Let there be light

lights

Not all history is just hot air. Honest.

As we approach the hour of the anniversary of the coming of the Christ child, it seems only right to ask the most significant question about God made flesh: When did Perth’s streets first have Christmas lights?

There were, of course, Christmas lights and decorations well before this time. Individual shops and malls had their own displays, and government buildings were beautified. But we are asking when the streets themselves were decorated.

The answer is, for once, easy to come by. Following the lead of overseas cities and the other Australian capitals, Perth finally put up illuminations in 1961, at a cost of more than £4,000. The above scene shows Murray Street at the Forrest Place intersection. A giant balloon, themed on Around the World in 80 Days, dominated the area. Six metres in diameter, it was made by local Olympic yachtsman and sailmaker Rolly Tasker.

And why the ‘around the world’ theme? Because these decorations were to be dug out of the cupboard, dusted down, and reused for the Commonwealth Games (then known as the Empire Games) hosted by Perth in late 1962.

So, dear readers, next time someone asks you about Perth’s Christmas lights, you’ll know how to answer them.

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.

Drop-in prophets

I foresee you liking the following snapshot of Perth history

I foresee you liking the following snapshot of Perth history

Madams Zona, Mora and Carlotta were fortune-tellers working in the CBD in 1907. Unfortunately for them, back then being a psychic was illegal. So when a young undercover policeman, Constable Smith, was sent to visit, it was never going to end well.

Constable Smith first entered Madam Mora’s premises in Wellington Street. The plain-clothed bachelor pretended to have a wife who had abandoned him at Coolgardie. He asked the psychic if she could locate this imaginary woman. Mora picked up her cards and told Smith to divide it into three piles.

Using her ‘psychic’ abilities, she read the cards, announcing “You will find your wife shortly.” The cards also revealed a dark man who was connected with Smith’s troubles, and this stranger would try to kill the copper.

Smith paid Zora half-a-crown, and she warned him to say nothing about his visit. Strangely, her clairvoyance did not extend to noticing he was an undercover law enforcement official.

Madam Carlotta was a palmist. In exchange for Smith’s money she also revealed the non-existent wife would soon show up. Not only that, but he would have four children. Even more excitingly, Smith was soon to become an engineer, who would gain fame through an amazing invention.

The final visit to Madam Zona also promised a happy reunion for the policeman. And still the psychics didn’t discover their immediate destiny was to be a trip to court. There, they were spared jail on condition they agreed to cease telling fortunes.

Dodgy Perth does not know what happened to Zona, but Madam Carlotta—known to her friends as Ethel Daley—was unable to give up her trade, and was prosecuted again a few years after.

Mora’s future, though, turned her card skills in a surprising direction. She became an illusionist, regularly appearing at the Melrose Theatre in Murray Street. She also became renowned as a debunker, exposing spiritualist scams and teaching people about gambling tricks.

Now who would have seen that coming?