Our house: histories of Australian homes

Jenny Gregory
Australian Heritage Commission, 2001

35 - Suburban retreat

93 Broadway, Nedlands, Western Australia

The Broadway house in 1997.

The Broadway house in 1997.

In 1908 when land in the Nedlands Park Estate was first released for sale, the area was promoted as 'Perth's riverside resort'. But the land was more than half an hour's jolting tram ride from the city, and was not easy to sell. Within twenty years, however, the area had been transformed. More than 900 homes had been built and Nedlands was now promoted as 'a suburban retreat'. The happy conjunction of the activities of real estate agents, who appealed to the status-conscious in their advertisements, and a surge of middle-class returned soldiers looking for homes fit for heroes after World War I, ensured that it was predominantly the middle-class who bought land.

The Ratepayers' Association and their Roads Board manipulated new town planning regulations to dampen down Nedlands' resort image. The images that middle class home builders placed in their streets were also significant in this transformation. In the progressive 1920s, a time of rapid technological change, they chose architectural styles inspired by the nostalgic Arts and Crafts movement. Tudor and Georgian revival variations of the Californian bungalow came to line the streets of Nedlands, reaffirming the traditional values of middle class life.

In 1928 Charles and Florence Harper and their three children, moved to their new home in Nedlands. Harper had been sent from SA to Perth to open a branch of Clarkson's, 'the House of Decoration, specialists in Mirrors, Leadlights, Sanitaryware', and later became the firm's managing director in WA. Harper bought two blocks of land in Nedlands, eventually building a home on the block closest to the school and shops. Broadway was the main street of the Estate and the tram stop was not far from the front gate.

The house on Broadway c1928.

The house on Broadway c1928.

93 Broadway is a variant of the Californian bungalow with Tudor and Georgian revival overtones. The internal design and materials were in part dictated by Harper's work for it was built as a display house for Clarkson's. His son Robert recalled

It was two storey, quite elegant, top of the hill … brick with a tile roof … concrete verandahs with a series of bay windows, full of leadlights, because Clarkson's were leadlight people, it was a feature to try and sell leadlights. They were 'bellied, curved, leadlights which were very new in those days. There was a leadlight front door.

The lobby, panelled in jarrah with a built-in grandfather clock, opened 'into a very nice lounge room with a floor to ceiling tiled jarrah fireplace, a real feature', and beyond that was a dining room, all joined by glass leadlight doors. They also had a Clarkson's kitchen with an unusual stainless steel sink, tiles, 'jazzy taps', a Junker's gas hot water system and a pantry. 'We ate almost all our meals at a round table in the kitchen, but on Sunday we always had high tea in the dining room.' As Clarkson's had a big bathroom section the bathroom was 'terrific', with floor tiles and mottled red tiles right up to the ceiling. 'There was also a toilet in the bathroom, which was unheard of in those days.' They had another toilet outside. 'And all the latest ceramic toothbrush holders, which normally people didn't have.' Unlike most bathrooms with a shower over the bath, they had a bath and a separate shower.

The master bedroom was 'a showplace', kept solely for the use of guests, who were invited to leave their coats there. His parents slept in an attic bedroom. Upstairs was also a large room overlooking the river with a ping-pong table. The roof was high with doors leading into store rooms. 'We used to play in lots of little secret cubby holes up there.' The block sloped towards the rear, and limestone retaining walls were built. The garden was landscaped and a walled terrace was built behind the house with a grotto and stone seating. Pergolas ran down both sides of the house.

The Harpers commissioned two series of photographs, the first taken just after they moved in. Photographs of the lounge room, taken five years apart, chart the family's changing interests and tastes. The Depression had little effect. The walls had been papered. An Indian occasional table still stood in the room, and it, the mantelpiece, and the ornament rails were more crowded with ornaments, suggesting a trip overseas via Suez. A metal smoker's stand and puffed up silk cushions were new.

