Monthly Archives: March 2010

Banyule Festival- wait there’s more!

After a Saturday night awash with nostalgia at Twilight Sounds at Sills Bend, I frocked up on Sunday for the annual Heidelberg Historical Society bus tour.  You’re likely to find me down at our museum one Sunday a month with my secretary’s hat on.

So onto the bus we hopped and off we headed to Ravenswood in East Ivanhoe.  The house was commenced in 1891,  at the commencement of the depression and was one of the last boom-style mansions built before everything went pear-shaped.

It is a house built for display.  It would have been prominent as  visitors headed towards Ivanhoe from the city and can still be seen easily from the railway line should you happen to look to the east and up the hill as you’re rattling along.  The exterior of the house was built with this prospect in mind, as it is at its most ornate on the south-west side, but rather plain on the other sides (perhaps hoping for future extensions?).  The house itself,  is not extensive- it has four main rooms and a hallway on the ground floor, with bedrooms upstairs, and utility rooms at the back.  A very large ballroom was added in 1895, so obviously the depression did not affect the owner, the financier Robert Kennedy, too much.

We weren’t able to take photographs inside the house, but the emphasis on display carried through internally as well.  Because the house had been used as a number of years as a nursing home, most of the original features were lost, but they were able to establish that paintwork was used ‘creatively’ throughout- lots of marbled paint, fake timberwood and trompe-l’oeil. It had been beautifully renovated- the paintwork was truly beautiful, the carpets thick- and the gardens carefully tended.

Then onto the bus again and up to the Ivanhoe RSL which is located in a home originally known as Clarivue (sometimes spelled Clairvue).

The house was commenced in 1913 and was designed for a timber merchant.  As you might expect, this one has real timber throughout, compared with the timber in Ravenswood.

It’s being used as the RSL, so it lacks the loving attention that Ravenswood has been lavished with in recent years.  Nonetheless, the windows and woodwork are largely intact.

Ah…. but money, money, money.  The Ivanhoe RSL does not have pokie machines- what a Faustian pact that is.  You can see other RSLs gleaming away with their rendered paintwork, downlights and chrome fittings, purchased with tears and recriminations.  Ironically, this house is probably better preserved because it lacks the money to tart it up for short-term gain.

And so onto the bus, back to the Old England Hotel (fondly known as the OE) for afternoon tea and our bus tour was over for another year.  And with my Secretary’s hat on, thanks to Miles Real Estate and the Old England Hotel, the Ivanhoe RSL and the owners of Ravenswood as well!

And forty years later…

Last night was Twilight Sounds at Sills Bends.  This is an annual event, held at my favourite place in the world- well, Melbourne anyway- Sills Bend by the Yarra in Heidelberg.  I’ve written about Sills Bend before. The Yarra Flats were my childhood playground; now as an adult I just love the deep shade of the oak trees, the old fruit trees and the sense of connection with an older Heidelberg.

Last night felt particularly nostalgic as Cotton, Keays and Morris were performing.  I spent probably two years of my life between 14 and 16 desperately in love with Jim Keays and the Masters Apprentices.

Their album was the first full-priced album I’d bought- my pocket money only stretched to K-Tel albums with lurid limegreen and orange psychedelic covers- and every afternoon on the way home from school I wondered if there would be a newsletter from ‘Denise and Di and Mrs G” from the Masters Apprentices Fan Club (it was, let us say, a sporadic publication).  They had played at the Scots Church Hall in Burgundy Street for my high school social when I was Form 2 at Banyule High School.

I know that ‘real’ historians are not supposed to admit to such sop, but I’ve always been attracted to time-travel stories.  I wish that I could come up behind that fourteen year old girl, screaming and sobbing at Jim Keays’ feet as, wreathed in streamers and poured into black leather pants, he endured  what was probably another dreary school gig. They sang their new song, 5.10 man and I bought the single the next week.

