The university was established in 1911 following the tabling of proposals by a royal commission in September 1910. The original campus, which received its first students in March 1913, was located on Irwin Street in the centre of Perth, and consisted of several buildings situated between Hay Street and St Georges Terrace. Irwin Street was also known as "Tin Pan Alley" as many buildings featured corrugated iron roofs. These buildings served as the university campus until 1932, when the campus relocated to its present-day site in Crawley.
The founding chancellor, Sir John Winthrop Hackett, died in 1916, and bequeathed property which, after being carefully managed for ten years, yielded £425,000 to the university, a far larger sum than expected. This allowed the construction of the main buildings. Many buildings and landmarks within the university bear his name, including Winthrop Hall and Hackett Hall. In addition, his bequest funded many scholarships, because he did not wish eager students to be deterred from studying because they could not afford to do so.