History of the Western Australian Museum – Perth

Article | Updated 7 months ago

Photo of the Museum site from the early 1900s
Western Australian Museum 1900s

The following timeline outlines the major changes and developments on the site where the Western Australian Museum – Perth is now located.

Well before the WA Museum was on this site it was part of a landscape that was a large system of freshwater lakes, swamps and wetlands.

For thousands of years, my old people used to rely on the wetlands, freshwater springs and ochre pits that surround the area where the Museum stands today. When food was abundant, Nyoongar people gathered to share in the rich and diverse plant and animal resources, practice their Lore and cultural rituals and catch up with family and friends.

Brett Nannup, 2001.


The following details show how the Museum site has developed over time.

  1. 1850

    Surveyor General Roe chooses the current Perth Cultural Centre site to build the Perth Gaol and house convicts sent here to work.

  2. Photo of the Old Goal from 1890s 1856

    The Perth Gaol construction is complete.

  3. Layout of the Old Goal in 1850 1891

    The WA Museum is established as the Geological Museum with a collection of geological specimens housed in the Old Perth Gaol.

  4. Image depicting modifications made to the Old Goal 1850-1890s 1892

    The term ‘geological’ is dropped from the Museum’s title and the building became simply the ‘Perth Museum’.

  5. 1892 - 1913

    WA prospers during the gold rush.

  6.  Photo of the Museum site from the early 1900s 1899

    The Jubilee Building opens housing the State’s Library, Art Gallery and Museum. Part of the Gaol is removed to make way for this building.

  7. 1902

    The Geologists’ offices is built on the Beaufort Street part of the site.

  8. 1903

    The new Victoria Library is built and the State Library is relocated into it, leaving the Museum and Art Gallery to share the Jubilee Building.

  9. Photo of the Museum site from 1905 1908

    The Beaufort Street building is constructed between the Jubilee and Geologists building to house the Art Gallery.

  10. Photo of the Museum site from circa 1913 1913

    Hackett Hall is built as an extension to the Victoria Library building increasing the size and services of the State Library.

  11. Photo of the Museum site from circa 1930 1914 - 1960

    There is little development on the site due to two World Wars, the Depression and slow economic recovery after World War II.

  12. 1957

    The George Weick gallery is built to house the Museum’s collection of military arms and medals.

  13. 1960

    WA experiences the start of a mineral boom.

  14. 1967

    Premier Brand announces plans for a new museum building. To make way some of the buildings around the Old Gaol are planned to be demolished.

  15. 1968

    Woodward Gallery which housed the mammal collection was demolished from the site.

  16. 1971

    The Wieck gallery and Nicolay Galleries are demolished.

    The Francis Street building is completed.

  17. Photo of the Francis Street Museum building from circa 1970 1972

    Francis Street building is opened to the public with three floors of exhibitions and four floors of collection and administration space. The centrepiece of the Museum was the rare Blue Whale skeleton, an artefact that has become an icon of the WA Museum.

  18. Photo of the cultural centre from the 1970s, feauring the WA Museum site 1980

    The Art Gallery moves to its current premises on Roe Street.

  19. Aerial photo of the cultural centre from the 1985, feauring the WA Museum site 1985

    State Library moves to the Alexander Library building. The Victoria Library is demolished.

    Hackett Hall becomes part of the Museum and some alterations made to the rear wall in order to join it to a new extension for offices and store rooms.

  20. Perth Museum Site 1999

    A glass insertion is placed between the Jubilee Wing and Hackett Hall to join the two buildings and become the Museum foyer.

  21. Francis Street Building during demolition  2003

    The Francis Street building is closed due to asbestos and for safety reasons. Staff and the collections are moved to the Collection and Research Centre in Welshpool.

  22. Demolition of the Francis Street building 2011

    Francis Street building is demolished.

  23. Festival Gardens during the 2012 Perth Festival 2012

    The temporary Museum Grounds are opened and become home to the Perth International Arts Festival’s Festival Gardens.

  24. Proposed layout of the Museum site in the post-2012 May 2012

    Minister for Culture and the Arts John Day MLA announces the State Government’s commitment to build a new museum on the former Francis Street site.

  25. October 2015

    Heritage conservation works to the existing buildings is completed. The façades were cleaned, brick work was replaced or repointed where needed, wall ties were replaced, decorative features restored and the timber work repainted. The interiors of the heritage buildings will be revitalised as part of the main works.

  26. April 2016

    The Harry Butler Research Centre is delivered as a critical part of the New Museum Project. These works included a new purpose-built facility to store the Museum’s collection of spirit-preserved specimens, state-of-the-art research laboratories, preparation spaces and supporting infrastructure. The Centre was officially opened by Culture and the Arts Minister Hon John Day MLA and Harry Butler’s son, Trevor Butler. More than three million specimens were relocated from the former Wet Store to the new, state of the art storage facility.

  27. Early 2016

    More than 11,000 objects are relocated from the WA Museum – Perth to the Collections and Research Centre, Welshpool in preparation for the development of the New Museum.

  28. June 2016

    The WA Museum – Perth temporarily closes its doors for four years while the New Museum is being developed. The New Museum is scheduled to open in 2020.

  29. July 2016

    Multiplex, with its design team HASSELL+OMA, is announced as the Managing Contractor that will design and construct the New Museum for WA. The bold and dynamic design is publicly released to wide acclaim.

  30. September 2016

    The Museum’s Discovery Zone opens in the State Library of WA. This is one of many displays, activities and programs being delivered as part of the Museum’s offsite activation program, creating opportunities for people to experience the Museum in new venues.

  31. May 2017

    Premier Mark McGowan MLA and Culture and the Arts Minister David Templeman MLA turn the first sod at the site of the New Museum. At this time the glass foyer of the Museum was removed along with non-heritage elements on the site.

  32. December 2019

    Practical completion of the building. Exhibition fit out begins.