The Nazi plan to destroy Bayswater Subway

bayswater-subway

Once, crossing the railway at Bayswater was difficult, with vehicles forced to travel some distance away, and school children having to dash across the track in a dangerous manner. So the local council decided the best course of action was to go underneath it.

The first plan for a subway at Bayswater was as early as 1903 when the council asked for one to link King William Street to Coode Street. Nothing happened as a result, so they asked again in 1908. By now the problems associated with draining such a subway had been raised, and the council offered its engineer to sort these out.

Despite having promised a subway, the Government now claimed it was short of money but said they would do what they could. Some people, though, questioned if it could be done at all. After all, to get the road low enough it would have to be underneath the water table, and so drainage was impossible, and it would become a small lake with any amount of rain.

These misgivings were ignored though, and on 14 February 1910 the Chairman of the Board, Mr I. C. Granville, drove his horse and sulky through a ribbon held up by two young women and on into the new Bayswater Subway. It doesn’t seem to have flooded, at least not to any noticeable extent. However, the open drains from the subway flowing down King William Street did keep making that road subside.

Terrifyingly, in 1942 a group of Perth’s Nazi sympathisers planned to blow up Bayswater Subway to paralyse both rail and road networks. The plotters included a Post Office employee, an insurance agent, and a dairy farmer. While their intention was to establish a National Socialist government in Australia, they were infiltrated by the police and arrested before any of their schemes came to fruition.

Today, of course, the subway is best known for being repeatedly struck by trucks. We don’t mean to suggest the drivers are just trying to finish off what the Nazis couldn’t, but so far they have failed to destroy a 108-year-old underpass and bridge. And let’s hope it stays that way.

Is this Perth’s greatest building?

newspaper house

Welcome to the Stripped Classical, our favourite architectural style named after our favourite way of not wearing clothing. You are certainly familiar with Newspaper House on St George’s Terrace, but probably only because it now leads to a range of different drinking establishments behind. But before you drop into Print Hall for a glass of Shiraz, take a moment to study the façade.

If the building looks almost perfectly proportioned, that’s because it is. Designed by warrior-architect J. J. Talbot Hobbs and opened in 1933, every ratio, every line, every window is exactly (and we mean exactly) according to the rules laid down by architects from the Renaissance onwards. To see what we mean, look at the building below.

deutsche bank

This is the Deutsche Bank building in Bremen, Germany, which was finished in 1891 and is designed in the Historicist Style. It obviously has many more pretty bits than Newspaper House, but if you were to overlay a picture of Perth’s building onto the German one every column and window and floor would line up perfectly. Talbot Hobbs did not copy this building, he just used the same mathematical rules as the German architects.

But where are all the famous columns, entablatures and architraves (and other technical words it is necessary to know to convince people you are a real architectural historian) that we associate with classical architecture? They are simply missing. Well, except for two Ionic columns we will return to later.

Stripped Classicism is a response to two things: Modernism and the Great Depression. Modernists were obsessed with getting rid of all the decorative elements on a building, and façades should only reflect exactly the function of the rooms behind them. No ornament, no trimmings, no colours, just arrangements of spaces. A mechanised architecture for an increasingly industrialised society. And, yes, Modernists thought this was a good idea.

The Depression meant developers had less money to spend on buildings, so anything that saved cost, like not having ornamentation on the outside, suited them perfectly. Yet Newspaper House is not a Modernist building, and its shape does not simply reflect the functions going on behind the façade. So what is going on here?

There is a big argument in the history of architecture as to whether the Stripped Classical is anti-Modernist or just another development of Modernism. We won’t go into details here, but simply state that we hold to the second opinion. Talbot Hobbs was Modernist enough to want to get rid of details, something the owners, The West Australian, would have loved, but didn’t want to go down the route of plain white concrete walls. Instead, he chose classical proportions and allusions to pillars, while keeping the building thoroughly modern and cheap(ish).

munster house

For a very different Stripped Classical building, although slightly less naked than Newspaper House, look at Munster House on Murray Street, not too far from King Street. Designed by Frederick Upton and opened in 1929, it has slightly more going on at the top and a few more twiddly bits, but exactly conforms to the mathematical principles of classical design.

