When museums were fun

two_headed_calfThe Western Australian Museum used to be interesting.

No. Wait. Hear us out. We’re serious.

In 1888 they displayed a (dead) chicken with three legs.

The following year they outdid themselves and had a four-legged chicken on display. 1890 appears to have passed without the number of legs on chickens increasing.

Not until 1903 did the museum collect a small dead wallaby with four hind legs and two pouches, which was shot somewhere near Bunbury.

1906. Two headed calf from Australind.

1910. A Bunbury lamb that looked like a rat.

The following year another four-legged chicken (yawn). This one pickled in a bottle of spirits.

In the middle of World War I, the museum obtained a fish with the body of a snake but the head and tail of a fish. They think of naming it the Anzac Frost Fish.

1920. Two headed lamb (haven’t we had one of those already?)

In 1936 Otto Lipfert, the museum’s taxidermist, stuffed Bricky, the Bayswater freak calf, and put him on display. Bricky later went on tour to UWA.

During World War II, two-headed lizards were all the rage. (And also in Japanese horror movies in the following decades.)

After that there were a whole string of two-headed lambs, bobtails, and the like.

The WA Museum should open its archives and redisplay each and every one of these donations. Or explain why they’re hiding them.

Also, a new museum is about to open in Perth. It had better have at least one freak of nature, or it’s letting the side down.

The theatre and its knockers

We can't help admiring the hats on the right

We can’t help admiring the hats on the right, November 1939

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the first stripper in Perth, who performed at His Majesty’s. However, we were slightly wrong when we said she was probably the first nude on the Western Australian stage.

In fact as early as 1939 some critics were saying that audiences were getting bored of turning up to His Majesty’s just for nudity and were now seeking higher quality plays. This was, of course, far too optimistic, and Perth’s grandest theatre was still trying to entice you with ‘beautiful nudes’ in the 1950s.

Naked women on stage were not illegal unless—and this is the bizarre bit—they moved. So for several decades, audiences at His Majesty’s were treated to a series of motionless ‘tableaux’, artistically arranged young women dressed only in their birthday suits.

In 1939, one of the stars who people paid good money to see was 20-year-old Barbara Clark, advertised as Australia’s No. 1 Glamour Girl. Strangely she claimed to have been doing her act for five years, which would mean she started performing nude at fifteen!

However, the critics may have been slightly right about how mere static nudity had become tiresome. By 1940, His Majesty’s was resorting to strippers to keep the crowd numbers up.

So, to the older generation who despair at the availability of pornography in the 21st century, ask yourself this: who was buying tickets for entry to His Majesty’s in the 1930s?

It’s a bust! Strippers, cops and His Maj

Legendary American striptease artiste, Sally Rand

Legendary American striptease artiste, Sally Rand

Today Dodgy Perth answers the question on everyone’s lips. Who was the first stripper in Perth? However, the answer to ‘when’ and ‘where’ is much easier than ‘who’. The name of our brave pioneer has been lost to history.

In January 1940 His Majesty’s announced that Perth audiences would see their first ever American-style striptease. The producer, Jack Lester, promised it would be “an artistic contribution” to the programme, and not at all indecent.

On the night it was announced the quantity of clothing removed would be in direct proportion to the level of applause. The crowd, unsurprisingly, went wild.

First off came one glove, then a second glove, a dress, and—we shudder to even say the word—a brassiere. Then the scantily-clad miss disappeared in a subdued light and a storm of applause.

Perhaps ticket sales were not what Jack Lester had hoped. Following nights saw several girls stripped to the waist. And then Jack pulled off his greatest publicity coup. For the first time ever, Perth audiences saw someone go the whole way.

A dainty brunette, she gradually discarded her clothing piece by piece until the last, most important, item dropped at her petite feet and she pirouetted nude.

When the audience recovered from the shock, the reaction was deafening. They clapped and whistled our local girl until the last of her birthday suit disappeared from the stage.

The news spread and next night His Maj was packed. Among the audience were four cops standing at the back, ready to spring into action.

As the stripper appeared on stage, the crowd was in a frenzy. But the presence of the law meant her act ended with both tights and brassiere firmly in place.

Cries of “’Fraud!” rang out, but the presence of the police meant that there was to be no repeat of the previous evening. It was said that Perth had seen its last striptease.

And we firmly state that we assume this is true, and would have no clue if there are strippers in town today.

The naughty racist elephant

Jumboroo in 1922

Jumboroo in 1922

Hello children. Are you sitting comfortably? Today we will tell the story of Jumboroo the racist elephant.

Mr Le Souef was sad. He owned a zoo. But he did not own an elephant. “What use was a zoo without an elephant?” thought Mr Le Souef.

Mr Le Souef had a Government friend called Happy Jack Scaddan. In 1922 Happy Jack was visiting Kuala Lumpur. He saw they had lots of elephants. So he asked if Perth Zoo could have one.

The nice people in Kuala Lumpur said yes. They promised to send an elephant to Happy Jack as soon as possible. So little Jumboroo was caught and placed on-board a ship bound for Fremantle.

On they way, Jumboroo fell through a hatch on the deck and tumbled six metres into the cargo below. What a naughty elephant. After that he was held in tight chains for the rest of the journey. Don’t you think he deserved it, children?

When he arrived at Robb’s Jetty, Jumboroo was scared of the big crowd there. He tried to get away. The people said he was a very naughty elephant indeed.

Jumboroo was even more frightened when they used a crane to lift him onto a small ferry to take him to South Perth. He made lots of noise. The people said the elephant must be very wicked to be so noisy.

