What to do with Beeliar Wetlands?

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Image shameless stolen from Rethink The Link website

The Beeliar Wetlands have always been a site of controversy. Of course, in the past it wasn’t talk about biodiversity or Aboriginal heritage. Instead the question was whether they were to be a tourist attraction or drained and put to agricultural use.

As early as 1905 there were suggestions that Bibra Lake should be beautified as a ‘pleasure resort’ for picnickers, and given to a committee to run. It took three years for Fremantle Roads Board to get control of the place and start planning fences and some clearing, together with improved roads, so it could become the main tourist spot in the district.

But that same year, 1908, also saw calls for the wetlands to be drained and turned into grazing land for cattle, along with commercial crops. After all, said one commentator, what were the wetlands good for except “myriads of frogs and the growth of bulrushes”? Not much sign of biodiversity think there.

The government took this suggestion very seriously and started to consider whether the Beeliar Wetlands could be successfully drained. Whether it was just too expensive, or for some other reason, the area was left alone for day-trippers and Fremantle continued to work on the place. By 1913 Bibra Lake began to see work on a carriage drive, band rotunda, kiosk and shade houses, fernery, pavilion, couch grass plots, recreation spaces, swings, bathing houses, boat sheds and fish ponds.

After World War I, the government again began to cast its eyes on the wetlands, this time proposing to drain it for vegetable production. Sir James Mitchell promised to get a report on whether the project was feasible. It seems that it wasn’t and nothing was done.

On the outbreak of World War II, there was concern that neglect and vandalism had damaged the wetland area, and a call went up for an independent board to manage all of WA’s best tourist spots: Mundaring Weir, Lesmurdie, Yunderup, Lake Jandakot, Bibra Lake reserve, Garden Island, Yallingup Caves reserve, Namban Creek Caves, Jurien Bay Caves, Naval Base, and Point Peron. The board would improve these places and encourage tourists to visit every one. It never happened.

It won’t surprise you to find that in 1948, the government was thinking of draining the wetlands and the lakes to make a great agricultural area. Yet another report was written. Yet another report was not acted on. Or it said it couldn’t be done. One of the two.

And now, in 2016, the government has again turned its eyes on the wetlands, this time to build an extension of the Roe Highway. And, as you probably know, the locals are just a little bit disgruntled. With its long history of arguing about tourism v commercial use, the current proposal won’t astonish the wetlands itself. After all, some people didn’t care about frogs in 1908 and some people wanted to travel there to see them.

Otto and the whale

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Why grandma, what a big mouth you have…

A brief recap on yesterday’s post: a Busselton whale was claimed by Daisy Locke in 1897. It was agreed to donate it to the museum in Perth, so it was now an issue for taxidermist Herman Franz Otto Lipfert to work out what to do with it. Now read on…

In later life, Otto Lipfert was described as a bespectacled, white-smocked, fuzzy-haired, lightly-built man, looking considerably less than his seventy-three years of age, with a modesty and manner out of place in modern society. He was said to be soft of speech, unruffled in demeanour, unhurried in manner, painstaking and methodical.  In other words, Perth folk found him a stereotype of German efficiency.

Otto had arrived from Germany at the right time, 1892. A trained furrier and taxidermist, he was exactly what a new museum needed.  Chronically underfunded, the museum eventually offered him a month-to-month contract in 1895 on a salary of £210. Throughout his decades working there, his wage was barely increased, and he had to supply all his own tools of the trade and work in pitiful spaces, originally just a wooden shed out the back.

So how do you prepare a creature that’s been rotting on a beach for some weeks? The annoying thing about the whale, at least for the taxidermist, is that its carcase cannot be preserved. The skin is very thin and attached to blubber up to five centimetres thick. It’s impossible to scrape the blubber away and preserve the surface.

So Otto supervised a man named Hunt and two Japanese gentlemen to remove all the flesh before the bones could be taken above the high-water mark.  It must have been an awful job to undertake. The bones were left there for a few months, to let all the remaining soft body decay and the skeleton to bleach in the sun. The Bunbury Herald blandly reported in May 1898 that the bones had been “sent for exhibition at the Perth museum” from Bunbury Railway Station, but this does not even begin to describe the complexity of the operation.

