Fremantle Stuff > FHS > Fremantle Studies > 1 > Silbert
Eric Silbert, 'Jewish personalities of Fremantle', Fremantle Studies, 1, 1999: 77-91. [See also: Barney Silbert.]
This paper will be about Jewish people who have been in Fremantle or involved with the City of Fremantle and will also include some anecdotal comments about Fremantle when I was a kid. I’m about to turn 75 in the immediate future and that’s three quarters of a century.
The ﬁrst thing Jewish on the West Australian coast was in the wreck of the Gilt Dragon. There was a spoon found when they were picking up all the artefacts and the spoon had a Star of David at the top. So we could assume that there was someone Jewish on the Gilt Dragon.
In 1669  [Willem de] Vlamingh came here and named the Swan River. In his crew there was a guy by the name of Jan Simonsz, who also had the name of Jan Israel of Sudan. I don’t think he had an alias because he was a gangster or something; surnames really hadn’t taken off as far back as that, and there were lots of people called Bill the Son of the Blacksmith, and Tom the Son of John and so on. Jan Simonsz was probably the ﬁrst Jewish person to set foot in West Australia.
Now without any doubt at all the dominant person in the earliest days of British settlement was Lionel Samson: his property was in Cliff Street, Fremantle. Lionel Samson came out here very early in the piece. He was a wine spirit merchant and grocer. I ﬁnd that quite interesting because not many Jewish people went into the grocery business, but he did.
After a few years here, in 1842, he went back to the United Kingdom and married his second cousin, who was a Jewish girl by the name of Fanny Levy. Fanny came out here as a bride and obviously would have been the ﬁrst Jewish lass in Western Australia, let alone Fremantle. They had six children when they settled here, but as there were no other Jewish people there wasn’t the opportunity for the six children to many fellow Jews. But it is interesting that one of the children or grandchildren, William, played an active role in the establishment of the synagogue that I’ll refer to later. So although they didn’t live “a Jewish life”, they still saw ﬁt to be involved.
Lionel Samson did three terms on the Executive Council over twenty years in Western Australia. He was also the equivalent of a JP. He was recognised by the naming of Port Samson up in the North West, so he was sufﬁciently important to have a town named after him. He played quite an active role in the commercial world, and one of the interesting things was that he was one of the pioneers of exporting sandalwood. There was a very big export trade in sandalwood to China in the early days, and Lionel Samson was involved in that.
His wife Fanny also took an active role in society as well as bringing up kids. For instance, the sisters of St Joseph, who were a very early group of Catholic nuns, couldn’t speak English when they arrived. Fanny Samson became involved with teaching the sisters English and doing other good things there.
Lionel Samson came out here with his brother William. William left his mark also, as he was involved in creating the ﬁrst bank in Western Australia. But he didn’t stay very long. He moved his family to Adelaide and stayed there. The next member of the Samson family to make a mark was Lionel’s nephew, Horace Samson. He came here and worked as a draftsman in the then local government. He designed the Black Swan stamp.
The next person of considerable importance with a Jewish background in Fremantle was Elias Solomon. He came out here in 1868 with his nephews. Interestingly enough, he was also a wholesale and retail grocer and wine and spirit merchant. I find that quite fascinating; there were only a few Jews here, and two of them were in the same business.
Solomon was even more civically minded than Samson. He was the mayor of Fremantle for more than one term; he was chairman of the Fremantle Tramways; he was involved with the Literary Institute; he was Member for Fremantle in both the Colonial and Federal Lower House. So his contribution was quite considerable. Solomon wished to maintain his Jewishness and over the Passover Jewish people eat unleavened bread which is called Matzah. Many, many months before the Passover period came, which is usually the time of Easter, he imported Matzah from England so that he could keep up that tradition. So he identiﬁed quite strongly with his Jewish background. He was involved with an early group of Jewish people who wanted to set up a Synagogue and played an active role in this group. He also obtained a site for Jewish burial in the Skinner Street Cemetery next to what we as kids called the Old Women’s Home. That was Elias Solomon’s contribution.
