The Australian Public Intellectual Network
  Home    Network Books    Australian Common Reader    ACH    Conferences    Network Reviews    Virtual Library    Altitude    From the Editor   
Media Law Handbook

This fifth edition of Joseph Fernandez's popular and accessible study considers the laws that impact on freedom of speech in Australia. It is an indispensable guide for journalism and publishing students and professionals. This text incorporates discussion of recent amendments including the law pertaining to journalists' confidential sources. (ISBN 978-1-920-84545-2, paperback, 260 pp). To order, please contact Network Books at 08 9266 3717 with your order details. ...
Friday, 1st August 2014
  News      Calendar      NRB Current Issue      
 
API MENU

API Review of Books

Altitude BirdIssue 44
Features reviews by Kathleen Broderick, Linn Miller, Christine Choo, Bill Thorpe, David Ritter, Eve Vincent, Stephanie Bishop, Alison Miles, Richard Kay, Amanda Day, Bernard Whimpress, Mads Clausen, Marion May Campbell, Sylvia Alston, Catie Gilchrist, Eva Chapman, Lucy Dougan, Stephen Lawrence and Nathanael O'Reilly. Click here for more details.


Altitude

Altitude BirdPopular Music: Practices, Formations and Change - Australian Perspectives
The papers collected here in this special edition of Altitude offer a brief snapshot of popular music research broadly connected with Australia. The essays demonstrate the variety of theoretical and methodological approaches used by researchers in the fields of popular music studies and cultural studies to explore themes of popular music practice, formation and change in an Australian context. Click here for more details.



 
 
 
 

City of Light: A History of Perth Since the 1950s

By Jenny Gregory, Crawley: City of Perth, 2003, 404 pages, hard cover, $59.95. Reviewed by Paul Ritter in the April 2005 issue.

Help more readers find out about this article
Slashdot Slashdot   Digg Digg   StumbleUpon StumbleUpon   Del.icio.us Del.icio.us

Jenny Gregory's City of Light is the second officially commissioned history of the City of Perth, taking off chronologically from where Tom Stannage's earlier People of Perth (1979) ended, in the nineteen fifties. The work is fabulously well illustrated, fluently written and beautifully produced. Although commissioned and published by the Perth City Council, the book is frank and is not beholden to any vested interest. Gregory is to be congratulated on a volume that will be of interest to both the specialist and the interested lay reader. As one of the principal characters appearing within the book, City of Light was of particular interest to me and I congratulate Dr Gregory on her effort.

Yet, notwithstanding City of Light's overall qualities, there are some weaknesses. The misleading title of the impressive volume is one odd slip. 'City of Lights' was the phrase coined (not 'City of Light') by Perth journalist Bill King who was stationed in New York at the time when astronaut John Glenn made his historic space flight, the route taking him over Perth. King's idea for the citizenry to keep on all the lights, so that Glenn could pin-point Perth from space, is well recorded -- but the phrase was always expressed in the plural.

Other weaknesses are methodological in nature. It was natural for an historian to start with the minutes and reports of the meetings of the Perth City Council, which offer much in the way of information. However, the style of recording of minutes of PCC meetings was minimalist: decisions were noted, but discussions and motivations were not documented. Thus the minutes provide a meager record of the passion and politics of the PCC over the four and a half decades covered by the book. In order to make fuller sense of what took place, and get the flavor rather than just the bare bones, Gregory could have made a greater effort to speak to those involved and to view any private papers. Those who participated would have been able to assist Gregory in filling in the gaps in the formal record. There are some exceptions to this methodological omission. Cr Eric Silbert made his book manuscript covering his seventeen years in Council available to Dr Gregory and she did speak to a few key actors (including me) at some length. Where such sources are utilized, the narrative is deepened and we see glimpses of personal relationships and ulterior motives that in some instances were decisive to events.

