The difficult birth of a statue

Looking grumpy about the time it took to erect

“I think I can see my brother from here”

Visitors to Kings Park can’t help but notice the memorial to John Forrest. As imposing a statue as the man was in life, it didn’t have an easy time coming into being.

Firstly, the organising committee tried to raise money from the public, both here and in England. Perth residents were mostly uninterested, and contributed very little. As a result, by 1921 the Brits got all sulky and decided to spend their cash on a stain glass window to Forrest in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

So the committee had to go, somewhat predictably, to the government and beg some cash to get their statue. But it three more years before anyone got round to doing anything about it. And then the choice of sculptor, the England-based Sir Bertram Mackennal, caused outrage.

Perth had its own very popular sculptor, Pietro Porcelli, who had already done a good job on Forrest’s brother, Alexander. In addition, Pietro had known Forrest, so might have seemed like the obvious candidate. Instead. someone with a ‘Sir’ in front of their name got the job.

In March 1926 a large box arrived at Fremantle and was shipped to Kings Park. And there it was dumped in a shed and forgotten about. Rumours started to spread that Mackennal had created such an ugly statue no one was prepared to put it on show. No one from the Kings Park Board bothered to contradict this, so it quickly became the received opinion.

The reason for the delay is still mysterious, and it took nearly eighteen months for the memorial to be erected, and finally unveiled in August 1927.*

And then the Mayor of Perth managed to ruin in the whole event by using his speech to rant about the lack of funding for a State War Memorial. The crowd got quickly bored by William Lathlain’s raving and walked off, leaving the Mayor talking to a near empty park.

Nothing ever goes to plan, does it?

* Note to the Botanic Garden & Parks Authority. The statue was unveiled in 1927, not 1928 as your website claims. A small detail, but we historians get all worked up about such things. Please change it so we can calm down.

Down, down, prices are down


Yesterday Dodgy Perth delved into the less-than-grown-up way our politicians planned the State War Memorial. Now the story continues.

Location, location, location. There’s no denying that the Memorial has all three. What it lacks is scale, dignity and style. Transplant it from its sublime location to a local park and it would look like your council put it up on the cheap.

How cheap?

Victoria’s Shrine of Remembrance? A whopping £80,000. South Australia went economy class for just £25,000.

And WA?

We shelled out a whole £3,000. And look what we ended up with.

The brave men who fought, and often died, for their young nation ended up with a Red Dot bargain-basement memorial.

As mentioned yesterday, the Government refused to fund the project, and the various local authorities told him they weren’t going to pay for a memorial which was only going to serve the City of Perth. They’d have their own memorials, thank you very much.

So the City of Perth must have paid for it.

Er… no. Not one penny was forthcoming from them. They loved the idea. Just not the idea of spending anything towards it.

So the public was asked to pay for the Memorial. The target was £30,000.

And the public responded. With fifteen pounds. Yes, you read that correctly. When the appeal closed, they had raised a whole £15.

In 1925, they tried again. This time the target was £35,000. By the time the appeal closed (still nothing from Government or councils), less than a tenth had been raised.

But still, if that was all they had, that would have to do.

The ‘honorary architect’ (read: offered to do it for free) was Sir Talbot Hobbs. Even though vastly overrated as an architect, he had served with distinction during the Great War.

But for no fee, he wasn’t going to put any effort in. Hobbs had knocked up a few monuments in France and Belgium, so he simply recycled one of these, with no thought for context at all.

Even with a free architect, and a greatly scaled-down project, they still managed to run over budget. So when the monument was erected, it didn’t get a setting or lighting.

They had to scrape together another £300 to put in some steps in so it didn’t look completely ridiculous.

Just to remind you: Melbourne spent £80,000 on their memorial.

A contemporary satirist imagined Sir Christopher Wren being summoned from the dead to comment on King’s Park’s latest addition:

Well, it will be a memorial all right, but it isn’t a design—there is no design in it. A memorial of brave men and valiant sons certainly. But people a hundred years hence will wonder what it symbolises, what it commemorates, why it was perpetrated.

As people of a hundred years hence, Dodgy Perth couldn’t agree more.

This story is adapted from one published last year. If you liked it then, you’ll have loved it again.

The war over the memorial


As state war memorials go, WA’s is pitiful. The first meeting to kick off the project—in February 1924—was a sign it was always going to be a calamity.

The Premier, Sir James Mitchell, chaired a meeting of mayors and architects. The intention was to discuss a location for the Memorial.

Architect Michael Cavanagh proposed that the Government should subsidise any memorial, but Sir James sneered at the suggestion. It was for local government and the people to fund it, he said.

The Mayor of Subiaco, Roland Robinson, told a sad story of how the residents of Subiaco had failed to donate enough money to build their memorial, so the council had to subsidise it. He was very sceptical that anyone would give for a state monument.

Robert Bracks, Mayor of North Fremantle, agreed. No one would give to a Perth-based erection. In any case, King’s Park was an awful idea for a proposed location, since it was in danger of becoming nothing more than a “glorified cemetery.” Shouting broke out and the Premier had to repeatedly bang on the table to restore order.

