What we used to believe

In this secular age it is hard to remember that Perth residents were once a very spiritual lot. A number of rituals, some last performed only recently, made up significant aspects of their lives. Although the meaning of many of these rites is now forgotten, it is important we preserve some record of this non-tangible heritage for future generations.

The Temple Visit


As we become less religious, our houses of worship are disappearing

Once a week, usually on a Friday, someone from each household was tasked with carrying out one of the most bewildering (to us) rituals.

They would drive to a temple known as a ‘Blockbuster’ and, for generation after generation, the same sacred exchange would take place with the high priest behind the counter:

Do you have a VHS copy of Lord of the Rings?

Sorry, we’re all out at the moment.

Okay then, I’ll borrow a Will Ferrell movie instead.

There are a number of theories as to the meaning of these words, but none are satisfactory. However, there is general agreement that the name of God was so sacred the phrase ‘Will Ferrell’ was used in its place.

Speaking with God


Ever wanted to hear the gods sing?


In a simpler age, before the advent of modern science, Perth people actually believed that a 12” piece of plastic would allow them to hear their gods singing to them, most notably the Madonna herself. Despite repeated evidence this did not work, the rite of placing the blessed circle on a potter’s wheel and lowering a blessed ‘needle’ was undertaken over and over again.

All they ever heard was a strange noise, after which the ancient words “Bloody kids have scratched it!” would be uttered in a peculiar voice.

Some radical anthropologists have speculated that in the long-distant past it was possible to hear the Madonna communicate to them. Others even suggest that if you wait three hours she will actually turn up herself.

The Role of the Priest


We literally have no idea what this is


With modern communication techniques it is easy to forget it was once difficult to speak to people who were far away. Early Perth residents were fooled into believing one of their gods, Telstra, could send voices along thin pieces of copper. Some historians venture this was a pre-cursor of science, but we prefer to take a Marxist reading.

Recognising the desperation of some people to communicate with a loved one, the high priests of Telstra forced Perth people to stand in one spot with a bizarre contraption on their ear and, this always comes a surprise to those who haven’t studied religion, a wire linked to a heavy weight known as a ‘telephone’.

The similarities between this and the Medieval imprisonment technique of ‘ball and chain’ make to all-too-obvious that the purpose of the ritual was not communication but control of the worshipper. While frantic to speak with a beloved, the body was held firmly in one position, and thus was easier for the high priests to begin to control other aspects of the believer’s life.


We here at Dodgy Perth firmly believe that more research should be undertaken into Perth’s religious history before this knowledge is lost forever.

Slumming it

Pages from poverty

Poverty Point, Fremantle, March 1953

A couple of years ago a YouTube video Postcard from Perth was much circulated round these parts. Filmed in 1954, it showed an idealised vision of a utopian city.

How idealised? Just look below the line. Comment after comment from people wishing they lived in the 1950s rather than now.

So, how accurately did this film portray the reality of everyday life? On a scale of 0 to 10, we would have to say minus six.

Imagine being old, or disabled, or Aboriginal, or a war veteran. What was Perth like in 1954 for these people?

The answer is they were to be found living in dwellings constructed of rusting corrugated iron and old bags. These ‘homes’ afforded little protection from the weather. Floors were just sand with chaff bags as mats.

Without water or power, none of the houses had bathrooms or sanitation. Improvised wells provided washing and drinking water.

These slum conditions were not in remote communities. One was in Fremantle between South Beach and the Power Station. Known as Poverty Point, the colony of more than fifty was adjacent to a smouldering rubbish tip, a fertiliser factory using fish offal, and an old abattoir. It was strewn throughout with filth and rubbish.

Many of the buildings were constructed from flotsam and jetsam, second-hand galvanised-iron, broken bricks, fruit cases, and chaff bags. Fences were bedsteads and curtains were improvised from sugar bags.

One pensioner, A. A. Bottomly, said he wasn’t proud to be found living in those conditions. But with rents so high in the city, “I have my choice of starving in a slum in town or eking out a frugal existence rent free here. I choose this.”

Another pensioner, Mrs M. Westicott, had lived in the slum for seven years. She and her husband, a war pensioner with a lung complaint, had to make ends meet by salvaging objects washed up the beach. Mrs Westicott had once been known as the ‘Queen of Coogee’, but was now reduced to third-world conditions.

Andy Nebro, one of the Aboriginal residents at Poverty Point, was just 22. He was hoping to take his wife out of the shanty town to somewhere more liveable. We hope they made it.

So when you look at Postcard from Perth, just remember that there could have been other postcards in 1954. But the government didn’t want you to see those ones.

They don’t spare the rod in Perth


And doesn’t he look happy about it

Today Dodgy Perth answers that difficult question: Is it okay to hit 17 year old girls? In the 1920s The Mirror used to run an advice column. Readers would send in their problems and the following week other readers would offer their opinions.

Today, we offer a problem and advice from 1928:

Up to what age should a father spank his daughter?

I have a daughter who is nearly 18, and lately I have had to speak to her several times regarding the late hours she keeps but she takes no notice.

