By Strange Coincidence…

I happened to take a wander through Northbridge today and as is my wont took a bunch of photographs of things that looked interesting or cool. Among these was the old factory now in use as a Wilson Car Park (That’s “parking lot” to you North Americans) on James Street, just adjacent to the freeway.

Note the Google Street View car. I may show up on an update!
Also, those dark bits are inside the lens array so I can’t clean them out 🙁

While looking for good angles and lighting and such my attention was drawn by the curvy bit poking up behind the facade. It looked like the factory was constructed around an older building. Curious and with plenty on time on my hands I decided to go in and have a look.

Inside I indeed found the remains of a previous structure with rather fancy – albeit badly abused – columns and some nice surviving detail on the internal part of the pediment.

I took a bunch of photos, poked around the place a bit, and went on my way.

Half an hour or so later, down the Horseshoe Bridge end of Roe Street, I stumbled over a newly erected historical marker talking about the street’s seedy past as Perth’s red light district (a past I already knew about thanks to my dad’s stories of earning pocket money by holding places in brothel queues for visiting American sailors in the late ’40s)…

Did you spot it? Let’s try a close up…

It’s the very structure entombed in the car park! How’s that for a crazy coincidence?!

It turns out that it was a service station that acted as a secret back door to the notorious “Josie Villa”. Which I guess means that visitors to Northbridge are parking their cars on the site of early 20th century Perth’s best known knocking shop!

My walk also spotted an old horseshoe that I presume has been dug up as part of the extensive roadworks talking place all along Roe. I considered nabbing it, but I’ve already got enough junk lying around here.

You’re letting all the luck run out! Gosh!

Vague Alternative History Ideas

Some vague ideas towards an alternate universe history (and map) of Australia…

1788: The First Fleet arrives at Botany Bay, establishing the the settlement of Port Botany and the Colony of New South Wales.
1825: The Colony of Van Diemen’s Land is separated from New South Wales.
1826: The settlement of Albany is established at King George Sound at the west of the continent.
1825: Founding of Brisbane.
1827: Fort Wellington founded at Raffles Bay on the north coast of the continent.
1829: The Swan River Colony is established.
1832: The Swan River Colony is abandoned.
1834: Albany is proclaimed the capital of the Colony of New Holland.
1835: John Batman founds Batmania on the Yarra river.
1836: The Colony of South Australia is proclaimed. Land east of the Murray River remains part of New South Wales. Settlement of Adelaide.
1840: Colony of New Zealand proclaimed.
1851: New South Wales south of the Murray River is proclaimed as the Colony of Victoria with the capital at Batmania.
1859: New South Wales north of the 29th parallel and east of 141 meridian east is proclaimed as the Colony of Queensland.
1861: The area of New South Wales west of South Australia is transferred to New Holland.
1863: The area of New South Wales north of South Australia is transferred to South Australia.
1901: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Van Diemen’s Land, Victoria and New Zealand form the Commonwealth of Australia. New Holland refuses, but the eastern goldfields declare independence and join the Commonwealth as the state of Auralia with the Capital at Kalgoorlie.
1911: After a decade of acrimonious debate Batmania is declared national capital. The northern portion of South Australia is separated into the Northern Territory with the capital of Raffles Bay.
1927: The Northern Territory is divided along the 20th parallel, creating the Territory of Central Australia, with the capital of Alice Springs.
1933: New Holland votes to join the Commonwealth in a referendum.
1961: Queensland north of the 22nd parallel is separated as the State of Capricornia with the capital of Townsville.

Carthego Delenda Est

I am happy to report that after spending every evening this week wrestling with Audacity I have finally beaten the two separate recording sessions Rebecca and I did months ago into something I’m not embarrassed (not too embarrassed anyway) to release to the general public. That’s right, episode one of Carthago Delenda Est with Rebecca and James is ready to roll!

In case I’ve neglected to explain this before (I can’t be bothered looking it up right now) the podcast is about lost cities and lost civilisations. Each episode we take a look at a particular city or culture, discuss what we know about it, what we don’t know about it, what happened to it, and what (if any) lessons can be drawn from it. The first episode is (appropriately) about Carthage, the north African city state that challenged the Romans and didn’t come off too well…

We’re not going to officially release it as a proper podcast until I’ve edited up a few episodes (we want a bit of a buffer) but we’ve decided to do a pre-release to get some feedback. So check it out and let us know what you think!