The Mayor of Fremantle seconded his neighbour, and declared there could only be one realistic location for a state memorial: Monument Hill in (ahem) Fremantle. He was never going to put his money into the city of Perth. And would the Premier like to have a look at Freo’s plans for a memorial? The Premier did not care to do so.

William Berryman, a former Subiaco mayor, had no interest in monuments. We need hospitals he said, not pointless memorials. This made Michael Cavanagh cross, and he mocked the erection of “maternity hospitals” to commemorate the dead. A row then broke out between the architect and the Colonial Secretary, who apparently did like maternity hospitals.

South Perth’s William Reid also wanted to boycott a monument in Perth. Somewhat imaginatively he proposed a war museum, with an inner shrine containing the body of an unknown Australian soldier. Or perhaps the money could be used for a ‘Hall of Industry’, where the State’s products could be exhibited.

No one listened to the dissenting voices and it was decided that King’s Park would be the location, with no Government money made available.

The subsequent outcome was predictable from the start.

h/t Museum of Perth

Hot property


The one thing you quickly learn in the history and heritage business is that no story is ever as simple as you’d like it to be.

And here’s the irony, 10 Bellevue Terrace, now in line for the demolisher’s wrecking ball, was once adaptively reused, rather than knocked over. Read on.

In 1926 a fire in Kings Park devastated two homes on the Terrace, including No. 10. At this time it was owned by prominent accountant and tennis player Sinclair James McGibbon, who lived there until his death in 1943.

A long-time president of the Kings Park Tennis Club, gates and a stand there are named in his honour.

The fire did sufficient damage to gut the property, but the walls retained enough integrity that they were incorporated into the renovation, which was designed by the famous Perth architectural firm of Eales & Cohen.

Although McGibbon was a ranting anti-Communist, who saw reds under the bed everywhere, we’ll forgive him on this occasion, since the renovation he commissioned is still an attractive house today.

And a house that has an even more interesting history than Dodgy Perth first thought.

Perth has no time for a Leake


Sometimes the bad behaviour we catalogue here at Dodgy Perth does not belong in the past but in the present.

In our office we are not much given to campaigning for or against anything, usually preferring to sit back with a glass of red and just watch other people march up and down with placards and chants.

So the following is provided for information only, to be used by those who can find a use for such information.

If you take a walk around East Perth Cemetery (and you should), you will find memorials for several members of the Leake family, including George and his son, George Arthur.

George Leake was a turn-of-the-century lawyer and Premier of Western Australia. Famous for being one of the few people to stand up to John Forrest, Leake should also be remembered for developing the political party system we have today.

If he hadn’t died tragically young in 1902, aged just 45, he may well have gone on to become the first Prime Minister from this State. A memorial fountain for him was erected in Kings Park.

The year after his death, Leake’s widow, Louisa Emily, built a grand house at the edge of Kings Park, at 10 Bellvue Terrace, for herself and young family. Among her sons were Francis Walpole and George Arthur, both of whom followed in daddy’s footsteps and became lawyers.

During WWI, George Arthur signed up to the 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment. As a Second Lieutenant, he fell on 29 August 1915 at Gallipoli, where his body remains to this day.

The stunning Tudor-style home Louisa Leake built—a residence associated with the family of an early Premier and an Anzac hero—is still standing. But only just.

If you want to see it, we recommend walking past in the next few days because the bulldozers are moving in soon to replace it with a nondescript block of flats.


Sometimes the bad behaviour we catalogue here at Dodgy Perth does not belong in the past but in the present.

Let’s go outside

letsgooutsideYoung people today, eh? No standards, is what we say at Dodgy Perth HQ.

Not like in the good old days, like the 1950s. When people knew how to behave. And respected their betters. And did not make love in broad daylight in front of picnickers.

No sir.

Take for example, the way our grandparents celebrated New Year’s Eve 1953. The good old days. Just like in Back to the Future.

Can you imagine wild “necking parties” going on all night in King’s Park until the families arrived with picnics the next day? That generation could never have blended booze and sex into wild public orgies, never caring who saw them. Impossible!

It cannot be that these courting couples deliberately sought out audiences to their wanton promiscuity.

No. It was the 1950s, not 2015.

There could never have been a couple freely enjoying themselves in a ’53 model American sedan in King’s Park. Her blue nylon frock was not draped over the bonnet of the car. And sheer silk stockings weren’t boasting of her activities as they flew from the car’s radio aerial. There were no empty bottles strewn in the bush around them. This did not happen. It was the 1950s, when everything was better than today.

As dawn broke over a parking spot on Crawley Bay, near the University, you would not have been able to see a dozen people in six cars greeting 1954 in their own unique way.

A slim girl, probably no older than eighteen, was not vomiting into the river while her escort (shoeless, tuxedo pants and lipstick smeared singlet) did not drink breakfast straight from a bottle.

The pair in the back seat of a cream sedan nearby were being chaste. Not engaged in open activities which would make a pro blush.

Since it was the 1950s, all of these activities were confined decently to the marital bed. To people who were married to each other. That’s how things were back then.