The Good Ol’ Days

Last Updated: 26 Jun 2015
Localista Team

Historian Eddie Marcus uncovers strange-but-true events from WA’s past.

Camel burger, anyone?

There's more to this barbie than meets the rib eye.

In May 1897, advertisements announcing a 'Mohammedan Christmas' appeared in the local Perth rag: a camel was to be sacrificed at the home of Ahmed Khan, on Vincent Street, Highgate. To make it tempting for non-Muslims, free camel burgers were on offer for anyone who showed up. At 10am, Ahmed and his comrades began to pray in Arabic. After the traditional rites, Mr Khan exclaimed "Bismillah!" and then "Allahu Akbar!" as he drew the knife across the hapless camel's neck.

"None of the non-believers was willing to test the steaks... Maybe it was the omission of tomato sauce."

With the formal proceedings out of the way, an experienced butcher took over, so the barbecue could really get going. Sadly, for Mr Khan, none of the non-believers present was willing to test the novel steaks, watching instead as the Muslim guests tucked in. Maybe it was the glaring omission of beer or Rosella tomato sauce that put them off. Either way, the event might well have been Perth's first ever multicultural festival.

Bad fortune

If you think we live in a police state today, spare a thought for Madam Mora, who was a Wellington Street fortune-teller back in 1907... when even psychics were illegal.

A young undercover policeman, Constable Smith, was sent to investigate Madam Mora's activities, pretending that he needed to locate a missing woman, his fictitious wife. The mystic carefully studied the cards and foretold, "You will find your wife shortly". She also saw a mysterious dark man planning to kill the constable. As the officer handed over his payment, Madam Mora warned him to say nothing about his visit. (Of course, a genuine psychic would have divined that her client was a policeman gathering evidence.) After an embarrassing court case, with Constable Smith as star witness, Madam Mora moved her card skills to the stage. She was now the city's most famous female illusionist, operating at Melrose Theatre in Murray Street. Also becoming a debunker, Mora spent the rest of her life exposing scams. Who would have seen that coming?

They came, they saw...

... they brought popcorn for Perth's very own Roman Circus.

In 1936, there was no SBS TV to show raunchy documentaries on a Friday night. But, as always, people had a way of finding their own entertainment. In the Western Suburbs, neighbours of a well-known society gent would wait and watch as a bevy of 'professional' young ladies turned up at his door. A novel evening's entertainment could then be had by anyone with a view into his front window. In the middle of the lounge they would watch the paunchy middle-aged host dressed as Bacchus, the god of wine and intoxication. Around him, half a dozen barely dressed young women would sprinkle him with wine as they passed. But the best entertainment occurred on nights when the women were required to impersonate ancient Roman chariot horses, clambering on all fours as the old gent drove them on with the crack of a whip. Unfortunately, any rumours that WA's ersatz emperor was bigger than Ben Hur will have to remain just that.

Crown fools

It seems that bonnie Prince Harry's recent city-stopping escapes in Perth had an embarrassing precedent.

In 1867, the people of Perth were getting all hot and bothered about an impending visit by the Duke of Edinburgh. Queen Victoria's second son was to be the city's first royal tourist. Trouble is, no one had ever promised that the good duke would actually visit WA – it was just assumed that he wouldn't miss the opportunity during an Australian tour. By September, speeches had been penned, a decorative arch built on St Georges Terrace, and banners erected. Aboriginal people were to hold a corroboree, and Perth's children were to sing the national anthem. September ended. October came and went, too. In early November, a letter arrived announcing that the Duke was in South Australia and had no intention of heading west. Humiliated, the government moved quickly, dispatching prisoners to remove the St Georges Terrace decorations. But the citizens of Perth weren't so quick to move on. Their disappointment turned to anger, and what better way to express it than with a bitter act of pyromania. An angry throng set fire to the arch and decorations and, as the ruin smouldered sadly in the dawn, they went right back to feeling like a mob of nobodies conveniently dumped on a vast island prison and quickly forgotten.

Cultural perverts

Don't touch that dial... people will think you're a deviant.

Everyone's got a mate who can't stand commercial radio – Triple J rocks, Classic FM is better than sex… you get the drift. They might well have found support from readers of the Westralian Worker back in 1949. The newspaper claimed that commercial radio:

• destroyed silence and the ability to create our own amusements
• played music only fitted to an asylum for cultural perverts
• bombarded us with disgusting and impudent adverts
• ruined family life by removing the need for conversation
• let DJs into the house (the type of person who'd normally never get past the front door)
• turned the whole country into noise-hungry robots
• lowered standards of music, literature and drama
• hampered education by encouraging mediocrity, inaccuracy and sensation.

Bit of an over-reaction, given they never had to suffer Nickleback on high rotation...

Look what the cat dragged in

There's no greater love a cat can show than to present you with the gift of a small defenceless animal (the most conscientious pusses pre-mutilate them, so that you don't have to). Nothing compares to the warm feeling a feline gets when you first spot their thoughtful offering and squeal your joy to the rooftops. This act of selfless devotion is, of course, traditional, and may well date back to the 1930s when kitty carrion was highly prized indeed. Blame Ludwig Glauert, the then-curator at the WA Museum. At the time, the foundation was so utterly strapped for cash that it couldn't afford to assemble a collection of local fauna to exhibit. Fortunately, Ludwig was a man of enterprise and initiative, and came up with the solution of having people send him whatever unfortunate specimens their cats would capture. It wasn't long before he had a burgeoning collection of artefacts including ring-tailed possums, wambengers, dunnarts, noolbengers, quendas, and even bats. So next time your puss brings you a special treat, consider the thinking behind it. Don't just flick it into the bin: stuff it and put it on display instead.

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