Don’t look back in anger

coat_of_arms

What you looking at?

Dodgy Perth promises this is the last time we will ever deal with this controversial issue. Especially since we are going to put it bed for once and all time.

Take a look above at the Australian coat of arms on Perth’s GPO, freshly installed when this photo was taken, with the kangaroo looking the wrong way. As is well known, the sculptor didn’t get paid so the roo is looking in an accusing fashion towards the treasury building.

Wait, did we say this was Perth GPO? Our mistake.

This is actually a picture of the coat of arms installed on the new parliament building in Canberra in 1926. So, evidently this sculptor didn’t get paid either. What is it about sculptors not getting paid in the 1920s?

1-gpo-george-facade

Oi, look at me when I’m talking to you!

But sculptors haven’t been getting paid for a long time before the 1920s. Oh yes. This is the old Sydney GPO, which predates the Commonwealth, and the roo is looking in an accusing way towards… well, towards something presumably.

Every time this story gets a mention on local radio, someone rings up and claims their father (or grandfather, or uncle) made the GPO coat of arms, and the legend is completely true.

Well, we’re sorry to say folks, that this is just how some fancy shield things were done in the past. Just is. Nothing more interesting than that.

Is chivalry dead?

chivalry

If only he had a hat to doff

Chivalry is dead, goes the cry. Gentlemen no longer hold doors open for ladies, they expect the weaker sex to pay for their own restaurant meals and tickets to the picture house, men no longer stand or doff their hat when in the presence of lady, etc., etc.

Which makes the historian wonder when the golden age of everyone behaving properly towards the fairer half of our population actually was. The 1980s? The 1950s? The thirties? Well, of course, the answer is always and never. There never was a golden age and people have always been complaining that chivalry is dead.

At the end of the end of the 18th century, English philosopher Edmund Burke declared “the age of chivalry is gone” and “the glory of Europe is extinguished forever”. These lines were later invoked to oppose the suffragettes, who were “boring” men with their constant claims for equality.

Here in Australia, in 1884 women were allegedly being “degraded” on roads and in parks, but only because chivalry was dead. By 1905, someone calling herself Beatrice said young ‘hooligans’ were only walking their girlfriends to the bus and forgetting to lift their hat to say goodbye, and not even opening the bus door for her. ‘Jack’ responded to Beatrice, claiming that if women wanted men to be more chivalrous then women should be more thoughtful and ladylike. It’s always the woman’s fault, always.

Try catching a tram from Victoria Park in 1926, because it was clear chivalry was dead when young men were so obsessed with their iPhones (sorry, penny dreadfuls) they weren’t standing for the gentler sex. The following year the West Australian ran a picture of a woman changing her own tyre with the headline “Is chivalry dead?” To which a feminist responded that she bloody well hoped so, since women could change tyres without any help from men.

And this brings us to the real point: few people (read men) ever bemoaned the lack of chivalry without turning it into an anti-feminist rant. If women would stop demanding equality, men would behave better. Curiously, some suffragettes tried to turn this to their advantage by noting that the truly chivalrous should understand women’s claims to basic human rights.

So the next time someone complains that society ain’t what is used to be, just ask them when their golden age was. And then laugh.

Suffer little children

St_Edith

Eugenics R Us

Here at Dodgy Perth we’re a little over hearing so much praise for St Edith of Cowan. After all, how seriously can you take someone who named herself after a local university?

Should we save her house? Probably. Should ECU have spent $715,000 on a tent to name after her? Probably not. Because she was Australia’s first female politician should we assume she was Gandhi and Mother Theresa rolled into one? Absolutely not.

What really gets us is the way everyone keeps going on about how much she loved all of the little children? Did she? Let’s take a look.

In 1929 the Government proposed a new law which would sterilise any girl who they decided was ‘mentally defective’. This was needed, it was said, because the ever growing number of mental deficients were “poisoning with their hereditary taints the lifeblood of the State”.

Edith Cowan, who loved children you’ll remember, was outraged and demanded the bill be changed. She didn’t think, of course, the bill was offensive, but that it did not go far enough. The proposed law said parental consent was necessary before sterilisation, and Edith thought this was wrong. Parents were being cruel by letting their idiot children breed, and “the moron girl should be so treated that she would not become a menace by reproducing her type”.

Fortunately, the bill was shelved and before the Government could reconsider it the Nazis had given that kind of thing a bad name.

Edith Cowan did many great things in her life, but she also held some extremely offensive views. Let’s not create a saint from her life story but remember her as an all-too-real complex human being.

