Racists lodge a complaint

Looking good for white visitors

Looking good for white visitors

When the Aboriginal gaol on Rottnest was turned into a luxury hostel for holidaymakers, it is understandable that it caused outrage. But not for the reasons you think. Oh dear no.

Some of the cells had their adjoining walls knocked down to make them suitable for married couples. You see, one white married couple occupies the same sleeping space as forty Aboriginal men. But that was not the reason for the outrage.

It wasn’t even controversial that a prison would be made into holiday homes at all. No one complained about the possibility of ghosts, or of disrespecting the heritage values of the place. That was not the reason for the outrage.

In 1911 as the hostel was being prepared for its first Christmas opening it was rumoured that the furniture had been made by ‘Asian’ labourers, and not just white folk. The Sunday Times, always quick to smell a racist opportunity, rushed a reporter over to the island and he confirmed the worst. There were the labels showing the fittings had been touched by non-white hands. (For those unfamiliar with just how racist furniture can be, click here.)

Naturally the Minister for Public Works was horrified (to have been found out). He ordered all the furniture returned to Perth and suspended the civil servant he held responsible for this barbaric crime.

The poor bureaucrat protested he had no instructions to buy only from white firms, and the Asian-made furniture was much, much cheaper. In fact, 90% of all furniture used in Western Australia was made by ‘Asiatics’. Much to the disgust of the (white) union movement.

So the cheaper items were replaced with more expensive, racially pure furniture and everyone was happy.

Except for those who cared about the horrendous history of the gaol. But it would be many decades before the media bothered telling that side of the story.

(Racially) pure football

AFL Rd 14 - Sydney v Port Adelaide

Why is there a controversy over West Coast fans booing an Aboriginal player at Subiaco Oval? We know it wasn’t racist, because that kind of thing doesn’t go on anymore in Western Australia.

So let’s look back to a time when football was an even kinder, gentler, more tolerant sport. In this case, in the South West in 1910.

Jack Johnson had just defeated Jim Jefferies in one of the most important boxing matches in history, making Johnson the first black heavyweight champion of the world. The victor, by the way, was vilified in his native America from coast to coast for the impudence of beating a white man.

When news of this momentous triumph reached Western Australia, every pub was alive with debates about which was really the best sporting race: black or white.

Footballers living around Busselton did not wish to experiment with this debate on the field, so as a consequence announced that no local teams could include Aborigines, nor would they play a team which did.

A handful of brave footballers, probably mindful that some of the Aborigines were among their best players, refused to play until the race bar was lifted. As it happens, one of the best players in the area was Coolbung, who also worked alongside the white players in the bush.

And so it was that the Busselton team took to the field in August 1910 minus two or three of their best men, determined that racial purity should triumph over merely winning a game.

It’s easy to see we have moved on from then. Except, it seems, at Subiaco Oval.

When blacking up was controversial

Young Australia League under construction, 1924

Young Australia League under construction, 1924

Above is the Young Australia League building on Murray Street. The Dodgy Perth team remembers it as a place to drinking absinthe cocktails during Goth nights there some years back. Not that we remember much after the fourth such beverage.

Founded in 1905 by ‘Boss’ Simons, the YAL was intended to promote patriotism, health and education among young Western Australians. So far, so good.

Before we continue, Dodgy Perth warns readers that the following contains racially charged language. Still here? Then we’ll continue.

For several decades, to raise money for the League, the boys would tour WA with a ‘nigger minstrel show’. In other words, they would do blackface and perform humorous sketches and songs. In other words, they mocked African Americans. To use their words, they did ‘clever coon impersonations’.

In the 1910s, these tours were immensely popular on the Goldfields and, for some strange reason, in Bunbury. They formed a major source of income for the League.

Unsurprisingly, they were also extremely controversial. But not for the reason you think.

Mr C. James of Cottesloe was outraged about such blackface. He noted the YAL’s motto was ‘Australia First’ and that they preached White Australia to their members.