On Spiegeltents

People will tell you that ‘spiegel’ is Dutch for ‘mirror’, and a spiegeltent is hence called because of the mirrors used to decorate it. This is untrue.

A spiegel is a cross between a spaniel and a beagle. The breed was developed in Belgium in the late 19th century and became famous for its ease of training and ability to howl in tune. Choirs of spiegels toured Europe in tents and these ‘singing dogs’ were a major attraction of the age.

Spiegel choirs fell out a favour during the rise of fascism in the 1930s, and the last of the touring companies folded at the start of the second world war. Today only the tents remain.

(Went to the Perth Fringe Festival last night with Rebecca. We ended up seeing Face the Music, which was fantastic – highly recomended. We also saw the Spiegeltent, but without the dogs we judged it not worth paying to go in…)

The Memory Palace

By way of apology for yesterday’s Fadades Freakout, please let me point one and all to the Memory Palace podcast.

Short little snippets of history that vary between evocative, educational, melancholy and amusing, while never failing to be fascinating. Just the thing for soothing the mind after the ravages of La Colère de Ramsès

The History of the Ambar Dynasty

1400 – Establishment of the Royal House of Hutz-Ambar by King Eddercrumb the 1st – an indigent Pure Finder blessed with Royal Blood by a magical wizard.

1412 – King Eddercrumb constructs the Castle of Rinds

1414 – The Castle of Rinds is sacked by the evil Communards of Pikkle, sparking off a three year vendetta between the city of Rinds and the neighboring valley of Blort

1420 – King Eddercrumb is killed in Battle by the Black Knight of Blort. He assumes the throne as King Rupert the 1st and unites the people of Rinds and Blort

1423 – Something important happened but no one can remember exactly what. A pig might have been involved, but no one’s really that sure. It was a long time ago.

1424 – The son of King Rupert – Crown Prince Muntjak – ascends the throne after his father’s death during a toadstool hunt. He reigns wisely for many years, thus removing the necessity to detail them in any fashion.

1452 – King Wilbert II is sent into exile after he is discovered wearing underclothes made of two different types of yarn.

1453 – Thanks to Archbishop Mazimillian tripping over during a critical part of the coronation ceremony, King Footstool the 1st takes the throne. The eight months of his reign (the time it takes to organise a new coronation) are regarded as some of the most peaceful and prosperous in Ambarian history

1454 – Coronation of King Hutzpah Footstool-Slayer.

1458 – King Hutzpah Footstool-Slayer is killed in a crossbow-reloading accident. Speculation about how he managed to shoot himself in the spine is suppressed as treasonous slander again the late King’s shooting skills.

1459 – Crown Prince Humpty ascends the throne. He wins the loyalty of the noble houses of Runetown, Hopton, Greeblyville and Milton-Keynes in a series of high stakes poker matches.

1461 – King Humpty marries Eleanor the Gump of the House of Gump, thus gaining command of Gump, the Lesser Gump Principality and the Isles of Gump

1468 – King Humpty sets out on a fishing trip and never returns. His chamber pot is declared a holy relic.

1469 – The Year of the Twelve Emperors. No one remembers what this was about at all.

1476 – The royal line is restored with the coronation of King Hazeltine II. He ushers in an age of peace and prosperity lasting for about eight and a half minutes before the outbreak of the Metonic Uprising

1481 – The Metonic Uprising is crushed with the sacking of Palukavil. Speculation about the toiletry habits of the royal family is banned.

1484-1505 – Nothing happened.

1506 – Peasants in the imperial capital of Runetown develop a nasty, hacking cough for a few weeks. The event is recorded as the Great Plague of Ambrosius, after the most obnoxiously outspoken of said Peasants.

1509 – Scandal erupts after Queen Whitney is accused of an affair with a mysterious figure called Charles the Python. The rumours are eventually traced to a half-deaf bootblack who overheard the Queen discussing her recent visit to the Royal Menagerie.

1510 – King Ecommerse defeats a coalition of the Whigers, Tronces, Mon Keeps and Viesonbars.

1512 – King Ecommerse defeats a coalition of the Whigers, Tronces, Mon Keeps and Viesonbars, who apparently didn’t learn their lesson the first time.

