Fowl play

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Chickens in this story may be more alive than the ones pictured above

A little-known fact about the Dodgy Perth team is that we spend our days talking to town planners. Those who have dealt with this subspecies before will know they spend their office hours measuring your plans with a ruler and sadly shaking their heads when your setback from the side boundary is not in compliance with the R-Codes. (Look at us, using all the technical planning language.)

Yet it turns out there is a good reason for these rules, as we will demonstrate with a bizarre court case from April 1838, long before there were any planning regulations in Perth.

Frederick Turner and Charles Farmer were neighbours on St George’s Terrace. Turner had built his house right on the boundary, with his bedroom window overlooking Farmer’s land and residence. This evidently annoyed the latter, who happened to keep poultry in his backyard to feed his family, and probably make a little extra cash on the side.

These birds had a habit of wandering into Turner’s garden and pecking at his hay, messing it all up, so (at least according to Turner) his pony wouldn’t eat it. Now we are no experts on either ponies or chickens, but the allegation the fowl had destroyed eight tons of hay, none of which was then suitable for a pony, seems a little exaggerated. But, like we say, this office has no proficiency in creatures either two or four legged.

Rather than try to resolve the issue like good neighbours, Turner responded by employing George Embleton to put up a six-foot fence between the properties. The same George Embleton after whom the suburb is named, at least according to Landgate. Who have no reason to lie to us. Do they?

Farmer responded that if his bloody neighbour put up the fence, he would respond by building an enormous chicken coop right next to Turner’s bedroom window. He also complained that a tiny length of roof shingles was overhanging his land and demanded Embleton get a saw and shorten them all.

It probably didn’t calm matters down when Turner and Embleton decided one day to round up a few stray chickens in the backyard, tie their legs together with string and toss them in the pony’s stable. That probably didn’t help at all.

So, Farmer made good on his promise, and built a giant fowl (foul?) house right against Turner’s residence, blocking out all the light and ensuring that if he ever opened his window, all he would smell was chickens and more chickens.

This is why it went to the civil court.

The Commissioner, W. Mackie, was less than impressed by both sides. There not being any local regulations, he was forced back onto English law which said if you build up to the boundary your neighbour is entitled to do the same. And you can’t claim loss of light or air unless your house has been standing for more than twenty years.

But, he continued, it was clear that Farmer was an awful person too, who only built the coop to annoy his neighbour, not because it was the best place to put it. So, because of the health issues involved he demanded the shed be relocated. Even so, because both were to blame the Commissioner would award only a token one shilling for damages.

It turns out that planning regulations make for good neighbours. Probably. Unless your neighbour is an awful person anyway, in which case no rules are going to help you. Probably.

The times we need racists

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Market Gardener, 1893

Wait. What? Dodgy Perth is championing racists now? Of course not, but we must begrudgingly admit that bigots in the past have one good use: they give details about the lives of minorities which would otherwise be lost to historians. Don’t believe us? Let’s prove it.

Opposite the Brisbane Hotel is a patch of grass known as Birdwood Square. Most nights of the week you’ll find soccer players practicing there, and it hosts various events throughout the year. (Although it should be noted we mostly see it out of the Brisbane windows, rather than playing sport or doing non-drinking things.)

The original plan for the park was developed in 1917, and all sorts of exciting things were planned. It was to be laid out in avenues, lawns, shrubbery, and paths, with two hothouses and two shelters. Much more interesting than the current flat grass park which now exists.

The proposal also mentioned that in 1917 the land was currently a Chinese garden. And that’s all it said. To find out more we must turn to our racists. In this case, as so often back then, they were to be found among the journalists working for the scandal rag, The Truth.

How do we know the writer was xenophobic? Easy. The language used to describe the workers was ‘Chows’ and ‘heathens’, and a white woman who had a child with one of the Chinese market gardeners, and worked as their housekeeper, was ‘degraded’ by having a ‘half-caste’ kid. Pretty conclusive evidence we’d say. But what can we do with the information provided? We don’t want to discard it, because then we’d having nothing to say about the Chinese community living next to Beaufort Street in the early 20th century. But nor do we want to take it at face value. Instead, let’s pick it apart and see what’s of value.

