On Foxes, Geese and Moons

Fox & Goose, October 2022

A description of a heritage place should be more than a Yelp review. “The building had nice bricks and the price of admission was reasonable. Four stars.” And there needs to be much more than a standard heritage assessment. “The place was designed in 1848 by Arthur Brickhausen and has had a number of uses since. Worth not demolishing.” 

Neither of these conveys the most important aspect of anywhere: a sense of place, what it feels like to be there. A description of a heritage place should be more like a piece of travel writing, partly wanting to make you visit, partly making you feel like you already have. And if done particularly well, you should get a sense of what it might have felt like to be there in the past. 

All of these are far too lofty ambitions for today’s focus, but I’ll try and do a little better than just the facts ma’am. Welcome to the Fox & Goose, my temporary residence for the next few days. For those who like their beer, and who doesn’t?, there are enough taps to keep you happy for weeks. And for those who really like their beer, London Pride on tap is the only way to go. So I went there, despite the jet lag trying to nudge me into bed rather than the bar. 

Getting a firm date on the Fox & Goose, a traditional pub located in West London, proves somewhat tricky. Their own marketing dates it to the ‘1800s’, which is either specific to a decade, or vague to a century. A local history of the suburb of Ealing implies it may have been there by the late 18th century, but doesn’t say so explicitly, and fails to have footnotes to check anyway. (Mind you, this blog post has no footnotes either, so you’ll just have to trust me.) 

There was certainly a Fox & Goose well-established on this spot by the time Queen Victoria came to the throne, so it’s at least 200 years old, and maybe a bit more. As you might expect from a pub that old, there are traces of it in the records and, one amazing account of a visit here in 1855. There was a fashion in the mid-19th for essays which were half travel and half nature writing, in which our author (almost always male and alone) would take a long walk and describe what they saw. Old buildings, birds and flowers mostly. But in this case, also the Fox & Goose: 

“As I passed, I peeped in at Twyford Abbey and its beautifully sequestered grounds. A good-natured, arch-looking face had seen me enter, and smiled at me as I came out again. It seemed to say — ‘You are a traveller; tired, but heartily welcome.’ I felt, somehow, that I was; and followed that face. The face led me into a snug little apartment in a snug little hostelry, called the ‘Fox & Goose’, and placed before me such a delicious glass of sparkling ale, that I drank it and the pretty face’s ‘health’ at the same time. Honi soit qui mal y pense!” 

Leaving to one side the slightly creepy elements of this (it is a bit creepy isn’t it?), and the weird marketing technique of sending pretty faces out into the surrounding area to look for tired travellers, we do learn that in 1855 the pub was snug. It isn’t now. Not big by Australian standards of beer barns, but larger than anything that could be described as snug. Although the 19th century practice of breaking up hostelries into a series of small spaces, rather than something the size of the Camfield, could have given that illusion to our writer. 

Also, he had a glass of sparkling ale, I had London Pride which is not sparkling and served at cellar temperature. Yes, this is the second time I’ve mentioned my tipple of choice but it’s too good not to. Also you don’t seem to be able to get it at Dan Murphy’s anymore, which is sad. 

A beer I may have mentioned

And walking to the Fox & Goose seems to have been a thing. After escaping from Heathrow Airport last night, it was easier to transfer to Park Royal tube station than the closest one to the pub. This involved a walk, dragging a suitcase across uneven pavements, next to a dual carriageway, listening the sound of horns continuously blaring in rush-hour traffic. Apparently, though, in 1862 the Fox & Goose was advertised a “pleasant half-hours walk from the Great Western Railway Station at Ealing”. Which sounds quieter and less road-y than my walk. But does demonstrate the place was something of a destination. Take the train, enjoy the walk through semi-rural suburbs and find yourself at a delightful pub to have lunch. Not a drinker’s bar, then, but a weekender’s delight. 

1963 poster

A different crowd was attracted to the Fox & Goose in the late 1950s and early 1960s: those seeking jazz and the novelty of rock music. The pub was a centre for new music coming out of the London scene, and one regular band who played here was the Detours. If you’ve heard of them, you are obviously an obsessive fan of of their next iteration after Keith Moon joined them as drummer and they rebranded as The Who. (If you haven’t heard of The Who, go ask a grown-up.) Moon grew up in a house not far from where I’m typing this right now, so even as only a casual fan of The Who, it still feels like I’m not far from rock history. 

Fox & Goose (c.1890s?)

The exterior of the Fox & Goose has hardly changed in more than a century, and possibly longer than that. Any good marketing person will boast that their pub offers traditional hospitality, which is nonsense, since the quality of food and service in most English pubs is vastly better than when I started drinking in them all those years ago (which was definitely only after the age of 18, in case my mum is reading this). Literally no one would want traditional English pub hospitality in 2022. That said, the service last night was amazing, the food good and the beer… Did I mention the London Pride yet? Definitely getting towards opening time, or there must be a bottle shop near here somewhere. 

No Place Like Dome

Forrest Chambers (image courtesy SLWA)

There isn’t a lot of demand for heritage assessments of places that don’t exist today. Perhaps there should be. We’d certainly like the extra money. So here’s how part of such an assessment of a building demolished in the 1970s might look.

Forrest Chambers was built in 1904 for John Forrest, to a design by Edwin Summerhayes. It is a neat summary of all things Edwardian, from the rusticated bluestone base to the classical columns, to the dome on the roof. And it’s this last thing we want to examine now.

The octagonal dome (or cupola, call it what you will) might make you think of Florence Cathedral (1436, Fillpo Brunelleschi), a building which could be argued to have kickstarted the Renaissance. It certainly has a family resemblance which cannot be coincidental.

Florence Cathedral (image courtesy Wikipedia)

But perhaps a more relevant reference is in London with Christopher Wren’s magnificent St Paul’s (1675). Granted the dome looks a little different to the building on St George’s Terrace but it shares a design solution with Summerhayes’ office block: a balcony under the drum. The 1904 building adds a balustrade at the top of the drum, but that’s just a little extra treat for you.

St Paul’s Cathedral, London (image courtesy Wikipedia)
Forrest Chambers (image courtesy SLWA)

The reason for these balconies and balustrades was not purely practical, but much more to make the aesthetics work. You’ll have to take our word for it, but it is almost impossible to place a dome straight onto a drum and make the whole thing work. Instead, the dome needs to have the appearance of being stepped back, even if it is not. Just as Summerhayes brilliantly carries out at the top of Forrest Chambers.

A similar, if somewhat grander, use of the same architectural principle can be seen at the Ashton Memorial (1907, John Belcher) which dominates the skyline of Lancaster, England. Built three years after Forrest Chambers, you can again see the balcony around the drum). It’s a fine solution taken from Renaissance buildings and applied in slightly different ways by different architects.

Ashton Memorial, Lancaster (1907, John Belcher)

So it’s clear that Summerhayes’ office building deserved a finer fate than to have been demolished sometime in the 1970s and replaced by a nondescript tower. If you’re going to demolish pretty buildings, put something at least as good in their place is our top tip for the day.

And with that heritage advice, the invoice is in the mail.

