An unreliable history of Perth


Commemorating the centenary of the founding of Perth, you might imagine people were serious in 1929. You would be wrong:

Forsooth on the 12th day of August in the year of grace one thousand eight hundred and one less than thirty, many good citizens gathered together unto themselves and said, “We must have a city.”

Forthwith they repaired to Governor Stirling, whom they found on his back on the floor of his coach-house endeavouring to repair the differential of his coach and pair.

“We good citizens and true wish to have a city,” they told him.

“The devil you do,” spluttered Stirling as he rose to his feet and adjusted his knee breeches. “Then a city you shall have.”

For the next few days there was great to-do in the new colony. Several good ladies immediately commenced making clothes for the natives in case they desired to attend and drink the King’s health and beer.

At last the great day dawned. The settlers cleaned up their huts and photographers adjusted their easels and paint pots. They came from far and near and further than that and flags flapped and skirts trailed in the dust as the colonists assembled round the Union Jack.

There was a rousing cheer for Governor Stirling as he began to speak: “This city we are founding today,” he said, “is destined to be the capital of a State of great potentialities and possibilities.” (Cheers from the bystanders and groans of “We’ve heard that one before” in the language of the blacks). “Here we will build a city that will one day be great. Along the track where Mrs Jones’ goat goes to call for the paper every morning we will make a street and call it Hay Street.

“Down here we will make Murray Street. From here Harry Boan will sell his third floor specials. Down further we will have Wellington Street, called after the Great Duke. The railway will be right next door. An ideal site this, ladies and gentlemen, for an advertising sign or a fruit barrow, think you not? And let’s have a market here! And a hotel or two.

“Come with me in imagination up this hill to the West. One day people will be able to travel there in trams or Government cars where we now ride in imagination. Here I beg you to tread quietly lest you waken those who will one day sleep there. Here will ambition be born and die, characters be made and lost; this will be Parliament—not the cemetery.

“Out yonder far beyond Harry Boan’s duckpond and Perry’s lane and Ginger’s hansom cab stand we will have a place for the dead. And on festival days and sundry Saturday afternoons the crowds will foregather. And behold their lamentations will be loud and their tears many when they see the dead. This my friends our children and grandchildren will call Ascot.

And forthwith the guests had afternoon tea while the settlers who had not been invited sat on one side and snarled and the natives threw boomerangs at the big sign that had just been erected on the site of the new city: “Eat Bullpup’s biscuits to prevent ingrowing toenails.”

Two men who were unemployed attempted to secure afternoon tea but the police—both of them—turned them away.

Lesbian Amazons in Demark



Feminist utopias r us


“An Adamless Eden” ran the headline. “Mere Men to be banned from Utopia”. Clearly some lunatic PC scheme was destroying the very fabric of society. Indeed it appeared to be so in Western Australia as men-hating feminists started taking over our wonderful state.

In 1909 it was reported that the south coast of WA, near Denmark, was to see the birth of a new colony, one where no man would be be allowed to own a foot of land within the settlement, or to hold any kind of office in the new town of Emilliah. Worse still, it appeared to be an industrial town full of lesbian Amazons, and men were even forbidden to step foot in it.

Most of this, as you might have guessed, was #fakenews. But there was some truth behind it. Emily Crawford was president of the Householders’ League, a British suffragette society. Since women still did not have the vote in the UK, the League offered grants to English female entrepreneurs to emigrate to places they were enfranchised. Such as Western Australia. They believed (correctly) that only where women were respected enough to get the vote could female capitalists flourish.

The League also obtained land where their members could set up businesses. So in 1908 Emily Crawford came to WA. Emilliah was going to be a health resort just outside Denmark, at a site now called Ocean Beach. The customers were to be WA residents and families from India. Clearly, being feminist did not stop you being colonially minded.

The Government gifted Emily a beautiful reserve near the mouth of the inlet, much to the disgust of the Denmark Settlers’ Association, who just lost their favourite picnic spot. The project was steaming ahead, when Emily suddenly had some kind of nervous breakdown in Albany. The whole thing ground to a halt, and Emilliah never got off the ground.

Dodgy Perth regrets that Emilliah didn’t work, since it would have been fascinating to see how this unique group settlement turned out. The closest we ever came to it was the ‘back-to-the-land’ movement of  the 1960s and ’70s, where a few feminist communes sprang up in rural areas. Mainly an American phenomenon, there were some in Australia, but none ever approached the scale of Emily Crawford’s vision.