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Road transport

The main link between the city of Perth and the port at Fremantle was Stirling Highway. In a fortuitous move, the Main Roads Department extensively upgraded the highway in 1939, just in time to handle the military traffic of the war years. Army trucks transported heavy goods, as well as servicemen to and from the port. Boys at Cottesloe Primary School often entertained themselves during lunch breaks by guessing what type of vehicle would pass by next.

Car ownership was not that common in Cottesloe prior to the war. John Curtin never owned a car or learned to drive. Those who did, however, were affected by the introduction of petrol rationing in the early days of the war. A Cottesloe car owner had three choices: drive the car only occasionally, put it up on blocks for the duration of the war or convert it to a messy charcoal gas burner. Those who were keen to keep their vehicles on the road chose the latter.

 

Dodge car with charcoal burner, 1943

Dodge car at Appin with charcoal-burner fitted to rear, 1943.

Courtesy Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society

 

There were other restrictions imposed on motorists. Speed limits were kept low to save wear on tyres and civilian drivers were restricted to travelling 25 kilometes per week. At night time car headlamps were hooded and with no street lights travelling could be a hazardous affair. In some places street names were even removed so that if the enemy landed they could not be used to find their way around.

Taxis, which were often driven by women after conscription was introduced in 1943, were given an allowance of 22 gallons (100 litres) per week. Some local services like the baker and Chinese green grocer, continued to use a horse and cart to make their deliveries.

A local car manufacturer in the suburb adjoining Cottesloe, found itself in difficulty during the war. The factory produced Chevrolets, Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles from parts imported by sea. These cars were then supplied to a car dealer in Perth. When the war broke out it was difficult to get parts and the plant closed down. Local workers from Cottesloe, Mosman Park and surrounding districts found themselves out of a job and in some cases were forced to move out of the area to obtain work.

1930s model car still in use in Perth in 1940s

This 1930s model car, outside the Curtin house in Cottesloe in 1945, was typical of vehicles still in use in Perth in the 1940s.

JCPML00347/26. Courtesy West Australian News Ltd.

 

The continuation of petrol rationing after the war, and the inability of car manufacturers to keep up with demand, meant that many Cottesloe residents had to make do with second hand cars in the immediate post war years. Savings grew during the war with the lack of goods to purchase. Returned servicemen, in particular, had plenty of savings and were keen to buy new cars. By 1949 more new cars were available on the market and the new wholly Australian made car, the FX Holden could be seen in the streets of Cottesloe. An unexpected outcome of the high rate of car ownership in Cottesloe was the demise of small bus companies.

Car ownership figures for some Australian states/territories - 1939 to 1948. (from I Bereson Decades of Change p 110)

Motor Vehicles registered (per 1000 of population)

Year
NSW
WA
NT
1939
107
133
218
1945
93
112
235
1948
114
137
249

PM Ben Chifley and first Holden car

Prime Minister Ben Chifley with first mass produced Australian car at the GMH factory, 1948.

Courtesy NAA A1200 L84254

 

Learn more about the post-war Australian car industry

 

 

Buses were an important means of transport in the Cottesloe area and thoughout Western Australia as the war brought a resurgence in the use of public transport. The alterations to the Perth-Fremantle road in 1939, which included extensive road widening, made possible increased bus services from neighbouring Claremont to the Cottesloe area by the Premier Omnibus company. A second service to the area was provided by the Beam Bus Company. It ran along the coastline from South Cottesloe to Swanbourne Beach in the north, then inland at Graylands and onto the city via Shenton Park.

A resident of Cottesloe during the war, Ruth Marchant James, recalls that the Beam Bus drivers knew all the local bus users and would wait for them if they were late to catch the bus. During the blackout, when there were no street lights and buses had hooded headlamps, the bus drivers would alert the passengers when their stop was approaching.

In 1942 the first semi-trailer Pioneer bus left the depot at Claremont fuelled by a coke burning gas producer. Pioneer were determined to keep their buses running during the war regardless of the fuel shortage.

After the war smaller bus companies were taken over by the state run Metro Bus Company and when petrol rationing ended, many families bought cars. Small bus companies found it harder and harder to compete and many went out of business.