I wish that I could tell that 14 year old girl that forty years later, she’d be watching this same man.  She would still be the same person deep down, but she’d end up doing many of the things she wanted to do. She’d live a suburb or two away; she’d have a career; she’d have children (who would not deign to accompany her to Sills Bend to indulge such nostalgia).  She mightn’t know it at the time, but she’d find other people who liked the things she did. She’d do well at school and go to university- yep, she’d STILL be at university forty years later!! She’d fall in love properly and people would fall in love with her.  Forty years on, she’d say that she has a very good life.

And he, too, would live a life that he probably couldn’t have foreseen on that stage in 1969 and I wonder if he’d say that he has a very good life too. I hope that he would.

Anyway a good night, a good gig.  And the excitement goes on today too…..

‘The Bee Hut’ by Dorothy Porter

2009, 139 p.

I wasn’t going to write this post. I was going to write about my own experience of poetry as a reader, the frustrations of reading a collection of poetry in an online environment etc. etc. But I’ve just been crying as I turn the page on the last poem in The Bee Hut, the collection of Dorothy Porter’s poetry that was completed just before she died in December 2008.  I feel so very sad at the thought that this is, literally, the last poem. I’ve been thinking, too, of my friend Dot Mac (everyone knew her that way)- another Dot, my Dot-  who also died of breast cancer a few years ago, at much the same age.  I still can’t quite believe that my life goes on, day after day, and yet she is not here.

While I was reading this book, I found myself wondering about the interweaving of the poet’s life and her poetry. It seemed to me that the whole book was pervaded by a clearness of vision- a close, intense, way of looking- that had been sharpened by her cancer and confrontation with death. In the final poems there is a closing around and a drawing inwards that I think even someone unaware of Dorothy Porter’s own biography would detect.

The book itself is divided into sections, almost like the acts of a play. In this way, it has its own narrative thread, as a collection.  There are travel poems- dust-laden poems about Egypt, cold green poems about London; there are theatrical poems written as lyrics for stage performance.  There’s a section of poems about illness, reflecting the first bout of cancer years earlier, then there are the final, quiet poems at the end. There’s a sense of movement through the poems as a whole, rather than just one self-contained poem after another.

I read this book as part of an online book group that I’m in that focuses on Australian literature- if you’re interested in joining us. We read and discuss (rather desultorily I must admit) one book a month. This was the first poetry book we have read, and I found it hard to actually comment on it during the process of reading, beyond saying “I liked this bit….” and quoting particular phrases and stanzas.  But there’s an artificiality about reading a book over a month like this, and I don’t think it serves poetry well.   I think that poetry has to be purchased, rather than borrowed; I think that you need to have it at hand for dipping into, rather than reading straight from cover to cover.  I think it needs to be read out loud, rather than read through. It stands on its own two feet: anything that I could add is superfluous.

I really didn’t think that I’d be in tears at the end of it.  The opening poem has been well chosen: the first words you encounter are:

The most powerful presence/is absence.

And what a powerful presence this is.

‘This Errant Lady’ by Penny Russell

2002, 207p.& notes

Now here’s a way to decide which book to read next-  what goes well with your decor?  It gave me great pleasure to see Penny Russell’s This Errant Lady lying on my bed, matching so well with my doona cover!  Martha Stewart, eat your heart out!

I was drawn to read this after finishing Ken McGoogan’s Lady Franklin’s Revenge recently.  I’d forgotten that Jane Franklin visited Port Phillip and Sydney in 1839 and I was interested to see what she said about Port Phillip in particular, even though Judge Willis, the Resident Judge of Port Phillip had not arrived at this stage.  I’ve been writing a chapter the last few weeks on Judge Willis’ involvement in colonial politics, which has taken me back to his relationships with Sydney colonists, and as a member of the government elite (albeit of a neighbouring colony), Jane Franklin was well-placed to comment on political events and personalities in Sydney.

