History takes many forms, and these days it’s not confined to hushed, dry museums. It’s possible to access the stories of Perth – from its rich indigenous history to colonial settlement and more recent tales – at various places across the city. While the much anticipated Western Australian Museum in the Perth Cultural Centre is being rebuilt (due to reopen in 2020) there are myriad ways to get a sense of the things that have shaped Perth.
It’s set on the water’s edge, so the architecturally striking WA Maritime Museum is a fitting place to absorb Perth’s strong affinity with the sea. Beneath soaring ceilings, see submarines and other iconic vessels, including the winning America’s Cup yacht, Australia II. Several galleries house hand-crafted vessels, commercial pearl luggers and the paraphernalia that makes up the state’s fascination with all things maritime.
Shipwrecks loom large in the maritime history of Western Australia. The Shipwreck Galleries tells those tragic stories so well, it’s considered the best maritime archaeology museum in the southern hemisphere. The gorgeous 1850s stone building is part of the appeal, but inside is a treasure trove. There’s timbers from the Batavia, one of the state’s most famous shipwrecks, plus artefacts and relics from Dutch explorer ships that came to grief on the treacherous coastline in the 18th century.
Once a jail for early settlers in the 1800s, the Roundhouse is the oldest public building in Western Australia. It’s now one of Fremantle’s tourist attractions, and sits high on Arthur’s Head overlooking Bathers Beach. Walk into one of the cells flanking the circular limestone structure, and imagine how tough things were before the genteel Fishing Boat Harbour vista was there.
The World Heritage listed Fremantle prison has stories aplenty: riots, escapes, lashings and hangings. As a result, there’s plenty for tourists at the prison that operated until as recently as 1991. Tour the underground tunnels in small canoes, or take a torchlight tour of the creepy cells by night. Multiple interactive options bring the sometimes ghoulish history of this striking building to life.
The Bell Tower, Perth city
Giant old church bells gifted from London are encased in the striking, modern bell tower near Elizabeth Quay. There’s a range of rare and interesting artefacts displayed on gallery walls, and you can even learn the art of chiming a bell in a guided interactive tour. Into the bargain, the bell tower affords great views from on high.
Among the permanent displays here is material from the State Library and the State Records Office. It’s part of the Museum of Perth’s dedication to documenting the changes that have happened throughout Perth’s history. A mix of society, culture, politics and architecture gives a sense of the changing face of the city.
The Old Court House Law Museum is one of only a few law museums in the world. The museum is housed in the City of Perth’s oldest building, constructed in 1836, next to the Supreme Court of Western Australia. The museum promotes an understanding of the law, legal issues and the legal profession in Western Australia’s community and preserves the history of the law and the legal profession in Western Australia.