Filling Column Inches

John Keats tragically died of tuberculosis when he was just 25 years old. His fame centres around a small group of poems, the Odes, particularly the well-known Ode to a Nightingale (1819). Another is On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer (1816), which is, as the title suggests, about how enthusiastic Keats was when first reading George Chapman’s translation of, well, Homer. But the poem I have in mind right now is Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819) which, if you hadn’t guessed yet, is another example of how much Keats liked Ancient Greece. They all did in those days, but it’s Keats’ thoughts on the topic which have outlived most of the others.

Even if you’re unfamiliar with the opening line of the urn poem – “Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness” – you’ll probably have encountered the famous, if not easily understood, closing lines containing the quip “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”. What Keats meant by this has been debated for two centuries, and many early reviewers decided the ending ruined an otherwise good poem. Since I have nothing original to contribute to the discussion, I’ll just note Keats established that any subject was a fit one for a poem, something not widely accepted before him. So, with the license offered by one Romantic poet, I’ll take for my subject a small whale-oil gas plant which lit a Presbyterian church in Cape Town. Don’t worry, I’m not going to inflict my poetry on you (no one deserves that), so the following meditations will be in good old-fashioned prose.

British landscape painter Thomas William Bowler was one of the top artists working in South Africa during the 19th century. After a brief stint as assistant astronomer in the Cape of Good Hope, Bowler settled in Cape Town, where he established a reputation as a talented artist and drawing teacher. Thanks to him, we have images of some 35 years of the Cape’s history, including a wonderful picture (c.1864) of the Presbyterian church in St Andrew’s Square. The church, called St Andrew’s of course, is in the fashionable Greek Revival style (there’s your callback to Keats) and was designed in 1827 by Henry Willey Reveley. Bowler and Reveley never met, since the former arrived in Cape Town in 1838, while Reveley had left in 1829 to accompany Captain James Stirling to the brand-new Swan River Colony in Western Australia. I’ll have much more to say about St Andrew’s in a moment, but for now I want to note the streetlamp, with inevitable dog next to it, in Bowler’s painting. A streetlamp, like the church itself, lit with whale extract from the plant installed at the church in 1842.

America dominated the whaling industry. ‘Yankee Whalers’ operated in the Indian Ocean from 1789 and were visiting Albany on Western Australia’s south coast in the 18th century. Seals were also their target here, and a stone kiln known as Sealers’ Oven (c.1800) near Cheyne Beach Whaling Station is the earliest remaining evidence of non-Aboriginal activity in the southwest of the State. Americans continued to hunt whales off the coast of WA, despite occasional attempts to keep them away, and the industry as a whole continued here to surprisingly recently in 1978. The influence of Yankee Whalers on Western Australia was celebrated in the most famous novel about a giant whale to have been written, Moby Dick (1851). In a chapter titled ‘The Advocate’, Herman Melville writes:

That great America on the other side of the sphere, Australia, was given to the enlightened world by whaleman. After its first blunder-born discovery by a Dutchman, all other ships, long shunned those shores as pestiferously barbarous; but the whale-ship touched there. The whale-ship is the true mother of that now mighty colony. Moreover, in the infancy of the first Australian settlement, the emigrants were several times saved from starvation by the benevolent biscuit of the whale-ship luckily dropping an anchor in their waters.

I’m going to give Melville a pass on the ‘barbarous’ gibe, since Moby Dick is surprisingly woke for its era. Many different cultures are treated with respect and the novel contains one of the most famous homoerotic scenes in world literature in the chapter ‘A Squeeze of the Hand’:

Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,- Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

Yes, Melville knew exactly what he was doing and this is not just a humorous coincidence after meanings changed later. And this seems like a good moment, since you the reader and I are becoming such good friends, to confess I’ve never actually finished the novel. God alone knows how many times I’ve started it, occasionally getting towards the end. But never quite the end. I suppose, after this admission, I’ll have to start over. Just one of the consequences of our new friendship, so let us squeeze ourselves into each other as we set out on that voyage of discovery together.

But enough of Moby Dick. It’s time to look at some late poetry by Herman Melville, since that’s what we’ve really got together for. In 1891, the last year of his life, he published Timoleon, Etc which has a couple of very short poems we really need to read together. Greek Masonry seems like a good place to start:

Joints were none that mortar sealed:

Together, scarce with line revealed,

The blocks in symmetry congealed.

And that’s it, in its entirety. And Greek Architecture isn’t exactly a Moby Dick length epic either:

Not magnitude, not lavishness,

But Form—the Site;

Not innovating wilfulness,

But reverence for the Archetype.

You don’t need a PhD in Lit Crit to get the idea Melville quite likes Ancient Greek architecture. In fact, more than 70 years after Keats praised an urn (callback) and more than 60 years since Reveley turned a pagan temple into a South African church (callback), Greece remained the high point of all art and architecture ever. The tops, the best, the bee’s knees, the cat’s meow. And there’s another poem in Timoleon, Etc which attracts our attention here, Shelley’s Vision. The person in question is, of course, the poet with the weird middle name, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who happened to be mates with Keats. How does he figure in the story I’m telling here?

Shelley’s last published work is a lengthy verse drama, Hellas (1822). He wrote it in Pisa, and the profits from sales were intended to fund the Greek independence campaign in their struggle against the Ottoman Empire. Both Shelley and his sex god mate, Lord Byron, were active in raising money for and even joining the War of Independence. Their contribution was so welcomed, several Greek streets and even suburbs are named after them, and statues of the pair are everywhere there. Love of all things Ancient Greek wasn’t just restricted to admiration of art and architecture, but also highly political as well.