The focal point in a Jewish ceremony on what one might call the altar is the Ark, and in the Ark is the scroll. Now the scroll in fact is what you might incorrectly call the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses. That scroll is still used to this day. It’s on parchment and it is rolled; it isn’t in book form where you turn the pages over. To this day if you go to a Jewish service whether it be Reform or ultra Orthodox, the scroll is brought out with great ceremony, and like in most other religions, you read the lesson of the day, or the lesson of the week. It is in Hebrew, and historically if a mistake is made when writing it, you have to start all over again. So one assumes that it is a correct document going back thousands of years.
The ﬁrst scroll to come to Fremantle was brought by a man by the name of Mandelstam, who lived, not in Fremantle, but in a suburb round here. He was involved in the start of the Synagogue, and he brought out a scroll in the ship called the Hampshire. Unusually enough, the captain of that ship was a Captain Mathias, who was also Jewish. So here you have Mandelstam with a scroll, a captain who is Jewish and they say that the scroll was in the stateroom in a great place of honour, although where it is today I don’t know. But that was the ﬁrst Jewish religious item that came, not only to Fremantle but to Western Australia.
The next person I’d like to comment on never came to Fremantle, but in many ways made as big a mark. That was Solomon Levey. He was transported to Sydney in 1815, got pardoned in 1826 and went back to the United Kingdom. He was a very successful entrepreneur and he made a lot of money. He backed Peel for the rather unfortunate Peel Estate project where everything went wrong. It didn’t go wrong because of Levey. Levey in fact was denied information about what Peel was doing, and he still sponsored a lot of migrants to come out here. He chartered boats and he did all sorts of good things. It is on record that on that particular project he spent 50,000 pounds. Translating that to today’s ﬁgures you’d be talking about millions. Here was a person who quite sadly isn’t respected in either Fremantle’s history or Western Australia’s history. It was not his fault, he had the foresight, although admittedly he didn’t follow it up and come out here himself. He trusted Peel. Peel didn’t give him any information, but he still kept going for quite a long while until it all crashed at this end. But he really should be recognised, not because he was Jewish, but because he was courageous enough to sponsor people, ships and everything else.
The next person I want to mention is a man by the name of David Benjamin who came to Fremantle and then moved to Australind. He was in the second group of people they settled, but that didn’t take off either. He was an independent labourer, not a convict, and the interesting point about him is that he married an Anne Jane Whitley, who was an Australind girl. Now she was very enthusiastic about being Jewish, so enthusiastic in fact that she changed her ﬁrst name to Rebecca. They had a number of children, all of them raised in the Jewish tradition. This was fairly difficult, because there were no Rabbis here, and there was no formal Jewish society. But she made the effort to identify with her husband’s religion, and as far as she was concerned she was Jewish. They later moved to Adelaide.
The next person I’m going to mention is Theodore Krakouer. Remember the famous football stars, the Krakouer brothers? Now I’m not trying to suggest that the Krakouer brothers were part of the Jewish community, but a man with the same name, Theodore Krakouer, was pardoned in 1851, became a ticket of leave man and went to the country where he was quite successful. Interestingly enough, about the same time, just before he went to the country, two Jewish servant girls came to Fremantle and there weren’t too many girls who came out on their own. These two were Brinner and Esther Israel.
Theodore married Brinner before settling in the South West. They were the second Jewish family after Lionel Samson. They had nine children, but they didn’t follow a Jewish way of life. Two of the children, Rudolf and Raphael, built hotels in Coolgardie, Norseman and Collie. Rudolf was active in local government. He became the mayor of one of the country towns and was also a councillor. He was well known in those days as an athlete. So it’s quite interesting that the name Krakouer pops up in the background.
The Krakouer family was well respected. In Broomehill there is a memorial to the family because they were involved in exploring and a whole range of things. The memorial was erected by the Katanning Historical Society. Whether they are related to the footballing family, I don’t know.