Clubbing in the 1880s

Club Hotel (c.1945, courtesy SLWA)

Architecture always has a context. In one sense, that’s trivial; a building must be on some piece of land, unless it’s conceptual only, in which case the architect is likely to be an academic, not one practicing in the real world. And this architectural context is both spatial and temporal or, in less pretentious language, a building was erected somewhere in a certain year. A building also has a function and an aesthetic, the latter often referred to in heritage circles as a ‘style’. It is rare for the function to exactly coincide with the aesthetic, but it does happen, with one famous example being Bruno Taut’s ‘Glass Pavilion’ (1914).

Glass Pavilion (courtesy Wikipedia)

The role of the architectural historian, if they can be said to have a purpose, is to establish the causal relationship between the function and the aesthetic given the building’s spatial and temporal context. Or, to drop the purple prose, why does it look like that? And I want to look at three hotels, one in Geraldton, one in York and one in Perth, of which only two survive today. For this post, I’ll stick to the one we’re missing, the Club Hotel.

The earliest of the three, the Club Hotel, Geraldton, was a magnificent building designed by James Wright and opened in 1885. It was praised at the time as the finest hotel in the colony, which was probably true, and it boasted 30 bedrooms in a town which had less than 1,200 residents. Now the high praise heaped upon it at the time might seem exaggerated, after all it was not long before this most of the district consisted of “canvas and brush, with corrugated iron architectural monstrosities” defining most high streets.[1] So any building showing design principles might be welcome. But photos show it really was an attractive building. And we can only go on photos now since it was demolished in 1991.

Giving the Club Hotel a clear architectural style is no easy matter, and such hotels are usually clumped together as Federation Filigree, since the verandah is such a dominating element of its exterior appearance. The whole is definitely eclectic, with references to half a dozen different styles, and it lacks some organisation which might have unified the façade a little better. But this criticism does not detract from having to agree with the contemporary appraisal: it was the best hotel in Western Australia. Which leads to the key question: why was the greatest pub built 424km north of the capital city and not in Perth itself? Some people questioned whether Hannah Hosken had invested too much money in the project, and it could never prove its worth. They were wrong, and the name she gave her hotel showed Mrs Hosken knew exactly what she was doing. But more on that in a while.

While the Club was being constructed, at least one person noted there was good reason to anticipate much for Mrs Hosken’s success: the forthcoming railway, “which is sure to give an immense fillip to business generally”.[2] Geraldton was named after Governor Charles FitzGerald, as was the Geraldine Mine. If this was the initial impetus for the town, its growth would come from the expansion of pastoralists ever moving north in search of more grazing land. But Geraldton had a railway station since 1879, so how could a line be forthcoming in 1885? The original railway, the first constructed by the WA Government, ran from Geraldton through Northampton and ending at Ajana. This, of course, did not link the Club Hotel to the capital city of the state. That would take some later extensions, on which Mrs Hosken was safely gambling.

But even before the completion of new tracks, the Club Hotel was well named. The intention was to attract the “leading business and professional men, and settlers”. Although, like every hotel today, anyone can enter the public section, this building had different rooms for different functions. Apartments for families, a banqueting room for up to 100 guests, a billiards room, a reading room and a commercial room, where travelling salesmen could demonstrate their wares. And a gentlemen’s club, where those with money could gather to socialise. And gamble. So much gambling, by all accounts.

If you want to attract those with excess cash, the building must demonstrate excess. So if it was not enough just to line with walls with Oregon and maple timber imported from Canada, you asked the architect to ensure the exterior reflected the extravagant tastes you, as proprietor, hoped to satisfy in exchange for renumeration. And that is exactly what James Wright achieved with the Club Hotel. Far from restrained sophistication, the Club oozed the excesses we now associate with 1980s millionaires and, more recently, Donald Trump. Far from less is more, as the modernists believed, this hotel is a forerunner of the Gold Boom extravagances of more is more. And, if there was any space left over on the façade, even more still.

And it worked. Even before wealthier travellers could arrive from further afield, business at the Club was good and it proved a good investment for Mrs Hosken, who ran the place until her death in 1906. So the context involves railways, new money, and the birth of the mining industry. The function is the transfer of cash for entertainment, while engaging in business. And this leads to an aesthetic of excess. Whether or not the style of the Club Hotel is to your taste, it was exactly what its clientele wanted to be seen in, to do business in, to socialise in, and (most importantly for Mrs Hosken) spend good money in. And it set a benchmark for other hotels to follow. But more on them later.

[1] Geraldton Express 25 March 1897

[2] West Australian 28 February 1885

The Style Council

Holy Trinity, York

In 1853, York’s Anglican minister George Pownall described the church he wanted, which should be in the Early English Gothic style, constructed of local stone, with jarrah pillars inside.[1] Today’s tourist has no difficulty locating such a church, one that Tripadvisor rates as the eighth best thing to do in York. This church was most definitely styled after Early English Gothic (1189-1307), with granite walls and a good use of jarrah. So Pownall got what he wanted, then? Well, no. The Gothic church is the Roman Catholic St Patrick’s, dedicated in 1886,[2] while the Anglicans ended up with an Anglo-Norman Revival building thirty years earlier.

St Patrick's Catholic Church, York - Wikipedia
St Patrick’s, York

Although many will already know, the quickest way to spot the between Anglo-Norman (or Romanesque, buildings from 1066 to 1189) and Gothic is to look at the arches. Are they round or pointed? Semicircular arches mean Norman, pointy ones mean Gothic. It’s that simple. (It isn’t, of course, but this is just a blog.) As far as I can tell, no one before now has asked the question: why is Holy Trinity (the Anglican church) not in the style its rector wanted? Let’s start with why he wanted Gothic in the first place.

Pownall had studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he had joined the Camden Society, an organisation devoted to restoring the Church of England by accurately repairing old churches and making sure only the purest Gothic was used to design new ones. When he wrote to the Colonial Secretary, William Sanford, saying “I should much prefer Early English to any other style” he was paraphrasing an important Camden Society publication, one Pownall would certainly have been familiar with: “The style in which a church ought to be built must depend on several considerations… Nothing for example can be better suited to a small chapel than Early English.”[3]

The success of the Camden Society and architects like Augustus Pugin meant that Gothic and Christian practically became synonyms when it came it architecture from the 1840s. At least, for Anglican architecture. Later in the 19th century, a Perth architect, J. J. Talbot Hobbs, could design in a variety of styles, yet all his churches are Gothic. We know Hobbs owned a copy of an Episcopalian guide to American church design, Francis Parker’s wonderfully titled Church-building and Things to Be Considered, Done, Or Avoided in Connection Therewith (1886).[4] As you might guess from the title, Parker was not one to be subtle about what he thought: “As to the order of architecture, it is not worth while to throw away time in discussing which shall be adopted; that question has been practically settled in favor of the Gothic. The Protestant sects [e.g. Baptists, Methodists, etc.] and the sect of the Jesuits [i.e. Roman Catholics] should be allowed the monopoly of classic and renaissance architecture.” Hobbs evidently took this advice when designing his Perth churches, such as Christ Church, Claremont, or St Alban’s, Highgate.

