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Berel 'Barney' Silbert was from Bialystock in The Pale of Settlement and came to Fremantle to follow his brother Abraham, who had arrived in 1900 and lived in Ord St. Berel married Minnie Masel and in 1913 set up the shoe store at the corner of Market and High Streets—which is still [?] known as Barney Silbert's Corner. He bought the land at 55 Ellen St and built in 1920-21 the house which is still there. Keith and Eric Silbert grew up there, and Eric wrote an autobiographical sketch (which began as a 'letter' to his children) called Dinkum Mishpocha ('real family') which is of particular interest in relation to Fremantle Park, which was opposite the house. Other essential reading is Eric Silbert's 1999 reminiscence, 'Jewish personalities of Fremantle', which was published in Fremantle Studies, and contains details about the family.
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. Eric Silbert 1999: 85.
[Barney Silbert] 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. Eric Silbert 1999: 86-87.
Barney Silbert's shoe store is long gone, but he is remembered by the sign in the upstairs window. ... Update: last time I looked, the sign had gone!
The house that Barney built: 55 Ellen St.
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 corner 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. Eric Silbert 1999: 87.
See also: Eric (and Keith) Silbert.
Antonovsky, Ari & Wendy 2010, 'Here from the beginning: Jewish community life in early Fremantle', Fremantle Studies, 6: 1-11.
Seddon, George 2000, Looking at an Old Suburb: A Walking Guide to Four Blocks of Fremantle, UWAP: 52, 93-97.
Silbert, Eric 1981, Dinkum Mishpocha, Artlook Books, Perth (foreword by Helen Weller, the publisher).
Silbert, Eric 1999, 'Jewish personalities of Fremantle', Fremantle Studies, 1: 77-91.
Silbert, Hilary 2010, 'Silbert: much more than a name', Early Days, 13, 4: 323-338.
Garry Gillard | New: 2 January, 2015 | Now: 27 October, 2020