Is the Hartog Plate a hoax?


Close-up of the Hartog Plate

The Dodgy Perth team loves a good conspiracy. So we were delighted to find one about the upcoming 400th anniversary of Dirk Hartog’s trip to Western Australia, and the famous Hartog Plate which will be on show at the Maritime Museum.

This is the mother of all conspiracy theories: the Hartog Plate is fraudulent. Before you accuse us of having gone loopy, versions of this theory were promoted by an expert on European discoveries, George Collingridge, and by our very own leading historian, James Battye.

According to this version, the Hartog Plate was faked by Willem de Vlamingh in 1697 to ‘prove’ the Dutch had landed in WA first. If Hartog ever landed, there is no evidence of it. The British were sniffing around WA, and de Vlamingh was under orders to find proof of prior Dutch landing, by whatever means necessary.

Is there anything to back this up? It’s important to realise that there are no independent accounts of Hartog’s explorations other than the mysterious plate and a 1627 Dutch map labelling us as ‘Eendracht Land’ after Hartog’s ship.

When de Vlamingh visited Hartog Island in 1697, he said he removed the old plate, fixing another in its place. The Vlamingh Plate copies Hartog’s on the top with a new addition by de Vlamingh below. In the ship’s journal, published in Amsterdam in 1704, the key entries read:

On the 1st of February, early in the morning, our little boat went to the coast to fish… Our chief pilot, with De Vlamingh’s boat, again went into the gulf, and our skipper went on shore to fix up a commemorative tablet.

On the 3rd de Vlamingh’s chief pilot returned on board. He reported that he had explored 18 leagues, and that it was an island. He brought with him a tin plate, which in the lapse of time had fallen from a post to which it had been attached, and on which was cut the name of the captain, Dirck Hartog… who arrived here in 1616, on the 25th October…

How could the first commemoration, fixed up on 1st February, contain words only discovered two days later? They can’t have been added after, because they would be below de Vlamingh’s message. Did he rip the first draft down and put up a new one? Or did he have a copy of Hartog’s inscription before he arrived in WA? If so, where could he have got it from, since it was never published?

Or did de Vlamingh just make the whole thing up to prove prior claim over the Brits? All very mysterious. As is the subsequent history of the Hartog Plate, which only arrived in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 1875, where it now resides.

Dodgy Perth is sure all of this can be cleared up by someone answering the following questions:

  1. Is Hartog’s Plate capable of being dated as to whether it is early or late 17th century?
  2. Other than taking de Vlamingh’s word for it, what other evidence is there that Hartog ever landed in WA?
  3. How can Hartog’s words on the Vlamingh Plate be explained, if the original wasn’t found until two days later?

We look forward to hearing some answers when the 400th anniversary of Hartog’s voyage is celebrated next month.

On fireworks and invasion


Were the original settlers sorry too?

Now that Fremantle has decided to dress up a budget cut in Politically Correct language and claim it is doing everyone a favour, Dodgy Perth needs to ask the question no one else is asking. What on earth did the original white colonists of Western Australia think they were doing?

Firstly, should it be called Australia Day or Invasion Day? Perhaps surprisingly, James Stirling would have agreed with the latter:

Their country has been taken from them by force… No sophistry can conceal the fact that Western Australia is a conquered Nation… We have taken the country from the rightful possessors of the soil, and must abide by the consequences of that first act of aggression…

And some of the earliest colonists agreed with Stirling, claiming they didn’t know they were about to steal land when they turned up here:

Which of us can say that he first made a rational calculation of the rights of the owners of the soil, of the contemplated violation of those rights, of the probable consequences of that violation, or of our justification for such an act?

Yet the colonists did take the land, even though they felt really, really guilty about it. And when people feel guilty about something (with no intention of putting things right) they have to offer a justification to themselves about why it’s okay really. Two defences of invasion were most common: the nice white folk were offering British citizenship to the Aborigines and they were also offered all the advantages of early 19th century technology, like bread and blankets.

However strange it might seem, the traditional owners didn’t seem very grateful for this forced swap of property for becoming subjects of an overseas’ king:

As a boon to the poor Natives for the loss of their land and their hunting and fishing grounds they made them British subjects! The Native says “Of what benefit is that boon of grace to me?”

Nor did the local Aborigines feel that handouts of bread was fair recompense for being evicted from their homeland. In prophetic words, one critic of the invasion said of such trade: “the benefit, if any at all, is only temporary, the injury inflicted is permanent”.

Here in the Dodgy Perth offices, we don’t really care if Fremantle has fireworks or not. But if they think it’s really going to work towards reconciliation and reparation they may as well be handing out bread, blankets, and British citizenship for all the good it will do.

