Pennies from heaven?

hospital sign

With the opening of the new children’s hospital there has been interest in the origins of the first one, Princess Margaret. One popular retelling of the tale is:

In 1897, a young girl entered Charles Moore’s department store. She was drawn to an unusual moneybox into which she put three pennies. When Mr Moore asked her what she would like in return for her money, she asked to give it to the children’s hospital. Moore said there was no such hospital and the girl replied, “Then why not have one?” Moore responded, “We certainly will, and we will start it with your pennies.”

When Charles Moore told this story in 1909 at the opening of the hospital there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the room. And since Moore himself related the tale, it must be true. Mustn’t it? Well, no, so let Dodgy Perth debunk it. But first, why is the moneybox always described as ‘unusual’?

The following section contains racially charged language and an image some may find offensive.

Moore said the moneybox was a “negro” one, where a coin placed into the hand would be thrown into the box. These were sometimes called ‘jolly negro’ moneyboxes or, worse, ‘greedy n****r’ boxes and were popular around the turn of the 20th century. Casual racism like this was the norm in the Perth of a century ago, so we shouldn’t read too much into Moore’s story, or the fact that this box apparently stood on the hospital’s front counter for years. However, today it is obviously unacceptable, which explains why modern accounts of Moore’s tale like to leave out some of the details.

moneybox

So, there was a moneybox and Moore said it was part of the hospital’s origin. So it must be true, right? Not so fast. Let’s introduce two golden rules of history which will never lead you astray. First, if a story sounds too good to be true, it is almost certainly too good to be true. Always suspect a good story. Secondly, the older the account the more reliable it usually is. Let’s see what story Moore told back in 1897 when he started to raise funds for the children’s hospital.

Then he said he’d been in a rival’s shop, Bickford & Lucas, and noticed they had a penny-slot musical box, an early form of jukebox, probably something to keep the kids entertained while the parents shopped. He thought he should get one for his store and give the proceeds to charity. It was then he decided Perth needed a children’s hospital and the pennies collected in the machine should go towards that.

music box

Quite a different story. No little girl with her three little pennies, a simple question and Moore’s sudden realisation the young lady was right. Just an imaginative idea of starting a new fund for charitable purposes, and one he carried out tirelessly from 1897 until the hospital opened some years later.

Why did he invent a new story? Perhaps it was simply modesty about his own role, perhaps he just thought it was better tale. Either way, we can’t take anything away from Moore as a philanthropist and Perth owed him a great deal. But just because he was a good citizen, it doesn’t mean we have to believe everything he said.

Great bar with an art gallery attached

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Sometimes it isn’t easy doing history and heritage for a living.  Sometimes we have to tell people that they are wrong for liking a particular building for various technical reasons, which we will tell them at great length. Mostly they just back away slowly and find someone else to talk to at the dinner party. But it is a duty we will not shirk. Welcome to the PICA Building.

Designed by George Temple Poole and opening in 1897, the Government School is clearly in a classical style, with a sort-of Italianate tower between two wings. Built as a primary school, the reason for its classical details is initially a bit of a mystery. Especially when the internal design was based on the most modern educational principles of the day, with a central double-height hall and classrooms leading off this. Boys on the ground floor, and girls on top.

Further, it is basically a steel frame with concrete floors, with pipes and other services concealed between double brick walls. This is a very modern building, both in intention and construction, so why does it have a historic façade?

The answer probably lies in the school’s controversial location: the middle of a city. By the 1890s it was thought that kids needed fresh air and large ovals to become healthy citizens. The James Street school had tiny playgrounds and no oval at all. In addition, it was located near corrupting influences, such as pubs, prostitutes, and rampant capitalism in the form of retail and industry. This was not a place to develop the young mind to its full potential.

Another issue facing the architect was that government schools were themselves controversial. While the government had been involved in education for some time, it was only towards the end of the 19th century it started taking a leading role. Some parents worried that compulsory education would turn out over-educated children unsuited to be good housewives or labourers. Poole had to find an architectural solution which would pacify the concerns over both location and intention.

