Perth, the capital city of Western Australia, is a cultural hub that boasts a rich tapestry of history and heritage. For those eager to explore the past and immerse themselves in the stories that have shaped this vibrant city and its surrounding regions, a visit to its history museums is an absolute must.
From the magnificent WA Museum Boola Bardip, with its immersive exhibits and diverse collections, to the Art Gallery of Western Australia, showcasing artistic achievements throughout the ages, and the Berndt Museum of Anthropology, which delves into the cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians, Perth’s history museums offer a captivating journey through time.
For aviation enthusiasts, the Aviation Heritage Museum is a treasure trove of military and civilian aircraft, while the Railway Museum transports visitors to the golden age of trains. The Museum of Perth chronicles the city’s evolution, making it an essential stop for those eager to understand its urban history.
In this article, we will explore these exceptional institutions, each offering a unique perspective on Western Australia’s past. If you want to learn about the museums and other historical places in Fremantle, we have another article for you.
The WA Museum Boola Bardip
WA Museum Boola Bardip, located in the heart of the Perth Cultural Centre on Whadjuk Nyoongar land, is a treasure trove of Western Australia’s rich stories. Its name, meaning ‘many stories’ in the local Nyoongar language, reflects its mission to showcase the state’s unique people, remarkable places, and global significance.
The museum features eight permanent galleries, each with its own captivating theme. Visitors can delve into the culture and stories of the local Aboriginal people, explore the state’s diverse flora, fauna, and biodiversity, and marvel at the ancient minerals, meteorites, megafauna, and dinosaurs that once roamed Western Australia and the prehistoric Earth.
The museum’s history dates back to 1891 when the Geological Museum, housing the state’s first collection of geological samples, was established on the site of the Old Gaol. Over time, the collections expanded to include ethnological and biological specimens, leading to the declaration of the Western Australian Museum and Art Gallery in 1897.
The museum’s prominent location on James Street has been central to its identity, hosting popular exhibitions on fashion, natural history, cultural heritage, and history.
After closing for redevelopment in 2016, the museum reopened in November 2020 as WA Museum Boola Bardip. The new complex includes five heritage buildings, such as the Old Perth Gaol and Hackett Hall, which now houses the skeleton of a blue whale named Otto.
The museum’s exhibits cover a wide range of subjects, from the formation of the universe to WA’s latest inventions, newly discovered species, and local communities.
WA Museum Boola Bardip stands as a testament to Western Australia’s past, present, and future, offering immersive exhibitions, vibrant programs, and stimulating discussions for visitors to explore and appreciate the state’s rich heritage.
The Art Gallery of Western Australia
The Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) is a public art gallery, located in the Perth Cultural Centre. Managed by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries of the Government of Western Australia, the gallery’s main building was opened in 1979.
Designed in the Bauhaus method with a Brutalist exterior, it features an innovative architectural style for the region. The gallery’s collection has grown since 1895 and now comprises over 18,000 works, making it the finest public art collection in Western Australia. The Aesthetic Movement has influenced aspects of the collection.
Ongoing exhibitions showcase Indigenous traditional and contemporary art, Western Australian art from the 1820s to 1960s, and topical displays on key themes. The Desert River Sea project explores Indigenous Australian art and is supported by Rio Tinto.
AGWA also hosts the Year 12 Perspectives exhibition, featuring works by graduating high school artists, and the Lester Prize, one of Australia’s richest portraiture prizes. The prize was renamed The Lester Prize in 2019 in recognition of its main patron, Richard (Dick) Lester AM. With a total prize pool of AUD 105,000, the awards attract entries from across the country.
The Berndt Museum of Anthropology
The Berndt Museum of Anthropology, a cultural gem nestled within the vibrant city of Perth, stands as a testament to the rich tapestry of human heritage.
Established in 1976 by the visionary anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt, the museum has found its home within the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery on the enchanting grounds of the University of Western Australia’s Crawley campus.
With a staggering collection of 12,000 objects and 35,000 photographs, the Berndt Museum is internationally acclaimed as one of the foremost repositories of Indigenous Australian art and cultural artifacts.
Its treasures span the breadth of Aboriginal Australian material culture, representing regions like Arnhem Land, the Kimberley, Pilbara, the South West, and the Western Desert. Additionally, the museum proudly houses significant collections from Asia and Papua New Guinea.
The Berndt Museum’s journey began with the arrival of Ronald and Catherine Berndt in Perth in 1956, bringing with them a vast collection gathered during their extensive fieldwork in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
This original collection laid the foundation for the museum’s creation, officially inaugurated in 1979. Over the years, it has grown in stature and significance, expanding its scope to include Melanesian and Asian artifacts.