 

How WA invented Pommies

pomegranates

A picture of whining poms

Western Australia is famous for many things but, up until now, it has not received credit for its greatest contribution to Australian culture. We invented the word ‘pommy’. Dictionaries like to say the origins of the word are obscure, but they aren’t. It started here.

On the goldfields they liked to play with words. Immigrants got called ‘Jimmy Grants’ because someone thought that was funny. Then it was taken too far. From ‘pomegranate’, Jimmy Grants became Pommygrants. And after that it quickly became the word Pomegranate itself, before getting shortened to Pommy. All this in Western Australia in the first years of the 20th century.

Dictionaries are also wrong when they claim Pommy first appeared during World War I. It is much earlier than that, and even appears in print in WA in January 1912 when immigrant British policemen were referred to as Pomegranate Johns, or Pommy for short. The word quickly spread around the whole country, and by 1913 the whining Poms were claiming it was a racially abusive word and should be banned. A joke from that year went like this:

A canvasser visited a house in Perth, and was referred by the good wife at the door to the “Old Man”, in the garden. He found that the “Old Man” was a Chinaman. “Do you mean to say you’ve married a Chinaman?” he said incredulously to the woman. “Why not?” she replied, “the woman next door married a Pommy.”

Before he died in 1950, John Jones of Leederville used to boast he had invented Pommy while perving on English girls on Hay Street. This is unlikely to be true, but does show that Western Australia has always claimed to be the origin for the word. It is time we were once again proud of our heritage.

My oath!

mosque

William Street mosque, complete with traditional Islamic bullnose verandah

Bloody Muslims, coming over here with their history of centuries of trading with Western Australia before Europeans arrived, having been an accepted part of local society since the birth of the colony, and demanding to be treated with the respect the law has always shown them.

Wait, that last one can’t be right can it? Well, yes it can.

The earliest reference to someone swearing on the Quran is from 1833 when Sumud Alli did so to testify against his racist attacker, the appalling John Velvick. The newspaper report didn’t make anything of this oath, other than to mention it in the same way it noticed anyone else who was sworn in, so the journalist didn’t think this was very unusual. By the way, Velvick got his comeuppance at the hands of the law and later met his death at the hands of Yagan.

By the early 20th century, the Supreme Court respected Islamic tradition by ensuring its copy of the Quran was first wrapped in canvas and then covered in colourful silk handkerchiefs. This way, it could be handled by court officials and still be considered acceptable to Muslim witnesses taking the oath.

And in 1918 the Supreme Court was even willing to allow a case between two Muslims to be adjourned so it could be settled using customary processes. A dispute over who owed what for a sale of camels was resolved when the defendant went to the William Street Mosque, washed himself in the presence of his Imam, put on clean clothes and then swore on a certain passage of the Quran. The judge accepted this and was happy with the outcome.

What’s with these people demanding the respect we used to accord them all the time?

When the UK said no to #Wexit

secession

Behold the glorious flag of our independent WA

Western Australia was always the one that really didn’t want to go to the club after midnight, it just wanted to go home to bed. But everyone else insisted they’d have a great time. So WA went and hated every minute of it. And it never stopped complaining about the steep cover charge and the price of the drinks.

We’d only gained independence (of a sort) in 1890, so it’s not surprising that a mere decade later no one really wanted to give it up to be controlled by the Eastern States. WA dragged its heels and muttered a bit about not really wanting to join the party. Which is why the Australian Constitution doesn’t mention WA at the start, only in passing later on:

and also, if Her Majesty is satisfied that the people of Western Australia have agreed thereto…

Well, we didn’t want to agree to nothing, but the goldfields got grumpy and announced that if WA didn’t join Australia then they’d secede and none of the lovely gold money would be coming Perth’s way. In the end, the bullies won and we were dragged kicking and screaming to a nightclub we knew we’d dislike.

When the Depression hit hard in the early 1930s, WA decided enough was enough. All of our hard-earned money was going to support the Eastern States and very little of it was flowing back west. (Doesn’t this sound very familiar?) Or, as the great William Lathlain so eloquently put it:

Thirty years ago we all boarded the good ship Commonwealth for a lifelong voyage, with the full assurance that there would be only one class for all passengers. During the voyage we found, to our great surprise, that there were four classes. Victoria and New South Wales had secured all the saloon cabins; South Australia and Queensland the second class; little Tasmania was put in the steerage; while Western Australia is compelled to work her passage in the forecastle.

At the referendum for #Wexit in 1933, WA voted by a majority of two to one to separate from the Commonwealth. Only the tyrant overlords out east rudely told us we weren’t going anywhere.

So the following year a petition was presented to the King, the House of Lords and the House of Commons asking England to set us free from our oppressors and let us live rich, contented lives in the State of Excitement. It took until 1935 before England got back to us, and they used legal trickery to decide that the petition was “not proper to be received”. In other words, you made your bed, now lie in it.