He chose to envelop a thoroughly modern school building with a traditional design. This would emphasise the importance of the building, its distinctiveness in a commercial environment, and show this was a great place to send your kids. So far, so good, but it all goes downhill from here.

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As early as 1909, one architectural critic noted that the school was “notable for its large dimensions rather than for graceful design”. The style of building Poole intended requires that the central tower has two identical wings. A glance at the PICA Building shows that the two wings have nothing in common. The bricks are a different colour, the windows are different proportions, and there is a decorative frieze on the west wing (right as you look at the building) completely absent on the east. No competent architect would have designed the building this way, and Poole was far better than merely competent, so the only conclusion is that a lesser hand designed the west wing later. But not too much later, since the earliest photographs we can trace all show both wings as they are today,

Then there is the central tower. This is meant to be Venetian, but fails dismally. It is not hard to find good Italianate towers around the world, which all show elements of good design. Here, for example, is a fire station in Brandon, Manitoba, by W.A. Elliott in 1911.

brandon-fire-tower

The vertical element is stressed through the brickwork at the corners, and the wrought iron balconies add to the beauty of the whole. Or consider a local example, Bunbury High School by William Hardwick in 1923. Perhaps a little more Spanish than Italian, the vertical is stressed by the openings in the tower, and it was described as adding a ‘monastic’ air to the school.

Bunbury high

Now compare the tower on the PICA Building. There is no sense of the vertical, the brickwork fails to convey an upwards movement, and the whole thing looks squat and, to be honest, fairly ugly. Even an attempt at a vertical element on the front is swamped by the brickwork and fails to do its job.

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Was there a budget cut or was this Poole’s original intent? We will never know because the original plans have been lost, and we only have ‘as built’ blueprints from the 1920s.

So, having criticised the building, does this mean it should be knocked down? Not at all. There are many other reasons for keeping PICA. Asides from the environmental costs of bowling over an old building and putting up a new one, it functions as a popular art gallery.

But most of all, we at Dodgy Perth would chain ourselves to railings to stop anyone taking away the PICA Bar, which is where you will often find us after a hard fifteen minutes of research at the State Records Office or State Library. Sometimes we don’t even last fifteen minutes before hitting the bar. So it has to stay. Seriously.

Gay clubbing in 1918

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1910s professional female impersonator, Julian Eltinge

What was it like to go to a gay club in 1918? To find out we need to follow an undercover reporter and his friend into one of the best Perth had to offer. At least he said he was ‘undercover’. Strangely, our hack seems to know almost everyone present. But we’ll play along, and assume he was there strictly for journalistic reasons.

Back in the gold boom days, the best gay club in town was ‘Flora Dora’, which was so established it seems people didn’t mind being seen there, but there were others. But just after World War I, only one club was up and running for men who wanted to hang around with other men, unless you count such places as the Weld Club. Which we won’t.

In 1918, underground advertisements for ‘The Misogynist’s Ball’ started circulating. We assume the event name was ironic, or perhaps a simple way of being able to not invite the wife. “Darling, I’d love you to come, but you would hate all those misogynists.” The sale of tickets was kept very private, only available to those in the know, and almost everyone attending wore fancy dress and a mask to keep their identity secret. Or, at least, to pretend to keep their identity secret. The advert ran:

Almost all the social elements of a large city have their club or meeting place—the fat, the bald, the bachelors, the widowers—why not the misogynists?

The location was one of Perth’s well-known dancing halls, and our ‘undercover’ pair entered around midnight. Dancing was going on, to the music of a good orchestra. Naturally, it being the past, the air is thick with tobacco smoke, preventing the newcomers from making out the details of the scene. Most of the people were masked, and very few in formal dance wear of suits and ballgowns. But now our intrepid couple can make out one lady, who pirouetted in front of them, cigar in her mouth, and with a small beard half-hidden by makeup. She was now talking to someone dressed as an angel, in tights, with an exposed breast and bare arms. You won’t be surprised, and nor was our journo, to find out these were “men dressed as women!” [Exclamation mark in the original.]

