Stories flow as history revealed

Rodney O’Brien and John Viska will share a wealth of knowledge about Hyde Park’s history. Photo by David Bell.

Brookman Fountain pictured in a postcard, showing a dog wandering off after likely visiting the water bowl. 

HYDE PARK’S history and a splendid but long-forgotten fountain will feature in a walk and talk by two local researchers, with 2020 marking a century since the fountain was pulled down.

Long-term Highgate resident Rodney O’Brien has spent years delving into the park’s history, and is teaming up with garden history expert John Viska who’ll cover the botanical aspects of the walking tour. After many long and dusty hours poring over old letters, newspaper articles, surveyor’s maps and turn-of-the-century election material, Mr O’Brien has located the spot where a grand fountain once stood, having no rivals in the rest of Perth’s parks at the time.

Despite its grandeur, Mr O’Brien says “hardly anyone visiting the park today would know there was a fountain, and those who do wrap it in mythology”.

Back in 1899 one of the town’s most fabulously wealthy men WG Brookman was planning on running for Perth mayor at the next election, and donated ¬£50 of his own money for a fountain in Hyde Park.

Envy

Mr O’Brien says Brookman’s idea would have appealed to the growing population north of Perth.

Similar fountains had been built in parks in Victoria for the Queen’s 1887 Jubilee, and Mr Viska believes a bit of local ornament envy may have contributed to the desire to see some flowing water.

“WA has always has this inferiority complex,” he said, pointing to letters to the editor back in the day  decrying our scrubby, sandy parks and demanding ornamental gardens.

Swamp

It probably didn’t help that Hyde Park was still commonly referred to as The Third Swamp Reserve.

The fountain was erected in the central south of the park by February 1900, built by the Victorian fountain architectural modeller George Andrew Hastie Waugh.

It was a star attraction; a popular gathering point for families and couples, or children wanting to fish out the gold and silver fins, and true to the area’s dog-loving community today, the small drinking fountain attached even had a water bowl for dogs. 

Today, while metal detectors go wild at something under the ground, there remains no visible trace of the fountain. Mr O’Brien was finally able to pinpoint the location just last year, after coming across a hand-drawn map by surveyor HF Moody held in the State Records Office.

Even among the few who know about it there’s a popular falsity about its demise. They claim the fountain was iron, and it had to be melted down for The Great War effort.

After extensive research, Mr O’Brien says the story doesn’t hold water. 

He’s found letters from the time clearly stating the fountain was pressed cement, but it might’ve been given a false-ferric colouring by minerals in the water or the finish Waugh applied. 

The fountain did have some iron bands, but the timeline doesn’t match up for them to have been melted down either: The fountain was removed in 1920, after the war was over. 

Instead of being sacrificed to the war effort, the fountain’s inglorious end came about due to severe vandalism.

Vandalism

It had been a target years before, and Waugh was brought in to replace it. But a more severe attack in 1918 broke the pedestal.

Waugh was very ill by that time, and after his death in 1919 the council decided to remove the statue.

“It was removed in 1920,” Mr O’Brien says, “to where, we really don’t know,” but they continue their search to find more photos and details about the fountain’s life and fate. 

The walk marks the 100th anniversary of the fountain’s removal and will touch on other tales of the park’s past. All welcome and no registration required, just come along to the Lake Street entrance at 10am on December 12.

by DAVID BELL

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