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Boom or Bust Trail - Perth

Gold! It's 1892 and the world's most precious commodity has just been discovered 550km East of Perth

sunny 27 °C

This historical walk through Perth city highlighted the ‘boom’ created by gold and the surge of growth, wealth and prosperity in Western Australia
that followed. The city’s population swelled from 8,500 to over 27,000 in a decade and it seemed Perth would ‘bust’ as this remote town turned into a buzzing cosmopolitan city.

Perth Town Hall
The Perth Town Hall was officially opened on July 1, 1870 and is the only town hall in Australia to be built by convicts. Major restoration works have
revealed the original brickwork, undercroft and arches of the Victorian Free Gothic style building. The Perth Town Hall has served numerous roles
over the years, including as a government meeting place, marketplace, camel stable and fire station. During the gold rush years, the city’s fire fighting equipment including a 12-man carriage was stored in the undercroft, although the firefighters were located some distance away in what is now known as Barrack Square and the horses were tied to taxis. In the event of a fire the Town Hall bell rang out and the burly firefighters would dash up to the Town Hall, while the taxi drivers harnessed their horses to the fire equipment. This unusual arrangement meant the service was not entirely efficient!

Albany Bell Tea Rooms
Still recognisable in Barrack Street is the classically inspired façade of the Albany Bell Tea Rooms (c. 1896). Australian born Albany Bell seized the opportunity of the rapidly expanding population and went from a small confectionery business to a large factory, eventually running eleven tea rooms in Perth. Tea rooms were one of the few venues where women and men could mix respectably at the turn of the century and the popularity of the rooms was an indication of the extra spending money available in the newly wealthy society. Albany Bell introduced the delights of the American-style soda fountain and the ice-cream ‘sundae’ to Perth, which he had learnt about in a trip to New York. Albany Bell provided some sweet conditions for employees in his confectionary factory in Maylands. He established the factory riverside to provide pleasant surroundings for his workers, provided two weeks annual leave on full pay before awards required and paid the rail fares and a two week annual stay at a seaside resort for his Kalgoorlie based workers.

McNess Royal Arcade
McNess Royal Arcade (1897) is a great demonstration of the wealth that poured into Perth from the goldfields. Designed by American architect William Wolf, it was described as an extravagant building with a generously designed interior and exterior. The owner of the building, Charles McNess, was a scrap metal trader and ironmonger who made his fortune during the gold boom by purchasing property, eventually expanding into mortgage broking.

The Metropole Hotel and Theatre Royal
Built in 1897, the Theatre Royal was the first purpose built theatre in Western Australia. The locals considered the theatre exceptional for its time, with its ‘red plush and glitz, and a roof that could slide open on hot nights’. The notoriously thrifty Thomas Molloy built the Theatre next to his Metropole Hotel, and went on to create the landmark His Majesty’s Theatre less than a decade later. Molloy, the son of a Pensioner Guard, started
his working life as the manager of Cooperative Stores in Perth, then became a baker in Goderich Street. He grew to be a prominent member of the
community, serving terms as town councillor, Mayor, and as a member of the Legislative Council. However, many believed that his
greatest achievement was the introduction of barmaids to Perth! Molloy was determined to be knighted; however he was not to achieve this dream officially. Instead he simply began calling himself Sir Thomas and insisted all who did business with him did likewise. He ensured this dream lived forever when, scandalously, he buried his wife under a headstone reading “Lady Mary Molloy”.

London Court
Next door to the Theatre Royal, this mock Elizabethan reproduction of an old London street was built in the 1930s as a gift to Perth from the charismatic and debonair millionaire, Claude de Bernales.
This arcade is a true reflection of his attachment to England and features ornate mechanical clocks depicting two jousting knights at the Hay street entrance and St George slaying the dragon which you will see at the St Georges Terrace end.
De Bernales made his fortune buying and selling mining equipment in the goldfields, although his business practises were questioned when the machines gained a reputation for poor quality and his acceptance of mine leases in payment for machines angered the miners.
Despite this, he always focussed on making a good first impression on the miners, changing into a full business suit carried in a suitcase on his bicycle before cycling into each miner’s camp.

