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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Wembley man’s memories of a time gone by

Long-standing resident, Mervyn Alfred Concanen, has witnessed more than 90 years of history in Perth’s suburb of Wembley.

Merv was born in a Pangbourne Street house in 1933, weaving his life into Wembley’s tapestry since then.

His earliest memories are of an era when electric trams connected the city. With his family, he made a daily journey along Cambridge Street from Perth CBD to Pangbourne Street.

“The tramline ended at St John of God Subiaco Hospital, which meant a walk of about six kilometres, generally in the summertime,” Merv recalls.

One vivid memory involves his father’s spontaneous purchase of an unbroken chestnut pony in 1945, tethered to their milk cart for 10 shillings. The pony’s taming, guided by local horseman Neil Kelly, was unconventional. Merv’s initial ride, clinging to a wheat bag for a saddle, turned into a wild dash up Pangbourne Street.

Herdsman Lake is an enduring symbol in Merv’s life. Post-World War I, the lake underwent transformation, with man-made drains continuously emptying it into a vast cement pipe leading to the ocean.

“The returned servicemen intended to eke out a living growing fruit and vegetables across five-acre plots. I don’t think that it was ever considered that the majority of them could have been suffering some form of disability, which could have affected their ability to work the land efficiently, therefore the majority would have struggled financially.”

Merv’s youth included lake adventures, where he and friends crafted makeshift canoes from galvanised iron sheets, exploring the lake’s intricate drain network, an experience that fostered his appreciation for natural beauty.

Before refrigeration became common, Merv’s father worked for an ice company delivering ice to local establishments.

“I can recall dad saying he had to be careful when coming down Hay Street with a full load of ice when it was raining, especially when crossing the tramlines, as the horses could slip,” Merv detailed.

Merv’s school years during World War II included air raid drills. Slit trenches were dug in the playground adjacent to Alexander Street. An unforgettable incident occurred when the siren sent students scrambling; half jumped into the trenches, while others rushed home, only to discover it was a false alarm.

Today, Merv Concanen resides at Mercy Village Wembley, a testament to the enduring spirit of the suburb he’s called home for over nine decades. His memoirs, housed at Cambridge Library and in the State Library of WA’s archives, provide a unique perspective on a life intertwined with Wembley’s history.

Merv’s story is a journey through time, a tribute to community, and a living history of a bygone era.

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