Cowan of Cottesloe

Kindly donated to Community History by Hilary Silbert

Image result for image $50

When the people of Cottesloe consider their history, few will realise that one of Australia’s most significant women lived amongst them.

Who is she?

The lady on the fifty dollar note!

It was the result of a compromise that Edith Dircksey Cowan (born Edith Brown at Glengarry, Geraldton) came to live in Cottesloe in 1896. The beach side suburb had been named Cottesloe only ten years earlier. She arrived with her husband and children to live at “Bleak House”, situated on the south-western corner of Avonmore Terrace and Rosendo Street. Edith, who was to become the first women to be elected to any Australian Parliament, had rural origins and her husband James had enjoyed time in York and Grass Dale. The decision to move from their home in Malcolm Street, Perth to Cottesloe was to be near the hub of activities that had attracted the attention of Edith and still enjoy the rural atmosphere of the district. The family had been leaving their home for Albany to escape the summer heat, so now they could enjoy the sea breezes and the coastal pleasures of Cottesloe Beach. They had friends who had made the move and, though arduous, chose to travel to Perth some 8 miles, with Fremantle being 4 miles.

The first house built in the area in 1892 was “The Summit “owned by the Foulkes family in Avonmore Terrace, on the corner of Salvado Road. On the 4th of May, 1895 James Cowan, Esquire of Perth, had paid £35 to Adam Jameson and Daniel Kenny of Perth, Medical Practitioners and on the 13th April, 1896 he purchased the second parcel of land for £350 from Edward Hooley of Perth and Charles Dempster of Northam with a mortgage of £500 with interest at £7 per centum per annum.

In Rosendo Street the Cowans would have been neighbours of the families residing in “Belvedere”, the Campbells, and the Burt family in their summer residence, “Tukurua”. The Moseleys lived opposite on the south east corner of Rosendo Street and Avonmore Terrace and the Holmes, in “Banksia”, were on the corner of Salvado and Swanbourne Terrace, now Marine Parade. An interesting link to the neighbours for the Cowans was the fact that Francis Moseley was the Master and Registrar of the Supreme Court whilst James also worked in the legal field. Septimus Burt was the third party signature as the solicitor on Edith Dircksey Brown and James Cowan’s Marriage Settlement document on the 13th of March, 1890.

The property the Cowan family occupied was located on Section 78E Lot 6 and section 79E Lot 5 on the south west corner of Avonmore Terrace and Rosendo Street, Cottesloe Beach. The rates in 1905 (the earliest records available) were £1.17.6 and struck at sixpence in the pound. The person registered in the rate book as the owner is James Cowan, Police Magistrate. By 1906 the person rated is James Cowan and owner, Mrs E.D Cowan. It is noteworthy that Edith is named in the District Road Board Roll as the owner and was list as E.D not Mrs James Cowan as was the custom of the day. The Electoral Roll for the Claremont District dated July 25th 1908 shows all the family recorded as residing in “Bleak House,” Avonmore Terrace, Cottesloe. Only Helen aged seventeen, was unable to be registered. Avonmore Terrace was a new street, constructed in that year.

CPM02234 22 Avonmore Terrace

22 Avonmore Terrace on the corner of Avonmore and Rosendo Street, c. 1945.

So in the beginning of the Cowans in Cottesloe in 1896, the family consisted of Edith aged 35 and James aged 48, married seventeen years, daughters Dircksey (16 years ), Hilda Edith (13), Ida Marion (11), Helen May Burdett (5) and their son Norman Walkinshaw, aged 14.

To imagine the Cottesloe of this era: there were two trains a day, the coast road was named Swanbourne Terrace and householders built tracks through the bush at their own expense. Orchids and wild flowers were present in the bush and the broken ribs of shipwrecks were visible in the winter storms. Ships would travel quite close to the shore and drifts of coal smoke were visible. The train fares to Perth were single 1/2 (adult), 8d (child) and return 1/9 and 1/-. The railway connecting Fremantle to Perth had been opened in 1881 with fares based on 1 and 3/4 pence per mile for first class and a penny per mile for second class. Under three years of age was free and half fare was for children from three to twelve years of age. Cottesloe Station replaced Bullen’s Siding in 1896 and Cottesloe Beach Station was established as the neighbourhood siding. There were twenty two listings in the Post Office Directory for Cottesloe. In 1898 the Telephone Exchange opened with 88 subscribers on the list and in the same year there was the introduction of cabs. By 1901 the main gravel streets to the beach were laid, the first being Jarrad Street, and in 1903 electricity was connected.