Strangely, though, 1935 was a year marked by buoyant trading conditions and decreased unemployment. Everyone in WA got happier and the idea of #Wexit was gradually forgotten by most people. Until the 1970s, but that’s a different story for a different day.

Stop all the clocks…

Midland Town Hall

How Midland Town Hall should have looked

This is a story about a very Australian approach to life. The one where we have a complete disregard for expertise and just adopt the ‘she’ll be right, mate’ attitude. Only, in this case, she wasn’t right at all. Welcome to Midland Town Hall.

As you can see from their design above, architects Hamilton and Upton planned a single clock face right over the main entrance. Had they had the money and completed the building, the citizens of Midland would now have one of the greatest town halls in Western Australia. But they didn’t have the cash, so the design had to be trimmed back, and one of the losses was the clock.

After WWI every local area collected money for a memorial to the fallen. Many places decided not to put up a statue, but to erect something useful for the district and call it Memorial Something-or-Other. So WA is full of Memorial Halls and Memorial Gates and the like. In Midland they decided they needed a clock, so people knew when to catch their train. And not just any clock. But a really big and heavy clock, with four faces.

(There is a local myth that the clock was a rejected one intended for Midland Post Office—even the Heritage Council repeats this story—but there is no truth to this at all.)

In early 1923, the Memorial Committee asked the council to build them a tower to hold their clock. But when the council realised how much it would cost for a good tower, they proposed simply knocking the top off the Town Hall dome and sticking the clock there. Unfortunately, the architects told the council the brickwork wouldn’t take the weight, since it was never designed to have a clock on top of it.

Like any good council should, they ignored the architects and turned to a local builder, who told them he could put the clock on top of the dome really cheaply, and he was sure the Town Hall would be fine. Plus, he didn’t even ask for any money for himself, which saved council a bit more. And so the skilled architects were ignored, and plans quickly knocked up.

And so the top of the dome was cut off and the clock placed on top, completely disfiguring the look of the Town Hall, since it doesn’t fit and to this day looks like a job done by cowboy builders. Which it was.

Clock_Midland

Who could possibly think this was a good idea?

One problem was that the clock hardly ever worked, so people kept missing their trains anyway. It required constant maintenance, for which there was no budget, so a local man agreed to look after it, for free, to the best of his ability. Which doesn’t seem to have been a great success, but at least it occasionally told the right time.

A couple of years after the clock had been installed large cracks started appearing in the Town Hall’s brickwork. Some were so large you could actually put your finger between the bits of brick. Guess what? The architects had been right all along and 5.5 tonnes of clock, casing and steel struts were ripping the building apart.

So another architect had to be called in, the great Edwin Summerhayes. His report was damning. There was no structural support for the clock, it had been badly installed anyway, and it desperately needed a framework put in to carry the weight down to the foundations. Since this would destroy the Mayoral Chambers, Summerhayes said the only solution was to remove the clock and put it in its own tower, just like the Memorial Committee had originally requested. Failing to do so, risked the whole building falling down.

Everyone agreed that the clock would have to come down, but no one was willing to pay for it to do so. Instead, the council decided to drop the matter and just hope no one was killed by falling brickwork. And that’s exactly what happened. More money was spent over the next couple of decades patching up the dome and Town Hall than it would have cost to move the clock. But that’s how councils often work (or don’t work).

Today, the clock still ruins the look of a beautiful town hall. Just to save a bit of cash.

Carnival corpses of walking tongues

Thrilling-Mystery-November-1937

Thrilling maybe. Prohibited, certainly.

As a good Western Australian parent, you wouldn’t want your child to read ‘The Carnival of Crawling Doom’, would you? Let alone ‘Dead Tongues of Terror’ or ‘The Little Walking Corpses’. Of course not. Because you are a good parent, and you know Perth led the way in having such stories banned.

The federal Customs Act 1901 meant anything obscene, indecent or blasphemous or seditious could (and usually was) banned. Better still, the public was rarely told what was forbidden, and almost never the reasons behind such decisions. Like in 1933, when Aldous Huxley’s obscene Brave New World was prohibited. For some reason or other.

Over the next few years, people (read: the press) began to fret about American pulp fiction being imported into Perth. Enter Special Magistrate Alwyn Schroeder, who had his finger on the pulse of 1938. When one person pleaded to him that their “downfall” had been caused by an overseas nudist magazine, Alwyn decided something had to be done.

“I am not a prude,” Alwyn said, somewhat unconvincingly. After all, he had seen action in Egypt during WWI, which was somehow relevant in his mind. But it was quite clear to him that all the current social problems of immorality and depravity were directly linked to young boys and girls reading American magazines. Especially ones with horror and crime stories.