Someone dressed as a clown was speaking “tender words” to a ballet dancer, with his arm around her waist. Despite her good figure, her brilliant earrings, her necklace, her “shapely shoulders”, and all the other hallmarks of the fair sex, the ballet dancer also turns out to be a man.

On the other hand, some who are clearly identifiable as men are behaving effeminately. With his carefully trained mustache, makeup and blackened eyebrows, a salesman from one of the larger confectioners is sporting an elegant black gown, gold bracelets and a fan held in white gloves.

Perhaps in another corner, our journalist explorers can discover some normality. Several elderly gentlemen are gathered round a group of ladies who have amazing breasts, although they are all drinking and cracking indelicate jokes. These, at least, must be real ladies, declares our hero. His companion corrects him. The one on the right with the brown hair is a barber, the blonde with the pearl necklace was a tailor who appeared tonight as Miss Ella, while the third was a well-known female impersonator from Perth’s stages, the famed Lottie.

Our hack is shocked. Lottie has a great waist, an amazing bust, and delicate arms! Even so, Lottie was once an accountant, and now makes a living by being a professional woman, tonight singing in an experienced contralto voice. Somehow our ‘undercover’ reporter is well acquainted with the fact that this former accountant wears an embroidered night-dress after dark. Let’s not ask how he knows this.

Perhaps unexpectedly, there are cis women at the ball. But they seem to keep to themselves, while the males ignore them. Perhaps some cis women went to a gay club like some might today: to find a space where they can have a good night out without anyone hitting on them.

Anyway, Perth’s gay and transgender community was very much present in 1918, as they were before, and have been ever since. They were here, queer, and it seems a pity it took so long to get used to them.

Fighting the British, one arch at a time

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All arches are created equal

Some buildings are revolutionary. Literally. Like kick-out-the-Brits type revolutionary. And you probably wouldn’t think that a humble church hall in Claremont would be the place to start looking for this. But you should.

If you travel down Stirling Highway, probably cursing the traffic as you crawl along, you’ll notice Congregational Hall at Claremont, which was built in 1896. The church, on the right in the picture above, was erected a decade later. While it might not seem much to look at now, the hall was part of a movement to rid ourselves of British influence.

When people in the 1890s started talking about Federation and a new country, architects were not going to be left out of this exciting new movement. Henry Stirling Trigg was the first qualified architect to be born in Western Australia so, unsurprisingly, he wanted to contribute. But if English architecture was to be abandoned, where was he going to look for new ideas? He needed a country that had also broken free from the motherland and formed its own identity. Naturally, he thought of the good old U. S. of A.

The Americans call the style the ‘Richardsonian’, but we decided it was sexier to described the architecture as being ‘American Romanesque’. The easiest way to spot it is to look for rounded arches and, quite often, rustication, which is where you cut back the edges of the stone leaving a perfectly regular block with a rough surface in the middle.

The entrance to Congregational Hall and the windows above are good examples of the American Romanesque at work. Even better is the very fine Trinity Church on St George’s Terrace, also by Henry Stirling Trigg and opened in 1893. Although it’s in brick not stone, this is American Romanesque at its finest.

Trinity

Or nearly its finest, because there was an even better building which we have now lost. On the corner of St George’s Terrace and Howard Street used to be Surrey Chambers. Designed by Edward Herbert Dean Smith in 1903, this was one of the greatest buildings ever to be put up in Perth. Just look at those rounded arches. And, if you feel like being depressed, go and look at what’s replaced it.

Surrey

So, there you have it. An imported style of architecture specifically intended to be not-British for a new nation which saw itself coming into being. Next time you see these rounded arches, you’ll know that it wasn’t just a fashionable design, it was a political statement.

The secret life of Hepburn Tindale

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A not very good picture of Hepburn, but the best we could find

Today we go down a rabbit hole. It starts with what we thought was a cute story about (possibly) the first Christian in Perth to convert to Islam and ends with lies at the inquiry into the Forrest River Massacre. If that’s not a rabbit hole, we don’t know what is.