An unwanted bed warmer


Not just bed and breakfast

It can be hard on our country cousins when they don’t understand city ways. Take for example, Charles Sonesson who came down to Fremantle from Narrogin in 1917. Needing somewhere to sleep for the night he booked his bed at the Alhambra Café in Henry Street.

This café had opened in 1900 in the Marich Buildings, with a dining room decorated with mirrors and wall paintings. The upstairs bedrooms were described as considerably large and clean. Which is nice.

In accordance with the sign displayed outside the Alhambra, Charles paid one shilling for his room. It being early, our young Narrogin hero went for a walk, but was disgusted by how Fremantle girls were wearing their skirts way too short.

Disappointed in modern women he went back to the Alhambra, where the night porter said, “Oh, yes, this is your room, sir, but it’s another four shillings, please.”

“Nonsense!” said Charles, “I’ve paid for my bed.”

“That’s all right, old chap,” said the porter, “but you don’t know what’s in it yet. Step this way.”

After stepping that way and duly minding the step, Charles was shown into a bedroom where Miss Lily Smith, or, as her name was entered in the book—Miss Cherrynose—was lying on Charles’ bed.

The young man from Narrogin tried to explain he hadn’t requested any extras, but the night porter was having none of it.

“Come on, come on,” he said, “gimme the other four bob, she’s all right.”

It was not until he called the police that Charles could get his possessions and flee the Alhambra Café to find accommodation elsewhere in the delightful city.

Can anyone recommend accommodation in Fremantle now that provides additional services?

TelCo contracts, 1887 style

"You charge how much per megabyte?"

“You charge how much per megabyte?”

As is well known, the only thing that separates us from the animals is the tiny amount of data mobile phone companies provide us on a monthly allowance. Before tipping us upside down to shake out a few more pennies. We’re looking at you Telstra.

But this did make us wonder what the first telephone contracts in Perth looked like. As it happens, we have a copy in front of us. If you’d signed up in 1887 to be one of the first subscribers to this exciting new technology, you first had to agree to the following.

Calls were not charged individually, but there was a subscription of fee of £15 a year if you lived within 800m of the Perth or Fremantle exchange, and an extra 25 shillings for each additional 400m you needed further away. For your money, you would be provided with one telephone and a connection to the exchange. A bell cost extra.

It’s not easy to say how much money £15 a year would be today, but you could rent a cottage in Bunbury for the same amount. If you wanted to live in Bunbury, of course. If.

Whether you lived in Perth or Fremantle, you were allowed to talk to someone in the other city. Which is nice. Except under the fair use policy, no call between Perth and Fremantle could exceed five minutes.

Oh, and you could only call between 9am and 6pm on weekdays, 9am to 1pm on Saturday, and not at all on Sundays or public holidays.

A subscriber could not allow their telephone to be used by anyone else except their own personal servants. That is, unless the borrower had a telephone at their own residence.

Finally, there was the usual legalise you would expect:

No responsibility is assumed by the Government for any errors, omissions, or delay in the transmission or non-transmission, delivery or non-delivery, of any message, arising from any cause whatsoever.

No mention of a data allowance anywhere, or what happens if you want to upgrade to the latest iPhone. Probably in the small print somewhere.

A late visit from Conan Doyle

Conan Doyle pretending to be Sherlock Holmes

Conan Doyle pretending to be Sherlock Holmes

Following on from our recent story about Sherlock Holmes’ creator visiting Perth, we should mention that Arthur Conan Doyle came back to WA in August 1930. That might not seem unusual, until you realise that he had been dead for more than a month.

A Sydney psychic (Psydney psychic?) claimed to be the first to have had a vision of the great man, but this was instantly rubbished by west coast mediums. If Conan Doyle was going to appear anywhere in Australia, it would definitely be in Perth. After all, hadn’t he visited here in 1921, and didn’t he donate £85 to the Spiritualist Church? And wasn’t WA the only place in Australia to actually have a spiritualist church at all?

So, a local apparition of the famous author was needed quickly, and fortunately one came to herbalist and clairvoyant, Maud McDonough. He had no particular message for her on this occasion, but she did see him quite plainly.

However when Conan Doyle returned three years later he had a very clear message for Maud. She was to take charge of all the various smaller spiritualist groups in Perth and Fremantle and unite them under own command. This was to be the grand Spiritualist Church of Western Australia (Inc).

Unsurprisingly, this did not go down well with the other leaders in the movement, who rejected Maud’s unambiguous mission from Conan Doyle. A series of bitter meetings took place, where Maud was roundly condemned and attempts made to expel her from the club.

The church administration fragmented, while numerous lawyers’ letters failed to resolve the situation. In the end, the secretary and treasurer resigned, taking the association’s cash with them.

