Life in WA

Life in WA

Life goes on

As war raged in Europe and the Middle East, life continued in Western Australia and domestic issues were still examined by local papers. During the war Ben continued to comment on what the State and Federal Governments were doing as well as local events including the Perth Royal Show.

‘Old Mother Hubbard. She went to the Cupboard…’ Western Mail August 3, 1917. During War the Western Australian Government suffered a large drop in revenue, causing considerable financial stress. Lower revenue meant the state had to borrow over five million pounds in 1916. Here Ben is showing the financial problems facing recently installed Premier Henry Lefroy.

‘Everybody’s Axe’ Western Mail October 6, 1916. During the war the Federal Government suffered from a loss of revenue and an increase in expenditure. In 1917 the Hughes government moved to boost revenue by increasing the income tax to 25%, the War Profits tax to 50% and to introduce an ‘Amusement Tax’ on tickets sold to cultural and sporting events. The man sharpening the axe is Prime Minister William ‘Billy’ Hughes.

‘Show Snaps’ Western Mail October 20, 1916. Even when the theme is the Perth Royal Show Ben couldn’t help poking fun at some of the people and events from the show including some possible prominent figures from Western Australia.

‘Topical Cartoons’ Western Mail 12 January 1901. Ben had a long history of commenting on his belief that the gambling on horse racing was detrimental to Western Australia.

A Healthy State?

During World War One many soldiers returned home bringing with them a variety of souvenirs. Unfortunately some of them also brought back, and spread, cases of venereal disease (VD). It is estimated that over 5% of Australian soldiers caught a venereal disease while serving.

In 1915 the Western Australian Health Act was changed to allow members of the public to sign a statement reporting someone for having a VD. The statements could then be used by the Commissioner of Health to request, or even force, medical evidence from the accused to prove they were healthy.

In April 1918 the State Government stated that the changes weren’t working because ‘It has been proved in practice that no woman will sign a statement against a man, and that no man will sign a statement excepting against a common prostitute.’ A new amendment was proposed to remove the need for a signed statement allowing anonymous claims to be used to force someone to prove they didn’t have a VD. This outraged parts of the community who argued it was now possible to make malicious claims against innocent men and women and the accused were being denied a basic right of knowing who their accuser was.

Despite numerous public protests against the changes the Western Australian parliament passed the new amendments on June 13, but added the clause that giving false information to the commissioner could result in a 50 pound fine or imprisonment for 12 months, with or without hard labour.

‘Stern Duty’ Western Mail 25 May, 1917. In May 1917 a deputation of concerned citizens asked the Colonial Secretary to consider appointing women police officers to ‘watch over the social purity of the sex she represented’ and help save ‘the girls and young women who walked the streets from social degradation and from disease.’ Ben Strange clearly had a bit of fun with the idea of a female constable, depicting her wearing heels, but note that the police women is looking on with concern at the two soldiers talking to the women. Strange is commenting on the threat to public health and that one of the sources of ‘disease’ to the women was soldiers returning from the war. In late August 1917 Mrs. H.B Dugdale a trained nurse and Miss L.E. Chipper, a social worker with 15 years’ experience working for the Salvation Army were appointed Western Australia’s first female constables.

Your Eyes Have Told Me So

Western Mail 22 March, 1918

Mr. Lovekin in his evidence before the Select Committee on the new Health Bill:- I have generally noticed that whenever there is anything wrong there is revulsion to the eye.

(There is no truth in the rumour that the Government intends to appoint an expert eye-gazer to patrol parks and reserves in search of suspects.)

In this cartoon Ben Strange is playing with Arthur Lovekin’s, the owner and editor of the Daily News, recent statement before a Select Committee into the amendments to the Health Bill, that he could tell by looking into their eyes if someone had a venereal disease. In response Dr Atkinson, the Commissioner of Public Health, stated “I suppose it is hardly for me to correct any wrong impressions which may have grown up in Mr Lovekin’s mind, but I do not, for instance, think it is always possible to tell a venereal case by simply looking at the patient.”

Ben Strange shows Lovekin staring accusingly at a young demure lady in front of him, while a women with a suggestion of questionable morals stands behind him. The three older ladies on the bench are possibly some of the campaigners for, and against the bill, including Edith Cowan who is featured on the right.

The Law of the Suspect

Western Mail 19 April, 1918

“In several cases which came under my notice men had accused innocent girls and it had been established on inquiry that the girls know nothing about the men in question.  False addresses had been given and here was reason to fear that in some cases false charges had been made from spite and malice, and that men had thus sought to injure girls who had refused to have anything to do with them”…Mr McLeod Victorian ex-Minister of Public Health.

Ben Strange continued his campaign against the amendments to the 1911 Health Act with this cartoon highlighting the risk, primarily to women, of making false and anonymous accusations. Ben used the quote by the former Victorian Minister for Public Health and the serpent of ‘calumny’, meaning to make false and defamatory statements about someone in order to damage their reputation, to demonstrate the dangers of the proposed amendments to the Health Act.

On a Good Wicket

Western Mail, 28 June 1918

Throughout the war, state governments, including Western Australia, and members of society were concerned that the population was becoming distracted by sporting events, including horse racing, and the impact of gambling, particularly on the working-class. The Western Mail reported on December 29, 1916 ‘Christmas week in Perth witnesses a veritable orgy of horse racing.’

In 1917 the Western Australian government passed the Racing Restriction Act which restricted the number of days horse races could be held on, but also strengthened the powers of the Western Australian Turf Club and the Western Australian Trotting Association.

Ben had a history of commenting on the social concerns of horse racing and gambling with this cartoon appearing in the Western Mail on January 12, 1901. The Western Mail devoted three pages to racing results and stories in the same edition.