Developing the western third of Australia

The economic development of Western Australia and the welfare of its people have been cornerstones of colonial administration and parliamentary deliberations since the 1820s. State Archives document the work of officials and politicians to foster WA's economic growth.

Initially the Swan River Colony, founded in 1829 by ‘free settlers’, stagnated in comparison to its eastern neighbours due to lack of capital and labour. Therefore in 1850 WA adopted the convict system due to the perceived economic benefits of free labour and imperial investment. Slowly the economy of WA improved, and with the discovery of gold in the late 1880s, first in the Kimberley and Murchison districts, and later with the startling finds in Kalgoorlie, one of the world’s biggest gold rushes ensued; WA’s population and economy boomed.

In the early years of the 20th century, the development of the Wheatbelt saw vast increases in the amount of agricultural land available. Coal mining, timber and fishing industries also flourished. But post First World War soldier and group settlements’ did not prove successful, and WA’s economy was badly affected by the ‘Great Depression’. After the Second World War, WA’s economy grew with the arrival of large numbers of immigrants from Europe and beyond. Further discoveries of an abundance of mineral resources created a series of ‘Mining Booms’ from the 1960s onwards. The mining and exploitation of WA’s natural resources such as gold, iron ore, nickel, bauxite, mineral sands, diamonds, oil and gas, has seen WA become one of the most prosperous places in the world.