"Meet you under the clock"

We are glad to learn that the large public clock for the Town Hall is now in course of erection, and that probably in a few days' time the passing hours will be notified by the quarter chimes, and deep-toned hour bell, while the true Perth time will be shown on its four dials, illuminated at night. … This is the first public convenience which the Town Hall extends to the city; and we cannot question its usefulness.

… the grand old clock by which all Perth sets its watches, catches its trains, keeps its appointments.

Town hall clocks were once important landmarks for city life. In the days before everyone carried a personal watch – or a mobile phone – everyone relied on the Town Hall clock to keep time for the city. The sound of the bells striking the hours and the quarters carries about three kilometres and can sometimes be heard as far as Bayswater. And the clock was lit at night. 

At least one resident of South Perth used to keep a telescope in his front room to check the time by the Town Hall clock. Raising a flag on the tower used to be the signal that the mail boat had arrived. 

General view of clock tower
Waiting for the stroke of midnight, New Year’s Eve, 1936. WA Newspaper.

Looking After The Clock

The Town Hall clock was built by London clockmakers, Thwaites and Reed and the three bells also came from London. It was installed by local clockmaker Mr John Bowra, who maintained the clock for many years. It was originally wound by hand, but electric motors now do the job. 

The Ennis family has looked after the clock now for nearly ninety years. Norman Ennis of Ennis Jewellers, got the contract in the early 1930s and Norm’s sons, Norman Junior and Ron followed in his footsteps. Today, Paul Ennis, Norm Ennis’s grandson, keeps the clock running. 

Paul Ennis maintaining the clock
Paul Ennis is the third generation of the Ennis family to maintain the clock. WA Newspapers

Any problem with the Town Hall clock was once big news in Perth. One of the hazards in the early days was birds getting into the works and stopping the clock. The clock is also affected by the weather – so in a heat wave people would complain that the clock was wrong.

Generations of Perth people gathered at Town Hall to see in the New Year as the clock struck. Radio station 6WF broadcast New Year festivities from the Perth Town Hall. And the Town Hall clock marked the two-minute silence on Armistice Day 11 November. 

Norm Ennis, junior, remembers how “Everyone congregated under the dial for the clock to see the New Year in, and nearly every year there was a big article in the paper that the Town Hall clock had never struck the midnight hour. …. the congregation was so eager, that they’d start cheering and that before the clock actually struck, and then they’d claim the damn thing had never struck.” So, Norm used to climb up with a hammer to strike the bell himself if necessary. But he never needed to as the clock always worked perfectly!

A word from John Bowra
Battles over time
Commitment to the cause

The Clock Tower

A scale model of the Perth Town Hall clock made in recycled jarrah by retired engineer, James Lang, of Mount Lawley. Lent by the Lang family.

For many years, the clock tower on the corner of Barrack and Hay Streets was the tallest building in the city and would have been a prominent landmark for meeting friends. 

Helen Mountstephen remembers in the 1950s and 1960s “the Perth Town Hall was one of the places where people would quite often meet.” 

And Steve Weeks remembers being a newsboy on the Town Hall corner selling the Daily News. 

Listen to Steve Weeks

Over the years, the platform at the top of the tower has been a favourite vantage point for photographers. More than a century of photographs taken from the clock tower show how the city has changed. 

Historical Panoramas

Click here to find out more about the changing cityscape.

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