The next person I’d like to comment on is Isaac Myers, who came out here as a tailor at the age of 20. He worked in Toodyay, York and particularly in Fremantle After his pardon he married an Irish girl in 1863. They had seven kids, one of whom was named Rosetta, who married Matthew Gunsman. They carried on a Jewish way of life. Gunsman’s tombstone is up in the Fremantle cemetery. He was buried by Rabbi Freedman when the Rabbi ﬁrst came here.
The next person is Abraham Moyce Josephson, and of course we have a Josephson Street which comes off High Street, beyond Market and just before Parry He was a well known business man and a keen Freemason, which was very important in those days. He made bed ends. The story is that there was a ship which came into Fremantle with a cargo of material used for making mattresses. The cargo had caught alight and someone suggested to Josephson it would be a smart idea if he bought it as it was going for a song. He was making beds, why not the jute to make mattresses? And I believe that was the start of Joyce Bros, the well-known West Australian bedding manufacturers. So Mr Josephson was another early personality.
The ﬁrst meeting of the Fremantle Synagogue was in the guard room next to the barracks (in South Terrace). In 1887 Benjamin Solomon convened a meeting of a few Jewish people to discuss the need for a religious home. The ﬁrst chairman of a group to form a Jewish Community was Lawrence Alexander. Alexander was a well known identity around Fremantle. I have the receipt book of that group people gave their 2/6 and 2/-, to start this community. It is quite a nice collector's item to hold, the butt of the receipt book.
In 1891 and in 1902 Reverend Abraham Boas, a rabbi from Adelaide, came to Fremantle. Reverend Boas was the father of Harold Boas, who became an architect and a City of Perth Councillor. Now the fascinating thing to me is that Adelaide has never had a strong Jewish community. Melbourne has been the most dynamic Jewish community in Australia, in fact in the world. Sydney is pretty good but it's never had the same status. But these were the two big communities. Why Fremantle sent for someone from Adelaide to give them a hand I can’t imagine. But Rabbi Boas was a dynamic character and came over here twice. He laid the foundation stone for the Western Australian Hebrew Congregation - that's the synagogue here in Fremantle. The name ﬁnished up causing them a whole lot of trouble, which I will deal with later. Rabbi Boas consecrated both the Fremantle and East Perth cemeteries for Jewish burials and the Jewish communities were under way.
He was a great success over here. He was a notable personality, and such a great speaker that when the Fremantle Hospital was having a major appeal to begin operations, he was the draw card and guest speaker. The function was so popular that the Governor, the Premier and the Chief Justice all came down from Perth. The time table for the trains from Perth was altered, with a special train coming down from Perth.
I was fascinated also to ﬁnd out that the Fremantle Council has in its minutes discussion of a place of worship for a Jewish church. Now that’s a contradiction in terms. You either have a Jewish synagogue or a Christian church; you can’t have a Jewish church. However, the Fremantle Minutes book shows that they gave permission for a Jewish church. The site for that was the comer of South Terrace and Norfolk Street. It had on it a small building known as the old guard house, which ultimately became the Eighth Base Hospital. The old guard house was an important building in Fremantle in its day.
It is interesting that the ﬁrst two people I mentioned were Elias Solomon and Lionel Samson. Both of them played a role in helping the committee to start a synagogue, so they identiﬁed quite comfortably and signiﬁcantly with their Jewishness.
At this stage I must mention the gold rush, because the gold rush changed so much of Western Australian history. Coolgardie during the gold rush had a bigger population than Perth. It had more newspapers, more lawyers, more everything. When the gold rush ﬁzzled out, people gradually started coming back to the city. This affected the formation of the synagogue, because two things happened. Some of the people originally from Fremantle started moving to Perth, and, even more importantly, those who had gone to Coolgardie didn’t come back to Fremantle, they also went to Perth. Sixty families started to organise themselves to start a synagogue in Perth, and that became a competition that Fremantle couldn’t really handle.
