Remembering the 1929 centerary celebration dinner that stopped WA

Kent AcottThe West Australian
The Pioneers’ Centenary Dinner was held at the Perth Town Hall on June 3 for those who had lived in WA for more than 60 years.
Camera IconThe Pioneers’ Centenary Dinner was held at the Perth Town Hall on June 3 for those who had lived in WA for more than 60 years. Credit: State Library of Western Australian

The West Australian continues a weekly series with the State Library exploring historic WA documents that shed new light on the State’s history.

When WA celebrated the centenary of its foundation in 1929, it was a year-long party.

There were parades, sporting events and picnics; races across land, sea and sky; exhibits and dress-up days; ceremonies and commemorations.

And there was a dinner.

The Jubilee Dinner menu from 1929.
Camera IconThe Jubilee Dinner menu from 1929. Credit: Ross Swanborough

The Pioneers’ Centenary Dinner was held at the Perth Town Hall on June 3 for those who had lived in WA for more than 60 years or were born in WA and aged over 50.

It was hosted by the governor, Sir William Campion, and the guests included former premier Sir James Mitchell and Perth’s first lord mayor James Franklin.

And the official dinner menu is among several historic documents that can now be published for the first time after this year’s changes to Australia’s copyright laws.

It was clearly an extensive, but relatively simple, dinner. The menu indicates the courses included fillet of snapper, roast turkey and ham, hot apple pie and cream, wine trifle and cheese straws.

The West Australian provided an extensive coverage of the night’s events, saying the venerable town hall had been “filled with the memories of the past”.

“A great gathering of grey heads sat in friendly converse as a happy Centenary reunion and dinner,” the paper said. “They had some interesting stories to tell each other as they recalled incident after incident associated with the steady, determined struggle to build up a great young State. It was a heartening gathering and not one of the least important of the State Centenary celebrations.”

In proposing the initial toast, civic leader Thomas Molloy said the old pioneers were wonderful people who had struggled with the difficulties of “this new land of their adoption”.

WA Governor Sir William Campion.
Camera IconWA Governor Sir William Campion.

Governor Campion said the pioneers had set a splendid example to future generations.

He referred to the “great sons of WA” — Lord Forrest, Alex Forrest, Sir Henry Parker, Charles Harper, Bishop Salvado, Archbishop Riley and C. Y. O’Connor.

Later that week, The Western Mail printed a more humorous account of the dinner under the headline “The Ancient Guest”.

Yes,” said the burly gentleman with the big voice, addressing the company at a pioneers’ dinner, “the people who came to this place in the early days did wonderful things. They were pioneers in the true sense and there was nothing to beat them.

They went out into the wilderness and made it blossom as the rose; they risked their lives ... they thought nothing of walking a hundred miles; they braved every danger of fire and flood.”


“I beg your pardon,” said the outraged orator, glancing down the table.

“I said ‘Bah’,” repeated an ancient who had sat through the meal without conversing with his neighbours. He had a dour air and his long white hair and whiskers drooped disconsolately. His clothes had seen better days and the beer in his glass was flat.

“You forget yourself, sir,” admonished the burly gentleman. “If you feel you must bah, your proper place is a sheep station.”

Perth’s first Lord Mayor JT Franklin and his wife Mrs Franklin.
Camera IconPerth’s first Lord Mayor JT Franklin and his wife Mrs Franklin.

At this withering satire, the company applauded and the ancient chewed his beard.

“Well, as I was saying,” proceeded the orator, his voice vibrant with righteous indignation, “our pioneers endured all the perils of fire and flood.”

A chair scraped the floor as the ancient rose. He left the table and went with feeble feet towards the door. He lifted a battered hat from a peg, put it on his head and shuffled from the room, not so much as glancing at the company, upon whom had fallen a silence.

“Rip Van Winkle’s gone,” said someone, breaking the tension, whereat there was general laughter.

“Who was he?” asked several.

“Some stray,” remarked the burly gentleman. “He's better out of it anyhow.”

An exclamation of astonishment from one of the old man’s table neighbours drew all eyes in that direction. This person rose excitedly and waved a paper slip which had marked the ancient’s seat allotment.

“Gentlemen,” he cried, “that old chap was Noah!”

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