A bridge too far

Anyone who has lived in Perth for more than a week knows the story of the Horseshoe Bridge. How the Railways Department came up with a brilliant solution to the problem of restricted space, making it (according to the Heritage ‘Style’ Council) an “outstanding example of a major urban railway overbridge of its time”.

Well, this is Dodgy Perth, so prepare to have all your illusions shattered. Our comments on the above story are no, no, and God no.

Firstly, it is not innovative. Nor did anyone claim it to be at the time. It was not called The Horseshoe Bridge in 1904, just described as a horseshoe bridge.

Why this particular design? Because wherever they were going to put a bridge, the tight-arse Railway Department didn’t want to hand over cash to landowners on Wellington or Roe Streets. They wanted a bridge that would only use land the Government already owned.

There never was restricted space. Just an attempt to save money.

Speaking of hard cash. Robert Howard, a draughtsman working for the Public Works Department knocked up plans for a horseshoe bridge and then offered to sell them to the Government for £1,000. They told him to bugger off, since he was an employee. So Robert quit the PWD and then sold the plans to the Government for £1,000 anyway. (The cheeky sod actually went to court later to obtain even more money from them!)

The estimated cost of the bridge was £25,000. It was delayed for a couple of years because no one could build it for that amount. When finished, the thing cost £40,000. It would have been much, much cheaper to buy some land from private owners and put up a regular bridge.

Everyone hated the new crossing. And we mean everyone. A footbridge over the railway was pulled down, forcing people to walk the long way round over the new erection. The newspapers were full of outrage. The City of Perth kept complaining to the Government that 22,000 people had to walk over the bridge every day, meaning an 3,600 extra miles daily, or 1,140,000 miles a year.

So, all up… the Railways Department created their own restriction, bought their plan off an employee who drew it on Government time, failed to budget the project correctly, and seriously annoyed everyone who worked in the CBD.

And that, friends, is what the Style Council likes to call an ‘innovate design solution’. Dodgy Perth has a different opinion.

On the buses

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The bus to Belmont, 1912

Every few days you can pick up a copy of The West and read about how much taxi drivers hate Uber. If you’d picked up the paper a century ago, they were grumpy about these damned novel buses that were taking their business.

On St George’s Terrace in the first few years of the 20th century, one motor bus was brave enough to try and take people to Ascot Racecourse. There was almost a riot.

Angry cab drivers surrounded the bus and shouted threats and curses. Anybody who attempted to board was vigorously abused. Nevertheless, the bus managed to gather enough brave passengers to make a successful trip to the races and back.

And customs on buses were different in those days.

On the Belmont route, when the bus was overcrowded, it was expected that a lady would stand and let a gentleman have her seat.

Then she would then sit on his knee. Seriously.

Dodgy Perth believes that TransPerth should bring back this etiquette today.

Bus drivers could be a little, let’s say, less professional from time to time a century ago.

One driver, who was a little ‘under the influence,’ had an argument with a passenger as to whether he had paid the correct fare.

To settle the argument the pair left the bus at Barrack Street, and the fight was only interrupted by a policeman, who arrested them both.

When this news reached the waiting passengers, they went straight to the police station to demand the driver’s release.

When the sergeant in charge pointed out that the bus company employee was obviously drunk, one lady passenger explained: “Oh, he is all right. I’ve sat beside him before when he was like this, and I always pull the bus back if it goes off the road.”

Satisfied that the bus was in good hands, the sergeant released him.

Ah, public transport. How disappointingly boring you are today.

My island (sporting) home

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Statue of Yagan on Ma’tagarup

As Heirisson Island looks increasingly likely to become a sculpture park, Dodgy Perth takes a look at the time it almost became a sports complex.

But we at Dodgy Perth have no particular love for François-Antoine Boniface Heirisson, who left us nothing but his name, so prefer a much older designation: Ma’tagarup.

In 1950 the State Government gifted Ma’tagarup to the National Fitness Council, so the island could be turned into a sports complex.

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Before sculpture parks, there was sport

However, Perth residents were outraged. Not because they didn’t want more sport, but they had always hoped Ma’tagarup would be turned into a nature reserve for Sunday picnics.

There was more controversy when it was announced that Heirisson Island was to be renamed Causeway Island. Just think of the damage to our State’s history, said the Historical Society. Completely forgetting the name Heirisson erased an entire culture’s past.

Ma’tagarup was to become a “playground”, fretted the newspapers, who worried that alcohol would be served during sporting events.

Planning progressed, and various sporting bodies became quite excited about having an island home. The island was levelled and various government announcements told of a wonderful future for sport in Western Australia.

More than two years into the project, the whole scheme was suddenly dropped. No one had given a thought to how traffic would get on and off the island and, in any case, the reclaimed land didn’t even allow for construction. Bulldozers would just sink into the ground.

So that was the end of the redevelopment of the sacred island of Ma’tagarup. Until now. When people want to turn it into a sculpture park for Sunday picnics.

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

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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

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Ugh!

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:

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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.