Perth church designed by Talbot Hobbs celebrates 125 years - ABC News  (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
St Alban’s, Highgate

There is even a clue the earliest plans for Holy Trinity were Gothic, since a journalist reported the proposed church would have “narrow lancet windows… filled with colored glass from England”.[5] Lancet windows are a feature of Early English Gothic, not Anglo-Norman architecture. It should be clear, then, that Holy Trinity not being Gothic is problematic. Should we blame the architect for changing their mind part way through the project? The first issue here is to establish exactly who designed the church, which is not as easy as most sources would have you believe. Both the State Heritage Office and Wikipedia will tell you the designer was the government architect, Richard Roach Jewell, and he certainly did draw up the plans.[6] But was he was not acting alone in this project, and the lead ‘consultant’ was the Colonial Secretary, Edward Sanford. We know this because correspondence from Pownall and his successor, Rev James Brown who oversaw the completion of the project, only ask Sanford’s advice and for plans. While it is possible they saw Sanford as the ‘middle man’ for Jewell’s solo project, there is no indication of this in any of the many letters.

So instead of seeing Holy Trinity as simply Jewell’s building it is, at the very least a Sanford-Jewell design. But this only makes matters more complicated because Sanford, like Pownall, was educated at Trinity College and a member of the Cambridge Camden Society. He should have preferred Gothic architecture and when it came to a building which is definitely by his hand, although Jewell again probably drew up the plans, the Old Boys’ School on St Georges Terrace is decidedly Gothic. But since there is no possibility anyone else other than Sanford and Jewell designed the Anglo-Norman church which stands in York, who did make the decision to adopt the final design? And why?

First, a quick but necessary diversion. Up until now I have been treating the Anglican Church as if it were a single, unified body in the 19th century. It was not, either then or now. There were multiple factions, but only two need concern us here: the High Church mob and the Evangelicals. The former believed the Anglican Church was in decline because it had drifted too far from its Catholic roots. What was needed was more ritual, more pomp, more candles and, above all, more Gothic architecture. Their opponents, the Evangelicals, can be thought of as the jeans and a t-shirt wearing vicars who want to keep up to date with the music and the culture. Perhaps ironically, it was the High Church who made the most efforts to reach out to the unchurched, while the Evangelicals were happy to cater to a mostly middle-class audience who would never have visited a poor area of the city in their lives.

So when it came to building new churches, the choice of style was a key indicator of which faction that congregation was supposed to support. The more authentically Gothic it was, the Higher the Church, but something Romanesque (or here Anglo-Norman) you were definitely Evangelical (or Broad Church, but that just makes things more complicated than we need here). It is important to distinguish the meaning of Ecclesiastical Romanesque in the mid-19th century from its use a few decades later when the Richardsonian version of Romanesque was imported from America for reasons of defining a national style. The difference is slightly blurred by Henry Stirling Trigg’s use of the style for both Trinity Church on St Georges Terrace (1893) and his Congregational Hall, Claremont (1896), but the American influence on the former is very strong and completely absent from Holy Trinity, York.

Trinity Church, Perth - Wikipedia
Trinity Church, St Georges Terrace

The final decision on church design depends on many factors, such as budget, but there is always a committee, the Trustees, who is in charge. And this takes me to the question of local politics in York in the mid-19th century. While not exactly a squirearchy, the majority of agricultural land around the town was controlled by a handful of key people. Smaller producers were forced onto land some distance from the centre. While this situation was regularly criticised in the media, nothing ever changed. So these important men (and they were all men) saw themselves as being in control of York, its future, and any important decisions which might affect these. And this power was not something they were going to easily surrender.

To oversimplify, yet again, a High Churchman saw the priest as the supreme authority within the church, and even in the wider community. For the Evangelicals, a minister was just one of the lads. Sure, with a particular job to do, but not exalted above, say, a major landholder. When the first Bishop of Perth, Mathew Hale, formally consecrated Holy Trinity in February 1858, he was handed a letter from the church trustees. It stated, in no uncertain terms, that the most important part of any church was the ordinary congregation (the laity) and, while they would be happy to assist the clergy, his role as their employee must be firmly understood. These trustees probably expected Hale to support them, since he was well-known to have Evangelical sympathies, but this was probably a little too much. It was all very well to support the congregation, but the Bishop was not going to strip his priests of all authority. So, in a diplomatic answer, Hale said the letter was very interesting, he agreed with most of it, but the minister was a “servant of God’s people for Jesus’ sake” so the main role of the congregation was to pray for the minister to his job as well as possible.[7] In other words, yes the trustees were important, but not quite as important as they thought they were.

We know the key movers behind Holy Trinity, Pownall and Sanford, would have wanted a Gothic church. We can be fairly sure the local trustees would have understood that such a church would elevate the role of the priest within the local community, and that the big landholders had no desire to lose any power at all. So now I have to engage in some speculation. Did these trustees demand a change of design to make it clear who was in charge in York? Did they see the Anglo-Norman as representing the authority of the people (those who mattered, anyway) over the church, while the Gothic represented the power of the Church over the people? To be fair, I should also mention that a brick Romanesque church may have been cheaper to build than an impressive Gothic edifice, so that must have played some part in their calculations.

So, after all these historical diversions, I am so close to solving the mystery of York’s Anglo-Norman church, but missing the smoking gun. It may be out there in some minutes of a church committee meeting, or a piece of correspondence between Sanford and one of the two ministers who oversaw the project. If it’s out there I will find it.

[1] AJCP 4 April 1853: Pownall to Sanford

[2] West Australian 23 February 1886

[3] Cambridge Camden Society, ‘A Few Words to Church-builders’ (1841)

[4] See John Taylor’s PhD thesis

[5] Perth Gazette 3 November 1854

[6] Perth Gazette 3 November 1854

[7] Inquirer 24 February 1858

It’s All Greek to Me

Review of Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes at the WA Museum Boola Bardip until 7 November 2021.

Standing in front of a vase, a multi-generation family were loudly animated in their discussion about the object. I would love to tell you what they found so exciting, but the debate was in Greek, a language I can’t speak. It would be wonderful to imagine the vase was from their hometown and so had a very personal connection, but it would have been impolite to intrude on their day out, so I’ll never know.

And this is by way of asking the key question: who is this exhibition for? I should confess I’m a mere dilettante when it comes to the ancient world, although my enthusiasm here possibly lies beyond what might be considered average. I’m more likely to reread Homer than turn on Netflix, more Plato than Fifty Shades of Grey, and my Twitter feed is filled with classicists angsty about making their discipline relevant to young people of colour. But despite all this, I am not a classicist, I do not pretend to read Ancient Greek and my small collection of classical books are entirely in translation. Which is to say, an exhibition on the ancient world should, presumably, partially be pitched at the dabbler like me.

Like many academic disciplines, the world of the classics is going through a period of turmoil. In response to worldwide movements like Black Lives Matter, younger academics are questioning the field’s track record on exploring issues of race, gender, sexuality, colonialism, and class, both for the subjects studied and how these intersect with students’ concerns. Add to this a need to counter the hijacking of symbols of the ancient world (medievalists have a similar problem) by a resurgent far right, and you have lively relevant debates going far beyond the mere dating of statues and arguing over which goddess the Venus de Milo actually was. Not that you would know this from visiting the exhibition at the WA Museum.

