Boans Department Store – Perth.

Over the last century, the way we shop has changed a lot – from small shops, to mail order catalogues, to large department stores, to the boutique phenomenon of the ’60s and ’70s, to the large shopping centres of more recent decades – and now in the inner city we’re going back to smaller specialist shops whilst for many it’s still about heading to a large suburban mall.

The 1920s and 1930s in particular were a boom time for department stores – and although their numbers have dwindled, you can still see their beautiful structures in many cities and towns. Can you imagine shopping for dresses in a salon-style environment where you might relax with a cup of tea whilst beautifully coiffured and dressed models paraded gowns for your selection? You can see similar scenes in films like “How to Marry a Millionaire”, “Vertigo” and “The Women” (1939 version). It must have been quite wonderful – especially compared to today’s shopping experience where you’re faced with racks of clothing and don’t know where to start.

As a vintage clothing retailer, I try to combine the best of modern and old styles of shopping, to produce a pleasant environment – so I’m always pleased to find photos of old shops and their displays. They make wonderful sources for inspiration.

A lady with an interest in local history has found a large cache of photos at Perth’s state library and loaded them up to Facebook – I can recommend the community “Beautiful buildings and cool places Perth has lost” but it was the photos of Boans Department store that made my heart race.

Boans was Perth’s largest and oldest department store, opened in 1895 and rebuilt in 1912 to the building you see below. It sat between Wellington and Murray Streets, opposite the train station and was sold to Myer in 1985. The following year it was demolished to make way for the Forrest Chase shopping centre. At one time it was the largest employer in Western Australia, and had many suburban and country branches.

I remember Boans quite well – I used to go shopping there as a child in the late ’70s and would buy haberdashery and fabrics for my home-sewn dresses. It was a charmingly old fashioned shop and looked very much as it is in the photos below – but by that time it must have seemed very out of date and most shoppers were going elsewhere.

Here are some photos of Boans from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s – if you click on each, it will come up in full size.

Update: a book has just been published about the store: Boans for Service: The story of a department store 1895-1986 by David Hough. Might have to pick up a copy.

Boans Department Store – 1930s.

Boans Department Store – 1940s

Boans Department Store – 1950s

All images courtesy Battye Library with thanks to Michelle Turner and Facebook community “Beautiful buildings and cool places Perth has lost”


  1. Ah, Michelle was a stalwart of the Lindy Hop scene in Perth when I was heavily involved back around the turn of the century – am assuming she probably still is with these images! Shame so much seems to be going into the hideous silo of FB these days, even vintage; independent sites are just so much more filled with personality, FB is just so horridly genericised and bland.

  2. Hi guys,

    Hey Cass!!! Long time no see/hear. Yes, I’m still a Lindy Hopper and still on the committee and vintage freak. I guess for me, Facebook was the best way to get this stuff out there and I now have 5200 members to my group – which is just mad!! I don’t like FB much either but I have had so many people contact me directly from my page it is insane!

    I’ve had magazine and radio interviews, been invited to help with an exhibition at His Magestys Theatre about the Ambassadors Theatre…it’s crazy! And the best part is that so many young people are in the group and they had NO idea what Perth was like before the 70s.

    How are you Cass?

    Chelle x

  3. I love my sister pat and i was looking for another cossie. its is so 50’s and i feel very glam in them, regardless if i am at the beach or wearing ” margaret” with jeans out and about. I purchased a cossie 6 months ago while in ballarat on hols and have conatcted the new owner Rosemary: she is so assionate about the 50’s and classic!
    this is in reply to your 18th jan comment

  4. My lovely dad John Kirby worked in the Display Department at Boans from 1955 to about 1959. Does anyone remember the amazing Christmas Displays that he used to design and build? Do you remember the Train that ‘rocked’, the Gnomes that moved etc. I have forgotten some because I was so young myself. Please let me know your memories. Dad sadly passed away in 2006 in London.

  5. Boans was the most amazing store. Does anyone remember the Xmas
    Train on the top floor where it took you thru the most magical display ever. I remember back in the 60’s ringing the bell at the front of the train, Santa use to be at the front. Anyone else out there have any memories?

  6. Those magnificent structural iron pillars which were throughout the store, are now lying dormant in an antique store in Maylands WA. I saw the sample one lying out the front of the shop and knew I had seen it as a kid, standing tall and proud! Apparently there are over 100 of them. – Why isn’t the shire using them?!?!

  7. I remember the train and the Christmas display at Boans. It really represented Christmas to me as a child. Well done to Lynda’s dad for designing it. I’ll bet there are a lot more adults now who remember it with fond memories. There was a lot of silver tinsel and snow if I recall correctly. Does anyone have any photos of the train?