Having now read her journal of her overland trip to Port Phillip and Sydney in 1839, I can now see why Ken McGoogan wrote the biography he did, quite apart from any other propensities that a writer on arctic exploration might have.  Jane Franklin’s journals are travel diaries in the true sense of the word- lots of information about routes taken, facts gleaned, people met etc. but not much about her own inner world.  I share the frustration of Penny Russell the editor in her preface:

In recording this epic adventure, Jane Franklin treated her diary essentially as a notebook, producing a compendium of often unrelated scraps of information.  This was in keeping with her general habit in travel writing.  Despite her enthusiasm for knowledge, Jane Franklin rarely ventured to express her opinions, speculations, or interpretations in writing.  The judgments offered in this, as in all her diaries, are generally borrowed from guidebooks, histories or local inhabitants.  Whether she agreed with them or not, she did not see her diary as a space for formulating her own opinions.  She confined her attention to the external, the observable- to what could be ‘fixed’ on the page (p. 16). … Her opinions, her thoughts, her own personality must be deduced as much from what is unwritten as from what is written- her character sketched in the space left vacant in her accounts. (p. 17)

This utilitarian approach can be partly explained by the fiction by which her trip was justified, both to her husband and to Tasmanians generally- that it was a research trip into a sister-colony that would be of use to her husband Sir John Franklin, Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, and would be a form of diplomatic representation of VDL at a governor-to-governor level.  The reality was that she was restless and curious and liked nothing better than getting away from her husband and the scrutiny of a small colonial society.  Mind you, she liked her comforts too- the iron bedstead came on this trip, just as it did on all her journeys.  But she revels in ‘roughing it’ and escaping amongst people who were only vaguely aware of who she was, and you sense the increasing tightening of protocol and deference as she moves from the outlying areas into the more settled districts surrounding Sydney.

The editor, Penny Russell, has excluded much of  the weight of detail that shackled Ken McGoogan’s biography, but she has tried to keep enough in

to preserve the rich texture of Jane Franklin’s portrayal of a colony arrested at a particular moment of development: a moment of optimism for the future, in a society still built on convict labour and pastoral expansion, in which progress rested upon the sufferings of the chain gangs and the brutually dispossessed Aborigines…But the catastrophic pastoral depression that would destroy the hopes of so many in the early 1840s had not yet made its mark, and the grandeur of half built churches and suburban villas, the growing concern over education, and the diversity of experiments in agriculture and industry all suggest an overall confidence. (p. 16-7)

Russell  has also worked hard, though, to preserve the human aspects of Jane Franklin’s interactions with the people she met.  Her trip was a long one- from April to July 1839- and she was quite devious in her excuses to cut it short as Sir John wished her to do.  But she probably should have come home earlier: it was quite clear by July that she had outstayed her welcome with the Gipps’, and it is her discomfort at this knowledge that makes her more likeable.  We have the intimacy of her coming into Mrs Gipps’ bedroom for a chat, thinking that she was alone, and finding Governor Gipps stretched out on the bed; we have the cringing, walking-on-eggshells  embarrassment when Gipps was furious that she had allowed his carriage to become soaked while she was using it.

For me- and I admit that this is probably an acquired taste- I enjoyed finding characters from “my” Port Phillip and Sydney strolling onto the stage.  So we meet Mr Verner (who was to become Judge Willis’ good friend and neighbour) bowling along in his carriage with two friends;  there’s a ship with Protector Robinson’s Van Diemen’s Land aborigines on board (some of whom were to be sentenced to death by Judge Willis two years later);  Captain Lonsdale (who was to become one of Judge Willis’ targets) taking them to a corroboree but arriving late so that it was all over by the time they arrived; there’s Chief Justice Dowling and his wife, and Justice Alfred Stephen (Judge Willis’ brother judges with whom he was anything but ‘brotherly’).  In fact- and this is important for my purposes- conspicuously absent is Judge Willis and his good lady from the balls and levees and receptions that were laid out for Lady Jane Franklin.

