Slander in suburbia (not to mention the pyjamas)

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Fences make for good neighbours. Allegedly.

Edwin Oswald was an elderly man, who in 1925 lived with his wife in Bayswater. But, like many a married man before and since, he decided he wasn’t getting enough at home, so resolved to get some elsewhere in exchange for a monetary transaction. If you get our meaning.

Fortunately for Edwin, he knew where some was available on King William Street in Bayswater and wrote a very precise letter stating the date and time he would turn up, together with a few somewhat explicit lines detailing what he would require when he got there. Then he put the missive in the mailbox and waited for the appointment.

At 7pm on his chosen day in March 1925, he arrived and knocked on the door. The door was opened by Mrs Ethel Drew who demanded to know what he wanted. After telling him she didn’t want him there, he replied with the romantic words “But I want you.” At this point, one Constable White stepped forwards from the shadows and arrested Edwin for using insulting words towards a lady.

But this was not a simple case of a mistaken address, for Edwin had good (if wrong) reasons for believing his indecent request would be fulfilled, for it was common knowledge that Ethel was King William Street’s most available prostitute. Only she wasn’t. She was a war widow with two young daughters, and nothing but gossip to link her to the world’s oldest profession.

The rumours had been started by one of Ethel’s neighbours, Edith Nelson. The pair had once been friends, and had fallen out for some reason or other now lost to us. Edith told everyone who would listen that more than a dozen men a week would go in and out of Ethel’s house, and that she only ever paid tradesmen with (ahem) gifts in kind.

She went around the neighbourhood letting mothers know that all sons should beware of a certain house on King William Street. And Edith was not without good evidence. Oh no. Not only had Ethel started dressing better of late, Edith, with her own eyes, had seen men’s pyjamas drying on the washing line. And why would an innocent widow have pyjamas on a line unless she was a hooker? Why indeed, we would still ask today.

So, like the good Christian she was, Edith went straight to the parson of the church where both Edith and Ethel worshipped, and demanded he denounce her neighbour from the pulpit. Rather understandably, Rev Howes declined the offer, even though Edith pointed out that the church was now in the unenviable position of taking offerings each Sunday from a woman of ill repute.

The visit of Edwin Oswald to her door seems to have been the last straw for the much-maligned Ethel, who sued her neighbour for slander. After a case which very much entertained the reporters, his Honour decided that Edith was indeed a slanderer, and she now owed her neighbour £60 in damages. Which presumably meant that Ethel could dress very nicely indeed after that victory.

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.

Cars not trains, said the Minister for Railways

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Lifting the old track at Meltham Station (1947)

The PTA suggests closing ‘underperforming’ stations on the Midland Line, and Dodgy Perth is very cranky. We’ll start with a declaration of interest: Meltham is our local station, and we hate the long trek from Maylands, especially when it’s raining. Or hot. Or any form of weather at all.

Dear PTA, your predecessors first promised us a railway station at Meltham in 1898, and the Meltham Estate was only built and sold with that pledge in mind. There wouldn’t have been development if people thought they’d have to walk to Bayswater or Maylands. But they did have to. A generation later, in 1923, the Commissioner of Railways turned down Bayswater Council’s repeated pleas for station at Meltham.

Another ten years went by and the council was getting desperate. The government suggested the council should subsidise a new station, so Bayswater guaranteed to cover losses up to £50 a year. At the moment, they said, “people were compelled to walk great distances…, and it was felt that the lack of any reasonably close travelling facilities was retarding the development of the district”.

Even so, the Minister for Railways said no. This made the council quite cross, so they resolved to keep demanding a station until the government gave in. And they engaged engineers to design reasonable solutions. Didn’t make the government budge one inch.

By 1937, the council was offering even more money and a private developer offered to chip in as well. The local MLC said, very reasonably, “if the Government wanted people to use trains in the metropolitan area it must provide facilities”. Nope, said the Minister for Railways, who was in favour of more roads!

We’ll skip over the war years, but in 1947, half a century after first proposed, it was announced Meltham would get its station. Work began in April and then immediately stopped due to a shortage of labour and materials. In fact, it was so delayed that when opened on 14 May 1948, only a tiny part of the platform had been constructed and it was essential to be in the last two coaches if you wanted to alight.

It might have surprised the Minister for Railways, but it came as no shock to anyone else that the station was an immediate success, even if only part of the platform was open. Fifty years of pleading, offers to subsidise, and proof that a station was essential had finally paid off.

And now the PTA wants to close it. Just. Don’t. Even.

Hot in the city

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It got hot in the past too

You may not have noticed, but it’s bloody hot outside. The thermometer has reached the mid-30s and it’s not even 8.30 a.m. No one in the Dodgy Perth office got much sleep last night and we’re all drinking Red Bulls and Coke Zeros like they’re going out of fashion.

This should make us sympathise with the residents of Perth 120 years ago, who had a very bad heatwave. Starting on Christmas Day 1895, the heat continued for more than two weeks, reaching up to 112F (44.5C) in the shade by early January 1896. If you were stupid enough to stand on the street without shade, solar radiation—the heat registered in the sun—was a mind-boggling 169F (76C).

Still, it had not broken Perth’s 25 January 1879 record of 117F (47.2C) in the shade. Which sounds quite hot to us, even though global warming could not yet be blamed.

Five people died of sunstroke, including Mrs Wilson who was staying with friends in Bayswater. By the time the doctor was called the unfortunate woman’s body temperature was 110F (43.3C).

Perhaps this heatwave could have been managed, but thanks to the incompetence of the Water Company, much of Perth had little or even no water to help them. A little water was available at night, and people had to fill their bath and every bucket they owned to get them through the next day.

People with wells had official types call round who ordered their only supply of water to be sealed off or face prosecution.

Naturally the City of Perth Water Supply Co. blamed low reservoir levels (don’t they always?) and then really helped matters by announcing that from now on water would be cut off between 12 p.m. and 5 a.m. No one knew what they meant. Noon to early morning? Midnight to early morning?

In any case, parents had to turn to giving children lemonade and ginger beer as the only source of fluid (there was no bottled water), and Perth suffered and suffered and suffered.

The case of the missing hubby

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If these walls could speak, they would say bad things about James McLeish

When you lose a building you lose an opportunity to tell the stories about the people who lived there. Sure, the stories still exist but they are so much more real when connected to a place.

The above building, 11 King William Street in Bayswater, probably doesn’t have long for this world. Bits of the façade might be saved, but that will be all. Currently occupied by a number of businesses, the best of these is a small coffee shop run by two brothers who are evidently trying to out-do each other in the who-looks-most-hipster game. But they are only the most recent part of the story.

The left hand side of the building was built, probably in 1905, as a general store for Robert and Mary McLeish. The right hand side of the store and the façade are probably 1920s, when Bayswater’s main shopping district expanded with all the new people moving to the area.

The couple had come over from Adelaide in 1902 to set up business in Bayswater. They were evidently a good match, since they eventually celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary.

This story isn’t about them, but son James. He married a Melbourne lass, Ethel, in 1920 and came to WA three years later. Dad, Robert, helped set James up in business, and eventually (four kids later), the younger pair took over the running of the King William Street store.

But in February 1940, James declared he needed to go on holiday to the South West for a weekend. However, as Ethel explained four years later:

First he said for a weekend, then a week, and finally changed his mind and said he’d take a month. I’ve neither heard from him nor seen him since.

She took over the running of the shop and quickly realised he’d never meant to return, having taken all the cash with him, leaving her only with unpaid bills.

Fortunately, Robert McLeish stepped in and settled the debts, and let Ethel and one of his daughters run the store.

You won’t be surprised to discover she got her divorce when she asked the courts for it.

Water, water, everywhere

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We’re not certain, but we think this is 43 Salisbury Street, Bayswater. And is still there.

It’s raining outside, so this seems as good a moment as any to discuss the Great Bayswater Flood of 1939. How do you feel like spending two months with your house underwater?

In July, floods forced several families to evacuate from their houses in Salisbury Street. A depression in the road had filled with water and it turned into a 40-metre-long lake. It was there so long, thousands of tadpoles swam in it and frogs kept up an incessant croaking.

One residence became an island and it was impossible to access the front door. But Mrs McBarron refused to leave her house, even though she could only get her family in and out through a gap in the side fence and then through their neighbour’s house.

Bayswater council made noises about dealing with the problem, but they had known about the issue for years and done nothing. Eventually, the council begged the government for help, but were (correctly) told small drains were Bayswater’s responsibility.

By August things were even worse. For three weeks Mrs McBarron had been walking along precariously balanced boards and boxes to get to the back fence. Her small daughter paddled around the backyard in a tin canoe, which allowed her to get to three houses either side. She might have thought this was fun, but her mother didn’t.

After seven weeks of living in the middle of a lake, things looked no better. Cars attempting to plough through the water stopped in the middle of the road and had to be pulled out. It was only when parts of Beaufort Street went underwater that the council and government finally got their act together.

Eventually, after August came and went, the water dropped. Bayswater finally decided to pull their finger out and do some drainage work the following year. All too little, all too late.

The Bayswater treasure hunt

Accurate map of Bayswater

Accurate map of Bayswater

We have received another e-mail from an African princess who needs our help. Being good people in the Dodgy Perth offices we thought it greedy to accept her offer of $2bn for our aid. So we’ll pray for their safety and promised to keep an eye on the newspapers.

Which reminded us of the time there was £32,000 buried in Bayswater, or Busselton, or Greenbushes. Depending on which version of the letter you got.

In 1915 the scam was known as the ‘Spanish Prisoner Swindle’. A letter would arrive from Guzman Penalto, explaining he had once lived in Western Australia but was now being held prisoner in Spain. Fortunately, he had buried a fortune between two pieces of crystal shortly before leaving these shores.

If the recipient of the letter would be so kind as to forward £398 in the enclosed envelope, a priest will be able to get to Perth from Spain, dig up the buried notes and they could be split between Penalto and his Australian saviour.

Couldn’t be easier, could it? Unfortunately, Penalto was under the impression that Bayswater was hundreds of kilometres from Perth, which hinted either he had never been here, or prison had upset his memory.

Since the Dodgy Perth offices are based in Bayswater and we refuse to share the money, we have spent each evening with a spade turning up each and every inch of grass in the suburb. There’s some way to go yet, but we will not be discouraged.