This is an NFSA Digital Learning resource. See all Digital Learning websites.
Constructing Australia


The Sydney Harbour Bridge under constructionThe story of Western Australia's founding is fraught with human drama, political intrigue, and juicy scandal. It is also crucial to understanding the story of the Federation of Australia, yet people in the other states know almost nothing about it.

The modernisation of the continent's most isolated settlement, through a series of massive infrastructure projects originating in Perth, brought a relatively backward colony kicking and screaming into the 20th century. Essentially it was achieved through the collaboration of two farsighted individuals, the brilliant engineer Charles Yelverton O'Connor, a man of unstinting commitment and energy, and John Forrest, a fearless explorer and one of Australia's first state and federal politicians.

O'Connor and Forrest overcame enormous obstacles to push through innovative economic and technological reforms, which then generated unprecedented wealth for Western Australians and the new nation as a whole. They did it by building railways, harbours and most importantly the Perth to Coolgardie Water Scheme, which allowed water to flow in the desert, and grandiose mining towns to spring up in what had been a most uncompromising landscape. Their determination created one of the biggest weirs in the southern hemisphere and one of the longest pipelines in the world.