Dancing, fighting and knickers

Unity Theatre, 1930

Unity Theatre, 1930

In the words of the most influential musicians of the last century, the Spice Girls, “make it last forever, friendship never ends”. Today Dodgy Perth tells the heart-warming story of a friendship that knew no boundaries.

Although once again known as Trades Hall, the Beaufort Street building operated as the Unity Theatre in the 1930s. It was at a dance held there in 1933 that our tale begins.

It should be obvious that two men are not allowed to dance together when partners of the fair sex are available. Not a rule enforced at Connections Nightclub last time Dodgy Perth was there!

But because two young fellows showed scant regard for feminine charms, they decided to dance with each other that Wednesday night.

It must be said that Robert Sleeth and Norman Tindale—aged 20 and 22—had consumed more than a couple of drinks. Perhaps that was the reason for their unorthodox dancefloor moves. Or maybe they just liked grooving with each other.

Whichever, the MC, George Greenway, was having none of it. He told them to dance with the ladies or get off the floor. They resisted, and George told them to sit down and shut up, and began to escort them over to the chairs.

At this point the inebriated Robert took a swing at the MC, knocking him down, breaking his glasses, and causing his nose and face to bleed.

Dances being full of testosterone-fuelled young men, this was all the invitation that a bystander, Norman Mitchell, needed to weigh in. For trying to be a hero, Norm was also punched to the floor, losing blood in the process.

As he got to his feet, other onlookers held him back as he tried to retaliate.

At this point all hell broke loose and the cops were summoned.

PC Trekardo was first on the scene where he found Sleeth and Tindale outside, with their coats off shouting through the door challenging someone to come out and “fight it out like a man”. Boys, eh?

At this point Mitchell, still profusely bleeding, charged through the exit screaming “You punched me” and bravely tried to attack our BFFs. Trekardo arrested all three of them.

Mitchell got off with a caution, while Sleeth and Tindale got two months hard labour in exchange for their Unity Theatre antics.

The next time our besties come to our attention is seven years later. This time they broke into a house at 226 Roe Street, stealing cash, a pair of lady’s pyjamas, a set of lady’s underclothing and a pair of lady’s scanties. All belonging to Gladys Foley.

In case you don’t know, the kind of ladies who worked at that end of Roe Street would probably have owned very attractive scanties and been earning good money for taking them off.

This time our BFFs avoided jail and ended up with a simple fine.

Dancing together, fighting together, and stealing panties together. The kind of things great friendships are made from.

A bridge too far

Anyone who has lived in Perth for more than a week knows the story of the Horseshoe Bridge. How the Railways Department came up with a brilliant solution to the problem of restricted space, making it (according to the Heritage ‘Style’ Council) an “outstanding example of a major urban railway overbridge of its time”.

Well, this is Dodgy Perth, so prepare to have all your illusions shattered. Our comments on the above story are no, no, and God no.

Firstly, it is not innovative. Nor did anyone claim it to be at the time. It was not called The Horseshoe Bridge in 1904, just described as a horseshoe bridge.

Why this particular design? Because wherever they were going to put a bridge, the tight-arse Railway Department didn’t want to hand over cash to landowners on Wellington or Roe Streets. They wanted a bridge that would only use land the Government already owned.

There never was restricted space. Just an attempt to save money.

Speaking of hard cash. Robert Howard, a draughtsman working for the Public Works Department knocked up plans for a horseshoe bridge and then offered to sell them to the Government for £1,000. They told him to bugger off, since he was an employee. So Robert quit the PWD and then sold the plans to the Government for £1,000 anyway. (The cheeky sod actually went to court later to obtain even more money from them!)

The estimated cost of the bridge was £25,000. It was delayed for a couple of years because no one could build it for that amount. When finished, the thing cost £40,000. It would have been much, much cheaper to buy some land from private owners and put up a regular bridge.

Everyone hated the new crossing. And we mean everyone. A footbridge over the railway was pulled down, forcing people to walk the long way round over the new erection. The newspapers were full of outrage. The City of Perth kept complaining to the Government that 22,000 people had to walk over the bridge every day, meaning an 3,600 extra miles daily, or 1,140,000 miles a year.

