“… sociability, and rational amusement …”

The Town Hall has always been a popular venue for exhibitions and displays by community groups and commercial organisations. All sorts of community groups have used the facilities over the years to share and promote their special interests and often raise funds as well.

The first bazaar and exhibition opened on 6 September 1870, in aid of the ‘Benevolent Fund for destitute and indigent women’. At the bazaar you could buy all sorts of handcrafts, while the exhibition displayed an extraordinary range of artworks, curios, antiquities and natural history objects. A piano in the gallery provided entertainment. Some of the objects displayed ended up in the collections of the WA Museum.

Click here to read the newspaper report of the first bazaar and exhibition at the Perth Town Hall

Wild life and wild flowers

Many Perth people remember fondly the wild life shows held at the Perth Town Hall from 1946 to 1975. The brainchild of Vincent Serventy, and family, these were organised by the WA Naturalists Club and the WA Gould League to promote interest in natural history. 

The annual wild flower exhibitions are also fondly remembered and have an even longer history. These began in 1892 and became popular annual events, raising money for various charities through the years. WA railways were involved in organising transport of flower displays from various parts of the state. By the 1930s the displays were promoted interstate to encourage tourism. The show included competitions with categories for different types of floral arrangements, as well as paintings and drawings, and fancy work – for both adults and children. Primrose Allen remembers visiting the Town Hall as a child – ‘I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the orchids and especially by seeing the rare Qualup Bell’

Hobbies and pastimes

The Perth Town Hall was not just for the city – hundreds of country people flocked to Perth for the opening ceremony. The Country Women’s Association frequently held shows. Their 1935 ‘exhibition of handicrafts and home industries’ was a huge success, with nearly all of the entries coming from the country. The display of ingenuity in ‘turning waste material to profitable use’ was especially admired and strikes a chord today. 

A highlight of the 1935 CWA exhibition was the spinning demonstration. Mrs Broun (left) is working a spinning wheel made during World War 1, used by hundreds of Perth women to spin yarn to make socks for soldiers. Mrs A.G. Todd demonstrates on a 235-year-old wheel from the Shetland Islands, used for spinning flax to make clothing for fishermen, on the Greenland fishing- grounds. Miss Francis, of Fremantle, added atmosphere by playing on her harp during the demonstration. RWAHS P1999.4430

After World War 2, displays of arts and crafts from different countries were popular and celebrated the contributions and culture of ‘new Australians’. A bewildering variety of interest groups held shows and exhibitions – from stamps to sewing, model trains to orchids.

Informing the community

Professional and commercial organisations also hold events at the Town Hall. Wireless demonstrations were popular in the early part of the 20th century, while the Town Hall hosted the first demonstration of television in 1949.

… a building … for the benefit of the public at large, and in which public meetings … may be held

The Town Hall provides a space for meeting and debating the issues of the day. Over the years the hall has been used by a wide range of groups to protest, to argue, to discuss and to learn about all sorts of political and social issues of interest and concern to the people of Perth. 

Over the years, the Town Hall has also had a formal role in the political life of Western Australia – Governors were presented and welcomed at the Town Hall until 1931, and elections are often held there. 

The Town Hall was used as a polling place for the Federal election held on 21 September 1940. SLWA 221413PD, 221414PD.

Sometimes, perhaps, the Town Hall has not been entirely neutral in political debates.

Banners supporting conscription hanging from the Town Hall tower at the referendum during World War 1. SLWA BA1272/26.

Debating politics

The Town Hall has hosted debates on all manner of political issues from votes for women to Aboriginal rights. The Town Hall has even seen the formation of a political party – Don Chipp’s Australian Democrats held their inaugural meeting there in 1977.

Before mass media, meetings held in the Perth Town Hall and other venues were very important for a healthy democracy. The tradition of ‘town hall meetings’ still continues today – even with the internet and social media. 

‘Monster meetings’ were held at the Town Hall in the months leading up to the vote on Federation in 1900. The Town Hall was a polling place and crowds gathered outside on the day of the referendum.

Crowds gather outside the Town Hall on the day of the vote on Federation in August 1900. RWAHS 2004. 238.

In the 1930s, the Town Hall saw large meetings in favour of Western Australia seceding from the Eastern States.

John Curtin speaking in the Town Hall about war loans, 1944. SLWA 221419PD.

The Perth Town Hall is a focus for events in times of war, and for celebration and remembrance in peacetime. Troops have been farewelled and welcomed home by the City with parades, receptions and dinners. In wartime, the Town Hall has provided recreation facilities for the armed forces. And in peacetime, the Town Hall clock marks the two-minute silence for Remembrance Day.

