There are only a few tell-tale signs left that hint at there once being a string of freshwater lakes and swamps to the north of the Perth city centre. In fact it was these lakes that led to the city of Perth being established where it was back in 1829, as they were the only year-round supply of abundant fresh water in the whole of the Swan River basin apart from the River itself. The lakes formed a natural interconnected drainage system which found its way into the Swan River at East Perth through Claise Brook.
Walters Brook flows into the Swan River at Banks Reserve
Though seen at first as a blessing by the newly arrived British settlers, the lakes and swamps were soon looked upon as a nuisance as they formed a natural barrier to the north of Perth which had the effect of blocking development in the town's north. It wasn't long before first one swamp, then another, were reclaimed, to allow easier access to the land on Perth's northern perimeter.
It is thought that between 49% and 80% of the wetlands have been drained, filled or cleared since 1832. From 1850 to 1868, the arrival of convicts swelled the population and market gardening on the northern side of the city expanded to meet the greater demand for food. To enable this to happen, many of the lakes and swamps north of Perth had to be drained. This was catastophic for the Aboriginal population who relied on the lakes for their drinking water. This forced them to eventually assimilate into the white community.
The water table was never too far below the surface, but this was not a problem to the market gardeners. It was, however, when the land was subdivided into housing lots. many of the deeper lakesThe reclaimed land where the deeper lakes were could not be built on as the water table was just below the surface, so this land was set aside for sports grounds, parks or gardens.
The Northern Lakes
There were in fact three strings of lakes and swamps to the north of Perth, from which water flowed from one into another, until eventually finding its way to the Swan River. Brigatti Gardens on Broome Street, Highgate, was created from a drained swamp on the most northerly string of swamps. Walters Brook, which flows into the Swan River at Banks Reserve, originally floswed from a swamp on the site of Forrest Park on Walcott Street, Highgate. The brook still flows today, but is mostly underground until it reaches Banks Reserve.
The Middle Lakes
The central string of swamps and lakes began at a swamp at what is now Charles Veryard Reserve in North Perth. The swamp has more recently been formed into two lakes - Three Island Lake and Smith's Lake.
Water from Smith's Lake flowed into marshy ground at what is now Beatty Park in North Perth. Dorrien Gardens marks the beginning of Lake Henderson (Goongarulnyarreenup to the local Aborigines), which extended to where Robertson Park is today. Dorrien Gardens was developed as a soccer ground for the Azzurri (now Perth) Soccer Club in the 1950s.
To the Nyoongar people, Lake Henderson was known as either Boojormelup. Besides being a source of fish, turtles, frogs, reeds, etc as well as fresh water, it was an important place for gatherings.
Robertson Park, site of Lake Henderson
By the early 1880s, the fertile lake bed of Lake Henderson was used as market gardens, becoming a food bowl for the town of Perth. The majority of gardens were leased by Chinese gardeners from European owners. Most of the market gardeners lived in timbver shacks. From Lake Henderson, the stream flowed into Lake Thomson (also known as Mews Swamp), which was between Lake and Beaufort Streets.
Forbes Street, near the corner of Lake and Forbes Street, was built on land reclaimed from Lake Thomson (Mews Swamp)
To the north of Lake Thomson was the first in a sub-string of three swamps which joined the main watercourse further downstream. They were appropriately known as First, Second and Third Swamp.
Third Swamp was a regularly used campsite for local aborigines when the first white settlers established the Swan River Colony in 1829. Third Swamp was formed into the Hyde Park Lakes in 1899. Water from Third Swamp flowed into Second Swamp, which was between Bulwer Street and Brisbane Street to the east of Lake Street (Lake Street was named because it ran between First Swamp and Lake Kingsford). First Swamp, part of which is now Birdwood Square, was also known as Lake Poullet.
The two branches of the string of lakes and swamps met at Lake Poullet. The stream flowed into Stone's Lake where Perth Oval is today. Swampy ground extended south from Stone's Lake to what is now Weld Square. This area was a favoured meeting place for the Nyoongar people.
After passing through Stone's Lake, the stream joined Claise Brook, which still flows into the Swan River where it did when the colony was established in 1829. The path of Claise Brook is marked by Brook Street, one of East Perth's earliest streets, so named because it followed Claise Brook on its north bank.