Hellas remained influential for a long time. In a remote corner of the former British Empire, Perth, Western Australia, it was quoted in 1944 by D. G. Joannides, president of the Greek Ex-Servicemen’s Association: “We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their roots in Greece. But for Greece, Rome the conqueror would have spread no illumination with her arms and we might still have been savages and idolators.” Joannides’ point was straightforward, Shelley showed the British and the Greeks had a long mutual history and, after the Nazis had been defeated, the relationship could continue as it had throughout history.

And now a twist you may not have seen coming: Shelley and Henry Willey Reveley were besties. The Greek independence campaigner and the Greek Revival architect had more in common than just a love of the classical arts. While St Andrew’s is undoubtedly Reveley’s masterpiece, he continued to design after arriving in the Swan River Colony. In fact, Perth’s oldest surviving building, the Old Courthouse, with its Greek Revival columns at the front, is one of his. But before I get ahead of myself, I need to fulfil an earlier promise and return to Cape Town.

Celebrating the Jubilee

Image courtesy SLWA (c.1910)

Right now, we need an environment which is good for the human spirit. Spaces which make us connect with each other, not drive us further apart. Great architecture will not vaccinate a nation or cure racism, but it creates places where we can work together to solve our problems. Buildings can unite or divide, and we need more of the former.

With that somewhat purple prose preface, I want to look at a work of genius: George Temple-Poole’s Jubilee Building (1899). This is a personal reflection on what it means to me, although hopefully you’ll agree. A few features I describe have a functional reason for being there, and some are present simply because of tradition. But this is not a story of origins or historical precedent, this is an account of what the building means right now. To me.

Like a movie or novel, buildings have a beginning, a middle and an end. The job of the architect is to provide a narrative structure which unites these three elements and leaves the viewer both satisfied and uplifted. Poole succeeds on every level. With that in mind, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. How does the Jubilee Building connect itself to the ground?

The lowest level is of stone, rusticated stone to be precises. The rough exterior of the blocks leads to reading them as natural, a product of nature not of pure architecture. In one sense this is a lie, every block has been quarried and shaped for its purpose. But the psychological effect is to see the building as emerging naturally from the ground, not forcibly placed upon it. An essay for grad school architectural history would use words like ‘chthonic’, but I don’t need to be pretentious here. So, I’ll just say the Jubilee Building is rooted like a tree. Trees grow from the soil they do not simply sit on it.

Now Poole has set himself a problem to solve: he has to transition from the natural to the architectural, and do so in a way which makes the jump seamless. Like a movie director, harsh cuts can work but only if you mean to disorientate the viewer. The Jubilee Building’s solution is so perfect and appears so obvious, it’s easy to miss the small details required to make this work. What could be a harsh line between one type of stone and another is mediated by the pediment of each column being rusticated between smooth sheets of stone. Nature is giving way to art but there is an intermediate step when they are in perfect harmony. Like a ruined monastery being reclaimed by ivy, art and nature are both present on this level, not in competition but in symbiosis.

As if this wasn’t enough of a genius move, at the base of each pediment are a matching pair of tiny leaves. This is our first hint of the organic and, like the first leaves of spring, promises further growth as we continue our voyage together towards the climax of the story. If you can’t tell already, it is things like this attention detail which make me fall in love with great buildings.

After the organic detail and the rusticated pediment, the columns themselves are smooth, art not nature, before we reach the capitals. The biggest problem any architect must resolve is how to transition from the vertical to the horizontal. Done abruptly, it can seem harsh and even oppressive. The downwards force of the lintel is always met by the upwards thrust of the post, which if not handled correctly will look like competition not cooperation. And this influences the viewer. Today we need to work together not against each other, so require spaces which reflect this desire.

The Jubilee Building doesn’t use the post and lintel system, but the Romanesque series of springing arches. Even so, there has to be a point of mediation between the arch and the column and here it is, no surprise, achieved in a perfect way. The capitals of the columns, which are roughly of the Corinthian order, are a delight to examine. The solitary leaf at the base has become a riot of intertwining organic forms at the top. Not only is this a moment for the eye to pause and simply admire beauty, and it suggests the arches are resting on a soft bed, not a harsh stone column. More like sleeping on grass than curled up on a concrete floor. This is the architecture of kindness.

I could go on forever about this façade, but hopefully the above has convinced you this is a building made for human beings. Each transition, from ground to base to pediment to capital to arch has been undertaken to engage you, to make them seamless and natural. And the natural is emphasised by the organic forms because nature calms us and makes us feel safe. If you are unpersuaded by all the scientific studies on this, further proof is offered by every culture on Earth using natural forms in their architecture.

Poole makes the place more welcoming to the human being by setting back the next storey well behind the James Street façade. Instead of towering over us like an authoritarian figure, the building is deliberately on a human scale. We feel welcomed because the Jubilee Building was designed for us, with our regular-sized bodies. Not only can our gaze take in the whole frontage, it seems as if once inside it will have spaces which make us feel comfortable.

But grandeur is not absent from the place, since the main entrance projects high above the surrounding wings. I’ll get there, but first a brief diversion about the staircase. The entry is elevated and to get there you have to climb some stairs, suggesting the contents of the museum and art gallery will elevate your soul, just as you are physically ascending to get there. And note how the stairs widen at the base, calling people from all directions to come to the building and, on leaving, offering a choice of directions to go with your new-found enlightenment. Just wow.

Of course, despite the powerful symbolism of the stairs, they also represent an obstacle to people with mobility issues. Hopefully, everyone agrees universal access is a human right, but it is still possible to read these steps as a democratic call to partake in the best of our collective knowledge and culture while recognising other solutions are required today. (As they were then, but that’s a separate issue.) And I know Poole’s solution is attractive because when taking the photos for this post, a number of people climbed these stairs and were disappointed by the sealed doors at the top. This is such a mesmerising entrance, it overrides any signage pointing you to the new one.