So, if Stripped Classicism was cheaper than standard classical architecture, and more pretty than Modernist buildings, why did it only exist for a such a short time? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is two people: Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. They fell in love with Stripped Classicism and many Nazi and Soviet buildings show exactly the same design principles. After World War II, doing things that Hitler liked was, for some strange reason, not very popular, so it fell out of fashion.

DSCF0246

And now to return to those two Ionic columns in the middle of Newspaper House. Why are they there? Did Talbot Hobbs suddenly regret his use of a modern idiom and start to long for a return to older architectural motifs? Probably not. The answer almost certainly lies in the fact that Newspaper House was built in the centenary year of The West Australian, and they would have wanted this connection with the history of the State to be reflected. Look at what they hold up: the words ‘Newspaper House’. The whole building is supported by real history, although thoroughly modern at the same time.

So Talbot Hobbs created one of Perth’s most interesting buildings, by combining history, modernity and the needs of the owners. And now you have our permission to go inside for a glass of wine.

Getting it on at Maccas

maccas

Buy Em By The Bag. We dare you.

As you probably know, the good citizens of Guildford are rejoicing over having fought off plans for a 24-hour Maccas to be built at the back of the Guildford Hotel. Even the local MLA, Michelle Roberts, is against any new fast food outlets in the town.

One of the reasons given for opposing the chain was that it was too close to a primary school. In other words, “Won’t somebody think of the children?” But this is far from a novel complaint about hamburger bars.

Although the media had regularly written accounts of how exciting Americans found them, the first burger bars seem to have arrived in WA only during World War II. And, just like the proposed Maccas, these were all-night joints. Which some sections of society found problematic.

In 1943, the head of the Salvation Army demanded that Perth should ensure all burger bars were closed at midnight, or society would be destroyed. How? you might ask. Well, they are “places of temptation”. And not just a temptation to supersize your order, oh no, temptation between the sexes.

You see, burger bars had become pick-up joints. (For young people: a pick-up joint is like Tinder, but without the need to register your email address.) “Perth has held such a fine place in moral standards that it ought to be the vital concern of every citizen to keep it in that position,” thundered the Salvation Army’s commissioner.

And he was not alone. The Women’s Service Guild wanted early closing on hamburgers, as did the Children’s Court magistrate and the Child Welfare Secretary.

Won’t somebody think of the children?

We suspect that the problem with burger bars was they were simply too American for the taste of Perth’s leading citizens. What was more likely to corrupt young minds than being exposed to Yankee food?

Anyway, Guildford has managed to protect young people (at least for the moment) from both the pleasures of a thick shake and the pleasures of the flesh. So we salute them.

Speaking to the war dead

Arthur Conan Doyle and friend

Arthur Conan Doyle and friend

What do Sherlock Holmes and speaking to the dead have in common? The answer is, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle, who visited Perth in 1921 as part of a world tour.

But he wasn’t here to plug his books. Instead, Conan Doyle wanted to talk about his latest obsession, spiritualism. And His Majesty’s was packed out for the lunchtime event, with almost everyone in the audience being female. But we’ll come back to that.

Conan Doyle briefly sketched out the history of contacting the deceased, announcing that anyone who denied the existence of life after death was “either ignorant or a moral coward”. Certainly, the audience were receptive to the idea.

Especially when the speaker mentioned that his good friend, the brilliant scientist Oliver Lodge, had talked with the boys who had been killed in World War I. Every person in the audience had either lost a son or a husband in that conflict, or knew someone who had. Their bodies might not have been brought home, but now someone was offering a chance to say farewell.

“That,” said Sir Arthur from the stage, “is the message we have tried to give Australian mothers.” Mothers. Conan Doyle clearly knew who his audience was.

He had even spoken to his own dead son, Kingsley, who died in 1918 from the flu epidemic which raged across the world. A medium had relayed the words to Conan Doyle, who discovered that Kingsley was happy in the afterlife, and he even felt the touch of his son on his forehead.

