Fighting the British, one arch at a time


All arches are created equal

Some buildings are revolutionary. Literally. Like kick-out-the-Brits type revolutionary. And you probably wouldn’t think that a humble church hall in Claremont would be the place to start looking for this. But you should.

If you travel down Stirling Highway, probably cursing the traffic as you crawl along, you’ll notice Congregational Hall at Claremont, which was built in 1896. The church, on the right in the picture above, was erected a decade later. While it might not seem much to look at now, the hall was part of a movement to rid ourselves of British influence.

When people in the 1890s started talking about Federation and a new country, architects were not going to be left out of this exciting new movement. Henry Stirling Trigg was the first qualified architect to be born in Western Australia so, unsurprisingly, he wanted to contribute. But if English architecture was to be abandoned, where was he going to look for new ideas? He needed a country that had also broken free from the motherland and formed its own identity. Naturally, he thought of the good old U. S. of A.

The Americans call the style the ‘Richardsonian’, but we decided it was sexier to described the architecture as being ‘American Romanesque’. The easiest way to spot it is to look for rounded arches and, quite often, rustication, which is where you cut back the edges of the stone leaving a perfectly regular block with a rough surface in the middle.

The entrance to Congregational Hall and the windows above are good examples of the American Romanesque at work. Even better is the very fine Trinity Church on St George’s Terrace, also by Henry Stirling Trigg and opened in 1893. Although it’s in brick not stone, this is American Romanesque at its finest.


Or nearly its finest, because there was an even better building which we have now lost. On the corner of St George’s Terrace and Howard Street used to be Surrey Chambers. Designed by Edward Herbert Dean Smith in 1903, this was one of the greatest buildings ever to be put up in Perth. Just look at those rounded arches. And, if you feel like being depressed, go and look at what’s replaced it.


So, there you have it. An imported style of architecture specifically intended to be not-British for a new nation which saw itself coming into being. Next time you see these rounded arches, you’ll know that it wasn’t just a fashionable design, it was a political statement.

What’s in a name?


Image courtesy of Shinjiman – Public Domain

Some stories are so good, they get retold over and over again. The only problem with some of these stories is that they aren’t true. In this particular case, the story is how the suburb of Queen’s Park got its name. And it involves a murder.

According to Landgate, and repeated by that source-of-all-truth Wikipedia, Queen’s Park was originally called Woodlupine and changed its name after a brutal crime which happened in the suburb in 1911 and became widely known as the Woolupine Murder. After all, who wants to live in a suburb with that association?

We won’t go into the details of the horrific rape-murder here, except to note there are question marks over whether the offender was mentally fit to stand trial, let alone be executed. But executed he was and there’s not a lot we can do about that now.

Now there is some truth to the story, but it doesn’t involve the local residents trying to get rid of a name to which they were very much attached.

Woodlupine wasn’t even originally called that. Until 1898 it was known as Jubilee Estate, until the Railway Department changed the name of the station. The new name was after an old orange plantation in the area which had been called Wood-Lupin. There were some protests, but the station name was changed anyway.

The good citizens of Woodlupine felt that everyone hated them. They were victimised by the Railway Department, by the Post Office and, most of all, by their local government, Queen’s Park, which had been founded in 1907. The new local government rose out of the ashes of the short-lived, and completely disastrous, Canning Roads Board which, you will not be surprised to hear, was loathed by everyone in Woodlupine.

So, when one of the first actions of Queen’s Park was to propose changing the name of Woodlupine Station and the Post Office to Queen’s Park, there was outrage. After all, the new council wanted everything named after itself, and Woodlupine was the busiest Post Office and Station, so it had to go.

Naturally, petitions and complaints followed, and the council chickened out and didn’t follow through on its plan. That is, until the Woodlupine Murder in 1911. Seizing their chance, the following year the councillors wrote to the Railway Department asking for the station’s name to be changed. This was agreed, provided Queen’s Park pay the £10 cost of having all the signage changed.

Perhaps the Woodlupine residents were worn down by years of council ‘oppression’. Perhaps the murder was on their minds. In any case, little opposition seems to have been raised and the council finally got their way.

The real story here (if we put aside the murder victim and her family) is about a local government needing to have its ‘brand’ on a Post Office and Railway Station and opportunistically seizing the moment. Is it more interesting than a tale of residents so disgusted by a crime they wanted to change the name of their suburb? That’s for the reader to decide.

When the UK said no to #Wexit


Behold the glorious flag of our independent WA

Western Australia was always the one that really didn’t want to go to the club after midnight, it just wanted to go home to bed. But everyone else insisted they’d have a great time. So WA went and hated every minute of it. And it never stopped complaining about the steep cover charge and the price of the drinks.