To take one hot issue, but a famous one when it comes to Ancient Greece, how does the exhibition deal with sexuality? Well, on one label (from memory, since I spectacularly failed to take notes) you will discover that by reading some old texts it was “culturally acceptable for a man to admire another man’s physique”. By reading old books? The presence of loads of naked men all over the place didn’t tip you off then? And just admire bodies, presumably from afar? No hot man-on-man action going on in Greece, evidently. Of course, sexuality in the ancient world is a complex topic, but literally thousands of books and papers have been written on the subject, all of which are simply ignored here in Perth. I would say a 90-year-old Sunday School teacher must have written the label, but pretty sure the average 90-year-old Sunday School teacher is more progressive than whoever was behind this piece of interpretation.

As for a rare mention of gender, another label assures us theatre was open to men, women, slaveholders and slaves alike. How very egalitarian, then. Except this simple claim covers up a multitude of complex debates. Thirty seconds of research revealed a dozen papers which argue no women attended the theatre, especially if a tragedy was on, a dozen which claim they did, and a further dozen which state we simply don’t know if they did or did not. The fun of doing classics is that the scholar must behave like Sherlock Holmes. Tiny pieces of evidence have to be extrapolated into major claims about the truth, but because of the ambiguous nature of some data, there’s plenty of room for lively arguments in the staff coffee room and academic journals. Just saying the theatre was an equal opportunities space (and perhaps it was, perhaps it wasn’t) is wasting an opportunity to explore how we know anything at all about the ancient world.

Now, the curators can only interpret the objects they’ve been given and what they’ve been given here is distinctly average. If I were unfair, I’d say it looks like the British Museum grabbed some stuff from the cardboard box in the attic [pun intended] which otherwise might have gone to the op shop. Actually, there’s a little truth to this. A surprising number of objects on display are from Charles Newton’s dig at Halikarnassos in the 1850s, where he looted so much stuff he shipped 100 cases back to London where the British Museum simply put them in storage, since there was no room to show them to the public. It’s no surprise the British Museum didn’t lend us their star attractions, and anyone who’s been there will know they have some amazing Greek stuff. So, no shock the pieces in Perth are middle-tier at best, with some below average, such as the ‘restored’ statue of a discus thrower, complete with brand new 18th century head (and possibly genitals, it wasn’t clear).

And the mention of Halikarnassos reminds me the curators didn’t get the memo about Decolonising the Museum. This important movement wants to tell the public not only about ancient artifacts but let them know how a museum came to acquire them in the first place. Were they looted? Purchased? Does another country want them back? When I visited the British Museum last year, just before Covid stopped anyone else going, their Ancient Greek displays were in the process of transitioning to a decolonised interpretation. And in case you think this is just some trendy woke thinking, it’s worth remembering Byron’s thoughts at the time Lord Elgin looted the Parthenon Marbles, which are still proudly displayed at the British Museum: “Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed / By British hands, which it had best behov’d / To guard those relics ne’er to be restored”. Elgin was the bad guy.

Which neatly brings me to one object I adored at the exhibition. Not because it’s the highest quality art, it is not, but because it reveals some of the complexity of our relationship to the ancient world. The picture above is of Aphrodite, a 1st century copy of a 3rd century BCE original. This piece was owned by the very same Lord Byron who despised Elgin for looting Greece. And I am a Byron stan, which is why this statue means a lot to me. How he came by it isn’t mentioned in the exhibition, but own it he did. Is this hypocrisy? Maybe. But it’s the same hypocrisy I can claim for myself. I want to be able to explore Ancient Greece in my own backyard (or in Northbridge, as the case happens) while simultaneously lamenting the theft of other people’s culture. If you have an easy solution to this (and I don’t think replicas cut it), please let me know so I can feel better about myself.

There’s a lot to see here, arranged by theme rather than chronologically, which does lead to another issue. Hundreds of years of history are blurred into a single ‘Ancient Greece’ without recognition of change. A statue of a wealthy woman tells us she is wearing fashionable clothes, without letting us know how fashions altered over time. Differences between the Classical and the Hellenistic are not given attention here, which is like displaying 18th century clothing next to a Victoria Beckham dress and failing to point out any variation. And, while I’m whining, lighting could be improved in places. A few wide-rimmed vases are top lit only, so you have to crouch and peer into semi-darkness to try and make out the details on the decoration, which is what we’re meant to be admiring. Please sort this out, WA Museum.

So, do I recommend the exhibition? Sure, why not? Everyone will get something out of it, even if only a 1,500 word rant on a blog. Afterwards, you can nip into the giftshop and pick up a Trojan Horse 3D jigsaw puzzle, a copy of Homer (in English), or salt and pepper shakers in the shape of classical columns. My only reservation is the $25 entry fee is little steep for the value on offer but if, like me, you have a love of the ancient world, there really isn’t an alternative exhibition on right now, and a pandemic stops you holidaying in Greece (or even London) to see better examples. Despite much of the above, the exhibition is okay, really. But I’m still not quite sure who it’s exactly for.

Filling Column Inches

John Keats tragically died of tuberculosis when he was just 25 years old. His fame centres around a small group of poems, the Odes, particularly the well-known Ode to a Nightingale (1819). Another is On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer (1816), which is, as the title suggests, about how enthusiastic Keats was when first reading George Chapman’s translation of, well, Homer. But the poem I have in mind right now is Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819) which, if you hadn’t guessed yet, is another example of how much Keats liked Ancient Greece. They all did in those days, but it’s Keats’ thoughts on the topic which have outlived most of the others.

Even if you’re unfamiliar with the opening line of the urn poem – “Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness” – you’ll probably have encountered the famous, if not easily understood, closing lines containing the quip “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”. What Keats meant by this has been debated for two centuries, and many early reviewers decided the ending ruined an otherwise good poem. Since I have nothing original to contribute to the discussion, I’ll just note Keats established that any subject was a fit one for a poem, something not widely accepted before him. So, with the license offered by one Romantic poet, I’ll take for my subject a small whale-oil gas plant which lit a Presbyterian church in Cape Town. Don’t worry, I’m not going to inflict my poetry on you (no one deserves that), so the following meditations will be in good old-fashioned prose.

British landscape painter Thomas William Bowler was one of the top artists working in South Africa during the 19th century. After a brief stint as assistant astronomer in the Cape of Good Hope, Bowler settled in Cape Town, where he established a reputation as a talented artist and drawing teacher. Thanks to him, we have images of some 35 years of the Cape’s history, including a wonderful picture (c.1864) of the Presbyterian church in St Andrew’s Square. The church, called St Andrew’s of course, is in the fashionable Greek Revival style (there’s your callback to Keats) and was designed in 1827 by Henry Willey Reveley. Bowler and Reveley never met, since the former arrived in Cape Town in 1838, while Reveley had left in 1829 to accompany Captain James Stirling to the brand-new Swan River Colony in Western Australia. I’ll have much more to say about St Andrew’s in a moment, but for now I want to note the streetlamp, with inevitable dog next to it, in Bowler’s painting. A streetlamp, like the church itself, lit with whale extract from the plant installed at the church in 1842.