As a lifestyle, the residents of Cottesloe Beach had parties, played croquet and had friends who would come for weekend visits. There was mixed bathing and bathing boxes soon made an appearance. There were bands and alfresco concerts held on the beach and pier. Cottesloe drew painters interested in seascapes and flowers. Edith was particularly interested in the etchings of H. van Raalte and acquired his works.


One local recorded event of the period: In 1900 Lady and Sir John Forrest opened the W.A Deaf and Dumb Institute. John Forrest was the Surveyor General in 1883 who was responsible for the streets and reserves in Cottesloe. The Cowans would probably have attended this occasion and they had a connection to the high profile couple: Edith was involved in the work of the Karrakatta Club with Lady Forrest, and the same Lady Forrest, as Margaret Hammersley, had been engaged to Edith’s uncle Maitland Brown. Fellow neighbours, Mrs Moseley and Mrs Holmes, were also involved with the work of the Karrakatta Club. Another event the Cowans were sure to have attended was the performance of the cantata, “The Errand of Flowers, “produced by the Cottesloe Branch of the Ministering Children’s League. It was performed to a packed hall in 1905 and Edith was a member of the committee. In addition, the family and their neighbours could well have attended the changeover ceremony from a Road Board to a Municipality on September 27th, 1907 with the other Cottesloe residents of the day.

During their years in Cottesloe, Edith and James travelled to Europe leaving their daughters to run the house. In December 1902 when James was earning £450 as a Police Magistrate the fare was £475. They returned in August 1903 having visited galleries, museums, plays and the theatre and been like many of the Western Australians of the period who travelled abroad. Edith believed the need to travel was educative, broadening ones horizons and lessening the sense of isolation. She travelled again to England and Switzerland whilst a resident of Cottesloe. In March 1912 she left on her own and arrived in London in April returning in February 1913. She was said to be carrying a letter of introduction that reflected her connections to every charitable movement in the city of the day.

In terms of education for the family, the girls attended Perth Girls’ School, formerly the Perth Colonial Girls’ School. It was local, being located in Irvine Street between Stirling Highway and View Street and was run by Miss Amy Best and Miss J.A Nisbet (who had succeeded Mrs Veal in 1887). According to Edith’s grandson and biographer Peter, the school had many names so it is probably the Cottesloe High School. Norman attended High School in Perth which became Hale School. It is possible the two youngest girls may have been amongst the first pupils of Cottesloe State School.

All the children lived at “Bleak House”, even as they entered their careers. In 1897 Dircksey gained a government exhibition having passed in eight subjects and in 1899 she gained a matriculation to the University of Melbourne, there being no local university. It is quite ironic that her mother was so involved with education at all levels and saw it as vital that, Dircksey would forgo her university place due to the expense for the family. She remained a public servant all her working life. She worked in the Supreme Court, as did her Avonmore Terrace neighbour, Mr Moseley. Hilda attended Claremont Teachers’ College and would have been one of the first students.

At the time of her residence in Cottesloe Edith was involved in the following activities:she was elected to the North Fremantle Board of Education in 1896 and became the Secretary. She was a delegate to the first conference of the District Boards in 1911.

In 1897 the Ministering Children’s League Convalescent Home opened in Cottesloe on the corner of Warton Street and Swanbourne Terrace. Edith was a member of the Executive from the foundation and Vice President for several years.

From 1905 to 1910 she was Vice President of the Karrakatta Club that she had helped found in 1894, it being the first women’s club in Australia.