According to our bigot, in 1903 there were four Chinese men running the market gardens, with sixteen men in their employ. A quick glance at the gardens, we are told, is deceptive. They can look beautiful with their spring foliage and fruit blossoms. And, of course, they provided food for the good (white) citizens of Perth.

But a peep ‘behind the scenes’ would disgust every right-thinking person, and probably put them off buying Chinese produce. The gardens were really a swamp, and there were piles of “evil-smelling manure, rotten old sacks, pieces of old matting, kerosene tins, old iron, and wire netting”. In other words, if not prejudiced against the workers, you might think this is like every other market garden. Ever.

The workers lived in rough housing on site, which revolted our journo, since he couldn’t imagine wanting to live in impoverished housing in a swamp. Naturally, this says more about the type of less-than-human the Chinese really were, than any socio-economic factors which might explain the choice of accommodation.

There is one factor more than any other which keeps coming up in accounts of Chinese market gardens. It is mentioned so often, it may even be true. Allegedly, and this sickened our white writer, one source of fertiliser was the water closets on site. The vegetables and fruit were being fed with human waste.

This topic is still controversial today, and the merits and dangers of biosolids (as poop is now euphemistically known) are debated over and over, with some claiming it’s the future and others decrying it as poisoning the crops. We don’t claim to have an opinion on the issue, but we do know that journalists working for The Truth wanted to expose this ‘crime’ as evidence no one should buy Chinese veg.

Worse, the workers, we are told, delighted in being surrounded by filth, “even if they know it will kill them”.

None of this would be easy information to come by, if it wasn’t for racists writing up lurid accounts, trying to discourage people from buying from the Chinese. Sure, it might be buried in a tedious government report, but the purple prose of a bigot can give an insight into the lives of those who aren’t usually documented in the history of our city.

What’s in a name?

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Image courtesy of Shinjiman – Public Domain

Some stories are so good, they get retold over and over again. The only problem with some of these stories is that they aren’t true. In this particular case, the story is how the suburb of Queen’s Park got its name. And it involves a murder.

According to Landgate, and repeated by that source-of-all-truth Wikipedia, Queen’s Park was originally called Woodlupine and changed its name after a brutal crime which happened in the suburb in 1911 and became widely known as the Woolupine Murder. After all, who wants to live in a suburb with that association?

We won’t go into the details of the horrific rape-murder here, except to note there are question marks over whether the offender was mentally fit to stand trial, let alone be executed. But executed he was and there’s not a lot we can do about that now.

Now there is some truth to the story, but it doesn’t involve the local residents trying to get rid of a name to which they were very much attached.

Woodlupine wasn’t even originally called that. Until 1898 it was known as Jubilee Estate, until the Railway Department changed the name of the station. The new name was after an old orange plantation in the area which had been called Wood-Lupin. There were some protests, but the station name was changed anyway.

The good citizens of Woodlupine felt that everyone hated them. They were victimised by the Railway Department, by the Post Office and, most of all, by their local government, Queen’s Park, which had been founded in 1907. The new local government rose out of the ashes of the short-lived, and completely disastrous, Canning Roads Board which, you will not be surprised to hear, was loathed by everyone in Woodlupine.

So, when one of the first actions of Queen’s Park was to propose changing the name of Woodlupine Station and the Post Office to Queen’s Park, there was outrage. After all, the new council wanted everything named after itself, and Woodlupine was the busiest Post Office and Station, so it had to go.

Naturally, petitions and complaints followed, and the council chickened out and didn’t follow through on its plan. That is, until the Woodlupine Murder in 1911. Seizing their chance, the following year the councillors wrote to the Railway Department asking for the station’s name to be changed. This was agreed, provided Queen’s Park pay the £10 cost of having all the signage changed.

