An Englishman abroad

RICHARD OFFEN says he is busier than ever since stepping down as executive director of Heritage Perth.

The English ex-pat was in the role for 12 years, but is now doing a lot of heritage talks and is flat-out working on the follow-up to his hit book, Perth: Then and Now.

On March 26 he’ll be sharing some of his favourite historic tales in An Audience with Richard Offen, hosted by ABC journo James Lush.

“I’ve always maintained that what makes WA history so fun is that it was a pioneer state,” Mr Offen says.

• Perth’s favourite heritage uncle Richard Offen. Photo by Steve Grant

Post-colonial era

“People were miles and miles away from officialdom and they did what they wanted and got away with it.”

Perth’s post-colonial history was appealing to Mr Offen because the city was being developed in an era of widespread literacy, and that’s left us with a lot of documentation compared to people in early London, then called Londinium, about 2000 years ago.

“When they came here in 1829 there was a much higher degree of literacy than say 200 years earlier when the British colonised North America; therefore we’ve got far more contemporary evidence of what life was like here,” Mr Offen says.

“While much of his research has been on the more heavily documented post-colonial era, he has a deep appreciation for the older local histories.

“He says the continuation of people living on this spot across more than 50,000 years could well make us the oldest city in the world.

“I find it very humbling … to listen to an Aboriginal story that’s been told for 20,000 or 30,000 years, is mind-blowing in my book.”

“It wasn’t until I got here and got to know people like [traditional owners] Noel Nannup, Richard Walley and Len Collard that I started to understand how awe-inspiring that history is.”

Mr Offen moved to Perth 13 years ago and says it sometimes takes an outsider’s eye to show people what they’ve got on their doorstep.

An Audience with Richard Offen is at St Georges Cathedral (38 St George’s Terrace Perth) on March 26 at 6pm, tickets available at


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