So, all up… the Railways Department created their own restriction, bought their plan off an employee who drew it on Government time, failed to budget the project correctly, and seriously annoyed everyone who worked in the CBD.

And that, friends, is what the Style Council likes to call an ‘innovate design solution’. Dodgy Perth has a different opinion.

The shootout on the Rue de Roe

The red light area on Roe Street, shortly before the brothels were closed (image 1958).

The red light area on Roe Street, shortly before the brothels were closed (image 1958).

Josie Villa wasn’t always at 222 Roe Street. Just after the Great War, it was located closer to town at number 98 on the same street.

It was at this location that Josie De Bray was wounded in a shooting, possibly carried out by drunk soldiers.

In August 1919, at 3.30am, a car was driven along the red light district, with the occupants demanding admission to the houses there.

At this time of night, the only occupants of Josie Villa were Josie herself and Esther Miller. They had just eaten a late supper, and were preparing to retire to their rooms, when they heard the car pull up outside the house.

Footsteps were heard on the front verandah, and a rap on the door followed. Although Esther said she would answer, Josie was ahead of her. She approached the front door and asked who was outside.

One of the men demanded admission, but Josie replied that no one would be admitted at that time of day. Looked through the peephole in the door she saw some of the visitors were wearing military uniforms.

The men repeated their demand, but Josie again refused them admission. They clearly became agitated and started shouting.

Suddenly two shots rang through the house. A revolver had been placed close to the peephole and fired into the passageway.

At the first shot, Josie felt a stinging pain on her left elbow. The second bullet missed her, sped through the length of the passage, leaving a hole in the wall at the end.

If Josie had not, by sheer chance, stepped aside from the peephole at the right moment, she could easily have been killed.

After firing the shots, the men fled the scene.

Josie managed to get to the rear of the house, leaving a trail of blood along the way. A doctor was summoned, and she was carried to a nearby private hospital on St George’s Terrace.

Introducing Princess Josie


Wherever men get together, whether in the curse-charged ribaldry of an army camp or in the deep chairs of some of our most exclusive clubs, the topic often switches to Josie.

On All Hallow’s Eve we presented the secret backside of Josie Villa. Today we expose the front of 222 Roe Street, now sadly demolished to make way for tedious commercial buildings.

In our opinion, ‘Princess’ Josie De Bray deserves to be one of the most famous residents Perth has ever had. But her story appears little known.

Her profession was the world’s oldest. But she was the undisputed leader of that profession in Western Australia.

ML Monnier

Josie pictured in 1949

In the boom days on the Goldfields, Josie—real name Mme Marie-Louise Monnier—operated houses of ill repute on Hay Street, Kalgoorlie. Her friends in those days included some of the biggest in the mining world.

In Perth she acquired houses in Roe Street. For years she ran her various establishments herself, with the same efficiency as any modern businesswoman. To her it was simply a (profitable) business.

Josie bought and lived in a big house in Mt. Lawley, 137 Joel Terrace, which fortunately still stands and deserves to be recognised for its history, which was certainly controversial among the neighbours in its day.


About 1937 she went home to her birthplace, St. Nazaire, France, and was trapped there when war started.

For years no one in Perth knew if she was alive or dead. While living in St. Nazaire it was bombed again and again. Josie spent some tough years as a German prisoner of war.

Finally she sold a portion of her inheritance and returned to Perth in 1949, seeking to re-establish her empire.

Josie died in 1953, leaving her Perth properties to a niece back in France.

Her story will be told here over the next few days.

Folly, infidelity and unleaded petrol please


The secret entrance to Josie Villa (pictured here around 1930), the most famous residence in Roe Street, or the Rue de Roe as it was known in those days.

What kind of place would be accused of luring married men to folly and infidelity?

And why did it need a secret entrance from James Street, through an otherwise unassuming garage, the Modern Service Station?

And who was the enigmatic Josie?

Hmmm… some kind of mystery here if you ask me. Perhaps this will be worth exploring over the next few days.

On a heritage note, it is entirely possible that this building still exists hidden inside the Wilson Parking building. I’ll try to check it out at some point when I’m in the City.