Fringefeed | 15 Feb 2020

Heritage Perth Presents: The Ghosts of Perth

When you turn up at the old East Perth Cemetery for The Ghosts of Perth, you’ll be greeted by a violinist playing sad eerie music and a group of waif-like haunted-looking young girls staring silently at you through the gates.

This did such a good job of setting a somber, funereal mood that I really didn’t expect much of the event to be comedy – and musical comedy, at that.

After the audience is divided into convicts and establishment, the show begins when our guide, Thomas ‘Satan’ Brown, appears. A ticket-of-leave man turned snappily dressed entrepreneur (i.e. money launderer), he was buried in the cemetery after taking strychnine rather than return to prison.

Death doesn’t seem to have hurt his cheerful disposition (though maybe that’s the strychnine) or his singing voice, and he delivers his own rendition of a Tears For Fears number with no sign of either tears or fear before guiding us to the grave of John Septimus Roe.

Roe recounts some of the history of the cemeteries (strictly speaking, there are eight, segregated by religious denominations), the layout of Perth, and his fellow early settlers whose names adorn Western Australia’s map (for better or worse). Like Brown, he also cheerfully sings cheerfully about diseases, accompanied by some wandering minstrels.

The next stop, beside St Bartholomew’s Church, is an appropriately mournful (and rather long) video memorial to some of the women and girls who drowned in the Swan River. The show ends inside the chapel as Brown tries to enlist us in his Ponzi scheme.

The cast and musicians all perform well, and for all the comedy, the show still points out how much easier we have it now compared to the English settlers who arrived here nearly two centuries ago – even the ones who came here voluntarily. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a cemetery.

About the Author

Stephen Dedman

Stephen Dedman is the author of five novels and more than 120 short stories published and reprinted and in an eclectic variety of anthologies and magazines and languages. He’s worked as a bookseller, actor, museum exhibit and experimental subject, and taught creative writing at UWA and the Forensic Science Centre.

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