Back to the entrance as a whole. It looks like a church, a secular temple to knowledge. And this is hardly unintentional, many places like this did, most famously the Natural History Museum in London. Even so, the imposing scale needs to be humanised and Poole achieves this in spectacular fashion. The original plans for the building show the frieze above the door was to have been decorated with organic forms but it was finally left blank. This is unfortunate, since it would have beautifully tied this façade with the rest of the building. Perhaps someone could organise this and make the entrance even more perfect. Perhaps.

This frieze breaks up the double-storey façade and introduces a visual pause before the ‘church’ windows above. These, while firmly continuing the vertical trajectory of our gaze and mediated by mini towers and a pointed gable. All of this points upwards towards the sky and instead of an abrupt termination, suggests the building meets the air with grace rather than violence. The onion domes on the towers gradually transition from full width to a point. The potential for knowledge and culture is sky high. Literally.

And the move from building to space above is the culmination of our tale. The climax of a story which, like many movies, suggests a sequel to follow, but it’s a sequel to be written from your experience within the building. Imagine what would happen if another building was oppressively built over this space. It would ruin the story. Hopefully, no one will ever contemplate such a thing. The Jubilee Building is a place we need today, a profoundly human building, offering inspiration and a call to all to learn about other places, other cultures, other creatures. It inspires us. So if all this hasn’t convinced you Poole did a good thing here, I don’t know what will.

Thinking about walking

Tram on Beaufort Street near Dundas Road

I am currently writing a guided walk which takes you on a journey through the history of Inglewood. But what does it mean for a suburb to have a history? Too often, local heritage tours are little more than a catalogue of dates and early occupants: such and such a building was erected in 1935 and was originally a deli. If history is understood to be the exploration of causes of events, rather than just a description of the events, then this kind of tour is not historical. It may be enjoyable, nostalgic, or even result in an increased appreciation of local streetscapes, but it is quite different to a walk grounded in history as a discipline. This is not to say my style of tour is better, it just the type of guided walk I prefer to do.

So, what historical causes lie behind a suburb? At heart there is only one answer: money. Houses cost money to make and sell for more money than they cost to erect. Roads may be made by local authorities, but they must pay the workers. Shops are places where cash is traded for goods needed, or just desired, by residents. Tracking the flow of capital, then, is one way of peeking behind the curtain to discover the causes of a suburb. In Perth histories this often takes the form of explaining 1890s architecture, especially in the CBD, as the consequence of the wealth generated by the gold boom.

This is a start, but only a start and other explanations must be added. Gold does not automatically create ionic columns on a façade, so the origin and meaning of the Federation-era classical revival requires input from architectural history. Technological advances also play a role, most importantly the development of reinforced concrete. The other place for technology is transport. A suburb is only desirable if the residents can get to and from places of employment. Since these were concentrated in the CBD for much of Perth’s history, the development of places like Inglewood requires mass transportation, such as trams. And trams need rails to be laid and electricity to be supplied, before houses become useful for commuters, which takes us back to money.

The historian has an obligation not only to explain causes but to be engaging. Table after table showing the correlation between land prices, average income and commuting times may be explanatory but they are very boring. They may be useful for research, but the reader often prefers history as narrative. Stories rather than numbers. To illustrate this, I will look at an unlikely source for a theory of history involving Inglewood: developers.

In October 1926 Peet & Co advertised to country visitors coming to Perth to attend the Royal Show. They were asked to note the improvements in the road network, tram and bus infrastructure, even that there were more taxis on the streets.[1] Of course, this was advertising, not government boasting, so there was a point to all this. Increased accessibility meant more desirable suburban houses, so the price of land would go up. The target audience was not those who wanted a new house to live in, but people looking to invest. Once you could not give land away in Inglewood and Victoria Park, claimed Peet & Co, now only the rich could afford to buy there. This is deceptive advertising for two reasons: Inglewood was not as desirable in 1926 as claimed here, and Peet & Co had little to do with that suburb anyway, which was predominantly developed by different capitalists, Gold Estate Ltd.

Overall, however, Peet & Co were right about the link between transport and land prices. It is only when the advertisement suddenly lurches into historiography we might be taken aback. “Real estate history, like all other history, repeats itself”. Now these developers are not the first capitalists to advertise guaranteed returns on your investment. Because history. It is probably superfluous to note worldwide events just three years later showed most people such claims were lies as the Depression hit Western Australia like everywhere else. But Peet & Co did not need to believe their advert, the prospective buyer did: the investors, retailers and homeowners who make suburbs what they are. For now, I just want to notice the explicit claim made by these capitalists linking the guaranteed growth of your investment to the guaranteed growth of a suburb to the guaranteed continuous expansion of the (often publicly funded) transport infrastructure. Suburbs are not born, they are created.

The necessity of transport for developers is made clear when an extension of the tram service up Beaufort Street was proposed in the middle of World War I. The line had ended at Walcott Street since 1899 and there was a desperate need for better service north of this. Clearly, the war had impacted house sales, and lack of easy connections to town was not helping. Consequently, the main developers of Mount Lawley and Inglewood, Gold Estates Ltd, offered to subsidise the new line by £800 if the extension was to Second Avenue or £1,000 if the extension was to Fourth Avenue. The government took the former option, asserting that, in 1916, the war effort meant a shortage of iron rails.

This economic analysis, which involved few numbers, offers an explanation for patterns of development but fails to offer insights into the precise nature of the built form resulting or the patterns of class structure within a neighbourhood. For these we need input from architectural and technological history and, perhaps surprisingly, the history of fashion. Two examples should suffice for now: a row of shops and a California Bungalow.

