Slander in suburbia (not to mention the pyjamas)


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!


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.

The case of the missing hubby


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.