Saturday, January 3, 2015

Perth at the Outbreak of War

Across the weekend of October 18- 19 in 2014, Heritage Perth staged a broad and varied program of events with the theme of Perth at the Outbreak of War.

The program is an annual occurrence, all about raising awareness and inspiring interest in our local heritage, and this year commemorated both the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, and the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War.

I've written before about what Perth was like when news of war arrived in 1914, and I was pleased to be able to help out the Heritage Perth crew to a small degree, brainstorming a few early ideas for the weekend's events. I also enjoyed getting to go along to some of the happenings on Sunday 19 October, and it was great to see so many different groups working together to celebrate our heritage and remember our history. Though I've lived in Perth for twenty years, am a local historical archaeologist, and have been researching our war history for a good while now, I still saw some places I hadn't visited before.

Inclement weather and sold out events prevented me from attending anything until Sunday 19 October, but my first stop was at Western Australia's Parliament House, where the Westralian Great War Living History Association and the 10th Light Horse Regiment re-enactors put on a re-enactment parade. Parliament House itself was then open for inspection, and it was full of great information displays about Western Australia's government during the war. It's a fascinating building and well worth a look inside our political processes if you get the chance.

A quick march of my own down the hill to St George's Terrace took me to my next event, which was a walking tour of Perth locations with relevance to the War years. Pictured below is our excellent guide Rusty, from Two Feet and a Heartbeat tours, talking at the statue of Sir Joseph John Talbot Hobbs. This statue is currently located at the Supreme Court Gardens, on Barrack Street (having been moved from the original location due to the Esplanade redevelopment). Talbot Hobbs was an architect and a significant figure in Australian military history, and after the war was responsible for designing Western Australia's main war memorial in Kings Park.

Rusty was a great tour guide with enthusiasm for the topic and extensive knowledge of Perth's history. We wandered around a number of known and not-so-well known locations before heading into the spectacular St George's Cathedral. I haven't been inside the cathedral before, and it was great to see the truly lovely features of the place.

There's a small chapel that includes the 51st Battalion cross, originally erected on the battlefield of Villers-Bretonneux in 1918.

The cross was transferred originally to St Anne's Church in Ryde, New South Wales, but in 1956 was moved across to St George's, as the 51st Battalion were largely from Western Australia. The cross reads:
Erected to the memory of the officers, NCOs and men of the 51st Battalion who fell in the counter attack in Villers Brettonneaux 24-25/4/18

The chapel is a peaceful little place full of reflection and memory, and was one of several hidden treasures I'd never known existed before the tour. Rusty and the Two Feet and a Heartbeat team do regular walking tours of Perth and Fremantle along a variety of themes, and I'd recommend checking them out if you happen to be visiting (or, if you'd like to see some other sides to your own city!).

After finishing up the walking tour, I ended my afternoon with a visit to the Post Office building in the centre of town, where a number of different groups had displays on communications through the ages, and the work of the Red Cross. I didn't get any pictures, but Keith and Susan at Somewhere Else have a few up of the phonographs and the radios

There were some great interactive activities at the Post Office, including being able to write out a message and watch it being transmitted via morse code to the other end of the room. There was also a display of the inner workings of an old telephone exchange, which was completely fascinating.

All in all, I managed to see just a fraction of the events that were offered, but I still had a great weekend. Heritage Perth and their volunteers did a fantastic job of putting together a program of informative and entertaining events, and I'm sure that many Western Australians finished the weekend with much greater awareness of what Perth was like at the beginning of the war..