The museum’s collections not only serve as a source of academic research but, more importantly, they hold deep cultural and historical value for Aboriginal communities and beyond.
The Yirrkala Drawing Collection, included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, exemplifies the cultural significance of the museum’s holdings, preserving the artistic expressions of Indigenous communities.
The Berndt Museum’s diverse archives, including photographic material and historical documents, further enrich its mission to foster dialogue and understanding about culture, identity, and heritage.
With over six decades of collecting, this institution plays a pivotal role in connecting people to their roots and fostering appreciation for the cultural diversity that defines our world.
The Aviation Heritage Museum
The Aviation Heritage Museum, nestled in the picturesque suburb of Bull Creek in Perth, Western Australia, stands as a testament to the rich aviation history of the region.
Founded and meticulously maintained by the RAAF Association of Western Australia, this museum is a treasure trove of military and civilian aircraft, aircraft replicas, and engines that have played pivotal roles in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Western Australia’s aviation history.
The museum’s journey began in 1959 when the RAAF Association acquired a Mark 22 Supermarine Spitfire, prominently displayed outside their headquarters. Over the years, they amassed a remarkable collection, including an Avro Lancaster, Douglas Dakota, Avro Anson, and many other aircraft, thanks to the generous support of the Western Australian Government.
Visitors to the Aviation Heritage Museum are transported through time as they explore these fascinating relics. The collection showcases the heroic efforts of Australian airmen and the enduring legacy of aviation in the country.
From the legendary Avro Lancaster, fondly known as “Lankie,” to the versatile BELL UH-1H IROQUOIS (HUEY), each aircraft has a story to tell.
With a diverse array of aircraft and a multitude of smaller buildings housing a library, photo lab, workshop, and more, the Aviation Heritage Museum is a must-visit destination for aviation enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
It offers a unique opportunity to appreciate the profound impact of aviation on Western Australia and the nation as a whole.
The Railway Museum
The Railway Museum, nestled in the charming town of Bassendean, about 10 km northeast of Downtown Perth, is a true haven for locomotive enthusiasts and history buffs alike. This iconic institution is operated by the Western Australian division of the Australian Railway Historical Society, known as Rail Heritage WA.
Originally established in 1969 and officially inaugurated in November 1974 by the Western Australian Minister for Transport, Ray O’Connor, the Railway Museum boasts the most extensive collection of heritage steam locomotives and rolling stock in Western Australia.
Its treasures include a remarkable array of diesel and steam locomotives, passenger carriages, and various other rolling stock that represent the rich tapestry of Western Australian railway history.
Beyond its impressive physical collection, the museum also houses a valuable Archive within its premises. This archive features an extensive online photograph collection that encapsulates the entirety of Western Australian railway history.
Throughout the year, the Railway Museum hosts a variety of exciting events, including Steamfest, Railfest with active steam and diesel displays, and annual open days, all of which allow visitors to immerse themselves in the world of railways.
Furthermore, the Railway Museum serves as the hub for the West Australian Model Railway Club. For those seeking a deeper exploration of railway history, the South-West Rail and Heritage Centre in Boyanup, a related museum, offers a complementary experience.
The Railway Museum stands as a living testament to Western Australia’s railway legacy, inviting all to embark on a fascinating journey through time.
The Museum of Perth
The Museum of Perth, nestled within the iconic Atlas Building along The Esplanade, opposite Elizabeth Quay in Western Australia, serves as a vibrant testament to the city’s rich heritage.
Born from a virtual museum initiative on Twitter in 2012 by Dallas Robertson, a museum studies student at Edith Cowan University, this private, non-profit institution has evolved into a tangible treasure trove of Perth’s social, cultural, political, and architectural history.
The journey from the digital realm to a physical space was catalyzed when an article by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2013 brought attention to the Twitter page. Perth City councillor Reece Harley recognized its potential and envisioned a brick-and-mortar version of the museum.
In 2015, the dream materialized when the Perth History Association was formed, paving the way for the establishment of the Museum of Perth. With Reece Harley at the helm as executive director, this institution became a reality in October 2015.
Visitors to the museum are treated to a captivating journey through time. The permanent exhibition, tracing the city’s history from its Aboriginal origins to colonial and convict eras, provides a chronological narrative.
Additionally, the museum features a micro-cinema and rotating exhibitions, offering a dynamic window into Perth’s captivating social history. The Museum of Perth stands as a living tribute to the city’s past, present, and future, inviting all to explore and appreciate its remarkable story.