Russell Square, one of many of Perth's inner suburban parks created from drained swampland
Large portions of Perth flooded during heavy winters, but it proved to be ideal for growing vegetables and fruit so the government began by draining Thompson's and Stone's Lakes in 1850. In 1854 the surveyor Augustus Gregory drew up plans to drain the first of the series of lakes in Perth's northern suburbs. This involved building a network of culverts to syphon the water down to Claise Brook and into the Swan River.
In 1858 William Phelps, the Colony's Assistant surveyor, marked out lots around the lakes. Stone's Lake became known as Loton's Paddock and then Loton Park, after William Loton, Lord Mayor of Perth, who purchased the reclaimed land. Markets gardens worked mainly by Chinese were developed.
in 1870s due to continuing pressure on food supplies, Lake Henderson, including some of the Dorrien Gardens section, were drained. Convict labourers extended the stormwater drainage system to Robertson Park and the lake disappeared completely. Joseph Gallop purchased land there and was the first to grow vegetables on the lake bed.
Perth Oval, built on land created by the draining of Stone's Lake
Heavy flooding of the wetlands in 1872 prompted efforts to improve drainage. Lake Poullet was drained and first used as a rubbish dump. Third Swamp Reserve was reserved for public use sometime before 1877 and by 1883. By 1899, the swamp has been formed into two lakes, a path was built around the lake and other modifications had been made. The reserve was renamed Hyde Park.
Birdwood Square, site of Lake Poullet
There were problems with flooding at Robertson Park (Lake Henderson) until 1908 when a special drain was constructed and the lake drained. Robertson Park was designated as a reserve in 1913, Lake Poullet was channeled into a drain and Birdwood Square was created. From the 1920s Smith's Lake was progressively drained with much of the reclaimed land being used for market gardening.
The Southern Lakes
The southern string of lakes and swamps began at Lake Goorgianna (now known as Lake Monger). Over the years the lake has been known by a number of names - Lake Galup, Lake Kalup or Keiermulu are all recorded as its aboriginal name.
After European settlement, Lake Goorgianna became known as either Large Lake or Triangle Lake (based on its roughly triangular shape) before being named Monger's Lake in 1831. In April 1932 it was changed to its current name of Lake Monger. The name recalls John Henry Monger who acquired 200 acres beside the lake adjoining the land grant of William H Leeder, whose name is remembered in the suburb of Leederville.
The remains of Lake Irwin alongside what is now the Mitchell Freeway-Graham Farmer Freeway interchange
The Mitchell Freeway is built along the line of this southern chain of lakes and swamps. Water from Lake Monger flowed into Lake Sutherland, which was where the freeway and Loftus Street intersect today. Loftus Street came down to Lake Sutherland from the north, Thomas Street came down to Lake Sutherland from the south. The remnants of the next lake - Lake Irwin - still remain alongside what is now the Mitchell Freeway-Graham Farmer Freeway interchange.
The railway line, entertainment centre and bus station were built on reclaimed swamps
The railway line follows the course of the stream as it flowed out of Lake Irwin and into Lake Kingsford, which was to the north of Wellington Street from around the foot of Milligan to William Street. This lake was named after a pioneer settler, Samuel Kingsford, whose farm was nearby.
Draining the Southern Lakes
Several of the larger lakes north-west of Perth were also drained in the 1870s. Lake Georgina on William Leeder's land, located just south of the Leederville Oval, was drained, permitting Newcastle street to be extended westward.
By 1833, water channelled from Lakes Kingsford, Irwin, Sutherland and Henderson was used to drive a water-driven mill located in Mill Street. Drainage of the lakes in the city area was begun with the construction of an open main drain along Wellington Street to Claise Brook. Lake Kingsford was among the first of the lakes to be drained. Early maps indicate this had taken place by 1839.
The drained Lake Kingsford was used for market gardening. The stream was channeled underground into what was the first section of a drain that would eventually link Lake Monger to the Swan River via Claise Brook. It was completed by 1909. This drain still operates today. Several more areas were drained including Second Swamp. Three of the latter were purchased in 1873 by ex-convict James Fox for a market garden.
Wellington Square was the site of the the southernmost swamp in the chain. It was drained and established as a public reserve in the 1830's, providing an ideal open space to train and exercise horses stabled in the area. This swamp originally covered the area bounded by Royal, Bennett and Wellington Streets and the railway line.