The Swan River begins at Wooroloo Brook a point at which the Avon River meets the brook and becomes the Swan River. The Swan River then flows for approximately 67km to Fremantle exiting from the harbour into the Indian Ocean.
Though much has been written about James Stirling venturing up the Swan River to find the perfect location for the Swan River Settlement, we mustn’t forget that the Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh, was the first to venture up the river in 1697. Vlaminghs three ships anchored off the mouth of the river (as yet un-named) and for eight days he and forty men, in two longboats, headed up the river. On the journey, he named the river “Swan River” in honour of the unusual black swans. So intrigued by the creatures he and his men caught several of the swans to take back to the Netherlands though unfortunately, they didn’t survive the long trip.
Over a hundred years later the river was once again explored by frenchman, Ensign François-Antoine Boniface Heirisson. In 1801, Heirisson and a small group journeyed as far as Middle Swan, before low provisions forced the expedition back. However, during his journey he became the first person to create a detailed map of the Swan River. This French interest in the west coast of Australia, forced Governor Darling (NSW) to take action. He feared that the French would claim this part of Australia. A young keen officer, James Stirling, volunteered to explore the Swan River on behalf of the British Government. He arrived in March 1827, traveling all the way to Ellen Brook noting good soil and plentiful freshwater. By September 1829 the Swan River Colony was formed with England finally staking its claim to the west coast of Australia.
Custodians of the Land
Prior to European exploration of the area the land was inhabited by the Aboriginals of the Swan. Known as the Noongar tribe and custodians of the land they believe that the Wagyl, a snakelike being from Dreamtime, created the Swan River. The river is considered very sacred to their people. The body of Yagan, a famous Aboriginal warrior and patriot, is believed to buried alongside the river near the Upper Swan bridge. His head, which was cut off and sent to England in 1883 following his murder, was returned in 1997. The Aboriginals believe that Yagan’s spirit will not be released to the Dreaming until both his body and head are reunited. The search for Yagan’s body has been so far unsuccessful.
The earliest known record of flooding of the Swan River was in 1830 when the river rose 6m above its water level. I would guess that Joseph Hardy’s first house was a victim of that flooding. Perth’s largest flood on record was in July 1892 when the incoming sea washed over jetties and the high roads to Fremantle. Creating havoc on roads. In 1926 the Fremantle Bridge was destroyed by the flooding of the river again creating havoc on roads and also rails. In March 1934, the Swan River reportedly rose 5.8 m in less than eight hours at Guildford following a cyclone in the north of the State. Again in 1945 floods occurred following over a seventy day period of rainfall fell a total of 842 mm.
Today the Swan River is under threat from Karlodinium algae (algal bloom), a deadly phenomenon that results in oxygen being taken out of the water and the potential death of fish and aquatic life in the river. Algae is a group of aquatic plants that contain chlorophyll and other photosynthetic pigments. Some algae are harmless but some species are toxic to marine life and humans. The Karlodinium algae continues to wreak havoc on the Swan River has the potential to kill the river. In fact some experts have expressed grave concerns over this bloom, suggesting that if nothing is done about the algae, the river may die within ten years.
Bridges of the Swan River
The eighteen road and railway bridges of the Swan River are, Fremantle Railway Bridge, Fremantle Traffic Bridge (Fremantle), Stirling Bridge (Fremantle), Narrows Bridge (Kwinana Freeway/Mitchell Freeway), Narrows Bridge (northbound, Perth), Narrows Bridge (southbound, Perth), The Causeway (northbound, Perth), The Causeway (southbound, Perth), Goongoonup Bridge (East Perth), Windan Bridge (East Perth), Garratt Road Bridge (northbound, Maylands), Garratt Road Bridge (southbound, Maylands), Redcliffe Bridge (Bayswater), Guildford Road Bridge (Bassendean), Guildford Railway Bridge (Bassendean), Barkers Bridge (Guildford), Whiteman Bridge (Middle Swan) and finally the Upper Swan Bridge (Upper Swan).
When the great Nellie Melba visited Perth in 1902 she went crabbing in the Swan River.