The Fremantle synagogue, even once it got under way, never had a minister. It only really ran for two or three years. I believe it had the high holy day services; the main important Jewish services like the Day of Atonement, New Year’s Day, Christmas Day and Good Friday. They had those and they had some good people who would take a service but they didn’t have a minister of religion. So it never really got off the ground for the reasons I’ve just mentioned. It obviously ran into ﬁnancial problems because the people drifted away, so then they had a building and a congregation but no minister, and they had trouble paying the bills. The Perth Hebrew congregation had got under way and this was a competitor. They were not amused that this little congregation down here in Fremantle was called the Western Australian Hebrew Congregation. However that was the story of the synagogue in Fremantle. It’s a bit sad because yes, it did have services, and yes, it was built for religious purposes, but it never really got under way.
The Jews have a long history, going back a long way before the time of Jesus, who of course was also Jewish. When they were moving into Europe there were two streams of Jewish people. One group was called the Sephardis, which translated means Spanish, and the other were Ashkenazis, which translated means German. Now they were only names, they were not Spanish or German, but those were the names they were given. The Sephardis were more Middle Eastern and the Ashkenazis were Middle European. During the 17th to the 19th Century, the great majority of Jewish people in Europe lived in what was known as the Pale of Settlement. The Pale of Settlement went from Latvia and Lithuania at the top, through Poland, down the western side of Russia, to the Crimea and Ukraine. The great majority, and you’re talking about a big population of Jewish people, lived there. The sad side of the story is that they suffered pogroms and were forced into ghettos and they had great difﬁculty with education. It was anti-semitism at its worst and it went on for two centuries, particularly under the various Czars. One of the Czars was a bit of a nice guy and he let them off the hook a bit, but in the main they had a terrible time for many, many years.
Both my parents’ families came from the Pale of Settlement. My mother was a Masel, my father obviously was a Silbert. I’ll discuss the Masels ﬁrst. The Masels came from Minsk, which was the capital of Belorussia. They came out here to Fremantle around 1880. The ﬁrst person to come out was my grandfather and his eldest son, Esor. My grandmother was expecting a baby at the time, and the family had organised for it to be born in Warsaw. In the late 1870s and 1880s hospital care and medical attention in Warsaw was the best in northern Europe and that was where my grandmother went for her conﬁnement. After the birth my grandmother and her other children followed grandfather and Esor to Fremantle. The baby of course was my mother, so she arrived here when she was very young.
My grandfather was Joseph Masel, and he belongs to the history of Fremantle. When he came out here in 1880 he set up a wholesale and retail jewellery business. I don’t think he was a watchmaker, but watches were involved as well. He started in Fremantle, but soon he shifted to Perth. His shop was on the south-western corner of William and Hay Street, where the Commonwealth Bank used to be. The eldest son, Esor, went into business with him; one shop facing Hay Street was a clothing shop, and the other shop facing William Street was the jeweller, but they both came into the backroom where they had their lunch together.
My grandmother’s maiden name was Bella Kabuk. Now Joseph Masel was a very dour introvert, but Bella was a bright lady. The Masels that followed were in the main introverts, other than those that took after my grandmother. She never spoke English, which made her journey out here on her own with her children very difficult. The great majority of people from the Pale headed for America, which was the promised land, the land where you could really get on. All these people from the Pale had two things in common. One was their Jewish background, whether they were religious, irreligious or whatever, and the other was their language, Yiddish. Not Hebrew, Yiddish. Yiddish is a delightful language, and Yiddish humour is wonderful humour. Danny Kaye, George Burns, the Marx Brothers - the root of their humour is Yiddish. Yiddish is a rather nice language. It’s a sort of German, but where German is stiff, Yiddish is easy going, and it lends itself to extravagant expressions. You can’t have your hands tied behind your back when you are talking in Yiddish; you’d be mute if that was the case. So all these people spoke Yiddish and as I say, my grandmother spoke it. You’d hear people who came from Poland or Belorussia, they didn’t speak Russian or Polish, they only spoke Yiddish. They’re the same people that went by their thousands to America and the rich culture that they took with them has a lot to do with the fact that they all spoke this colourful language, Yiddish.
