Branching out

• Museum of Perth director Reece Harley outside Dovenby House in East Fremantle.

THE Museum of Perth has branched out of the CBD, launching a growing encyclopaedia of East Fremantle’s history, houses and people.

It’s a pilot project that could one day be expanded across the suburbs.

“We’re hoping we’ll be able to do it with other areas,” Museum director Reece Harley says.

“Subiaco, Peppermint Grove, Crawley, West Perth, East Perth, many parts of Vincent. Any place that’s got a bit of built heritage.”

For the last year a team of researchers led by artist and social historian Jo Darbyshire has been gathering a street-by-street history of more than 1100 heritage-listed homes in the tiny municipality.

Newspapers from the National Library’s online Trove archive have provided some articles up til the 1950s, and now residents, past occupants, or anyone else with an interest is invited to share family tales, photos, old articles or documents.

The soft launch onto has already seen past residents come forward with stories and photos that otherwise might’ve been lost.

Museum director Reece Harley says the personal stories have filled gaps missed by archived history, such as peoples’ warm memories of grandmothers covering what the papers of the day didn’t.

“It’s much more difficult to find information about women in the past, because they didn’t necessarily hold public office, or run their own businesses,” Mr Harley says.

Fifty prominent figures also have entries on the site so far, and Mr Harley says they’re looking beyond the toffs and titans of industry to the untold stories of working class lumpers, chimney sweeps, midwives, soldiers.

The City of Bunbury recently signed a two-year agreement for the museum to chronicle and digitise its local history.

The MoP, which last year branched out of its Perth CBD home with a peppercorn lease on Dovenby House behind the East Freo town hall, will have a stall at the George Street Festival, Sunday December 1 from 11am-7pm.

Bridging two cities

THE divide between the Swan River colony’s “two cities” was even more pronounced in the days before the motor vehicle.

But even back then there were those who’d straddle the distance between Perth and Fremantle, like the prominent Strelitz brothers merchants.

Richard Strelitz was a German-born Jew who came to WA in 1893 and lived in High Street and then Richmond Crescent in East Fremantle, becoming a lieutenant in the Fremantle infantry (militia).

His brother Paul arrived in 1894 and they established Strelitz Brothers Merchants and Shipping Agents serving Fremantle and Kalgoorlie.

The brothers ran the local outlets for inventor Alfred Nobel’s Hamburg Explosive Company, and made it big off the gold boom selling explosives, railway material and mining equipment.

Their wealth helped spur development up the river in Perth, and they built Viking House on William Street in 1912 (demolished in 1970) and the old Perth council chambers on Murray Street in 1908 (also demolished 1970).

Richard’s popularity saw him made consul to Denmark in 1901, then also to Sweden and Norway.

Journeys became easier with the £1250 purchase of his 1906 Daimler motor car (around $184,000 today).

Back then the “Round the River Trip” from Fremantle to Perth and back along the other side of the river was said to be “for beauty of scenery… unequalled in the Commonwealth” according to the 1908 pamphlet “The Motor Car in Western Australia”.

It said “along the river, vistas of the inland sea are caught, and yet the road is through what is practically virgin bush”.

Richard was a keen driver and a key founder of the Automobile Club of Western Australia, which became the RAC.

MoP researchers have found that “contrary to historic references of Richard Strelitz being interned as an enemy alien during the 1914 – 1918 war, he was not.

“But he was under a heavy cloud of suspicion from those who didn’t know him, and he moved his family to Sydney in 1917.”

Paul Strelitz was an inaugural East Fremantle councillor in 1897, and lived behind his brother at “Aldgate”, still there today at 7 Aldgate Place.

After his stint at East Freo he went on to be WA consul for the Netherlands.

He later followed Richard “and in NSW, they flourished”.

Former premier John Scaddan weighed in against the rumour-mongers, calling them “malicious purveyors of these cowardly lies” and saying Richard Strelitz was “the last man to ever dream of disloyalty”.


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