No industry is as responsive to the opportunities offered by new technologies as retail. The two key technologies for understanding suburban shops are reinforced concrete and the ever-lowering cost of large sheets of glass. Inglewood has no fancy large department stores or, to be blunt, any retail outlets with noteworthy architectural features. By contrast, Subiaco retains a few double-storey buildings showing appealing ornamentation from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But lack of ornament should not discourage the architectural historian from explaining a building with the same methodology they would use on a grand hotel.

Inglewood’s most common older retail takes the form of small blocks, usually in fours, of single-storey shops with a pediment and cantilevered verandah. Because such premises were constructed by a developer without knowing who would occupy them, it is pointless to seek evidence for particular trades. Each shop is intentionally generic to attract the widest variety of potential occupants. Nor is it often worth looking at the aesthetic balance of the frontages, because if architects were involved, the primary motivation was to produce useable and attractive shops at the minimum cost, not to conform to classic notions of ratios.

That said, while form definitely does follow function, function should not be restricted to a space to stock goods while they await a paying customer. Even the suburban retailer needs to attract shoppers and display their ware both internally and to the outside world. Which is where the ever-increasing size of single panes of glass became important in the world of commerce. And even the pediment required some decorative elements, at least in the 1920s and ’30s, to advertise the shopping block as having some ‘class’. As such, the façades and pediments on Beaufort Street can be usefully analysed as a demonstration of at least, if not often exceeding, the minimum standards of aesthetics the average consumer demanded of a retail outlet. Such tastes changed over time, so differences between rows of shops can also be explored.

And the question of taste links us to the California Bungalow, the most common style of architecture seen on the ‘avenues’ of Inglewood. Heather Burke, a much better architectural historian than I will ever be, argues that architectural styles are signifiers of class, so the California Bungalow is advertising something about how the occupants see themselves. Somewhat hesitantly, given Burke’s standing, I wish to both demur from this view and to complicate it. She tacitly assumes the owners of houses select their appearance and therefore, either consciously or unconsciously, agree with the ideology represented by the style. But Inglewood streets were constructed and retailed by developers, who therefore chose this style and then needed to seek an appropriate market. Or to create the appropriate market.

Creating a market is a way of defining taste in the target audience, to say what is fashionable or, in the word most used in the 1920s and ’30s, modern. In fact, the term California Bungalow was rarely applied to Inglewood homes, they were simply described as modern. To see this in action, I will look at a home which is still around on the corner of Fifth Avenue and John Street. (Yes, this is technically Mount Lawley, but the example still works for Inglewood homes.) Erected in 1926, the advertorial uses the word ‘modern’ in both the headline and body text: it is a ‘modern home’ embodying ‘modern design’.[2] It is also ‘charming’ and ‘pretty’, but it is modernity which is the key selling point with cement verandahs, with dwarf walls and roughcast pillars, and a beamed ceiling. In passing, it should be noted there was also a shelf for your ornaments, although mentioning this does seem excessive.

Of course, it is possible to argue this home reflects the status and personality of the owner who commissioned it, but the language of the advertorial is not aimed at Mr W. C. Brear but at the reader who is supposed to desire the same style for themselves. For large areas of Inglewood, and Mount Lawley, it is possible to see house after house constructed in an almost identical fashion. These were not built to reflect the status and personality of an individual, but to be bought by people who had read the advertising and come to identify themselves as a prospective owner of such a place. For Inglewood, this was predominantly people from the lower middle class.

When combined, movement of capital, technological opportunities, and advertising what is fashionable explain the patterns of development and the built form constructed there. A tour of Inglewood’s history must cover all these aspects. Which leads to the central problem for the writer of such a walk, in this case me. No one wants a twenty-minute lecture in front of each building, just a few sentences to encapsulate the meaning and importance of the place within the context of the tour and the history of the suburb. I believe this is possible but requires experimentation and feedback from trial audiences to see what works and what does not. Trust me, I am doing my best.

[1] Sunday Times 3 October 1926: 36

[2] Sunday Times 14 March 1926: 10

Looking for Henry


Henry Ebenezer Clay died just as Perth was getting started as a real city, gold having been discovered to the east a few years earlier. At 4pm on Monday 28 December 1896, his body left his home, Esperance Cottage on Hutt Street, Perth, Western Australia, for the last time. Enclosed in an attractive coffin of polished English oak, with brass mountings and a name plate, he was carried in a hearse to its last resting place in the Church of England section of East Perth Cemetery. The Anglican bishop, Charles Riley, conducted the service himself, and mourners included employees from the Post and Telegraph Department. The closeness at his funeral of Church and State was no coincidence. Henry Clay was both civil servant and son of a preacher man. And Western Australia’s leading poet.

Seeking out graves as a hobby is something left over from the medieval obsession with pilgrimages. But instead of looking for holy men and women to look down from heaven and recommend us to the Spirit in the Sky, we now desire posthumous blessings from our new saints: pop stars, artists and, for me at least above all those, poets. I have stood next to the body of William Wordsworth while a light snow started falling and read lines from his works. Same for the tomb of another Lake Poet, Robert Southey, except there was no snow on this occasion because it was April. Less well-known than Wordsworth and Coleridge, Southey is probably mostly famous for writing Goldilocks and the Three Bears for his children. I have even walked with a tent and heavy backpack across the ancient Quantock Hills in England’s west country, just to be near to the spot where The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was written. All these things were exactly as pretentious as they sound, but–what the hell?–I enjoyed doing them anyway.

So now I was at the gates of East Perth Cemetery to seek the final resting place of yet another poet, Henry Ebenezer Clay. To describe the cemetery as a tourist attraction would be to push the meaning of both tourist and attraction beyond breaking point. It had been the original burial place for the fledgling Swan River Colony, which would one day grow up to be Perth. After a larger metropolitan cemetery opened elsewhere in 1899, the East Perth site was almost instantly abandoned. Uncared for, bones started appearing on the surface for children and dogs to play with. People complained, of course, but nothing was done. Today, almost all the graves are unmarked and unknown, while the few remaining ones are of people you would only know if local history was your life-long obsession. A grocer who owned more than a couple of stores, a newspaper editor who wrote nothing of interest, and a politician who must have given a speech with relevance at some point, presumably.