Joseph Masel’s eldest son was Esor, which is also my Hebrew name. He was a little thick set guy with a moustache. Then came my mother, who came out here as the baby. The family deﬁnitely lived in Fremantle, and my mother went to the Princess May School, which was then a school for girls and infants.
My mum moved with the rest of the family to Perth, and she went to a school in Victoria Square, where she continued her studies of the violin. They were a very musical family and my mother went on to be the ﬁrst violinist in the Perth Symphony Orchestra as well as a violinist in the Fremantle Symphony Orchestra. She also had a sister, Essie, and a brother, Henry, who were violinists. C H May the well-known Fremantle jeweller, was a cornet and trumpet player. They were all in the Fremantle Orchestra together.
My mum worked with my dad all the time. When they were married in 1913 they opened a little shop in High Street on the right hand side. My mum was a working mum all her life. Now that was a rarity in the twenties and thirties, there weren’t too many mums who worked. After the London Novelty Shop they went into Barney Silbert’s at the comer of High and Market Streets. The reason they went onto the corner was the Breckler family. My mother had an elder sister, Fanny, who married Alec Breckler. They lived up in East Street just opposite the monument, and they had a store opposite the Town Hall. The ﬁrst Breckler shoe shop was there before they shifted to the corner of High and Market Streets.
Alec Breckler Snr, Fanny’s husband, died when the kids were young. She decided that she couldn’t run the shop because in those days shoe shops were repairers as well as selling shoes and she certainly couldn’t repair a shoe. She was clever enough to go to Perth and open a shop called the Dainty Walk, which later became Cecil Bros (not Breckler Bros, because there were already Breckler Bros up there who were cousins) and then Betts and Betts. So my parents took over the corner shop.
My mother’s sister Essie married Charles H May, the jeweller, and caused a family scandal. Not only was he non-Jewish, but he decided to convert to Judaism, which created a debate of immense proportions. He converted with the approval of the new young Rabbi, David Isaac Freedman, who was to spend a lifetime as a Rabbi in Western Australia. Rabbi Freedman, Esor Masel as the elder brother, and a couple of the other board members of the Perth Hebrew Congregation, decided the conversion was allowable. However, there were strong objections on the grounds that proper procedures had not been followed and that the motive for the conversion was marriage rather than a real interest in the Jewish faith. All this caused a great rift in the family, but my mother remained close to Aunt Essie. Fortunately, my mum and dad were very tolerant people, and also they were both down in Fremantle while most Congregation members were in Perth.
So Aunty Essie ran CH May Jewellers. She lived to the age of 90. I remember by the time we changed to decimal currency she was quite deaf. Her son Billy May, who went into the shop with my Aunty, was also quite a character. Aunty Essie served in the shop till she died, and you’d go in there and she’d sing out “Bill, what’s $9.50 in the old currency?” So she never converted. When Charles May died she shifted into the Federal Hotel, which was only one door away from her. She stayed there for 50 years and played in a Sunday night poker school with all the bookies and racehorse owners of Fremantle.
My uncle Esor Masel went to Perth, and his son started what became Worths and Gaynes. Gaynes was a clothing store and Worths men’s store is still going today.
My mother was a great person. She became the State champion bowler, playing for Fremantle Bowling Club. She was also the State champion croquet player, playing for the Fremantle Croquet Club and she took golf up in latter years. The other thing that Mum was pretty good at was chess. Her father Joseph Masel was a very good chess player and when he went on jewellery buying trips to Europe in the 1900s and 1910s he took my mother with him to keep him amused playing chess during the long sea journeys.
