The State Records Office is a regular participant on ABC Radio's History Repeated segment (720 AM) from 2pm on Fridays and 6PR's Remember When segment from 8pm Sundays. You can listen in some of our past segments here.
Messages for the FutureShow more
In a sense, the State archives collection is all about messages for the future and messages from the past. Listen in to this ABC radio session as the State Records Office talks about some very specific examples.
Messages for the Future was a project in the year 2000 under the State government’s Millennium West initiative. People of Western Australia could submit, via a central government portal, messages for future generations. These messages were placed in a time capsule on display at The Bell Tower (The Bell Tower on the Swan River was also built as a Millennium West project). The messages are due to unveiled in the year 2100.
You can read the media statement from 2000 about Messages for the Future here: https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/Court/2000/05/Messages-for-the-Future-a-once-in-a-century-opportunity-(audio).aspx
On a similar theme, the State Records Office also holds records of messages that have been found in bottles and even a message inscribed on a tin band and found fastened around the neck of an albatross at North Beach in 1887. Was this tin band a hoax, or was it a real message of distress from shipwrecked sailors seeking rescue?
Buried Treasure at DongaraShow more
In 1656, the Dutch vessel Vergulde Draeck (Gilt Dragon) was wrecked off the Western Australian coast about 100km north of Perth. While some 188 lives were lost, 68 survivors are believed to have made it ashore, possibly carrying with them bullion which they buried near Dongara. The State Records Office looks into the Police file on the matter.
The wreck of the Gilt Dragon was found by divers in 1963 with, subsequently, silver bullion heavily looted until legislation was introduced to prevent such acts. However, the story of bullion also taken ashore by Dutch survivors in 1656 has persisted to this day.
In 1930, a former surveyor Alfred Burt communicated to the Police Commissioner how he found a strange ring of limestones in 1875 while surveying the country near Dongara. Burt enclosed a hand drawn map which indicated where he found the stones some 55 years previously.
The next year, 1931, two schoolboys were reported by the newspapers as finding some silver coins in the area which dated from the 1600s.
So commenced a treasure hunt in 1931 led by Dongara policeman Constable Loxton accompanied by an elderly Alfred Burt. The terrain around the area proved very difficult and with bad weather, the expedition was unsuccessful and called off after one week. A further expedition was mounted in 1932 which also proved unsuccessful.
Although Constable Loxton was keen to try again in 1933, it is clear there was growing skepticism about the matter and Constable Loxton's request for further investigation was denied.
However, that is not the end of the matter and there have been further expeditions to find the buried treasure since those times including in recent years.
Lasseter's ReefShow more
The idea that there was a reef of unclaimed gold in central Australia, worth billions of dollars in today’s money, had an enduring mystery throughout the 20th Century. The story still fascinates today, with new books about “Lasseter’s Reef” continuing to be published which provide fresh historical insights.
The story of Lasseter’s Reef dates back to 1897, which is the year that Harold Lasseter (real name Lewis) claims he found the gold reef whilst travelling overland from Cairns to Kalgoorlie, getting lost on the way. The reef was, according to Lasseter, approximately 10 miles long, 12 feet wide and 4-7 feet high.
Lasseter was to claim he almost died on that journey but was rescued and, reluctantly, coerced by a surveyor three years later to find the reef again which he states he did.
However, this story of his incredible discovery was not reported at the time. It was told by Lasseter in 1930 to a party of interested individuals who, captivated by the tale and the prospect of undreamt wealth, established an expedition to locate Lasseter’s Reef. Things did not go at all well during that expedition.
There were a number of subsequent expeditions, but all failed to find Lasseter’s Reef.
The facts about Lasseter and his reef are today fairly well known, although it is a story that remains the stuff of legend.
Cottesloe Letters Scandal, 1928Show more
In this episode, the State Records Office looks into the Royal Commission held to investigate the ‘Cottesloe Letters Scandal’.
In 1928, a public scandal erupted in the local newspapers following anonymous, defamatory letters being placed in the residential letterbox of a Mrs Hull of Cottesloe. Mrs Hull’s neighbour Mrs Dillon was accused of writing the letters. Mrs Dillon was arrested, taken into custody and charged by police in September 1928. Overnight, her world had turned upside down.
