Fowl play


Chickens in this story may be more alive than the ones pictured above

A little-known fact about the Dodgy Perth team is that we spend our days talking to town planners. Those who have dealt with this subspecies before will know they spend their office hours measuring your plans with a ruler and sadly shaking their heads when your setback from the side boundary is not in compliance with the R-Codes. (Look at us, using all the technical planning language.)

Yet it turns out there is a good reason for these rules, as we will demonstrate with a bizarre court case from April 1838, long before there were any planning regulations in Perth.

Frederick Turner and Charles Farmer were neighbours on St George’s Terrace. Turner had built his house right on the boundary, with his bedroom window overlooking Farmer’s land and residence. This evidently annoyed the latter, who happened to keep poultry in his backyard to feed his family, and probably make a little extra cash on the side.

These birds had a habit of wandering into Turner’s garden and pecking at his hay, messing it all up, so (at least according to Turner) his pony wouldn’t eat it. Now we are no experts on either ponies or chickens, but the allegation the fowl had destroyed eight tons of hay, none of which was then suitable for a pony, seems a little exaggerated. But, like we say, this office has no proficiency in creatures either two or four legged.

Rather than try to resolve the issue like good neighbours, Turner responded by employing George Embleton to put up a six-foot fence between the properties. The same George Embleton after whom the suburb is named, at least according to Landgate. Who have no reason to lie to us. Do they?

Farmer responded that if his bloody neighbour put up the fence, he would respond by building an enormous chicken coop right next to Turner’s bedroom window. He also complained that a tiny length of roof shingles was overhanging his land and demanded Embleton get a saw and shorten them all.

It probably didn’t calm matters down when Turner and Embleton decided one day to round up a few stray chickens in the backyard, tie their legs together with string and toss them in the pony’s stable. That probably didn’t help at all.

So, Farmer made good on his promise, and built a giant fowl (foul?) house right against Turner’s residence, blocking out all the light and ensuring that if he ever opened his window, all he would smell was chickens and more chickens.

This is why it went to the civil court.

The Commissioner, W. Mackie, was less than impressed by both sides. There not being any local regulations, he was forced back onto English law which said if you build up to the boundary your neighbour is entitled to do the same. And you can’t claim loss of light or air unless your house has been standing for more than twenty years.

But, he continued, it was clear that Farmer was an awful person too, who only built the coop to annoy his neighbour, not because it was the best place to put it. So, because of the health issues involved he demanded the shed be relocated. Even so, because both were to blame the Commissioner would award only a token one shilling for damages.

It turns out that planning regulations make for good neighbours. Probably. Unless your neighbour is an awful person anyway, in which case no rules are going to help you. Probably.

Otto and the whale


Why grandma, what a big mouth you have…

A brief recap on yesterday’s post: a Busselton whale was claimed by Daisy Locke in 1897. It was agreed to donate it to the museum in Perth, so it was now an issue for taxidermist Herman Franz Otto Lipfert to work out what to do with it. Now read on…

In later life, Otto Lipfert was described as a bespectacled, white-smocked, fuzzy-haired, lightly-built man, looking considerably less than his seventy-three years of age, with a modesty and manner out of place in modern society. He was said to be soft of speech, unruffled in demeanour, unhurried in manner, painstaking and methodical.  In other words, Perth folk found him a stereotype of German efficiency.

Otto had arrived from Germany at the right time, 1892. A trained furrier and taxidermist, he was exactly what a new museum needed.  Chronically underfunded, the museum eventually offered him a month-to-month contract in 1895 on a salary of £210. Throughout his decades working there, his wage was barely increased, and he had to supply all his own tools of the trade and work in pitiful spaces, originally just a wooden shed out the back.

So how do you prepare a creature that’s been rotting on a beach for some weeks? The annoying thing about the whale, at least for the taxidermist, is that its carcase cannot be preserved. The skin is very thin and attached to blubber up to five centimetres thick. It’s impossible to scrape the blubber away and preserve the surface.

So Otto supervised a man named Hunt and two Japanese gentlemen to remove all the flesh before the bones could be taken above the high-water mark.  It must have been an awful job to undertake. The bones were left there for a few months, to let all the remaining soft body decay and the skeleton to bleach in the sun. The Bunbury Herald blandly reported in May 1898 that the bones had been “sent for exhibition at the Perth museum” from Bunbury Railway Station, but this does not even begin to describe the complexity of the operation.

Otto made another trip down to Locke’s farm, and got busy numbering the bones. Then he supervised the loading of them. The skull alone weighed 1,370 kg, while each of the lower jaw bones weighed 813 kg, so the job of transporting them to the railway line was no easy matter. It needed six men with winches just to place them in position on the wagons. To rail them to Perth, five and ten tonne trucks were needed.  “It was not easy to shift,” Otto understated some years later.

After this, the whale needed to be installed as an exhibit at the WA Museum. But that’s a story for another day.

