MANY ventures have come and gone on Oxford Street over the years, and this week historians from the Vincent Local History Centre archives delve into the many lives of the iconic 123 Oxford Street: from rowdy whippet club, upmarket makeover, to the colourful Greens & Co and beyond
OXFORD STREET in Leederville has seen many businesses come and go over the years.
From grocers to fishmongers, hardware stores and hairdressers, the street has been home to a vast range of shops and services since it was developed as a commercial hub in the late 19th century.
Recently, 123 Oxford Street has featured in local news as the proposed site for a new Indian gastropub.
Vincent Council approved a new tavern use for the site this month, paving the way for Jagga Daku to open around mid-year as a tavern and Indian cuisine eatery by night and a cafe and brunch space during the day.
The site was most recently occupied by Greens & Co cafe, which closed its doors in 2021.
Long before it was a cafe, the building was home to Leederville’s first Woolworths variety store which opened in 1958.
Woolworths was founded in New
South Wales in the 1920s by door-to-door haberdashery salesman Percy Christmas.
It began as a variety store modelled on the American FW Woolworth’s ‘five and dime’ shops. The name was not trademarked in Australia and so the Woolworths name was adopted, despite it having no formal affiliation with the American company.
Perth’s first Woolworths store opened at 707 Hay Street in 1928.
The store eventually branched out into suburbs, including Leederville in the late 1950s.
It was not until decades later that the company expanded into a supermarket chain.
Woolworths was originally a variety store that sold homewares, toys, toiletries, haberdashery and clothing.
Photos from the Leederville store opening in 1958 showed shoppers clamouring to buy opening day specials such as nylon stockings and sheets.
Before it was a Woolworths, 123 Oxford Street was the site of the Metropolitan Whippet Club.
Whippet racing began in Leederville in October 1931 and reached peak popularity in the 1930s when up to 100 dogs competed weekly to large crowds.
Whippets, known colloquially as the
‘poor man’s greyhound’ or ‘poor man’s racehorse’, were introduced for racing in Western Australia’s goldfields in the early 1900s.
Poor man’s greyhound
During the Depression and war, whippet racing was a popular form of entertainment in many Western Australian towns, including Leederville.
In modern times, concerns for animal welfare have shifted attitudes against forms of animal racing.
However, in the 1930s, whippet racing attracted controversy not for its potential impact on animals, but because it was seen to attract unsavoury human behaviour such as betting and swearing on the streets of Leederville.
“Who was responsible for the establishment of a whippet course at the junction of Newcastle and Oxford Street?” asked a passer-by in The West Australian in January 1932.
“Women hardly dare wait for a tram on this corner lest their ears be assailed by the curses and vulgarities of men who have backed the wrong dog… betting inside the course is forbidden, so it is obviously carried on outside.”
Defending the Leederville races, Bob Shilling and Two Bob argued: “These dogs are well fed and cared for… the dogs are the property of working men who do not keep hangers-on. It is a hobby; why should any exception be taken to them enjoying their sport?” (The West Australian, January 1932).
The whippet races took place at one of Leederville’s current carparks.
If anyone has any photos of the races, or of any other events which took place on the site, contact the City of Vincent Local History Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org