The case appeared before the Perth Police Court with Mrs Dillon, being of modest financial means, forced to represent herself and conduct her own defense. The case was soon dropped owing to lack of evidence, but no apology was forthcoming to Mrs Dillon.
Not accepting that the matter had been resolved, Mrs Dillon lobbied for several months for there to be a Royal Commission into her wrongful arrest. The State government acceded to this request and Mr Justice Draper was appointed Royal Commissioner to investigate the matter. The Royal Commission sat in May 1929.
The finding of the Royal Commission reported that “she (Mrs Dillon) was not the writer of any of the obscene letters”. However, no criticism was made of police officers for Mrs Dillon’s wrongful arrest and this was a matter that was strongly criticized in the press at the time.
Mrs Dillon continued to press for a public apology and some form of compensation for what appeared to be a miscarriage of justice, but she never received satisfaction in this matter.
While it is now a rare event to hold a Royal Commission in Western Australia, this was not always the case. In the 1920s for example, there were on average over three Royal Commissions held each year. This is due to the nature of the Royal Commissions having a different focus in those times, as they could examine matters which had an administrative basis. In addition, there were also not separate government agencies in place that could investigate potential wrongdoing and malpractice. Some matters which in the 1920s resulted in a Royal Commission would now be dealt with by bodies such as the WA Ombudsman.
What We AteShow more
A surprising find in the State archives collection are historical menus from decades past, of which there are many examples. These menus typically relate to events organised by the State government, such as special celebrations and Royal banquets. However, we can also gain insight into "what we ate" from a historical perspective from items such as prison and poor house menus.
Historical menus show that what was served at State luncheons and dinners was pretty traditional fare up until the 1970s/80s. Our eating habits have changed considerably in recent decades, particularly with the influence of cuisines from different cultures.
In 1927, a State luncheon consisted of a clear soup, baked snapper, cold garnished lamb cutlets, roast turkey and ham, and iced asparagus. By comparison, the menu for Margaret Thatcher's State visit in 1988 shows far more sophistication with medallions of marron and mango with a basil vinaigrette, roast fillet of veal filled with a duxelle of chicken and mushroom, seasonal vegetables and a kiwi sherbet in a tulip accompanied by tropical fruits.
In 2011, the State Records Office delved into historical menus to host a special Eating the Archives event. Historical menus were re-created in a modern context.
Bob Hawke's School RecordShow more
“Mediocre results are not to his credit. He lacks the serious and steady application indispensable for his future success”. Comments on Bob Hawke’s school record provides surprising insights into the academic performance of our former Prime Minister.
The State Records Office talks about Mr Hawke’s student record and why school records are important State archives.
Bob Hawke attended high school at Perth Modern between 1942 and 1946 before being going on to study Law and Arts at the University of WA. The State Records Office holds many records from government primary and high schools including the student cards for Perth Modern for students who attended the school up until the mid-1960s. These cards are unusually detailed, providing insight not only into academic performance but also a student’s character.
Throughout his time at Perth Modern it seems Mr Hawke’s academic performance was, as the card states, “borderline”:
- “Results patchy and below average” (1942);
- “Seems irresponsible re his progress and inclined to be a nuisance in class” (1942);
- “He does not always make a full effort and is anxious to distract others” (1944)
- “Robert’s mediocre results are not to his credit” (1945).
The card notes that Mr Hawke’s desired profession was “Medicine”, that he was injured after being hit in the head with a cricket bat during sport and that he was involved in a number of pranks at school such as drawing a moustache on a fellow student’s face during class (perhaps an indication of Hawke’s larrikin nature).
School records provide evidence of a student attending a specific school which can be useful for many purposes: confirming attendance and residency in WA, for identifying students who attended specific years for subsequent school re-unions, through to family history research.
Records the State Records Office holds from government schools are listed via the name of the school on our catalogue.
