Black mail

With love, from me to you

With love, from me to you

The first posties in Western Australia were the colonists themselves, but they quickly priced themselves out of the market. So the Government decided to turn to a cheaper option.

Since Rottnest Island was a harsh prison for Aborigines, it was from here the new posties were ‘recruited’. In exchange for basic rations, sometimes just a handful of flour, Indigenous men were forced to carry the mail all over WA.

Failure to fulfill any part of the ‘bargain’ would mean an instant return to the hell that was Rotto.

So from October 1848, a new (almost free) postal service was in place. The lucky ‘employees’ had to walk with a hefty bag from Perth to Mandurah, or Mandurah to Bunbury, or Bunbury to Busselton. They could easily rack up more than 200 km a week.

Unsurprisingly, some Aboriginal posties became injured through exertion, alarming the Government who wanted no interruption to their bargain-priced mail service.

As the number of leg injuries continued to rise, one kind soul suggested the posties be given ponies to ride. Fortunately, colonists were not heartless. Letters poured into newspapers protesting this proposed scheme.

How dare we think of doing that to the poor animals? Anyone familiar with brutish natives would know they would mistreat the poor ponies! Far better to break a few Aborigines, than one four-legged friend should be put at risk.

So the posties were forced to keep up the long walks, for no pay. The only reward being to keep out of Rottnest Prison.

Eventually mail bags became so heavy, the posties couldn’t lift them any more, so good white folk once again took over.

Naturally, they used a horse and carriage. Any other way would be unthinkable.

A fare fight


In the 1910s and ’20s, the bus service between Perth and Fremantle was like going to the Colosseum to watch gladiators in action.

A number of bus companies were competing for the available passengers. Besides being able to steer a bus, drivers had to be tacticians with nerves of steel. There was no timetable, just cutthroat competition.

Buses would race like mad, sometimes two abreast, in order to arrive first at a bus stop. It was not unknown for two drivers disputing who was where first to leave their seats and swing wild punches at each other.

At the start of the run—Short Street, Fremantle—drivers fought to get a good position from the off. Often they would take the bus down at 3 a.m. and get a few hours’ sleep on one of the benches. If a driver were not awake on time, however, he would find himself out of position before he had started.

But one thing could bring the bus companies together: the threat of an independent driver trying muscle in on their turf. The companies, while despising each other, were always willing to gang up on an outsider.

One entrepreneur took up a position on the Short Street rank, and was unsurprised to find it quite busy. The bus in front was practically touching his engine, while the one behind him, from a different company, was even closer.

However, this wouldn’t matter since all he had to do was wait until the vehicle in front filled up and left the rank, and then it would be his turn.

However, things did not turn out that way. He remained jammed for hours, until he agreed to leave and never return.

The two companies had agreed to tie up one bus each for the day, simply to eliminate a potential rival.

How lucky we are to live in Perth in 2015 where it is unimaginable that a duopoly could to conspire to price groceries and petrol to squeeze out rivals. Unimaginable, I say.

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.