WAY '79

WAY '79

WAY '79, also referred to as WAY 79 and WAY 1979, was the official 1979 sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) celebration of the establishment of the Swan River Colony, the first permanent European settlement in Western Australia.

Western Australian celebrations

Western Australia had celebrated its centenary in 1929. The state's population was then considerably smaller; the city was still the central place within the metropolitan area and state, and the variations between the 'ideals' of the celebrations and actual events were as colourful as those mentioned later for the 1979 event. In 1929, a significant number of citizens had been born in the mid-19th century and thus had memories of the state in pre-federation and convict-colony times. A commemorative Centenary Pavilion was built in 1929 at the Claremont Showgrounds. Most Perth streetscapes visible in 1929 photos have been superseded by subsequent developments, except for the public buildings of the central 'establishment districts' and parts of King Street. A notable product of the 1929 centenary celebrations was George Pitt Morison's painting The Foundation of Perth 1829.


The Perth of 1979 had significant changes which the government of the day was able to exploit as signs of "development" of the state. The city was no longer a "central place" within the metropolitan area of Perth, with growing numbers of suburban shopping centres developed which forced change in the traditional services and facilities in Perth. The state was also well into further developments of the oil and mineral industries, transformation of its transport infrastructure, and population growth was fuelling new spreads of the metropolitan area across the length and breadth of the Swan coast plain. By this stage the state had more than one university, and many other significant indicators of a larger more complex community than it had been in 1929.


Preliminary planning for WAY '79 began shortly after the March 1971 celebrations of Western Australia's population passing one million. The success of this celebration prompted the Perth Chamber of Commerce to begin planning for Western Australia's sequicentenary. Planning proceeded slowly at first, and it was not until January 1974 that the State Government became involved. When Charles Court became Premier of Western Australia in April of that year, the government took over planning, and preparations began in earnest. The following year the WAY 1979 concept was officially launched by the premier. S. W. Dallymore was initially appointed executive officer for the celebrations, but he resigned after two years, and Slade Drake-Brockman was appointed in his place. According to Bolton (1989), "It would be fair to assume that Court and Drake-Brockman played the most significant roles in determining the character of WAY 1979."


The first WAY '79 event was a New Years Eve concert on the Perth Esplanade, attended by about 60,000 people. Performers included Rolf Harris, Fat Cat and Percy Penguin. A controversial moment occurred when the Indigenous activist Ken Colbung, who had been invited to perform on the didgeridoo, handed an eviction notice to the Governor of Western Australia, Sir Wallace Kyle. Colbung claimed to be serving the notice on the white people on behalf of Western Australia's Aboriginal people. The notice was pointedly in the same form as the eviction notices given to Aboriginal tenants by the State Housing Commission. Thus the act was both a reminder of Aboriginal land rights and dispossession, and a reference to the contemporary plight of the State's indigenous people. Court was furious at the act, calling it "a cheap and ill-conceived stunt".

One of the main events held under the patronage of WAY 1979 was the Miss Universe 1979 pageant, which was held in Perth. It is best remembered for the collapse of a catwalk shortly after the announcement of the winner, Maritza Sayalero. Eight contestants and two media representatives were plunged to the ground, but there were no major injuries.

Another major event was the visit of Prince Charles in March. Among his many engagements was officially opening the Avondale Agricultural Research Station Museum by planting a tree near the entrance.

In August the first of two international conferences in Perth on the Indian Ocean region was held as the International Conference on Indian Ocean Studies - the second was held in 1984.


Numerous other events were staged under the WAY '79 banner, from yacht races to family reunions and street parties. A twenty cent postage stamp was issued, and a range of merchandise were produced, from books to tea-towels.

Historical analysis of the celebrations has focused on its perpetuation of the "pioneer myth", which "saw progress in terms of mineral development rather than social justice or environmental amenity". In the analysis by Bolton (1989), the WAY '79 celebrations "offered a sanitised version of the past.... Nobody tried to replicate the heat, the insects, the dysentery, the alcoholism, the boredom and the discomfort which were so intimate a part of daily life in the Swan River Colony."

The subsequent anniversary event celebrated by the state of Western Australia was the 175 celebrations in 2004 during the premiership of Geoff Gallop.


Among the books released was the WAY '79 Sesquicentenary Celebrations Series, 14 volumes on a range of Western Australian topics, possibly the most ambitious publishing venture in the state's history. The Women's Committee for the 150th Anniversary Celebrations produced the volume "Reflections; Profiles of 150 Women who helped make Western Australian History". "The West Australian" contributed "Swan River Colony"—96 pages of images selected from its newspaper archives [ Edmonds, Jack (editor) (1979) "Swan River colony: life in Western Australia since the early colonial settlement, illustrated by pictures from an exhibition mounted by West Australian Newspapers Ltd. as a contribution to celebrations for the state's 150th year" Perth : West Australian Newspapers.ISBN 0909699208] The Education Department produced an "Atlas of Human Endeavour" to provide schools with an up-to-date, cartographically represented list of achievements by the state and its people. [ Jarvis, Neil (1986)"Western Australia, an atlas of human endeavour" Perth, W.A : Dept. of Lands and Surveys in association with the Education Dept. of Western Australia 2nd ed. ISBN 0730900827 Previous ed.: Perth, W.A. : Government Printer, 1979. p.46 ]

An editorial panel, all connected with the University of Western Australia released a 437-page "Who is Who" in which the candid aim was "to change as little as possible what people wrote about themselves". [Sacks M A (ed) "The WAY 79 Who is Who", Crawley Publishers, 1980, ISBN 094984800X, editor's preface.] The result was an engaging compendium of academic and political networks of the day which sadly omitted such eminent persons as Sir Paul Hasluck, Sir Norman Brearley, building magnate John Roberts and hallowed Australian Rules footballer Bill Walker.


Set into the footpath along St Georges Terrace, Perth are 150 bronze tablets commemorating notable figures in Western Australia's history.

ee also

*History of Perth, Western Australia
*History of Western Australia
*Sesquicentenary Celebrations Series


Further reading

* Gregory, Jenny (2003) "City of light: : a history of Perth since the 1950s" Perth, W.A. City of Perth, ISBN 0959463240 p.219-231, -has a description of celebrations throughout 1979 to mark the 150th anniversary of the foundation of Western Australia as a British colony.
* WAY '79 Commerce Committee "A walk through the history of Western Australia, 1829-1979 : a chronological presentation of those persons commemorated on bronze inlaid paving tiles on St. George's Terrace, Perth" (found in Battye Library)

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