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”
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

Often seen wearing rough clothes or a brown suit, he began visiting the Police Court in the early 1920s and quickly became a regular spectator. At times he was the only person present in the gallery. Officials would look out for him and even the drunks would nod a hello from the dock.

‘Ginger’ has been a daily attendant at the Court for more than two years. The Court would indeed be incomplete without ‘Ginger’.

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 16 July 1923; Page 5; Notes and Comments

Most days involved the Magistrates hearing petty crimes however in some instances high profile cases of immense public interest came before them. Ginger was there for all of them.

Perth Police Court in 1924

In May 1924, on the first day of the inquest into the death of John O’Neil, Ginger was missing. Unusual for him, police officials made a few enquiries and came to the conclusion that he must have been sick. On the next day when he was spotted he explained that the reason he was not there was because the crowd was too dense and he was unable to obtain a seat. For the rest of the proceedings, a special seat in the witnesses’ section was made available to him. Questioned about the unusual occurrence a policeman explained, “Must look after our regular patrons, you know.

Ginger sat through the whole of the inquest proceedings. Naturally his status within the court attracted attention and several reporters attempted to interview him. Apart from simple yes or no answers, he shared nothing. The lack of information frustrated some members of the press and they turned to the police, hopeful they might have some answers.

And the police are almost as much in ignorance of Ginger’s history as the press. Their idea is that he is an old prospector who has sufficient to live on in a very, very modest way without further work.

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

He never gave any comment or explanation and thus a reporter for the Mirror jokingly turned to speculation. Was he a philosopher or a criminologist in disguise?

He is just Ginger to all the people who frequent the court, and what he thinks of it all he keeps to himself.

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

Later that year on 13 December 1924, Ginger was requested to appear before the Bench at the close of proceedings. He did so begrudgingly and was addressed by Mr Phil Goatcher who commented on his “regular attendance and unfailing interest“. On behalf of the Court he was presented with a small Christmas gift in the form of a half pound banknote. A little embarrassed, Ginger managed to stutter out his thanks.

Such a public gift only served to increase the press’s interest in the Perth Police Court habitué. The Daily News followed with an article in which they headlined and invited the public to “Meet ‘Ginger’“. Unlike the Mirror, the reporter managed to squeeze a little more information out of the notoriously private man.

He had no family and no close friends and was very much a reserved person. Born in London, he refused to state his age or year of birth but when pressed he said, “Oh, about 60.” Ginger arrived in Western Australia in 1887 and following his trade as an engine driver, worked on the construction of the Albany and Bunbury railway lines. At one point he left for Adelaide and then Broken Hill but eventually returned to again work on the railways.

Like many others during the goldrush years, Ginger “joined in the crowd stricken with gold fever” and made his way to Coolgardie before moving on to the Murchison. He had no luck in either place and eventually ended up working for the Great Fingall Gold Mine.

He took a trip to London in 1897 and upon his return he resumed working for the railways in the north, south and central parts of Western Australia. He retired in the middle of 1919 and in subsequent years lived on his ‘nest egg’.

Questioned as to whether he had missed many days in Court, Ginger admitted that he had not missed many but he did however miss a chunk of time when he was in hospital with an injured leg.

Naturally the reporter was curious as to why, out of all the pastimes available, Ginger had chosen the public gallery of the Police Court as his chosen interest. His main reason? To simply pass the time away.

Even when I was working I used to come to Perth occasionally, and I always came to the Court then.

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 18 December 1924; Page 9; Meet “Ginger”

He had no other form of amusement and while he used to see movies, worsening eyesight caused him to stop. The Court really was his primary source of entertainment and he often became fascinated by the cases. Outside of the Court, Ginger was known to walk around Perth to pass the time and was often seen standing on the Beaufort Street Bridge, watching the people and the trains.

Ginger simply chose to go about his day quietly without drawing too much attention to himself. Unfortunately, his routine meant that he received nothing but attention.

But, I do it in a quiet way, and if you go on putting me in the paper, I’ll have to put up with insults from all these ‘beer tugs,’ and come back to the Court in a different way. Look at the half-quid they gave me on Saturday; everybody’s been at me about it. …I only want to pass the time away and be let alone!

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 18 December 1924; Page 9; Meet “Ginger”

In the years that followed he was left alone to sit in the gallery in peace. Every now and then however his name would crop up in stories relating to the inner workings of the Police Court. In 1928 the Mirror wrote an article titled ‘A Day at the Police Court’ and described him as the “star spectator“. A year later Truth wrote a small feature story about him headlined ‘Ginger, Paragon of Patience and Police Court Habitue‘. They did not secure an interview with him but appeared to repeat earlier mentioned facts.

Wet or fine, any day, every day, Ginger is there, comfortable cuddled up on a bench at the back of the Court. He never makes an observation, never invites one. He is a “lone star.”

Truth (Perth, WA : 1903 – 1931); 3 March 1929; Page 7; “Ginger”

One small statement however indicates that Ginger lived in a shanty in Inglewood. From that shanty he would make his way into Perth to listen at the Police Court, occasionally smiling at jokes, but more often than not frowning.

As Ginger aged, staying awake in Court became increasingly difficult. It was common to hear snoring and then see the police orderly, Sam Pimblett, walk over to Ginger and gently shake him by the shoulder to wake him up. Such occurrences resulted in Truth musing that the day will eventually come when Ginger would no longer be present at the Perth Police Court.

That day and on the days that will follow, the Perth City Court will not be quite the same. He is part of the Court – the one certain spectator of forensic wit and foolishness.

Truth (Perth, WA : 1903 – 1931); 3 March 1929; Page 7; “Ginger”

A new decade approached and Ginger continued attending the Perth Police Court. 1931 in particular saw him set a record; he only missed one day’s sitting. How long he continued to sit in the public gallery after that date is not known. Post January 1932, he no longer appeared in the papers.

Sometime between 1932 and 1940, Ginger passed away. In March 1940 the West Australian Drama Festivals were putting on Edward Wooll’s play, Libel! at the Capitol Theatre. A promotional article was written up in The West Australian and headlined ‘A Play for Ginger’. Had he still been alive the festival organisers would have given him a dress shirt and a front row seat.

There used to be an old character named ‘Ginger’ who for an untold number of years had never missed a sitting of the Perth Police Court. No matter what the case, how long the session or how unbelievable the evidence, this hardened old playgoer would hang over the rail in the front of the spectators’ gallery and soak up the drama.

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954); 9 March 1940; Page 16; Libel

It’s not lost on me that I have written a story about Ginger, the very thing he abhorred. As much as I hope he would not mind, I have a feeling he would be frustrated that many years later he still has not been left alone. Throughout the years Ginger never gave his name when questioned by the press. He barely shared any details of his life. In fact, on many occasions, he lamented reporters constantly needling him for information. Perhaps there is some consolation that in this instance I have provided no new detail, I’ve simply collated all that I could find about a man named Ginger. Regardless of the protestations I imagine him spouting, I believe his story and his place within the history of the Perth Police Courts is just as important as all the others. It deserves to be recorded for posterity.

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