Looking for Henry

Exif_JPEG_420

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?

straya-day

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.

A hotel for our boys

darling-range

Darling Range Hotel in 1914

Nothing makes us sadder than the unnecessary loss of an old pub. Especially one that still has skimpies. And by skimpies, we obviously mean a long and interesting history. Yet lose it we might, if plans to demolish the Darling Range Hotel for yet another service station go ahead.

Built as the East Midland Hotel in 1905 for Thomas Wilkins, the site was chosen so patrons could sit on the balcony and watch the horses at the Helena Vale Racecourse. Naturally, it became very popular. In 1914 it was sold to a man with the wonderful name of Welbourne Keatley Lamzed, who arrived just in time to take advantage of a new source of customers: the men doing basic training at Blackboy Hill.

No one liked the way the YMCA was running the camp’s alcohol-free canteen, and a rival wet mess for the men was quickly shut down after wowsers complained to the newspapers that soldiers shouldn’t be allowed a pint after a hard day’s training. So the Darling Range Hotel, newly renamed and redecorated, was one of the few sources of beer for the men.

However, someone started a rumour that Mr Lamzed was (whisper it now) a German, and no patriot should be drinking in his venue. The rumour was, of course, a complete lie, Lamzed was born in East London, much to the relief of those doing their training. In fact, he had supplied the short-lived wet canteen at Blackboy Hill, and argued that men should drink at the camp, rather than coming to the Darling Range Hotel, since there would be less temptation to go AWOL after a few glasses.

And Lamzed said he didn’t really want all the new customers anyway, since he had bought the pub as a quiet retreat to live out an easy life after a career spent in the construction trade. As a side note, Lamzed had erected Boans first ever store, so he has more than one claim to fame.

But the wowsers won the day, the wet canteen stayed closed, and the Darling Range Hotel became the main drinking hole for those ANZACs about to serve overseas.

Today you drink in a new tavern built at the back of the old building, which has lost much of its charm with the loss of the verandahs. But that’s still no excuse for knocking over part of our military and boozing history. Go have a drink there. Take a selfie outside the original hotel, and tell JDAP to keep their planning paws off one more piece of our heritage.

On fireworks and invasion

sorry

Were the original settlers sorry too?

Now that Fremantle has decided to dress up a budget cut in Politically Correct language and claim it is doing everyone a favour, Dodgy Perth needs to ask the question no one else is asking. What on earth did the original white colonists of Western Australia think they were doing?

Firstly, should it be called Australia Day or Invasion Day? Perhaps surprisingly, James Stirling would have agreed with the latter:

Their country has been taken from them by force… No sophistry can conceal the fact that Western Australia is a conquered Nation… We have taken the country from the rightful possessors of the soil, and must abide by the consequences of that first act of aggression…

And some of the earliest colonists agreed with Stirling, claiming they didn’t know they were about to steal land when they turned up here:

Which of us can say that he first made a rational calculation of the rights of the owners of the soil, of the contemplated violation of those rights, of the probable consequences of that violation, or of our justification for such an act?

Yet the colonists did take the land, even though they felt really, really guilty about it. And when people feel guilty about something (with no intention of putting things right) they have to offer a justification to themselves about why it’s okay really. Two defences of invasion were most common: the nice white folk were offering British citizenship to the Aborigines and they were also offered all the advantages of early 19th century technology, like bread and blankets.

However strange it might seem, the traditional owners didn’t seem very grateful for this forced swap of property for becoming subjects of an overseas’ king:

As a boon to the poor Natives for the loss of their land and their hunting and fishing grounds they made them British subjects! The Native says “Of what benefit is that boon of grace to me?”

Nor did the local Aborigines feel that handouts of bread was fair recompense for being evicted from their homeland. In prophetic words, one critic of the invasion said of such trade: “the benefit, if any at all, is only temporary, the injury inflicted is permanent”.

Here in the Dodgy Perth offices, we don’t really care if Fremantle has fireworks or not. But if they think it’s really going to work towards reconciliation and reparation they may as well be handing out bread, blankets, and British citizenship for all the good it will do.

No one cares about ‘Straya Day

sydney

Captain Phillips somewhere on the other side of the country

On TV this year, cricket legend Adam Gilchrist encouraged everyone to celebrate Australia Day in their own way. And so he might. After all, it’s never been clear to anyone what the 26th January is actually for.

Sure we all know it represents the founding of New South Wales. But what are we, on the other side of the country, meant to do in response to that?