1513 – The Whigers, Tronces, Mon Keeps and Viesonbars are revealed to be nothing but opium induced figments of King Ecommerse’s imagination.

1514 – Prince Larrae Emdur deposes King Ecommerse, swearing an oath to “end all this Whiger nonsense”.

1516 – King Emdur is killed by an assassin sent by the Whigers, who turn out to be real after all, ending the Ambar Dynasty.

Urban Folklore

Here be dragons

This comic from Subnormality pretty much says it all.

They say maybe these are just good stories, as opposed to good facts. Just versions of old themes. But maybe those themes are old for a reason. Maybe there’s always been a city, and it’s always been kind of a drag at times, mundane and predictable, and as your comically brief window of existence ebbs away maybe it’s always kind of helped to pretend. To think about good stories as reality lumbers past, its cards all showing, its hills all flagged before you were born, its every expanse and signed and bathed in ceaseless light, nothing undiscovered.

That’s how I feel a lot of the time. I want there to be mysterious places, unsolved mysteries and strange phenomenon hiding just out of sight in the everyday landscape. I want there to be dragons, serpents and secrets just round the corner. And if there aren’t any, I’ll damn well make some up.

This was the impetus behind a project I came up with many years ago called The Secret History of Perth. It was to be a book full of completely made up rumours tied into the history of the city. Roman coins found during the construction of St Mary’s cathedral, strange cyclopean tunnels that put paid to attempts to build an underground railway system in the 1920s, Phoenician carvings in Bedfordale, a Japanese Midget Submarine in Melville Water and – oddly enough given the first panel of the comic – an illegal nightclub operating in the city’s storm drains in the 1970s.

As with many of my projects it never came to fruition. But there are actually a quite a few mysteries and urban myths around Perth without me making any up…

Platypuses – Platypuses are of course not native to Western Australia, but every now and then someone will claim to have spotted one in the streams up in the hills. Conventional wisdom is that they’ve just seen a native water rat, but rumours have persisted for years that at some indeterminate point in the past some indeterminate person released an indeterminate number of platypuses up there for indeterminate purposes.

Funnily enough, a few years back someone actually did the research and discovered that a breeding pair of platypuses were released into the hills back in the (I think) 1930s as part of some kind of deranged ecological ‘improvement’ scheme. One of them turned up dead a week or so later however, so it’s unlikely that they produced any offspring. As a result, the rumours now focus on some mysterious earlier release (possibly in the Victorian era) or subsequent, undocumented releases in the same program.

Japanese Sea Planes – During World War II rumours were rife that Japanese sea planes were using the dams up in the hills to pick up and drop off spies. Mysterious planes buzzing the hills at night were the black helicopters of the day. It’s almost certainly untrue, but it’s not completely outside the realms of possibility.

Secret Tunnels – It’s claimed by some that there are underground tunnels linking the Supreme Court building in the city to the Old Perth Mint. As the buildings are almost a kilometre apart this seems unlikely, but the rumours persist. Slightly more likely are stories of tunnels linking to the old Treasury Building across the road from the Court. There may also be a 1920s style public toilet entombed under the intersection just outside the Court – an underground toilet certainly existed there once, the question is whether it was demolished or simply sealed up when the authorities decided to close it.

The Boya Quarry – The old Boya Quarry up in the hills was supposed to be the site of all kinds of satanic rituals. These days it’s a rock climbing centre, but when I first visited it back in the 1990s it was full of junk and heavily gratified with pentagrams and the number 666. How much of that was down to genuine cult activity and how much to people who’d heard the rumours is open to debate.

The QV1 Building – Perth claims to be the most isolated large city in the world (it really depends on how you define ‘large city’). We have a population of 1.6 million and the nearest population centre with even 500,000 is a good 1,300 miles away. In the 1990s the QV1 skyscraper was constructed in the central city as a hub for telecommunications and internet firms and – so the rumours say – every communication link to the outside world was routed through it. Result? Blow up or otherwise disable QV1 and Perth would be completely cut off from the rest of the planet.

There’s another rumour about QV1, which is that its architecture is a tribute to Marilyn Monroe. The main north and south entrances resemble the skirt scene from The 7 Year Itch, and the building’s footprint seen from above resembles a pair of pouting lips.

