The scam artist who built London Court

Photographic Negative - Acetate

Looking well shady

If he’s remembered at all, Claude de Bernales is famous for having built the gaudy mock-Tudor shopping arcade, London Court. Described as a “mining promoter and investor”, he is also said to have been “larger than life”.

Those who lost their savings in his fraudulent schemes would have called him a con man.

Flashy and egotistical, de Bernales was the one of the biggest personalities ever to set foot in Perth. But he gambled on gold in a big way—and lost. Lost other people’s money, that is.

In his youth, de Bernales was well-known on the goldfields. Traveling the dusty fields on a push-bike, he would arrive at a mine, and put on a spotless shirt and collar before presenting himself to the manager to sell his machinery.

Before World War I he bought up as many derelict mines as he could. Some were flooded, few were workable. After the war, de Bernales created a labyrinth of interlocking companies, and floated his mines on reports of old workings.

Only one mine, Yellowdine, ever paid dividends, but even that failed to live up to its promise. In a classic Ponzi scheme, interest in his numerous companies was kept alive by dividends drawn from Yellowdine.

At his peak, de Bernales’ office was adorned with Flemish tapestries, African mahogany paneling, and a luxury bathroom lined with marble. Visitors were offered the best cigars and liquors.

However, in 1939 eight of his companies were barred on the London Stock Exchange. He faced many stormy shareholder meetings, where he indignantly denied allegations of fraud. But when Scotland Yard sent two detectives in 1946 to Australia to investigate, the whole rotten scheme came to a sudden end.

A man who built an empire entirely made of smoke and mirrors also built London Court. What a surprise.

Developing bad habits


Typical convent schoolgirls

At a well-known Perth convent school in 1944, one of the nuns noticed her spare habit was missing. She looked for it, and assumed it was accidentally mislaid and would turn up eventually.

And turn up it certainly did. But not in the way she was expecting.

That night, as the girls were preparing for bed, they were surprised to see a nun standing motionless at one end of the dormitory. It was unusual for nuns to be there at that time, so a couple of older girls approached her to find out what she wanted.

Although the light was dim, as they approached they noticed the face under the head dress sported a decent growth of stubble. Being clever students, this led them to conclude the ‘nun’ was probably not a member of staff.

As the girls started screaming, the fake nun gathered her skirts about her, and flew down the corridor at top speed. Despite a thorough search of the area, no trace of the intruder could be found.

Apart from the scare, none of the girls were harmed, and the ‘nun’ was caught too soon to have a chance to be a real Peeping Tom.

Even so, the police announced they would like a little chat with the individual concerned, should he ever show his stubbly face again.

Perth’s perverted razor crank


In the winter of 1944, a ‘razor crank’ terrified the working women of Perth.

Over a period of weeks, a number of women fell victim to his extraordinary perversion. The attacks occurred around six o’clock in the evening when the streets were crowded with people hurrying from work.

As the chosen victim walked through the city, he would sneak up behind at slash the back of her coat with a razor.

In each case the targets had expensive clothing ruined. For two unfortunate victims, the pervert struck too hard and wounds required stitching.

In one case the slashing deviant asked the girl if he could accompany her home. When she refused, he put his arm possessively round her back. It was not until she had hurried away from him that she found to her horror that her coat had been slit at the back from top to bottom.

Egotistical and uncaring: FloHum on 1960s mothers

First female councillor at the City of Perth. Awarded an OBE. Had a kiosk on the Esplanade named after her. And a tiny little park on the corner of St George’s Terrace and Mount Street.

Surely, Florence Hummerston must have been a wonderful lady. After all, look at the gentle love beaming from Cedric Baxter’s caricature above.

Let’s continue our series of excerpts from The Gap, with Auntie Flo’s observations on women who want careers. I’m sure they will be heart-warming.

Today we find so many mothers setting their children aside and going out to work because they believe it is more interesting and because it satisfies their egotistical desire for admission to society.

Okay. So Flo isn’t exactly Germaine Greer. But let’s read on, maybe she’ll soften up a bit.

The price of this, the loss of love and respect of their children is no concern.
They know they are neglected. They pretend to love the mother because they are afraid.

Quick date check. Nope. Definitely written 1962, not 1862. Anyway, Councillor Hummerston, do continue.

The argument that a mother can properly care for her children, her husband and her home and undertake a job which requires her daily absence from the home is unsound.

Do tell us why…

There is no time to cut lunches so the children go off with a few pence to spend at the tuck shop and the children’s lunch is usually chips, sweets and a bottle of fizz, as they call it.

Oh FloHum, you are so hip and up-to-date with what the young folk are saying. No wonder they all love you.

And what happens to children of those evil homes where the mother (perish the thought!) has a job?

With revenge they rejoice in their ‘day of reckoning’ and set out on a crime spree.
They are the delinquents, the problem we hear so much about.