Apparently the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t see that coming.

Relatively speaking

Not such a genius as to find a decent barber

Not such a genius as to find a decent barber

If you are the sort of person who likes to wear a white lab coat with pens sticking out the pocket, Western Australia was the only place to be in 1922. It was here one of Einstein’s most controversial theories was proved.

The closest we at Dodgy Perth ever get to science is watching reruns of Ghostbusters, but bear with us while we stumble through the technical bit.

Einstein said that light didn’t just travel in straight lines but was affected by gravity. So the light from a star passing near the heavy mass of the sun would make the star appear in a different place than if there was no sun. Smart bloke this Einstein fellow.

Anyway, scientists from all over the world gathered at Eighty Mile Beach between Broome and Port Hedland. Although the beach was called Ninety Mile Beach at the time, and is in fact 140 miles long. Go figure.

Here was the best place on Earth to see the total eclipse of the heart—sorry, sun—and check out the stars on either side of it. But the isolated Eighty Mile Beach was not easily reached by a large group of nerds, along with all their astronomicky gadgets. It is worth noting that five of the geeks were lady scientists.

The group left Freo on-board the Charon, along with a film crew to make a documentary of the trip. Eventually they reached Broome, and unloaded some 60 tons of instruments into the lugger Gwendoline.

Because of the tides, they had to anchor 3km offshore, and the heavy equipment put into whaleboats to take to land. Here, local Aborigines were waiting, and it was they who did all the hard work packing the boxes onto donkeys to travel to the camp sight. This process took more than two days.

Trenches were dug for concrete foundations for the astro-sciencey stuff, and eventually telescopes and cameras were in place, along with aerials so the team could stay in communication with Europe and America. Also included were darkrooms, so the photos could be developed on the spot.

Finally, on 21 September 1922, the observations were made and Herr Einstein was proved—unsurprisingly—to be completely right. The sun did indeed make stars move about. Light was odder than we’d thought.

And that was WA’s role in proving the 20th century’s most important scientific theory.

The true cost of Kennedy’s Folly

Original Government House, 1861

Original Government House, 1861

The first Governor had a nice place to live, which was built in 1834 for James ‘young brides’ Stirling. But by the 1850s, the new Governor, Arthur Kennedy, whined it was unsuitable and a bit cold in winter. Declining to have it repaired, he demanded a new Government House, more in keeping with the lifestyle to which Arthur wished to become accustomed.

The Government tried to get England to pay for it, but they told us to bugger off. Originally estimated at a massive £5,000, by September 1858 this had risen to £7,000.

Designed by an army major with no training in architecture, a foundation stone was laid in March 1859 with lots of Masonic pomp. The project was then handed over to the Royal Engineers to mismanage. Remarkably the same amateur architect was later tasked with designing an asylum in Fremantle. To no one’s surprise, this was also a disaster.

Costs kept spiralling due to constant indecision and daily changes to the design. No sooner had a wall been erected than it was torn down again for a new idea. After three years labour, the convicts working on the place had made very little progress. People complained there were better things for them to do. Like fix the awful roads.

When a roof was finally put on the building it was nearly a miracle. However, it was far from finished, needing several more towers and an interior.


Kennedy’s Folly

In January 1863 it was sufficiently finished to allow for a party in the upstairs ballroom. A ballroom that should not have been there. When the building was nearly complete, the new Governor demanded six rooms be converted into somewhere he and his wife could entertain their cronies.

Completely redesigning the structure of the upper floor was, of course, very expensive and time consuming. And no one remembered that the six rooms were guest bedrooms, so Government House was unable to put up visitors.

In March 1863, it was realised the red brick pillars on the colonnades did not match the stone arches above them. So they started painting the pillars a marble colour.

When the furniture arrived not only was it hideously expensive it was also hideous. And badly made. So yet more money was spent replacing it.

Finally, in mid-1864 the Governor moved into his new residence. By this time more than £18,000 in cash had been spent, along with the wages of the Royal Engineers on the project, so the total cost was nearer £50,000.

When opened for inspection, while the outside was pretty enough, the interior was a disaster. A better building could have been knocked up for under £10,000. It was given the name ‘Kennedy’s Folly’, which is a little unfair. It was so long in construction, Arthur Kennedy had moved on and never even got to look inside.

Fancy a nude at the beach?

nude bathing

The Dodgy Perth team takes a break from reseach

One day Dodgy Perth will tell the story of the building of Naval Base. It was basically one terrible government decision after another, wasting thousands and thousands of tax payers’ hard-earned money.

Wait. That is the story. So let’s move on to how a much better use for the disaster was found in the early 1930s.