  8. Message for Sandy who posted on the 1st. Nov. 2012. Sandy, I am so thrilled that you remember the displays that my father designed and built for us kids to enjoy at Christmas time. I miss him so much as we worked together when I was grown up as Scenic Artists (well I was his humble assistant) here in England and did work on many well known films. He was an amazing man and I am honoured to have been his daughter.

  9. Hi, I know my grandfather was a CEO or something to do with Boans , I’ve been trying to find out any info about it. Harry Bate was his name .

  10. Elizabeth, there’s a link in the post above for a book about Boans – see if you can pick up a copy and it should help.

  11. Message for Lynda Kirkby. Lynda I am looking for photos of the xmas train too. Do you have one that you can share, I have the fondest memories of this when I was a child, I think of it often. It was so magical, it will stay with me forever. Your Dad lives in the hearts of many Perth folk, keeping us forever young. Thank u for the fairytale memory. Dale x

  12. Message for Dale Proposch.
    Hello Dale, I am so thrilled that you remember the Christmas Train, my lovely father worked so hard on the Christmas displays every year to give the children of Perth wonderful memories. Unfortunately, we do not have any photographs but I can still close my eyes and see it all. Thank you so much for your lovely words about my father it means so much to me as I miss him so much. He was a magical father and taught me so much as I was growing up. We are English but came to Australia as £10 Poms in about January 1955 and my sister Jacqueline and I attended North Perth Primary School. We loved Australia so much but my father became so homesick for London that we returned late in 1959. Jackie and I could not bear the cold of the winter we entered that year and still remember our dismay at leaving Australia. To this day we wish we were still living in Perth and going to the beach. Lots of love and fond memories x

  13. Thank you Lynda for your reply. Maybe it best that we dont have any photos, best to leave it to our childhood memories. They say our long term memory gets sharper as we get older, Im looking forward to that. Many thanks with fondest memories of a magical time. Dale x

  14. I have the Royal State Coach from the Coronation which was part of the display in Boans window. My father purchased it when the display was dismantled. I believe it has a value in excess of $AUD1,000.

  15. I remember going on the trains looking at the beautiful decorated grottos with all the animated toys it was amazing,we went with other children from the children’s home and it was like you had stepped into another world.perth lost a unique building and icon when Boans was removed,hence we go overseas to the UK and other places to look at history

  16. I remember going to see the displays riding the train through the grottoes looking at the animated toys and characters,they were amazing and everything was like you had stepped into another world,we were fortunate because the children’s home I was in took us all there as a treat,Perth certainly lost an unique icon when they pulled down the Boans store,we lost some of our history,hence we end up going overseas to places like the UK and Europe to see it.

  17. I blame Boans for my cinnamon doughnut obsession! I remember going into Boans on practically every trip into ‘town’ and stopping by with my nana or mum to buy fresh pikelets or hot doughnuts. I was fascinated, watching the doughnuts being dropped into the hot oil through to being rolled in cinnamon sugar. Mmm.
    I also remember playing on the grand staircase with my aunty and my new slinky, dropping it down the stairs. 🙂 Would never be allowed now! Traffic hazard.
    Growing older, I’d live in the habby section choosing ribbons for my hair and wishing I was rich enough to buy all the fabric my heart desired!
    So many memories. TFS!

  18. With you on the cinnamon donuts and haberdashery, Maggie! I used to love visiting straight from school and spending my part time check out chick wages on fabrics and trims to whip up an outfit for the weekend. Good times.

  19. Hi I have a suit from Boans st or and I’m just wondering what it would be priced at today would someone please let me know who I can contact cheers Tania

  20. Hi Tania, what it’s worth depends on many factors: style, quality, fabric, condition, size, where you sell it and most of all, demand. You can look at closed auctions on ebay but you might have trouble finding something similar. Men’s suits vary quite a lot in price. For best results, seek advice from a local appraiser, who can view the item in person and advise on local demand or further afield if you wish to sell online. The federal government has a list of registered appraisers (assuming you’re in Australia) – you can see it here. Hope that helps.

  21. I am trying to locate any information regarding a fashion advertising Artist John Galland Howarth.

    He is my Wife’s grandfather born 1880 at Hulme Lancahire and died at Cottesloe 1944.
    His wife was Ada Rowe from the Isle of Man. Ada passed away 08.12.1960 at Margaret Street Cottesloe

    Any information of John would be helpful so I can add to the family tree

  22. Hi Bob, thank you for your comment. I don’t have any information for you, however have you tried the WA State library? Or Trove? Old newspapers are often a great source of information but if you’re researching family history you’re probably onto these. Good luck for your search.

  23. Hi, I have the dolls that were dressed as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip and used in Boans window display in Perth for the Royal visit in 1954. They are still dressed in the original clothes and sitting on the thrones that were made for them way back then.

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