Bayswater International Latitude StationShow more
In November 1905 a young scientist travelled to Perth from Bremen, Germany to undertake research of international significance in suburban Bayswater. The State Records Office picks up the story based on the government files held in the State archives collection.
As the earth rotates on its axis, it actually wobbles. An international program to measure the degree of wobble was established in the late 1890s using observatories known as International Latitude Stations. Night-time measurements were made using stars as set points, with Latitude Stations set up across the northern hemisphere. Only two such stations were known to be established below the Equator: one in Argentina, the other in Bayswater, Perth.
The reasons why Bayswater was chosen as the site of a Latitude Station are not fully known, other than being at good elevation and the right latitude. Land at the corner of Hamilton and Station streets was selected on which a small observatory was built. Dr Kurt Hessen, second assistant at the Berlin Observatory, commenced his night-time observations of the stars using a Zenith telescope on 6 January 1906. Dr Hessen continued this work for three years and the data he compiled was sent back to Berlin for computation with measurements taken at other Latitude Stations.
Dr Hessen was well known and highly regarded in Perth’s scientific community and soon gained many new friends. However, the day before he was due to return to Germany in February 1909, Dr Hessen went to Lake Monger and shot himself in the head with a revolver. Amazingly, Dr Hessen survived this tragic event and, although in intense pain, could convey what he had just done to a groundman who came to his aid. Dr Hessen, just 27 years of age at the time of this event, recuperated for several months in Perth before sailing back to Europe where he continued scientific work. Dr Hessen died after a short illness at the relatively young age of 49.
The reasons for Dr Hessen’s actions at Lake Monger remain a complete mystery. However, the work he conducted at Bayswater - as well as the wider work conducted at other International Latitude Stations - remains of practical value and scientific importance to this day.
Russian SpiesShow more
“Lungeous lauthanum Russian innermost sanctitude islander…” *
In March 1885, the Colonial Secretary of WA received a coded, top-secret telegram warning of impending war with Russia. The State Records Office looks into the matter and how Russian spies had been sent to WA in preparation for hostilities.
The State Records Office holds a number of government files relating to what was perceived as a looming war between Russia and British Empire in early 1885. The thought of war was triggered by Russia’s incursions into eastern Afghanistan, bordering with what was then India under control of the British Raj.
Curiously, Albany was seen as a point of possible conflict and the Albany Resident Magistrate was instructed to report immediately any Russian Ships of War in or near its waters. As was reported by the Inspecting Field Officer at Perth to the Colonial Secretary, Albany was considered “the point most liable to attack and of the greatest strategical value to the Empire generally”. Albany was also perceived as a location that was completely undefended.
Only several years earlier, a Russian warship was seen making soundings of Princess Royal Harbour as well as crewmen making sketches from the shore for purposes unknown.
In parallel with these concerns, the Albany Police Inspector reported to his superiors that three suspected Russian spies disembarked at Albany on 25 March 1885 after travelling from Bombay and that after staying several nights, then walked overland to Perth arriving on 8th April. They were described as having an exceedingly foreign appearance, were well educated and had a good supply of money. Those who the police interviewed said the Russians had indicated they came to the Colony to gain experience in sheep farming. They were reported as interested in obtaining maps of the Colony. The men were kept under observation by police until they departed by vessel to Gascoyne on 23 April.
In Perth, planning was carried out to put WA on a war footing with 353 men identified from the Volunteer Force to be made ready for active service. Rottnest Island was put on alert and a system of signaling between Rottnest and Fremantle was agreed to if “suspicious looking steam vessels” were spotted off the coast. In such an event, coal and wood stored at the Fremantle Railway Station was to be destroyed at once and buoys marking submerged rocks near Fremantle were to be removed.
Internationally, tensions between Russia and Britain soon eased and war was averted.
* Translated as: “Any information you may obtain regarding Russian man of war is to be immediately telegraphed to this office…”
The Meckering EarthquakeShow more
“I thought the ground was going to open up and that I would fall into it … it was horrifying” (resident of Meckering, reporting his experience of the earthquake to The West Australian, 15 October 1968).
