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Historical panoramas reveal city’s dramatic change

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A Curtin University student’s summer research project has turned into a fascinating historical endeavour that will enable scholars, historians and members of the public to take a virtual tour through Perth and Fremantle over a 150 year period.

The Historical Panoramas project, a collaboration between the State Library of Western Australia and Curtin University’s HIVE (Hub for Immersive Visualisation and eResearch), showcases panoramic photos of Perth and Fremantle dating back as far as the 1860s and juxtaposes them with modern panoramas to reveal the dramatic changes undergone by both cities.

The centrepiece of the project is a series of wide-angle panoramas taken from the Perth Town Hall at four different times in the city’s history – 1885, 1906, 1925 and 2016.

Other panoramas capture Perth and South Perth over similar periods from vantage points in Kings Park, while still more capture Fremantle – complete with tall ships in the harbour – from the Fremantle Town Hall and the Arthur Head Lighthouse, which was demolished in 1905.

Project supervisor and Curtin HIVE Manager, Dr Andrew Woods, and second year graphic design and creative advertising student, Marcia Schneider, worked closely with the State Library to uncover as many historical panoramas of Perth and surrounds as possible.

“When we started this project we thought we might find 10 or 20 historical panoramas of Perth and Fremantle – we’ve found over 100!” Dr Woods said.

“From this selection, we chose a sample set of 10 – six taken in Perth and four in Fremantle – which were then chosen to be geo-located and re-photographed. As an example, we did this with Perth Town Hall and Monument Hill.”

Given the extensive changes to the landscape over the past century, a number of the vantage points that the images were originally photographed from were no longer accessible on foot.

“With the assistance of Joel Newman from CADS Aerial, some of the inaccessible vantage points were able to be reached by drone, enabling us to capture the surroundings as they are now,” Dr Woods said.

Visualisation technologies at the Curtin HIVE were then used to compile the old and new images into a virtual tour which members of the public will be able to access via the Historical Panoramas website, launched today. In some cases multiple images were stitched together to create the panoramic effect.

“The website will allow everyone from members of the public to historians, scholars, heritage architects and planners to explore the panoramas on their own computers or mobile devices,” Dr Woods said.

“The historical images have such incredible detail and users will be able to zoom in on specific landmarks and explore the areas more closely, with different markers revealing additional photographs and information.”

Dr Woods said the panoramas demonstrated just how dramatically Perth and Fremantle had changed in the last 150 years.

“The public will be able to see the huge amount of change, but also the locations that have remained the same as Perth and Fremantle have developed,” Dr Woods said.

“It’s a wonderful way to view and understand a cityscape in change and helps people connect with and understand the history of Perth and Fremantle. It also fosters an interest in historical photography and the heritage value of these two cities.

“Perth and Fremantle are in a fairly unique position, being relatively young cities. Perth was established in 1829; the dawn of commercial photography was in the 1840s, and the earliest photographic panorama we’ve located of Perth so far is dated in the 1860s. This provides us with a photographic insight into the city from its very early times – right through to today.”

Dr Woods said the team hoped to expand the project with public help.

“We currently have 10 panoramas in the tour, focused on Perth and Fremantle, but we’re keen to expand the project by adding panoramas from more viewpoints including other locations in Western Australia, or more photographs from current locations to show the same location over different years,” Dr Woods said.

“If members of the public have any old panoramas tucked away in family photo collections, we’d love to see them.”

Those wishing to explore the panoramas or to contribute to the exhibition can visit the website at

The Historical Panoramas project launch was held at the HIVE and was attended by Minister for Health, Culture and the Arts, the Honourable John Day; Curtin Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry; and representatives from groups including the State Library of WA, the cities of Fremantle, Perth and South Perth, Fremantle Ports, and Art Gallery of WA.

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