As you enter through the gates and head towards a small chapel, there is undeniably an atmosphere to the place, but pinning down that feeling is difficult. The cemetery is not exotically located on a hilltop, or so far out of town it requires a pilgrimage and a car park to access it. In fact, East Perth Cemetery is conveniently sited near Perth’s world-famous cricket ground, the WACA, as well as new suburbs which sprang up on artificial inlets cut into former industrial estates. Conveniently located, sure, but not convenient to access, being open only for two hours on Sunday afternoons. Yet even this limited availability overestimates the demand from the public. In short, hardly anyone ever goes to commune with the dead here.

In part this is because this cemetery is, for the most part, boring. The only real reason to show up would be to visit a relative or, like me, someone for whom you were making a pilgrimage. Perhaps local schoolchildren are shuffled through with ten questions to answer on a clipboard. Maybe the odd tourist discovers the place on TripAdvisor and pays ten dollars to stare at carved names that mean nothing to them. But I suspect the main reason locals stay away is because of Perth’s ambiguous attitude to the past. Heritage is all very well if it serves some practical (read moneymaking) purpose, but it can bugger off if it gets in the way of anything. Literally anything. It’s recognized that the past is a marketable commodity, but beyond that it has no value to the majority of Western Australians. Footy, yes; beaches, yes; barbeques, of course; museums, history books, old buildings, sure, but don’t ask the taxpayer for a subsidy or expect them to be around in a few years. Unless they’re making money.

East Perth Cemetery, despite being staffed by unpaid labour, is not making money on the day I visit. The four volunteers, as is typical for such a place, are older to the point of being old. They seem genuinely surprised when I enquire about a name even less famous than the not-particularly-famous people included in the thin guidebook. After consulting an online database and a large map on an easel identifying the location of the few remaining memorials, one volunteer offers to walk me to the grave of Henry Ebenezer Clay. He’s not at all curious as to why I want to locate this memorial, instead offering stories of his ancestors who bred horses in Western Australia to sell to Mauritius. Did I know why Mauritius? I did not. The sale price of each horse was greater there than selling them to the British Army in India. So now I knew.

Like every headstone, Henry’s had once been upright. But decades of neglect, or perhaps vandalism, had broken it off at the base, so now it lay on the ground cracked in multiple places. Grass, browned by the sun, was growing through the cracks, forcing them wider and shortening the life of this memorial just a little more. The original lettering had been formed in lead, but many characters had fallen off, or were lying on the stone out of place, so it resembled a game of Scrabble about to be played by teenage Goths. Around the horizontal headstone was a simple iron fence. Whether to stop further damage to the grave or prevent the dead from escaping and complaining about the neglected cemetery was not stated in the guidebook.

When he died in 1896, the newspapers described Henry as having a “deservedly high reputation in this colony for his literary talents, which were of no mean order.” Yet his headstone only alludes to this, for below his name spelt out in full are three letters: ‘H. E. C.’ And it was under this nom de plume that Henry had published his few books and many poems in the West Australian newspaper, as was the normal way of sharing the written word in the 19th century. The headstone bears Henry’s literary signature but otherwise gives no indication as to why. There are two lines underneath, now difficult to read thanks to the scattered lettering, but which once said:

Who self forsaketh angels are his friends
Who loveth all hath found the Heart of God

If these lines are by HEC, I haven’t found them yet, and they don’t appear to be the product of anyone with poetic talent. Perhaps a relative composed them, or the monumental mason felt inspired to add his own tribute to Henry’s memorial, perhaps modelled on an 1891 couplet actually by HEC:

Himself forsaking — angels close him round
Who, loving all, the Heart of God hath found

One thing that is certain, however, is that Henry is not alone in his grave. His nephew, Arthur Reginald Brooking, predeceased him by four years, at the age of just 16. The 1890s saw several epidemics of ‘fever’, and one of these might have been Arthur’s cause of death. The headmaster at Perth Boys School said he had been one of their most brilliant students, and he had excelled in geology and history. Henry never married, and all his immediate family died before him. His executor was his niece, Laura Brooking, so she must have organised for his body to be placed in the same grave as her younger brother.

Yet the headstone itself reveals nothing poignant. Did Laura grieve for her uncle? Did the service remind her of the death of her brother and open old wounds? Or, like the unpoetic two lines of ‘verse’ on the stone, was the whole affair ordered and dignified without ever reaching the level of emotions? As these thoughts ran through my mind, I suddenly realised this was stereotyping colonial society: so used to death, they scarcely felt it. But I knew they hurt when people died. I needed no more evidence than the man in front of me, and I could turn to Henry’s poetry where he had written so touchingly on the loss of each member of his family to see what death meant to him. To understand HEC, I needed to get rid of the historic clichés.

Photographing Henry’s headstone was difficult. The shadows were all wrong and I had forgotten my camera, instead relying on an old model mobile phone. I would need to return to get a better shot. And this made me pause. Didn’t I decry the cemetery as boring, filled with pointless people who had led pointless lives? What made me so special that my returning was understandable, and every other visitor, few as they are, was being fooled by this tedious ‘history’? Could I be wrong?

My volunteer guide didn’t return me to the front of the chapel, since he had a couple of other graves he wanted to show me. They were relatives of his, people involved in horse breeding, horse racing, and related industries. As he spun well-rehearsed stories, I was reminded of Wordsworth’s child who refused to admit the deaths of her brother and sister meant they were no longer members of the family:

Then did the little Maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”

For my guide, these were not names on tombs, but people he could, and did, proudly point to on an enormous hand-written family tree. They were still people he could relate to, not simply dead relatives. For him, East Perth Cemetery was a place to talk about his family and their achievements. Without the graves he would just be an older man telling tales, but with the cemetery there in front of us, he was doing history, and loving every minute of it. Just as I needed HEC’s headstone to form a physical connection with the past, or it was all just words on a page, not real people who lived, loved and hurt when their family died.

