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.

Racist gets whats coming

1988 badgeWhen ‘J. T.’ of East Perth wrote a pro-segregation letter to the newspaper in 1943, they probably expected to get some support for their position.

After all, J. T. had noticed the waiting seat for trolley bus passengers in Wellington Street was frequently occupied by “natives or half-castes” and bus passengers had to stand.

“What right,” fumed J. T., “have these natives to occupy a seat that should be reserved for white people?”

Given how generally racist Perth sometimes looks in the past, Dodgy Perth found it refreshing to read the next edition of the Mirror.

K. R. Whitby of Geraldton kicked off by noting that the country belongs to Aboriginal people, not white folk, and demanded “fair play” for everyone.

A Darlington resident told J. T. that he was the trespasser on Wellington Street, since white people stole the country from the Aborigines. So no one could complain about where the rightful owners chose to sit.

And W. Pearce of Fremantle stuck the knife in by pointing out that J. T. would have refused a seat to Christ, since he would have been a “coloured man” in J. T.’s eyes.

Sometimes it’s too easy to judge the past from the point of view of the present. We need to remember that some people in the past were racist bigots, and some as PC as you can get.

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?

There’s trouble brewing at the coffee stand


You’d be forgiven for not recognising the above building. Its face has completely changed, losing all of the detailing, into the boring blank canvas now called Grand Central Hotel on Wellington Street.

Built in 1903, the Grand Central Coffee Palace was a magnificent hotel, but a hotel without an alcohol license. Didn’t stop a succession of owners selling beer under the counter. Usually to undercover police officers. With predictable results.

Today, it is a grungy backpackers. The sort of backpackers that gets reviews like this on TripAdvisor:

This place is full of junkies. The beds and rooms, bathrooms, kitchen and common area are truly disgusting. We’ve never stayed in a place like it. Booked for a week but could only stand one night in this hovel.

A century ago, reviews would have also been negative. But back then it was not the owners’ fault.

It was only shortly after opening that the Palace was in trouble. Just like our TripAdvisor guests, visitors would book in for a week but depart in a filthy mood after only one night.

To cater for Perth’s late-night crowd, the council had allowed a café-de-kerb (coffee stand to you and me) to operate directly opposite the Palace on the other side of Wellington Street.

The council, in its wisdom, had also installed a public urinal on the site too. Which attracted even more of the inebriated class.

As soon as the pubs closed, all the drunks in town—of both sexes—would flock to the coffee stall to get some caffeine and a hot pie.

Bedlam then ensued, as brawls broke out every night, and ‘disgusting language’ was shouted until two or three in the morning.

Those guests in the front rooms of the Palace would simply pack up for a quieter hotel somewhere else.

The council said they would try to find somewhere else for the café-de-kerb. This was beyond their capabilities, though, since no new site was apparently available anywhere in Perth.

So, next time you’ve had a night out in the CBD, and feeling a bit tipsy, grab a coffee and a pie, head for Wellington Street and relive the good old days.

“Low class individuals, gamblers, and the usual motley crew”

Gambling Hells Unmolested by Authorities

Police Look On While Game Proceeds

For a long time past people have been wondering why certain inoffensive Chinese and small-time shilling poker and nap schools have been diligently raided, submitted to the indignity of arrest and subsequent prosecution, whilst large scale gambling hells and dens of iniquity and vice have so far enjoyed virtual freedom from the attentions of the police.

It has been long a matter of common knowledge that there are certain people in the metropolis who have, to the surprise of most people, been able to conduct illegal enterprises without receiving official visits from the police. Needless to say, this fact has resulted in a large patronage from those who like to give their money ‘a fly’ in comparative safety.

Of course, the small-fry do not get a moment’s consideration. If a threepenny game of poker is being played in a secluded paddock or backyard, all the forces of the law are pressed into action to suppress such a terrific offence.

But how do the big-time places fare?

There is a glaring case supplied by the present existing fashionable resort of all the low class individuals, spielers, gamblers, confidence men and the usual motley crew of ‘hangers-on’ that are found at such places.

We refer to ‘Perth’s Monte Carlo.’

Continue reading →