I am now seriously considering asking her father to apply the slipper but I am afraid he would refuse on the grounds that she is now too old to be spanked.

There does not seem to be any other way to enforce parental authority. What should I do?

Yours etc, ‘Mother of Five,’ (East Perth).

The answers were consistent.

‘Mother of Five’ has a perfect right to ask her husband to spank her seventeen-year-old daughter if she won’t do what she is told and refuses to correct her bad habits.

Spanking isn’t a matter of age; it’s a matter of common sense and girls should be spanked until they have sufficient common sense to be able to get along without the strap.

Yours, ‘Twenty-one,’ (Subiaco).

Another mother wrote:

I take the opportunity of giving the lady a little advice on this most important subject, which as far as spanking children is concerned, is as old as the hills.

If the girl of nearly 18 years old did not do as I told her and she treated me with so much contempt I would not go to her father to perform the operation of spanking her.

I should take the pleasure of getting a cane about 18 inches long and put her across my knee, and use it to such an extent that it would sting and hurt, and give her something to remember.

Don’t think she is too old to punish at 18, don’t hesitate about it, and you will get the respect all the sooner from your daughter.

Yours etc., ‘Another Mother.’

Anyway. So now you know.

Sex and the city


Contemporary picture of a den of iniquity

Over the last couple of days, Facebook and Twitter have been full of mourning for long demolished blocks of flats in central Perth. Even councillors at the City of Perth having been bewailing the loss of such buildings as the Riviera Flats.

For our part, we are happy to let people wallow in nostalgia and believe that blocks of flats were a good thing.

No. Wait. This is Dodgy Perth.

In 1929, as flats became more common in Perth, it was becoming clear that nothing good was going to come of this new way of living.

The media had discovered that some of these apartments were being rented by young single men. To understand why this was controversial you need look at the alternatives.

If the young man lived at home, his parents would be there to stop any hanky-panky shenanigans happening in his bed.

The only other option, before flats, was to live in a boarding house. The communal nature of the building, and because they were ruled over by a middle-aged matron, definitely meant no sexy time in a boarding house.

But flats were different. They were your own space, and you (and others) could come and go as you pleased without being observed. No wonder they terrified both the older generation and the media.

The young man who rented a flat could invite his girlfriend over for a ‘quiet drink’, or throw a party. And these were not the kind of parties that would be sanctioned in their parents’ homes.

Inevitably, the newspapers went all “won’t somebody think of the girls?” No decent girl, they said, would be used to drinking. So as soon as she had a few in a private flat, she would instantly become the victim of her predatory host.

Well. Maybe. But probably not.

Why can’t the law stop young men renting flats? was the cry. Private flats for young men were only going to cause trouble.

So, to those who are unhappy that blocks of Art Deco flats were demolished, Dodgy Perth asks you this simple question: Won’t somebody think of the girls?

The secret to a happy marriage


Darn it!

In the Dodgy Perth household we sometimes wonder if Mrs Dodgy Perth is actually a good housewife. We suspect her claims to be tired after a long day in the office is a way of avoiding knitting blankets for the children, or darning socks.

So it was with delight we found a 1931 Sunday Times article with advice for a happy marriage. For fair sex readers, we present the following for your improvement.

Firstly, a man’s appearance is entirely the responsibility of his missus. If he looks middle-aged before his time, it is the little woman’s fault.

Perhaps he is—shudder!—thinning on top. Avoid this tragedy by purchasing quality hair tonic and massaging his scalp every night.

Is he getting love handles? Instead of nagging him, tactfully suggest a few weight loss remedies.

We know what you’re thinking. If a man wanted his head massaged or attention drawn to his girth, he would ask for it. But no. Men are proud creatures, so the obligation is entirely on ‘er indoors.

Here in the Dodgy Perth offices we shamefully look at our hands and wish we could ask for a way to make them look “less like raw beef”. Of course she knows a solution. But we are never going to ask.

So the trouble and strife must prove her love by manicuring our nails, tending our hands as if they were her own.

An extra burden on top of her fifty-hour week, you say? Nonsense. The conscientious wife will be rewarded a thousand times over by the look of loving gratitude in his eyes. That is all the reward she needs. (Are you listening Mrs Dodgy Perth?)

Marriage is a partnership it turns out. Thanks to the Sunday Times, our suits are sponged, our hair brushes washed, our socks darned, and the cuffs of our shirts turned.

If she has to act as personal valet, it’s only because we men are far too tired in the evening, and women have natural boundless energy.

Light of my life

slwa_b3799995_12The question that has long puzzled historians is: what did people do in the evenings before Twitter, Facebook and My Kitchen Rules?

Now the crack team of researchers at Dodgy Perth has uncovered the truth: our forefathers entertained themselves by going out for the night and looking at advertising signs. Seriously.

You can just imagine the conversation:

“Darling, television won’t come to Perth for another thirty years. How about you and me go check out some neon signage?”

“Oh Micky, you old romantic. I’ll get my coat.”

But it is all true.

City and Suburban Billposting Co were sign writers, originally based in King Street, but who relocated to a brand new Art Deco building in Hay Street in July 1928 (pictured above).