When they finally dragged Jumboroo into the zoo, he did not want to go. The naughty little elephant was terrified of the roaring tigers. So Mr Le Souef said he would keep the mischievous elephant in chains since he was not behaving himself.

All the children came to see Jumboroo at Mr Le Souef’s lovely zoo. But the naughty elephant did not like it at the zoo, and he would not play with the lovely children.

The zoo people decided Jumboroo was racist, and only liked black people from his home country.* And you can’t have a racist animal in Perth Zoo. Can you, children?

So Mr Le Souef sold Jumboroo to Perry’s Circus for fifty pounds.

And the naughty racist elephant went off to start his new life in the Eastern States as part of the circus entertainment. We are sure he must have been very happy in the circus. Everyone loves circuses, don’t they?

Goodbye, Jumboroo the racist elephant.

* Actually they did not say “black people”. They said another word Dodgy Perth cannot use, even if Kanye West can.

If it’s not sharks, it’s drunks

90x150mmJ.D. did not like Cottesloe Beach. In fact, J.D. had a long list of things that were wrong with Cottesloe in 1912.

Firstly, the beach was infested by hoodlums, who engaged in horseplay which was scaring off women and girls. In particular, when the sun went down females ran the risk of being ‘grabbed’ by these larrikins while in the water, or when going to and from the changing rooms.

Ladies were often subject to the indignity of crude remarks when going down to the water’s edge. J.D.’s suggestion was to only allow bathers to occupy the space between the changing rooms and the sea, then the drunk loungers would be banned from the area.

Speaking of drunks, J.D. claimed that the number of them at Cottesloe was astonishing, especially on Sundays. Some of them were boozing on the beach, which others had come from the city, hoping that a swim might sober them up.

Young girls, eager to learn to swim, sometime made the mistake of allowing one of these drunken swine to take them out to sea. Even when they were sober, too few of these would-be swimming teachers knew what they were doing, and posed a risk to the girl’s life.

And some swimmers, don’t even pretend to swim at all. They simply keep in the shallow water and (ahem) wrestle with their significant other. Not exactly an edifying sight for young children.

Speaking of protecting children, most bathers have lost all sense of modesty and there was nowhere near enough material or fastenings on their costumes.

J.D. was not finished yet.

Drunks were wandering into the wrong changing rooms. Drivers were being unsafe on the road to the beach. The council hadn’t repaired to road in ages. And it should be widened. There were too many fishermen on the pier. And their bait stank.

All in all, J.D. did not like Cottesloe.

Dodgy Perth hasn’t been down to the beach there for a bit. Perhaps it is time to check out how many of J.D.’s complaints still hold true.

Value for money? In Perth?

must-wine-barSo, you think Perth is an expensive place to eat out? That’s because it is.

But this is nothing new. As increasing numbers of American sailors arrived in Perth during WWII, dining establishments realised they could hike up their prices and the visitors would have no choice but to pay up.

This blatant profiteering was everywhere condemned, but it didn’t stop the cafes and restaurants ripping off their customers. (Does this sound at all familiar?)

One local, Gavin Casey, complained that he was charged threepence for a solitary, small tomato on his plate. And at the same food stall, two shillings for the contents of a five-penny tin of spaghetti, a penny roll, a little butter, and a very small cup of coffee.

Gavin was outraged to have to pay two shillings for a hamburger and coffee, sixpence for another small cup of coffee, and a further sixpence for a small cup of milk.

Who can believe that it cost three shillings for a piece of steak? Especially when Gavin had to grill it himself over an open fire, although the establishment did supply a single piece of bread and butter to accompany the meat.

Dodgy Perth is not entirely sure that Mr Casey frequented the highest-class restaurants. Even at those prices.

In 1942, some restaurants were even getting so greedy as to demand a three shilling ‘cover charge’ from each diner, without bothering to provide entertainment or anything else to justify the money.

You can’t imagine feeling that ripped off in modern Perth can you? Oh, you can.

Now that’s entertainment

Bluebeard's Bloody Chamber, 1901

Bluebeard’s Bloody Chamber, 1901

We at Dodgy Perth know how to have a good night out. And we know that a good night out requires a man in drag and dismembered heads.

Sceptical? Read on.

The last time we met George Leake—lawyer and State Premier—some rotters were (and still are) hoping to knock down his widow’s house on Bellevue Terrace. Anyway, it turns out George had another talent. He made a very good drag queen.

In 1888 there was a special charity event at St George’s Hall on Hay Street. A building, we sadly note, now reduced to a parody of heritage conservation. Thank you District Court of WA.

After a few songs, the main act were waxworks borrowed from Jarley’s for the evening. The future Premier dressed up as ‘Mrs Jarley’, and he was surprisingly good at it.

The various waxworks were wheeled out while George—sorry, Mrs Jarley—cracked jokes and kept the crowd amused. There was Chang the giant, the Giant Killer, Jack Sprat and his wife, and Queen Elizabeth.

For those who believe product placement is a recent invention, the next tableaux was Mrs. Pears’ Soap and the Dirty Boy. Quickly followed by waxworks representing Winslow’s Soothing Syrup and Mrs Allen’s Hair Restorer. (Just don’t ask.)

The evening closed with Bluebeard’s chamber. Bluebeard himself was represented in the act of threatening his last wife’s existence with an uplifted scimitar. The heads of his previous victims were hung by their hair, all bleeding copiously, around the walls.

So: drag, rampant commercialism, and over-the-top gore. Sounds like Dodgy Perth’s ideal Saturday evening.