Bus and passengers in mock air raid, 1940

In 1940 this bus played a part in a mock air raid exercise in suburban Perth organised by the Air Raid Precautions Subiaco Branch.
West Australian, 21 April, 1940

Courtesy West Australian News Ltd

 

Train travel underwent a resurgence during the war years, as did other forms of public transport. The Perth to Fremantle railway line played an important role in the war effort - the trains were packed with soldiers and sailors making their way to and from the port. Men who had enlisted in the AIF sailed from Fremantle for Palestine or Britain where they did their basic training.

Cottesloe was easily accessed from other parts of Perth via the train and its beach location and closeness to Fremantle made it an ideal place for rest and recreation facilities for servicemen. Unlike adjoining beaches, Cottesloe was not covered in barbed wire during the war and with so many servicemen about the place, it became a magnet for young women.

The trans-continental line was essential to the war effort. It was the main means of transporting troops to WA. On arrival in Perth, troops travelling overseas were packed onto trains bound for Fremantle. Most of them didn't know that they would be passing through Curtin's home town of Cottesloe on the way to the port. They probably didn't know either that they could catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister's home as the train pulled out of Cottesloe station heading south.

Cottesloe Railway Station

Cottesloe Railway station and pedestrian access bridges, c 1940s.

Courtesy Town of Cottesloe

  While he was Prime Minister, John Curtin preferred to use the train to travel between Canberra and his home in Cottesloe. Coming west, he crossed the Nullarbor on the broad gauge trans-continental railway and then boarded another train at Kalgoorlie, some 600 km from Perth. This train was suited to the narrow gauge railway lines used in the rest of WA. Once in Perth Curtin could catch a local steam train to Cottesloe, or be transported by a government car.

During the war, no improvements were made to the urban railway system leaving it quite run down by 1945.

In the immediate post war years, with petrol still rationed, local railways continued to provide Cottesloe residents with easy access to the city, the port and other places of importance. While diesel trains were introduced on heavy haulage lines, steam trains continued to be used on suburban railways. Cottesloe children could still enjoy watching the trains steaming through the station from their vantage point high up on the pedestrian bridge.

Fares and travel between Perth and other Australian capitals by rail, 1945 (from I Bereson Decades of Change p 112)

Journey
Distance
Fares ($)
Time
 
(km)
1st class
2nd class
(days)
Perth-Adelaide
2238
24
16
2
Perth-Melbourne
2988
30
20
2.5
Perth-Sydney
3697
38
22
3.5
Perth-Brisbane
4469
48
28
5

Troop train on the Nullarbor, c 1943

A troop train crossing the Nullarbor during the war years.

Courtesy P Rogers and late L Smith

 

Learn more about pre-war rail travel in Perth, Cottesloe & across the continent

Learn more about John Curtin and rail travel via the online resource 'On Track: Curtin's railway journeys'

Link to 'On Track: Curtin's railway journeys'

 

Air travel

In 1939 there were only three return air services per week between Western Australia and the Eastern States. Travelling by plane was virtually unheard of in Cottesloe as in most parts of Western Australia. The requisitioning of private planes for the war effort further reduced the chance of anyone from Cottesloe flying at this time unless they were serving in the air force like John Curtin's son, John junior. John Curtin himself was a reluctant flyer, particularly after the Canberra plane crash in 1940 that claimed the lives of three leading members of the Menzies ministry.

The Maylands aerodrome served as Perth's airport from 1925 until a new airport was completed at Guildford in the early post-war years. The site for the new airport was acquired in 1938 but construction didn't begin until 1942. Two runways could be used by RAAF fighter aircraft by 1944. Neither aerodrome was in walking distance of a railway station so servicemen arriving or departing Perth by air used buses or taxis to or from the airport.

As prime minister, John Curtin was provided with a car and a driver to access the airport on the few occasions that he travelled by plane.

Perth Airport at Guildford, early post-war years

Perth Airport at Guildford was completed in the early post-war years.

Courtesy City of Belmont Historical Society

 

In August 1943, as part of a nationwide fundraising tour, Curtin and ten of his staff travelled by Lancaster Bomber from Adelaide to Kalgoorlie and virtually all over Western Australia to promote the Liberty Loan. The tour included a visit to Exmouth Gulf where Curtin was able to boost the morale of the AIF armoured division stationed in the region. Elsie Curtin flew for the first time in 1943 when she accompanied the Minister for Air and Civil Aviation, Arthur Drakeford, on a trip from Wagga to Canberra. When Curtin died in 1945 his body was flown back to Perth by the RAAF for burial. Elsie also flew back to Perth but in the Duke of York's Avro Jet Liner.