How much excitement would that have created in an audience of mothers? An undoubtable, serious writer was proclaiming the very real possibility of once again speaking with lost children. How many tried and failed after this, we will never know.

There is no doubting Conan Doyle’s sincerity. He was no con artist, and was prepared to face ridicule for promoting his beliefs. Many of his friends tried to discourage him, not least Harry Houdini, the famous escapologist. But for Sir Arthur, this would mean giving up the belief he had finally said goodbye to his own son.

Speaking to the WWI dead is not usually thought of as part of Anzac history, but it fully deserves a small place in the tales to be told about 1914 to 1918.

With friends like these…

StevesA prisoner of war when this photo was taken in 1943, on the right is Steve McHenry, owner of the infamous Steve’s in Nedlands.

A couple of years earlier the Perth men had been fighting in Libya, and from the accounts of their time there it’s hard to know if they were soldiers or students tumbling out of Steve’s at closing time.

Camp at Benghazi was described as a lot like the bar at the WACA after an interschool sports meeting. (Wait. You could drink beer after school sports day?)

However, although the local beer tasted okay, the Western Australians complained it was too low alcohol for their taste. Apparently the native wines and spirits were awful, but fortunately there was a good supply of Australian beer.

If good Aussie beer turned up, though, “no one bothers about buying a bottle—it’s a case or nothing.”

As a result of this hard drinking, the English soldiers started calling the Aussies ‘the queer men’. Not what you’re thinking. It was because they considered them all stark raving mad when on the juice.

If an Australian wanted booze he became impossible to deal with. After having a few, if they could be forced out of the canteen without starting a brawl, the Aussies would go away and bring their officers back to start another fight.

Other than fighting in the canteen, the Aussies mostly fought while playing Australian Rules, of which there were games every afternoon. A friendly would not usually last more than ten minutes before it became an all-in brawl.

And they had an odd way of making friends with the English. After a Brit was returning from a reconnaissance flight, he spied half a dozen Aussies lazily sailing his private 16-foot yacht around the bay. (Wait. You could have private yachts at war?)

The Englishman flew round and let off a few machine gun bursts to show his annoyance.

Strangely, the next day, the yacht mysteriously went up in flames. How that happened, we’ll probably never know.

War is hell. If you’re the owner of a 16-foot yacht anyway.

Child soldiers

Private Leslie Shaw, 1940

Private Leslie Shaw, 1940

To the media,

Please stop assuming that all young Australians who run away to join ISIS have been brainwashed. Teenagers (in particular boys) have always sought adventure overseas, and have rarely understood the full implications of what they were getting themselves into.

Also, dear journalists, stop with the overuse of the word ‘radicalised’. It’s not a thing.

So, today Dodgy Perth presents the story of Captain Leslie Shaw, who signed up to be an Anzac at the age of just thirteen.

Born a Kiwi, Leslie served as a sapper in the First Field Company, New Zealand Engineers. He was present at the landing on Gallipoli and also at the Suvla attack.

After Gallipoli he went to the trenches in France, taking part in the Battle of Messines and the Third Battle of Ypres, in 1917.

Then, at the ripe age of 17 years, tiring of a foot-slogger’s existence, and anxious to join the Air Force, he disclosed his real age and was discharged from the Amy. This after some years on active service.

After the war Leslie served with the Air Force in India, before retiring to take up a tea plantation.

Bored of tea, he joined the flying service in New Guinea, being one of the first to fly in that service.

Finally ‘retiring’ to Perth, he became a broadcaster with radio station 6AM, and his talks on aviation became one of its most popular shows.

But even then, Leslie wasn’t finished. When WWII broke out, he was still young enough to enlist as a private, again in the Army, and undertook his basic training at Claremont.

Do you really believe that at the age of thirteen Leslie could have fully understood what he was getting himself into at Gallipoli and in the French trenches? Of course not. He wanted adventure, and he wanted to serve his country.

Dodgy Perth does not mean to equate joining ISIS with being an Anzac. One of these organisations is evidently not a good thing.

However, sometimes boys will be boys, and it doesn’t always require them to be ‘radicalised’ before they seek thrills and escapades in foreign lands.