Northbridge – The Heart of Perth

Bustling, dynamic and cosmopolitan – today’s Northbridge can rightly claim to be the most colourful neighbourhood in Western Australia.

If Perth’s head is in the central business district then this area north of the railway line, bounded by Newcastle, Stirling, Roe and Fitzgerald Streets, is the heart and soul.

Residents come from all over the metropolitan region to dine off the richly diverse fare of Northbridge’s many restaurants. At night, and especially on weekends, it is the playground of the young. Northbridge has the densest concentrations of nightclubs anywhere in Australia.

Yet there are still residents who’ve seen out most of the century here, men and women in their seventies and even eighties who watch the passing scene from the verandahs of old houses sandwiched between trendy bistros and small businesses.

Among these old folks are Greeks from the tiny Aegean island of Kastalorizzo and Italians from Sicily. They were early comers in the many tides of humanity that swept into Perth during pre- and post-war migrations, Chinese, Greeks, Italians, Hungarian Jews, Irish Catholics, Slavs, Turks and Vietnamese.

It was in Northbridge that most of these migrants felt a community of spirit, where their strange continental ways were welcomes in an otherwise overwhelming Anglo-Saxon society.  In this tiny, cosmopolitan world tolerance was bred out of necessity. Synagogue stood close to mosque and Greek rubbed shoulders with Turk. It was here, too, that nonconformists were allowed to feel at home. Here it was that bordellos and illicit gambling dens thrived under the benign tolerance of the authorities.

Up to the late 1970’s when a group of businessmen launched a naming competition, the area had been known as Highgate, or simply North Perth. “Northbridge” was a popular choice and the name quickly acquired the currency it has today. During this same time, from the early 1970’s on, Northbridge began to boom. Helped by its closeness to the city, its variety of foreign cuisine restaurants and the pleasure of an informal urban environment that was of more human scale than the tower blocks of the central business district, the area began to attract a vibrant after-hours patronage.

Increasingly sophisticated tastes in the wider community were also responsible for drawing in more trade for the restaurants and fine foods stores.

If Northbridge has any comparisons then it is to Sydney’s King’s Cross and London’s Soho. Yet the civic pride and efforts of the area’s businesses, inhabitants and council representatives are geared towards improving the town spacing and general appearance of the neighbourhood.

Today Northbridge is home to writers and artists, who work in studios up and down William Street; to students attending the TAFE college or visiting the Alexander Library; to itinerant world travellers sojourning in one of the many youth hostels; and to the migrants and their descendants who give the area its unique character.

Michael Van Niekerk, July 1991