I’d like to say I walked out the cemetery a wiser man, but you know that wouldn’t be true, at least not in any dramatic way. People don’t change as a result of one encounter in a graveyard. And in many ways my criticisms of the place still stand: it’s not very exciting. For most people. Unless you have or make a connection to one particular grave. Which is what I’m doing here, with Henry Ebenezer Clay: trying to get you, the reader, to want to find out more about his life, to read his poetry, to make a connection. Then maybe you will visit his grave and East Perth Cemetery will be very slightly less boring than it was.

The Nazi plan to destroy Bayswater Subway


Once, crossing the railway at Bayswater was difficult, with vehicles forced to travel some distance away, and school children having to dash across the track in a dangerous manner. So the local council decided the best course of action was to go underneath it.

The first plan for a subway at Bayswater was as early as 1903 when the council asked for one to link King William Street to Coode Street. Nothing happened as a result, so they asked again in 1908. By now the problems associated with draining such a subway had been raised, and the council offered its engineer to sort these out.

Despite having promised a subway, the Government now claimed it was short of money but said they would do what they could. Some people, though, questioned if it could be done at all. After all, to get the road low enough it would have to be underneath the water table, and so drainage was impossible, and it would become a small lake with any amount of rain.

These misgivings were ignored though, and on 14 February 1910 the Chairman of the Board, Mr I. C. Granville, drove his horse and sulky through a ribbon held up by two young women and on into the new Bayswater Subway. It doesn’t seem to have flooded, at least not to any noticeable extent. However, the open drains from the subway flowing down King William Street did keep making that road subside.

Terrifyingly, in 1942 a group of Perth’s Nazi sympathisers planned to blow up Bayswater Subway to paralyse both rail and road networks. The plotters included a Post Office employee, an insurance agent, and a dairy farmer. While their intention was to establish a National Socialist government in Australia, they were infiltrated by the police and arrested before any of their schemes came to fruition.

Today, of course, the subway is best known for being repeatedly struck by trucks. We don’t mean to suggest the drivers are just trying to finish off what the Nazis couldn’t, but so far they have failed to destroy a 108-year-old underpass and bridge. And let’s hope it stays that way.

Pennies from heaven?

hospital sign

With the opening of the new children’s hospital there has been interest in the origins of the first one, Princess Margaret. One popular retelling of the tale is:

In 1897, a young girl entered Charles Moore’s department store. She was drawn to an unusual moneybox into which she put three pennies. When Mr Moore asked her what she would like in return for her money, she asked to give it to the children’s hospital. Moore said there was no such hospital and the girl replied, “Then why not have one?” Moore responded, “We certainly will, and we will start it with your pennies.”

When Charles Moore told this story in 1909 at the opening of the hospital there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the room. And since Moore himself related the tale, it must be true. Mustn’t it? Well, no, so let Dodgy Perth debunk it. But first, why is the moneybox always described as ‘unusual’?

The following section contains racially charged language and an image some may find offensive.

Moore said the moneybox was a “negro” one, where a coin placed into the hand would be thrown into the box. These were sometimes called ‘jolly negro’ moneyboxes or, worse, ‘greedy n****r’ boxes and were popular around the turn of the 20th century. Casual racism like this was the norm in the Perth of a century ago, so we shouldn’t read too much into Moore’s story, or the fact that this box apparently stood on the hospital’s front counter for years. However, today it is obviously unacceptable, which explains why modern accounts of Moore’s tale like to leave out some of the details.


So, there was a moneybox and Moore said it was part of the hospital’s origin. So it must be true, right? Not so fast. Let’s introduce two golden rules of history which will never lead you astray. First, if a story sounds too good to be true, it is almost certainly too good to be true. Always suspect a good story. Secondly, the older the account the more reliable it usually is. Let’s see what story Moore told back in 1897 when he started to raise funds for the children’s hospital.

Then he said he’d been in a rival’s shop, Bickford & Lucas, and noticed they had a penny-slot musical box, an early form of jukebox, probably something to keep the kids entertained while the parents shopped. He thought he should get one for his store and give the proceeds to charity. It was then he decided Perth needed a children’s hospital and the pennies collected in the machine should go towards that.

music box

Quite a different story. No little girl with her three little pennies, a simple question and Moore’s sudden realisation the young lady was right. Just an imaginative idea of starting a new fund for charitable purposes, and one he carried out tirelessly from 1897 until the hospital opened some years later.

Why did he invent a new story? Perhaps it was simply modesty about his own role, perhaps he just thought it was better tale. Either way, we can’t take anything away from Moore as a philanthropist and Perth owed him a great deal. But just because he was a good citizen, it doesn’t mean we have to believe everything he said.

Beer and Buildings


What could be better on a cold winter Saturday afternoon than drinks with friends in a few different venues? Especially if you can introduce them to Perth’s heritage and make yourself look clever at the same time. Welcome to the Dodgy Perth ‘Beer and Buildings’ self-guided tour. At a mere 2km you will pack in a number of drinking establishments en route. We recommend pacing yourself carefully.

Drink One: The George, 216 St George’s Terrace

Meet around 2pm. You can start earlier, but a few later venues don’t open until 3pm on a weekend. When you’ve finished your first drink of the tour, step outside and look at the buildings opposite. None of them are heritage buildings, but a lot have classical references in their pillars. You’re going to see a lot of pillars today, so just soak in the fact that architects have never stopped using them.

