The home of tomorrow, 1944 style


Yes, we would like to live here.

We here at Dodgy Perth have lost count of the number of times we’ve been asked “Where was the most futuristic house in Western Australia?” Actually, the number is zero. But that’s never stopped us from imagining people asking such questions.

Anyway, even though you don’t care, the answer is a large residence on First Avenue, Mt Lawley. Unfortunately, the house number appears lost to history, but if you have any additional information please let us know.

In 1944, an RAAF man had some brief leave and decided to turn the family home into something out of Star Trek. The first thing you would notice is that the front door bell automatically triggered a light over your head. Now that’s space-age.

Then he modified the grandfather clock’s pendulum to work with two magnets, meaning it never needed winding and kept perfect time. This clock was wired to half-a-dozen other timepieces around the house, which ensured they always told the same time.

Both husband and wife were musicians, so the house was wired with an amplification system, which was reported as being one of the very best. We’re sure the neighbours would have loved that.

After this, it gets a bit weird. There were many other electric gadgets, all beautifully designed and finished from Tasmanian woods. But part of the house was a self-contained flat leased to tenants. And as the newspaper report cryptically put it:

There are naturally certain domestic offices which have to be shared by householder and tenants. To obviate any embarrassment, electric gadgets flash signals to the house indicating whether or not they are in use.

Embarrassment? What kind of electric devices would cause embarrassment if you were to be discovered using them? So you had to flash signals to the house? What? How? Why?

Get your mind out of the gutter, we’re sure there is an innocent explanation. Surely there must be an innocent explanation.

TelCo contracts, 1887 style

"You charge how much per megabyte?"

“You charge how much per megabyte?”

As is well known, the only thing that separates us from the animals is the tiny amount of data mobile phone companies provide us on a monthly allowance. Before tipping us upside down to shake out a few more pennies. We’re looking at you Telstra.

But this did make us wonder what the first telephone contracts in Perth looked like. As it happens, we have a copy in front of us. If you’d signed up in 1887 to be one of the first subscribers to this exciting new technology, you first had to agree to the following.

Calls were not charged individually, but there was a subscription of fee of £15 a year if you lived within 800m of the Perth or Fremantle exchange, and an extra 25 shillings for each additional 400m you needed further away. For your money, you would be provided with one telephone and a connection to the exchange. A bell cost extra.

It’s not easy to say how much money £15 a year would be today, but you could rent a cottage in Bunbury for the same amount. If you wanted to live in Bunbury, of course. If.

Whether you lived in Perth or Fremantle, you were allowed to talk to someone in the other city. Which is nice. Except under the fair use policy, no call between Perth and Fremantle could exceed five minutes.

Oh, and you could only call between 9am and 6pm on weekdays, 9am to 1pm on Saturday, and not at all on Sundays or public holidays.

A subscriber could not allow their telephone to be used by anyone else except their own personal servants. That is, unless the borrower had a telephone at their own residence.

Finally, there was the usual legalise you would expect:

No responsibility is assumed by the Government for any errors, omissions, or delay in the transmission or non-transmission, delivery or non-delivery, of any message, arising from any cause whatsoever.

No mention of a data allowance anywhere, or what happens if you want to upgrade to the latest iPhone. Probably in the small print somewhere.