Where’s me gargoyle then?

The Chrysler Building looking all retro-futuristic. But gargoyles.

The Chrysler Building looking all retro-futuristic. But with gargoyles.

Perth is missing something. And it’s quite an odd thing to be lacking. Gargoyles. Think of the gothic building in Ghostbusters. Yes, it was fictional, but compare the very real Chrysler Building.

Perth has a number of buildings of a similar age—if not quite the scale—but we never got gargoyles. Instead there were relief figures of historical significance, from zoology and mythology, symbolic and emblematic figures, but no gargoyles.

One of the most notable figures surmounted the façade of the Atlas Building: a life-size figure of Atlas himself supporting a globe.  This was also modelled in terracotta and finished in an ivory colour, with the globe made of sheet copper. Although the building still exists, Atlas was removed in the late 1960s when the roof was renovated.

Atlas looks over some Royal visit or other

Atlas looks over some Royal visit or other

On William Street you could have seen the fierce features of a Viking chief and just below a parapet which crowned with the prows of three Viking galleys. Unimaginatively, this was called Viking House.

The Vikings are coming. The Vikings are coming.

The Vikings are coming. The Vikings are coming.

In Hay Street there was a butchers which had a row of heads representing the bullock, sheep and pig. Another building had St. George in the midst of his heroic battle with the dragon. Three more dragons looked on from the façade of an adjacent building.

A large number of the buildings of Perth used to be crowned with black swans, for obvious reasons. One of the best adorned the Mechanic’s Institute, floating serenely amongst carved reeds and rushes.

mechanics

Something about the tower on the corner of the Mechanics’ Institute doesn’t look right. But that could just be us.

His Majesty’s Theatre is still capped by five huge lions contentedly resting upon the parapet. There are also several dragons woven into the design.

Lions relaxing after a hard day at the theatre

Lions relaxing after a hard day at the theatre

In Barrack Street one panel contained the visor and lances of a knight. While on the opposite side of the road, ten identical moustached faces gazed serenely over the traffic.

Although the majority of significant buildings on St. George’s Terrace were constructed when decoration was out of fashion, a couple of banks had faces above their entrances, one being that of a Maori.

But still, no gargoyles. Why did we miss out?

Crying Woolf

We remember when it was much more sleazy

We remember when it was much more sleazy

The Commonwealth Hotel (now the Hyde Park Hotel) was designed by liar and architect, William Woolf. Born 1855 in New York, Woolf always claimed he studied architecture at Heidelberg, Germany. There was no such education facility there at the time.

In 1891, he was accused of swindling a servant girl out of £220 in Melbourne, In WA, he was regularly in court for failing to pay his bills, but still managed to design many great buildings. His most significant contribution to Perth’s architecture is His Majesty’s Theatre.

The Commonwealth’s first landlord was Charles Simms. He had been a publican in New South Wales, South Australia, and in Fremantle. However, getting a licence for his new hotel was to prove a little difficult in 1901.

Like any good police officer today, Inspector Drewery opposed the application, but this time it was on account of the manner in which the applicant had conducted his other hotels.

The Inspector read the bench a list of Simms’ convictions over the previous four years. Disorderly conduct on licensed premises; supplying liquor to an underage boy; allowing prostitutes to congregate in his bar; Sunday trading; trading after hours; employing staff after hours; and, again allowing prostitutes in a pub.

After hearing Simms’ excuses for each conviction, the bench adjourned.

After lunch, they said that “after very anxious consideration,” Simms could have a licence, since they did not like to “take the responsibility” of refusing the application in this instance.

So, Charles Simms did become the Commonwealth’s first landlord after all. But only just.

Speaking to the war dead

Arthur Conan Doyle and friend

Arthur Conan Doyle and friend

What do Sherlock Holmes and speaking to the dead have in common? The answer is, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle, who visited Perth in 1921 as part of a world tour.

But he wasn’t here to plug his books. Instead, Conan Doyle wanted to talk about his latest obsession, spiritualism. And His Majesty’s was packed out for the lunchtime event, with almost everyone in the audience being female. But we’ll come back to that.

Conan Doyle briefly sketched out the history of contacting the deceased, announcing that anyone who denied the existence of life after death was “either ignorant or a moral coward”. Certainly, the audience were receptive to the idea.

Especially when the speaker mentioned that his good friend, the brilliant scientist Oliver Lodge, had talked with the boys who had been killed in World War I. Every person in the audience had either lost a son or a husband in that conflict, or knew someone who had. Their bodies might not have been brought home, but now someone was offering a chance to say farewell.