The following year, the company acquired the rights to manufacture a brand new invention: neon lighting. This, as any aficionado of film noir knows, was to radically change the commercial streetscape forever.

A subsidiary was formed—Rainbow-Neon Light Co—to manufacture and sell the novel product. Their headquarters, 383 Hay Street, was consequently the first ever building in Perth to have neon lighting installed on it.

The words Scanlan’s Rainbow Signs were written in green, blue, red, yellow and white. And the brightly coloured sign drew a large crowd to the spot to see this novelty. It was advertised (yes, the advert was advertised!) as being available for view between 8pm and 10pm each night.

Not only did the crowds flock in response, but the press raved about this new way of advertising, claiming that Perth was now the rival of Broadway in terms of modernity.

Perth firms rushed to install the new lights, because no one wanted to seem old fashioned with simply painted signs. If your hotel, say, had Rainbow-Neon lights outside, you were proclaiming exactly how up-to-date you were.

The magnificent Art Deco building above is currently for sale, and the irrepressible Dallas Robertson (aka Museum of Perth) is fighting to ensure the façade is saved for future generations to know where their ancestors once spent the evening staring at advertising signage. Because they were bored. Or something.

Check out the Museum of Perth Facebook page and lend your support to the campaign before it’s too late.

Barracking for the wrong building

The Barrack Arch revealed in all its glory

The Barracks Arch revealed in all its wonderful glory

You probably like Barracks Arch. You may even have seen pictures of the old barracks and mourned their almost total demolition. Well Dodgy Perth is here to cheer you up by showing that not everything old is always great.

We’ll start by noting that their erection was a complete cock-up, from start to finish. Like all government projects, it was totally mismanaged. Work started in 1862, but took many, many years to finish. This was typical of state projects at the time, and was the same for the Town Hall and Government House.

It also ruined the builder, William Halliday. He had put in the lowest tender, but the architect, Richard Roach Jewell, and the clerk of work, James Manning, were concerned he had underquoted. Halliday told them not to worry, he had made no errors. But he had. Somehow he was out on the number of bricks by several million. Although he completed the contract, the mistake forced his company into bankruptcy.

During the building process, one worker died after falling into a deep well being dug. And the local residents complained that the powder store was erected far too close to their homes for comfort.

Anyway, the Barracks were finally finished, and so we come to the heritage part of the story. When Parliament was built, the old building stood in the way of a decent view from the approach along the Terrace.

The Barracks had not aged well. and in 1902 a civil engineer really dissed them:

The main approach to the site is at present masked by that grim-looking structure known as the Barracks, and this will ultimately have to be dismantled to display the full front view of the new Parliament Building.

However, for one reason or another the grim structure stayed where it was. So a generation later, when more additions were made to Parliament, the subject came up again. Alfred Wright, president of the Institute of Architects, had this to say in 1933:

The Barracks has no pretensions to architectural merit. Although their venerable appearance imbues them with a certain appeal, they would have to disappear when the completion of Parliament House was proceeded with.

Wright was no ultra-modernist, he was in love with the Town Hall, the Museum, and St George’s Cathedral. Hardly, then, someone who hated heritage. Just an architect prepared to give his honest opinion on an aging building with little merit.

In the end of course, the arch stayed while the rest was demolished. This kind of half-arsed conservation has no place at all. Either admit the whole building had to go, or defend the entire structure. Leaving small bits (see the awful St George’s Hall façade) is tokenism without offering anything for the community.

So, should we finish the job?

That damnable trolley bus

trolley bus


It won’t surprise anyone to discover that there is a difference between nostalgia and history. Of course there is. But it is easy to blur the lines if you’re not careful, and the old trolley bus service is a case in point

Who doesn’t love Perth’s old trolley buses? You can even purchase a book showing how delightful they were:


So, it is reasonable to assume they were much loved in their day. They must have been. Mustn’t they?

Let’s ask legendary town planner, Harold Boas. He was responding to a 1936 proposal to extend the trolley bus service to Subiaco, which would involve the service using Mounts Bay Road or Kings Park Road. Harold’s opinion:

We have been battling to improve our highways, and now the Government comes along and is prepared to set us back a quarter of a century.

Basically, the trolley bus service, which had commenced in 1933, was seen as ruining the streetscape by disfiguring it with poles, overhead gear and wires. Oh, so many wires. Or as one grumpy writer to the newspaper put it:

I think most residents do not realise that not only more heavy overhead wires would be stretching across these otherwise beautiful thoroughfares but, worse still, an extra number of ugly poles, set at different angles, would spoil any claim to beauty.

Nor were these the only people who wanted less trolley buses. Two years after Boas’ damning statement, traders along St Georges Terrace were up in arms:

Strong protests continue to be made regarding the proposed use of St. Georges Terrace. General trend of those opinions is that the use of the Terrace as a trolley bus route would spoil one of Perth’s prized streets. On aesthetic grounds strong protests continue to be made.

So, while it’s wonderful to reflect nostalgically on trolley buses, don’t assume that everyone at the time actually liked the buggers.