But first, the story we originally thought we were going to tell.

In 1935, Hepburn Joseph Tindale underwent a ceremony at the William Street Mosque to formally convert to Islam. An old Guildford Grammar School boy, he had studied at Oxford University, before taking a degree in theology, working in South Africa, and then coming here as a freelance journalist for Sydney’s Bulletin.

Taking the new name Sadig Akber, he spoke about how all people needed to unite under one God, and this would eliminate war and racism. Which we thought was rather inspirational, even if it’s not a solution to world problems that particularly appeals to us.

So needing to know more about Hepburn’s spiritual journey, we looked him up in the archives. Which is where the Forrest River Massacre comes in, because he was one of the key witnesses during the inquiry in 1927. Only there he held a Masters in Anthropology from Oxford, was a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and, as one of the leading experts on Aboriginal life, he was currently writing articles about them for the Manchester Guardian.

Which is a completely different story to the one he told eight years later.

As it happens, Hepburn was the cousin of Norman Tindale, whose anthropology is still considered masterful today. You’ve probably seen his map of Aboriginal language groups prior to European settlement. But Hepburn was not an expert on anything. In fact, he had no degree from Oxford, no Fellowship from the Royal Geographical Society, and had never written for the Guardian. To be fair, he had gone to Oxford in 1923 but left the same year with no qualifications.

But the inquiry didn’t know this and took him at face value as an expert on Aboriginal life in the Kimberley. Norman Tindale would have been. Hepburn Tindale was not. His testimony on how Aborigines lit fires and their cremation practices made it very difficult for the inquiry to prove beyond all reasonable doubt there had been a massacre.

So, it appears we have a Walter Mitty character, desperate to appear important in the eyes of others, and willing to do anything to be noticed. And the poor worshippers at the Mosque may have been the unknowing witnesses of yet another one of his fantasies. Certainly, we can’t find any more references to a ‘Sadig Akber’ after 1935, but the secretary of the Morowa Road Board in the 1940s was an ‘H. J. Tindale’. Could this be where our man finally ended up?

Fowl play

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Chickens in this story may be more alive than the ones pictured above

A little-known fact about the Dodgy Perth team is that we spend our days talking to town planners. Those who have dealt with this subspecies before will know they spend their office hours measuring your plans with a ruler and sadly shaking their heads when your setback from the side boundary is not in compliance with the R-Codes. (Look at us, using all the technical planning language.)

Yet it turns out there is a good reason for these rules, as we will demonstrate with a bizarre court case from April 1838, long before there were any planning regulations in Perth.

Frederick Turner and Charles Farmer were neighbours on St George’s Terrace. Turner had built his house right on the boundary, with his bedroom window overlooking Farmer’s land and residence. This evidently annoyed the latter, who happened to keep poultry in his backyard to feed his family, and probably make a little extra cash on the side.

These birds had a habit of wandering into Turner’s garden and pecking at his hay, messing it all up, so (at least according to Turner) his pony wouldn’t eat it. Now we are no experts on either ponies or chickens, but the allegation the fowl had destroyed eight tons of hay, none of which was then suitable for a pony, seems a little exaggerated. But, like we say, this office has no proficiency in creatures either two or four legged.

Rather than try to resolve the issue like good neighbours, Turner responded by employing George Embleton to put up a six-foot fence between the properties. The same George Embleton after whom the suburb is named, at least according to Landgate. Who have no reason to lie to us. Do they?

Farmer responded that if his bloody neighbour put up the fence, he would respond by building an enormous chicken coop right next to Turner’s bedroom window. He also complained that a tiny length of roof shingles was overhanging his land and demanded Embleton get a saw and shorten them all.

It probably didn’t calm matters down when Turner and Embleton decided one day to round up a few stray chickens in the backyard, tie their legs together with string and toss them in the pony’s stable. That probably didn’t help at all.

So, Farmer made good on his promise, and built a giant fowl (foul?) house right against Turner’s residence, blocking out all the light and ensuring that if he ever opened his window, all he would smell was chickens and more chickens.