So why were they doing an American form of entertainment? Why were good white Australian boys using burnt cork to pretending to be Negroes, complete with plantation songs and ‘nigger jabber’? Surely representing African Americans as a source of fun was contrary to the nationalistic ideals of the YAL.

But Mr James’ criticism was mild compared to that of Mr N. F. G. Wilson of South Fremantle.

He was sickened by seeing forty or fifty youngsters imitating a class of humanity that should be erased from the face of the Earth, if we were to remain true to our White Australia principals.

How can young Aussie lads, with their impressionable minds, honour their race when they are encouraged to dress up as “sons of Ham”? Boss Simons should realise that kids can never grow up to love their country and everything Australian if they are blacking up for fun.

And that, dear reader, is why the Young Australia League was controversial. Un-freaking-believable.

On racist cows and racist folk

Halal, is it meat you're looking for?

Halal, is it meat you’re looking for?

The suave, sophisticated types of Reclaim Australia have taken to the streets to deliver their message of peace, love and understanding this weekend. Dodgy Perth would like to offer the following contribution to their brave stance for intercultural harmony.

As far back as 1887 it was realised that Western Australia’s future would depend on our neighbours, and not just England. In particular, this meant doing business with Singapore.

Western Australian beef and lamb was much desired there, and live exports could begin immediately. Bizarrely, however, there was resistance from some Singaporean butchers to dealing with Aussie bullocks. They claimed our cattle were racist and would attack non-Europeans.

We suggest there is more to this than meats the eye (see what we did there?). Perhaps the local butchers did not want to disrupt their existing relationships with suppliers.

The main ship to conduct the trade was the newly constructed Australind. The owners considered having a built-in freezer for frozen meat, but abandoned the idea because it was too high a cost to run refrigerated receiving depots at both Singapore and Java.

In any case, since most of the consumers were Muslim, the frozen meat trade was hampered by the need for it to be halal. One enterprising steamer running between Java and Queensland had already invested in having a Muslim priest and butcher on board who did the slaughtering with all the necessary rites.

It took Western Australia a long, long time to catch up with Queensland’s halal certification scheme. This was a shame, since other states, including South Australia, were eyeing up the market, and a lack of action would cause a loss of jobs.

Other WA exports were less successful. Singaporeans were quite snobby about their horses, and they considered West Australian horses pathetic. Too weedy and not of sufficiently good breed, it was said.

Also, in the late 1880s a previous successful product, sandalwood, was becoming less and less desired. The major purchasers were the Chinese community in Singapore, who needed the wood for incense burners. However, the young Chinese preferred smoking cigars, drinking champagne and riding fast horses, to worshipping at a temple. So the market for sandalwood had collapsed.

So, exporters have known for more than 128 years that the market drives the product. If Southeast Asia want halal meat, then halal meat is what we must provide for them. Also, we need better horses. And more devout Chinese people.

The last one is a little tricky, but we’ll see what we can do.

Islamophobia, 1832 style

When we think of the early Swan River Colony we usually picture white British settlers and Aborigines. And no one else. So it might come as a surprise to find there was a thriving Muslim community (perhaps from Indonesia) right from the start. Unfortunately, we only know this because racist bigots decided to beat them up.


On Christmas Eve 1832, Samud Alli was on his way to George Leake’s store when John Velvick grabbed him outside the Perth Hotel and said “You black man, give me glass of grog.”

Samud protested that, as a Muslim, he didn’t drink. So Velvick punched him two or three times, using language the newspaper said was “too disgusting for publication”.

Then Velvick held him while his white mate started laying into Samud with a stick. He was only rescued when other Muslims arrived and calmed the situation.

The Muslims went back home, while the white men went to another pub, Mayo’s Bar. Here, they got very pissed. Twenty of them (including teenagers) grabbed heavy sticks, determined to start a fight with their Muslim neighbours and tear down their huts.

