Monthly Archives: April 2013

Thomas Wills at Heidelberg Historical Society

For those of us interested in early Port Phillip society, there will be a presentation at Heidelberg Historical Society tomorrow night (Tuesday 9 April 2013) on one of the early settlers of the Port Phillip District.  Thomas Wills (1800-1872) is associated with the Heidelberg district through his purchase of 176 acres in 1840 to the west of Darebin Creek, in what is now Alphington, for 3784 pounds.  There he established Lucerne Farm, a double storey, stuccoed house built of locally hand-made bricks and bluestone.  Richard Howitt, a neighbour described the house as:

delightfully situated on pleasant knolls and slopes.  Seen from the south of the Yarra, with the garden like an English one, the widening Yarra at a distance from it and the gleam of the natural pond near it, partly hidden by trees, the landscape is very picturesque.  Walking in the garden, you see natural birds which have become almost tame, so well are they protected by the owner.  (Cited in Heidelberg Since 1836 p. 20)

Governor La Trobe is said to have been a frequent visitor, and the house was well known as one of the social centres of the district.  Unfortunately, despite its ‘A’ classification, the house was demolished in 1960 as a car park for the La Trobe Golf Club.

Thomas Wills was a J.P. and a founding member of the Melbourne Mechanics Institute in 1839.  He was no fan of the judge’s despite the ‘neighbourly’ connection and he signed a petition against Willis.

On Tuesday 9th April, Anne Marsden will speak to the Heidelberg Historical Society about Thomas Wills.  She was awarded a 2013 Honorary Creative Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria to research the founding committee of the Mechanics’ Institution, which included many of the most prominent Port Phillip men of the time.

The meeting commences at 8.00 pm, Tuesday 9th April 2013 at the Ivanhoe Uniting Church Community Centre, Seddon Street Ivanhoe. Visitors are more than welcome.

Update: I’ve just found five  photos of Lucerne, taken in the 1950s, when it was in very poor condition.  You can see them at:

There’s other photos of Lucerne surrounded by floodwaters from the 1930s too

Soft and fuzzies at the MCG.

Two years ago, I posted about the negative nagging admonitions that you are bombarded with at the MCG.  Last Friday I went off to the MCG again with the same son to see the same game (St Kilda v. Richmond) – although unfortunately with a less desirable outcome this time.   It’s a sad, sad thing when you crave a draw.

My chagrin was soothed somewhat by noting that the killjoys and straiteners responsible for the announcements on the score board have gone all soft and fuzzy on us.  Now instead of being harangued with the fines imposed for drinking outside the ground, we’re exhorted to enjoy a drink at the MCG, but just don’t take it outside. Instead of being drawn and quartered for running on the ground, we’re encouraged to be a part of the game, but just not on the turf.    It didn’t change the score, but it did make me feel as if I didn’t have to cringe from yet another telling-off.

Beards are back?

I did a double-take when I passed a Big Issue seller in the city a few weeks back.  Why does the big issue have an update of a 30 year old photograph of my husband on the front cover?



Oh no! I can feel a Six Degrees of Separation between Judge Willis coming on…..


I’ll let Edmund Finn (better known as ‘Garryowen’) tell the story:

Up to 1851 whiskers were not articles of common wear in Melbourne, and moustachios and beards were unknown, unless with passing visitors from the bush, who periodically burst into town for a spell, and as suddenly burst out again when their cheques were liquified.  The early town colonists were well content with the barefacedness which prevailed in England since the time of William III and were loth to encumber the human face divine with hirsute protuberances.  [Mr Edward Sewell, a dandified solicitor] sometimes affected the exceptional, and, at the risk of being out of the fashion, aimed occasionally to be out of the common, and took it into his head to create a slight sensation.  Accordingly, going into retreat for some time, he emerged unexpectedly from his seclusion, with fiercely luxuriant moustache, which, if it did not increase admiration of him, certainly rendered him pro tem the “observed of all observers”.

