Swan Valley History
Featuring a unique melting pot of Indigenous, pioneering colonial and southern European roots, the Swan Valley's fascinating back story is one of the most interesting and diverse in WA's history.
The Noongar Aboriginal people of the Wadjuk tribe, the traditional landowners of the Swan Valley, have inhabited this region for over 40,000 years. According to Noongar beliefs, a Dreamtime serpent, the Wagyl, once travelled across the country, carving out the Swan Valley and the Swan River and still lives deep within the Swan River today.
There are many unique and authentic Indigenous experiences in the Swan Valley. On a bush tucker trail you can sniff, touch and taste a variety of herbs, spices, peppers and dried fruits and learn how to grow and use them in your cooking.
With its colonial buildings, convict history, antique stores, character pubs and village charm, Guildford, which is classified as a historic town by the National Trust of Australia (WA), oozes charm. Guildford was one of three towns established during the founding of the Swan River Colony in 1829 and many fine colonial buildings from the township’s earliest days continue to grace its streets.
Today, visitors can enjoy a host of walk trails(PDF, 3MB) around Guildford that showcase the beauty and history of the town. The River Ramble passes the historic Rose and Crown Hotel (built in 1841) and Padbury’s Store (1869), while the Stirling Square incorporates the best of the Meadow Street precinct including the Guildford Gaol (1841), the Courthouse (1866) and Taylor’s Cottage. There’s also the Captain Stirling Walk and the Town Walk to enjoy.
Southern European roots
Migrants flocked to the Swan Valley in three waves: after World War I, in the 1920s and following World War II. Croatian and Italian farmers were a huge part of this migration and were largely responsible for transforming the Valley from traditional agricultural lands to the vineyards we know and love today.
Southern Europeans joined the growing industry, drawing upon the winemaking skills of their homelands to help Swan Valley viticulture flourish. During this time the Swan Valley had more operating wineries than the wine regions in New South Wales or Victoria.
The significant Croatian and Italian influence has put the Swan Valley alongside other ethnically-driven Australian wine producing regions, like the German-influenced Barossa Valley and the Italian-influenced Riverland, and the Swan Valley today reigns as the oldest wine region in WA and the second oldest in the nation.
The first vines
The history of the Swan Valley’s grape industry dates back nearly 200 years to the early colonial settlement in Guildford.
In 1829, the very first vines were planted at Olive Farm in South Guildford by botanist Thomas Waters. He recognised that the region’s warm climate and dry summers were the perfect recipe for grape growing.
In 1840, the first vines were planted at Sandalford. While Sandalford is best known for its wines today, the Roe family were initially significant table grape producers for the region.
The 1850s saw the emergence of a new generation of land owners in the Swan Valley. During this time, the demand for dried fruit, fresh table grapes, export table grapes and colonial wine saw an abundance of new plantings.
Between 1890 and 1900, the Gold Rush generated a boom which saw Perth’s population grow from 20,000 to 73,000. A subsequent economic stimulus and increased demand for food helped the local grape industry to kick off.
By 1905, the recorded area of grapevines planted in Western Australia shot up from 335 acres (recorded in 1860) to 3541 acres, most of which were located in the Swan Valley.
By the 1920s, the Swan Valley had made itself known as an established grape-growing region for table grapes and other fruit.
By the late 1930s, more than 1,200 hectares of vines were producing export quality table grapes, dried fruit and grapes for wine production. More than half the vineyards were operated by southern Europeans, notably Croatians, with viticultural experience.
Today, the Swan Valley’s table grape industry continues to thrive, and is built on small family-run businesses that produce a wide range of table grape varieties.