America dominated the whaling industry. ‘Yankee Whalers’ operated in the Indian Ocean from 1789 and were visiting Albany on Western Australia’s south coast in the 18th century. Seals were also their target here, and a stone kiln known as Sealers’ Oven (c.1800) near Cheyne Beach Whaling Station is the earliest remaining evidence of non-Aboriginal activity in the southwest of the State. Americans continued to hunt whales off the coast of WA, despite occasional attempts to keep them away, and the industry as a whole continued here to surprisingly recently in 1978. The influence of Yankee Whalers on Western Australia was celebrated in the most famous novel about a giant whale to have been written, Moby Dick (1851). In a chapter titled ‘The Advocate’, Herman Melville writes:

That great America on the other side of the sphere, Australia, was given to the enlightened world by whaleman. After its first blunder-born discovery by a Dutchman, all other ships, long shunned those shores as pestiferously barbarous; but the whale-ship touched there. The whale-ship is the true mother of that now mighty colony. Moreover, in the infancy of the first Australian settlement, the emigrants were several times saved from starvation by the benevolent biscuit of the whale-ship luckily dropping an anchor in their waters.

I’m going to give Melville a pass on the ‘barbarous’ gibe, since Moby Dick is surprisingly woke for its era. Many different cultures are treated with respect and the novel contains one of the most famous homoerotic scenes in world literature in the chapter ‘A Squeeze of the Hand’:

Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,- Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

Yes, Melville knew exactly what he was doing and this is not just a humorous coincidence after meanings changed later. And this seems like a good moment, since you the reader and I are becoming such good friends, to confess I’ve never actually finished the novel. God alone knows how many times I’ve started it, occasionally getting towards the end. But never quite the end. I suppose, after this admission, I’ll have to start over. Just one of the consequences of our new friendship, so let us squeeze ourselves into each other as we set out on that voyage of discovery together.

But enough of Moby Dick. It’s time to look at some late poetry by Herman Melville, since that’s what we’ve really got together for. In 1891, the last year of his life, he published Timoleon, Etc which has a couple of very short poems we really need to read together. Greek Masonry seems like a good place to start:

Joints were none that mortar sealed:

Together, scarce with line revealed,

The blocks in symmetry congealed.

And that’s it, in its entirety. And Greek Architecture isn’t exactly a Moby Dick length epic either:

Not magnitude, not lavishness,

But Form—the Site;

Not innovating wilfulness,

But reverence for the Archetype.

You don’t need a PhD in Lit Crit to get the idea Melville quite likes Ancient Greek architecture. In fact, more than 70 years after Keats praised an urn (callback) and more than 60 years since Reveley turned a pagan temple into a South African church (callback), Greece remained the high point of all art and architecture ever. The tops, the best, the bee’s knees, the cat’s meow. And there’s another poem in Timoleon, Etc which attracts our attention here, Shelley’s Vision. The person in question is, of course, the poet with the weird middle name, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who happened to be mates with Keats. How does he figure in the story I’m telling here?

Shelley’s last published work is a lengthy verse drama, Hellas (1822). He wrote it in Pisa, and the profits from sales were intended to fund the Greek independence campaign in their struggle against the Ottoman Empire. Both Shelley and his sex god mate, Lord Byron, were active in raising money for and even joining the War of Independence. Their contribution was so welcomed, several Greek streets and even suburbs are named after them, and statues of the pair are everywhere there. Love of all things Ancient Greek wasn’t just restricted to admiration of art and architecture, but also highly political as well.

Hellas remained influential for a long time. In a remote corner of the former British Empire, Perth, Western Australia, it was quoted in 1944 by D. G. Joannides, president of the Greek Ex-Servicemen’s Association: “We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their roots in Greece. But for Greece, Rome the conqueror would have spread no illumination with her arms and we might still have been savages and idolators.” Joannides’ point was straightforward, Shelley showed the British and the Greeks had a long mutual history and, after the Nazis had been defeated, the relationship could continue as it had throughout history.

And now a twist you may not have seen coming: Shelley and Henry Willey Reveley were besties. The Greek independence campaigner and the Greek Revival architect had more in common than just a love of the classical arts. While St Andrew’s is undoubtedly Reveley’s masterpiece, he continued to design after arriving in the Swan River Colony. In fact, Perth’s oldest surviving building, the Old Courthouse, with its Greek Revival columns at the front, is one of his. But before I get ahead of myself, I need to fulfil an earlier promise and return to Cape Town.

Celebrating the Jubilee

Image courtesy SLWA (c.1910)

Right now, we need an environment which is good for the human spirit. Spaces which make us connect with each other, not drive us further apart. Great architecture will not vaccinate a nation or cure racism, but it creates places where we can work together to solve our problems. Buildings can unite or divide, and we need more of the former.

With that somewhat purple prose preface, I want to look at a work of genius: George Temple-Poole’s Jubilee Building (1899). This is a personal reflection on what it means to me, although hopefully you’ll agree. A few features I describe have a functional reason for being there, and some are present simply because of tradition. But this is not a story of origins or historical precedent, this is an account of what the building means right now. To me.

Like a movie or novel, buildings have a beginning, a middle and an end. The job of the architect is to provide a narrative structure which unites these three elements and leaves the viewer both satisfied and uplifted. Poole succeeds on every level. With that in mind, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. How does the Jubilee Building connect itself to the ground?

The lowest level is of stone, rusticated stone to be precises. The rough exterior of the blocks leads to reading them as natural, a product of nature not of pure architecture. In one sense this is a lie, every block has been quarried and shaped for its purpose. But the psychological effect is to see the building as emerging naturally from the ground, not forcibly placed upon it. An essay for grad school architectural history would use words like ‘chthonic’, but I don’t need to be pretentious here. So, I’ll just say the Jubilee Building is rooted like a tree. Trees grow from the soil they do not simply sit on it.

Now Poole has set himself a problem to solve: he has to transition from the natural to the architectural, and do so in a way which makes the jump seamless. Like a movie director, harsh cuts can work but only if you mean to disorientate the viewer. The Jubilee Building’s solution is so perfect and appears so obvious, it’s easy to miss the small details required to make this work. What could be a harsh line between one type of stone and another is mediated by the pediment of each column being rusticated between smooth sheets of stone. Nature is giving way to art but there is an intermediate step when they are in perfect harmony. Like a ruined monastery being reclaimed by ivy, art and nature are both present on this level, not in competition but in symbiosis.

As if this wasn’t enough of a genius move, at the base of each pediment are a matching pair of tiny leaves. This is our first hint of the organic and, like the first leaves of spring, promises further growth as we continue our voyage together towards the climax of the story. If you can’t tell already, it is things like this attention detail which make me fall in love with great buildings.

After the organic detail and the rusticated pediment, the columns themselves are smooth, art not nature, before we reach the capitals. The biggest problem any architect must resolve is how to transition from the vertical to the horizontal. Done abruptly, it can seem harsh and even oppressive. The downwards force of the lintel is always met by the upwards thrust of the post, which if not handled correctly will look like competition not cooperation. And this influences the viewer. Today we need to work together not against each other, so require spaces which reflect this desire.

The Jubilee Building doesn’t use the post and lintel system, but the Romanesque series of springing arches. Even so, there has to be a point of mediation between the arch and the column and here it is, no surprise, achieved in a perfect way. The capitals of the columns, which are roughly of the Corinthian order, are a delight to examine. The solitary leaf at the base has become a riot of intertwining organic forms at the top. Not only is this a moment for the eye to pause and simply admire beauty, and it suggests the arches are resting on a soft bed, not a harsh stone column. More like sleeping on grass than curled up on a concrete floor. This is the architecture of kindness.