Making for the Supreme Court, he stalked in with the swagger of a half-daft peacock, and gazed with solemn superciliousness around him.  The Judge was startled and stared with much wonderment.  He wriggled in his seat, and with much difficulty restrained himself until the business in hand was disposed of, and then Sewell, advancing towards the Bench, asked permission to appear for a client in an Equity suit, as all the limited Bar had been retained by the other side.  The Judge regarded him with astonishment, as if unable or unwilling to recognize him in his disguise.  At length he roared out that his Court was not a place for “A whiskered pandour or a fierce hussar!” If the person who had spoken was desirous to appear as counsel, he ought to have assumed the semblance of one.  As it was, his physiognomical get-up was enough to frighten a man out of his wits! He had better clear out, or he would not be long an officer of that honourable Court.  The astounded Sewell, scared by such an unexpected reception, hastily retreated from the precincts of the highly irritated dignitary, and, fearful of being struck off the rolls if he put in a second hairy appearance, dashed away for the nearest barber’s shop, submitted to a thorough tonsorial operation, and returned with a face and a conscience equally clear to the presence of the offended impersonation of Justice, where he was received as a repentant sinner, obtained solution, and was taken (metaphorically) to the Judicial arms.

I’d always wondered about Willis’ term “whiskered pandour or fierce hussar”.  I’ve since found that he’s quoting from a poem ‘The Battle of Maciejowice’ by Thomas Campbell, which mourns the Russian defeat of the Poles in October 1794.

Oh sacred Truth!

Oh sacred Truth! thy triumph ceased awhile,

And Hope, thy sister, ceased with thee to smile,

When leagued Oppression poured to Northern wars

Her whiskered pandours and her fierce hussars Waved her dread standard to the breeze of morn,

Pealed her loud drum, and twanged her trumpet horn:

Tumultous horror brooded o’er her van

Presaging wrath to Poland and to Man!

Anyway, Mr Sewell would be gratified, I’m sure, to know that beards are back, and that he could venture into court again today with his fiercely luxuriant mustachios and be embraced as being at the height of fashion.

‘Like a House on Fire’ by Cate Kennedy


2012, 277 p.

Like a House on Fire is a book of short stories.  If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ll know what’s going to come next.  I’m going to say that I don’t know how to talk about a collection of short stories.  That I don’t know how to read them- one at a time and feeling short-changed, or moving on to the next one and feeling bloated.  That they finish before I have time to engage at any level with the character.  That I just don’t like them.

Well, none of that is true with this book.

Perhaps, after 15 years of being able to indulge my love of reading more fully, I have finally learned how to read a short story.  My discovery: one story at a time ONLY , then go on to read a non-fiction book instead. The  single story has enough space to expand; it’s not squashed down to fit the next one in.

Or perhaps, these are very, very good short stories.  They have all been published elsewhere in journals and magazines as is often the case in compilations like this. Every single one of them is memorable, and for me that’s a big thing.  All too often I find myself reading the next story in a collection because the last one has been too insubstantial: the term ‘meh’ fits exactly.

But with these stories, each one is memorable in its own right, and I found myself recognizing their truths in other places.  The story ‘Five Dollar Family’, for example, where a new young mother, exhausted, drained,  looks to her dead-beat young partner and is stiffened into resolve to move beyond him- surely I saw the story lived out in an episode of ‘The Midwives’ a few weeks ago where a young single mother in Manchester likewise grew up, almost before your eyes, through the act of giving birth.  Or the story ‘Cake’ where a new mother returns to work for the first day, torn by the act of leaving her child at creche, feeling as if she is play-acting a pre-baby life that she has moved beyond- even if you haven’t been in that situation, I think we’ve all felt the way that  workplace routine comes a sepia filmreel, a nothingness, after some big, life-changing event.

Many of these stories involve bodies: most particularly women’s bodies and medical intervention-  the night before a breast biopsy; the waiting room before a miscarriage is diagnosed. Others are told from a male or a child’s perspective.  The story which gives the collection its title is about a young father with back-ache and it is so well told that you find yourself arching your own back in response, while at the same time suppressing the suspicion that he’s exaggerating.  The opening story, ‘Flexion’  which takes in  a longer timespan that many of the other slice-of-life stories in this collection do, traces a wife’s ambivalent response as her leathered, laconic farmer husband recovers after a tractor accident.

For me, it says a lot that I can flip through the book, glimpse the title at the top of the page and instantly recall what the story was about.  I don’t think that I’ve ever enjoyed a collection of short stories so much.  I wouldn’t feel in the least disgruntled or short changed should it win the Stella Prize for which it has been short-listed.

My rating: 9.5/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Read because: it was long listed for the Stella Prize.  Reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013