Celebrating sex offenders? Really?

Town HallReader, we are all friends here, are we not? Good. Then Dodgy Perth can reveal the heavy weight hanging on our collective heart.

Dear fellow Perthite, Dodgy Perth proposes that the Town Hall on Barrack Street should be demolished.

We know, we know. You’ll never be able to look us in the eye again. But hang around for a bit, while we justify this outrageous statement.

In 1913, it appeared likely Perth Council would vacate the Town Hall for proposed new premises. The Institute of Architects, big bunch of softies that they were, proposed the tower of the Hall be preserved for historic reasons, and incorporated into any new design.

(If you want a 21st century example of this way of thinking, look no further than the eyesore that is St George’s Hall façade on Hay Street.)

Fortunately, not everyone was as sentimental as the architects. And a few were willing to speak out, noting it was inconceivable that any sane person could desire to have “such an aggressive monstrosity” as the Town Hall handed down to posterity.

Of course, some will point out it was convict built, and we should treasure these memories of the past. Dodgy Perth, and our 1913 modernists, say no.

What are we commemorating? The dreadful crimes committed by some who constructed the Town Hall? Among those arriving on the Hougoumont (who made up most of the workforce) were men guilty of rape, murder, and incest.

Do you want to venerate rapists? Really?

If not the men, then perhaps we should remember the awful system which condemned people to be transported half a world away and used as slave labour, long after it had been abolished everywhere else in the world.

The impact it had on people like Frederick Bicknell, a young carpenter who did the shingle roofing on the Town Hall. And who was transported for arson and insurance fraud. And who died in Old Men’s Home in Perth, well into the 20th century.

Do you want to venerate slavery? Really?

Instead, argued our 1913 anti-heritage consultants, simply let us forget the Town Hall. In any case, its birthstains can never be forgotten when it has four sets of ghastly broad arrows at the corners of the spires. The Town Hall can only recall an exceedingly dark and blotted page in the history of the State.

If antiquarians really care, then measured drawings and a set of photographs could be made. But not one brick should remain of this awful place.

If we wish to perpetuate early architecture, Government House is pretty enough, and in much more picturesque surroundings.

So Dodgy Perth joins in with the dissenting voices of 1913 and says, with all due reverence and respect, let the Town Hall join its builders, and quietly pass away.

Hot property

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The one thing you quickly learn in the history and heritage business is that no story is ever as simple as you’d like it to be.

And here’s the irony, 10 Bellevue Terrace, now in line for the demolisher’s wrecking ball, was once adaptively reused, rather than knocked over. Read on.

In 1926 a fire in Kings Park devastated two homes on the Terrace, including No. 10. At this time it was owned by prominent accountant and tennis player Sinclair James McGibbon, who lived there until his death in 1943.

A long-time president of the Kings Park Tennis Club, gates and a stand there are named in his honour.

The fire did sufficient damage to gut the property, but the walls retained enough integrity that they were incorporated into the renovation, which was designed by the famous Perth architectural firm of Eales & Cohen.

Although McGibbon was a ranting anti-Communist, who saw reds under the bed everywhere, we’ll forgive him on this occasion, since the renovation he commissioned is still an attractive house today.

And a house that has an even more interesting history than Dodgy Perth first thought.

Perth has no time for a Leake

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Sometimes the bad behaviour we catalogue here at Dodgy Perth does not belong in the past but in the present.

In our office we are not much given to campaigning for or against anything, usually preferring to sit back with a glass of red and just watch other people march up and down with placards and chants.

So the following is provided for information only, to be used by those who can find a use for such information.

If you take a walk around East Perth Cemetery (and you should), you will find memorials for several members of the Leake family, including George and his son, George Arthur.

George Leake was a turn-of-the-century lawyer and Premier of Western Australia. Famous for being one of the few people to stand up to John Forrest, Leake should also be remembered for developing the political party system we have today.

If he hadn’t died tragically young in 1902, aged just 45, he may well have gone on to become the first Prime Minister from this State. A memorial fountain for him was erected in Kings Park.

The year after his death, Leake’s widow, Louisa Emily, built a grand house at the edge of Kings Park, at 10 Bellvue Terrace, for herself and young family. Among her sons were Francis Walpole and George Arthur, both of whom followed in daddy’s footsteps and became lawyers.