And so, eventually Jane headed for home. What a trip that was!  As with all journeys, once you’ve decided that yes, you’re ready to go home, it seemed to take an age.  But in this case it did-  five weeks from leaving the heads to their arrival back in Hobart (a trip that can take about 3-4 days for the Sydney to Hobart yacht race today).  Buffeted by storms, and with food and water supplies running low, their ship bobbed around; once almost glimpsing the coast of Tasmania before being swept out into the seas again over towards New Zealand.   Relieved, no doubt to be back, you still sense Hobart society swallowing her up again, with criticisms of her recklessness in even embarking on the trip and sniffy comments about petticoat government.

Penny Russell has intervened quite a bit in this book.  She has, by her own admission

emphasised particular stories, bringing into bolder relief images that are blurred, tangled or broken in Jane Franklin’s original. (p.17)

From the original transcript, retrieved and recorded by Roger Millis (who wrote the huge tome on Waterloo Creek), she has favoured people over trees or buildings, but not reproduced “the exhaustive and inexhaustible coverage of the original”, she has omitted hearsay information, and trimmed wordiness and detail “to give them greater narrative cohesion and more dramatic immediacy.”  She has supplemented the text with lengthy footnotes, giving a biographical sketch of the people Franklin mentions in passing, and interspersed Jane Franklin’s own text with clearly marked corroborating information from letters and other people’s diaries.  The book is given a clearer structure by its division into chronological chapters, many of which are prefaced by an italicized introduction.  You are aware, and Russell makes no secret of the fact, that you are reading a mediated text.   Which is probably a good thing: as the back cover blurb notes:

An intrepid traveller, Jane Franklin was consumed by an unquenchable curiosity. She looked, questioned, listened and wrote- pages and pages of minuscule notes on every topic that came to hand.  This edition, carefully abridged and introduced by Penny Russell, makes the diary available for the first time to general readers.

And while it’s probably not exactly a ripping yarn,  we general readers (and more specialized ones too)  should be glad that she has.

Jersey Boys

We went to see Jersey Boys the other night. Terrific!  Although I must say that all of the grey heads in the audience were a bit disconcerting – mind you, I’d be one of them myself if I did not have such an intimate relationship with the dye-bottle.  But it really was Baby-Boomers-Big-Night-Out.

The Four Seasons were just part of the soundtrack of my childhood and adolescence.  They were just THERE.  I really had no idea what they looked like- now why was that?  We’ve had television all my life (my parents bought one when I was one year old, to watch the Olympic Games) but I don’t remember ever seeing them on television.  We sometimes watched the Ed Sullivan show, but I don’t think we watched American Bandstand- we only watched the Australian one.  I think I was more aware of what British bands looked like.  In fact, I think I assumed that they were black.  Or were they the Four Tops?

But here they are, in case you (like me) don’t know what they looked like

And here’s another. Makes me realise how very, very good Jersey Boys was- you really had a sense of being there watching it

Vaccination time

I really should be doing other things, but I noticed this in the Sydney Free Press of October 1841.  (This is one of the periodicals reproduced as part of the Australian Cooperative Digitisation Project, available at the NLA site.  It’s separate from the Australian Newspapers digitisation project also at the National Library site. These are small runs of Australian serials published between 1840-5. What an embarrassment of riches we have here with these digitized papers!)

Smallpox had been carried on an American ship of war from Tahiti, where smallpox was prevalent.  The ship had touched at New Zealand and in response the Government reprinted this notice from two years earlier.

Colonial Secretary’s Office

Sydney 29th July 1839

In order to avert the calamities which must necessarily follow if the Small pox be introduced into the Colony, and to keep up a constant supply of Vaccine Lymph, His Excellency the Governor directs it to be notified that children will receive vaccine gratis, if taken to any of the public hospitals, or Colonial Surgeons throughout the colony, every Tuesday at eleven o’clock in the forenoon.  But as the operation itself, without any proof of its having taken effect, would be insufficient security to the public mind, His Excellency has been pleased to direct, that a charge of one shilling shall be deposited for every child vaccinated, which sum will be returned on the presentation of the child on the next vaccination day.