Trilobites – Back in the 80s it was claimed that living, giant trilobites had been discovered in the city’s storm drains. It turned out to be a weird combination of rumour, hoax, and very hot summer with no other real news to report. An old tyre cut up to look like a giant bug was alleged to be involved.

So there it is. Perth has it’s own dragons.

1045 and All That

The other history of England

There are times that I really struggle to hold my tongue.

On the train this morning I had to endure an emo guy informing one of his friends about English history. Highlights of his lecture included…

  • ‘One of’ the King Georges went mad from Syphillus.
  • The Saxons were French. They moved to England and thus became Anglo-Saxons.
  • King Henry VIII got divorced and married seven times as none of his wives could give him children.
  • William the Conqueror invaded in 1045.
  • Brittany, Scotland and Ireland all have exactly the same music.
  • The Irish and ‘Scotch’ hate the English, while the Welsh love them (because ‘they’re on the same island’).

I was severely tempted to leap out of my seat and beat him around the head with a copy of Macaulay, but instead contented myself with the thought that a single kick would snap both of his skinny-jean clad legs like twigs.

Folklore in Action!

An example of how history becomes story becomes myth.

Well I’m currently in the middle of two weeks’ holiday. You’d think this would give me time to actually catch up on various projects (including updating this blog more often) but I just seem to be kicking back and, well, hibernating as it were – sleeping late, watching DVDs, taking photos for Wikipedia articles, that kind of thing. I should probably feel guilty about this (well, maybe apart from contributing photos to Wikipedia I guess) but I’m working on the assumption that it’s what my brain and body need – I still have a week left to actually get things done in after all.

(Great, I now have Brian Dury and the Blockheads running through my brain 🙂

Anyway what prompted me to write something today is a post on a Delta Goodrem forum. I was not browsing this forum out of any affection for Ms Goodrem or the pained, Celine Dion style caterwaulings she produces under the guise of “music” – I was directed there after a Google search on Monte Cristo – the Junee residence alleged to be Australia’s most haunted house.

The post was written by a presumably (based on the fact that she’s posting on a Delta Goodrem forum and can’t seem to spell, use capitals or insert punctuation) young inhabitant of Junee going by the screen name of “VictoriaBush”. It starts of with an account of a rather amusing nightmare about evil Catholics, and then segues into a history of Monte Cristo, which I reproduce (with some improvements of grammar, spelling, punctuation and capitalisation) below…

Originally the house was built and five people lived in it – two sons, a daughter and their parents – and sometimes also two caretakers. They also had workers ’cause they owned cattle stock or something. Nowdays the house has extensions and wealthier people live there in the extended part of the house. Weirdos but yeah.

One [of the original inhabitants one presumes] went mental and shot two of his friends after seeing a movie. You know, the one that got banned? Well it got banned ’cause of this guy. I forget the name, I’ll ask mum later.

So he went insane, shot his two friends, dragged them back to his house and wrote on the door in the little back toolshed “Die Johnny die”. Then he carved it into the back table (which is still there). So his parents chained him up, and fed him bread-crumbs once a day and sometimes he got water. He was about 18 when this happened.

This is when things started to get haunted.

They couldn’t and still can’t have animals because they always end up mutilated, or the kittens or puppies do. The father died of blood poisoning and then the mother spent over 15 years in the mourning room and she died in there and the caretakers had to do everything for them. The daughter was found burnt to death in the stables. This is when the house went on sale.

It was brought almost immediately by a family who found the boy still in the back toolshed with really long nails all curled and in bad shape. He was sent to a mental asylum. About 10 years ago he died.

Then they renovated, and they knew the past behind the house so they have started a Ghost Tour business. So far I have only gone on the day trip. I’m NOT game enough for the night trip.

The little boys’ room is the most haunted and if you go in there, it’s just so ehh. And kids always go berserk in there.

OK, so what did I find so remarkable about this account that I had to share (or possibly inflict) it on you? The fact that it’s a stunning modern example of folklore in the making!

How so? Well, the events “VictoriaBush” relates are all based in fact (or at least reported fact), however they’re actually scattered across almost a century of time and happened to numerous different people and families. She’s conflated them all together to create a coherent narrative in the same way humans have done for millennia – creating a story about how a young man went mad and brought a curse down on his family. It’s great!

