Investigation 2

What happened in Western Australia in the late 1800s, and what were the impacts on the colony?

So many changes were taking place in Western Australia in the 1890s that the colony must have been almost unrecognisable to people who had lived there in the 1880s. The discovery of gold in 1892, for example, attracted thousands of people who hoped to make their fortunes on the goldfields of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. Some of the other changes involved new building projects. Some involved development and trade of Western Australian goods and resources. And others involved the colony's ports, which were especially important for transport because there were no rail links to the east until 1917, when the Transcontinental Railway Line was opened. Different groups of people living and working in Western Australia in the 1890s would have been affected by these changes in different ways.

Your Task

Investigate records and images from the 1890s to discover how society in Western Australia had changed.


  1. In groups of three, study the Western Australia population statistics between 1890 and 1899. How much did the population grow by?
  2. Examine the information about Western Australian exports between 1890 and 1899. Answer the following questions.
    • The values of the gold, timber and wool exports are shown in pounds. What currency would they be shown in today?
    • Which years were the best for selling gold, timber and wool, respectively?
    • As a Western Australian business person, which product would you rather be selling in the 1890s? Why?
  3. In your groups, compare the two photographs of Fremantle Harbour. What changes do you observe? How might the increased population and trade have contributed to these changes?
  4. As a class, share your group’s observations about population growth, exports and the development of Fremantle Harbour. Discuss how life in Western Australia must have changed in the 1890s.