By 1933, it had become the most fashionable spot on the coast for nude bathing parties.

Nude parties had long been popular along the Swan and at beaches closer to town, but the police started taking a more proactive line and few people wanted to spend the night in the slammer.

So those who sought to shed civilisation along with their clothes and frolic free with only the waves to envelop them had to find new locations.

So Coogee it was, and particularly around the Naval Base. There nude parties became nightly events. Regular readers of Dodgy Perth will not be surprised to find the media shocked to discover that it was not just the working-classes attending these parties, but perfectly respectable types too.

And more than one party of girls—and fairly high-class girls at that—have taken the opportunity to bathe in the moonlight at Naval Base.

If these were only single-sex parties, it seems hard to find anything wicked in them. But some young types had—we shudder—gone to Naval Base with the intention of having mixed events.

Take for example, the tragic case of five Fremantle girls, all from quite well-to-do families. They drove out to Naval Base for a “quick nude” at the beach one night.

They stripped off in the car park, and walked down to the sand. But imagine their consternation when they saw several young couples already playing on the water’s edge, every one in their birthday suits.

And as they turned to retrace their steps to seek a quieter spot two more car loads of nude bathers raced down the beach, and plunged in.

Having blushed their way back to the car they donned their clothes and made off for home. But on the way they were noted many other nude parties—mostly mixed—at Coogee and the Smelters.

This may not be the ideal time of year for a quick nude by Kwinana Power Station. But if you are going, do drop the Dodgy Perth team an invite.

Slumming it

Pages from poverty

Poverty Point, Fremantle, March 1953

A couple of years ago a YouTube video Postcard from Perth was much circulated round these parts. Filmed in 1954, it showed an idealised vision of a utopian city.

How idealised? Just look below the line. Comment after comment from people wishing they lived in the 1950s rather than now.

So, how accurately did this film portray the reality of everyday life? On a scale of 0 to 10, we would have to say minus six.

Imagine being old, or disabled, or Aboriginal, or a war veteran. What was Perth like in 1954 for these people?

The answer is they were to be found living in dwellings constructed of rusting corrugated iron and old bags. These ‘homes’ afforded little protection from the weather. Floors were just sand with chaff bags as mats.

Without water or power, none of the houses had bathrooms or sanitation. Improvised wells provided washing and drinking water.

These slum conditions were not in remote communities. One was in Fremantle between South Beach and the Power Station. Known as Poverty Point, the colony of more than fifty was adjacent to a smouldering rubbish tip, a fertiliser factory using fish offal, and an old abattoir. It was strewn throughout with filth and rubbish.

Many of the buildings were constructed from flotsam and jetsam, second-hand galvanised-iron, broken bricks, fruit cases, and chaff bags. Fences were bedsteads and curtains were improvised from sugar bags.

One pensioner, A. A. Bottomly, said he wasn’t proud to be found living in those conditions. But with rents so high in the city, “I have my choice of starving in a slum in town or eking out a frugal existence rent free here. I choose this.”

Another pensioner, Mrs M. Westicott, had lived in the slum for seven years. She and her husband, a war pensioner with a lung complaint, had to make ends meet by salvaging objects washed up the beach. Mrs Westicott had once been known as the ‘Queen of Coogee’, but was now reduced to third-world conditions.

Andy Nebro, one of the Aboriginal residents at Poverty Point, was just 22. He was hoping to take his wife out of the shanty town to somewhere more liveable. We hope they made it.

So when you look at Postcard from Perth, just remember that there could have been other postcards in 1954. But the government didn’t want you to see those ones.

Ashes to ashes

As the Ashes start tonight, we thought it only right to look back at one of the most important cricket matches in Western Australian history.

In October 1954 the 10,000 ton freighter Paloma was en route to Fremantle with her cargo of frozen meat to be picked up at Wyndham. While the meat was being loaded, Captain Perry offered his traditional challenge to the Wyndham Cricket Club.

The match was played in extreme heat on a bumpy ground covered with a large number of trees. Because there was no discernible boundary, every run had to be sweated out.

One Wyndham batsman was hospitalised by an over-enthusiastic fast bowler, and everyone's heads were sore following the clubhouse drinks.

The game was close, but finally won by the men of the Paloma by seven runs. The only time a meat ship eleven had ever defeated a local side.

In celebration, a screw top jar was filled with The Ashes of Wyndham and presented to Captain Perry.

Now, it might be unfair to note that the Paloma was carrying the English cricket side, which had already won the other Ashes, even before playing at the WACA. You might even use the words 'eleven ring-ins'.

But at Dodgy Perth we prefer to remember it as one of the few times an English team has won on WA soil. Just because we can.