Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society

Early Days: Volume 1, 1927-1931

Perth in my boyhood

By James Kennedy

(Read before the Society, April 1, 1927. Mr Kennedy died 15 August 1927.)

Kennedy, James 1927, 'Perth in my boyhood', Early Days, vol. 1, part 1: 7-10.


I was born in Perth in 1848. I started school at the infants’ school kept by Mr. Newman in Pier-street. The building still stands and is now used as a Turkish Bath. We went to the same building for Sunday School, where we were taught by Miss D. Wittenoom. When I was bigger I went to the Bible class at the Deanery on Sundays, and was taught by Dean Pownall.

In 1856 I started at the Perth Boys’ School in St. George’s-terrace and was taught by Mr. Charlesworth. Other masters that I had later were Mr. Blakiston, Mr. Curtis, Mr. John Charles Hayes, Mr. Fairbairn, Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Alec Bartlett (an assistant teacher). School hours were from 9 a.m. to noon, and from 1 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. Scripture was the first lesson in the morning and there was a Scripture lesson every Friday afternoon. I remember that on the wall there used to hang a printed chart commencing: “A Christian should endeavour, as the Apostle Paul commands, to live peaceably with all men.” We used to use this chart in our Scripture lessons. We paid 2d. a week for our education.

The school grant, which ran from St. George’s-terrace to Bazaar-terrace, was thick with big trees and there was an old disused mill at the bottom of the grant. There was a big pond at the back of the school building. I cannot remember that there was any sport at school, except to run round and round this pond. Sometimes we played marbles. Sometimes we caught gilgies in the pond. We also used to go bird-nesting on the hill and catching crabs along the beach.

In those days the water-front, where the Esplanade is now, was a field of mud. I have seen natives there in dozens, spearing cobblers. The natives swarmed in Perth in those days. Most of them camped at the Third Swamp (now Hyde Park) and other camping places were at the Brandy Keg (near Monger’s Lake), at the swamp on the present site of Mt. Lawley station, and at Dyson’s Swamp (Shenton Park). I have seen 300 camped at the Third Swamp at one time, waiting for a corroboree. There were tremendous paper bark trees there and the natives used to tear down slabs of bark to make their huts. All the native camps were swarming with dogs.


During the day the natives used to wander around Perth. There was a big guru tree on Granny Watt’s grant in St. George’s-terrace (near the present site of Harris Scarfe & Sandover’s) and this was a favourite place for them to foregather. I often say 30 or 40 gins under the trees over their fires. They would bring up the cobblers that the men caught, or any fish that the fishermen gave them and would roast them there. During the day the old women used to wander around the town cadging or stealing. Sometimes they became a bit of a nuisance and got cheeky so, to make them go away, a settler would throw a bucket of water at them. Usually it was enough to get the bucket and they would clear for their lives. Their principal dress was a garment of kangaroo skins, made like a cloak and sewn together with sinews. One peculiar thing I noticed was that the men always had the right arm bare and the cloak over the left shoulder, and the women had the left arm bare and cloak over the right shoulder. The women had on their backs bags of kangaroo skins, into which they threw all they could pick up in the day time. Often they carried their youngsters there too, sitting on top of the store of scraps. Sometimes at sundown one might see the natives arriving from York or up the country. The man would be walking ahead with a bundle of spears and the woman would be about twenty yards behind, loaded up like a pack horse.

In the days of my boyhood, the natives used to talk a bit of English and most of us boys used to talk a little bit of their lingo. We used to go fishing and swimming and sky-larking in the water with the native boys and they used to come shooting with us. They were very good for this as they were clever stalkers. Some of the natives used to do a little work but never anything except rough labouring. They never used to do much of that for they were too lazy. They used to be paid with food and old clothes.