I could go on forever about this façade, but hopefully the above has convinced you this is a building made for human beings. Each transition, from ground to base to pediment to capital to arch has been undertaken to engage you, to make them seamless and natural. And the natural is emphasised by the organic forms because nature calms us and makes us feel safe. If you are unpersuaded by all the scientific studies on this, further proof is offered by every culture on Earth using natural forms in their architecture.

Poole makes the place more welcoming to the human being by setting back the next storey well behind the James Street façade. Instead of towering over us like an authoritarian figure, the building is deliberately on a human scale. We feel welcomed because the Jubilee Building was designed for us, with our regular-sized bodies. Not only can our gaze take in the whole frontage, it seems as if once inside it will have spaces which make us feel comfortable.

But grandeur is not absent from the place, since the main entrance projects high above the surrounding wings. I’ll get there, but first a brief diversion about the staircase. The entry is elevated and to get there you have to climb some stairs, suggesting the contents of the museum and art gallery will elevate your soul, just as you are physically ascending to get there. And note how the stairs widen at the base, calling people from all directions to come to the building and, on leaving, offering a choice of directions to go with your new-found enlightenment. Just wow.

Of course, despite the powerful symbolism of the stairs, they also represent an obstacle to people with mobility issues. Hopefully, everyone agrees universal access is a human right, but it is still possible to read these steps as a democratic call to partake in the best of our collective knowledge and culture while recognising other solutions are required today. (As they were then, but that’s a separate issue.) And I know Poole’s solution is attractive because when taking the photos for this post, a number of people climbed these stairs and were disappointed by the sealed doors at the top. This is such a mesmerising entrance, it overrides any signage pointing you to the new one.

Back to the entrance as a whole. It looks like a church, a secular temple to knowledge. And this is hardly unintentional, many places like this did, most famously the Natural History Museum in London. Even so, the imposing scale needs to be humanised and Poole achieves this in spectacular fashion. The original plans for the building show the frieze above the door was to have been decorated with organic forms but it was finally left blank. This is unfortunate, since it would have beautifully tied this façade with the rest of the building. Perhaps someone could organise this and make the entrance even more perfect. Perhaps.

This frieze breaks up the double-storey façade and introduces a visual pause before the ‘church’ windows above. These, while firmly continuing the vertical trajectory of our gaze and mediated by mini towers and a pointed gable. All of this points upwards towards the sky and instead of an abrupt termination, suggests the building meets the air with grace rather than violence. The onion domes on the towers gradually transition from full width to a point. The potential for knowledge and culture is sky high. Literally.

And the move from building to space above is the culmination of our tale. The climax of a story which, like many movies, suggests a sequel to follow, but it’s a sequel to be written from your experience within the building. Imagine what would happen if another building was oppressively built over this space. It would ruin the story. Hopefully, no one will ever contemplate such a thing. The Jubilee Building is a place we need today, a profoundly human building, offering inspiration and a call to all to learn about other places, other cultures, other creatures. It inspires us. So if all this hasn’t convinced you Poole did a good thing here, I don’t know what will.

Thinking about walking

Tram on Beaufort Street near Dundas Road

I am currently writing a guided walk which takes you on a journey through the history of Inglewood. But what does it mean for a suburb to have a history? Too often, local heritage tours are little more than a catalogue of dates and early occupants: such and such a building was erected in 1935 and was originally a deli. If history is understood to be the exploration of causes of events, rather than just a description of the events, then this kind of tour is not historical. It may be enjoyable, nostalgic, or even result in an increased appreciation of local streetscapes, but it is quite different to a walk grounded in history as a discipline. This is not to say my style of tour is better, it just the type of guided walk I prefer to do.

So, what historical causes lie behind a suburb? At heart there is only one answer: money. Houses cost money to make and sell for more money than they cost to erect. Roads may be made by local authorities, but they must pay the workers. Shops are places where cash is traded for goods needed, or just desired, by residents. Tracking the flow of capital, then, is one way of peeking behind the curtain to discover the causes of a suburb. In Perth histories this often takes the form of explaining 1890s architecture, especially in the CBD, as the consequence of the wealth generated by the gold boom.

This is a start, but only a start and other explanations must be added. Gold does not automatically create ionic columns on a façade, so the origin and meaning of the Federation-era classical revival requires input from architectural history. Technological advances also play a role, most importantly the development of reinforced concrete. The other place for technology is transport. A suburb is only desirable if the residents can get to and from places of employment. Since these were concentrated in the CBD for much of Perth’s history, the development of places like Inglewood requires mass transportation, such as trams. And trams need rails to be laid and electricity to be supplied, before houses become useful for commuters, which takes us back to money.

The historian has an obligation not only to explain causes but to be engaging. Table after table showing the correlation between land prices, average income and commuting times may be explanatory but they are very boring. They may be useful for research, but the reader often prefers history as narrative. Stories rather than numbers. To illustrate this, I will look at an unlikely source for a theory of history involving Inglewood: developers.

In October 1926 Peet & Co advertised to country visitors coming to Perth to attend the Royal Show. They were asked to note the improvements in the road network, tram and bus infrastructure, even that there were more taxis on the streets.[1] Of course, this was advertising, not government boasting, so there was a point to all this. Increased accessibility meant more desirable suburban houses, so the price of land would go up. The target audience was not those who wanted a new house to live in, but people looking to invest. Once you could not give land away in Inglewood and Victoria Park, claimed Peet & Co, now only the rich could afford to buy there. This is deceptive advertising for two reasons: Inglewood was not as desirable in 1926 as claimed here, and Peet & Co had little to do with that suburb anyway, which was predominantly developed by different capitalists, Gold Estate Ltd.

Overall, however, Peet & Co were right about the link between transport and land prices. It is only when the advertisement suddenly lurches into historiography we might be taken aback. “Real estate history, like all other history, repeats itself”. Now these developers are not the first capitalists to advertise guaranteed returns on your investment. Because history. It is probably superfluous to note worldwide events just three years later showed most people such claims were lies as the Depression hit Western Australia like everywhere else. But Peet & Co did not need to believe their advert, the prospective buyer did: the investors, retailers and homeowners who make suburbs what they are. For now, I just want to notice the explicit claim made by these capitalists linking the guaranteed growth of your investment to the guaranteed growth of a suburb to the guaranteed continuous expansion of the (often publicly funded) transport infrastructure. Suburbs are not born, they are created.

The necessity of transport for developers is made clear when an extension of the tram service up Beaufort Street was proposed in the middle of World War I. The line had ended at Walcott Street since 1899 and there was a desperate need for better service north of this. Clearly, the war had impacted house sales, and lack of easy connections to town was not helping. Consequently, the main developers of Mount Lawley and Inglewood, Gold Estates Ltd, offered to subsidise the new line by £800 if the extension was to Second Avenue or £1,000 if the extension was to Fourth Avenue. The government took the former option, asserting that, in 1916, the war effort meant a shortage of iron rails.

This economic analysis, which involved few numbers, offers an explanation for patterns of development but fails to offer insights into the precise nature of the built form resulting or the patterns of class structure within a neighbourhood. For these we need input from architectural and technological history and, perhaps surprisingly, the history of fashion. Two examples should suffice for now: a row of shops and a California Bungalow.

