Friday, July 5, 2013

S is for our SWAN RIVER

The SWAN RIVER estuary flows through the city of Perth, in the southwest of Western Australia.  Its lower reaches are relatively wide and deep, with few constrictions, while the upper reaches are usually quite narrow and shallow.  The river drains the Avon and coastal plain catchments, which have a total area of about 121,000 square kilometres.  It has three major tributaries, The Avon, Canning and Helena Rivers.  The climate is Mediterranean, with mild wet winters, and hot dry summers.

The SWAN RIVER was named Swarte Swaene-Revier by Dutch explorer, Willem de Flamingh in 1697, after the famous black swans of the area.  Vlamingh sailed with a small party up the river to around Heirisson Island.  Below is a coloured engraving (1726) derived from an earlier drawing (now lost) from the de Vlamingh expeditions of 1696-97.  It depicts de Vlamingh's ships, with black swans, at the entrance to the Swan River, Western Australia.

In 1801, the French ships "Geographe" captained by Nicolas Baudin and "Naturaliste" captained by Emmanuel Hamelin visited the area from the south.  While the "Naturaliste" continued northwards, the "Geographe" remained for a few weeks.  A small expedition dragged longboats over the sand bar and explored the Swan River.  They also gave unfavourable descriptions regarding any potential settlement due to many mud flats upstream and the sand bar (the sand bar wasn't removed until the 1890s when C.Y.O'Connor built Fremantle Harbour).  Later in March, 1803, the "Geographe" with another ship "Casuarina" passed by Rottnest Island on their way eventually back to France, but did not stop longer than a day or two.  (We have Geographe Bay, Cape Naturaliste, a Perth suburb called Casuarina and Hamelin Bay.  Several other areas of our state with French names include Cape Leeuwin and Point D'Entrecasteau).

The next visit to the area was the first Australian-born maritime explorer, Phillip Parker King in 1822 on the "Bathurst".  King was the son of former Governor Philip Gidley King of New South Wales.  However, King also was not impressed with the area.  (Just as well the French didn't look favourably on this area as of part of Australia could be French which could have caused confusion in years to come!!  There must still have been doubts in the minds of the British though as in January, 1827 Albany on the south coast of Western Australia was founded as a military outpost of New South Wales as part of a plan to forestall French ambitions in the region.)

The city of Perth was named by Captain James Stirling in 1829 after Perth, Scotland. Stirling was the first explorer to have a favourable opinion of the Swan River when he explored the area in March, 1827.  Captain Stirling was accompanied by botanist Charles Fraser, whose report on the quality of the soil was instrumental in the decision to settle the Swan River Colony.

Perth Water in 1918 (as seen from King's Park):

Modern-day Perth as seen from King's Park:

View from East Fremantle looking towards the city of Perth:

Sunset over the upper reachers of the Swan River at Guildford:

There are of course lots more stories of early settlement, failure and development but this was not meant to be a history lesson but just a little about how our river got its name and a few pictures to show why we think it is rather special.


  1. I've never been to this side of the country, I'd love to visit as it looks quite lovely! x M

    1. Miles and miles of nothing in parts of Western Australia but also many beautiful spots too. So much variation between south and north. Well worth a visit when it's not too hot.

  2. Oh I love hearing the history. I do have relatives in Perth. Love to visit this Swan River myself someday. Hug B

  3. Glad you enjoyed just wee bit of our history. Where do your Perth relatives live? Which suburb? It's long way from your home to here and remember Perth is the most isolated capital city in the world. We often think we are miles from anywhere, and we are. xx