Forrest Avenue would probably strike many people as being a rather odd road located in East Perth. Despite its length, there is no entrance for cars from either end; the only entrance is through the middle. To get to Forrest Avenue, one must travel down Goderich Street. This road was not always blocked off and its history can be traced back to its original purpose with the biggest clue in its old name, Cemetery Road.
In the early days of the Colony, Cemetery Road was nothing more than a rough track and its purpose was simple, to provide the most direct route possible to East Perth Cemetery.
The service for the funeral was usually held in a Church according to the deceased’s religious denomination and afterwards, the cortege would proceed on foot towards East Perth down St George’s Terrace or Hay Street to Bennett Street where at the intersection with Hay Street, they reached Cemetery Road. It crossed diagonally from this intersection through to Wellington Street and (before the present day buildings) continued all the way to the cemetery.
On foot, the journey was often long and tiring for the grief stricken mourners. Coupled with Western Australia’s extreme heat in summer, walking to the cemetery was probably unbearable. Action was soon taken for the sole purpose of alleviating the people’s discomfort. In 1869, eucalyptus trees were planted on either side of the road and as they grew, provided much needed shade.
An article in The Inquirer & Commercial News regarding the roads of Perth provides an invaluable description:
The Cemetery road is one of great attractiveness. It is a natural avenue, beautifully shaded from the sun’s rays by a number of well-proportioned gum trees, growing in perfect unanimity on either side. They have been permitted to grow untouched, and in their wild state are a credit to the city.
By 1895 it was paved with gravel which, for those times, was a blessing as it made walking and driving a lot more pleasant especially when compared to the roads of the past which were covered with limestone or wood blocks.
In this same year, Cemetery Road underwent a name change and officially became Forrest Avenue in honour of the current Mayor of Perth, Alexander Forrest.
The gold rush in the 1890s brought a great deal of change to Western Australia including an influx of people from around the country and the world. Along with the increased population came the spreading of disease. More and more people succumbed to epidemics and were buried in East Perth Cemetery. It wasn’t long before it began to run out of space. The only option was to establish a new cemetery and the eventual closure of East Perth and the opening of Karrakatta Cemetery resulted in Forrest Avenue’s original purpose becoming defunct.
Despite the closure of the cemetery, Forrest Avenue would never be completely abandoned. There were residences along the road and though it was still in use, I suppose it was much quieter compared to previous years.
For years it was an ordinary road with the only constant reminder of its past use being the eucalyptus trees which stood proudly on either side for a century. Unfortunately, this would all change in 1970 when the City of Perth had them removed (during this period of time replacing old with new was far too common – see my post on the Swan River Mechanics’ Institute). I can only assume that they had grown too large and were perhaps dropping branches and causing danger to people passing by or that their position along the road hindered the development of the area. Whatever the reason, the loss of the trees saddens me. With their removal, the history of the road was essentially removed with them and it now seems almost as if the road’s diagonal position in East Perth was a mistake.
Much to my amazement, there are some people in Western Australia who have absolutely no idea there is a cemetery in East Perth and I can’t help but assume that if the cemetery itself is unknown then there’s no doubt that Forrest Avenue’s original purpose is also probably unknown.
Forrest Avenue as it appears today. The original gums were removed and eventually replaced with jacarandas.
- The Old East Perth Cemetery, 1829-1988 by Ray Oldham. Featured on the East Perth Cemetery website (http://members.iinet.net.au/~perthdps/graves/intro.htm).
- 1895 ‘THE ROADS OF THE CITY.’, The Inquirer & Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), 22 February, p. 13, viewed 13 January, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66267254
- Historic photo of Forrest Avenue courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call No. 812B/5).
- 1895 ‘PERTH CITY COUNCIL.’, The Inquirer & Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), 8 March, p. 2, viewed 13 January, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66262118
- Bellefontaine Cemetery (gravewords.wordpress.com)