Aberdeen Street Precinct

Aberdeen Street Precinct, comprises No. 154 to 186 Aberdeen Street and is located along the northern side of Aberdeen Street between Fitzgerald Street and Palmerston Street, Northbridge.The houses form a rare group of housing with some commercial premises constructed in the city between the 1880s and c.1940s.

By the early 1880s, all the eight lots which make up the subdivision bounded by Newcastle, Aberdeen, Fitzgerald and Palmerston Street had been bought by three sets of owners. William Lawrence, a boat builder, brothers Robert and Richard Sholl and merchant George Shenton. All the lots are listed in the city rate books as vacant ground until c.1884 when Richard Sholl built his substantial residence ‘Lancewood’ on the corner of Aberdeen and Palmerston Streets. Around 1885, William Lawrence built a cottage on the corner of Aberdeen and Fitzgerald Streets. Robert and Richard Sholl are well documented in the biographical histories of Western Australians; Richard Sholl became the Post-Master General for Western Australia, and Robert Sholl the MLA for Gascoyne in 1886.

Subsequent entries in the city rate books for the cottage owned by Lawrence indicate it was rented to a boatman named John Cookson, and that a workshop was present on the site in the early 1890s. William Lawrence, senior, is listed as living there in 1891. What is known of the subsequent history of this general area indicates there would be considerable industrial and commercial activity with factories and workshops with homes along the street frontages.

The situation in this precinct was to remain fairly static until the onset of the 1890s gold boom. Various types of cottages, and commercial premises which provided a range of goods and services, began to appear along the streets during the latter half of the 1890s, and particularly during the first decade of the twentieth century. At the time, the location was suitable for its convenience to the city centre, while offering a pleasant mode of living away from its noise and bustle. While dwellings, on the whole, were relatively modest, a few substantial houses were constructed in Aberdeen Street, where a number of eminent people lived, or acquired property for investment purposes.

In his ‘Memories of Perth (1886-1893)’, F. W. Bateson wrote:

 ‘Newcastle Street, Palmerston and Aberdeen Streets had some very nice homes, and well-known citizens lived there at that time; to mention but a few, Mr. J. S. Brooking,Surveyor-General, in Palmerston Street, Mr. R. A. Sholl, first Postmaster-General of Western Australia as a sovereign State, and Mr. Robt. Sholl, solicitor, the former in Aberdeen Street, and the latter in Newcastle Street.’

A number of eminent citizens were to live for varying periods of time in Aberdeen Street such as J. S. Battye the State’s librarian in ‘Nuestro Nido’, businessman Neil McNeil, Frederick Monger, MLA, and many others including physicians and government officials. Over the next couple of years, the remaining vacant lots along Aberdeen Street, towards the Fitzgerald Street end, were developed. Some of these places appear to have operated as residential and commercial premises. A diverse range of trades and practices operated from these places over the decades; confectioners, butchers, bootmaker, fruiterer, tin maker, fish shop, furniture store, hairdressers and a wine depot.

A survey of the post office directories and rate books up to the late 1940s indicate the changing social dynamics of Aberdeen Street during the decades following the First and Second World Wars. Post war immigration resulted in many families of Greek and Italian origin moving into Northbridge which by now had developed into an inner city working class area. The names of residents along Aberdeen Street, between Palmerston and Fitzgerald Streets, were no longer so heterogeneous in their Anglo-Celtic origins. A number of these migrants became land owners, such as Mr Enrica Bordoni Betti and Mr Francesco Torre, a Master Tailor who lived in nearby Lake Street. During the 1960s and 1970s, land was resumed by the Metropolitan Region Planning Authority in particular between Newcastle and Aberdeen Streets for the planned northern city by-pass.

Successive governments remained committed to the concept of a major bypass route north of the CBD. The compulsory acquisition of properties in the Northbridge area resulting from these plans created a ‘planning blight’ that significantly slowed development of the area, inadvertently preserving heritage properties. A number of residences now owned by the State government along Aberdeen Street and elsewhere were leased out at peppercorn rentals to various community groups. Up to this time, No.162 had been operating as a refuge for women and girls by the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul whose Trustees had bought the building from Mr Torre in 1961. Today, the place operates as a community health and advisory centre for workers in the sex industry.

During the 1990s, the land immediately behind the houses along Aberdeen Street was cleared and a retaining wall erected. The Graham Farmer Freeway and Northbridge Tunnel was constructed and officially opened on 22 April 2000.