Leading the baying mob, Velvick demanded Samud fight him, to which he calmly replied “I no fight.”

“You bloody bastard, you must fight,” screamed Velvick, calling on his twenty mates to lay into the eight Muslims.

The defenceless party had no chance. Most were still sitting down, and some were attempting to shake hands with their attackers.

The beating was so bad, every Muslim was covered with blood.

For this vile act, Velvick got three months. But a worse fate was waiting for him.

Shortly after he was released from prison, he and his brother were killed by Aboriginal resistance leader, Yagan. Neville Green has suggested the Velvicks were singled out because they were known to be violent racists.

Unfortunately, events spiralled out of control, leading ultimately to Yagan’s death at the hand of a colonist.

Welcome to the founding of our colony.

Racist gets whats coming

1988 badgeWhen ‘J. T.’ of East Perth wrote a pro-segregation letter to the newspaper in 1943, they probably expected to get some support for their position.

After all, J. T. had noticed the waiting seat for trolley bus passengers in Wellington Street was frequently occupied by “natives or half-castes” and bus passengers had to stand.

“What right,” fumed J. T., “have these natives to occupy a seat that should be reserved for white people?”

Given how generally racist Perth sometimes looks in the past, Dodgy Perth found it refreshing to read the next edition of the Mirror.

K. R. Whitby of Geraldton kicked off by noting that the country belongs to Aboriginal people, not white folk, and demanded “fair play” for everyone.

A Darlington resident told J. T. that he was the trespasser on Wellington Street, since white people stole the country from the Aborigines. So no one could complain about where the rightful owners chose to sit.

And W. Pearce of Fremantle stuck the knife in by pointing out that J. T. would have refused a seat to Christ, since he would have been a “coloured man” in J. T.’s eyes.

Sometimes it’s too easy to judge the past from the point of view of the present. We need to remember that some people in the past were racist bigots, and some as PC as you can get.

White Australia, I could be one of your kids


Frederick Vosper, looking bohemian and not at all like a bigot

We in the Dodgy Perth office are in favour of people using their democratic right to protest against mosques. It makes organising dinner parties much easier when the bigots have outed themselves.

But before we get too smug and believe only the Victorians have a racism problem, a quick look back at the Anti-Asiatic League which was formed at Coolgardie in 1894 to ensure only white folk worked the goldfields.

All-round racist, and founder of the Sunday Times, Frederick Vosper explained to a public rally that the average Afghan had first come to Coolgardie as a mere camel driver. By working hard he had gradually become a storeman, then a member of the police force. Eventually, some Afghans had obtained work with the council.

Naturally such an evil could not be allowed to go unchecked, Vosper explained, so whites had been forced to found the Anti-Asiatic League to stop hard-working Muslims getting jobs.

Being a clever chap, Vosper had noted whites and Afghans had different religions. Therefore, he said, the two races could never be on friendly terms. Not only that, the buggers were so dirty they polluted the water supply just by using it.

Warming to his theme, Frederick explained that since dogs were quarantined to stop rabies, Muslims should be quarantined to prevent leprosy. And just like he would today, Vosper read a few out-of-context lines from the Qur’an to prove Muslims hated Christians.

Either the white man or the Afghan must go, he declared. The miners, at any rate, were determined that it should be the Afghan.

The Anti-Asiatic League roared its approval and this tolerant nation took one more step on the road to White Australia.

Racist tables and bigoted Boans

Nice to know, isn't it?

Nice to know, isn’t it?

There was a time when every piece of furniture in Western Australia had a racist stamp on it. Every. Single. Piece. From 1900 to the 1960s all furniture had to declare whether it had been made purely by good honest white workers, or had been sullied by being touched by people from South East Asia.

Seriously. It was either stamped ‘European labour only’ or ‘Asiatic labour’.

Chinese craftsmen were well-known for producing quality pieces at lower prices than the white-only factories could. So the unions objected and—thank you, White Australia policy—the government passed laws to make sure buyers knew which race had produced them.