His Excellency very strongly recommends parents and guardians to avail themselves as early as possible, of the means thus afforded to them of taking this necessary and proper precaution with respect to all children not already vaccinated

By His Excellency’s Command


Interesting to see in this public notice the appeal to the hip-pocket nerve. Bring ’em back next immunization day and we’ll pay you! There’s an idea for Rudd’s health plan and perhaps the Republicans in America might feel more comfortable about this rebate scheme instead of Obama’s health insurance plan.  If Nana survives her hip transplant, we’ll pay you!

I really don’t have time to comment further- I should be doing other things instead of thinking about scabs and lymphs.
There’s a fascinating article by Michael J Bennett called “Smallpox and Cowpox under the Southern Cross: The Smallpox Epidemic of  1789 and the Advent of Vaccination in Colonial Australia” from the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 83, 1, Spring 2009.

And just to make sure we’re not too relaxed and comfortable as we survey our little dimpled smallpox vaccination scars on our upper arms, I’ll leave you with this.

Memory and history

Collective memory? No. Myth and memory? Nup. It’s all about me- it’s the historian’s memory- or lack thereof.

I’ve been writing away for the past couple of weeks on a little topic in my thesis that has me all excited and flustered.  I’m not going to go into specifics- not that I want to keep it from you, of course, but I must be a little circumspect and besides, who will buy “Judge Willis the Soap Opera” if I divulge all here?  But I’ve been quietly rubbing my hands in glee, anticipating interest from well, all of about twenty people in a particular thing I’ve found.  It was, as my earlier supervisor John Hirst would have said “a knock-down argument”.

Except that I found it. And lost it. And now I can’t find it again.

It’s a letter that I’m looking for.  I thought that I remembered seeing it typed up amongst a collection of other letters.  I think I can remember a rush of excitement seeing it- AH HA! There it IS- in writing! And can I find it now?? No…

I’m rather obsessive about my record keeping. I could pretend that it’s because I’m a methodical person, but the truth of the matter is that, commencing this thesis at a relatively advanced age, I’m frightened that my memory is going to go before I get it written.  I know that I sound like a hypochondriac, but perhaps you should consider my mother’s strong family history (five of seven siblings) who have suffered neurological illnesses of one type or another.  I’m watching my mother’s brain slowly turn to cement, and I’m losing the Mum I love bit by bit.  So my fears are not completely groundless.

So, I turn to technology. In my research mainly I’ve been working on letters, dispatches and newspaper articles.  I have an Access database that lists them chronologically by writer, recipient, topic, location 1, location 2 (because many of these letters are found it several locations). There are literally thousands of them – 1444 the last time I looked.

Books and journals go into Endnote.

I’m a fairly quick touch typist (faster than I could write by hand) so it’s no hardship to type up documents and I code them in NVivo.  N Vivo is intended as a qualitative research software program, but you can use it to code the themes in any sort of document or artifact.  I use it at a fairly basic level for data recovery only.  When you want to find all the material you have coded on a particular theme, it collates it into one document.  When I type up notes on a book or journal, it goes into NVivo as well.  Of course, this is the weak spot- if I don’t code the document, then I won’t find it in NVivo.  But I usually print out a hard copy and tick off on the top once I’ve put it into Access (if applicable), Endnote and N Vivo.

So how have I lost this letter?  I just don’t know.  I have a fairly vivid dream life- did I just DREAM that I read it?  I can’t work out why I didn’t make a note of it somewhere; why I just put it back into its plastic sleeve. And yet I have my chapter plan written a couple of weeks ago where I can see that I thought then that I had read it.  I must have read it in-between entries on my other ‘secret’ blog that I write about my thesis-writing because I don’t mention it there.  I’ve found one small reference, and another letter that perhaps I had misinterpreted.  Did I just misread it? Did I conflate the two?  I’m distrusting myself, and that’s not a good thing.

For those of you writing history, how do you keep a track of everything you have?