She formed a branch of the District Nurse Society in Cottesloe because the area needed better medical services. She acted as President and continued until 1914. She helped found the Children’s Protection Society in 1906 and was a member of the Executive as Secretary. Son, Norman was the Honorary Solicitor from its inception. As a result of lobbying by Edith and others, in 1907 the first Children’s Court was established.

In 1908 she helped establish the first day nurseries. In the same year Edith sought to introduce sex education in schools. The year 1909 saw her involved with the formation of the Women’s Service Guild and was she was the Vice President until 1917. There was a branch in Cottesloe.

In 1912 the Cowan family returned to their home in Malcolm Street, Perth after sixteen years in the coastal district of Cottesloe Beach. As they left they would have observed the growth of the iconic pine trees now associated with Cottesloe. By then the trees would have had seven years growth, having been just eighteen inches high at planting.



Cottesloe Rate Books going digital!

They are almost done and looking amazing!  28-06-2017 11-27-46 AM

Grove History

cropped-cpm00644.jpgVery excited to announce that the Town of Cottesloe are funding the digitisation of the Rate Books and old Road Board minutes. Hopefully with the help of Carnamah Historical Society & Museum we can get them transcribed via their amazing Virtual Volunteering site so that the information can be unlocked and accessible to you guys online!!

30-05-2017 9-35-18 AM

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Cottesloe Central

The site of the present day Cottesloe Central was once the hub of community social and cultural life. The original two storey building, Wells Hall, was owned and constructed by Walter Wells, a builder and contractor. It can just be seen in the image below in the background on the right. The image is published with the permission of the Cownie family and is from the Stewart Cownie Collection of sketches.


The upper hall was well used for all forms of entertainment – ranging from balls and concerts, to school prize events and wedding receptions.

The ground floor housed the Road Board office, shops, a meeting room and a room for Freemasons’ events. In 1911 the Cottesloe Picture Company held the first of their popular Tuesday night film shows.

During the early 1920s an outdoor picture garden was created on land behind the Leake Street hall and the facility became known as Cottesloe Picture and Summer Gardens.

In 1936 the proprietor, retired school teacher Lou Hatfield, argued that the theatre structure was not in keeping with the district. And so architect Howard Bonner was hired to transform the building into a new modern theatre ‘worthy’ of Cottesloe.

In April 1937 the new 1150 seat Art Deco style Cottesloe Picture Theatre was opened. It boasted an experience similar to sitting ‘by your own fireside.’ There was modern concealed neon lighting, good acoustics, and seats so comfortable that ‘should the programme not be to your liking . . . it will guarantee a comfortable nod.’


Surrounding land was slowly acquired for development and in 1964 the buildings were demolished and the site cleared of its history, making way for the Grove Shopping Centre, now Cottesloe Central.



For more Peppermint Grove history visit the Community History Centre located in The Grove Library or the website:



Cottesloe Jetty


Cottesloe Jetty, c. 1920

In the 1890s Cottesloe Beach was accessible to people by carriage and by train. From the station there was a short walk down Forrest Street to the Sea Beach which consisted of many sand dunes, an outcrop of rocks, a rocky cliff-face and an area appropriate for swimming. At the foot of the rocks was a reef covered by 2 feet of water. It was a favourite fishing place.

There were several reasons for the construction of the jetty:

  • to make life easier for fishermen
  • to enable visitors to come close to the ocean without necessarily swimming in it, i.e.promenading
  • to attract visitors to the Sea Beach
  • to add to the means of entertainment, e.g. band concerts.

In 1899 the Roads Board initiated a move which was to lead to the construction of the jetty, by seeking advice from the Under-Secretary for Public Works as to ‘the best mode of giving effect to the erection of a platform or mole on the reef abutting into the sea at Moodoorup Rocks’.

By October 1903, Mr Shields of the Engineer-in-Chief’s Department had submitted plans for a jetty which the Roads Board subsequently decided to build. The jetty was described as 400 feet long and to cost 1400 pounds, the Government to pay 900 pounds and the Board 500 pounds. The Board promptly set aside its share. The Public Works Department prepared the plans and its engineer carried out surveys, favouring two locations – Beach Street and Forrest Street. Much attention was given to planning the approaches during 1906 and the jetty was completed in August (Guardian 25/8/1906) and handed over to the Roads Board which had been busy preparing draft by-laws for its control. These were adopted in October. In one day 16,000 people travelled to Cottesloe by train! Lighting was installed for evening activities.