Some union leaders went further and demanded furniture factories should have glass fronts so customers could check the place wasn’t secretly employing people from South East Asia.

Looking just like Gestapo headquarters

Looking just like Gestapo headquarters

One of the worst local retailers who cashed in on the racism of their customers was Boans. They regularly advertised that they would only make and sell furniture without Asian employees. Which, in Boans’ opinion, meant their chairs and tables were superior.

It has always been the policy of Boans to employ European labour only in their factory, which means that the highest possible workmanship is put into every piece of furniture produced.

Unfortunately for bigoted retailers and manufacturers, some members of the public weirdly preferred the same items but at less cost. There’s no accounting for some people’s lack of racial pride.

If you want to see a piece of racist furniture in action, visit Belmont Museum and ask to have a look under their kitchen table. It’s shocking, but definitely worth a look.

Murder and riots: just another evening in Kal

Glen Devon Hotel, Kalgoorlie, 1912

Glen Devon Hotel, Kalgoorlie, 1912

As part of Dodgy Perth’s ongoing quest to bring harmony and love between all sections of Western Australian society, we dig up a forgotten story of Italians and Australians brawling in Kalgoorlie.

It all kicked off in August 1919, with a small disturbance between a few Italians and Australians, who had a brief fight at the Majestic Café.

As the Italians left through the back door, one of them picked up a knife. Later that evening, the same group of Italians, still looking for trouble, brawled with some young men at the corner of Hannan and Porter Streets.

In the commotion a returned soldier, Thomas Northwood, was stabbed in the buttock by Jim Gotti, a 23 year old Italian.

Northwood bled profusely, and although several people tried to assist, none of them knew first aid. By the time the doctor arrived, it proved impossible to save him.

Meanwhile, another returned soldier had been stabbed, although without fatal results.

As the Italians headed towards the Glen Devon Hotel—the main watering hole for Southern European woodcutters and miners—they broke windows, and fired shots from a revolver.

As news of Northwood’s death spread, a bell ringer walked through Kal’s main streets summoning all returned soldiers to assemble the next day.

Several hundred did so at the Soldiers’ Institute, determined to get their revenge against the Italian community.

The Resident Magistrate addressed the crowd and appealed to the men not to use violence. The Italians would soon be back at their camps on the woodline, he said, and the whole thing will be over.

The crowd was having none of it. “They must leave the country,” was the chant.

The returned soldiers agreed not to take revenge if the Government deported all Italians and closed all Italian-owned hotels. And, if all Italians had not left the goldfields by Saturday night the consequences would be severe.

A couple of hundred young men still decided to make their feelings known at the Glen Devon Hotel. Despite a strong police guard, a number managed to force their way in to confront the patrons.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hotel was deserted.

The would-be rioters decided to help themselves to a few drinks, and tore down an Italian flag hanging behind the bar. They then moved on to another hotel where Italians were known to drink, where windows were broken and more booze stolen.

But failing to find anyone to fight, the crowd slowly dispersed.

The Italian community was not prepared to risk staying in town. Some fled to Perth, while others went to the camps on the woodline a few kilometres from Kalgoorlie.

A few Italian families remained, but it was promised that these would be left in peace.

One of the more unpleasant aftermaths of the whole affair was a general mood across the State that employment should only go to Britishers and that ‘aliens’ should be forbidden from either employment or renting houses.

Preference for our own? Foreigners taking our jobs? Sounds familiar, somehow.

Harmony Day, 1907 style

Japanese businessmen enjoying a Swan Lager, 1966

Japanese businessmen enjoying a Swan Lager, 1966

I bitterly deplore the fact that Australia is fast being overrun with impudent, insulting Japanese, foul law-breaking Chinamen, and hordes of Dagoes, Afghans, and other indescribable Eastern races, who bring no money into the country, and take every farthing out to their own country.

Letter to The Daily News, 3 April 1907