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					South Perth Uniting Church: Some Historical Snippets
The very first church of any denomination in the South Perth Peninsula was the South
Perth Wesleyan Chapel on the corner of Coode Street and Suburban Road (now called
Mill Point Road). This was where Wesley College Preparatory School is now. It was built
in 1860 as a result of a petition from residents of the area, many of whom had no way of
getting to church in Perth; it was an outreach of Wesley Church in Perth, which had
begun in 1840. There was a bridge over the Causeway from 1843, but many had no
means of transport; though this did not apply to people such as the Shentons (who started
the Flour Mill at Mill Point), nor the Stricklands (who later built the Windsor Hotel).
Also prominent among supporters of the South Perth Church were the Puseys (a family
still active in the Mundaring Church), and the Douglas family (after whom Douglas
Avenue is named).
The land for the church was granted by the government. The first school in South Perth
also began in the same building shortly afterwards (in 1862); the first and only teacher to
serve there was Mrs Eliza Wood, who remained until the school closed in 1879, when a
Public School began on the corner of Angelo and Forrest Streets. The Central Board of
Education did not pay rent, but they did make repairs to the building in 1872. The
minister at the time when the school began was Rev Samuel Hardey, a member of the
family that were the first Methodists to come to the colony (in 1830). The church was
serviced largely by local preachers.
By 1892, the building was no longer used as a place of worship but it was still used as a
public hall; though, by 1906 the Roads Board was complaining about its unsightly
condition. In 1907, the land was rented for grazing his dairy cows by Mr R I Pennington
who ran the dairy farm on the other side of Suburban Road (east of Coode Street) and
also owned the Pennington Hall on the north east corner of Suburban Road and River
Street (now Douglas Avenue), where the Baptists worshipped after Miss Christiana
Manning had a disagreement with them and they had to vacate the Manning Memorial
Church further down Suburban Road, (which was handed over to the Congregationalists,
and later bought by the Presbyterians).
Pennington Hall was transferred to the corner of Eric Street and Labouchere Road, where
it continued to be used for a short time by the Baptists, until the Methodists bought it and
converted it into a church. (See the earlier issues of Como-Manning News). The residents
of the Coode Street/River Street area still felt the need for a closer public hall, and one
was built in Swan Street (between Coode Street and Tate Street) by the Young Men’s
Association in 1908, and transferred to the Municipal Council in 1920. This site was
bought by Wesley College and is now occupied by Tranby dormitory within the boarding
school.
A private electric power plant was established by the South Peth Electric Lighting Works
on the site in 1904 from which electricity was supplied to the suburb. The six-foot thick
concrete slab on which the generator was built can still be seen in the Wesley College
Prep School grounds. The Electricity company leased the property from Wesley Church
Trust. The power plant was bought by the South Perth Municipal Council – now elevated
from the status of Roads Board - in 1914, perhaps using the old chapel as an office,
which remained the only public hall in this area. The Mechanics Institute which had been
built on the corner of Suburban Road and Mends Street in 1899, was also used as a public
hall, and also housed the municipal office. It is now the Old Mill Theatre.
The East Perth power station was established in 1916; South Perth joined that operation
and the Coode Street power plant was discontinued. However, the site was used as a
Council maintenance yard until about 1960.
Houses were built along the northern frontage of this property, and in Suburban Road and
Swan Street nearby. If the site had been retained by Wesley Church, Wesley College,
opened in 1923 and taken over by Wesley Trust in 1924, would have been saved the cost
in later years of buying each residential block as they became available, in order to
expand the College.
After 1892, the South Perth Methodists were left without a place of worship of their own
for more than twenty years, during which time they met in the Mechanics Institute in
Mends Street. When the proposal to build Wesley College was first mooted, the
Methodist Conference decreed that provision should be made for the South Perth
congregation to worship there. However, the intervention of the First World War caused
considerable delay, and the South Perth people built their own church in Angelo Street
(on the corner of Sandgate Street) in 1919. This became the Church Hall when the new
church was built in 1962.
Wesley College was opened in 1923. It is a pity that close relationship between the
College and the local parish was not established at that stage. Such an arrangement, with
the local congregation worshipping in the school, proved mutually beneficial when St
Stephen’s School was established at Duncraig. Despite this, the Angelo Street church
served as the College Chapel until 1962, when a separate School Chapel was built (as a
War Memorial). The distance between the College and the South Perth Church proved to
be inconvenient, though the boarders continued to go to the South Perth Church once a
term. A reciprocal arrangement with the South Perth congregation proved to be more
difficult.
Sources: C C Florey – Peninsular City; Uniting Church Archives; Wesley College
Archives