No industry is as responsive to the opportunities offered by new technologies as retail. The two key technologies for understanding suburban shops are reinforced concrete and the ever-lowering cost of large sheets of glass. Inglewood has no fancy large department stores or, to be blunt, any retail outlets with noteworthy architectural features. By contrast, Subiaco retains a few double-storey buildings showing appealing ornamentation from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But lack of ornament should not discourage the architectural historian from explaining a building with the same methodology they would use on a grand hotel.

Inglewood’s most common older retail takes the form of small blocks, usually in fours, of single-storey shops with a pediment and cantilevered verandah. Because such premises were constructed by a developer without knowing who would occupy them, it is pointless to seek evidence for particular trades. Each shop is intentionally generic to attract the widest variety of potential occupants. Nor is it often worth looking at the aesthetic balance of the frontages, because if architects were involved, the primary motivation was to produce useable and attractive shops at the minimum cost, not to conform to classic notions of ratios.

That said, while form definitely does follow function, function should not be restricted to a space to stock goods while they await a paying customer. Even the suburban retailer needs to attract shoppers and display their ware both internally and to the outside world. Which is where the ever-increasing size of single panes of glass became important in the world of commerce. And even the pediment required some decorative elements, at least in the 1920s and ’30s, to advertise the shopping block as having some ‘class’. As such, the façades and pediments on Beaufort Street can be usefully analysed as a demonstration of at least, if not often exceeding, the minimum standards of aesthetics the average consumer demanded of a retail outlet. Such tastes changed over time, so differences between rows of shops can also be explored.

And the question of taste links us to the California Bungalow, the most common style of architecture seen on the ‘avenues’ of Inglewood. Heather Burke, a much better architectural historian than I will ever be, argues that architectural styles are signifiers of class, so the California Bungalow is advertising something about how the occupants see themselves. Somewhat hesitantly, given Burke’s standing, I wish to both demur from this view and to complicate it. She tacitly assumes the owners of houses select their appearance and therefore, either consciously or unconsciously, agree with the ideology represented by the style. But Inglewood streets were constructed and retailed by developers, who therefore chose this style and then needed to seek an appropriate market. Or to create the appropriate market.

Creating a market is a way of defining taste in the target audience, to say what is fashionable or, in the word most used in the 1920s and ’30s, modern. In fact, the term California Bungalow was rarely applied to Inglewood homes, they were simply described as modern. To see this in action, I will look at a home which is still around on the corner of Fifth Avenue and John Street. (Yes, this is technically Mount Lawley, but the example still works for Inglewood homes.) Erected in 1926, the advertorial uses the word ‘modern’ in both the headline and body text: it is a ‘modern home’ embodying ‘modern design’.[2] It is also ‘charming’ and ‘pretty’, but it is modernity which is the key selling point with cement verandahs, with dwarf walls and roughcast pillars, and a beamed ceiling. In passing, it should be noted there was also a shelf for your ornaments, although mentioning this does seem excessive.

Of course, it is possible to argue this home reflects the status and personality of the owner who commissioned it, but the language of the advertorial is not aimed at Mr W. C. Brear but at the reader who is supposed to desire the same style for themselves. For large areas of Inglewood, and Mount Lawley, it is possible to see house after house constructed in an almost identical fashion. These were not built to reflect the status and personality of an individual, but to be bought by people who had read the advertising and come to identify themselves as a prospective owner of such a place. For Inglewood, this was predominantly people from the lower middle class.

When combined, movement of capital, technological opportunities, and advertising what is fashionable explain the patterns of development and the built form constructed there. A tour of Inglewood’s history must cover all these aspects. Which leads to the central problem for the writer of such a walk, in this case me. No one wants a twenty-minute lecture in front of each building, just a few sentences to encapsulate the meaning and importance of the place within the context of the tour and the history of the suburb. I believe this is possible but requires experimentation and feedback from trial audiences to see what works and what does not. Trust me, I am doing my best.

[1] Sunday Times 3 October 1926: 36

[2] Sunday Times 14 March 1926: 10

Looking for Henry


Henry Ebenezer Clay died just as Perth was getting started as a real city, gold having been discovered to the east a few years earlier. At 4pm on Monday 28 December 1896, his body left his home, Esperance Cottage on Hutt Street, Perth, Western Australia, for the last time. Enclosed in an attractive coffin of polished English oak, with brass mountings and a name plate, he was carried in a hearse to its last resting place in the Church of England section of East Perth Cemetery. The Anglican bishop, Charles Riley, conducted the service himself, and mourners included employees from the Post and Telegraph Department. The closeness at his funeral of Church and State was no coincidence. Henry Clay was both civil servant and son of a preacher man. And Western Australia’s leading poet.

Seeking out graves as a hobby is something left over from the medieval obsession with pilgrimages. But instead of looking for holy men and women to look down from heaven and recommend us to the Spirit in the Sky, we now desire posthumous blessings from our new saints: pop stars, artists and, for me at least above all those, poets. I have stood next to the body of William Wordsworth while a light snow started falling and read lines from his works. Same for the tomb of another Lake Poet, Robert Southey, except there was no snow on this occasion because it was April. Less well-known than Wordsworth and Coleridge, Southey is probably mostly famous for writing Goldilocks and the Three Bears for his children. I have even walked with a tent and heavy backpack across the ancient Quantock Hills in England’s west country, just to be near to the spot where The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was written. All these things were exactly as pretentious as they sound, but–what the hell?–I enjoyed doing them anyway.

So now I was at the gates of East Perth Cemetery to seek the final resting place of yet another poet, Henry Ebenezer Clay. To describe the cemetery as a tourist attraction would be to push the meaning of both tourist and attraction beyond breaking point. It had been the original burial place for the fledgling Swan River Colony, which would one day grow up to be Perth. After a larger metropolitan cemetery opened elsewhere in 1899, the East Perth site was almost instantly abandoned. Uncared for, bones started appearing on the surface for children and dogs to play with. People complained, of course, but nothing was done. Today, almost all the graves are unmarked and unknown, while the few remaining ones are of people you would only know if local history was your life-long obsession. A grocer who owned more than a couple of stores, a newspaper editor who wrote nothing of interest, and a politician who must have given a speech with relevance at some point, presumably.

As you enter through the gates and head towards a small chapel, there is undeniably an atmosphere to the place, but pinning down that feeling is difficult. The cemetery is not exotically located on a hilltop, or so far out of town it requires a pilgrimage and a car park to access it. In fact, East Perth Cemetery is conveniently sited near Perth’s world-famous cricket ground, the WACA, as well as new suburbs which sprang up on artificial inlets cut into former industrial estates. Conveniently located, sure, but not convenient to access, being open only for two hours on Sunday afternoons. Yet even this limited availability overestimates the demand from the public. In short, hardly anyone ever goes to commune with the dead here.