Daisy and the whale


As big as a whale

All stories must start somewhere, so we will start with a horse named Gold and Black. The twenty-something rider on top of Gold and Black was one of Western Australia’s most skilled equestrians, Bertha Elvina Locke, although everyone called her Daisy. Daisy was to suffer several horse-related accidents throughout her life, but she just treated these as a risk of the sport. It is quite clear that this young woman was the sort to take life’s ups and downs in her stride.

Daisy lived at Wonnerup or, to be more specific, at Lockville Farmhouse, a picturesque building with an original wattle and daub cottage and a later two-storey limestone extension.  It was probably slightly unusual in that part of the state for Daisy to have another hobby: reading mining manuals.  She also discovered the whale which was Perth Museum’s most famous exhibit for more than a century, although it now lies hidden in a Welshpool warehouse awaiting a new home.

Picture Daisy riding one her horses along Lockeville Beach, accompanied only by her large white parasol, lined with green, on Tuesday 17 August 1897.  This is when Miss Locke came to see a giant whale stranded near the jetty. Turning her horse around, she galloped to Wonnerup House to seek her uncle’s assistance. Together with another man, they went out in a small boat, harpooned the great creature, and securely anchored it to the shore.  Daisy, with the knowledge gained from her mining manuals that everything of value must be within four pegs, decided to stake the beast in case anyone else claimed it. Three long pieces of wood were found, but the fourth corner required the sacrifice of her much-loved parasol.  Unhappily for the whale, though, it took a week to die after the harpooning.

When the news reached Busselton the next day, large crowds came out to see the amazing discovery.  Among these was Water Police Constable Tonkin, an ex-whaler, who valued the 26-metre creature’s oil alone at £200.  Even if Constable Tonkin was right, Daisy was never to financially benefit from her staked-out claim since no one in the area had the skills or the equipment to extract the valuable substance. Instead it was proposed to offer the whole whale to the Perth Museum, and the locals thought this would be a simple matter since the railway line was less than two miles away.

The museum must have been delighted with the offer, given how dull recent donations had been: a report from the Department of Mines, two coins, a drawing of a bore in the Collie coalfields, three pebbles, three newts, and two caterpillars.  As it turned out, it was much more complicated to relocate a gigantic whale than to receive two caterpillars. But that was no longer Daisy’s problem, since the responsibility now fell on the shoulders of the museum’s taxidermist, Herman Franz Otto Lipfert.

But his story has to wait for another day.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

For sale, one careful owner

For sale, one careful owner

We at Dodgy Perth love a good stock clearance. Much of our wardrobe comes from discount racks at Myer. So it is a shame we couldn’t be there for Perth Zoo’s clearance sale.

Starting in 1902, the Zoological Gardens auctioned excess animals each year at a sales room in the CBD. Besides the purely ornamental animals and birds, there were several young tigers, a leopard, a bear, and a buffalo. Each animal was exhibited in a cage in the auction house for the public to inspect before making an offer.

Since we have the auctioneers’ catalogue for 1903, Dodgy Perth invites you to choose your next pet:

  • Lioness, tigress, brown bear (male)
  • Malayan honey bear, white dingo puppies
  • Equine deer, Pekinese deer, hog deer, fallow deer
  • Goat cart, harness and goat
  • Mule (broken to saddle and all kinds of harness)
  • Kangaroos, wallaby, African baboon
  • Young Macaque monkeys
  • South American marmosets, or pocket monkeys (beautiful ladies’ pets)
  • Ferrets (good for either rabbits or rats)
  • Tortoise (very large), tortoise (small baby)
  • Guinea pigs
  • White swans, black swans
  • Muscovy ducks, black ducks
  • English wild ducks, swamp hens
  • Silver seagulls, pea fowl
  • English pheasants, bronze-wing turkeys
  • Silver pheasants, red-legged partridges
  • Australian quail, guinea fowls
  • Silky fowls, Japanese red bantams
  • Blue and yellow macaw, red and blue macaw
  • Leadbeaters, pink cockatoos, sulphur crested white cockatoo, rosy cockatoos, cockatiels, parrots
  • Warbling parakeets, Indian cinnamon doves
  • Peaceful doves, diamond doves
  • Pigeons, from prize stock
  • Canaries, especially good lot
  • Java sparrows, diamond sparrows, Gouldian finches
  • African finches, English finches
  • Gold and silver fish

Here pussy, pussy


Fireman Smith and his wet… kitten, 1941

Back in 1941 the RSPCA thought it was a good idea to shoot kittens in trees. Seriously. At the time, the Esplanade Kiosk (later renamed after Florence Hummerston, as some kind of compliment we assume) was run by William Webb.

One day a parcel arrived at the kiosk, so William opened it. Inside were two kittens in a box. Because people used to mail kittens in 1941. Apparently. As he opened the box, one of the terrified kittens leapt out. Unfortunately William’s dog thought this was great fun and gave chase.

The cat flew out of the Kiosk and up to the top of the 15 metre palm outside on the Esplanade. Worried about the poor beast, William went to look for help. The Esplanade’s gardeners said there was nothing they could do. However, the Electricity and Gas Department sent some men. With a 12 metre ladder. For a 15 metre tree.

