If you are anything like me, a visit to a museum or two is always on my list to do when I travel to a new city. I’ve always enjoyed a love of history and a good museum helps to shine a light into the past and provide a sense of place and understanding about the country you are visiting.
I must admit I am bemused when someone moans about Perth having little history, which I have heard many times. They are obviously talking about white settlement history dating back officially to 1827 when Captain James Stirling sailed into the Swan River, leading to the foundation of the Swan River Settlement in June 1829. In my response I am very quick to point out that the Indigenous Cultures of Australia are the oldest living culture in the world with the first inhabitants arriving from the north approximately 40,000 to 60,000 years ago. That’s a long time ago! So during your stay in Perth it is well worth exploring the rich history, art, storytelling and heritage of Indigenous Australians, and the WA Museum is a great start.
Perth also offers a fascinating maritime history of the British, Dutch and French navigators who crossed treacherous oceans in search of fertile land to possess as early as the 17th century, with stories of those who didn’t make it. The WA coast is littered with ship wrecks and the Maritime and Shipwreck Gallery Museums in Fremantle can tell you all about it, housing hundreds of relics from shipwrecks including the original timber from the Batavia, wrecked in 1629.
There is plenty to learn! Convict, army, aviation and medical history also provide a background to how this beautiful city and state was formed and I have made a list of the top museums and historic places of interest within the Perth metropolitan area:
WA Medical Museum – Cnr Barker & Railway Roads, Subiaco. Open Wednesday 10.30am – 4pm and the 2nd and 4th Sunday of each month, 2 – 4pm.
The WA Medical Museum is Perth’s first maternity hospital which today displays many facets of medical history including early medicine, nursing, dentistry and the famous Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Tranby House / Peninsula Farm – Johnson Road, Maylands. Open Friday to Sunday, 11am – 3pm.
On the site of one of the first farms in the colony and the earliest residence still standing in the metropolitan area, Tranby House offers a unique opportunity to explore the first years of European settlement in Western Australia. Perched on the Swan River with stunning views, next door is a lovely tea room offering Devonshire and high teas.
Museum of Perth – Grand Lane, Rear 117 Barrack Street, Perth. Open Monday to Friday, 7am – 3pm, weekends 8am – 4pm.
The Museum of Perth will chronicle the social, cultural, political and architectural history of Perth, offering a concise chronological history of Perth, from indigenous to colonial, convict to gold-rush, boom and bust to modern day.
WA Maritime Museum – Victoria Quay, Fremantle. Open daily, 9.30am – 5pm.
The Maritime Museum explores Fremantle’s past, present and future as a coastal city and port and is home to everything from leisure and handcrafted sailing boats, and even a submarine, helping visitors to discover WA’s affinity with the ocean.
Shipwreck Galleries – 45 Cliff Street, Fremantle. Open daily from 9.30am – 5pm.
This museum features early exploration and houses hundreds of relics from shipwrecks along the WA coastline as early as the 17th century, such as timbers from Batavia, the de Vlamingh plate, and also countless artefacts from the Dutch shipwrecks Zuytdorp, Zeewijk and Vergulde Draeck.
The Roundhouse – Arthurs Head, Fremantle. Open daily 10.30am – 3.30pm.
The Roundhouse is the oldest public building in WA, and was opened in 1831 to hold any person convicted of a crime in the settlement until 1886. It is now a popular tourist attraction with sweeping views over the Fishing Boat Harbour and Indian Ocean.
Fremantle Prison – The Terrace, Fremantle. Open daily, 9am – 5pm.
Built by convicts in the 1850s, Fremantle Prison was used as a place of incarceration for 136 years and is Western Australia’s only World Heritage listed building. It’s a monument to a system of punishment that is uncomfortably recent and there are numerous tours to chose from.
The Army Museum – Artillery Barracks, Burt Street, Fremantle. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10.30am and 1.00pm for 2 hours.
The Army Museum displays the history of WA men and women who served in the army in conflicts from the Boer War to Afghanistan, displaying memorabilia, medals, photos, vehicles, and artillery pieces.
The Aviation Museum – Air Force Memorial Estate, Bull Creek Drive, Bull Creek. Open daily, 10am – 4pm.
The Aviation Heritage Museum provides a unique museum experience of civilian and military aviation through its extraordinary aviation displays and special tours which includes 30 aircraft and thousands of artefacts.