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.

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