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Notes on the Geography of Australia: Central Perth 2

The iron-ore (and bauxite) boom of the 1960s cleared out much of the Perth that had been built during a previous boom that had started in the 1880s and was about gold (Kalgoorlie and all that). That early boom saw the population of Western Australia soar from 50,000 in 1890 to 300,000 in 1910, and it eradicated most of what had been built in Perth in the five decades since the founding in 1829 of the Swan River Colony. Call it slow early growth, then Boom 1 eliminating most of that early growth, then slow growth followed by Boom 2, eliminating a lot (but not all) of the Boom 1 stuff. Complicated? You've got the wrong guy; you want a historian. Anyway, we're looking now at leftovers from Boom 1. The nagging question is this: why is the old stuff more interesting than the new? Maybe the answer's obvious, but I'm not so sure.

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We'll make another loop in the same general path we took in Central Perth 1, so we're back at the east end of St. George's Terrace, where the Anglican Girls' Orphanage opened in 1899 (and was later expanded) to replace an orphanage established in the 1860s. Easy to forget: lots of young adults used to die.

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The governor who initiated a later stage of the orphanage's construction would have known better: years earlier, he had been stationed in the Niger Delta.

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Governors need Government Houses in which to lay their heads: even less-than-royal heads rest uneasy. Why else this nice new fence, supplementing the wall built in a safer or at least less worried time?

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Don't ask. Anyway, here's a good view of Government House. Jacobean Revival with Gothic arcading. Date: 1863. My theory is that Milton Hershey came by and had a brilliant idea.

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Almost next door, the supreme court of Western Australia.

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One of its predecessors, a close-by courthouse from about 1836 and apparently the oldest building in Perth. Funny, how a few columns do a courthouse make. You don't even need a coat of arms, though they're awfully impressive.

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Across the street: St. George's Cathedral.

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Nice inside, though that may be mostly the warm colors.

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The plaques in Anglican churches are often eloquent, but here the message seems to be mostly "We're running out of space."

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The 1897 Titles Office. It's very grand, but what's more deserving of grandeur than a repository of land records? The architect was George Temple Poole, appointed in 1885 with the title Colonial Architect. His predecessor, Richard Jewell, had had to make do with the lumpish alternative of Superintendent of Public Works. No matter, as such he had managed to design Government House.

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Jewell also designed what used to be the Government of Western Australia's office building. It operates now as a hotel with the weird name of Como the Treasury. Sounds like a cute animal in an animated movie.

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Same building, seen from around the corner and back on St. George's Terrace. Completed in 1874, the style is a blending of Victorian Second Empire, Georgian, and Free Classical. So says Apperly, though the label seems too complicated to be very helpful.

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Across the street. This is Mr. Alexander Forrest, holding what I take to be a pocket sextant. In Explorations in Western Australia, his brother and fellow explorer John wrote, "Saddled up at daybreak, and steered about South-East towards a high range of hills about ten miles distant. I named it Mount Ida, and from the summit I took a round of angles with my pocket sextant. On all the hills in this neighbourhood the local attraction is so great that the prismatic compass is useless." Makes you wonder if they anticipated the iron-ore boom that lay ahead.

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More than enough for 51 years. Brother John had an even more illustrious career--including a stint as the first governor of Western Australia. On the other hand, he had the advantage of outliving Alexander by almost 20 years.

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The sawtoothed building is now known as 66 St. George's Terrace. The owner is Investa Office Fund, which bought the building in 2012 for $82 million from AMP Capital (that's for Australian Mutual Provident). In earlier days the building was called the GIO Building for another owner, the Government Insurance Office. Like a game of jacks, no? Just played by giants. Anyway, we're here for 1937's Tudor Court. Apperly calls it "Tudor pastiche."

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Tudor Court runs right through the block and echoes several London arcades. You'd think someone would install a bench, but no, the owners don't want any loafers, deadbeats, vagrants, or drifters.

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Tudor Court's developer was Claude de Bernales, a wheeling and dealing Australian gold-mine promoter. He drew in a lot of eager British money, much of which left bitterly disappointed.

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Mitchell was an ardent supporter of a soldier-settlement scheme after World War I and is credited with being the founder of the dairy industry in Western Australia. The freeway that rips through the city a few blocks west of here is named for him. Some honor.

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Mining promoters bring us to lawyers, who have been housed in this building since 1905. Apperly calls this building Federation Anglo-Dutch.

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Same architect, Charles Oldham, and he's working in the same year for some more lawyers, but this time in Federation Gothic. No big deal: you've got business suits in one closet and blazers in another. "Which will it be today, sir?"

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Oldham had a busy year in 1905: he designed this place, too. It originally sold musical instruments but is now Perth's best bookshop. Apperly calls it a stylistic mix of classical and gothic elements.

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A successful miner, John De Baun, built what was the lavish Palace Hotel in 1895; it's now the forecourt of BankWest. Perth has a fine collection of savaged facades. Oops: typo! You know I meant "salvaged."

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Here's another. That's the erstwhile Newspaper House on the left. It was the home of The West Australian, but now it's the facade of BHP's Brookfield Place. (The building on the right, also from 1932, housed Royal Insurance.)

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Time moves on, but clocks don't necessarily. The paper's still in business a couple of miles away in a building so boring it's invisible.

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Looks like a church, but this is the old Perth Boys' School, from 1854. Since then, it's been a library, the offices of the National Trust of Western Australia, and a restaurant. Brookfield Place rises behind the camera and dwarfs the school. At least the school's not chopped back to a wall.

