Treasure trove of East Freo history

• Museum of Perth director Reece Harley outside Dovenby House in East Fremantle.

A GROWING online encyclopaedia of East Fremantle’s history, houses and people will be launched at the George Street Festival on December 1.

For the last year a team of researchers from the Museum of Perth, led by artist and social historian Jo Darbyshire, has been gathering a street-by-street history of more than 1100 heritage-listed homes in the town.

Newspapers from the National Library’s online Trove archive have provided some articles up til the 1950s, and now residents, past occupants, or anyone else with an interest is invited to share family tales, photos, old articles or documents.

The soft launch onto streetsofeastfreo.com has already seen past residents come forward with stories and photos that otherwise might’ve been lost.

Museum director Reece Harley says the personal stories have filled gaps missed by archived history, such as peoples’ warm memories of grandmothers covering what the papers of the day didn’t.

“It’s much more difficult to find information about women in the past, because they didn’t necessarily hold public office, or run their own businesses,” Mr Harley says.

Fifty prominent figures also have entries on the site so far, and Mr Harley says they’re looking beyond the toffs and titans of industry to the untold stories of working class lumpers, chimney sweeps, midwives, soldiers.

East Fremantle’s been ideal because of its huge stock of old houses, and Mr Harley hopes the pilot project will spur interest in partnerships with other local governments.

The City of Bunbury recently signed a two-year agreement for the museum to chronicle and digitise its local history.

The MoP, which last year branched out of its Perth CBD home with a peppercorn lease on Dovenby House behind the East Freo town hall, will have a stall at the George Street Festival, Sunday December 1 from 11am-7pm.

Sewell Street’s Black Angels scandalised city

38 Sewell Street

Newspaper archives have uncovered the house was once the den of “The Black Angels”, a group of young women targeted by authorities and the press for using the house for “immoral” purposes.

The Truth newspaper campaigned against the women, backing police and lionising “Constable O’Shea, the East Fremantle sleuth, and terror of evil doers”.

“Street-strolling Strumpets Safely Stowed Away and Debarred From Further Disease Dissemination” the paper trumpeted when four women were arrested in 1908.

The press had little sympathy for the womens’ hard lives, and seemed to relish in salacious details of their treatment by authorities: “Since their arrest they had been medically examined and the result evidenced a revolting condition of affairs. Bertha Connor and Vera Matson were pregnant and the other two girls diseased.”

• Otto the intern, 1914. National Archives Adelaide

Madeline’s Pfuhlish love of Hitler

140 Canning Highway (now demolished)

This was the home of prominent German trader Otto Pfuhl and his well-travelled Brisbane-born wife Madeline ‘Nellie’ Angus. Pfuhl was an ivory trader in French Congo, and came to Fremantle in 1907 to work for Lohmann and Co Merchants.

He was an early aviator and owned his own plane. In 1911, the Westralian Worker wrote: “Mr Otto Pfuhl (not pronounced “fool” we hope) has returned to Australia after undergoing a course of aviation in Europe. That seems strange. Judging by the cables we imagined no European aviation course was complete until the student broke his neck.”

Pfuhl took his plane to Sydney to build a hangar and hoped to fly it back to WA some day.

In 1914 he was detained as an “enemy alien,” and was most likely deported along with his wife after the war.

Madeline, a Queenslander, seemed to like Germany. She returned to visit Queensland in 1938 and told newspapers of the day “of a scheme which Hitler has introduced to benefit the poor… Ein Topft Sunday—One Pot Sunday,” where Sunday dinner is restricted to what can be cooked in one pot. Savings from the frugal meal are then donated to the poor.

Seeing Australia after 18 years she was “thunderstruck with the improvement she sees, but appalled by the tram fares she has to pay,” saying they were much cheaper in Berlin.

Papers noted she revisited Australia in 1949 after the war and called her “an interesting arrival,” but recorded no more favourable comparisons of Germany.

48 Hubble Street (now 26)

The Gothic-style home stood out on Hubble Street, and in 1933 medium Isabella Jane Ogle and her daughter Florence Ascough established the East Fremantle Spiritual Mission there.

Spiritualism involved a grab bag of paranormal disciplines and had become popular after the Great War as many people sought out mediums to try to speak to their fallen family members.

Isabella, who’d been widowed twice, moved the church to 14 Hubble Street in 1943, and died in Beaconsfield in 1950, age 86.

by DAVID BELL

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