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The war years

Domestic building was brought to a virtual standstill in Cottesloe as resources and people were diverted to the war effort. This meant that families often had to crowd in together. Home owners enclosed verandahs as sleepouts and even converted sheds to bedrooms.

The fear of invasion drove some Cottesloe families to vacate their homes and move inland for the duration of the war or to evacuate their children to families and friends in the country.

Some larger homes in Cottesloe, like the Burt residence in Rosendo Street were used to house officers from the Sea View Camp during the war years.


Burts summer residence

Burt's summer residence was requisitioned to quarter officers in the war years.

Courtesy Australian Heritage Commission


Blackout curtains were a feature of all homes in Australia in the war years. Families purchased yards and yards of black cloth to make curtains to prevent even a chink of light escaping from homes at night.

This was particularly important in Cottesloe given its seaside location.

Blackout information published in the West Australian newspaper

'You must take air raid precautions'

West Australian, 5 March 1942


Most home owners built an air raid shelter in the back yard or in adjoining vacant land. Shelters were made from half corrugated water tanks placed over a deep trench. Sandbags covered the shelters and stairs were built down into them. Beds, blankets, first aid equipment, water and essential foods were put into shelters.

Local resident, Ruth Marchant James, recalls her mother keeping family valuables like bank accounts and precious photos in a carry bag near her bed in the event of an air raid.

Children trying to build an air raid shelter

Children trying to build an air raid shelter, c1942

Courtesy Adelaide Advertiser


Not all goods were rationed during the war but the diversion of production to the war effort meant that most household goods were in short supply after 1941.

Electrical goods such as irons, toasters and vacuum cleaners were available from department stores in Perth and Fremantle prior to the war.

Many homes in Cottesloe had an electric toaster and iron but only residents who were a little better off could afford a vacuum cleaner.

Advertisement for 'Haywin all-British vacuum cleaner'

Advertisement for the 'Haywin all-British vacuum cleaner'.

Women's Weekly 23 March 1940


Interiors of homes remained much as they had been throughout the 1930's - apart from the addition of blackout curtains! Homes tended to have only two bedrooms with extra space created by closing in the verandah as had been done in the previous decade.

Rooms were painted in creams and greens and furniture was often bulky. A large wooden radio, with comfortable chairs surrounding it was the focus of the living room. In many Cottesloe homes of the 1940s, you might find 3 china ducks in a row displayed on one wall of the living room or perhaps over the mantle in the kitchen.

While John Curtin's home in Cottesloe was built in the 1920's, the lounge room was enlarged in the 1930's and reflects the style of that era.

Front room of Curtin house 1943

A large comfortable lounge chair in the lounge room of the Curtin home, 1943.



Public facilities

Cottesloe residents were well catered for in terms of facilities during the war. The streets were already bitumised before the war and many were sewered.

See Providing water to the suburb for more information.

Transport was readily at hand. The railway station was within walking distance of the whole suburb and buses effectively serviced the area throughout the war time period.

There was a local telephone exchange, a post office , shops, hospitals , cinemas and recreational facilities.

Shops in Cottesloe, 1940s

This waterfront building in Cottesloe boasted 'Refreshment & Late Supper Rooms' , 'Fruiterer & Greengrocer' and 'Hairdresser & Tobacconist' outlets, 1940s.

Courtesy Town of Cottesloe


The post-war years

By 1945, housing was in seriously short supply throughout Australia, a reflection of the lack of building during the war years. With the war over, the building industry was diverted to house construction. Shortages of materials and skilled labour, combined with high levels of demand resulted in price rises and in many cases inferior products. Another outcome was the simplification of the common house plan.

On 5 February 1945, PM Curtin addressed the Trade and Commerce, Secondary Industries Conference on the government's plans for reconstruction.

Read excerpt from PM Curtin's address dealing with housing.

Most of the building activity in Cottesloe in the post war years was in the north of the suburb. Homes were often box shaped with low ceilings and cement tiled roofs. Cottesloe did not experience a housing boom in this period to the same extent as did new suburbs like Yokine or Floreat Park but homes were built in the same style as in these suburbs and reflected the shortages of the period.


Aerial photo of Cottesloe, 1940s

Aerial photograph showing open space within the suburb of Cottesloe, 1940s.

Courtesy Town of Cottesloe


The shortages of labour and building materials meant that many young couples were forced to live with in-laws for some time after the war. This necessitated alterations to homes such as closing in of verandahs or the conversion of sheds to sleeping units. Manufacturers responded to the need for easy to install home handyman products with the creation of items such as glazed louvred windows. Many verandahs in Cottesloe were enclosed using asbestos sheeting and louvred windows.

Ruth Marchant James recalls that for a while backyard air raid shelters, which had been a feature of the war years became the province of children, to be used as club houses and cubbies. Hills Hoist rotary clothes lines, however, soon displaced air raid shelters as a feature of backyards all over Cottesloe.

Hills hoist clothes line

Like many post-war backyards in Perth, the rear of the Curtin home had a hills hoist clothes line.



The new homes of the post war period also reflected the shortages and rising costs of the time. Home sizes were reduced and great care was put into designs that were cost effective. The average home had 5 main rooms: two bedrooms, a living room, dining room and kitchen. Laundries, kitchens and bathrooms were built close together to keep down costs. Ceiling heights were reduced for the same reason.

Laundries were still located on the back verandah as they had been in the 1930s. Unlike Cottesloe, many of the new suburbs were not sewered, so residents put down septic tanks to enable flushing toilets to be installed under the main roof of their houses.

floor plan of typical new home in late 1940s

Typical floor plan of a group home built under the War Services Homes Scheme.