Walk towards the CBD, passing The Cloisters (1858) on your left. Designed by Richard Roach Jewell, it was originally a secondary school. Keep going until you are opposite Newspaper House.

Drink Two: Newspaper House, 125 St George’s Terrace

newspaper house

Discover more about this 1933 building by clicking here. Then go behind the place and take a couple of flights of stairs up to Bob’s Bar. This rooftop venue (it has a retracting roof if the weather is not ideal) will provide an opportunity for a wide range of beers.

When you return to St George’s Terrace, keep going in the same direction, cross over William Street and take a right turn into Howard Street.

Drink Three: Haynes, Robinson & Cox Building, 18-20 Howard Street


Discover more about this 1907 building by clicking here. Then take the small laneway opposite to find Helvetica, one of Perth’s top providers of fine whiskeys.

Afterwards, return to St George’s Terrace and keep going towards Barrack Street. Cross over, and enter Stirling Gardens, heading towards the Supreme Court.

Interlude: The Old Courthouse, Stirling Gardens

old court

Discover more about this 1837 building by clicking here. Don’t worry too much about your next drink, it’s coming soon.

Return to St George’s Terrace and stop opposite the State Buildings (now COMO).

Drink Four: State Buildings, St George’s Terrace


Discover more about this 1890 building by clicking here. Then enter Petition Bar, either through the St George’s main arch, or round the side on Barrack Street. We recommend the tasting tray of four different beers, but your mileage may vary.

When you’ve finished the last drop of beer or wine, leave by the Barrack Street exit and head north. You will pass the Town Hall (1870) on your right, and now comes the longest stretch without beer in the entire tour. Keep going over the bridge, past the Court Hotel, until you reach Dominion League. It may be best to cross over to other side of Beaufort Street to get a good view.

Drink Five: United Friendly Societies Dispensary, 84 Beaufort Street


Discover more about this 1911 building by clicking here. A great wine list and a cosy atmosphere inside, although it can get a little busy as the evening goes on.

On the home stretch now. Leave the Dominion League, turn left towards the pedestrian crossing, go over Beaufort Street and head into the Cultural Centre. For the best view of the PICA Building look for a raised area to your right, just in front of the library.

Drink Six: Government School, 51 James Street


Discover more about this 1897 building by clicking here. Now chill out for the rest of the evening at the PICA Bar, knowing you’ve discovered all about Perth’s heritage, had a healthy walk, and possibly (just possibly) more than a single drink.

Since the tour ends here, you will find public transport back home is within a short stroll, whether you need a bus, train or Uber.

An unFriendly attack on a great wine bar



Before we begin, let’s make one thing clear: we love the Dominion League. One of those cosy bars with such a fashionably dark environment you can’t read the menus without the aid of your phone flashlight. We still love it, though.

It’s the building containing the bar that is, let’s say, problematic. The fault lies with four issues: the subsequent history of the area, the changing nature of retail, the client, and the architects themselves. All four will be explored below, but first one common myth to clear up. Despite what it might look like, the building was not erected in 1899.

It’s common to assume that a four-digit number on the front of a building tells you when it was put up. But not always. In this case, 1899 is the foundation date of the United Friendly Societies, and the place was designed by Wright, Powell & Cameron in 1911. If you don’t believe us check out the badly installed (probably repositioned) inscription below.


For the later history of the area, look at the building on the left of the Dominion League. This was erected in the early 1920s as a billiard saloon and linked the Ferguson Building (1907) further to the left with our place. The cornices on the linking building make no attempt to line up with those on the Dominion League and just smash into empty space. This was a builder (we doubt there was an architect involved) who clearly gave no f*cks. And let’s not talk about the monstrosity set back on the right. Just no.

The 1911 building was commissioned by the United Friendly Societies to operate as a pharmacy on the ground floor with residential flats above. As the nature of retail changed, along with different construction technologies, the bottom of a commercial building could now have large plates of glass enabling shoppers to more clearly see the goods on display. This resulted in the absence of structural pillars on the ground floor, since the frontage was no longer structural.

Which leads to the two Corinthian piers (the rectangular ones at the edges) and columns above the shopfront. Since there are no structural elements below, these simply terminate on a concrete beam. Although we cannot be certain what the original shopfront looked like, it is unlikely that any architectural elements carried the piers and columns visually down to ground level. They don’t even line up with the door on the right which gave access to the flats. In theory, the verandah is meant to introduce a visual break, and allow the columns to sit happily above a modern frontage. It doesn’t work.

And the pediment is grotesquely oversized, with far too many twiddly bits, with no relationship to the scale of the building below. All in all, it looks like the client’s ego demanded a classical building but with a modern shopfront, and the whole had to look really impressive, but not cost too much to put up. We imagine the conversation went something like this:

Client: Make us a classical building on this spot. With modern retail on the bottom.

Architects: It won’t work. How about a nice entirely modern building instead?

Client: No, we want classical and modern and cheap.

Architects: Here is a quick sketch of what such a monstrosity would look like.

Client: We love it. Make it happen.

But, and there’s always a ‘but’, for all its flaws the Dominion League has its own endearing quirkiness on the outside and needs to be retained as an example for future architects about what not to do. Oh, and keep it for the wine list inside as well. Definitely for the wine list.

Great bar with an art gallery attached


Sometimes it isn’t easy doing history and heritage for a living.  Sometimes we have to tell people that they are wrong for liking a particular building for various technical reasons, which we will tell them at great length. Mostly they just back away slowly and find someone else to talk to at the dinner party. But it is a duty we will not shirk. Welcome to the PICA Building.

Designed by George Temple Poole and opening in 1897, the Government School is clearly in a classical style, with a sort-of Italianate tower between two wings. Built as a primary school, the reason for its classical details is initially a bit of a mystery. Especially when the internal design was based on the most modern educational principles of the day, with a central double-height hall and classrooms leading off this. Boys on the ground floor, and girls on top.