This is why it went to the civil court.

The Commissioner, W. Mackie, was less than impressed by both sides. There not being any local regulations, he was forced back onto English law which said if you build up to the boundary your neighbour is entitled to do the same. And you can’t claim loss of light or air unless your house has been standing for more than twenty years.

But, he continued, it was clear that Farmer was an awful person too, who only built the coop to annoy his neighbour, not because it was the best place to put it. So, because of the health issues involved he demanded the shed be relocated. Even so, because both were to blame the Commissioner would award only a token one shilling for damages.

It turns out that planning regulations make for good neighbours. Probably. Unless your neighbour is an awful person anyway, in which case no rules are going to help you. Probably.

The times we need racists

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Market Gardener, 1893

Wait. What? Dodgy Perth is championing racists now? Of course not, but we must begrudgingly admit that bigots in the past have one good use: they give details about the lives of minorities which would otherwise be lost to historians. Don’t believe us? Let’s prove it.

Opposite the Brisbane Hotel is a patch of grass known as Birdwood Square. Most nights of the week you’ll find soccer players practicing there, and it hosts various events throughout the year. (Although it should be noted we mostly see it out of the Brisbane windows, rather than playing sport or doing non-drinking things.)

The original plan for the park was developed in 1917, and all sorts of exciting things were planned. It was to be laid out in avenues, lawns, shrubbery, and paths, with two hothouses and two shelters. Much more interesting than the current flat grass park which now exists.

The proposal also mentioned that in 1917 the land was currently a Chinese garden. And that’s all it said. To find out more we must turn to our racists. In this case, as so often back then, they were to be found among the journalists working for the scandal rag, The Truth.

How do we know the writer was xenophobic? Easy. The language used to describe the workers was ‘Chows’ and ‘heathens’, and a white woman who had a child with one of the Chinese market gardeners, and worked as their housekeeper, was ‘degraded’ by having a ‘half-caste’ kid. Pretty conclusive evidence we’d say. But what can we do with the information provided? We don’t want to discard it, because then we’d having nothing to say about the Chinese community living next to Beaufort Street in the early 20th century. But nor do we want to take it at face value. Instead, let’s pick it apart and see what’s of value.

According to our bigot, in 1903 there were four Chinese men running the market gardens, with sixteen men in their employ. A quick glance at the gardens, we are told, is deceptive. They can look beautiful with their spring foliage and fruit blossoms. And, of course, they provided food for the good (white) citizens of Perth.

But a peep ‘behind the scenes’ would disgust every right-thinking person, and probably put them off buying Chinese produce. The gardens were really a swamp, and there were piles of “evil-smelling manure, rotten old sacks, pieces of old matting, kerosene tins, old iron, and wire netting”. In other words, if not prejudiced against the workers, you might think this is like every other market garden. Ever.

The workers lived in rough housing on site, which revolted our journo, since he couldn’t imagine wanting to live in impoverished housing in a swamp. Naturally, this says more about the type of less-than-human the Chinese really were, than any socio-economic factors which might explain the choice of accommodation.

There is one factor more than any other which keeps coming up in accounts of Chinese market gardens. It is mentioned so often, it may even be true. Allegedly, and this sickened our white writer, one source of fertiliser was the water closets on site. The vegetables and fruit were being fed with human waste.

This topic is still controversial today, and the merits and dangers of biosolids (as poop is now euphemistically known) are debated over and over, with some claiming it’s the future and others decrying it as poisoning the crops. We don’t claim to have an opinion on the issue, but we do know that journalists working for The Truth wanted to expose this ‘crime’ as evidence no one should buy Chinese veg.

Worse, the workers, we are told, delighted in being surrounded by filth, “even if they know it will kill them”.

None of this would be easy information to come by, if it wasn’t for racists writing up lurid accounts, trying to discourage people from buying from the Chinese. Sure, it might be buried in a tedious government report, but the purple prose of a bigot can give an insight into the lives of those who aren’t usually documented in the history of our city.