In order to understand the history of Perth, it is necessary to have a full appreciation of the sixty six year golden era of W E Bold and then Mc I Green, which ended in 1965. Both men were remarkable Town Clerks and leaders of the city, each qualified in a number of disciplines, including town planning. They were of the rare breed of dictators whom power does not corrupt. Their idealism and utter devotion to both their city and their staff seems totally out of kilter with what followed, reaching its nadir in the 90s when the ideology of economic rationalism was applied thoughtlessly to local government; there was radical and unnecessary alteration to Perth's municipal boundaries and the State passed some misconceived amendments to the relevant legislation.

Green's vision in 1964 was for an enlightened CEO to succeed him to work with me -- Perth's first Town Planner (he had imported me from the UK in 1965 and installed in his last year in office) -- but he was thwarted by the Council. In spite of his desperate efforts at benevolent bullying, Green could not overturn the vote and he was shattered by the experience. The explanation of why Green's candidate had not triumphed is not evident from the formal record. Some on the PCC had feared the enthusiasm of Green's candidate who, although Perth born, held a PhD from the University of California. However, even more influential than apprehension of the 'far out' was concern at an answer given by the candidate to a question during his Council interview: the man spoke of his 'social concern'; but the words were misconstrued as being dangerously socialistic. Such apparently dubious politics were the last straw at the height of the Cold War.

Instead of Green's preferred choice, the Council appointed G O Edwards, a man of only small town experience who lacked the enthusiasm, sophistication, dedication and force of personality that Mc I Green had provided in keeping Council and Councillors in order and staff loyal and committed. Another difference between the inadequate Edwards and his predecessors was that of faith. Edwards was a zealot who introduced prayers to Council in stark contrast to the rational, secular, worldly humanism of Bold and Green. Under Edwards an era radically different from that which the city had known under Bold and Green was unfolding with decisive and destructive influences on the planning and growth of the city. My own dismissal as City Planner -- in 1967 -- marked the removal of the last vestiges of Green's influence. The only real counter to Edwards after that was the vigilance of the millionaire philanthropist, Tom Wardle, as Lord Mayor.

Amidst her colorful descriptions of motions passed and rejected in Council, Gregory has omitted some items of interest. The battle to prohibit smoking in committee meetings and in Council lifts and the motion to ban all air and noise polluting machinery from the inner city are two items that have been left out. Both were passed but were ineffective because there was no action from the executive arm of Council. Motions to limit reflective glass on skyscraper facades was partially successful; while another, to cover the vast hot car parking areas by the foreshore with a newly invented, hard wearing lawn surface to improve the look, use and environmental quality for the city foreshore, was allowed to lapse. It was of course impossible for Gregory to include everything to satisfy every interest; yet one ponders why several pages are devoted to describing some of irrelevant planning successes in London and some now discredited US planning theory and practice. While a gifted historian, Gregory's analysis is necessarily limited by her lack of qualifications in urban planning and she is much more at home in detailing the local manifestations of broader historical processes, such as the struggle of Perth's women for freedom within the city and the treatment of Aboriginal people within the precinct; both of which are matters deserving of their prominent treatment in the book.

There is one major aspect of the book with which I must take issue. The book suggests an enduring and destructive animosity between David Carr and I, which is far too simplistic an account of what was an ambiguous and multi-dimensional relationship. Carr and I shared many fundamental beliefs about the welfare of the city, some personal animosity notwithstanding. Indeed the one and only major contention between us arose shortly after we had each just arrived in Perth. Carr backed the mighty Government Freeway Plan with large parking areas that had been passed by the City prior to my arrival. I opposed the proposal strongly as it would have cut off the entire southern and eastern river foreshores from the pedestrian life of the city and instead offered an alternative plan (described as 'space age' on the front page of the Sunday Times in 1966) that preserved easy walking access to the banks of Swan. The Council accepted my proposal to reverse their earlier decision (for which Gregory kindly and most flatteringly suggests that the people of Perth should be grateful to me and others) but Carr did not lightly forgive the challenge to his authority. Yet in spite of this disagreement the planning of Perth proceeded well, and Carr and I cooperated on virtually all other issues.

The book also does not really come to grips with some important structural intricacies, so important to the administration and planning of Perth. The Chair of the City's Town Planning Committee sitting on the board of the Region Planning Authority as its central area committee chairman was a very effective measure. Similarly, the creation of a Metropolitan Region Authority with executive power was a unique achievement, virtually unknown in the rest of the English speaking world.