In part this is because this cemetery is, for the most part, boring. The only real reason to show up would be to visit a relative or, like me, someone for whom you were making a pilgrimage. Perhaps local schoolchildren are shuffled through with ten questions to answer on a clipboard. Maybe the odd tourist discovers the place on TripAdvisor and pays ten dollars to stare at carved names that mean nothing to them. But I suspect the main reason locals stay away is because of Perth’s ambiguous attitude to the past. Heritage is all very well if it serves some practical (read moneymaking) purpose, but it can bugger off if it gets in the way of anything. Literally anything. It’s recognized that the past is a marketable commodity, but beyond that it has no value to the majority of Western Australians. Footy, yes; beaches, yes; barbeques, of course; museums, history books, old buildings, sure, but don’t ask the taxpayer for a subsidy or expect them to be around in a few years. Unless they’re making money.

East Perth Cemetery, despite being staffed by unpaid labour, is not making money on the day I visit. The four volunteers, as is typical for such a place, are older to the point of being old. They seem genuinely surprised when I enquire about a name even less famous than the not-particularly-famous people included in the thin guidebook. After consulting an online database and a large map on an easel identifying the location of the few remaining memorials, one volunteer offers to walk me to the grave of Henry Ebenezer Clay. He’s not at all curious as to why I want to locate this memorial, instead offering stories of his ancestors who bred horses in Western Australia to sell to Mauritius. Did I know why Mauritius? I did not. The sale price of each horse was greater there than selling them to the British Army in India. So now I knew.

Like every headstone, Henry’s had once been upright. But decades of neglect, or perhaps vandalism, had broken it off at the base, so now it lay on the ground cracked in multiple places. Grass, browned by the sun, was growing through the cracks, forcing them wider and shortening the life of this memorial just a little more. The original lettering had been formed in lead, but many characters had fallen off, or were lying on the stone out of place, so it resembled a game of Scrabble about to be played by teenage Goths. Around the horizontal headstone was a simple iron fence. Whether to stop further damage to the grave or prevent the dead from escaping and complaining about the neglected cemetery was not stated in the guidebook.

When he died in 1896, the newspapers described Henry as having a “deservedly high reputation in this colony for his literary talents, which were of no mean order.” Yet his headstone only alludes to this, for below his name spelt out in full are three letters: ‘H. E. C.’ And it was under this nom de plume that Henry had published his few books and many poems in the West Australian newspaper, as was the normal way of sharing the written word in the 19th century. The headstone bears Henry’s literary signature but otherwise gives no indication as to why. There are two lines underneath, now difficult to read thanks to the scattered lettering, but which once said:

Who self forsaketh angels are his friends
Who loveth all hath found the Heart of God

If these lines are by HEC, I haven’t found them yet, and they don’t appear to be the product of anyone with poetic talent. Perhaps a relative composed them, or the monumental mason felt inspired to add his own tribute to Henry’s memorial, perhaps modelled on an 1891 couplet actually by HEC:

Himself forsaking — angels close him round
Who, loving all, the Heart of God hath found

One thing that is certain, however, is that Henry is not alone in his grave. His nephew, Arthur Reginald Brooking, predeceased him by four years, at the age of just 16. The 1890s saw several epidemics of ‘fever’, and one of these might have been Arthur’s cause of death. The headmaster at Perth Boys School said he had been one of their most brilliant students, and he had excelled in geology and history. Henry never married, and all his immediate family died before him. His executor was his niece, Laura Brooking, so she must have organised for his body to be placed in the same grave as her younger brother.

Yet the headstone itself reveals nothing poignant. Did Laura grieve for her uncle? Did the service remind her of the death of her brother and open old wounds? Or, like the unpoetic two lines of ‘verse’ on the stone, was the whole affair ordered and dignified without ever reaching the level of emotions? As these thoughts ran through my mind, I suddenly realised this was stereotyping colonial society: so used to death, they scarcely felt it. But I knew they hurt when people died. I needed no more evidence than the man in front of me, and I could turn to Henry’s poetry where he had written so touchingly on the loss of each member of his family to see what death meant to him. To understand HEC, I needed to get rid of the historic clichés.

Photographing Henry’s headstone was difficult. The shadows were all wrong and I had forgotten my camera, instead relying on an old model mobile phone. I would need to return to get a better shot. And this made me pause. Didn’t I decry the cemetery as boring, filled with pointless people who had led pointless lives? What made me so special that my returning was understandable, and every other visitor, few as they are, was being fooled by this tedious ‘history’? Could I be wrong?

My volunteer guide didn’t return me to the front of the chapel, since he had a couple of other graves he wanted to show me. They were relatives of his, people involved in horse breeding, horse racing, and related industries. As he spun well-rehearsed stories, I was reminded of Wordsworth’s child who refused to admit the deaths of her brother and sister meant they were no longer members of the family:

Then did the little Maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”

For my guide, these were not names on tombs, but people he could, and did, proudly point to on an enormous hand-written family tree. They were still people he could relate to, not simply dead relatives. For him, East Perth Cemetery was a place to talk about his family and their achievements. Without the graves he would just be an older man telling tales, but with the cemetery there in front of us, he was doing history, and loving every minute of it. Just as I needed HEC’s headstone to form a physical connection with the past, or it was all just words on a page, not real people who lived, loved and hurt when their family died.

I’d like to say I walked out the cemetery a wiser man, but you know that wouldn’t be true, at least not in any dramatic way. People don’t change as a result of one encounter in a graveyard. And in many ways my criticisms of the place still stand: it’s not very exciting. For most people. Unless you have or make a connection to one particular grave. Which is what I’m doing here, with Henry Ebenezer Clay: trying to get you, the reader, to want to find out more about his life, to read his poetry, to make a connection. Then maybe you will visit his grave and East Perth Cemetery will be very slightly less boring than it was.

Do you fancy another date?


Just no.

As is well known, the Dodgy Perth team are patriotic loyalists to the core, as well as being internationally recognised historians (hello mum). Which means we are often asked about whether Australia Day should be on the 26 January, or if some other date would do equally well. Sit down, fire up the barbie, take a big sip of Emu Export and we’ll tell you a story.

We firmly believe the date on which the British flag was first raised on this continent should continue to be celebrated by taking a day off, dressing in Aussie flag bikinis and thongs, and drinking far too much. Which is why we commemorate every 23 August when James Cook first did this, on behalf of King George III, in 1770.

Wait. What we mean is we honour the founding of the first colony in New South Wales. Which was, as you know, 7 February. Because this is when David Collins read out the instructions which were to establish the permanent British presence on the east coast in 1788.

Wait. What we mean is the first landing by Arthur Phillip at Botany Bay to establish the first convict colony here. Which was 18 January 1788. After a week setting up, unloading equipment and livestock and clearing the ground, Phillip decided he’d made a mistake, forced everyone to put everything back on the ships and set sail for Sydney Cove. Which must have made some people very grumpy.

It was here they landed on the east coast, for the second time, on 26 January 1788. True, Phillip did lots of pomp and ceremony (again), as such an occasion demands, but it had no legal significance until 7 February. In any case, Cook had claimed the whole bloody continent eight years earlier.

And Australia wasn’t even a thing until 1 January 1901, anyway. So really it’s NSW Day at best. Although 1 January is already a holiday, and we’d prefer another day off each year to doubling up the meaning of that one.

Anyway, we propose having four Australia Days: 18 January, 26 January, 7 February, and 23 August. But if we’re only allowed one, 26 January is probably the worst choice, from both a historical and political angle. Still, four sounds good to us.