Palace Hotel
By the mid-1890s, there were so many gold seekers looking for a place to stay that hotels could not be built quickly enough to accommodate everyone. The Palace Hotel was built in 1897 by John De Baun, who was determined to build one of Australia’s most significant hotels. No expense
was spared in the construction of the Palace, which upon opening was considered one of the most beautiful and elegant hotels in the country.
Henry Lawson, a famous Australian writer, and his wife Bertha honeymooned in Perth during 1896. After walking around Perth knocking on the doors of hotels and guesthouses, the already celebrated author discovered no beds were available due to the accommodation shortage. Tired and
desperate, the honeymooners camped for a night or two by the railway line, under the cover of the Barrack Street Bridge.

William Street
First known as King William Street after King William IV, the uncle of Queen Victoria, this street served as a major thoroughfare for the camel trains that supplied the goldfields. The trains, harnessed with between 20 and 100 camels, were unable to reverse and had to carefully manoeuvre to change direction. Look down William Street and imagine a 100-strong camel train loaded with supplies performing a U-turn to return to the
goldfields. This procedure had influenced on the width of the street.
The same wide streets are found at the end of the supply route, in Coolgardie
and Kalgoorlie. William Street was also known for activity other than the camel variety. Parents only let their children walk down the eastern side of the street due to the houses of ill-repute and gambling dens that were situated on the western side of the street.

His Majesty's Theatre
His Majesty’s Theatre was opened on Christmas Eve 1904 with a large celebration attended by all of Perth’s distinguished people. The theatre’s design reflects the class structure that was starting to emerge in the city, partly due to the new wealth created in the gold boom. The balcony was created for the upper echelons of society, and “the Gods” for the working class.
His_Majesty_s_Theatre2.jpgThe poorer folk entered the theatre from a side entrance on King Street to ensure that the classes did not mix. His Majesty’s Theatre is the only Edwardian theatre operating in Australia. The Museum of Performing Arts located downstairs from the theatre tells the story of the many famous people who have performed there.
During the ceremonial opening of His Majesty’s Theatre in 1904, the key stuck in the lock of the ornate black gates at the front of the theatre. To
its builder Thomas Molloy’s dismay, the gates had to be broken open with a pickaxe. In 1981, before the reopening of the theatre after an extensive
restoration, an employee was sent to unlock the gates. Again the key stuck and the gates had to be broken open with a hammer!

King St and Murray St
Also named for King William IV, King Street is one of the best-preserved gold rush period streetscapes in Perth. First a residential street with working class cottages surrounded by coal yards, blacksmiths and laundries, the wealth brought by gold turned it into a bustling area for small business. Milliners, shoemakers, dentists and druggists had shops here and the proximity of the railway made it an ideal site for warehouses and wholesalers supplying the goldfields. The City Hotel, designed by William Wolf, was built on the corner of King and Murray Streets in 1898 and still operates as a pub today: the Belgian Beer Café. The area around King and Murray Streets was a well-known location for Chinese businesses. The Chinese were prevented by Government legislation from mining for gold and as a result they became merchants, market gardeners and servants. The illegal gaming houses of Murray and King streets were very popular social venues for the Chinese, providing a meeting opportunity for many men who had to leave their families in China because of the restrictive immigration policy. The police once raided the gambling house located at
375 Murray Street, arresting 24 Chinese gamblers with a grand total bank of £1, which was duly confiscated.