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Here's what's left of the old Pensioners' Barracks, built in the 1860s in a partnership between the Imperial Establishment and the Public Works Department. Everything else was demolished in 1966 to make way for the Mitchell Freeway.

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Details.

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The culprit.

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View from the other side. That would be QV.1 or Quo Vadis1. Behind every window there's a guy in striped pajamas.

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We've shifted a couple of blocks to the north and will work our way back east. The building on the left is the Melbourne Hotel, built by the same John De Baun who had recently opened the Palace Hotel. "Federation free classical," quoth Apperly. The parapet hides an iron roof.

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I keep expecting to see a gambler step outside for a smoke. Pocket watch; Derringer. You've seen the movie.

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Another facade: this one is from 1895 and screens the QV.1.

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And yet another, this one leading to the Stamford Hotel. Dynon imported china and earthenware.

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Here's something almost intact. It's His Majesty's Theater. Does the absence of decoration on the lower floor hint at something?

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Details of how the facade's changed.

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See the balconies? Oh, and if you're curious about the sign on the left, Truth began publication as a weekly newspaper in 1903 and succumbed about 30 years later.

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Time for a stroll along a street for the beautiful people. If we walk quickly, we can probably make it through.

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Perfect paving, sidewalks, and bollards.

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The usual suspects. Tuck your shirt in, for God's sake.

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Down a peg to an Australian chain of clothing stores. Go back a century, and this was the Central Hall of the Methodist Mission.

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That's the Royal Perth Hotel on the right. Originally built in 1882, it was rebuilt in a Victorian Second Empire style in 1906 to a design by Henry Trigg, the first trained architect born in Western Australia. Down Wellington a few blocks, that's the Westbank Tower, evidently suffering from Citigroup Envy.

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Trees are nice, but sometimes they do get in the way. In this case they block the view of Perth's railway station, designed by the same George Temple Poole who designed the Titles Building.

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The station bears the logo of the Western Australian Railway. whose short line from Fremantle opened in 1881. Work on the station began a few years later, just before the gold rush. What do animal-rights folks make of those nasty spikes? I think they're creepy, and I don't even like birds.

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Now here's one serious post office, the GPO from 1923, with paired ionic columns above an arcade of Mahogany Creek granite with Donnybrook sandstone above. (Sorry if I sound like a waiter describing tonight's special.) It stands on a plaza that was supposed to be a new grand axis, perpendicular to the railway station and running through to the river. It never happened. There's just this stub called Forrest Place, named for the same John Forrest whose brother we saw holding a sextant. Don't need one here. That's progress for you.

The BankWest building, from 1988, was Perth's tallest for four years. It was originally called the Bond Tower, but when Alan's companies collapsed, so did the name. The R&I (Rural and Industries) Bank took over, then decided it wanted a name evocative of the Death Star.

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The Australian Dictionary of Biography says that Archibald studied Macauley's essays so closely that he almost knew them by heart. Doesn't seem to have rubbed off too much: "His aspirates were 'always in confusion' and one observer claimed 'he slaughters the English language with pitiless ferocity every time he talks'...." On the other hand, the ADB goes on to quote a colleague who summarized Archibald's "contribution to the labour movement as 'based upon a sound judgement' and 'fairness to political opponents'."

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Oh, God! The delights of the Murray Street Mall.

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What's my problem, you ask? I guess I've just switched to ordering stuff online. Haven't you, too?

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Sorry, but you can't get up to the observation tower. Apperly says that this, the Gledden Building, is the only inter-war art deco highrise left in Perth. Its neighbor on the left is the former P&O Building, later called the Orient Line Building.

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CLaude de Bernales, the same mining promoter who paid for Tudor Court, built this art-deco movie house. It closed in 2013, though there have been occasional flickers of life since then.

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Another movie house from the same period: this is the Plaza from 1937. It closed in 1984, though the Plaza Arcade still exists, and the facade was restored in 2002 as part of a department store remodel. It's now owned by Starhill Global, a Singapore company that also owns the adjoining Savoy Hotel from 1914. Plans call for its conversion to a boutique hotel. (Why is it that cute upscale things are given French names?)

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Behold the Salvation Army Fortress, from 1899. Premier Forrest attended its dedication. So did Commandant Herbert Booth, the unhappy third son of General Booth. Herbert spoke of the place as "a harbour of refuge for those in need...." He "declared that its doors would never be closed against anyone, however humble or degraded." It's now Sahara Middle Eastern Cuisine.

See The West Australian for 15 August 1899.

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Upstairs space is available.

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Here's 1899's Perth Mint, another George Temple Poole project. It struck gold sovereigns until 1931 and continued to make bullion under British jurisdiction until 1970. In 2000, it produced 4,500 tons of bullion, three percent of world output. More recently, it's been making silver coins stamped with kangaroos; Americans are suckers for the things. Think we could get a tour without having to check our satchels?

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Another building from the boom: the Fire Brigade No. 1, from 1900. Call it Romanesque Revival.

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Running out of steam? No problem. Take a seat on the veranda of Kirkman House, opened in 1909 as a home for nurses at the adjoining hospital.

Have we actually made a loop? Yep. Have we exhausted the inventory of old stuff? Nope. Have we demonstrated that there's more to central Perth than boring-boring modern? You bet. Have we figured out why Perth's older buildings are more interesting than its newer ones?. Uh... negative, Captain. Maybe in another life.


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