The pier, as it is often referred, became a major attraction for tourists and residents and was central to the establishment of many stalls, kiosks and tearooms as well as pleasure activities which brought financial rewards to many and financial responsibilities to the Council. The Government placed the Sea Jetty under the control and management of the Council on 26 May 1909, it to be repaired and maintained by the Council to the satisfaction of the Government. The Council had the right to charge for admission.

Repairs were carried out from time to time as winter storms took their toll. However, in 1914 an inspector found the pier unsafe, it had been weakened by a wood boring mollusc, the Teredo Worm, and by 1923 several piles were missing so the jetty was shortened. Improvements and extensions were being considered in 1925, but July storms again caused damage and parts of the jetty were cut away. The Council sought help from the Government to carry out repairs. The Government agreed, provided that the Council undertook payment of costs within 12 months.


By 1946, the Council was considering whether to repair or demolish, a very difficult situation, as financially it was not capable of doing either! Technically, the jetty was owned by the Government and leased by the Council so the matter was really in the hands of the Public Works Department. Winter storms in 1947 took away more piles. Danger notices and barricades were erected the following year. In August, 1948 the Council intended to relinquish control of the pier in accordance with the terms of the lease. In February, 1949 an attempt was made to share the cost of jetty repairs amongst all Local Authorities in the metro area in proportion to population and valuation – on a 50/50 basis with the Government, bearing in mind that there were jetties in other areas. All to no avail.


By July 1949 the Government was set on demolition. The Council expressed regret and hoped a section could remain as a short promenade. Businessmen wrote to the Government to appeal and in December the Council made one last attempt to save the jetty and advised that it was prepared to make a 50/50 contribution (to maximum of 200 pounds) for repairs. The Government replied that demolition would be the best option and quoted a cost of 200 pounds but also suggested that Council should pay half, this was the last straw! The remains of the ill-fated jetty disappeared in August 1952 when it was blown up using gelignite.

Adapted from Loisette Marsh’s article in The Cottesloe Society Newsletter, June 1998 with generous permission from Ruth Marchant James – EF06303


The Diving Jetty

CPM01898Not many people realise that there were in fact, two jetties at Cottesloe! The photograph, snapped by Town Clerk, N. F. Haynes was taken at the opening of the Diving Jetty on 7 January, 1922.  It provides a rare view of the stalls, kiosks and tearooms on Cottesloe Beach north of the main jetty (visible to the right of the picture) and thus it has great value.

According to Council minutes, in October 1921 Mr L Grant offered to erect the spring board and diving platform at a cost of up to 400 pounds. The Council referred the offer to the Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club who offered to pay 100 pounds over three years to facilitate the structure. The diving jetty was planned as a facility for the club to offer encouragement to poor swimmers. By-laws prevented swimmers from diving from the main jetty so the diving jetty was regarded as a potential attraction for the beach.

Mr Grant’s tender was accepted and the Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club undertook to pay 50 pounds for three years, 150 pounds in all. The club and the Council conferred over the proposition and agreed it should go ahead, the club to look after the structure.

When Mr Grant submitted an amended price for the diving jetty, Council took the opportunity to ask him for a price to drive piles from the main jetty towards Moodoorup Rocks. The quote being subsequently accepted. The work began in November 1921 and in December it was noticed that an error had been made in the starting point of the jetty. Work proceeded however and 180 feet of jetty was completed and the additional piles driven to take sheeting a distance of 100 feet south from the main jetty.

According to the Civic Centre News (V.6, No.5, Feb. 1957 p.1) the diving jetty, although greatly appreciated, was swept away by a storm four months after it was completed.