During WWI, George Arthur signed up to the 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment. As a Second Lieutenant, he fell on 29 August 1915 at Gallipoli, where his body remains to this day.

The stunning Tudor-style home Louisa Leake built—a residence associated with the family of an early Premier and an Anzac hero—is still standing. But only just.

If you want to see it, we recommend walking past in the next few days because the bulldozers are moving in soon to replace it with a nondescript block of flats.

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Sometimes the bad behaviour we catalogue here at Dodgy Perth does not belong in the past but in the present.

Is there a worse city than this?

Edmund Barton Building, Canberra. For unknown reasons, Heritage Listed.

Edmund Barton Building, Canberra. Heritage Listed. Seriously.

We at Dodgy Perth have used not a little ink in the past criticising WA architecture. So, for once, we turn our attention to a different city.

Colin Ednie-Brown, one of Perth’s most famous architects, had the misfortune to visit Australia’s new capital in 1927. ‘Designed’ by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, Canberra has been described as many things, but good is not one of them.

Ednie-Brown certainly did not mince has words:

From an architectural standpoint the place disgusted me.

Everything has come out of the same mould, whether it be a residence or a hotel. The money wasted and thrown away on such a type of buildings is appalling.

Most of the buildings are jerry-built, and of a poor quality of workmanship. The thing that struck me most was the obvious lack of expert supervision throughout the whole of the work.

It is hardly believable that such a scandal should ever have been allowed.

Okay, so Canberra was not exactly to Colin’s taste. Surely he liked something?

Just one building, really. The GG’s residence. But that was only because it was an adaptation of an old homestead.

Just in case you suspect that this is just one WA architect’s opinion. It wasn’t. Famously, Robert Menzies despised Canberra and was embarrassed to be seen there.

So whenever you need cheering up, just remember there are worse places you could live. Like Canberra.

An architectural monstrosity

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People dressed in Western Australia’s traditional costume

If asked to list Perth’s ten worst buildings, this office would definitely include London Court. A cut-price Disneyland Tudor street scene, it was erected in 1937 by shady miner, Claude de Bernales.

How bad does a building have to be to get condemned from the pulpit? Rev Iona Williams described it as so ugly, London Court was an offence against God Himself. Preaching at Trinity Congregational Church, the good reverend said the arcade was a admission that architects had no original ideas. Architecture should be about the now, not a repetition of the past.

But what would a theologian know? Let’s get the opinion of an architect. A poor imitation of Tudor architecture, the architect spluttered, before lashing out at the ridiculous Punch and Judy clock. When archaeologists of the future excavate the arcade, he said, they will be baffled as to why it was erected in the first place. In any case, a good archaeologist would immediately rebury the monstrosity.

Warming to his theme, the architect demanded to know where it would all end? A Leaning Tower of Pisa outside the GPO? Stonehenge on the Esplanade?

In a blistering conclusion, he said the only thing that should be doing impressions is a monkey. And a monkey would probably have made a better job of the London Court anyway.

As you can see, London Court has been much loved ever since it was erected.

Our glorified saloon

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You probably know that to get a building heritage listed, the Heritage Council (aka the Style Council) has to give reasons why it should go on the list. You can find these on the Style Council’s website.

So, let’s take a look at why Parliament House deserves heritage protection:

The 1904 section of the building expresses the sense of grandeur and pride associated with the establishment of Parliament House & Grounds, through both the external and internal design, finishes and furnishings and by the use of Western Australian building materials.

To summarise: According to the Style Council, when it opened people loved Parliament House.

But did they really?

Well, the bare-armed worker who had helped construct the place certainly didn’t love it. In his opinion it was a waste of money and he looked forward to the day when a Labour Government would dispense with “this tommy-rot, and spend all that good brass feeding the poor.”

Mr J. M. Kelly wasn’t too concerned about the poor. He was just concerned about the poor design, which he called a “blot on the landscape”.

I have come to the conclusion that the new Parliament Houses being erected are mean, paltry, and but a sorry housing for the legislators of Western Australia.

Ouch. But do go on Mr Kelly:

On its western side, past which a fine broad road leads you, it has an almost despicable appearance, reminding one of a railway goods shed, with its squat, stuccoed walls.

Okay, but somebody must have liked the design. Perhaps legendary architect George Temple Poole?

It is fair to deduce that the State is on the eve of expending £210,000 for a building of the class of construction and work generally which cannot be considered sufficient for the monumental character of a State Parliament House.