I found it quite sad that recently there’s been a book about the jewellers of Western Australia and Fremantle and the book’s author, Mrs David Carr, depicts Joseph Masel as a money hungry poker playing villain. My grandfather was exactly the opposite of this. I would suggest he wouldn’t even know the word poker. He was a fanatic chess player and they were not rich people.
The other side of my family were the Silberts. The ﬁrst Silbert to come out here was my Uncle Abe, who arrived in 1880 like the Masels. He started a ﬁrm called Silbert and Sharp and they were the greengrocers and fruiterers through the goldﬁelds, Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Menzies, and Mount Magnet. My dad came out here as a 14 year old, only speaking Yiddish, and got a job with his uncle. It was his ﬁrst job. The long jetty was here and my dad used to go swimming from it in the early days. Later Abe went back to Byelostok in Poland, where they came from, and married his niece.
Dad was involved with the Ugly Men's Society, which was down near the railway station. He rowed with the Fremantle Rowing Club and for a short period of time he was some sort of an ofﬁcial with the South Fremantle Football Club. He was in the famous Buffalo Lodge and he was a director of the Fremantle Speedway. And of course the Fremantle Speedway went broke pretty fast. There used to be a bitumen track around the Fremantle Oval; that was Fremantle Speedways Ltd, which didn’t take off. Dad was a most colourful, happy go lucky guy, but he wasn’t Fremantle’s top business man and Fremantle Speedway was one of his failures. But he was a lovable character and the name Barney Silbert had a ring about it. Everyone in those days would say “I’ll meet you on Barney’s corner” or “I’ll meet you at Barney Silbert’s”. It was the centre of the town. The trams turned round there. My mother was always a bit disappointed that he had the name Barney, because it obviously wasn’t Barney when he came from Poland, it was Berel. This sounded a bit like Beryl and a kid aged 14 or 15 would really have to ﬁght to have a name like Berel in Fremantle. His mate suggested that Barney was a good name. There used to be a song called ‘Barney Google with the goo, goo, googly eyes’ and I have a hunch that that’s where it came from. Anyhow Dad became Barney and Mum thought it was a bit of a musical comedy name, but I think it is terriﬁc and its certainly left its mark on Fremantle in many ways. I’ve always been happy with the name.
When Mum and Dad were ﬁrst married they lived in Solomon Street and had a horse and trap. They then built the house in Ellen Street where I was born, one up from the comer of Parry, opposite the Fremantle Park. My happy memories go right back to there. Dad was too old and he had bad eyesight, so he was not acceptable for the First World War. He had a car No 124, which he used as an ambulance. He took people from the ships to the Eighth Base Hospital and performed other ambulance duties. As I grew up there was a certiﬁcate of honour in our breakfast room for his efforts with his “ambulance”. I mention the number because in those days it was in the paper: the name of your car, what it was, who bought it, and 124 was pretty well down in the scheme. Car number 1 belonged to Dr Binningham, whose claim to fame was that he delivered me into the world.
Our neighbours in Fremantle were the Tates. When he came from Ukraine as a young man, Arnold Tate worked for Silbert and Sharp like my father. It was dad’s first job, and it turned out to be Arnold’s ﬁrst job also. His family lived next door to the Silberts. He ran the Fremantle Wine Saloon in High Street for many, many years, apparently quite successfully. He had a son, Leon, and two daughters, Renie and Vera. Renie and Vera both married United States servicemen during the war. Jewish girls who married Jewish boys who came from America - it’s a fairly long shot when you think about it, and the movement of the people. They’re happily living in Florida at the moment.
I married the Tate’s niece. When I got engaged to her, her uncle didn’t think it was a very good match. However, here we are just on 50 years later. The other family that I’ve got to mention in the Jewish context, were the Robins. Jules Robin had the gun shop just opposite the horse trough down near the railway station, and he had the tobacconist shop on the comer of High and Adelaide Streets. In 1996 to have cigarettes and guns is a bit of a twist, isn’t it? However, that was Jules Robin. We grew up with the Robins. There were two boys, Dudley and Gordon. Dudley will be in military folk lore. He joined the Navy when all the boys joined the services in 1938. He’d been in the Naval Reserve and got quickly promoted to a Sub-Lieutenant, went to Melbourne, went out in the ﬁrst weeks of the war and there’s a ship coming in. He, as the Sub-Lieutenant on the deck, challenged it, and when it didn’t answer he ﬁred a shell across its bow. To my knowledge that’s the ﬁrst shell fired in anger from Australia, and it came from Fremantle’s Dudley Robin.