Some young ladies like to put on small and cheap patriotic bikinis from Red Dot [no objections here from the Dodgy Perth offices], some young men like to drape themselves in the flag, get pissed, and shout “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!” [many objections]. Most people have a BBQ and listen to JJJ.

What we learn from the past is that they had no idea how to celebrate it either. For starters, they couldn’t even agree on a name. Some states called it Australia Day, others used the term Foundation Day or Anniversary Day. It was only in 1936 the Commonwealth Government ordered everyone to use the words Australia Day. But even this didn’t make it any clearer.

In the 1910s it was a day for kids and the place to be was South Beach. There were pony rides, fruit, swings, toys, swimming and running races, and a greasy pole in the pool. But by the 1930s no one was organising anything except a rowing regatta on the Swan. Which didn’t seem very patriotic to anyone, really.

Enter the Australian Natives Association (ANA). While they might sound as if they had something to do with Aboriginal rights, they couldn’t be further away. The ANA were the leading jingoistic mob, always demanding more be done to keep Australia white and British. There is still an ANA rowing club at Bayswater, but we imagine they’ve dropped their appalling racism by now.

It was pressure from the ANA and a bucket-load of nationalistic speeches from them about celebrating White Australia that forced the government’s hand in 1936 to make the day ‘Australia Day’ for everyone.

But no one cared. Each year the Perth newspapers tried really hard to educate the public about the arrival of Captain Phillip on Sydney Cove and why they should be celebrating this historic event. But no one cared. Even during World War II, when patriotic sentiment was at its height, the City of Perth forgot to put out the national flags on 26th January until the ANA shouted at them.

Australia Day has long been a holiday for Western Australians. And that’s all its ever been. Our only tradition has been to take the day off and enjoy it. We’re not particularly interested in Captain Phillip, just JJJ. And there are no objections here from the Dodgy Perth offices.

An unwanted bed warmer

marich

Not just bed and breakfast

It can be hard on our country cousins when they don’t understand city ways. Take for example, Charles Sonesson who came down to Fremantle from Narrogin in 1917. Needing somewhere to sleep for the night he booked his bed at the Alhambra Café in Henry Street.

This café had opened in 1900 in the Marich Buildings, with a dining room decorated with mirrors and wall paintings. The upstairs bedrooms were described as considerably large and clean. Which is nice.

In accordance with the sign displayed outside the Alhambra, Charles paid one shilling for his room. It being early, our young Narrogin hero went for a walk, but was disgusted by how Fremantle girls were wearing their skirts way too short.

Disappointed in modern women he went back to the Alhambra, where the night porter said, “Oh, yes, this is your room, sir, but it’s another four shillings, please.”

“Nonsense!” said Charles, “I’ve paid for my bed.”

“That’s all right, old chap,” said the porter, “but you don’t know what’s in it yet. Step this way.”

After stepping that way and duly minding the step, Charles was shown into a bedroom where Miss Lily Smith, or, as her name was entered in the book—Miss Cherrynose—was lying on Charles’ bed.

The young man from Narrogin tried to explain he hadn’t requested any extras, but the night porter was having none of it.

“Come on, come on,” he said, “gimme the other four bob, she’s all right.”

It was not until he called the police that Charles could get his possessions and flee the Alhambra Café to find accommodation elsewhere in the delightful city.

Can anyone recommend accommodation in Fremantle now that provides additional services?

Our first gold fever

miner

All the home comforts you could want…

Where was the first gold rush in Western Australia? If you believe the history books (and you shouldn’t) they’ll say it was at Halls Creek in 1885. Not even close. The first gold rush was more than 30 years earlier.

Just off the South Western Highway, a bit south of Byford, lies the sleepy townsite of Cardup. It was here in 1854 that the newspapers breathlessly announced the first gold to be discovered in this State. Allegedly hundreds of men had camped there and were toiling away finding it easy to produce small mountains of gold. One group of prospectors had picked up more than nine kilograms without any difficulty at all.

This was great news for the people of Western Australia. The failing colony had been forced to take on convicts as cheap labour, and everyone was looking jealously at Victoria which was on the verge of becoming one of the wealthiest places on Earth thanks to its gold mines.

Many people were looking for gold here, especially since the government had announced a £500 reward for the first verified finds. The Cardup prospectors, however, were never to receive this money.

Unfortunately for our wannabe gold mine owners, Harry Hughes, then secretary of the Mechanics’ Institute, decided to take a trip to Cardup to investigate the rumours. Rather than hundreds of men, he found about twenty.

Rather than gold piled up everywhere, the best he could be shown was some quartz with tiny specks of something shiny on it, which might or might not be gold.

