Moore’s Escalator

As early as 1898 Western Australians were aware of the invention of the moving stairway (escalator) when The Daily News published a story about Bloomingdale’s (New York) installing it in their store. It allowed shoppers to go from floor to floor, from department to department without having to move and was “like the magic carpet of the Arabian Nights“.

Illustration of an escalator circa 1902.

London railway stations followed department stores and had escalators installed. Reports highlighted the advantages of such technology which included transporting a large number of people from one place to the other without having to wait (such as in the case of lifts). Despite reading about them in the newspapers, many Western Australians would not have the opportunity to see one until 1929.

On 18 February 1928 the Mirror announced that Moore’s Department Store in Perth was expanding. They already had a shop fronting Hay Street and were planning to construct a new building that fronted Murray Street. The ground floor of the new building would connect to the basement in the old one while the main floor of the Hay Street building would connect to the top of the Murray Street building. To enable the public to travel from one floor to another, lifts and staircases would be provided as well as an escalator.

To many people who have not travelled beyond the bounds of Western Australia, escalators – or moving staircases – are a mystery.

Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 1956); 18 February 1928; Page 10; Moores Build Big
An engraving of the facade of Moores new building.

It was to be the first escalator in the State. Naturally it attracted considerable interest and was expected to become “a novelty in Perth.

By November 1928, Truth printed all the details of the escalator. It was an Otis Waygood escalator consisting of a “single staircase with the moving stairs about three feet wide” and was to be installed by Unbehaun and Johnston Ltd. The reporter declared that the installation of the escalator “opens up a new era in the progress of the West” for which Moore’s should be congratulated.

Construction began and the grand opening of Moore’s was due to occur on 22 April 1929. As the date approached, a large article about the new store was featured in The West Australian and full page advertisements were printed in several newspapers. The new escalator featured heavily.

Moore’s escalator courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call Number: 013016PD).

Capable of carrying up to 4,000 people per hour, it was positioned in the centre of the store in the bazaar (the location of their cash and carry section) and transported patrons from the Murray Street level to Hay Street. Moore’s proclaimed that using their escalator was a shortcut and therefore the quickest way to get to Hay Street.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of the escalator, a detailed description as to how it worked was provided. Modern day readers will find nothing new in it however it is nevertheless a charming reminder of how something commonplace in today’s world was once new and exciting and warranted explanation.

If the escalator was not enough of a drawcard to generate foot traffic, strategic advertisements were placed nearby and were referred to as “Moore’s super-magnetic DAILY ‘ESCALATOR’ SPECIALS“. Daily visits were recommended and those visiting from the suburbs were especially advised to not leave Perth without having first seen the specials.

In any case, see MOORE’S ‘ESCALATOR’ SPECIALS whenever you are in town; to go home without having done so would be to throw money away.

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 17 April 1929; Page 2; Advertising

The opening took place on the 22nd without any problems and the escalator was (as predicted) a hit. A Perth writer for The Albany Advertiser stated, “…you should have seen the crowd!” While the bazaar and the various games were also popular, the escalator was by far the “main interest“. All day long it was filled with adults and children alike going for rides. It was so popular that the writer shrewdly noted that they couldn’t all be using it to simply go upstairs. Unfortunately I found no first hand accounts of people’s opinions of the escalator however it appears to have been a sought after experience in April 1929. According to the Sunday Times the question on everyone’s lips during Moore’s opening week was, “Have you escalated?


Police Court Habitué

…there are some who have the leisure and the inclination to make the police court their drama, their comedy, their pulpit.

Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956); 31 May 1924; Page 3; Just “Ginger”

Long retired and seeking something of interest to do, Ginger started attending the Perth Police Court. In contrast to other people who regularly sat in the public gallery and were regarded as “dead-beats, hoboes and beer sparers” he was considered “different from the usual type.” He was short, stocky, middle aged and sported a walrus moustache that “covers his mouth and sends out lobster-like tentacles…” He was going bald but what remained of his hair was red. No one knew his real name and thus the nickname, ‘Ginger’ stuck.

Whether indulging a morbid taste in amusement, or an interest in human nature, warped by circumstance or crime, “Ginger’s” unchanging expression does not reveal, but he has seen innumerable unfortunate citizens, and the dregs of humanity caught in the toils of the law, and has watched many faces turned from freedom towards the temporary oblivion of the prison.

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954); 15 December 1924; Page 8; News and Notes
The Perth Police Court circa 1911
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Murder of Ah Yet

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following blog post may contain images and names of deceased persons.

