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Western Australian Museum, Perth Cultural Centre | © Nachoman-au / WikiCommons
Western Australian Museum, Perth Cultural Centre | © Nachoman-au / WikiCommons
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The History Of The Western Australian Museum In 1 Minute

Picture of Ellie Griffiths
Updated: 19 August 2016
The Western Australian Museum has made the state’s social and natural heritage accessible to locals and visitors alike, and encourages the public to engage with its research and public programs. Offering a unique set of collections, the Western Australian Museum has six main sites: two in Fremantle, one in Albany, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, and Geraldton respectively, and the largest and most influential is located at the Perth Cultural Centre.

In the 1850s, Surveyor General Roe commissioned Perth Gaol to be built, sending convicts to work, and by 1856 the gaol (jail) was completed. Although the building started its life as a jail, by 1891 the Old Perth Gaol was transformed into the Geological Museum, which displayed a fine collection of geological specimens, and then again renamed the Perth Museum, adding in ethnological and biological exhibitions. The building was officially named the Western Australian Museum and Art Gallery in 1897.

Removing part of the Old Perth Gaol in 1899, the Jubilee Building housed the state library and the Museum and Art gallery until 1903 when the library relocated to the newly built Victoria Public Library. In the following years, the Beaufort Street building was constructed between the Jubilee and Geologist buildings to house the art gallery.

The growing collection came to a halt in 1914 until 1960, when the country was suffering the downfall of two world wars and the Depression, followed by a slow economic recovery. However, in 1957 the George Weick Gallery was built and displayed the military arms and medals, and in 1959 the Museum and the Art Gallery became two separate institutions. A decade after this gallery was constructed, plans for a new museum building were announced, and by 1972 the Francis Street building was open to the public. It was here that the iconic artefact of a rare blue whale skeleton became the centrepiece of the museum.

Before the turn of the century, a glass insertion combined the Jubilee Wing and Hackett Hall. The Francis Street building was closed in 2003 and demolished in 2011 due to asbestos. All collections were moved to Welshpool’s Collection and Research Centre.

In 2012, the Minister for Culture and the Arts announced the construction of a new museum on the former Francis Street site. Named ‘one of the most significant museum redevelopments in the world today,’ the $428.3 million project will design a new building that will integrate the existing heritage buildings.

The new museum is scheduled to open in 2020.