I mentioned the ghettos of Russia and Poland and the Pale, but we people in Fremantle had our own ghetto. The Tates and the Silberts lived next door to one another, and the Robins lived round the corner, three houses up. So we didn’t drop too far away from the Pale.
High Street looking east toward the Town Hall with Barney Silbert's Corner clearly visible. Courtesy Fremantle Local History Collection
Esther Rappaport was Arnold Tate’s sister and Joan’s aunty. Her husband’s shop was later Ezywalkins; he died when it burned down. She could not run a shoe shop, so she took on Rappeport's Tearooms, where they made the best ice cream in Fremantle, creamy and beautiful - magniﬁcent. She was there for years and years and the tearooms were quite a legend around Fremantle.
Another Fremantle name was Ansel Freecorn, who had a son called David Freecorn. Freecorns used to be next door to Charlie Carters, opposite St John’s Church. Freecorns was interesting. It was the ﬁrst grocer’s shop in Western Australia, and possibly in Australia, to have what we call a check out. It was called Kash and Karry. It was also interesting that it was next to Charlie Carters: these were the two major grocery stores in Western Australia, and they were neighbours in Fremantle.
Another Jewish family in Fremantle were the Hoffmans. The Hoffmans had the Esplanade Hotel for a long time. They also had several hotels in Perth. But the Hoffman kids were born in the Esplanade. Another family which also had a hotel was the Colmey family, who ran the Leopold Hotel. There is a good story about that.
While the Czars were having their pogroms, a bloke called Theodore Herztl started what is called the Zionist movement. Because of the persecutions he decided that the Jews had to have their own homeland. Two organisations were started in the 1890s or thereabouts. One was called the United Israel Appeal, which was to help the then Jewish homeland, Palestine, at a Government level for want of a better word. The other was the Jewish National Fund, which helped Palestine and later Israel with forests and water and organised other non-political things. The Jewish National Fund got the idea, generations ago, of having a little box called ‘the blue box’. These boxes are in a whole range of Jewish homes all round the world, and they are very popular in Australia. Perth is very much a Zionist town. These little ‘blue boxes’ are blue and white, with a Star of David on them in gold.
Now the Cohneys, who were Jewish people, were doing the right thing by the Jewish community and had one on the bar at the Leopold. The obvious happened, it was always ﬁlled. Why was it always ﬁlled? East Fremantle Football Club, whose colours were blue and white - no one cared that there was a Star of David on it, it was one of the best ‘blue boxes’ in Perth.
Then there were the Salingers. The Salingers had a music store opposite Barney Silbert’s in High Street. They sold clarinets and sheet music. It was sad about the Salingers. As I’ve mentioned, a big proportion of these people came out from the Pale of Settlement. They dressed their poor kids in the European style, with long coats, and a hat and long socks, and sent them to Richmond High School, which is now the South Terrace Primary School in South Terrace. They had a terrible time growing up, that family. I don’t quite know what happened to them, but they are still going.
Another person who has to be mentioned is Izzy Orloff, the photographer. Izzy was a character in a whole range of ways. He was a great photographer. He took photographs of all the footy teams and lots of school photos. He always used to say, “Sit still, what have you got, bities?” He was also a top Mason in Fremantle, a JP of high order, and a great amateur ﬁsherman. I’m talking before the Second World War. He used to head out in a tiny little boat and he used to take all the personalities around Fremantle out ﬁshing. That was Izzy, a very colourful character.