Perhaps the Woodlupine residents were worn down by years of council ‘oppression’. Perhaps the murder was on their minds. In any case, little opposition seems to have been raised and the council finally got their way.

The real story here (if we put aside the murder victim and her family) is about a local government needing to have its ‘brand’ on a Post Office and Railway Station and opportunistically seizing the moment. Is it more interesting than a tale of residents so disgusted by a crime they wanted to change the name of their suburb? That’s for the reader to decide.

Do you fancy another date?

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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.

Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1841

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United Service Tavern shortly before demolition

As New Year’s Eve rapidly approaches, the Dodgy Perth team will be undertaking their usual ritual of preloading followed by a night out in a pub with live music, followed by drunkenly trying to get a snog at midnight. Naturally, the venue will not be the Brass Monkey, but you probably guessed that already. (Please note that Dodgy Perth does not condone excessive consumption of alcohol. If you do, it means less for us.)

Which made us wonder which Perth hotel threw the first ever NYE party. And we believe the answer is the United Service Tavern, pictured above. Sadly, this long-standing pub on St George’s Terrace was demolished around 1970 and was replaced by a fairly ugly building.

The original tavern was opened in 1835 by James Dobbins, formerly a private in the 63rd Regiment, who had arrived on the Sulphur accompanying the first wave of colonists in 1829. Keen to attract his former military colleagues to sink a couple of pints, James called the pub United Service Tavern and painted large pictures of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington on the front. That what was passed for equal opportunities in the 1830s: both army and navy were welcome.

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The original United Service Tavern, pictured here in the 1860s

In 1840, the tavern was taken over by Henry Cole, known locally as King Cole, because apparently that was funny in the 19th century. And it was Henry who seems to have organised the first ever NYE public event in the Swan River Colony for 31 December 1841. Gentlemen’s tickets were 10 shillings each, while ladies only had to pay 7s 6d. Presumably because they would eat and drink less than the blokes, rather than a tacky stunt to get more females into the bar. Maybe.

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We object to gendered pricing policies. Even from 1841.

Later the building came into the hands of Henry Strickland and Stephen Chipper, before being leased by John Giles who added a new front to the original building. It was this frontage, and the 1835 hotel behind it, which were demolished in 1970, including original stables and outbuildings.

So, if you’re heading out tonight to a historic venue, remember to be thankful not everything has been knocked down. Yet.

Watersports

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The 1935 entrance gates pictured on completion

We read in the news that the Minister for Heritage has declined to register all of Subiaco Oval, much to the disappointment of the local authority. Although allegedly against the advice of the Heritage Council, the government seems happy with just having the 1935 gates heritage listed.

But in all this discussion we’ve not seen anyone comment on the fact that the current Subiaco Oval is not the first Subiaco Oval, but the second. Most people know the stadium first opened in 1908, but Subiaco Football Club was founded way back in 1896. Do you imagine they had nowhere to play and train for their first twelve years?

Towards the western end of Nicholson Road is a reserve called Shenton Park and it was here, in 1897, that Subiaco FC made their home. It was simply known as Subiaco Oval at the time. Trouble was, to the south of the ground was a large lake, and during the winter months the water on the playing field proved impossible to drain.

The local government spent a small fortune trying to make Subiaco Oval playable, but there were still times when games were played wading ankle-deep through the water. But play they did, because footballers were harder back then.

In the end, the council gave up trying and instead decided to develop a new oval on Mueller Park, starting work in 1906. And how did the Subiaco locals react? As you would expect: with outrage. Angry letters were written to the newspapers, protest meetings were held, and people were generally grumpy. How dare they fence off part of our park and charge admission for football games? This is the people’s park, and those dirty footballers should stick with their current ground in Shenton Park.

Of course, like all good councils, Subiaco ignored the protests and built a new Subiaco Oval anyway. And with a new stadium due to be opened soon, the future does not look bright for the historic ground. Well, at least we’ll get to keep the gates as they develop the oval into yet another housing complex.

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.