Adapted from Pat Adamson’s article in The Cottesloe Society Newsletter, June 1998 with generous permission from Ruth Marchant James – EF06303



COTTESLOE FIRE STATION 441 STIRLING HIGHWAYThe need for Cottesloe to have a fire station of its own became evident during a heated fortnightly meeting of the Cottesloe Municipal Council in 1910, following a communication received from the Fire Brigades Board. It stated that the Council’s contribution due to the Board for the maintenance of the local fire brigade service was £174 6s. 8d. Board members felt that the service levied was far from adequate, Cr. James was reported to have “criticised at some length the action of the Board, and stoutly affirmed that the council and ratepayers were the victims of nothing less than an imposition at the hands of that body [Fire Brigades Board]. He declared that the local brigade’s efficiency was not by any means commensurate with the amount of “levy” being made on the Council by the Board. The firemen had a cumbrous hose cart to draw about, and generally speaking it would take them 20 minutes or so to reach a burning house any distance from the station. Several of the firemen, too, were expected to proceed so many times weekly to Fremantle for drills. etc., with the result that one man was left in charge of a hose cart which really required a carthorse to draw. The local brigade, under the conditions recently brought about by the Board was a rank failure.”, (The West Australian, 1910).

Then tragedy hit in 1912, when a fire at Mr Blackmore’s house in John Street caused substantial damage. The Fire Brigade having been called, failed to locate the water plug in good time and even when found, the water pressure was such that their efforts were in vain.

Finally, land in Cottesloe at the corner of Stirling Highway and Congdon Streets was vested in the Fire Brigades Board around 1913. The fire station, designed by architect J. Ochiltree was built and opened the following year in 1914.

The old fire station at 441 Stirling Highway served Cottesloe, Peppermint Grove and Claremont until 1988. The new station, next to the old, at 8 Congdon Street, was officially opened 26 November 1987.

Possible uses for the old building were considered in a Report to the Town of Cottesloe by Wilson Sayer Core Pty Ltd, planning and development consultants in February 1988. By this time the matter of heritage listing entered into consideration. Knowing the complexities/limits of its heritage status, and the fact that there had been a rezoning from public purpose to residential and office zone, Mr Dean Capelli bought the station in 1992 and refurbished it hoping to operate a 100-seat cafe, but the Council set a limit of 30 seats with provision for sale of crafts. Mr Capelli found that this would not be viable. The requirements resulting from the heritage listing created a problem for Council and Mr Capelli.

The station was sold at auction in June 1996 for $1m to Mr Paul Holmes a’Court. It had cost $5202 in 1914. It is currently (2016), operating as Braincells, a boutique marketing and creative services agency.

Adapted from The Cottesloe Society Newsletter article with the generous permission of Ruth Marchant James. EF06314



aquariumMr Paul M Comley of Swanbourne was referred to in the Sunday Times of 27 April 1969, as a quietly spoken pathologist who had spent 7 years in commercial fishing having worked in South Africa catching rare fish for display in Durban. In November 1968 Cottesloe’s Beach and Works Committee dealt with an enquiry from Mr Comley as to whether a building was available or a site on a short term lease where he could erect an attractive temporary exhibition building for a marine aquarium.

A suitable building was not available so Mr Comley attended the December meeting of the same committee with a plan for a fibreglass sheet structure of circular shape incorporating the essential two toilets and covering an area of 46 x 60 feet. The committee displayed interest in the project and recommended that permission be granted for the Oceanarium to be established on the western portion of the Marine Parade Road Reserve between Napier and Eileen Streets. At the Council meeting the following week the proposal for the Oceanarium was approved in principle subject to provision of detailed plans. The annual fee was to be $1 (MM) for the suggested site with a tenancy for one year from 1 January 1969. The building was to be a low profile temporary structure, to be completed in the middle of February.

Once the plans were announced in the “West Australian” there were objections voiced, some complaining that to erect an Oceanarium and toilets, or any other building, on the west side of Marine Parade was not acceptable. Messrs Kyle, Bloomfield and Simonson requested an early response to their objection so they could take further action if necessary. The Council decided that the objections were not valid.

