Augustus Sanford Keats Roe was the youngest son of John Septimus Roe, former Surveryor-General of WA. Educated at Bishop’s (Hale) School, he completed his articles with Messrs Stone and Son, and was admitted to the WA Bar in 1873. After about a year in law he switched business to pearling in the north-west, making regular visits to the Dutch East Indies where he recruited Malay divers.
In the late 1870s, when the price of pearl shell fell he changed business again, this time, to sailing. He became a master mariner and engaged in trade in the Dutch East Indies. The Western Mail of 22 May 1914 reports:
“During this period he visited Hong Kong and the west coast of Borneo, besides all the Polynesian islands, for copra, gutta-percha, rattan, coffee, and rice, and in the course of his voyages navigated the rivers of Borneo, Brou, Bolongan, and Koeti, acquiring a familiar knowledge of the Malay language and a close insight into the habits of the people.”
In 1888 in Fremantle, Roe (36) married Mary Newman (32), daughter of a prominent Fremantle merchant and accountant. They subsequently settled in Roebourne, which had been named for Roe’s father, and he resumed legal practise for mining companies and large syndicates, and also served as district magistrate. Their children Jack and Douglas were born in Roebourne in 1889 and 1895 respectively.
In 1898, Roe was appointed police magistrate in Perth and the family returned to town. He contracted Olson and Sanders to design and build his home, which he named Chirritta after a sheep station of the same name near Roebourne.
It’s believed Roe’s time in Roebourne heavily influenced his chosen design, with the State Heritage Office describing it as “encircled by a veranda on all four sides, the house crouches low under a cavernous roof, invulnerable to the impact of the hottest sun.”
The house was also set higher up on the hill to catch the slightest breezes, and far back from the Esplanade, behind a vast expanse of cooling lawn. In the waters opposite, they could see their family boatshed where they kept their launch, also named Chirritta.
The family enjoyed regular outings on Chirritta, often mooring off Carnac Island to enjoy a day of fishing. It was on one such fishing trip, on Saturday 1 August 1908, that unexpectedly resulted in the tragic death of Mary Roe.
That day, the seas were heaving and, after a brief visit to Carnac, they retreated to Woodman Point. Oldest son Jack (19) was away at Geelong Grammar School but Douglas (13) was in the cabin with a repeating rifle with which he’d been shooting stags on shore. He had emptied the gun of three cartridges and, thinking it now empty, positioned the gun between his legs and pulled the trigger. Unfortunately, there was a fourth cartridge in the chamber, which shot out, through the cabin, into his mother’s abdomen and out into her arm.
“It’s right through me. I’m shot,” Mary exclaimed.
They rushed to Fremantle where doctors operated, but she died in the early hours of Sunday morning.
His wife dead, accidentally killed by his younger son, Roe was distraught, and attended the coronial inquiry the next week in a state of near-collapse. Fortunately, the jury returned a verdict that Mary’s death was caused by the explosion of a rifle, with no blame attachable to anyone.
Olson and Sanders’ design for Chirritta, for Augustus Roe at 56 The Explanade: internal plan. Courtesy Denis Cullity and Peppermint Grove, by Robert Pascoe.In Victoria 19 months later, on 28 March 1910, Roe (58) married a second time, to Elizabeth Cook (40), a teacher at Tintern College (now Grammar), in Hawthorn, Victoria, and brought her back to WA.
Younger son Douglas was schooled at Scotch College and became a mercantile clerk. He enlisted in WWI in May 1915 and arrived at Gallipoli with reinforcements to the 11th Battalion on 4 August, just as the Second Offensive began. Four days later he accidentally shot himself in the left foot, for which injury he was invalided back to Australia for the duration of the war. In 1925 he married Stella Smith, and they lived in Venn Street, Peppermint Grove. During WWII in 1941, under the Yachtsman Scheme, Douglas volunteered for the Naval Reserve, completing his service at the end of the war at the rank of lieutenant commander. He died in 1977, aged 83.
After schooling at Geelong Grammar, older son Jack followed his father into law, gaining his Bachelor’s in Melbourne in 1915. He was articled to Haynes Robinson & Cox in mid-1915, and enlisted in WWI in June 1916. He served throughout the war, and returned to Australia in 1919. On discharge, he joined his father’s law firm.
It was Jack who inherited Chirritta when his father died in March 1921. In 1923 he married Maimie McGillivray in Perth, and practised law until he died in September 1950, aged 61. Mamie continued living at Chirritta for another ten years, and sold it to Denis and Ann Cullity in 1961. She moved to Grange Street, Claremont, where she died in 1979.
Denis and Ann Cullity raised their family at Chirritta, and extended the home sympathetically, when necessary, most recently in 2007. When they sold it in 2013, after 52 years in residence, the seven bedroom, six bathroom home was then purportedly Perth’s most expensive.
The current owners began five years of vast renovations in 2015, removing the Cullity’s 2007 addition and extending on the north side as well as over the top of the old tennis court towards the back of the block.
By Ms Shannon Lovelady, Historian and PLC Archivist