So what are the historical facts behind her tale? Well Monte Cristo was built in the 1880s by one Christopher William Crawley, a farmer who made a lot of cash when the Great Southern Railway came through town. He lived there with his family until 1910 when he died of blood poisoning from an infected carbuncle on his neck.

His wife (who had always been regarded as a terrifying harridan by the staff) went into mourning, converting one of the rooms to a chapel, obsessively reading the bible and only leaving the house twice in the next 23 years, dying in 1933.

Their several children went on to be quite successful, and the house remained occupied by the Crawleys until 1948. They then moved out and the place remained vacant – looked after by a series of caretakers – while they tried to find a buyer. One of the earliest caretakers was a housekeeper who had worked for Mrs Crawley and was allowed to stay on after her death. She had a mentally retarded son who was kept chained up in one of the outbuildings. On her death he remained chained up and unfed for several days before the police came to investigate her absence. He was discovered in appalling conditions (including uncut fingernails having grown into his palms) and was removed to the Kenmore mental home in Gouldborn, where he died not long afterwards.

The house remained empty, but watched by a series of caretakers until 1961 when the then caretaker was shot to death in an apparently motiveless crime by a local youth, who’d watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho three times. He (or someone else with a macabre sense of humour) scrawled “DIE JACK HA HA” onto the inside of the door of the caretaker’s cottage in chalk (this has been preserved by the current owners). In the wake of this incident no new caretakers could be found, and the property was left derelict.

(It should be noted that Psycho has never been banned in Australia, although the more recent movie American Psycho has encountered classification problems.)

In 1963 the current owners moved in and began restoring the by now badly degraded and vandalised property. In the years since they (and their visitors) have encountered many puzzling and frightening phenomena including difficulty getting pets to stay in the house, and several instances of pet kittens being discovered mutilated in the kitchen (birds don’t seem to do well either). They’ve stayed on however and the house is now a major tourist attraction for fans of Victorian architecture and ghost hunters alike.

Over the years many rumours of murders and fatal accidents at the house during the Crawley’s ownership have surfaced, notably including stories of a baby or child dying on the staircase. Self styled mediums have also contributed their own impressions of the house’s history, including one story of a stable boy burning to death in the stables. No historical evidence of this incident has ever been found.

So there you have it, a round up of the full cloth “VictoriaBush”‘s story is cut from. One can see that her version has much more storytelling appeal, and it’ll be interesting to see if it manages to spread – at least among fans of Delta Goodrem 🙂

Lies! All Lies!

Barnes Wallis vs The Clash

Her Majesty’s Artillery Barrage, Brixton – more commonly referred to as the Guns of Brixton – is a military installation in southern London. Constructed under the direct supervision of Barnes Wallis in 1940 it was paired with a similar installation in the north London suburb of Leyton (known as ‘the Guns of Leyton’ – demolished in 1962).

The installation consists of eight ‘Boadicea’ class artillery pieces each standing 8.3 metres high with a barrel length of 30.5 metres and capable of firing once a minute. In full operation the facility consumes 40 tonnes of coal an hour (supplied by a branch line from Herne Hill railway station), projecting a ‘fire screen’ of burning coal fragments to an altitude of 1400 metres, protecting most of southern London from bombing attacks.

Barnes Wallis built the guns ‘out of his head’ with very few designs and under intense pressure. As such none of the guns are exactly alike, and many of the technical innovations he devised are poorly understood. This – combined with the fire screen’s tendancy to intefere with radar sensing and inability to defend against nuclear attack – prevented similar facilities being constructed after the war.

Several attempts to build smaller versions of the guns – mostly as an aid to figuring out how they work – have been made, but all have met with failure. Many prominant engineers have informally stated that the guns should not function at all. They remain fully operational however and are sometimes fired during times of special celebration – lighting up the entire south London sky. This practise is limited however by the need to ground all aircraft several hours before, and shut down Heathrow, Gatwick and London City Airports. The most recent firing was during the Queen’s 80th birthday celebrations in 2006.

The Guns of Brixton Experience is a tourist attraction based around the guns and operated by the National Trust. It opened in 1998 and operates guided tours several times a day.

The Guns of Brixton are counted as one of the Seven Wonders of the Second World War, along with the HMS Habakkuk making up the total British contribution to the list.

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