City history

The City of Swan is Perth’s largest local government by land area, covering almost 20 per cent of the metropolitan area. It is home to one of Perth’s fastest growing populations, which is expected to soar to almost 300,000 by 2050. 

A City of diverse people, cultures and places, the future is bright for our community – but we must not forget our past. 

From the Whadjuk Noongar people who have called this area home for more than 40,000 years to its key role in European settlement, our City is rich with history and heritage.

The Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation have been the Traditional Custodians of the land where the City is located for more than 40,000 years. Read more about Swan’s Aboriginal history.

Dutch explorers travelled up the Swan River as far as the site of Perth in 1697, with Willem de Vlaming naming the river after our iconic black swans. However, it was not until the French expedition of 1801 that Europeans reached the Swan Valley.

Captain James Stirling was sent on an exploratory voyage to the Swan River in 1827, where he travelled as far upstream as the site of the current All Saints Church. After this expedition, his enthusiastic reports on the richness of the countryside led to settlement two years later.

Land grants in the Swan Valley were issued and Guildford founded within months of the arrival of the first settlers in June 1829. Guildford became an inland port, as the river was the main means of transport.

Buildings from this era include All Saints Church, Upper Swan, St Mary's Church, Middle Swan and the Rose and Crown Hotel. The first vines were planted the Swan Valley region in 1829, making it the oldest viticulture region in WA and the second oldest in Australia.

Population growth and availability of labour due to an influx of convict arrivals was a huge economic stimulus. Guildford became a convict depot, resulting in considerable building activity within the townsite as well as the construction of the Upper Swan Bridge, Barkers Bridge and the creation of roads through the district.

The arrival of the railway in Guildford in 1881 and its subsequent expansion throughout the agricultural areas led to the decline of Guildford as a port. The emerging town of Midland Junction became the preeminent commercial centre after the establishment of the Midland Railway Company's headquarters in 1886 and the WA Government Railway Workshops in 1902.

The gold rushes of the 1890s caused a population spike across WA and led to the beginning of the subdivision of the large estates in the Swan Valley.

The area's contribution to World War I is recorded in the many war memorials throughout the City, particularly the Midland Town Hall clock, the Peace Statue at the Midland Railway Workshops and the obelisk in Stirling Square, Guildford.

Post-war, various areas in the Swan Valley were used for soldier settlement schemes. By the 1920s, the Swan Valley became overwhelmingly a grape-growing district for table grapes and dried fruit.

The large packing shed of the Swan Settlers Co-Operative was built at Herne Hill in 1923.
RAAF Base Pearce was established at Bullsbrook in 1938. In the same year, a site in South

Guildford was earmarked as the location of a major airport, now known as Perth Airport.

Midland and Guildford were major centres for World War II efforts. Parts of the Midland Railway Workshops were converted for the repair of naval equipment and parts, and a large shell annexe was constructed for the production of munitions.

The return of soldiers led to a “baby boom”, and together with accelerated immigration, the development of new suburbs around Midland.

Midland dropped the “Junction” from its name in 1961 to become the Town of Midland.

The Midland Railway Company was taken over by the WA Government Railways in 1964 and the new standard gauge railway routed through Midland.

The Shire of Swan was created in 1970 through the merger of the Swan-Guildford Shire Council and the Town of Midland. The Shire was faced with many challenges, including a rapidly growing population, new suburbs, new planning schemes and the urbanisation of the Swan Valley.
The development of Whiteman Park started in 1977, with the purchase of land from Lew Whiteman. It opened in 1986.

In the western part of the Shire, suburban subdivisions on the fringes of built-up urban areas spread into the Shire, particularly in suburbs such as Malaga, Ballajura and Beechboro. The Vines was planned in the late 1980s as a suburban area centred around a large golfing and leisure resort, and Ellenbrook opened in 1995.

In 1993, the State Government announced the relocation of the Department of Land Administration (now known as Landgate) to Midland. The WA Government Railway Workshops in Midland were closed in 1994. 

Mounting concern over the need to protect the rural nature of the Swan Valley led to the passing of the Swan Valley Planning Act in 1995.

The Shire of Swan became the City of Swan in 2000, signifying a new status for the Council as it entered a decade of change, revitalisation and recreation. The establishment of the Midland Redevelopment Authority in the same year led to the start of a transformation of the Midland CBD and the railway workshops site. 

In 2018, ground was broken on the City’s New Junction redevelopment, an 11ha precinct connecting the original Midland Junction with the Midland Gate Shopping Centre precinct.
In 2022, Council endorsed its first Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan , outlining a vision for reconciliation and 17 key actions to make that vision a reality.

The City welcomed its first popularly elected Mayor, Tanya Richardson, in October 2024. Mayor Richardson was also the City’s first female Mayor, following in the footsteps of the late Margaret Kidson, who was the only female president of the Shire of Swan.

Aboriginal history

The Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation have been the Traditional Custodians of the land where the City is located for more than 40,000 years.

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