By Mike Atkinson
With the ANZAC centenary coming up in April, we take a look at one of the local heart warming stories to come out of the tough times in World War 1.
ANZAC Cottage was initially built as a war memorial in Mount Hawthorn in 1916 but served a dual purpose – to provide a home for a wounded soldier, Private John Porter and his family.
A poster celebrating the completion of ANZAC Cottage. Source: Heritage Perth
Why was the cottage built? And how was Private Porter – described as “an ordinary bloke” – selected to live there? Below is a the timeline of ANZAC Cottage.
- The Anzacs had not yet left the gullies of Gallipoli when in October, 1915 the Mt Hawthorn Progress Association formed a committee to find a way to perpetuate the name ‘Anzac’. They decided they wanted to “do something big” to build a monument that would be useful.
- This developed into the idea of providing a home for a wounded soldier who took part in the famous landing.
- Preliminary work commenced on 29 January, 1916, when a group of men cleared the block which had been purchased for the cottage. At the same time, another group, consisting mainly of carpenters, met at a house in Coogee Street to start making the joinery.
- The souvenir booklet documenting the building of Anzac Cottage (which went to several editions) blends the big theme with the fine detail in its description:
“No finer display of Patriotic and industrial effort has ever been seen in Perth than … when 70 drays, laden with building material, formed up in procession…. Fully 150 men gave up their Saturday afternoon… and the procession was about half a mile long.
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Mrs. C. Roberts, the ‘Soldiers’ Queen’ headed the procession in her motor car, which also carried a Metters’ stove and copper, and was accompanied by two other decorated motor cars.
Then came 20 drays of stone, 27 of bricks, 1 of lime, 3 of tiles, 12 of timber, 1 of cement and paints, 1 of scaffolding, 1 tiled grate, 1 large enamel bath, 1 of refreshments, and 1 of sundries.
The procession was viewed by thousands as it proceeded to Mt. Hawthorn, and on arrival at ‘Anzac’ was greeted by hundreds of enthusiastic men women and children.”
- This was a prelude to the grand day a week later when 4000 people turned up to watch 200 volunteers build the house which they aimed to complete, including the fence, gateposts, and instant turf lawn, in a day.
- Saturday, 12 February 1916, was a big day in Mount Hawthorn. At 3.30am to the town crier, ringing his bell, announced, ‘Arise! Arise! Anzac Cottage is to be built today’. Mrs Roberts started the digging of the first trench for the foundations, and by 2pm the walls were at ceiling height.
- During the afternoon, the Governor paid a visit and unveiled a marble tablet recording the event.
- Anzac Cottage was Australia’s first World War One memorial.
ANZAC Cottage as it stands in 2016; Refurbished in 1995.
- Private Cuthbert John Porter was at first understandably embarrassed at being the sole beneficiary of the city’s gratitude to his military colleagues. Eventually, Private Porter formally took over the property on 16 April 1916, less than a year after the original Anzac landing, to the accompaniment of community singing featuring ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Home Sweet Home’, accompanied by Police Brass Band.
- With its flag aloft, it was a local landmark until Porter’s death in 1964.
- Private Porter’s family of four children grew up in an official monument – the conditions of their occupancy required that the place remained a memorial to the Gallipoli landing.
- In the early 1990s the cottage was vested in the Vietnam Veterans Association. Lottery funding allowed restoration and interpretation to commence in 1995.
- Enthusiasts claim that Anzac Cottage is Australia’s only practical war memorial, but that ignores the usefulness of dozens of memorial hospitals, schools and clubs. It is, however, unique as the first Australian war memorial, and the only one in the form of a single dedicated domestic dwelling.
There is a weekend of free festivities to celebrate the Centenary of the Cottage on 13 and 14 February. For more information on how to get involved click here.