The earthquake that shook the wheatbelt town of Meckering on 14 October 1968 was a terrifying event for those that experienced it and remains deeply etched in the memories of many 52 years after the event. In this episode, the State Records Office, looks back to this event and what the government archives reveal about this natural disaster.
Between 1900 and 1968, the government files record six severe earthquakes in Western Australia at different locations throughout the State, although newspaper accounts record additional tremors throughout the 20th Century. An earthquake offshore of Carnarvon in November 1906 is considered the largest known Australian earthquake, measuring a magnitude of over 7 on the Richter scale, and could be felt as far away as Albany.
Slight ground tremors were felt in Meckering early in the morning of 14 October 1968 and then just before 11am, there was a severe earthquake that lasted about 40 seconds. Many of the buildings in Meckering, a town that had a population of 600 people, were reduced to rubble with other properties made structurally unsound. Nearby country towns were also affected with extensive damage and cracking sustained in buildings. Twenty people were injured as a result of the earthquake but there was no loss of life.
The effect of the earthquake was also felt in Perth with cracks appearing in many older buildings (newer buildings suffered little damage). Newspaper accounts of the time reported in sensational manner “tall buildings shook, masonry fell into the street and people fled in terror.”
Meckering soon became a place for sightseers, with people travelling to the town to view the damage caused. While initially, outside sightseers were considered a nuisance, enterprising local groups in Meckering began charging visitors ($1/vehicle) with support from the local police and this helped raise funds for rebuilding efforts. While initially it was thought that Meckering may need to be abandoned altogether, the townsite was partially rebuilt and remains a tourist attraction to this day.
The 1962 Fly MenaceShow more
This episode from the State Records Office discusses the steps taken by the State government in 1962 to ensure the Empire Games held in Perth in that year were a “no fly zone". In the lead up to the Games, house flies and bush flies were considered a potential nuisance for athletes and those attending the Games, as well as a source of embarrassment with Perth being placed on the world stage (the Empire Games were opened by Prince Philip). The State archives document the actions taken by government to address what was referred to in Parliament as the fly menace.
The government records show that metropolitan mosquito and fly control dates back at least as far as the 1930s, with extensive spraying and fogging programs carried out by local government along the Swan River. By 1956, a government ‘Fly Control Committee’ had been formed, chaired by the Public Health Department. The work of this committee was largely educational, with successful public campaigns to reduce fly numbers being run for several decades.
In 1962, the State government gave considerable thought and energy to fly and mosquito control for the Empire Games. A new Committee for fly control was established to consider different methods to combat fly populations, including aerial spraying over the Perth metropolitan area. The Commissioner of Public Health wrote to the US Department of Agriculture to seek advice on aerial fly control using insecticides. This method of fly control was quickly abandoned after it was determined that aircraft dispensing such sprays would need to fly at very low heights over the metropolitan area and would pose a potential danger. Other methods of control were used instead.
By October 1962, the Minister for Health could confidently report in Parliament the range of measures being undertaken, including:
- educating householders and Shire Councils "through a movie film, leaflets, exhibitions, lectures and radio talk";
- training selected government personnel in methods of fly control (including) up to 100 auxiliary Fly Control Officers;
- monitoring and control of flies in public parks and gardens, market gardens, abattoirs and stables; and
- using a fogging machine to provide more targeted applications of insecticide.
The subsequent report of the Committee at the conclusion of the Games records the successful outcome of these measures: "control was achieved and the prevalence of flies did not reach nuisance levels". The report notes that the only problem was at the Dalkeith Bowls where "bush flies were a nuisance on certain days despite the measures taken".
The Special Committee was disbanded soon after the Games concluded but the Metropolitan Fly Control Committee continued its work into the 1980s.
Convict SlangShow more
In this ABC segment, the State Records Office talks about a secret language used by convicts that allowed them to converse without authorities understanding what they were saying. Convict slang – or 'flash' language as it was known – was imported by convicts arriving into Western Australia during the mid-1800s. Incredibly, one of the early Police Occurrence Books from York held in the State archives collection records this secret language in detail.
