Horses, dentists and dealers

Percy's haul

Percy’s haul

From conversations we have, some people seem to think drugs weren’t a problem in Perth in the past. Boy, do we have news for them.

Prior to the 1920s, white citizens liked to see all Chinese residents as the only users in Perth. In this case opium was often the drug of choice. They were just as wrong as people who believe addiction is a relatively new phenomenon.

Dentists were suppliers and occasional users of cocaine, which was one of the new anaesthetics available to them. While stats for Perth are hard to come by, dozens of Melbourne dentists were struck off in the 1920s for being coke addicts.

The other source of cocaine was the racing industry which (illegally) used both it and heroin to give horses an advantage. In fact, the dose for one horse was enough to keep six people stoned for a night. It was said that the majority of Perth users got their drugs from trainers, not from drug gangs on the street.

In 1929, one unfortunate addict came to light after breaking into a Nedlands’ chemist and stealing bottles of cocaine, morphine, strychnine, heroin, and hydrogen peroxide. The thief, Percy Preston, was later found lying unconscious at Claremont with a hypodermic by his side.

While one user does not imply an epidemic of drug use, if a user has the money to pay for drugs from a dentist or trainer they won’t come to the attention of authorities. Percy was just unlucky enough to have run out of cash in a moment of need.

And Percy’s case also shows there was sufficient ‘dope’ around to become an addict. So drugs are not a new thing in Perth, and we are neither winning nor losing the ‘war’, simply managing it generation by generation.