Thursday, January 19, 2012

Do you recognise Perth in the 1950s?

I was reminded of this fantastic film the other day and felt compelled to share it. Produced by the Australian National Film Board in 1954, the wonderful ‘Postcards From Perth’ was created to promote Western Australia to tourists and immigrants. Back then, as it is now, the city was one of the most isolated places in the world.

At times the city seems almost unrecognisable. St Georges Terrace has always been the main city thoroughfare however, over the twentieth century, it has evolved from a 'gracious boulevard' to a 'windswept canyon of concrete, steel and glass'.

How did this 'gracious boulevard' come into existence? Many of the finest buildings along the Terrace were constructed during the gold boom that spanned the 1890s. During this time Perth became home to some of the grandest hotels and theatres in the southern hemisphere.

After the Second World War, development was both inevitable and badly needed. Rapid population growth led to the development of new suburbs, new freeway systems and the transformation of the Swan River by the narrows bridge (1959).

The film is important because it captures a city at a turning point. I can't help but be struck by how much has changed. Not only the unfamiliar skyline but the tram line (which used to extend all the way to the western suburbs) - even down to the wrought iron street lamps.

Yet, hindsight makes it all too easy to criticise postwar development. In 1950’s Perth the air was filled with progress, prosperity, optimism and change. Older buildings became easy victims of a desire for new technologies and modern conveniences.

If you are interested in exploring lost Perth the State Library of Western Australia has incredible archive of photographs that span as early as the 1860’s, some of which have been celebrated in a fantastic Facebook group.

You’ll find that many of these early images were produced in strikingly high resolution, certainly comparable to today’s digital cameras. I’ve often thought about printing out some favourites on canvas although to this date I have found it too hard to choose!