So, if you were at school in the late 1950s or early 1960s, had a working mother and ever partook in a disgusting bottle of ‘fizz’ (as I believe the cool cats say), take a good look in the mirror. Auntie Flo did not approve of you, and there was no hope for your future.

Bodgies and widgies, leatheries and teddy boys

Helena has kindly lent me The Gap: A Book to Bridge the Dangerous Years.

A terrifying account of how in 1962, Perth’s parents had caused teenage delinquency to spiral out of control, and how the world would probably end because mothers were working and fathers were enjoying a pint in the pub.

Firstly, just admire Paul Rigby’s fine portrayal of the Narrows and Perth skyline.

Then, to whet your appetite for a short series of how people born in the 1940s were never going to grow up to be responsible adults (are you listening mum?), a quick taster:

In the office of Inspector C. E. Lamb at CIB headquarters, Perth, is a big box which could well be labelled “Remember.”

For in a mute, concentrated form it represents the highwater mark of juvenile delinquency as it loomed in this city three years ago.

That box and its contents are kept as a constant reminder of what was, and what could be again.

It is packed with a firm collection of in-fighting weapons.

Zip guns, flick knives, knuckle dusters, slashing dress rings, honed bicycle chains, timing chains, coshes… they are all there.

They were taken from bodgies and widgies, from leatheries and teddy boys, from plain larrikins.

“Low class individuals, gamblers, and the usual motley crew”

Gambling Hells Unmolested by Authorities

Police Look On While Game Proceeds

For a long time past people have been wondering why certain inoffensive Chinese and small-time shilling poker and nap schools have been diligently raided, submitted to the indignity of arrest and subsequent prosecution, whilst large scale gambling hells and dens of iniquity and vice have so far enjoyed virtual freedom from the attentions of the police.

It has been long a matter of common knowledge that there are certain people in the metropolis who have, to the surprise of most people, been able to conduct illegal enterprises without receiving official visits from the police. Needless to say, this fact has resulted in a large patronage from those who like to give their money ‘a fly’ in comparative safety.

Of course, the small-fry do not get a moment’s consideration. If a threepenny game of poker is being played in a secluded paddock or backyard, all the forces of the law are pressed into action to suppress such a terrific offence.

But how do the big-time places fare?

There is a glaring case supplied by the present existing fashionable resort of all the low class individuals, spielers, gamblers, confidence men and the usual motley crew of ‘hangers-on’ that are found at such places.

We refer to ‘Perth’s Monte Carlo.’

Continue reading →

Audrey Jacob Committed


The inquest into the death of Cyril Gidley, engineer on the State motor ship Kangaroo, who was shot dead at Government House Ballroom early on the morning of August 27, 1925, by Audrey Campbell Jacob, art student, to whom he had been engaged, was concluded today by the Coroner, who committed Jacob for trial on a charge of wilful murder.

The Crown Prosecutor stated before the resumption of the case, that he could refute the evidence of Mr and Mrs Jacob, insinuating that the accused had been seduced by Gidley, and that he had been the cause of the separation of accused’s parents. The Court records showed that the cause of the separation was an order of the Fremantle Court on account of the husband’s cruelty.

Mr. A. G. Haynes, counsel for the accused, said the separation was due to Gidley’s insidious propaganda, which he could prove.

The Coroner said he did not wish to hear further evidence.

She’s got Bette Davis eyes


She does not look at you. She looks through you, beyond you.

As a teaser for our next story, I bring you some of the most purple prose ever written about a person on trial:

Among students of human nature the eyes are generally conceded to be indicative of many things that other features or mannerisms can never reveal.

Those who have seen Audrey Campbell Jacob since the tragic death of Cyril Gidley have commented haphazardly on various features of her beauty. But her eyes have been discussed by every observer.

She was in the court for three hours on Thursday. Most of the time her face was downcast. She cried at intervals, and once her whole frame was shaken by sobs that seemed to suggest a coming breakdown.

But by supreme efforts she managed each time to regain control. Whenever she did raise her face it was her eyes that attracted everybody’s gaze. They are eyes that the student of human nature would never forget.

They are not big, nor yet small. Medium sized is a fair description. They are fairly well back under her brows, but not deep set.

They are not the eyes of a coquette or a woman accustomed to using her eyes as women are supposed from times immemorial to have used them. They are the eyes of one whose thoughts are really not with the immediate things around them.

There is about them the mistiness that is not brought by tears, but is associated almost with the dreamer. She does not look at you. She looks through you, beyond you, away somewhere in the distance as it were.

They are of no defined shade. Blue-grey would probably be the nearest description. They are the eyes that suggest artistry and intellect and the habits of one who thinks much. They seem to be forever looking for something that is not in the immediate vision.

At what far-away thing are they looking, of what far-away thing is she dreaming, here in this public place when her thoughts should be so alert? They are remarkable, the eyes of this twenty-year-old girl, the most remarkable I think that I have ever seen in or out of court.