As a skilled architect, maybe Mr Temple Poole has too high expectation. Perhaps we should just ask a civil engineer what they think:

The proposed building has no pretensions whatever to architectural effect in any sense of the term. Judging from the plans and elevations offered for inspection the ‘tout ensemble’ discloses a lop-sided pile of buildings of the most incongruous nondescript order of the cheap and nasty type.

Ouch and ouch again.

But dear reader, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve been unfair. All of these criticisms were made before Parliament House opened. Once it was open, surely the “sense of grandeur and pride” (as the Style Council puts it) will become clear to the people of Perth.

So let’s ask the people on opening day what they thought:

The visitors had time to criticise the extraordinary colour scheme of the Assembly Chamber, count the hundreds of black swans swimming the blue sea of carpet, comment on the dizzy height of the galleries, and draw comparisons—born of the wearying display of stained glass and coloured wood—between the general appearance of the Chamber and that of a glorified saloon.

A ‘glorified saloon’ is more generous than ‘cheap and nasty’ pile of buildings. But not much. And certainly not what you might expect from the Style Council’s glowing description of the external and internal design.

Just because it’s on the State Register doesn’t mean anyone liked it at the time.

Proposed Parliament House. Not built.

Proposed Parliament House. Not built.

When heritage kills

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Perth Hospital, 1932

As stories continue to grow about the troubled Fiona Stanley Hospital, Dodgy Perth looks back to a time when medical things were much, much worse. We refer, of course, to what is now called Royal Perth Hospital, but was then simply Perth Hospital.

In 1937, Melbourne architect Arthur Stephenson was asked to report on the conditions at Perth Hospital. His report was damning. The place did not have one redeeming feature. It was “insanitary” and “indecent”.

This was certainly the worst hospital in Australia, and probably one of the worst in the world. Medical care had been better in the fifteenth century. Stephenson was baffled why Perth was not up in arms. The place attracted swarms of flies feasting on partially decomposed corpses piling up in the so-called mortuary.

It was only because doctors and nurses were trying to do their best, he said, that the hospital could even be called a medical establishment at all.

However, reforms were being held up because of the heritage lobby. Improvement required a decision as to whether the hospital should be developed on the present site or a new complex built elsewhere. But the old Colonial Hospital (still there in RPH to this day) and its attendant buildings were much loved. Patient care be damned when there is heritage to save.

Stephenson saw the “ingrained dislike for destroying old buildings” in Perth, but still said it was a simple choice. If the hospital was not to move, existing buildings would have to be replaced. They could have heritage or health care, but not both.

It took nearly ten years to complete the transformation from Perth Public Hospital to Royal Perth Hospital. It is still unclear whether keeping the Colonial Hospital was sentiment or cost-saving. And disputes about the location of hospitals and their heritage value have not stopped yet.

In praise of Forrest Chase

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Before Forrest Chase, the ugly Boans building dominated the streetscape

Today we tell a familiar Perth story. How a potentially great space became a disaster. We’re not talking about the delightful Forrest Chase, complete with detailed precast lattice work. Good lord, no. We mean the vile Padbury and Boans buildings which were there before it.

After the General Post Office was finished in 1923, it was assumed that the Federal Government would turn Forrest Place into a park for local residents. This would link the Railway Station to Murray Street for the benefit of all. A petition went to Parliament, requesting that Forrest Place be reserved only for public purposes.

Instead, the Feds, determined to claw back as much money as they could after the GPO project, gave a fifty year lease to William Padbury to build a shopping centre opposite. Naturally, there was outrage that the “people’s heritage” was to be converted to “brick and stone” simply for the purpose of making a quick buck.

That’s right. To build Padbury’s involved a loss of our heritage. William Padbury was already a rich man, it was pointed out. Could he not work for the public interest and build his hideous shops somewhere else?

Padbury did not see it that way and commenced construction.

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This is what William Padbury promised to build.

In a story headed ‘Beauty and the Beast, or How Not to Build a City’, it was noted that Padbury’s would make Forrest Place too narrow. In any case, there were already too many “tawdry structures”, such as the Central Hotel next to the GPO. Padbury’s would just be one more.

But there was a way of saving the situation. One problem with Forrest Place was Boan’s unsightly wall. If Padbury’s had to go ahead, a five-storey building could work in this space, and justify the loss of public space.