Then there are things that I remember growing up in the late twenties and thirties in Fremantle. As I said, I was born and grew up in a house in Fremantle across the road from the park. You should ﬁnd my name in the police records about 1924. The reason was that I left the house one day, unbeknown to my family, and went across the road. In those days I think a ﬁrm by the name of George Booth used to agist sheep overnight in the Fremantle Park. They didn’t do it often, but sometimes they did, and being a little two year old I was fascinated. I went over there and it wasn’t long before I was engulfed in the sheep. No one could see me and the police and the ﬁre brigade and the black trackers - the whole lot were called out to ﬁnd me and eventually they did.
The park was across from our front door. If you looked out our back door you saw the mast of the Lygnern. This mast was in the home of the Rennies, who were involved with the Union Stores and others, at the back of our place. That was just at the time when wireless started, and the Rennies had the best mast in Fremantle. The Lygnern was the ship that had been wrecked just off the South Mole and stayed there for years and years. Kids used to make galvanised iron canoes and go out and play on it. You had to be fairly courageous in a little galvanised canoe, but that's what kids did in those days. They never named anything after the Lygnern. I never understood why, because just down further there was a ship named the Quinana, also a wreck, and they named a whole suburb Kwinana.
As you looked out from our front door and to the left, you saw the tallest building in Fremantle in the 1920s and 1930s, Bushells Tea Warehouse. It was four or ﬁve storeys high, and it was by far the biggest, tallest building in Fremantle. The fascination about Bushells was that the ground ﬂoor had a display area and, in those days, if you saved the ends of Bushells tea you got all sorts of goodies. For ten ends you got a pocket knife, but the piece de resistance, if you got 480 ends, you got a whole set of blue Chinese Willow pattern plates, etc. That was the ultimate. If you walked over to Bushells and went in on the ground ﬂoor, you could see a display of all these pocket knives and goodies that you got for the coupons. They also had a magazine that had photos of them, in colour. Coloured photos in a shiny paper magazine; this was decades ahead of its time. Coloured printing hadn’t come in to any extent, glossy paper hadn’t come in, but Bushells had it and all of us went over there to be reminded to save the ends and get a pocket knife and also to have a look at the coloured, glossy paged production. That was Fremantle, way ahead.
The next very tall item was a pile of sandalwood at the bottom of the street. I mentioned Lionel Samson who started trading in it. For years in those days it was the tallest thing down near the wharf.
I’ll end with a bit of a sad note and an interesting note. The sad note was the war which of course affected Fremantle like everywhere else in the world. Fremantle was boarded up, there were no lights, all the shops were boarded up and all the things that went with it. On the night of the 3rd of September 1939 it was Leon Tate’s birthday. Leon was my next door neighbour and it was his 18th birthday. He invited his sisters, naturally, his mother and father, his cousin Ella, who was the daughter of the Rappeports I just mentioned, yours truly, and a guy called Peter Fontaine and another guy called Kevin McKnight. We all went up there for tea. We heard the news come over the wireless and Robert Menzies said “we are now at war”. They played the national anthem, we all stood and I looked across at Mrs Tate who was looking at me with tears rolling down her cheeks. It was good enough for ‘Neighbours’ or a movie. The end of the story is that Ella and Leon both died prematurely, and Kevin and Peter were both shot down in Bomber Command. So that was Fremantle’s start to the war. That was a big change in Fremantle.
When I was introduced this evening, it was mentioned that I have a Polish Military Cross. The Polish Government in exile awarded Military Crosses to some of the Pathﬁnder crews who operated in that part of Europe. I was privileged to be in one of those crews. But as I’ve told you, my family left Poland, Belorussia or what have you, because of pogroms and anti semitism, and their grandson ﬁnished up with a Polish Military Cross, which was a bit ironic.
Presented at Fremantle History Society General meeting 17 August 1996
A pogrom was an organised massacre. (The Macquarie Dictionary)
Garry Gillard | New: 28 July, 2017 | Now: 19 April, 2019