Hidden gem

• The new Hotel Milligan: Nicer but pricier. Scanlan Architect has incorporated Pearl Villa into the design, saying it will now be more visible publicly.

• Pearl Villa in its heyday.

HIDDEN behind the now-tatty 1930s exterior of the Hostel Milligan lies one of Perth’s hidden historic gems.

Built somewhere between 1874 and 1886 by pearler Joseph Clarkson, Pearl Villa’s brick walls and chimneys are still visible from Murray Street, a reminder of the wealth that came to some from the colony’s early pearling industry. And according to architecture devotees Art Deco Perth, within those historic walls are the remnants of an even earlier “pioneer cottage” which hostel keeper Tony Ransom says he’s aware of.

Settlers

Clarkson’s family were among the first Swan River colonists; his mother Hannah Leeder arrived in the Rockingham in 1830 as a young girl and Leederville is named after her family, who were its first European settlers. His uncles Michael and James Clarkson received some of the first land grants at what is now Maylands, but soon sold up to try their hand farming in the Avon district.

When pastoralists started opening up the North West of the colony, Joseph and his brothers William and Henry looked there to make their fortunes, but had mixed results.

William and Henry were killed by Aboriginal people at the remote Hooley’s Well in 1874 as they tried to drive a herd of 800 cattle and 70 horses up to the De Grey River, the elder brother just 31 years old.

Slave labour

Joseph fared much better in the pearling industry at Cossack, profiting handsomely from the pearl shell itself, which was used in the manufacture of buttons. But it was an industry built on brutality, where Aboriginal people, including children under the age of 10, were used as slave labour.

From its profits he built Pearl Villa, but eventually he too came to a sticky end; the Western Mail reported in November 1890 that he had been declared a lunatic unable to manage either himself or his affairs, and a committee was established to oversee the sale of his property. He was dead by the end of the year.

Fragrance Group Ltd, the Singaporean company which purchased the site from the Osborne Park-based Georgiou Capital in 2014 for $30 million, says its development will “enhance” its heritage.

“The main heritage benefit will be the way in which it reveals, conserves, and in-part reconstructs Pearl Villa, an element which has been hidden from view, with restricted access since the 1930s,” it’s report to the JDAP said.

Part of the 1930 hostel wall will be removed along Murray Street and a “glass box structure” will make the original building, or the rebuilt version, visible to the street.

by STEVE GRANT and DAVID BELL

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