General Post Office
Place is named after Lord John Forrest, who was vital in the development of the gold industry in Western Australia. As State Premier during the gold rush period, he instigated the water pipeline from Perth to Kalgoorlie, the railway and the Perth Mint. Forrest Place is Perth’s major civic space, and a site for free public events and rallies.
The General Post Office built between 1914 and 1923, is one of few large buildings in Australia
constructed in the imposing Beaux Arts style and was the tallest building in Perth at the time of its construction. Isolated prospectors would send their gold by post to the General Post Office where it would be forwarded to the Perth Mint. The Mint would refine the gold and then send payment to the Post Office for the prospectors to collect.
Outside the Post Office is the Water Labyrinth where children play and try to avoid the ever changing walls of water

Perth Central Railway Station
The Perth Central Railway Station, opened in 1894 and is a fundamental location in the story of gold in Western Australia. The station was an unloading point the gold transported from the goldfields and is one of the oldest operational central train stations in Australia. The original station was built in 1881, but the railway network grew rapidly. The station building and platform facilities quickly proved inadequate and it was replaced by a larger building in 1894. Additional wings to the east and west completed by 1897 doubled the size of the station and created the building that exists today. To avoid gold being hijacked, shipments were transported in unmarked carriages with two security guards locked inside with food and beer. It was not uncommon for a gold shipment to go missing when it arrived at the station, as railway authorities would move the unmarked, unclaimed carriage to the side of the tracks. Within a few hours, the frantic Perth Mint staff would be madly searching for the missing gold and the unmarked carriage would be discovered, often containing as well as its valuable cargo, two now slightly intoxicated security guards!

Fire Station No.1 and Museum
At its time of construction in 1901, this fire station was state-of-the-art and was the first purpose built fire station in Australia, replacing the Perth Town Hall. By this time the fire department was in a better financial position and could afford to purchase its own horses, which were kept in unlocked stables and were trained to respond to the sound of the alarm bell. On the sound of the fire alarm the horses would trot into place under the fire equipment harness where the firefighters would harness them up and be under way within 18 seconds. This was a vast improvement on
previous procedures at the Perth Town Hall.

Royal Perth Hospital and Museum
Perth’s water supply could not adequately support the rapidly growing population during the gold boom years. The resulting diseases, including dysentery, diphtheria and typhoid, put an incredible strain on the hospital. The State’s first case of German measles failed to be contained within the hospital and spread to the community, causing great illness and death, particularly among Aboriginal people and children. One of the worst public health issues in the settlement was alcoholism, which can be partly attributed to the difficulties of life at the time. In the early days of the city it is reported that there was a licensed house for every 75 people and labourers were supplied with nearly 12 gallons of spirits per annum. Even hospital workers were affected, with many complaints made about the alcohol and morphine addictions of the nursing and assisting staff. One can imagine why they chose a form of escape, with operations conducted in open wards in full view and the cries of the mentally ill patients drifting up from the basement where they were housed.
Today the hospital has expanded into something a little more familiar

St Mary's Cathedral

The Perth Mint
This was the final destination for the raw product from the goldfields. The Perth Mint formed the prospectors’ finds into coins to be used as currency in the rapidly increasing economy. The Perth Mint was one of three branches of the British Royal Mint in Australia. It was constructed in 1899 to process the huge amounts of gold that were coming from the goldfields and was seen as a symbol of Perth’s status in the British Empire. By the time of the Perth Mint’s construction, income from gold was responsible for nearly ninety percent of the colony’s wealth. The Mint operated under British control until 1970, when ownership was transferred to the Western Australian Government. Today the Perth Mint is renowned as Australia’s specialist precious metals mint and a major tourist attraction and is open to the public daily. It is one of the oldest mints in the world still operating from its original location.
Although the Perth Mint never fell prey to a large robbery throughout the gold boom years, small thefts occurred. One of the supervisors, Mr William Dark, forced workers to stay back late on a number of occasions searching for missing gold which he accused them of stealing. The gold was never found and it was later discovered that Mr Dark himself was the culprit, slipping the gold into his pocket!

The gold rush was responsible for propelling Perth towards becoming the city of regional and international importance that it is today. The population of the city quadrupled in size, important buildings were constructed and the people learnt to see a golden future for this isolated settlement. The mineral riches of the land form the basis for Western Australia’s growth to this day which are duly reflected in its capital city.

The night too quickly passes
And we are growing old,
So let us fill our glasses
And toast the Days of Gold;
When finds of wondrous treasure
Set all the South ablaze,
And you and I were faithful mates
All through the roaring days.


Posted by charlystyles 16:27 Archived in Australia Tagged perth_city Comments (0)