt for many thousands of years in ways that sustained their societies while conserving resources, protecting fragile soils and leaving a light footprint on the environment.

European explorers came much later, and while it is widely believed that Portuguese sailors plied the waters off Western Australian as early as the 1500s, the first recorded European visitors were the Dutch in the 1600s.

Many of these visitors were sailors, employed by the Dutch East India Company, who regularly used the strong westerly winds to power their boats across the Indian Ocean to Dutch-colonised Indonesian ports, such as Batavia (now Jakarta).

The legacy of these European sailors is seen today in coastal place names such as Cape Vlamingh, Houtman Abrolhos, Rottnest Island, Cape Leeuwin and Cape D'Entrecasteaux.

Western Australia's settlement

European settlement didn't officially take place in Western Australia until 1826, when the southern port of Albany was settled as a military outpost. However, the colonial headquarters was moved to the current capital of Perth.

Western Australia's history is unusual, in that it was one of the few Australian states that wasn't settled as a penal colony - and this is reflected in the free and spirited nature of its people.

The first major population surge came in the 1890s with the discovery of gold in the central and southern outback. The ensuing goldrush saw a massive influx of people from Australia and around the world, all keen to scour the rich gold-bearing soils of the central goldfields.

The journey to present day

On 1 January 1901, Western Australia joined the other Australian states to form a federation, headed by a federal government and supported by individual state governments.

Western Australia's location entrusted it with vital strategic importance during the two World Wars and many towns and cities, such as Broome, in the north are steeped in wartime history. Long abandoned bunkers and dusty airstrips - once used by fighters and bombers - can still be explored today.

Following the war, the north enjoyed enormous growth through a booming cattle trade and an emerging, and highly secretive, pearling industry near Broome. The south blossomed with a strong agricultural sector and whaling.

Further oil and gas discoveries, as well as the world's largest iron ore deposits, saw the State's north west undergo a population explosion throughout the 1970s - which continues to this day.

In more recent times, Western Australia is again enjoying another population boom, as more and more people are attracted to the state for its exceptional climate, buoyant economy and relaxed lifestyle - making Western Australia one of the fastest growing regions in the country.