Alwyn demanded Canberra do something and, unfortunately, they listened to him. One month later, the Daily News declared ‘Perth Gives Lead to Canberra on Magazine Ban’. The Commonwealth Government started banning any title they disliked without having the inconvenience of mentioning which ones were now prohibited. The secret list grew month by month. By August 1938, 49 magazines were illegal and that was just the start.

Perth boys and girls were now safe, thanks to ‘Weird Tales’ being on the list, from reading H. P. Lovecraft, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Robert Bloch, and their eyes were saved from seeing illustrations for Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry.

We should thank Alwyn Schroeder for the great care he took in protecting us from such evils, and call upon the government to do even more to stop us reading horror, crime and Romantic poetry.

Dodgy Perth thanks Chris Nelson’s amazing zine, Mumblings from Munchkinland (August 2012) for having inspired this post. Also, Alwyn Schroeder appears as a character in Deborah Burrows’ recent Perth-based novel, Taking a Chance, which is all about crime. So you probably shouldn’t read it.

Progress is not for everyone

Town_Hall_1872

Now available in other colours

What has the opening of the Town Hall on Barrack Street got to do with feminism? Give up? Well, let Dodgy Perth mansplain it to you then.

Everyone needs to tell stories, about themselves, their family and their community. For most of the last two centuries, the (white) people of Western Australia have told their history using one word: ‘progress’. And every new building, no matter how boring or ugly, was welcomed as yet another sign of the progress of this great state.

So it should come as no surprise to find that on the official opening of the Town Hall in 1870, a huge banner was put across Barrack Street with the word PROGRESS on it, for people to march under on their way to the new building.

But there’s a problem with this word. It doesn’t just apply to new buildings, but also to society. Little things like women’s rights, for example. If the fair sex keep hearing about how we’re progressive, they might decide they would like a little of this progress too.

At the Town Hall ceremony, there wasn’t much sign of this progress. The hall itself was filled only with the important men of Perth while the womenfolk were consigned to the gallery. The men feasted and drank the booze, while their wives simply looked on without even a sandwich.

But still, this whole progress thing had to be dealt with, and it fell to the Colonial Secretary, Frederick Barlee, to spell it out. Proposing a toast to the health of the ladies, like every misogynist before and since, he announced that no one could be more devoted to women.

As a lover of ladies, Fred continued, he well knew the power and influence they had over men. (Even if this did not extend to getting anything to eat or drink.) Recently he had been reading about something called “women’s rights and female suffrage”, and worse about women entering professions and becoming scientists. Not, of course, in Perth, but elsewhere in the world.

But, said Fred, addressing the gallery, none of the good and true women here would wish to see any such nonsense brought about. After all, they already knew how much power they had without needing legal rights. Nor did women need the vote, since all men did was vote the way they were told by their wives anyway.

The Colonial Secretary then called upon all present to drink to the health of the ladies by gulping down nine large mouthfuls of booze. Well, not all could drink of course. Some were in the gallery.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was what 1870 called progress.

Leader of the plaque

dentist

This won’t hurt a bit

Yesterday one of the Dodgy Perth team had to undergo dental surgery. Being somewhat of a nervous disposition, they had successfully put this off for a number of weeks by inventing various unmissable meetings. But finally, the coward submitted to the chair.

Which made us wonder who Perth’s worst ever dentist was. The answer is Harry Derepas. Actually Harry wasn’t a dentist, just a dental assistant employed at Massey Crosse’s dental surgery on William Street. But small details like that weren’t going to stop him.

In November 1923 Lily Edwards, who worked at the Savoy Hotel, visited Harry for a regular check-up. He informed her she needed three gold fillings along with a scale and clean. He then proceeded to drill out a nerve and injected something into her gums.

In immense pain, Lily got back home to discover her gums had turned black and the pain was getting worse and worse. So she went back to Harry who took two swabs and told her the tooth would need to come out, which she agreed to.

This was not a success and poor Lily’s mouth became so septic a vile stench was given off.

Now the story takes a turn towards the weird. In the course of duty a policeman may sometimes be required to do more than just arrest drunks. But how many have been asked to sacrifice a tooth to an unregistered dentist in order to gather evidence?

This is precisely what an unfortunate probationary constable was ordered to do. He was given five shillings and sent to the William Street surgery to ask for a tooth out. The fee was paid and the tooth duly extracted by Harry.

Waiting outside the building was Constable Baumgarten who then entered and arrested Harry for practicing without a license.

We hope the probationer got some kind of medal for going above and beyond the call of duty.