On the buses

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The bus to Belmont, 1912

Every few days you can pick up a copy of The West and read about how much taxi drivers hate Uber. If you’d picked up the paper a century ago, they were grumpy about these damned novel buses that were taking their business.

On St George’s Terrace in the first few years of the 20th century, one motor bus was brave enough to try and take people to Ascot Racecourse. There was almost a riot.

Angry cab drivers surrounded the bus and shouted threats and curses. Anybody who attempted to board was vigorously abused. Nevertheless, the bus managed to gather enough brave passengers to make a successful trip to the races and back.

And customs on buses were different in those days.

On the Belmont route, when the bus was overcrowded, it was expected that a lady would stand and let a gentleman have her seat.

Then she would then sit on his knee. Seriously.

Dodgy Perth believes that TransPerth should bring back this etiquette today.

Bus drivers could be a little, let’s say, less professional from time to time a century ago.

One driver, who was a little ‘under the influence,’ had an argument with a passenger as to whether he had paid the correct fare.

To settle the argument the pair left the bus at Barrack Street, and the fight was only interrupted by a policeman, who arrested them both.

When this news reached the waiting passengers, they went straight to the police station to demand the driver’s release.

When the sergeant in charge pointed out that the bus company employee was obviously drunk, one lady passenger explained: “Oh, he is all right. I’ve sat beside him before when he was like this, and I always pull the bus back if it goes off the road.”

Satisfied that the bus was in good hands, the sergeant released him.

Ah, public transport. How disappointingly boring you are today.

Barracking for the wrong building

The Barrack Arch revealed in all its glory

The Barracks Arch revealed in all its wonderful glory

You probably like Barracks Arch. You may even have seen pictures of the old barracks and mourned their almost total demolition. Well Dodgy Perth is here to cheer you up by showing that not everything old is always great.

We’ll start by noting that their erection was a complete cock-up, from start to finish. Like all government projects, it was totally mismanaged. Work started in 1862, but took many, many years to finish. This was typical of state projects at the time, and was the same for the Town Hall and Government House.

It also ruined the builder, William Halliday. He had put in the lowest tender, but the architect, Richard Roach Jewell, and the clerk of work, James Manning, were concerned he had underquoted. Halliday told them not to worry, he had made no errors. But he had. Somehow he was out on the number of bricks by several million. Although he completed the contract, the mistake forced his company into bankruptcy.

During the building process, one worker died after falling into a deep well being dug. And the local residents complained that the powder store was erected far too close to their homes for comfort.

Anyway, the Barracks were finally finished, and so we come to the heritage part of the story. When Parliament was built, the old building stood in the way of a decent view from the approach along the Terrace.

The Barracks had not aged well. and in 1902 a civil engineer really dissed them:

The main approach to the site is at present masked by that grim-looking structure known as the Barracks, and this will ultimately have to be dismantled to display the full front view of the new Parliament Building.

However, for one reason or another the grim structure stayed where it was. So a generation later, when more additions were made to Parliament, the subject came up again. Alfred Wright, president of the Institute of Architects, had this to say in 1933:

The Barracks has no pretensions to architectural merit. Although their venerable appearance imbues them with a certain appeal, they would have to disappear when the completion of Parliament House was proceeded with.

Wright was no ultra-modernist, he was in love with the Town Hall, the Museum, and St George’s Cathedral. Hardly, then, someone who hated heritage. Just an architect prepared to give his honest opinion on an aging building with little merit.

In the end of course, the arch stayed while the rest was demolished. This kind of half-arsed conservation has no place at all. Either admit the whole building had to go, or defend the entire structure. Leaving small bits (see the awful St George’s Hall façade) is tokenism without offering anything for the community.

So, should we finish the job?

Free and easy on the buses

So, taxi drivers are complaining about Uber. A century ago, they were complaining about these new-fangled motor buses. Nothing ever changes, does it?

On the first Saturday that a motor bus tried to take passengers to the races from the rank in St. George’s Terrace there was almost a riot. Angry cab drivers gathered round and shouted threats and curses. Anybody who attempted to enter the bus was vigorously hooted. Nevertheless the bus got a load and made a successful trip to the races and back.

On the Belmont run, ‘when knighthood was in flower,’ it was the custom when the bus was overcrowded for a lady to rise and let a gentleman occupy her seat; she would then sit on his knee. Free and easy were the conditions of those days.

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That damnable trolley bus

trolley bus

Ugh!

It won’t surprise anyone to discover that there is a difference between nostalgia and history. Of course there is. But it is easy to blur the lines if you’re not careful, and the old trolley bus service is a case in point

Who doesn’t love Perth’s old trolley buses? You can even purchase a book showing how delightful they were:

Tracks-by-the-Swan

So, it is reasonable to assume they were much loved in their day. They must have been. Mustn’t they?

Let’s ask legendary town planner, Harold Boas. He was responding to a 1936 proposal to extend the trolley bus service to Subiaco, which would involve the service using Mounts Bay Road or Kings Park Road. Harold’s opinion:

We have been battling to improve our highways, and now the Government comes along and is prepared to set us back a quarter of a century.

Basically, the trolley bus service, which had commenced in 1933, was seen as ruining the streetscape by disfiguring it with poles, overhead gear and wires. Oh, so many wires. Or as one grumpy writer to the newspaper put it:

I think most residents do not realise that not only more heavy overhead wires would be stretching across these otherwise beautiful thoroughfares but, worse still, an extra number of ugly poles, set at different angles, would spoil any claim to beauty.

Nor were these the only people who wanted less trolley buses. Two years after Boas’ damning statement, traders along St Georges Terrace were up in arms:

Strong protests continue to be made regarding the proposed use of St. Georges Terrace. General trend of those opinions is that the use of the Terrace as a trolley bus route would spoil one of Perth’s prized streets. On aesthetic grounds strong protests continue to be made.

So, while it’s wonderful to reflect nostalgically on trolley buses, don’t assume that everyone at the time actually liked the buggers.