The Old Swan Brewery Lights

Steve McLaughlan 1963

Click here to help bring back the Old Swan Brewery Lights.

1857 saw the creation of the Swan Brewery by Frederick Sherwood at the foot of where Sherwood Court now stands. After his passing, his family leased the brewery and the new partners to use the fresh water at the base of Mt Eliza and hire of convict labour, constructed a new brewery building in 1879 we all know today.

The Swan Brewery saw them come and go buying up all before her from Lion, Stanley, Castlemaine, Albion, Kalgoorlie and Emu whilst employing the staff and buildings for her own purposes including bottling and distribution.

1966 saw some production shift from the Old Swan Brewery to the Emu Brewery on Spring Street. 1978 saw new facilities at Canning Vale and the ownership of the Swan Brewery change several times ultimately ending up today owned by Japanese brewer Kirin Brewery Company. Our once Western Australian made beers are now produced in South Australia and Tasmania.


The Old Swan Brewery complex were originally built in 1838 as a mill for timber-cutting as well as flour-grinding. These were the first steam driven mills in Western Australia, they were later taken over as one of the first convict depots (following the acceptance of convict transportation by the colony in 1850), the buildings were subsequently (between 1959 and 1879) used as a tannery, and at one time contained a restaurant (used by travellers between Perth and Fremantle). In 1877 it was acquired by the Swan Brewery Company. The brewery buildings constructed in 1879 on the Swan River foreshore beneath Mount Eliza became one of Perth’s dominant and favourite landmarks. It was surrounded by a complex of other buildings which have since been demolished or redeveloped. The car-park building on the opposite side of Mount’s Bay Road replaced the historic stables which caught fire and were demolished in 1988. Nevertheless, the state’s Heritage Council noted that, prior to redevelopment,

Swan Brewery, Perth including the old stables, 13 November 1978b

The place contains, albeit partially demolished, the finest connected group of late-Victorian and early 20th-century brewery buildings in Australia in a red brick and tile Federation style idiom. Thanks to Wiki

In 1989, the West Australian state government vested the site in the building company Multiplex for a peppercorn rental, with a view to its being redeveloped as a commercial precinct. Perth’s Noongar community reminded the state government of the site’s ancient and sacred Indigenous Australian significance, and established a protest camp on the site, while challenging the issue at law and seeking to have the land reclassified as a public reserve. They were opposed by a Brewery Preservation Group which argued the indisputable heritage value of at least the 1879 industrial building. The developers argued that the brewery had been built on land reclaimed from the Swan River and, therefore, the site of Noongar heritage importance was further inland, close to the Mount Eliza escarpment and the fresh water spring known as Kennedy’s Fountain. Ultimately the protest was unsuccessful and the development of the property went ahead. The on-site protest had endured for many months and culminated in a bitter but non-violent confrontation with police on 8 January 1990 at which several arrests were made. In August 1992, police had to break through picket lines to allow development work to proceed.


The renovated 1879 building contains a cafe/restaurant and function centre which re-opened in 2001. It also contains a microbrewery which produces malt ales and lagers. There is also a display of historic photographs and artefacts but for me what is missing is the festoons of lights that created the shapes of ships and boats. From 1962 for the Commonwealth Games, lights would be turned on each evening and we never knew heading up and down the freeway what the ship would be. As time went by, the lights were changed for the 150th celebrations and then for the America’s Cup win.

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I would love to see the lights returned and kindly ask you to sign a petition here to add your support for such an undertaking. I do not wish to annoy those who now live there with light flood or visual pollution or add to their power bill. There are new lights seen from only where they point, if it is too difficult, install the lights to one side of the old brewery on public land as you would a flag pole or on the cliff of Mt Eliza?

The lights would bring so much nostalgia and be something refreshing from our past as we proceed farther away from what was.

Please click here to add your support, Cheers Duff.

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