From Hooves to Highways

R Strelitz, Esq



Richard Strelitz was a German-born Jew who came to WA in 1893. He lived in High Street, Fremantle, and became a lieutenant in the Fremantle Infantry (militia). When his brother Paul arrived in 1894 they established Strelitz Brothers, Merchants and Shipping Agents, of Fremantle and Kalgoorlie, and then a second business in Perth. Richard was popular and successful, and by 1901 he was consul to Denmark, and then also to Sweden and Norway.

“A member of the firm of Strelitz Bros. Is the one who catches business by geniality. He is younger than his brother, and hasn’t the hard, shrewd head Paul has. But he has what is as good, a faculty for making friends. He inclines to corpulence, is clean-shaven, dark, and very short-sighted. His defective vision causes him to wrinkle his face into a thousand puckers, that a minute later are smoothed out by a smile. Is a genial, jolly fellow and is liberal in business or out of it. Is particularly well up in shipping work, and controls that part of the firm’s business. Owns the finest motor-car in Westralia.”

Through the Spyglass by ‘Truthful Thomas’, 1905

In Albany on 23 September 1897 Richard married NSW-born Bessie Blanche or ‘Bebe’ Solomon. They initially lived at ‘River View’ in Richmond Crescent, East Fremantle, then in 1902 built another ‘River View’ on an enormous block of land bounded by Palmerston and Glyde Streets and Bay View Terrace, Buckland Hill (now Mosman Park). It was at this home the meeting was held on 28 January 1905, which resulted in the formation of the Automobile Club of Western Australia.

“...the Club practically owed its existence to Mr Strelitz, who … called the first meeting at his house.”

The West Australian, 21 August 1911

Strelitz Brothers letterhead, dated May 1918. Courtesy National Archives of Australia.

In 1911, the same year Richard built Ericston (now St Just) in View Street, Peppermint Grove, the Strelitz brothers took their families on an extended trip to Europe. Richard returned in 1913, but with Europe on the brink of war, Paul remained in England. By 1914 Richard had resumed his consulships and was president of the Automobile Club of Western Australia.

But a day or two after Great Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914, authorities received reports of suspicious lights coming from Ericston. In a wave of anti-German sentiment, accusations of wireless messages being sent from his business premises to incoming German ships followed.

The Premier, John Scaddan, weighed in:

“[For Strelitz] to act as has been suggested by the libellous and absolutely lying statements would ... be simply suicidal … he is the last man to ever dream of disloyalty … malicious purveyors of these cowardly lies … we will make object lessons of them that will bring fear into the hearts of their contemptible class … We will put down anything of this sort with the gloves off. The offenders will know they're hit, let me assure you.”

The Daily News, 7 August 1914

Automobile Club minutes from the August 13 meeting at Cecil Dent’s home record, in the presence of Robert Robinson, William Vincent, Cecil Dent, Drs Thomas Anderson and John Deakin, John Caris, Claude de Bernales, Basil Murray, Joseph Gardam, August Knapp and Sydney Eden:

“Mr R T Robinson moved a vote of confidence in Mr Strelitz as president of the club, and deplored the slanderous reports which had been circulated around town regarding him. The motion was seconded by Mr W H Vincent and … carried unanimously.”

Richard Strelitz c1913 in the Danish uniform of the Consul-General, wearing the Knighthood of the Order of the Dannebrog (right), conferred on him by the King of Denmark in 1904, and the Knighthood of the Vasa Order (left), conferred on him by the King of Sweden in 1912. Courtesy RAC Archives.

Viking House, 49 William Street, Perth. Built in 1912 by Richard Strelitz, demolished in 1970. Courtesy State Library of Western Australia, image b1967383_2

Viking House, 49 William Street, Perth. Built in 1912 by Richard Strelitz, demolished in 1970. Courtesy State Library of Western Australia, image b1967383_2

Despite the confidence of friends and associates, in October the Strelitz brothers’ Viking House and Fremantle businesses were raided, to determine whether they should be declared enemy enterprises. They were not, but, under immense and increasing pressure, Richard resigned all official posts in November 1914. Citing health reasons, on Boxing Day he took his family to the Eastern States.

Despite having been naturalised as a British subject in the 1890s; despite investing all of his considerable business interests and finances in WA; despite all of his long-term employees swearing he was a very fair employer; and despite his five children all having been born in WA, Strelitz was under a heavy, unrelenting cloud of suspicion.

There are numerous historic references to him having been interned as an enemy alien for the duration of the war but this was not the case. He remained free but left WA taking his family, his business and his tremendous fortune to Hunamurra (soon changed to Turramurra), NSW. In February 1918 he put Ericston and its entire contents up for sale.

His parting gift to WA was investing £5,000 in the War Loan, for which he was described in the Westralian Worker of 10 May 1918 as “a good British patriot,” and although they had not yet done so, was warmly thanked “for the help be has afforded the Allies in winning the war.”

Paul, his wife Rosalie, and their daughter followed Richard to NSW, and the Strelitz family then flourished in the well-known waterside suburbs in and around Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay. Richard died in May 1958, in Mosman, NSW, aged 86, followed two months later by Bebe, aged 82.


What, Where, and When

Richard Strelitz is pictured in the front passenger seat of his 1906 Daimler, bought direct from Coventry, England, for £1,250 (around $184,000 today). Bebe Strelitz has been identified by her great grandson, Stephen Strelitz, as being seated behind the driver. The woman beside her is unidentified. Driving is his chauffeur, Jack Smith, reportedly WA’s first. Before this he drove John Banfield’s Gladiator, which was bought at the 1900 Paris Exhibition and arrived in Fremantle just after Christmas 1900. Though contentious, is has been lauded as the first four-wheeled, engine-powered motor car to be driven in Perth.*

They are parked outside their home, ‘River View’, Mosman Park (now demolished), where the Automobile Club of Western Australia was formed.

As for this Daimler:

“... she was sold to Mr Reg Harrison, and is now in use at the Perth Central Fire Brigade Station, hauling ladders, etc.”

The Call & WA Sportsman, 19 December 1919

*Banfield’s diary records his car arrived “just after Christmas 1901” but he also recalled he took the Gladiator out to Mundaring on 17 January 1901 around the time “ the late Queen Victoria passed on” (22 January), so the car must’ve arrived after Christmas 1900, not 1901. The first car to arrive in Perth was bought by Goldfields magnate George Brookman in Paris at the same time. His landed at Fremantle before the Banfield’s Gladiator, but as he couldn’t get it to go, he sent it back.

The Daily News, 7 August 1914

Richard Strelitz’s calling card, courtesy RAC Archives.