Interior of the lounge room c1928.

Interior of the lounge room c1928.

The Harpers lived at 93 Broadway for 38 years, their children were married from the home, grandchildren played in the garden. Florence predeceased Charles who died in 1966. Charles Harper had been a stalwart of the Methodist Church and was President of the Deaf and Dumb Society. Yet his obituary recorded the centrality of home and garden in his life.

Under that great palm tree which was the centre of his garden at Broadway, he always had a big collection of flower pots and tins, each with its own carefully tended seedlings.

93 Broadway was sold to Gustaaf and Paulina Brugman in 1966, then to Gerrit and Mary Grooters. Clive and Kamala MacVie bought the house in 1977. They had been living in Nedlands in a small house that Clive, an accountant, had bought as an investment before his marriage. They would go for walks to settle their baby, Olivia, often admiring 93 Broadway. It was one of their favourite houses and they were delighted when it came on the market. Kamala was pregnant with their second child, James, and they had begun to look for a larger house. The real estate market had boomed, the Grooters had bought the house for about $40,000, it was now $85,000.

The MacVies still live in the house and the children still live at home, the University of WA is only five minutes walk. Kamala, after managing the local Community Aid Abroad shop, now runs a local boutique. Originally from Malaysia and of Indian descent, she visits Malaysia on buying trips. Clive, originally from Scotland, works with the Australian Taxation Office in the city.

In 70 years the house has changed little. Possibly during the Grooters' time in the early seventies, the south west rear corner was altered and a porch enclosed to form another bedroom. The attic windows were replaced by larger ones and the half timbers were removed. More recently electrical rewiring has been necessary. As the trees and shrubs grew up, roots invaded the terracotta pipes and in 1990 they were replaced by plastic pipes. The brick front wall, which had developed a decided lean, was declared unsafe and the MacVies replaced it with a limestone wall.

But that is all. The entry, lounge and dining rooms look virtually the same as in the late 1920s. The wooden panelling and the bevelled leadlight glass doors dictated particular furnishing styles and so the dining table and chairs are Jacobean style. The carpet has been taken up and the jarrah floor boards polished and covered with Indian rugs. A piano stands in the same place as in the late 1920s, but there is also a television, stereo and speakers. In pride of place in the dining room is a pen and ink drawing of the house by a local artist, commissioned by Kamala as a present to Clive on his fiftieth birthday.

Acknowledgements and Bibliography

Robert Harper (including the early photographs) and Clive and Kamala MacVie.

Certificate of Title.

Building and Construction, 20 October, 1927.

Gregory, Jenny, 'The manufacture of middle class suburbia', PhD thesis, Department of History, UWA, 1989.

Harper, Robert, interviewed by Jenny Gregory, 1986.

MacVie, Kamala and Clive, interviewed by Jenny Gregory, 1997.

'Nedlands Park Tramway Estate', Nedlands Park Tramways Co, printed brochure, c1909, Battye Library. Perth Telephone Directory, 1937, 1956.

Ratebooks, East Ward, Claremont/Nedlands Roads Board 1917-18, 1929-30 and 1937-38.

WA Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly Electoral Rolls.

WA Metropolitan Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Department plans, Sheet No 1030, September 1928.

Wise's Post Office Directory, 1928, 1938.

The Western Methodist, XXIX-4, July 1966.

The Author

Dr Jenny Gregory is Director of the Centre for WA History, Director of UWA Press and Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Western Australia. She is also a member of the Heritage Council of WA, a councillor of the National Trust (WA), Editor of the Australian Historical Association Bulletin and Chairperson of the Editorial Board of the journal Studies in Western Australian history. Her publications include Building a tradition: a history of Scotch College 1897-1996 (1996) and three edited collections, Western Australia between the wars 1919-1939 (1991), On the homefront: Western Australia and World War II (1996), and Historical traces (1996). She is currently working on a history of Perth since the 1950s.