“That,” said Sir Arthur from the stage, “is the message we have tried to give Australian mothers.” Mothers. Conan Doyle clearly knew who his audience was.

He had even spoken to his own dead son, Kingsley, who died in 1918 from the flu epidemic which raged across the world. A medium had relayed the words to Conan Doyle, who discovered that Kingsley was happy in the afterlife, and he even felt the touch of his son on his forehead.

How much excitement would that have created in an audience of mothers? An undoubtable, serious writer was proclaiming the very real possibility of once again speaking with lost children. How many tried and failed after this, we will never know.

There is no doubting Conan Doyle’s sincerity. He was no con artist, and was prepared to face ridicule for promoting his beliefs. Many of his friends tried to discourage him, not least Harry Houdini, the famous escapologist. But for Sir Arthur, this would mean giving up the belief he had finally said goodbye to his own son.

Speaking to the WWI dead is not usually thought of as part of Anzac history, but it fully deserves a small place in the tales to be told about 1914 to 1918.

The theatre and its knockers

We can't help admiring the hats on the right

We can’t help admiring the hats on the right, November 1939

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the first stripper in Perth, who performed at His Majesty’s. However, we were slightly wrong when we said she was probably the first nude on the Western Australian stage.

In fact as early as 1939 some critics were saying that audiences were getting bored of turning up to His Majesty’s just for nudity and were now seeking higher quality plays. This was, of course, far too optimistic, and Perth’s grandest theatre was still trying to entice you with ‘beautiful nudes’ in the 1950s.

Naked women on stage were not illegal unless—and this is the bizarre bit—they moved. So for several decades, audiences at His Majesty’s were treated to a series of motionless ‘tableaux’, artistically arranged young women dressed only in their birthday suits.

In 1939, one of the stars who people paid good money to see was 20-year-old Barbara Clark, advertised as Australia’s No. 1 Glamour Girl. Strangely she claimed to have been doing her act for five years, which would mean she started performing nude at fifteen!

However, the critics may have been slightly right about how mere static nudity had become tiresome. By 1940, His Majesty’s was resorting to strippers to keep the crowd numbers up.

So, to the older generation who despair at the availability of pornography in the 21st century, ask yourself this: who was buying tickets for entry to His Majesty’s in the 1930s?

Guy, Shannon, Jessica and Power Pinn

PowerPinn

When Guy Sebastian, Shannon Noll and Jessica Mauboy team up with others to record a modern-day patriotic song, you know it’s going to be awful. And boy does it suck. Big time.

We challenge you to get halfway before scrambling for the stop button.

So Dodgy Perth thought it was time to take a look back at Perth’s best known patriotic composer of WWI, who went by the fabulous name of Elizabeth Power Pinn.

Mrs Power Pinn—who lived in Florence Street, West Perth—was utterly convinced of her own talent.

On her delicate shoulders fell the responsibility of churning out poems and songs which would cheer the troops, remind people at home of their duty, and generally assist the war effort.

It is an inviolable rule, though, that there are only two types of poet utterly convinced of their own talent: geniuses and the talentless.

Mrs Power Pinn fell into the second category.

Her biggest hit song was Australia’s Call to Arms, of which the opening verse went:

We’re the worthy sons of Britain,
The Nation of the world!
We’re going to hold the banner,
No matter where it’s hurled.
Of ev’ry page of his’try,
We’re going to paint the red;
And conquer foes as in the past,
When Drake and Nelson led.

Seriously? WTF?

On Friday nights, His Majesty’s Theatre would put on a variety show hosted by The Dandies. One of its stars was Linda Bradford, who was variously reviewed as a ‘gem’ and ‘she sings to the soul’.

Well, in January 1915, Linda made the mistake of singing one of Mrs Power Pinn’s latest jingoistic offerings: Flag of Liberty.

She did the best she could. But nothing could cover up the fact that the thing was god-awful.

The Sunday Times reviewer noted that while the words were bad, the tune was worse.

His sensible advice to The Dandies was to keep a gun handy for the next patriotic songwriter who offered “untuneful hogwash”. And to use it.

He kept a whole armory to stop jingoist writers himself, as well as mining the door to the office.

If only Guy, Shannon and Jessica had been given such advice, we would have been spared their instantly forgettable piece of blandness.

But to cheer up the Dodgy Perth readership convinced that songs can’t support your nation and be good, we offer the only decent jingoistic melody (slightly NSFW) ever written: