By Melissa Moyle
The perception of Perth as a place short on history continues to change with special Heritage Days reminding us of our city’s relatively brief post-Colonial past as well as a rich indigenous legacy.
At the weekend, Perth Heritage Days held their annual event with this year’s theme: People Who Shaped Perth.
Now in its 7th year, the Perth Heritage Days aim is to increase the awareness of Perth’s heritage places and improve the image of Perth as a city with historical colour.
Richard Offen, Executive Director for Heritage Perth, says history has come a long way from the dull days of learning about dates and events.
History is about people, he said.
“We were set up at a time when people didn’t get that we had any history,” said Mr Offen.
Mr Offen is referring to the 1960s and 70s when many buildings in St Georges Terrace were knocked down because they were not seen as having any real significance.
“We were set up to show that Perth has an amazing history and heritage and that it’s worth keeping for the future. And it’s also fun, that’s the important thing … it can be fun and interesting and cool,” he said.
Places such as The Cygnet Cinema in South Perth are stunning examples of heritage places supported with help from the community and a grant scheme, enabling it to convert to upgraded digital technology.
Built in 1938 by Jim Stiles, the Art Deco cinema was a popular attraction for inexpensive entertainment with Como beach residents during the inter-war period.
However, Peter Best, business owner and former councillor for South Perth, said the battle to keep The Cygnet open is ongoing.
“In 2003 a proposal to knock down the cinema was put forward … there was a public outcry, the Art Deco Society got involved, the community got together and eventually the plan stalled,” he said.
Best said when heritage places are owned privately, it is difficult to control the outcome.
“Often the owners just neglect the upkeep of maintenance and let the premises run down on their own,” he said.
Another Art Deco heritage cinema, The Piccadilly Theatre in the city, has already suffered the ultimate fate.
Piccadilly Theatre and The Cygnet Cinema were both designed by architect William Leighton in 1938.
As the last cinema to operate in Perth city, the increasing cost of repairs proved too extravagant for its owners and the doors were sadly shut in 2013.
Mr Offen said with the population of residents living in the city centre growing to 20,000, the loss of a central cinema is a huge blow.
With events like Perth Heritage Days, Perth Heritage hopes to change the mindset of individuals and help conserve, not knock down, our remaining heritage-listed places.
For more information about Heritage Perth, visit www.heritageperth.com.au.