Let there be light


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.

It’s Christmas time


Just don’t ask. Don’t.

Here at Dodgy Perth, we are often asked about Christmas shopping at the turn of the twentieth century. Often, we tell you. So, for the first time 114 years, we present our glorious CBD in December 1901.

Mummified frogs. Mummified. Frogs. One grocer, H. H. Porter, had a window display of the Western Australian parliament recreated in mummified frogs. Which makes us feel all seasonal deep down inside thinking about it right now.

Want to feel the spirit of Xmas even more? Children who stopped too long to peer into the windows of the city’s shops were firmly moved on by the police. No cluttering up the pavements when there are real people with money to spend, thank you very much.

As the twentieth century started, Perth was feeling the full effects of the gold boom. Which meant there was real cash flowing around the city. Which meant shops could jack up their prices and justify it with nice window displays. Doesn’t sound at all like the city we know does it?

There being no holly or ivy locally, decorative greenery was supplied by the “health giving and invigorating” eucalyptus. Every lamp post and verandah post was covered with the stuff giving Perth the scent of the bush. Public buildings were draped with flags of every nation and shops had started to employ professional window dressers.

Take Sandover & Co, whose Hay Street window had a harvesting scene, in which a rosy-cheeked country lassie was reposing amongst sheaves of locally grown wheat. In the background a windmill—driven by an electric fan—turned itself around. How very Christmas. Although Sandover was the place to go for the novelty present everyone wanted that year: table tennis.

Of course, if you had a little more money, you could go to E. J. Bickford & Co, whose premises extended from Hay Street to Murray street. Normally a furniture dealer, in 1901 all sorts of Christmas novelties could be found there, including a display of Armenian glassware. But not needing Armenian glassware, we’ll just pick up one of their luxury ping pong tables.

J. Weidenbach & Co. had a splendid Christmas show that year. The windows were full of beautiful Chinese lanterns and umbrellas, Japanese art drapings and Chinese silk drapings. Beautiful, until you realise that 1901 was the year they passed the Immigration Restriction Act specifically to stop Chinese and Japanese people coming to Australia. Hypocritical bastards our ancestors.

Hughes & Doheny had snowstorms in their window, but much better they had Kinross whisky and Santa Ross wines inside.

And we in the Dodgy Perth office would have loved to have looked in the window of Carter & Co., to check out their “unique” display of ladies’ lingerie. Not for ourselves, you understand. Well, unless it fits nicely.

Dear Santa, please send me a railway smash


Stuck for last minute presents for a child in your life? Maybe the Kalgoorlie Western Argus of 1904 can help:

Some very ingenious toys are on sale this year, those of the mechanical order being very predominant and very novel.

Among the expensive things is a perfect model of the Decapod, the huge tank engine built by the Great Eastern Railway this year to cope with suburban traffic.

The child of an energetic disposition will enjoy himself in a motor car, big enough for him to ride in. It is propelled by pedals like a bicycle horse.

There is the diver, a little man arrayed in complete uniform, who takes his plunge, remains below for a while, and then returns to the surface like his human counterpart.

The clockwork ‘airship’ is having a very large sale. It is suspended from the ceiling by a string, and, on being round up, sails round and round in a most realistic fashion.

A remarkable piece of mechanism is a clockwork train which climbs and descends inclines by means of a cogwheel underneath. This cog wheel only comes into action when on an inclined track, where it encounters a rack-rail.

The latest train novelty is called the ‘railway smash.’ This wonderful toy consists of two carriages and a goods van, so constructed that when the train is in motion an accident occurs, and the train smashes up in quite a realistic fashion. Of course it can be put together again.

Another novelty of the year are the electric tram-cars. They meet each other on a single line, with an occasional double track for passing. The first tram to arrive on the double portion of the line comes automatically to a standstill until the other has passed the points safely, and then glides away again.

Stocking up for Xmas


She’s got legs, she knows how to use them

There is a silly media cliché that men are useless at shopping for presents, and usually leave it until 4.30pm on Christmas Eve to start. Unfortunately, the men in the Dodgy Perth office are living examples of this cliché. There is nothing more they would like than a 1930s “office girl” to send out into the hell that is the shopping mall at this time of year.

Speaking of men and shopping, in 1938 the newspapers were full of advice on how to make life easier for the hairier sex.

Christmas comes but once a year—thank heaven! Such is the sentiment of the average man when faced with the annual problem of buying something for ‘her’.

At this time of year miserable specimens wander helplessly among the stocking, handkerchief, perfume and novelty counters, desperately in search of appropriate gifts for women folk. Having failed they either send their office girl out for “anything” or simply buy a couple of pairs of stockings—“you know the sort that women wear nowadays—from a sympathetic saleswoman.

As any woman will tell you, no one can have too many stockings, but there perhaps this year it is time for something different. Something she wouldn’t buy for herself. To our great surprise in this office, it turns out that shops have so many things other than stockings for sale…

not even a mere man should be stumped for ideas this Christmas.

Perth has jewellery counters where you can buy something for even the “most fastidious of wives”. Would you prefer imitation gems or just severely plain? A string of synthetic pearls would make any woman squeal with delight. If not jewellery, how about a dainty evening bag or a handbag in one of the smart new shapes?

Fortunately for us muddle-headed males of the species, it was slowly explained that shops have something called an “assistant” who could aid in the choice of such a gift.

Now, where’s that office girl?