A reception at the Town Hall for the WA contingent of troops for the Boer War, 1899. SLWA 1875B

The Boer War

The Boer War was the first major military involvement by Australian forces overseas. Troops embarked for South Africa from Fremantle and the arrival of the contingents of volunteers from South Australia and New South Wales in February 1900 was celebrated with a parade through the streets from the railway station to a reception at the Town Hall. 

The NSW and South Australian Bush contingent entering the Town Hall. SLWA 011460D

Click here to read the West Australian’s report of the welcome parade and reception.

First World War

During World War 1, the Town Hall was a recruiting centre. Community groups used the Town Hall for fundraisers to send ‘comforts’ to the troops and to organise distribution. 

The first Anzac commemoration was marked by a luncheon for ‘returned Anzac heroes’ at the Perth Town Hall on 25 April 1916, organised by the Soldiers Welcome Committee. 

World War 2

During World War 2, the Town Hall became a recreation centre for use by members of the armed services. A group of 28 women’s volunteer organisations banded together to form the Citizens Reception Council to run the centre. They provided light refreshments from 10.30am to 10.30pm every day and facilities for writing. In the evenings, they organised entertainment in the form of music and dancing. 

The late Phyllis Worth volunteered in 1941 before she joined the WAAAF as a nursing orderly. She used to go to the Town Hall on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings to help with serving tea and sandwiches. She remembered:

I was on duty the night they catered for the first New Zealand contingent going overseas. I had set out rows of cups and saucers for the teas and coffee. There was an enormous white teapot and I was only 5’1” and found it a bit heavy. One big Kiwi came around and said ‘Hi Little One, that’s too big for you”, so as he poured the tea I handed it out amid much laughter. 

Phyllis Worth

A certificate of appreciation for Mrs McCallum-Smith, a volunteer member of the Citizen’s Recreation Council. City of Perth Collection. 

The City of Perth celebrated the end of the war with a giant V hung from the clock tower. The Town Hall hosted many ‘welcome home’ events for returned service personnel and prisoners of war. 

Nice things will be said, nice things will be eaten, maybe nice things will be drunk, too...

The City of Perth regularly honours particular individuals with civic dinners or receptions – often held at the Town Hall.

Sir John Forrest’s Jubilee

Politician and explorer John Forrest was born in Bunbury in 1843. He began his career as a surveyor and he became famous as an explorer. In 1883, he was appointed Surveyor-General and appointed to the Legislative and Executive Councils. He became the first premier of Western Australia in 1890 and took advantage of the gold boom to preside over a major public works program including Fremantle harbour and the Goldfields pipeline, as well as a major expansion of the rail network. Following Federation, he was elected to the new Federal parliament in 1901 where he held various ministries, including Treasurer from 1905 to 1918. 

Sir John Forrest was incredibly popular in Western Australia. Plans to honour the jubilee, or 50 years, of public service by ‘Western Australia’s most notable son’ were begun in July 1915. The celebrations included a reception held at the Perth Town Hall on 15 December 1915, which brought together all sorts of people across social and political divides.

It was a brilliant gathering, with a brilliant setting, the hall having been decorated to a degree of magnificence that has not often been seen before in Perth. There was a particularly rich display of fernery—clumps of bamboo round the walls, and masses of ferns and palms at each end, and an ingenious electric light scheme, with a refulgent crown, set amid red drapery at one end and varicoloured cross designs interspersing the wall decorations. Western Mail 24 December 1915. 

The program for the reception honouring Sir John Forrest’s public service at Perth Town Hall. It features images of premier Mundaring Weir and Fremantle Harbour – the major public works overseen by Forrest as premier. SLWA PR967

Click here to read more about Sir John Forrest’s jubilee reception.

Mr Bold’s retirement

The secretary for the planning committee for Sir John Forrest’s jubilee was the Town Clerk, W.E. Bold. 

Born in Lancashire in 1873, William Ernest Bold migrated to Western Australia in 1896 and became clerk-typist at the City of Perth. He was appointed Town Clerk in 1900. He was then the youngest Town Clerk in any Australian capital city – and when he retired in 1944 was the longest-serving. 

Bold gained a reputation for efficiency and quickly became a powerful driving force in Council affairs. His ideas about town planning very much shaped the growth and development of the city and strongly influenced the Perth we see today. His work is commemorated in Bold Park – he was a strong advocate for parks and public spaces for the benefit of the citizens. By the time he retired as Town Clerk, Perth had the highest proportion of public open space to population of any city in the British Empire. 

The City of Perth marked Bold’s retirement with a ‘valedictory dinner’, a portrait in the Town Hall and a silver coffee service and serving tray. 

The valedictory dinner for Town Clerk, W.E. Bold. City of Perth.

150 years of civic hospitality

The menus for civic dinners over the years show changes in fashions of eating, as well as trends in designing and presenting menus.

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