However, William Padbury, like any good capitalist, was not going to spend more money than necessary. Since the Feds were in control of the land, not the City of Perth, a cheap two-storey building was erected. Padbury vaguely promised to put up another three storeys in the future, but no one really believed him.

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The disaster some predicted

Any two-storey building must be in proportion to its street frontage. Padbury’s, at several hundred feet, was far too wide to have any aesthetic balance. In any case, Boan’s dominated above the low parapets, ruining both Forrest Place and any pretence to architecture Padbury’s might have claimed.

Forrest Place was a tragedy because the Feds simply wanted money. Padbury simply wanted money. And Boan’s was a hideous piece of architecture to begin.

Now tell us you still hate Forrest Chase.

A palm tree, a pussy and a rifle

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So, in March 1941 the lessee of the Esplanade Kiosk was William Henry Webb.

Someone had mailed William two kittens in a box, which was duly delivered to the Kiosk. Because that, apparently, was normal in 1941.

Go figure.

As he opened the box, one of the terrified kittens jumped out. It was promptly chased by William’s dog.

The cat flew out of the Kiosk and up the 15 metre palm outside. William went to look for help.

The Esplanade’s gardeners said there was nothing they could do. However, the Electricity and Gas Department sent a crew. With a 12 metre ladder.

They nearly caught the petrified kitty, but each time it scampered back to the top of the palm.

A man climbed the ladder with some meat to try and lure it down. But no success.

The next decision seems a little odd.

The RSPCA, who were now on the scene (along with the gardeners and the electricity and gas people) decided the rescue was a failure. So the only humanitarian thing left to do was to shoot the trembling animal.

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 ‘humanitarian’ inspector couldn’t find pussy, and decided it had escaped by itself.

Ten days later someone noticed that the poor starving animal was still at the top of the palm, and called the RSPCA again.

This time the inspector generously decided not to shoot, but to call the fire brigade instead. Who, unsurprisingly, had a long ladder. And who had the skills to get kittens out of trees.

After ninety minutes of Fireman Smith failing to grab the poor mite, the gardeners had the bright idea of turning the hose on the tree top. Which so frightened kitty that 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 by this time gave a loud cheer.

William Webb took the starving pussy into his kitchen in the Kiosk to give it some milk.

The dog charged in. The kitten fled up another palm tree.

You can’t make this stuff up.

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Fireman Smith gets some wet, er…, kitten

The war over Anzac Cottage

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There is nothing so wonderful, so perfect, that some mongrel can’t find a way to try and ruin it.

But first a quick history lesson.

Anzac Cottage in Mt Hawthorn was built in 1916 by the local residents as a home for Private John Porter and his family. It was intended both to help out a wounded soldier and serve as a memorial for those who lost their lives at Gallipoli.

End of quick history lesson.

So, they’re about to build Anzac Cottage when the said mongrel pops up.

Let me introduce you to John Beer.

Mr Beer decides to write to the paper saying that the proposed cottage is far too grand for a simple soldier like Private Porter. He thinks that a much more modest dwelling should be constructed for the wounded digger.

Of course, he’s only thinking of saving Private Porter from embarrassment of having to accept the keys of Anzac Cottage. Imagine how humiliating it would be for Mrs Porter to think that she and her family would have to live in such a lovely place. Mr Beer is only being considerate.

And, in any case, perhaps more people would donate money to the project if they knew that only a small building was being erected.

What a thoughtful, kind man Mr Beer was.

This letter drew a stinging rebuke from the organiser of the project, Frank Kelsall. John Beer could get stuffed, he said.

If you think a simple four-room cottage is too much for the family of a man who had served his nation, then you are an “insufferable cad”.

Besides which, continued Frank, there were enough gossip mongers in Mt Hawthorn already stirring up trouble about the project without tossers like Mr Beer poking his nose in.

Rather than do the decent thing, and keep his mouth shut, John Beer now decided to attack the organising committee, as well as Private Porter. Lovely.

Fortunately, the tosspots like Beer did not triumph, and Private Porter was able to receive the keys to his modest home as planned.

If you want to check out if Anzac Cottage was too grand for a wounded digger, it’s open this afternoon (1 March) from 1pm. I reckon a pint in the Oxford Hotel to toast Private Porter and curse John Beer would be entirely appropriate first.