Over and over again, they very nearly caught the petrified kitty, but each time it scampered back to the top of the palm. One man climbed the ladder with some meat to try and lure pussy down. But with no success.

The next sequence of events seems a little odd.

The RSPCA, who were now on the scene (along with gardeners and the electricity and gas people) decided the rescue was a total failure. So the only humanitarian thing left to do was to shoot the trembling animal dead. An RSPCA inspector slung a rifle over his back and climbed the ladder.

Yes. The RSPCA. A rifle. To shoot a kitten. In a tree.

However, the animal-loving inspector couldn’t find pussy, so he decided it had escaped by itself and his job was over and he could go home and have a cup of tea.

Ten days later a passer-by noticed the poor starving animal was still at the top of the palm. So the RSPCA was called again. This time the inspector charitably decided not to shoot, but to call the fire brigade instead. Who, unsurprisingly, had a long ladder. And the skills to get kittens out of trees.

After ninety minutes of Fireman Smith failing to grab the poor mite, they had the bright idea of turning the fire hose on the tree top. Which so frightened the soaking wet kitty, he fled into Fireman Smith’s waiting arms. [Those of you who are old enough can insert your own Mrs Slocombe joke here. It’s all set up for you.]

The large crowd which had assembled gave a loud cheer as William Webb took the starving pussy into his kitchen in the Kiosk to give it some milk.

Then William’s dog charged in and the kitten fled up the palm tree.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Brutish behaviour, and that’s just the zookeepers

penguinsSpeaking of Perth Zoo. In 1924 they threw a Tudor dress-up day. And a record crowd sat among the palms as Queen Elizabeths and Mary Queen of Scots.

Among the crowd was a journalist who wrote under the pen-name Omar Cayenne. We’ll call him Omar.

Omar loved the botanical garden feel of the place, but the plight of animals made him feel sick.

Take, for instance, the bears. Their habitat was so disgusting that if a circus proprietor kept animals in such condition he would have been jailed. They lived in conditions so bad, Omar recommended that no one should even look at them.

The Australian dingo, an animal whose home is the wide, open spaces. This poor brute was cooped up in an enclosure that resembled a freezing chamber. With only a concrete floor, the sick animal was trying to scrape a hole for himself in the hard floor. Obviously no one at the zoo thought to have put some sand in his den.

Nor did Omar approve of putting live frogs into the snakes’ cages, so they could be devoured in the presence of horrified children.

Walking through the grounds, all you could detect was the general air of decay and neglect. The excuse was that there was no money for repairs. Something Omar dismissed as a simple lie.

During the summer the zoo was the rendezvous for tens of thousands, attracted by the beautiful gardens and pleasure attractions for the kiddies. The tennis courts were packed and expensive to book, and so profitable the zoo kept expanding the number of them. There was plenty of money available to spend if they wanted to.

Omar had once lived near the zoo and could testify that during the summer months the stench arising from the place was overwhelming. He suspected the local government would have closed the place long ago if it wasn’t paying a good portion of the local rates.

Keep the birds and the plants, said Omar, and make an ideal botanical gardens. As for the animals, if their present miserable conditions cannot be improved they should be mercifully destroyed, and thus end this tragic farce.

The Dodgy Perth team have never been in favour of zoos, and it is entirely possible that Omar’s recommendations from 1924 should stand today.

Why WA’s museum loved cats

Noolbengers looking unbearably cute

Noolbengers looking unbearably cute

Colin Barnett may not like cats. He even passed a ridiculous piece of legislation forcing cats to be on some kind of sex offender register.

But we’ll tell you who does like cats. The West Australian Museum. That’s who.

Why? we hear you ask. Because they added to the Museum’s collection of native wildlife, and that institution had no money to spend on assembling one.

In 1939, a cat belonging to Mr W. Skeet, of Forrestdale caught a live noolbenger. (Don’t worry, we had to look it up on Wikipedia too. Turns out it’s a honey possum, which is half the size of a mouse.)

Mr Skeet did what any good citizen would do, and posted it to the WA Museum. The cute little critter was put in a cage with another noolbenger, which had been caught by a Shenton Park cat a couple of weeks earlier.

The Museum’s curator, Ludwig Glauert, loved cats. He encouraged people to send in anything they caught. Other than mice. Apparently mice were boring.

You see, cats are “instinctive collectors”, who don’t (so we are told) eat West Australian native marsupials, they just like bringing them home to play with.

The top unpaid animal collector in WA was an unnamed black and white cat owned by Miss May Tree, of Newlands near Donnybrook. (Dodgy Perth can’t help thinking that Miss May Tree sounds like a great name for a black and white cat.)

For years, in the course of its “unscientific researches,” Miss Tree’s cat donated ring-tailed possums, wambengers, dunnarts, noolbengers, quendas, and even bats.

Without this hard work, the WA Museum wouldn’t have had much of a collection said Ludwig.

Especially since many of these animals were nocturnal. And curators can’t go out at night. Apparently.

So let’s hear it for WA’s unsung hero of scientific research. The humble pussy.

h/t Christen Bell