Further, it is basically a steel frame with concrete floors, with pipes and other services concealed between double brick walls. This is a very modern building, both in intention and construction, so why does it have a historic façade?

The answer probably lies in the school’s controversial location: the middle of a city. By the 1890s it was thought that kids needed fresh air and large ovals to become healthy citizens. The James Street school had tiny playgrounds and no oval at all. In addition, it was located near corrupting influences, such as pubs, prostitutes, and rampant capitalism in the form of retail and industry. This was not a place to develop the young mind to its full potential.

Another issue facing the architect was that government schools were themselves controversial. While the government had been involved in education for some time, it was only towards the end of the 19th century it started taking a leading role. Some parents worried that compulsory education would turn out over-educated children unsuited to be good housewives or labourers. Poole had to find an architectural solution which would pacify the concerns over both location and intention.

He chose to envelop a thoroughly modern school building with a traditional design. This would emphasise the importance of the building, its distinctiveness in a commercial environment, and show this was a great place to send your kids. So far, so good, but it all goes downhill from here.


As early as 1909, one architectural critic noted that the school was “notable for its large dimensions rather than for graceful design”. The style of building Poole intended requires that the central tower has two identical wings. A glance at the PICA Building shows that the two wings have nothing in common. The bricks are a different colour, the windows are different proportions, and there is a decorative frieze on the west wing (right as you look at the building) completely absent on the east. No competent architect would have designed the building this way, and Poole was far better than merely competent, so the only conclusion is that a lesser hand designed the west wing later. But not too much later, since the earliest photographs we can trace all show both wings as they are today,

Then there is the central tower. This is meant to be Venetian, but fails dismally. It is not hard to find good Italianate towers around the world, which all show elements of good design. Here, for example, is a fire station in Brandon, Manitoba, by W.A. Elliott in 1911.


The vertical element is stressed through the brickwork at the corners, and the wrought iron balconies add to the beauty of the whole. Or consider a local example, Bunbury High School by William Hardwick in 1923. Perhaps a little more Spanish than Italian, the vertical is stressed by the openings in the tower, and it was described as adding a ‘monastic’ air to the school.

Bunbury high

Now compare the tower on the PICA Building. There is no sense of the vertical, the brickwork fails to convey an upwards movement, and the whole thing looks squat and, to be honest, fairly ugly. Even an attempt at a vertical element on the front is swamped by the brickwork and fails to do its job.


Was there a budget cut or was this Poole’s original intent? We will never know because the original plans have been lost, and we only have ‘as built’ blueprints from the 1920s.

So, having criticised the building, does this mean it should be knocked down? Not at all. There are many other reasons for keeping PICA. Asides from the environmental costs of bowling over an old building and putting up a new one, it functions as a popular art gallery.

But most of all, we at Dodgy Perth would chain ourselves to railings to stop anyone taking away the PICA Bar, which is where you will often find us after a hard fifteen minutes of research at the State Records Office or State Library. Sometimes we don’t even last fifteen minutes before hitting the bar. So it has to stay. Seriously.

A bit of Paris in Perth


Next time you drop into Petition, make sure to order something French. They have a Petit Chablis which has good reviews, so that’s on our must-drink list (yes, we have a must-drink list) when we take another look at George Temple Poole’s Old GPO building. This is now part of the Central Government Buildings or, as they are more commonly known, the Old Treasury.

One of the things architects fear the most, other than mislaying their designer glasses, is being seen as derivative. A difficult job to undertake is designing additions to an existing building or set of buildings. The new work has to complement the structures already there, but not copy them so closely that you don’t look an original architect. In other words, the architect must triumph over their predecessor, but not look too arrogant while doing so. This is a very difficult feat to pull off, but it is exactly what George Temple Poole achieved with his additions to the Central Government Buildings, which opened in 1890.

Poole was faced with a site which already had two older building, both designed by Richard Roach Jewell, and are now the wings along Barrack Street and Cathedral Avenue. These were proving completely inadequate for the needs of civil servants, and Poole was asked to link the two buildings with new offices and to include a post office while he was at it. His solution was so effective that some architectural critics believe he was simply showing ‘architectural good manners’ and respecting Jewell’s earlier work. He was most definitely not.

The only acknowledgement of the existing buildings was to use Flemish bond brickwork, which is alternating ‘headers’ and ‘stretchers’, usually in two different colours. Speaking of colour, have a look at how the new bricks are completely different to the older ones. This is most noticeable in the third storey of each of the wings, since Jewell’s original buildings only had two floors and a flat roof. No attempt was made to match the shades of the bricks.


Under construction, 1889

The inspiration for the central element on St George’s Terrace was definitely French architecture. One possible model is the Hotel de Ville in Paris, which shows similar chimneys, Mansard rooflines, and dormer windows. But Poole did not copy this building, he just took some of the ratios and overall concept, adding in a little English Queen Anne style for the windows and other details. Poole was declaring that this was his building, and his alone.


To link the central element to the older buildings, the setbacks either side of the middle gives more prominence to Poole’s contribution, and once again clearly shows what is old and what is new. Finally, the windows on Jewell’s portion were redecorated with the same design as the new ones, and when third storeys were added, they also got Mansard roofs. The new skin on Jewell’s earlier buildings transformed their character, making them just another part of Poole’s overall project. His project.

And it works. The style conformed to expectations for what a government building should look like, integrated existing buildings, and created what was the most impressive building in Perth at the time. Plus, this was no simple addition, it was a novel work, one which showed Poole could meet head on the circumstances he was faced with and triumph as an original architect. Not bad for a simple linking element.

And now for that glass of Petit Chablis to celebrate our unusual French(ish) building on St George’s Terrace.