The main purpose of Police Occurrence Books was for the police officer in charge of a station to record the daily events in that area. One of the York Occurrence Books (1860-1863) records matters such as local incidents (e.g. locals who were “drunk and fighting after hours”), warrants of arrest that were issued and memos of who had arrived into town. In 1862, the York journal breaks off its daily entries and over the next 13 pages provides a detailed inventory of flash terms and how such terms might be constructed in sentences.
According to this account of flash terms, “family men” meant thieves, “snaggling” meant catching geese by bait and hook, “blue ruin” meant gin and a “crib” referred to a house.
Whole phrases such as “Dear Dick, I have seen the swag chovey bloak who christened the yacks quick. I gave him a double finnip. I am now on the shallow” are translated in the journal to mean “Dear Richard, I have seen the person who bought the watches and he altered the names in them immediately. I gave him a ten pound note for doing it. I am now going half naked to avoid suspicion”.
The circumstance in which this language was recorded in the York journal remains unknown. In 1812, “A vocabulary of the flash language” was written and subsequently published in New South Wales. It was initially thought the York journal was a handwritten copy of the published dictionary, but this does not appear correct. Many of the terms are different, and there are terms used in the York journal which post-date 1812. For example, the York journal records “a treadmill” as being known rather more poetically in flash language as “an everlasting staircase”. The treadmill, used as a punishment device for convicts as well as to grind grain, was not invented until 1818.
Convicts were transported to Western Australia between 1850 and 1868 and provided labor for capital works projects, such as in building the Perth Town Hall and Government House. For many decades our convict history was considered a stain on our past and because of this, the official records of the convict establishment were almost destroyed in the early 1900s. Fortunately, the records escaped destruction and now form a critical resource held at the State Records Office (digital copies of convict records are also available on Ancestry’s website). The records are so significant that they were inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2007.
- SROWA, Consignment 1141, Item 2
Banned Bumper StickersShow more
In this ABC segment, the State Records Office discusses something a bit unexpected from the State archives collection: banned bumper stickers. These stickers used to be vetted by the WA Censorship Office.
It would seem that the matter of censorship was not something that troubled government officials during the 1800s. In June 1917, the Perth Censorship Office that was attached to the Australian Military Forces wrote to Dr Battye to request several books be removed from the public library shelves during a time of war. The books included “Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist”, the “Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre” (a female Anarchist) and “Anarchism and Other Essays”. This request may have been prompted by general unease following the 1917 revolutions in Russia.
Following World War II, films were to receive special attention for censorship in Western Australia and legislation was introduced in 1947 to control movies and advertisements that could be publicly shown. Stage shows and art exhibitions were later to receive special attention for censorship purposes.
In Western Australia, government censorship was overseen by the Attorney General with a Censorship Office responsible for operational matters. Legislation for “Indecent Publications” can be traced back to 1902 although this Act did not seem to provide a definition as to what would be considered “indecent”. It may have been something that was thought of as self-evident.
In 1981, the State Advisory Committee of Indecent Publications focused their attention on car bumper stickers and stubbie cooler labels. The Committee reviewed about 200 of these stickers that were commonly sold from newsagents and bookshops. Each sticker was rated by members of the Committee for their ability to offend. It was recommended that 23 of the stickers be withdrawn from sale. As you may expect, the matter received a fair amount of press coverage with different opinions expressed.
There are copies of some of these stickers on the government file held by the State Records Office, many of which remain objectionable and in very poor taste.
Following the review of bumper stickers, the Country Women’s Association wrote to the “State Watchdog” to commend the actions taken and to also suggest that consideration be given to restrict lewd and suggestive comments appearing on t-shirts, although the file does not indicate if this request was pursued.
In 1996, the legislation covering censorship was changed to focus more on classification of materials and to expand what was included e.g. computer games. This change was no doubt prompted by a very different medium that gained mainstream traction in the 1990s - the internet.
The Secession MovementShow more
In 1933, Western Australia almost split from the rest of Australia to become our own independent dominion. The idea of secessionism has never really gone away and remains topical and a media-worthy debate to this day.