Perth was (and remains) the only capital city in the Commonwealth of Australia that shunned party political interference in local government and indeed it was bitterly and actively resented in Council when ever anything or anybody hinted at political labels in the sixties and seventies. Nevertheless, the absence of the parties did not mean the absence of politics. Indeed many of the arteries of Perth's public life experienced poisoning from political bad blood or individual animosities, which quickened the pulse of life of the city. It is the playing out of private motives in such a new city that gives Perth its (often overlooked) special complexity. The city has also been enriched by the West Australian tendency for private entrepreneurs to combine philanthropy and profound love of the city with roguery and private gain. Indeed Gregory makes hardly any mention of the business figures crucial to the development of the city including (sometimes) enlightened capitalists like John Roberts, Stan Perret, Dallas Dempster, Bill Wylie and others. It is too easy for such men to be dismissed as interested only in the profit motive, without regard for the greater complexity of their character or motives.

When I arrived in Perth in 1964, I felt properly at home for the first time since leaving Czechoslovakia as a refugee in 1938. I have never lost that feeling; Perth is a remarkable place, extraordinary for its green open spaces; for the near equality in size of river, park and city; for the feeling of isolation engendered by being one of the most secluded capitals on earth but coupled with the feeling of being at the centre of things that goes with its political and cultural domination of the vast lands of Western Australia; for its rough edges, friendliness and easy spirit. Indeed, for all of its cultural cringe and all the sneering (real and imagined) of the much maligned (and distrusted) 'eastern-staters', Perth has deep and special qualities that merit investigation and description. Hopefully Gregory's handsome and readable book, while not only being commendable on its merits, will encourage others to take interest in the history of the City of Lights.

Citation

  • Paul Ritter. 'Review: City of Light: A History of Perth Since the 1950s by Jenny Gregory' [online]. Network Review of Books (Perth, Australian Public Intellectual Network), April 2005. Availability: <please cite the web address here> ISSN 1833-0932. [accessed 01 August 2014].

Back Cover Blurb

  • In 1962 a lone astronaut orbiting the Earth sighted a small cluster of lights on the dark silhouette of Australia's western coastline - a token of friendship from the people of Perth that prompted the world's media to dub this isolated provincial outpost the 'City of Light'.

    City of Light expands this metaphor by shedding new light on the social history of Perth since the 1950s. Its focus is the city centre and the events that unfolded there.

    After a lively sketch of prewar Perth, Jenny Gregory ventures into the historically uncharted territory of the postwar era. The result is a frank, incisive and richly detailed investigation of the city's growth and transformation over a fifty-year period, from the modernist era of postwar reconstruction to the mid nineties.

    Often cast as a peaceful, sun-drenched lotus land, Perth is shown in quite a different light here, during a time that saw wild swings from boom to bust, consensus to conflict, riches to poverty.

    There are stories of celebration - the 1954 royal tour, the Commonwealth Games, the Sesquicentenary, the triumph of the America's Cup. Of conflict, protest and shame - the reaction to consciption during the Vietnam War, power struggles over planning and development, failed heritage battles, the shame of the city's back streets and the treatment of Aboriginal people. Of greed and corruption - from the Poseidon boom of the sixties to the years of WA Inc. And stories of renewal - the transformation of East Perth and the endeavour to revitalise the city.

    In exploring the city's past, City of Light provides a significant and insightful contribution to our understanding of the modern Australian urban experience. It is essential reading for anyone who cares about the future of Perth.

Visitors' Responses

  • Erratum
    Unfortunately this review was originally cited as being published by the University of Western Australia Press. It was in fact published by the City of Perth. Apologies for any confusion.



 
Network Review of Books

NRB April 2005

Need to Contact Us?

  • API Network
    c/- Richard Nile
    Professor Australian Studies
    Director Institute for Media, Creative Arts and Information Technologies
    Murdoch University
    Australia 6152
    Tel +61 8 93602170

    orders@api-network.com

 

 
Site Meter