Captain James Stirling. First Governor of Western Australia. Courtesy Government House.
The settlers had been lured to the colony by glowing reports of a fertile land suitable for agriculture, a promised land where all could make their fortunes. The Swan River was the first British colony in Australia founded exclusively as a private settlement on the basis of land grants. Grants were made according to the value of the assets and labour introduced by the settlers. But in spite of this incentive, after a long and difficult journey of up to five months, they arrived in a land that seemed far from what they had been led to expect.
The soil was sandy and the countryside unattractive. The failure rate of introduced crops was high at first because of the poor soil, particularly near the river. There were often shortages as tools and clothing were hard to replace. Early settlers suffered from a range of illnesses caused by a lack of fresh food and water, open sewerage and the inability to preserve food. But in spite of this, the pioneering spirit prevailed and the colony gradually found its feet.
A View in Western Australia on the Left Bank of the Swan River 1830 Robert Dale 1830 hand coloured lithograph Looking from Cantonment Hill towards Arthur Head and Garden Island. Courtesy of the Collection of Art Gallery of Western Australia 973/Q86 .
Stirling decided in 1834 that there was a need to bind the colony's settlers, and felt that a celebration marking its foundation would be appropriate. The function he envisaged would commemorate the foundation of the colony in a manner that would make no distinction between servant and master and one which the Aborigines would share with the settlers: he proposed an annual remembrance of the arrival of the Parmelia on 1 June 1829. [Stirling actually anchored in Cockburn Sound on June 2 but the Glorious First of June commemorating a great naval victory continues as Foundation Day.]
The first Foundation Day was celebrated in 1835 with flat races, stalls and displays of spear throwing by local Aboriginal people.