Percy Button Sculpture
Public Art : Percy Button Sculpture
Sculptors : © Charlie Smith & Joan Walsh-Smith
Date : Unveiled 12th October 2006
Description : A bronze statue of well loved street entertainer,
Percy Button. Dressed in his trademark long tail coat and with hat by his side, a smiling Percy attracts
wanted attention from passerbys, due impart to the unusual pose, a handstand.
Location : Hay Street Mall, Perth, Western Australia
Commissioned By : Perth City
Percy button was a local street
entertainer and one of Perth's best
known faces from the 1920's to the
1950's. Performing somersaults and
handstands, Percy entertained people
for a few shillings while they waited to
see films, newsreels and theatrical
performances at the theatres that were
concentrated in what is now the Hay
Street Mall, the Theatre Royal, the
Ambassador and His Majesty's Theatre.
Percy was reknowned for his
grubbiness and in November 1929 local
newspaper, The Mirror, dressed Percy
up in a long-tailed suit and ran a front
page competition asking readers to
guess the identity of the cleaned up
man. The Mirror offered a guinea's
worth of goods for the first opened
letter giving the man's name.
The newspaper later asked Percy to write the
1929 Centenary Christmas Message.
This artwork celebrates the spirit of the street.
The Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor
Dr. Peter Nattress
12 October 2006
Charles Smith and Joan Walsh-Smith.
*To find out if anyone won the guinea's worth of goods you will just have to visit the statue, the answer is
History of Percy Button : Percy
Archibald Button (1892-1954) was born at Marylebone Workhouse in London, in 1892. He was raised by his
grandmother on the Isle of Wight. It had been rumoured that Percy learnt his acrobatic skills
whilst working for a circus in England, but no evidence has ever surfaced to verify this. It was thought that a
injury preventing him from continuing his career under the bigtop. At the age of 22, Percy emigrated to Perth,
Western Australia, where he worked odd jobs in the farming district. During World War I Percy enlisted in the
Australian Imperial Force, despite his short status of 163 cm (5ft 4"), and was discharged in 1918 without ever
seeing any action.
Little is known about why Percy took to the streets of Perth to become a vagrant, but at some stage he began
performing to bystanders who were waiting outside theatres and shops. With a battered old hat and not so clean
clothes, Percy entertained the public with somersaults and tricks. The public reponded in kind, by throwing coins
into his hat. Even the police had a soft spot for him, arresting him occassionally for vagrancy so he could get a
good feed and a warm bed for the night. He was often referred to as "Percy the Unwashed" and liked to dabble in a
bit of gambling (without much luck). Sadly, as time passed, Percy had to give up the acrobatics and began playing
the mouth organ. Living on the streets became hard, especially during the Depression and World War II, but the
familar face continued to entertain. A savage attack by a thug in the late 1940's left him close to death
and eventually sent him on a downward spiral. In 1951 arrangements were made for Percy to be placed in an
Old Men's Home. Three years later he was dead. The Repatriation Department paid for his funeral. It seems only
fitting that a statue was erected in his honour on the very location where he performed and where he can still
bring a smile to a passerby.
Trivia : Prior to the Percy Button sculpture another tribute to
Percy Button (Percy Buttons' Aspiration) was placed in the Hay Street Mall, high above the street. The twelve metre
high aerial sculpture of tightrope walker Percy Button was created by Adrian Jones who was commissioned in 1996 to
create works reflecting the Hay Street Malls colourful history. It was taken down in early 2000's for maintence,
but was never returned.