Old North Perth Police Station - by Peter Conole
During the 1890s and early 1900s the WA Police Force of the day started to carry out some vital functions from the northern part of the city centre. The opening of a railway line running through the metropolitan area, population growth and suburban expansion away from the river were key factors in the decision. Police administration itself - along with a barracks, stables, marshalling yards, a police school and the Beaufort Street Court of Petty Sessions – was placed in what is now called Northbridge when Commissioner Frederick Hare moved his offices from the city centre to there in 1905.
Calls from the community for a permanent police presence came when stable, settled suburban life gradually developed north of the railway line. A number of police stations were opened to provide for law enforcement needs, including Highgate (1897), Maylands (1906), North Perth (1908), Inglewood (1940), Bayswater (1955) and Morley (1965).
Those just listed deserve to be discussed as a group, because for administrative purposes they were from 1940 included in an Inglewood police district or division. Morley station took over as the ‘capital’ of this jurisdiction by the early 1970s. After a lot of careful planning about the development of the Perth northern ‘corridor’, that arrangement was replaced about a decade ago by the creation of the West Metropolitan police region, based on a new complex at Mirrabooka.
The North Perth area, later to be included in the ambit of the 1940 police district changes, felt the impact of population growth keenly and obtained recognition as a municipality in 1901. North Perth tended to be regarded as a solidly working class suburb. Neighbouring Mount Lawley had the reputation of being more fashionable and genteel; a number of fairly senior police officers set up house there. Soon the usual requests for police protection arrived and a foot constable was assigned permanently to North Perth in 1903, although he had to live and operate out of rented buildings for several years.
In September, 1907 the firm of Franklin and Finlay won the contract to build a police station in North Perth. The keys to premises at 81, Angove Street were handed over to the police in January, 1908 and Constable James Strappe moved in. The station is an example of Federation Free Classical style functional architecture; single story, built of brick, with an iron roof and wooden floors. There were residential quarters for the Officer in Charge, office space, a charge room and cells. It was common practice at the time to include living space for the senior man and the actual police station under one roof.
For some time the North Perth constables had to look after the residents of Mount Hawthorn as well, until the opening of an additional station and quarters in Ellesmere Street, Mount Hawthorn in November 1928.
Constable Strappe, who had opened North Perth station, received a standard transfer to Bridgetown in December 1908. The man who replaced him, 40-year old Constable William Sherman Crawford, may have achieved something of a record in the course of his career. There is no evidence he was ever transferred; it seems certain he stayed on at North Perth until his retirement on October 25, 1933.
Constable Crawford may have lacked interest in promotion and it is likely the police hierarchy identified him as a good suburban constable and let things be. There are a few other examples of such long-term postings around the State.
After officer Crawford retired, his successors began to agitate for better living conditions, equipment and working space, with varying success. A 1937 request for extra office accommodation failed. Financial restrictions remained in force, especially during the World War II years, although the existing premises were partially renovated in 1943.
The work of police officers at stations such as North Perth was supplemented by mounted patrols up until the mid-1930s, then increasingly by single man patrols on motor cycles organised and managed from Central Police Station in Roe Street. This system continued until a new era of prosperity made the building of extra police stations viable.
Renovation work remained incomplete even after the war ended and in 1953 a resident officer had to pay for repairs to the bath heater out of his own pocket. The police establishment of the day received more generous financial support from State Governments as the 1950s drew on and Police Commissioner James Murray O’Brien finally decided to go all out to help the North Perth officers.
The commissioner had quite a few skirmishes with the Under Secretary for Works right up to the mid-1960s, but managed to get the premises upgraded. Before James O’Brien retired an extra living room, a side window, a front and rear porch, another office and a timber floor had been added to North Perth.
In the 1990s five police officers and a police cadet were based on North Perth. However, the two cells were used for storage space – which meant people being held overnight had to be taken elsewhere. During these years it became unfashionable for Officers in Charge to occupy quarters at police stations and the sergeant of the time moved into private accommodation in 1995.
In 1999, after much discussion, the station obtained a permanent listing on the WA Register of Heritage Places. By the year 2000 part of the quarters were taken over and used by the Mirrabooka Police District Training Centre, leaving the local officers to operate from the station and the remainder of the quarters. Not long afterwards, the Tactical Investigation Group moved in and this ended the station’s traditional usage.
From 2006 the Property Management Division of the WA Police occupied the site before moving to new premises in June 2009. The future of old North Perth Police Station now lies in other hands.
The Council of the Town of Vincent decided to bid for the property and purchased it at auction in October 2009. At the time of writing (February, 2011), the heritage listing for North Perth has ensured the fine old Federation Era building’s long-term existence. The same level of security does not apply to some surviving but vulnerable former police stations from the early 1900s or even earlier times, such as Subiaco (opened 1898).