The Sunday Times of 27 April 1969 had announced that the aquarium would be in place in a month, the display to include a 7-foot shark, turtles, jewfish, snapper, groper, tailor, and in a smaller lank crayfish, seahorses and tropical fish. The aquarium was to be doughnut in shape – a steel tank with 14 viewing windows. It was to be on limestone foundations. The terms “aquarium” and “oceanarium” seem to have been used to refer to the same structure.

Once the proposal had been approved the Council had to attend to the formalities involving the closure of a section of Marine Parade Road Reserve to meet the requirements of the Department of Lands and Surveys. By June the aquarium (oceanarium) had apparently opened and the West Australian of 16 June featured a photo of Paul Comley with a 9-foot tiger shark. The matter of suitable parking was of concern but despite Mr Comley’s request that a direct entry to No. 2 carpark from Marine Parade be made, the Council was not willing to change the entry which at the time was from Napier Street. A temporary water pipe was laid to the site in October 1969 and in December 1971 permission was given for a seawater pump to be installed.

In May 1971, Council agreed in principle to lease part of Reserve A 30X07 (excluding seashore) subject to approval of the Department of Lands and Surveys. This was granted in September, so lot 344, formerly part of Marine Parade, was set aside. A petition was received by the Council objecting to the use of public land for “commercial enterprise” but it had no effect as the Council regarded the enterprise as of a temporary nature.

Comley’s “Aquarium and Oceanarium” was, however, far from complete. In June 1972, Comley apologised to the Cottesloe Council for the delay in progress with the building of the Marineland. He now sought permission to incorporate a dolphin pool into the limits of the existing oceanarium. The council was most cooperative and approval was given for “consideration” of a dolphin pool on the site subject to satisfactory plans.

To facilitate the inclusion of the dolphin pool, Comley requested that the northern border the site be extended an additional 43.6 links to correspond with the northern limits of sublot 39 on the other side of Marine Parade. This extension would allow a 40 foot dolphin pool to be built. As there would be expenses involved in the survey of the reserve, Mr Comley was advised that he would need to cover these.

As the news of the possible extension of activities on the ocean side of Marine Parade Road Reserve became known, again there was public outcry. Consequently, even after approval had been obtained from the Environmental Control Advisory Committee and the Department of Lands and Surveys, the Council chose not to approve the plans for the dolphin pool.

Naturally disappointed, the WA Marine Aquarium and Oceanarium Co suggested that the pool might be located on the eastern border of No. 2 carpark, i.e. on Recreation Reserve A 3235 opposite. As the Government had already refused to allow this land to be used for aged persons’ homes, the Council could not support the request. The search for a site for the dolphin pool then switched to South Cottesloe. A possible site south of the proposed Vlamingh Memorial was discussed. The possibility of relocating the Oceanarium on Reserve 30X07 opposite the former cable station was suggested. Although the Council had approved extensions to the Oceanarium in December 1973, its fate seemed to depend on whether a dolphin pool could be built next to it.

By March 1974 the Council was satisfied that the public health aspects relating to a dolphin pool had been covered. In a surprising turn-around at the meeting of 27 March 1974 Council decided to set aside R 30968 for “oceanarium” on land excised from Marine Parade. The proposal was to seek permission to have the oceanarium and the pool sited on the Recreation Reserve A 3235 and to have the parking area extended eastwards. As a safeguard Environment 2000 was to be invited to do an environmental impact study of the proposed site. In July the granting of the lease was still deferred while the dolphin pool proposal was being resolved. By this time it was clear that without the dolphin pool the oceanarium business might close. And this is what happened. The West Australian of 27 August 1974 carried a headline “Back to Sea from Display Tanks”. The oceanarium closed at the end of September and after listing the contents of the pool. Mr Comley loaded the fish into tanks which went by truck to the Jaycee’s Oceanarium in Busselton. Early in 1975, after plans for restabilising the area had been carefully made, Cottesloe’s Oceanarium disappeared.

References: Minutes of Cottesloe Council and subcommittee

Reproduced from The Cottesloe Society Newsletter with permission from Ruth Marchant James