Monday, August 08, 2005

Swan River and South Perth

This is a photo of Tracie and me in front of the Swan River in Perth. Across the river on the far bank is South Perth. I found a book of interview with residents of South Perth called, "Across Perth Water: Reminiscences of South Perth" by Janice Gothard and I wanted to copy a few paragraphs for your reading pleasure.

South Perth attracted white settlers from the mid nineteenth century, and descendants of some of the earliest pioneering families still remain in the district. Those who came later found that the area changed little until well after the introduction of regular transport facilities, particularly the ferry and tram services. As John McLay said of 1920's Como, "Might as well live five hundred miles up in the bush!"

The swan river is quite wide and quite deep. It would be difficult to swim across even at the most narrow point even though the water seems to be very calm. Paddling across might be an option, but I can't tell how strong the current is. It seems quite calm and looks a lot like a lake. In any case, not everyone in the 20's would have access to their own boat, and even those that did might not have a boat big enough to be of much use.

Growing up in south Perth was characterized by one person as "sheer delight." While many of he experiences of children growing up in South Perth in the early 20th century would be common to other areas, the river and the bush were a particular focus of childhood pleasure. Many people interviewed regretted that the freedom and independence they themselves had known as children were denied to later generations.

This is something that I can understand only too well. Having the coulee's of southern Alberta as my backyard, I had all the freedom a kid could want to go exploring and hunting for lost golf balls in Seven Persons Creek. It's too bad that I'll most likely be spending the rest of my life in cities where my kids won't have that same fun time.

The ferry service, the coming of the trams to Mends Street and Como in the 1920's, and the construction of the Narrows Bridge and the Kwinana Freeway were all watersheds in South Perth's development, each heralded a new wave of residents and inevitably changes in the peninsula. Both the ferries and trams were well-love institutions, and the passing of the trams and the bridging of the Narrows were sources of sadness for many older South Perth residents.
It would seem that people who had lived their entire lives isolated from the city by being across the water would be sad by the changing infrastructure, and I can imagine that the people interviewed for the book 60+ years later would possibly look back with nostalgia for the days of yesteryear, but I can't imagine the benefits of a bridge not outweighing the population growth and other consequences.

Although South Perth was sometimes characterized as "not a place where you earned your living," but rather seen as a dormitory suburb for commuters, the people who contributed to this section all worked in the district on a paid or unpaid basis, or had business interests there.
It would be like any bedroom community really. Many Airdire residents work in Calgary, but there still many stores and places of entertainment there, not to mention grocery stores and restaurants. Even if you spend most of your time in Calgary, you still bought your house and have repairs and things done with local contracters.

The peninsula, with the zoo and Como Beach, was a Mecca for pleasure seekers from the earliest days of the century. Transport again played a vital role in opening up the area's recreation potential, with the ferry ride as part of the day's excitement. For South Perth people, "Entertainment you made yourself", and from this basis of self-reliance grew local community entertainment groups such as the Old Mill theatre. The earlier development of cinemas in South Perth by the Stiles family was also created by local demand.
It would be like getting a car when you are suddenly the world opens up. You can have friends from other neighborhood. Suddenly instead of car-pooling with other older kids to go to the dance you are the driver, a big wheel so to speak among your friends and the people who need a ride to and from the various parties.

Community Service
With its formerly cheap and abundant land, South Perth was an obvious location for institutions as diverse as Clontarf Boys' Home, established by the Christian Brothers on the Canning River in 1901, and Ngal-a Mothercraft Home, opened in 1959 on the old Collier Pine Plantation. It was the strong local spirit of self-help which saw the growth of the South Perth Community Centre Association after the Second World War and also fostered the establishment of the Southern Clinic and the South Perth Community Hospital: These were pioneering institutions in the field of community medical services.
There are lots of towns that are about 100 years old which means that there are probably still a few oldies around that remember the days when the town was just starting up. Books like this one, with interviews with 20 or so people need to be written before it is too late and all that history is lost.

-Gary Milner

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