Heritage is about the things from the past which
are valued enough today to save for tomorrow.

Old Swan Brewery Precinct

The former Swan Brewery is not only one of the finest groups of brewery buildings in Australia, it is also a site which caused controversy over whether European or Aboriginal heritage was more important at the location. It is a reminder both of our colonial heritage and the impact of that colonisation on the traditional owners of the land.

The first buildings at the Old Swan Brewery site were erected in 1838 as mills for timber-cutting and flour-grinding. The first steam-driven mills in Western Australia, they were later taken over as a convict depot after 1850. The buildings were subsequently used as a tannery, and at one time contained a restaurant used by travellers between Perth and Fremantle. It was this site that in 1877 was acquired by the Swan Brewery Company. The brewery buildings constructed from 1879 on the Swan River foreshore beneath Mount Eliza became one of Perth’s dominant landmarks.

The brewery ceased production at the Mounts Bay site in 1966 moved all brewing operations to the Emu Brewery site in Spring Street, and then, in 1978, to Canning Vale. In 1989, the West Australian government leased the site to building company Multiplex so it could be redeveloped as a commercial precinct. The Noongar community expressed the site’s ancient and sacred Aboriginal heritage, and established a protest camp on the site. Ultimately, their claims were turned down.

The renovated 1879 building now contains a restaurant and function centre which re-opened in 2001. The site also has a microbrewery which produces malt ales and lagers.

Detailed Description

The former Swan Brewery is not only one of the finest groups of brewery buildings in Australia, it is also a site which caused controversy over whether European or Aboriginal heritage was more important at the location. It is a reminder both of our colonial heritage and the impact of that colonisation on the traditional owners of the land.

The brewing of beer began with James Stokes’ Albion Brewery, which opened in 1836 at the foot of Spring Street and Mounts Bay Road. Stokes constructed a second brewery, the Stanley Brewery, together with an icehouse and malthouse at the foot of Mount Eliza in 1848, using compensation he had been paid after his attempts to start a distillery were thwarted.

In 1857 Frederick Sherwood established a new brewery, calling it the Swan Brewery after the black swans that he had seen on the river. He saw the Swan River as the ideal place to build a brewery, as the Swan provided fresh, clean water for making the beer, and he could hire convicts as a source of cheap labour. Following Sherwood’s death in 1874, the Swan Brewery was moved to the foot of Mount Eliza not far from the Stanley Brewery and yet another rival, the Lion Brewery.

The first buildings at the Old Swan Brewery site were erected in 1838 as mills for timber-cutting and flour-grinding. The first steam-driven mills in Western Australia, they were later taken over as a convict depot after 1850. The buildings were subsequently used as a tannery, and at one time contained a restaurant used by travellers between Perth and Fremantle. It was this site that in 1877 was acquired by the Swan Brewery Company. The brewery buildings constructed from 1879 on the Swan River foreshore beneath Mount Eliza became one of Perth’s dominant landmarks.

In 1888 the Swan Brewery took over the neighbouring Lion Brewery. In 1927 Swan acquired control of Fremantle’s Castlemaine Brewery and the following year purchased the Emu Brewery, as the Albion Brewery was now called. In 1945, Swan bought the last remaining Western Australian rival, the Kalgoorlie Brewing Company.

The brewery ceased production at the Mounts Bay site in 1966 moved all brewing operations to the Emu Brewery site in Spring Street, and then, in 1978, to Canning Vale. In 1981 Alan Bond purchased the Swan Brewery, and eventually controlled around half of Australia’s beer market, with almost all the market in Western Australia. New owners Lion Nathan closed the Canning Vale operations of the Swan Brewery in 2013 and moved production of the Swan and Emu brands to South Australia.

In 1989, the West Australian government leased the site to building company Multiplex so it could be redeveloped as a commercial precinct. The Noongar community expressed the site’s ancient and sacred Aboriginal heritage, and established a protest camp on the site, while challenging the issue in court and seeking to have the land reclassified as a public reserve. However, a preservation group argued the European heritage value of the site and buildings. Ultimately, the Aboriginal claims were turned down, and although the protest was non-violent, there were still occasional conflicts with the police who were there to allow development work to proceed.

The renovated 1879 building now contains a restaurant and function centre which re-opened in 2001. The site also has a microbrewery which produces malt ales and lagers.

Location