European discovery and explorations of the Western Australian coast were carried out mainly by the Dutch and French before the British arrived in WA. From the commencement of settlement, officials wanted to know what the interior of this part of Australia consisted of, and how the land could be used by settlers. From the outset, surveyors and explorers were sent from Perth, Fremantle and Albany into the hinterland and beyond to survey watercourses, to identify land features such as mountains and ranges, and to discover land that could be grazed by animals or farmed.
The State Records Office holds land surveys and maps of Western Australia, and many of these have been digitised and placed online. Original surveys detail the first measurements between points in the physical landscape in relation to each other, allowing maps to be drawn and for the landscape to be described. Sometimes these land surveys record first contact between Europeans and Aboriginal people. Western Australia’s vast coastline was also charted to identify potential harbours and safe approaches to land from the sea; these charts often include depth soundings and mark out dangerous reefs and other hazards to be avoided by sea craft.