A well-known face in Donnybrook, 25 year old Ah Yet regularly loaded up his cart with vegetables from his garden and on Fridays and Saturdays he travelled from house to house offering them for sale. On 21 and 22 March 1902, he did not show up.

Knowing that his absence was out of the ordinary, John Vennell went to look for him at 3 pm on the 22nd. He first peered through the open door of Ah Yet’s hut but found it deserted. He then walked through the garden, passing cabbages, radishes and other vegetables growing profusely. As he came to the well on the property, he found him. Ah Yet was dead.

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Battle of the Bellmen

Courtesy of Libraries Tasmania

On 21 May 1886 Tommy Hopkins was walking down Hay Street, preparing to ring his bell and announce to the public that Messrs. E. Solomon and Co. had a sale.

Eyeing him as he traversed the streets, Billy Boy the Bellman was far from pleased. As town crier, Perth was his domain while Tommy had the run of Fremantle. Two bellmen in the city would never do.

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The South Cornwall Ghost

Sinking operations continued at the South Cornwall tin mine however the men struggled a little due to the hardness of the diorite. In early December 1907 the results at the Greenbushes tin field was “watched with the keenest of interest” and was considered “the one hope of the future.” Also being keenly watched at around the same time was what The Blackwood Times dubbed ‘The South Cornwall Ghost‘.

A tin mine at Spring Gully, Greenbushes circa 1903. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (1176B/1).
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The Women’s Rush

Shenton Street in Menzies circa 1906

Following the discovery of the Golden Eagle nugget at Larkinville on 15 January 1931, gold was at the forefront in the minds of Western Australians. Reminiscent of earlier gold rush years, some men left their jobs to travel to the field in the hope they would strike it rich. Gold was the hot topic of the day and everyone kept their eyes peeled, including the women of Menzies.

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Mahomet’s Treasure

Abdallah Mahomet arrived in Western Australia in the 1840s and by the late 1860s had relocated to Geraldton. An early settler in the area, he lived on a piece of land two miles south of the town, surrounded by sand dunes and possessing its own underground water source.

The Government allotted to him for the period of his natural life about ten acres of ground, a small portion of which he regularly cultivated…

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879-1954); 4 August 1880; Page 1; Country Letters

Making use of the plentiful water on his property, he took to growing vegetables, fruit and flowers. Carrying two baskets at the end of a long pole, he regularly walked into town and offered his produce for sale.

As he grew older he became known to everyone as Old Mahomet and the area where he lived was called Mahomets Flats. Alcohol, however, grew to be a problem in his life.

On 24 July 1880, 70 year old Mahomet left his home at 7 am with the aim to reach Geraldton between the hours of 8 am and 9 am. He went there on a specific errand but refused to state what it was until he got back.

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Grim Yarns

There is a sickly odour of the sepulchre permeating the atmosphere, and the chief employment of the idle is to stand around and swap ghoulish stories – yarns that are dank, dismal and dirty, and reminiscent of dry bones, festering corpses, foul whiffs from the charnel house, blue mouldy of ghostly visions, and grisly spooks and other horrors…

And so it is that wherever Death casts a shadow, people will have some kind of story to tell. In late November 1894, the Coolgardie Miner had heard of several such grim yarns. Unable to resist “dabbling in mortuary matters“, they diligently reproduced them in an article.

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Controversial Slacks

Driving with her mother and sister from Sydney to Canberra in 1933, 23 year old Dorothy Henderson-Smart of Johannesburg thought little of the black slacks she wore throughout the journey. Comfort was her main priority on a drive that would take many hours.

They arrived in Canberra and on 21 November 1933 they took a tour of Parliament House. Still wearing slacks, Dorothy noticed a few men looking at her but she had no idea why. It wasn’t until later that day that she was informed that the wearing of slacks by women in Parliament House was inappropriate.

Old Parliament House circa 1927. Courtesy of the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate archive.
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Whatley Park Pensioners

What I love about history is the constant opportunity to learn something new. Research is always vital however this can be difficult if you’re not sure where to look. This may especially be the case where buildings or infrastructure is torn down. Once the physical reminder of history is lost, it’s likely the memory of it will be lost too. Generations upon generations of people are born and what was once well-known to many can become forgotten. The same can be said for stories.

As is often the case, I came across Whatley Station and the Whatley Park Pensioners purely by chance whilst searching for something else. At first confused (where in the world was Whatley Park?) I began researching and found myself learning a piece of Bayswater’s history which seemed as though it had (perhaps unintentionally) been buried in the past.

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