Adapted from plan on page 254 in: Monica Creek, 'You Know Youve got a roof over your head: the War Services Homes Scheme' in Jenny Gregory (ed.), On the Homefront: Western Australia and World War II, Nedlands, UWA Press, 1996


Modern appliances continued to be in short supply for quite some time after the war. Cottesloe residents had to make do. Most families still had an icechest and regular ice deliveries.

As shortages eased, better off families could enjoy the luxury of a kerosene or electric fridge. Washing was still done in the way that Elsie Curtin had done it in the 1920s and 1930s, with a copper heated from underneath by a wood fire and a hand wringer. Tumble type automatic washing machines were owned by only a few lucky residents. The bathroom or 'wash house', as it was still called, usually had a chip heater to provide hot water. In the kitchen, on the other hand, a hot water tap was still unusual.

Advertisement for Comrol Steel, 1946

A post-war refridgerater, range and washing machine feature in this 1946 advertisement.

The Bulletin, 29 May 1946 page 4.

  A feature of the post war period was the effort put into designing houses to reduce a woman's workload and allow her to supervise the children while she did the housework. The new kitchen design of the period reflects this effort but the resulting kitchen wasn't always practical. Cupboards were built right to the ceiling to avoid dust traps but the upper cupboards could not be used without the aid of a step-ladder. The kitchens provided little storage or work space, meaning that super organisation was necessary. Added to this, the less money a family had to spend on their house the smaller the kitchen was likely to be.

The furniture of the post war era was more streamlined than that built in the 1930s. Simplicity of style and light coloured wood with plain, smooth surfaces was a feature of the period. Upholstery was done in bright coloured fabrics. Wood fires were replaced by gas where this service was available.

Advertisement for bedroom suite, 1947

'The New Mansfield in Pannelled Walnut' tempts buyers in this Ahern's advertisement from 1947.

West Australian, 2 July 1947.

More about buying or building a house in post-war Australia

Providing water to the suburb

Water supplies to the Cottesloe area were originally the province of private suppliers but responsibility passed to the State government early in the twentieth century. During the 1940s Cottesloe's water needs were met by the Water Supply Department of Western Australia as part of the Perth metropolitan scheme. The main supplies to Perth came from dams like the Canning Dam and Churchman's Brook Reservoir which are in the hills to the south of Perth.

The main trunk line carried water to Mt Eliza, the highest point in the city. Cottesloe's water came from an auxillary main that branched off at Cannington to supply the whole of the Fremantle district and the southern part of the western suburbs which includes Cottesloe. A minor reservoir in Buckland Hill, adjacent to Cottesloe also serviced the area.


Canning Dam, 1945

Canning Dam, 1945

Courtesy Water Corporation of Western Australia


By 1940, Cottesloe was one of the few Perth suburbs that was sewered. A special treatment plant was built at Swanbourne, a suburb immediately to the north of Cottesloe to serve the Claremont-Cottelsoe area. This plant discharged treated effluent through the ocean outfall of the Subiaco plant. During 1941, despite the requirements of the war effort, 393 houses in the Claremont-Cottesloe area were connected to the department's sewers. The number of houses connected to the sewers had risen to 5,088 by the end of 1941. All houses built in 1945, 1946 and 1947 under the Commonwealth Housing Scheme were also sewered by the Department of Public Works.

The Claremont-Cottesloe area had the best proportion of sewered service to the metro area in 1947. In that year there were 66,730 dwellings in the area and 44,638 were connected to the sewers, which represents 66.9%. New suburbs like Mt Pleasant, where a greater proportion of post war houses were built, would have to wait quite some time for sewers, relying instead on septic tanks.

Modern kitchen with single cold water tap

A modern post-war kitchen complete with refridgerater but still only providing a single cold water tap over the sink.

Courtesy KT Johnson


In the period 1941 to 1949, the cost of water, sewerage and storm water drainage in Cottesloe remained the same. Water supplies cost the Cottesloe home owner an annual rate of 10 shillings, sewerage 7shillings and 6 pence and storm water drainage 2 shillings and 6 pence. The average income of the time varied from about 6 to 10 pounds, depending on the type of employment and a total water bill of 19 shillings and 6 pence made up between a third and a tenth of one week's pay.

Water usage was calculated in imperial measurements (gallons) and the meter, which was located near the front boundary of a property, was read by the Water Supply Department. Water pipes running from the meter to the house were made of galvanised iron. A single tap was used to turn water off at the meter in the event of a burst pipe, for instance, and simple brass taps could be found at the kitchen sink and laundry trough. Even by the end of 1949, hot water taps in the kitchen were uncommon. Some homes in Cottesloe had installed bores to water their gardens. Bores were beginning to figure more significantly in the total water output of the metro system by the 1950s.

Brass water meter, 1935

Brass water meter commonly used through the 1930s and 1940s to measure household water consumption

Courtesy Water Corporation of Western Australia


Water shortages were an issue in the metropolitan area in the late 1940s. After particularly hot and dry summers in 1948, 1949 and 1950 strict water restrictions were introduced by the Water Supply Department.

The summer of 1949 was a particularly difficult time. Power restrictions in February and March meant that the Department was unable to operate its electrically driven pumping plants at the artesian bores. Water brought daily from the hills storage dams was not sufficient on its own to meet the heavy metro demand created by the very hot weather and as a result water restrictions were imposed from February 8th to March 9th. Cottesloe residents were obliged to hand water their gardens and restrict household use of water.

Brick and tile Cottesloe house built in post-war period

This brick and tile Cottesloe house retains much of its original post-war look, 2002

Courtesy Ros Marshall

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