A variation of secessionism emerged in the 1890s with Goldfields’ resentment against Perth fuelling the idea of a new State in the Goldfields named “Auralia”. The notion that Western Australia could do better if it operated as its own dominion was a theme even before we joined the Federation in 1901. It probably didn’t help the cause of unifying all Australian States and territories when Western Australia got left off the preamble of Australian Constitution in 1901 (this was later rectified).
By the 1920’s, the Secession League had gained considerable momentum and support. By 1930 Federal tariffs for wheat prices, allied to the Great Depression, were perceived as crippling the WA economy. A Referendum for Secession was held in April 1933 with two thirds of voters agreeing that Western Australia should withdraw from the Federal Commonwealth. Ironically the Referendum was also held at the same time that a new Labour government was sworn in, a government which was far less enthusiastic about the idea of secessionism.
While a delegation was sent to the UK to progress discussions for secession, this proved unsuccessful and the Secession League eventually withered away. However, notions of secessionism keep emerging, notably in the 1970s with Lang Hancock leading a new Westralian Secession Movement. In recent years, the idea has been re-ignited by discussions around GST distribution.
The State Records Office holds dozens of files which document the various strands of the 1920’s/30s Secession Movement, which examine in detail the cost implications for the State. The files also include the arguments that set out the case for secessionism (as well as the arguments that oppose the idea), extensive sets of press clippings … even the lyrics for the secession victory song “Westralia Shall Be Free”.
Unidentified Flying ObjectsShow more
The Police Department records held by the State Records Office cover a lot of territory, both in geography and in subject matter. As well as investigating and reporting on criminal activities, the records can also document more unusual matters such as Unidentified Flying Objects.
The UFO file held at the State Records Office includes reports of sightings from government officials and members of the public dating back to 1951, predating the era of satellite technology (the Russian Sputnik satellite was not launched until 1957).
The file includes many reports of UFO sightings throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, typically from country areas. The reports appear genuine and the police officer passing on each report would also qualify his written remarks with statements such as the person making the report was “reliable” and a “teetotaller”. Some who reported the phenomenon stated they were previously skeptical about UFOs but were subsequently convinced they were real. The police file notes that some making statements said they were genuinely frightened by what they had witnessed.
Those reporting UFO sightings would describe what they saw in detail. The UFOs described were often metallic and round or cylindrical. Many reported that the UFOs emanated bright lights, that could illuminate the surrounding area with a pale green light. Most reported the objects they had seen as being completely silent, and able to change trajectory in the sky at astonishing speed.
Many of the reports are not easily explained away and the official correspondence on the Police file does not - in the most part - attempt to, with some mystery still around what was seen.
The official Police records held by the State Records Office of WA are a critical resource for understanding our State history. The WA Police Force officially commenced in 1853 with records since that time in archival custody. In total, the State Records Office holds over 15,000 files from the Police Force, as well as many other sets of Occurrence and Reports Books from regional stations.
The 1925 Murder at Government House BallroomShow more
Almost 100 years after the event, the murder that took place at Government House Ballroom in the early hours of 27 August 1925 continues to intrigue and fascinate. The State Records Office delves into the State archives collection to talk about the case.
The case revolves around the murder of Cyril Gidley (age 25) by his ex fiancé Audrey Jacob (age 20) during a St John of God Hospital Ball at Government House. Gidley was shot by Jacob in the chest at close range with a revolver. Witnesses reported that after the shooting, Jacob then stated “I have got you now”. Jacob was led away by police, charged with murder and subsequently appeared in the Supreme Court as the defendant. The case caused a media sensation. Although the trial was anticipated by many to be an open and shut matter, Jacob’s lawyer Arthur Haynes proved formidable and the jury found Jacob not guilty. Audrey Jacob left Court a free woman.
The State Records Office holds the key records which document the circumstances of the murder and what took place during the trial. Some accounts of the case have relied solely on newspaper articles but a fuller reading of the official records is necessary to help understand the events leading up to the murder. Police, Court and Crown Law files held at the State Records Office form the main government records relating to the case.
The case remains subject to ongoing investigation by historians and researchers with new insights using the official records revealing a very different understanding of this sensational criminal trial.