At the end of the war, the Guildford aerodrome was handed over for civil use and a number of improvements were made, including an extension of the main runway. Maylands became Perth's secondary aerodrome. Perth airport did not handle any international traffic until 1952.

In the post war years air travel became more comfortable, more common and cheaper but journeys by sea were often a more pragmatic choice over long distances.

Fares and travel between Perth and other Australian capitals by air, 1945 (from I Bereson Decades of Change p 112)

Journey
Distance (km)
Fares ($)
Time (hrs)
Perth-Adelaide
2238
32
10
Perth-Melbourne
2988
42
23
Perth-Sydney
3697
54
35
Perth-Brisbane
4469
68
51

RAAF Dakota that flew Curtin's body to Perth, 1945

RAAF Dakota plane that transported John Curtin's body to Perth, 1945.

JCPML00347/03
Courtesy West Australian News Ltd

  Learn more about air transport in Australia
 

Travel by ship was severely curtailed by the outbreak of war in 1939. Passenger ships were requisitioned for war use and only essential travel was allowed once the Japanese entered the war in 1941. Great ocean liners like the Queen Mary, which had plied the tourist trade between Australia, Europe and America, now found themselves converted to troop carriers or hospital ships.

The entry of Japan into the war in 1941 added a new dimension to shipping around the Australian coastline. Ships carrying goods, troops or military equipment became targets for Japanese submarines and war vessels.

During the day, Cottesloe acted as a point of reference for people on boats travelling into the harbour. The white façade of the Ocean Beach Hotel and the pine trees made Cottesloe easily recognisable from the sea. The 'Queen Mary', too large to enter Fremantle Harbour would anchor off the coast near Cottesloe much to the delight of young people who would paddle out on their surf skis for a closer look. Troops on the ship sometimes threw bottles down to them, containing letters to their sweet hearts or families in the hope that these would be posted.

Launching of HMAS Fremantle, 1942

Launching of HMAS Fremantle, August 1942.

JCPML00376/196.

 

During the war, John Curtin made an important journey that combined both sea and air travel. He was persuaded to attend the Imperial Conference in London in 1944 but his fear of flying made him choose sea travel for the leg of the journey between Melbourne and the United States thus significantly reducing the amount of time he had available to him to confer with President Franklin Roosevelt. Elsie travelled with Curtin to the United States but stayed on there while he continued on to London by plane. By all accounts this was very rough journey.

After the war ships brought Australian servicemen home from overseas. There were so many of them in Europe that Britain provided 3 aircraft carriers to transport them home. Ships also carried refugees from Europe after 1946. Special migrant ships with dormitory accommodation brought thousands of migrants to our shores in the post war years as part of the Federal government's large-scale migration scheme.

The Curtins aboard the Lurline

Official party, headed by John Curtin, leave on a ship bound for USA, 6 April 1944.

JCPML00409/13.
Courtesy West Australian News Ltd

 

It took quite some time for passenger ships which had been converted to war use to be reconverted for peacetime purposes. The passenger trade to Europe recommenced in 1947. Cottesloe residents wanting to travel overseas at this time would have chosen a sea voyage over air travel. Ruth Marchant James, a resident of Cottesloe in the 1940's recalls her grandparents travelling to Sydney by ocean liner in the post war years. She remembers that it was a grand affair. Everyone dressed up and travelled down to the Fremantle terminal sheds to see them off. There was a tangle of streamers from the boat to the quay and tears were brought to well wishers' eyes with the singing of 'Auld lang Syne'. While the trip was only to Sydney, it was a big event for the travellers at that time.

Fares and travel between Perth and other Australian capitals by steamer, 1945 (from I Bereson Decades of Change p 112)

Journey
Distance
Fares ($)
Time
 
(km)
1st class
2nd class
(days)
Perth-Adelaide
2238
20
16
4
Perth-Melbourne
2988
28
18
6
Perth-Sydney
3697
34
22
8
Perth-Brisbane
4469
42
28
11

P&O Poster showing Strathnaver departing Sydney Harbour

Great ocean liners conveyed passengers overseas with a degree of comfort and style. The Strathnaver departing Sydney Harbour.

Courtesy P & O

 

More about Sea Travel & Australian prime ministers

 

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