We’d only gained independence (of a sort) in 1890, so it’s not surprising that a mere decade later no one really wanted to give it up to be controlled by the Eastern States. WA dragged its heels and muttered a bit about not really wanting to join the party. Which is why the Australian Constitution doesn’t mention WA at the start, only in passing later on:

and also, if Her Majesty is satisfied that the people of Western Australia have agreed thereto…

Well, we didn’t want to agree to nothing, but the goldfields got grumpy and announced that if WA didn’t join Australia then they’d secede and none of the lovely gold money would be coming Perth’s way. In the end, the bullies won and we were dragged kicking and screaming to a nightclub we knew we’d dislike.

When the Depression hit hard in the early 1930s, WA decided enough was enough. All of our hard-earned money was going to support the Eastern States and very little of it was flowing back west. (Doesn’t this sound very familiar?) Or, as the great William Lathlain so eloquently put it:

Thirty years ago we all boarded the good ship Commonwealth for a lifelong voyage, with the full assurance that there would be only one class for all passengers. During the voyage we found, to our great surprise, that there were four classes. Victoria and New South Wales had secured all the saloon cabins; South Australia and Queensland the second class; little Tasmania was put in the steerage; while Western Australia is compelled to work her passage in the forecastle.

At the referendum for #Wexit in 1933, WA voted by a majority of two to one to separate from the Commonwealth. Only the tyrant overlords out east rudely told us we weren’t going anywhere.

So the following year a petition was presented to the King, the House of Lords and the House of Commons asking England to set us free from our oppressors and let us live rich, contented lives in the State of Excitement. It took until 1935 before England got back to us, and they used legal trickery to decide that the petition was “not proper to be received”. In other words, you made your bed, now lie in it.

Strangely, though, 1935 was a year marked by buoyant trading conditions and decreased unemployment. Everyone in WA got happier and the idea of #Wexit was gradually forgotten by most people. Until the 1970s, but that’s a different story for a different day.

Progress is not for everyone


Now available in other colours

What has the opening of the Town Hall on Barrack Street got to do with feminism? Give up? Well, let Dodgy Perth mansplain it to you then.

Everyone needs to tell stories, about themselves, their family and their community. For most of the last two centuries, the (white) people of Western Australia have told their history using one word: ‘progress’. And every new building, no matter how boring or ugly, was welcomed as yet another sign of the progress of this great state.

So it should come as no surprise to find that on the official opening of the Town Hall in 1870, a huge banner was put across Barrack Street with the word PROGRESS on it, for people to march under on their way to the new building.

But there’s a problem with this word. It doesn’t just apply to new buildings, but also to society. Little things like women’s rights, for example. If the fair sex keep hearing about how we’re progressive, they might decide they would like a little of this progress too.

At the Town Hall ceremony, there wasn’t much sign of this progress. The hall itself was filled only with the important men of Perth while the womenfolk were consigned to the gallery. The men feasted and drank the booze, while their wives simply looked on without even a sandwich.

But still, this whole progress thing had to be dealt with, and it fell to the Colonial Secretary, Frederick Barlee, to spell it out. Proposing a toast to the health of the ladies, like every misogynist before and since, he announced that no one could be more devoted to women.

As a lover of ladies, Fred continued, he well knew the power and influence they had over men. (Even if this did not extend to getting anything to eat or drink.) Recently he had been reading about something called “women’s rights and female suffrage”, and worse about women entering professions and becoming scientists. Not, of course, in Perth, but elsewhere in the world.

But, said Fred, addressing the gallery, none of the good and true women here would wish to see any such nonsense brought about. After all, they already knew how much power they had without needing legal rights. Nor did women need the vote, since all men did was vote the way they were told by their wives anyway.

The Colonial Secretary then called upon all present to drink to the health of the ladies by gulping down nine large mouthfuls of booze. Well, not all could drink of course. Some were in the gallery.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was what 1870 called progress.

The red under our bed

Findlay MacKay the red biker

Findlay MacKay the red biker

Schools have become hotbeds for extremists wishing to corrupt our youth. We refer, of course, to the leaflet handed out on James Street to schoolkids encouraging them to see a lantern slide about Soviet sporting culture. Thrilling it was too. Maybe.

Bloody Communists. No wonder 1933 never came back into fashion.

Anyway, it turns out that a James Street shop had been converted into the headquarters and clubhouse for the local branch of the Communist Party.

And in 1931, WA’s first ever Communist candidate for the federal senate was Findlay MacKay (pictured above), an engineer who lived in Gwenyfred Street, South Perth.

It is clear that the clean-cut young Commie was much better than the current Socialist Alliance lot who could do with a shower, a barber, and a job. (We are looking at you Alex Bainbridge.)

Poor Findlay not only lost his deposit—reds not being all that popular here in the 1930s—but also got fined for holding an unauthorised rally in Bunbury.

Long a motorcycle enthusiast, it was as a result of his bike colliding with a bus in Vic Park in 1942, that Findlay sadly lost his life.

Biker, Commie, and agitator on the streets of Bunbury. What’s not to like?