Otto made another trip down to Locke’s farm, and got busy numbering the bones. Then he supervised the loading of them. The skull alone weighed 1,370 kg, while each of the lower jaw bones weighed 813 kg, so the job of transporting them to the railway line was no easy matter. It needed six men with winches just to place them in position on the wagons. To rail them to Perth, five and ten tonne trucks were needed.  “It was not easy to shift,” Otto understated some years later.

After this, the whale needed to be installed as an exhibit at the WA Museum. But that’s a story for another day.

Daisy and the whale

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As big as a whale

All stories must start somewhere, so we will start with a horse named Gold and Black. The twenty-something rider on top of Gold and Black was one of Western Australia’s most skilled equestrians, Bertha Elvina Locke, although everyone called her Daisy. Daisy was to suffer several horse-related accidents throughout her life, but she just treated these as a risk of the sport. It is quite clear that this young woman was the sort to take life’s ups and downs in her stride.

Daisy lived at Wonnerup or, to be more specific, at Lockville Farmhouse, a picturesque building with an original wattle and daub cottage and a later two-storey limestone extension.  It was probably slightly unusual in that part of the state for Daisy to have another hobby: reading mining manuals.  She also discovered the whale which was Perth Museum’s most famous exhibit for more than a century, although it now lies hidden in a Welshpool warehouse awaiting a new home.

Picture Daisy riding one her horses along Lockeville Beach, accompanied only by her large white parasol, lined with green, on Tuesday 17 August 1897.  This is when Miss Locke came to see a giant whale stranded near the jetty. Turning her horse around, she galloped to Wonnerup House to seek her uncle’s assistance. Together with another man, they went out in a small boat, harpooned the great creature, and securely anchored it to the shore.  Daisy, with the knowledge gained from her mining manuals that everything of value must be within four pegs, decided to stake the beast in case anyone else claimed it. Three long pieces of wood were found, but the fourth corner required the sacrifice of her much-loved parasol.  Unhappily for the whale, though, it took a week to die after the harpooning.

When the news reached Busselton the next day, large crowds came out to see the amazing discovery.  Among these was Water Police Constable Tonkin, an ex-whaler, who valued the 26-metre creature’s oil alone at £200.  Even if Constable Tonkin was right, Daisy was never to financially benefit from her staked-out claim since no one in the area had the skills or the equipment to extract the valuable substance. Instead it was proposed to offer the whole whale to the Perth Museum, and the locals thought this would be a simple matter since the railway line was less than two miles away.

The museum must have been delighted with the offer, given how dull recent donations had been: a report from the Department of Mines, two coins, a drawing of a bore in the Collie coalfields, three pebbles, three newts, and two caterpillars.  As it turned out, it was much more complicated to relocate a gigantic whale than to receive two caterpillars. But that was no longer Daisy’s problem, since the responsibility now fell on the shoulders of the museum’s taxidermist, Herman Franz Otto Lipfert.

But his story has to wait for another day.

Balls to those rules!

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Picture courtesy of TLA Industries Pty Ltd

How did this building almost stop Western Australia getting a world champion? 13 King William Street, Bayswater, has its own charm. The external tiling and the original 1920s parapet indicate exactly what it was: a men’s and women’s hairdressers, later converted to a drycleaners, and now used as shops.

But when the site was developed in 1919, it was as a billiard saloon. A couple of years later it was bought by Bob Marshall, something of a great player himself as well as a hairdresser, who had just relocated from Kalgoorlie. Bob first set up a small hairdressers in a shed next to the saloon, before building the shopfronts we see today front of the saloon.

This story is less about Bob, though, and more about his son, Bob Jr who was born in Kal in 1910. The son grew up in Bayswater’s billiard hall, and quickly proved himself a genius on the table. He also learned to cut hair. Playing all the time improved his game, as well as the chance to meet and challenge professional billiard players, such as the great Walter Lindrum. Before long, Bob Jr was undoubtedly the best player in Western Australia.

So, when the national amateur championship came up in 1936, there was only one candidate for us to send over to Brisbane for the competition. The other players, though, seemed to have recognised that they had no chance if Bob Jr was in the tournament, so they challenged his eligibility under every rule they could find.

