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Changing history at the touch of a button

News story

The history of Western Australia is coming alive, leaping straight to our fingertips through a new interactive website which showcases historical panoramas of Perth and Fremantle.

View from the Perth Town Hall in 1906. Photo credit: State Library of Western Australia.
View from the Perth Town Hall in 1906. Photo credit: State Library of Western Australia.

The initial version of the panoramic tour was created by second year creative advertising and graphic design student, Marcia Schneider, under the supervision of Curtin HIVE Manager Dr Andrew Woods. The team spent last summer collaborating with the State Library of Western Australia to identify panoramic photographs that revealed how the cities used to look, and to compare them to present day images.

Expecting to find only a handful of panoramas, Dr Woods and Schneider were surprised to uncover more than 100, with the oldest taken from the South Perth foreshore looking across Perth water more than a century ago.

Choosing an initial sample set of 10 panorama locations, they geo-located and re-photographed each one, allowing audiences to see the vast changes undergone by the two cities.

In some instances, locations had to be accessed and photographed from a drone, as the original vantage points are no longer accessible today.

The historical panoramas on the HIVE Tiled display with a silhouette of the actual drone used on the project.

The historical panoramas on the HIVE Tiled display with a silhouette of the actual drone used on the project.

“The goal of the project has been to develop a visualisation which allows us to see and explore how Perth and Fremantle have changed over such a great period of time,” says Dr Woods.

“Panoramas provide a great way of photographically capturing an environment around you, which a single, narrow photograph cannot capture on its own,” he says. “They provide a very good visual tool to convey stories about the history of Perth and Fremantle.”

Curtin launched the HIVE (Hub for Immersive Visualisation and eResearch) in 2013, and it includes a large immersive Cylinder display that measures three-metres high, with an eight-metre diameter and 180-degree field-of-view. Fascinated by panoramas since he was young, Dr Woods had been looking for the opportunity to display panoramas on the Cylinder.

“At the launch of the HIVE we showed one historical panorama of Perth from the 1920s as an illustration of what was possible, but I have been thinking for some time that there must be more,” says Dr Woods.

The Vice Chancellor and Minister John Day viewing the historical panoramas on the HIVE Cylinder.

The Vice Chancellor and Minister John Day viewing the historical panoramas on the HIVE Cylinder.

As panoramic cameras only became available in the 20th century, Schneider used modern image editing processes to “stitch” together olden-day photographs to create several seamless panoramas from the late 1800s period.

The old technology has its benefits, too. As the photographs have been taken using glass plates, there is less distortion and higher resolution compared to film photography.

“The historical images have such incredible detail and users will be able to zoom in on specific landmarks and explore areas very closely,” says Dr Woods.

“For instance, one panorama taken from the Fremantle Town Hall shows horses pulling carts along High Street, a shop sign for Richards & Company Spot Cash Drapers, ‘Champions of Cheapness’, an advertisement for Singer sewing machines, and wooden tall-ships anchored in the harbour.

The panoramas transport us to another time, allowing us to see life as it was and ultimately create an intimate sense of connection to place.

“It’s a wonderful way to view and understand a cityscape in change, and helps people connect with the history of Perth and Fremantle,” Woods explains.

Anyone with a tablet, smartphone or computer is able to take a virtual tour of the two cities through the Historical Panoramas website. Just let your fingers do the walking …

Be involved

Dr Woods strongly encourages members of the public to dust off their photo albums to see if they have any panoramic photos that will help to expand the fascinating collection. Head to the Historical Panoramas website, wwww.HistoricalPanoramas.com.au, to find out how you can participate.

Further information

Historical Panoramas website: www.HistoricalPanoramas.com.au
Curtin HIVE: www.curtin.edu.au/hive
State Library of Western Australia: www.slwa.wa.gov.au

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