When blacking up was controversial

Young Australia League under construction, 1924

Young Australia League under construction, 1924

Above is the Young Australia League building on Murray Street. The Dodgy Perth team remembers it as a place to drinking absinthe cocktails during Goth nights there some years back. Not that we remember much after the fourth such beverage.

Founded in 1905 by ‘Boss’ Simons, the YAL was intended to promote patriotism, health and education among young Western Australians. So far, so good.

Before we continue, Dodgy Perth warns readers that the following contains racially charged language. Still here? Then we’ll continue.

For several decades, to raise money for the League, the boys would tour WA with a ‘nigger minstrel show’. In other words, they would do blackface and perform humorous sketches and songs. In other words, they mocked African Americans. To use their words, they did ‘clever coon impersonations’.

In the 1910s, these tours were immensely popular on the Goldfields and, for some strange reason, in Bunbury. They formed a major source of income for the League.

Unsurprisingly, they were also extremely controversial. But not for the reason you think.

Mr C. James of Cottesloe was outraged about such blackface. He noted the YAL’s motto was ‘Australia First’ and that they preached White Australia to their members.

So why were they doing an American form of entertainment? Why were good white Australian boys using burnt cork to pretending to be Negroes, complete with plantation songs and ‘nigger jabber’? Surely representing African Americans as a source of fun was contrary to the nationalistic ideals of the YAL.

But Mr James’ criticism was mild compared to that of Mr N. F. G. Wilson of South Fremantle.

He was sickened by seeing forty or fifty youngsters imitating a class of humanity that should be erased from the face of the Earth, if we were to remain true to our White Australia principals.

How can young Aussie lads, with their impressionable minds, honour their race when they are encouraged to dress up as “sons of Ham”? Boss Simons should realise that kids can never grow up to love their country and everything Australian if they are blacking up for fun.

And that, dear reader, is why the Young Australia League was controversial. Un-freaking-believable.

If it’s not sharks, it’s drunks

90x150mmJ.D. did not like Cottesloe Beach. In fact, J.D. had a long list of things that were wrong with Cottesloe in 1912.

Firstly, the beach was infested by hoodlums, who engaged in horseplay which was scaring off women and girls. In particular, when the sun went down females ran the risk of being ‘grabbed’ by these larrikins while in the water, or when going to and from the changing rooms.

Ladies were often subject to the indignity of crude remarks when going down to the water’s edge. J.D.’s suggestion was to only allow bathers to occupy the space between the changing rooms and the sea, then the drunk loungers would be banned from the area.

Speaking of drunks, J.D. claimed that the number of them at Cottesloe was astonishing, especially on Sundays. Some of them were boozing on the beach, which others had come from the city, hoping that a swim might sober them up.

Young girls, eager to learn to swim, sometime made the mistake of allowing one of these drunken swine to take them out to sea. Even when they were sober, too few of these would-be swimming teachers knew what they were doing, and posed a risk to the girl’s life.

And some swimmers, don’t even pretend to swim at all. They simply keep in the shallow water and (ahem) wrestle with their significant other. Not exactly an edifying sight for young children.

Speaking of protecting children, most bathers have lost all sense of modesty and there was nowhere near enough material or fastenings on their costumes.

J.D. was not finished yet.

Drunks were wandering into the wrong changing rooms. Drivers were being unsafe on the road to the beach. The council hadn’t repaired to road in ages. And it should be widened. There were too many fishermen on the pier. And their bait stank.

All in all, J.D. did not like Cottesloe.

Dodgy Perth hasn’t been down to the beach there for a bit. Perhaps it is time to check out how many of J.D.’s complaints still hold true.

From bluff to buff


She appears to be winning

The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. But there is one thing that never changes. When young people find a new entertainment, older people will be outraged. Followed by the media demanding the government ban whatever it is young people are doing.

In the mid-1920s, the smart young set discovered Strip Poker, and their elders were livid. An American import (what evil doesn’t originate from those shores?), Strip Poker was judged indecent. Which it was. Which is what made it fun. Which is why the young folk liked to play it.

And so the game was taken up by the young society folk in West Perth homes. And one particularly drunken New Year’s Eve, on Cottesloe Beach in full view of passers-by.

Six to eight boys and girls would assemble at a home and “primed up with sundry cocktails”, they sat round a table and left the rest to chance. The rules were simple. Counters were issued and each article of clothing had a certain value on the counters. Somebody had to lose in every hand, and the unlucky would usually go on losing all night. Until they had lost all of their clothing.

What made it all the more outrageous was that the players were the offspring of respectable, high-class families. Yet they were baring their bodies like the disreputable castes who lived downtown. The morals of nice Perth girls were worth protecting, said the media. While you might expect this sort of thing in Sydney and Melbourne, it should not be happening in classy Western Australia.

Quite right too.

Hello ladies, now look at your man


How the Dodgy Perth team imagine they look

Do you remember the ads with Isaiah Mustafa proving all you need to become a manly man is deodorant? Well it turns out daily use of Old Spice would stop you getting to first base with Cottesloe stenographer, Gladys Smith.

In 1947, Australian perfume manufacturers tried to open up a new market. Noting that American men used scents, but no Aussie male was, Perth residents were asked how they like a bloke to smell.

Our beautiful Cottesloe stenographer thought that scented soap and hair oil for men was revolting. “Scent”, she firmly declared, “is for women.”

Perhaps her friend, Miss Myers from Nedlands, will appreciate a nice body spray. No. A man who smells of perfume is a “sissy”.

Time to move on. Let’s ask a married woman, Mrs Milford of St Georges Terrace. “When my husband and I went to live in America, we were disgusted to find the men using scented oil on their hair,” she sneered.

Perhaps we should just ask the blokes, rather than the ladies. We can’t imagine Vic Park hairdresser B. N. Bullivant  disapproving. “I do not think scent suits an Australian,” he said. “The average Australian does not buy scented soap unless there is no other.”

And an East Fremantle baker, T. Wilson, just laughed at the idea. Pansies, he said. A scented man is a pansy.

So there you have it folks. Now we just have to update our Ashley Madison profiles to reflect our new non-scented status.

Those ugly Cottesloe beachgoers


Liked topless Englishmen

Dame Florence Cardell-Oliver, or FloCO as she probably preferred to be called, certainly knew what she wanted. Beautiful topless men.

In 1935 Cottesloe council ordered men to stop rolling bathing costumes down to their waists. FloCO was fully supportive. As the 59-year-old future parliamentarian explained, Australian men weren’t good looking enough.

“I consider that few of our men possess sufficient physical beauty to allow the sight of their bodies,” she said. “And a girl with shoulder blades which stick out like wings, wearing a backless costume, is inartistic and nude-looking.”

FloCO liked to spend her spare time on the best beaches around the world, and never saw anything as hideous as the two-piece bathers worn by common Cottesloe girls.

“I spent the summer before last at Biarritz, where the smart French and Spanish people go,” she explained artlessly, “and they were certainly not nude-looking in bathing costumes.”

It was not impossible to look good topless, the good lady admitted. At one of her many homes—this one in Cornwall—there were several really fine-looking men with costumes without tops. Apparently British men are better looking than Aussie men. Who would have guessed?

The solution? Like the fashionable French Riviera resorts frequented by Perth’s high society, attendants should be employed to wrap towels around bathers.

That would be lovely, FloCO, just lovely. We look forward to it on our next trip to Scarbs.