They claimed our man had played professional players (not allowed under Rule J), that he worked in a billiard saloon (Rule H), and that he hadn’t paid for his own ticket to Brisbane (Rule D). He’s no amateur, claimed Bob Jr’s opponents, he’s a professional in disguise.

In his defence, Bob pointed out that his job was as a hairdresser, not a billiard saloon operator, that he only played professionals to improve his game, not to make money, and the travel issue was a complete lie. This was accepted, Bob won the tournament easily and went on to win several world amateur titles. He was last Australian champion in 1986 at the amazing age of 77.

After Bob’s father died, his mother, Esther, had taken over the running of the billiard saloon. Her biggest rule change was that the men were no longer allowed to swear on the premises. But she still couldn’t call on Bob Jr for assistance. The second he helped her in any way, he would have immediately lost his amateur status.

And that is how this building almost, but not quite, lost WA a world champion. Rumour has it that it might become a bar soon. If so, they definitely need to put in a billiard table so we can produce our next hero.

Co-ed schools, free love, and suicide clubs

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Guildford Grammar First XI (1900)

With the news that Guildford Grammar is going co-ed, we feel it is only fair to warn the school of the potential dangers. At least, the dangers outlined at a lecture in the nearby Midland Town Hall in 1928.

Miss E. Stafford Miller had returned to Australia after spending twenty-five years in the United States. What she had seen of co-educational schools over there sent shivers down her spine:

The lecturer drew a lurid picture of the effect of the Modernist movement in the United States. “The youth of America is in revolt.” There were night clubs, and suicide clubs, dancing and all manner of clubs, where every kind of passion was indulged, while one of the greatest evils in existence was the co-educational schools where the elder youth of both sexes fraternised, and free love was discussed as an ordinary topic of conversation, so that the young men and young women asked themselves “Why undertake the responsibility of marriage?”

The lecturer concluded with a fervent appeal to those present to hold fast to the traditions of their fathers, and with all their might, mind and strength oppose any and every effort to introduce the co-educational school and any institution subversive of the moral interests of the race.

Dear teachers at GGS, don’t you have the moral interest of the race at heart? We must stop this madness now before one of your students dances.

A hotel for our boys

 

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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.

Getting to the point

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Inspector White: “Just the facts, Ma’am”

While British women were being imprisoned for demanding the vote, the fair sex in Western Australia was subject to an even more sinister form of control. We refer, of course, to the notorious anti-hatpin crusade of 1912-13.

It all started in March 1912 in Melbourne, when the Australian Women’s National League resolved to start the crusade. If you were to believe the press (although we never do) numerous people were being blinded by the awful hatpins, and even one case of death where the pin pierced the brain of an innocent man walking by.

Sydney responded immediately with a ban on unprotected hatpins, with a fine of £10 for each offence. By May, Boulder had drafted similar laws. After Perth outlawed these dangerous weapons in August, one Perth drapery firm sold thousands of hatpin protectors in a single week.

And Perth City Council wasn’t joking, officers were appointed to walk the streets and take down the names of offenders for prosecution. In one day in February 1913, forty indignant women were charged with having broken the most serious of all laws.

These Perth women were indignant, claiming that the council was oppressing their freedom to dress as they wished. Sometimes they claimed they didn’t know about the law, which led (male) newspaper journalists to bemoan that the feminine members of the community limit their newspaper reading to the births, deaths, and marriages column and social notes.

A huge sweep was undertaken by Inspector White on 27 March 1913, when seventeen ladies were dragged before the magistrate for having worn unprotected hatpins on Hay and Barrack streets.

One of the ladies successfully argued that her pin was too short to protrude from the edge of her hat, even though the good Inspector White gave evidence to the contrary.

Another defendant, Eliza Tuxford, explained that the protector had fallen off her hatpin, so was fined only five shillings. The remaining fifteen were each ordered to pay ten shillings, and warned to never endanger the lives of the public again.

Most Australian cities dropped the laws quickly after this, leading to the end of this oppression. But Inspector White was determined to press on regardless. He was still bringing cases in 1919, leading to allegations he was on a bonus scheme for increasing the council’s revenue. But that could never be true, could it? Like parking inspectors today, he worked for love, not to aid budget lines.