In any case, most of the miners were on the verge of giving up and going back to their usual careers which they had hastily abandoned for the chance of instant riches.

The moral of the story is clear. Don’t believe the history books but, even more importantly, don’t believe the newspapers. And don’t give up your day job.

How to get rid of your tan

tanning

Ugly tanned body

At this time of year, especially after a day like today, it is all too easy to become tanned. In 1930 this was the last thing you wanted, since it would mark you as someone who worked outdoors. And you wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a tradie would you?

According to the West Australian, the solution was easy. And we invite Dodgy Perth readers to try this and report back.

Make up a solution of peroxide and ammonia bleach. Use six drops of household ammonia to three tablespoon…s of hydrogen peroxide. Pat this solution on the skin with a pad of cotton wool and allow it to dry in.

It is advisable to massage a nourishing cream into the skin after the bleach has thoroughly dried. To be really effective it is necessary to get someone else to apply the lotion to your back.

But perhaps your problem is freckles. And no one likes freckles, do they?

They are due, apparently, to an excess of iron in the system. The cure is a mixture of pumice and peroxide. Add sufficient hydrogen peroxide to three tablespoons of powdered pumice to make a creamy paste.

Smooth this over the freckles and let it remain until dry. To remove, moisten the pumice with cold water until it wipes off easily. Follow with an application of nourishing cream which should be permitted to remain on for five or ten minutes.

From now on we don’t want to see any of our readers with tans or freckles. At least not if you’re following the advice of The West.

New Year: A time for sexy mermaids

mermaid

Substantially more dressed than our heroine. But still a mermaid.

The Dodgy Perth team loves New Year’s Eve. This one will be spent reliving the ‘90s by watching Jebediah perform at the Rosemount Hotel. But it probably won’t be as exciting as one Perth event to welcome in 1935.

An impetuous little brown-haired miss, we’ll call her ‘Brownie’, asked her boyfriend to accompany her to a NYE party. Well, it was the ‘30s, and girls could get away with being unchaperoned in those days.

Unfortunately, Brownie’s boy couldn’t make the date so she decided to go on her own, knowing her good looks would easily enable her to get a lift home in the early hours. The affair was, as they used to say, a howling success. There was singing and dancing, all fuelled by the spirits the young men had brought in their hip flasks.

Of course it isn’t a party if you don’t have games, but this crowd wasn’t up for the usual kids’ activities. But no one could think of anything interesting to do until Brownie suggested a ‘stocking race’. She explained that the girls stood at one end of the room, whipped off their stockings, raced to the other end and back, and pulled on their hosiery again. The first one finished was declared the winner. The young men loved it.

After this, someone daring suggested a lingerie race along somewhat the same lines, but few of the girls were game. However, Brownie was still in the mood for fun. She promptly suggested a game of dares. All you had to do was dare someone to do anything, and you paid a forfeit if they were up for it. Since only Brownie was accepting the dares, this led to a number of—as they said at the time—amusing and exciting incidents.

Finally, it was crowned by Brownie, wearing only her undies, doing what she called a “solo mermaid dance”.

Unfortunately for our heroine, when she was being driven home by one of the lads at four a.m., she encountered her boyfriend. In an attempt to deflect any guilt, she blasted him for having failed to make a show.

What she couldn’t know is that her boy later found out about the stocking race and the mermaid dance. For her, nights on the beach with that boyfriend were over, and she would be a lonely mermaid by the water for some time.

Let there be light

lights

Not all history is just hot air. Honest.

As we approach the hour of the anniversary of the coming of the Christ child, it seems only right to ask the most significant question about God made flesh: When did Perth’s streets first have Christmas lights?

There were, of course, Christmas lights and decorations well before this time. Individual shops and malls had their own displays, and government buildings were beautified. But we are asking when the streets themselves were decorated.

The answer is, for once, easy to come by. Following the lead of overseas cities and the other Australian capitals, Perth finally put up illuminations in 1961, at a cost of more than £4,000. The above scene shows Murray Street at the Forrest Place intersection. A giant balloon, themed on Around the World in 80 Days, dominated the area. Six metres in diameter, it was made by local Olympic yachtsman and sailmaker Rolly Tasker.

And why the ‘around the world’ theme? Because these decorations were to be dug out of the cupboard, dusted down, and reused for the Commonwealth Games (then known as the Empire Games) hosted by Perth in late 1962.

So, dear readers, next time someone asks you about Perth’s Christmas lights, you’ll know how to answer them.