Bibra Lake was first reported by the surveyor A.C. Gregory in May 1842. He visited the area and noted on the map the lake name of Wallubup. On the same map he also spelt it Walyabup, so it is very likely he had contact with the Nyungar people who lived in the area. When published in newspapers, the name was generally spelt Walliabup, which became the preferred spelling.
Walliabup and its northern companion, Coolbellup (now North Lake) were vitally important to the Aboriginal inhabitants, with archaeological evidence showing the land between the two lakes was in continuous use for at least 2000 years, and evidence of use up to 8000 years ago.
Countless Aboriginal people have recorded memories of living and practicing their culture by the lakes, and there were still semi-permanent camps there into the 1960s.
Early European settlement
On that 1842 map, there were already some European names: David
Joslyn, Richard White, and his son Jabez White on the eastern shore, with the western area still unclaimed. Gregory recorded that the western side was ‘hilly country heavily timbered with mahogany red and white gum’ (mahogany was an early name for the WA hardwood jarrah), and the east was ‘open banksia country’.
The von Bibra connection
In 1843 one of the von Bibra family surveyed the area, selecting a 320 acre parcel of land on the southern shore for himself, though is unlikely that he ever lived there. Most of the early land grants in the area were not worked as agricultural land, but kept as capital by well-off early settlers.
There is some confusion as to whether this was Benedict von Bibra or his younger brother Charles, as both were active in the colony around that time, and Charles was cited later by a descendant as having ‘lived at Bibra Lake, which was named after him’.
Regardless, by the 1850s the name ‘Bibra’s Lake’ was common for the area, and in 1967 the lake and the suburb were officially recorded as Bibra Lake instead of Walliabup.
Cattle runs at Bibra Lake
Bibra Lake became one of the most earliest places in Cockburn to be continuously settled by Europeans. The White family, though mostly associated with the Gosnells area, ran cattle in paddocks on the lake shores. Throughout the 1850s there were cattle farmers with land at Bibra Lake, including Thomas Hawkins, J. Green, and J. Davies.
The first person recorded as living full time at Bibra Lake was William Thorpe, who had a dairy farm by the lake which he named Moor Farm.
This was built sometime in the 1860s, and Thorpe and his large family remained at Bibra Lake until the early 1880s. On properties alongside him in the 1860s and early 1870s were the Tourner family and the Baker family, all of whom had cultivated acres of land and built stone houses, stables, stockyards and other farm buildings near the lake.
Timber, dairy, and market gardens
As the early surveyor Gregory noted, the land around Bibra Lake was heavy with ‘mahogany’ (jarrah), as well as banksia, so it is not surprising that by the 1870s a strong timber industry had grown up in the area. Many people recorded as living at Bibra Lake during the later decades of the 19th century were sawyers (woodcutters) and sawpits were a common feature of the landscape.
Dairies and market gardens were the most common use of land around the lakes, though piggeries were also common. By the 1890s, when the Jandakot Agricultural Area
was opened up and included non-selected land around Bibra Lake, there were already Chinese market gardeners
Major dairying families in the area around this time were the Tappers, the Mellers, and the Curries. The Baker twins, Joseph and Levi, whose family had been in dairying, would later go on to run one of the area's most successful piggeries and butchers.
The size of the population by the 1890s saw a Scots Presbyterian Church hall being built in 1892, attended by Fremantle’s Reverend Robert Hanlin, followed soon after by the Bibra Lake State School.
For a time there was such a strong community feeling at Bibra Lake that they discussed splitting off from the Jandakot Roads Board and forming their own Roads Board to better look after their interests. A townsite called Walliabup was planned on the eastern shore in 1899, but was never built. Small as they were, this plan would probably not have succeeded financially, and in the end they were content with having a strong Progress Association.
In the 1910s the Fremantle Roads Board set aside Bibra Lake as a ‘beauty spot’, with grand plans for carriage drives, bandstands, pavilions, a fernery, and boat and bathing houses on the lake. Though this ended up being overly ambitious and the major development by the Board was just one tearoom, the reservation remained a popular place for picnics and day-trips.
During the Second World War there were several searchlight stations around the Bibra Lake and Jandakot
area, and Bibra Lake would eventually become a site of major importance for home defence, with regimental headquarters based there along with a large contingent of Australian Women’s Army Service personnel and the Volunteer Defence Corps
Bibra Lake itself is still a popular leisure area for people from all over Perth, with picnic areas, playgrounds, bike and walking tracks. Its shores are also home to Perth’s only theme park, Adventure World, built in 1982, and from 1963 to 2004 they were home to the Bibra Lake Speedway.
The majority of the Bibra Lake suburb is zoned for light industries, and the first warehouses and factories were built there in the 1960s when market gardening businesses began to subdivide and move south. By the early
1980s there was a small suburban development to the east of the lake, and by the 1990s some of the bush to the north of Phoenix Road was also turned into housing, but the suburb remains mostly light industrial.
In the mid-2010s, the area was subject to a period of environmental protests as the long-term plan for the Roe Highway extension, commonly known as Roe 8, was slated for development and large swathes of bushland between Bibra and North Lakes began to be bulldozed. After a fierce battle the decision came down to a State election, with the Liberal Party being voted out as the Labor Party won a landslide victory, with one of their platforms being the immediate halt of Roe 8 development. Revegetation became a community priority, and the site became an important area for environmental scientists to study native environments.