In those days half the allotments in St. George’s-terrace were not fenced and there were many vacant grants. There were no made roads but there were footpaths made from clay brought up from the river. One of the oldest buildings still standing in the terrace is the small shop on the north side now known as the Valencia Cafe. The two-storeyed portion at the rear of that building has been standing as long as I can remember;


the front portion, which is now used as the shop, was added later. The rear portion used to stand up on the hill back from the street, and was kept as a general store, selling anything from silk dresses to potatoes. Mr. Croft had it first, then Mr. Fermaner, and then Mr. Walter Padbury. St. George’s-terrace used to be 8 or 10 feet higher than it is now and it was while they were cutting down the roadway to the present level that the front portion of the building was put up. In cutting down the hill, they cleared the sand away from in front of Croft’s store and one night came the alarm that Croft’s was falling. Everybody rushed out and they worked all night propping up the building. Then, to make it safe, they built the single-storeyed portion in front at the new street level. If you look to-day you will see the old double-storeyed building at the rear and the single-storeyed portion in front.

The work of levelling the street was done by the convicts. They ran the sand down to the river on a tramway that was built where Howard-street is today. The trucks ran down by their own weight, and there was a horse to pull up the empties.

When I was a boy the site of the Treasury Buildings, on the north-east corner of Barrack-street and St. George’s-terrace, was occupied by the soldiers’ barracks. On the site of the Burt Memorial Hall was a similar building used as the officers’ quarters. Between them was the green and the old church, which stood in the centre of Cathedral Square and faced St. George’s-terrace about fifty yards up from the street. On the edge of the green and on the street line were twelve large white mulberry trees which were known as the Twelve Apostles. The soldiers used to parade on the green between the church and the mulberry trees. Military officers also used to live in a two-storeyed house in St. George’s-terrace, next to Mrs. Williams’s shop on the present site of the West Australian offices. This house stood back from the roadway on top of the hill. Ogden’s Buildings, which were opposite, were used as a barracks for married men.

Opposite the church and the Twelve Apostles were the gardens, with the caretaker’s cottage in the corner, and below that were the Commissariat and Imperial Rations Stores, on the site of the Supreme Court. The


building now used as the Arbitration Court was then the Supreme Court. Stone steps ran down between the Commissariat and the Supreme Court and at the foot were the police stables, a small lock-up and police quarters for two married men and a single man.

The old Government House stood further east than the present Government House. It was a little one-storeyed house with pillars in front. Below it was the Governor’s private jetty.

The buildings that now house the Agricultural Department were the Government Offices in those days. The first post office was in the basement at the rear of this building. Mails were brought up from Fremantle on horseback. Joe Campbell used to do this trip when I was a boy. Later the post office was moved to the soldiers’ barracks. The mail coaches used to start from in front of the barracks.

Communication with Fremantle, when I was a boy, was chiefly by water. The Caporns used to carry passengers to and from Fremantle on the river in a large gig. The gig could carry about a ton of cargo in addition to passengers. On the road to Fremantle there were few buildings. At Freshwater Bay was a group of cottages and the convict depot. The Half-way House was on the site of the Albion Hotel, Cottesloe. After leaving the Half-way House there was nothing until the road reached North Fremantle, where the river could be crossed on a ferry worked by convicts. In the other direction from Perth the road to Guildford ran over the Causeway and out through Belmont. Near the Causeway, on the site of the Ozone Hotel, was the magazine, and on the opposite side of the road was the guard room.

There were buildings scattered at intervals along the terrace from the Causeway to Milligan-street, but, in the ’50s there was very little beyond Milligan-street, excepting the houses of Mr. William Knight and Mr. Cresswell, the jeweller, which were in Mount-street. Cresswell had a fruit garden running down to the beach and in it he used to have a lot of little cubby houses and people used to go there on Sundays to eat fruit. Under the Mount there were a number of houses, but there was nothing beyond Cockatoo Gardens. On the north, Roe-street marked the end of the residential area. On the site of the railway station, and as far west as Melbourne-road were vegetable gardens.

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