30th August is Melbourne Day- a little celebration that sputters along despite the huffing and puffing of our redoubtable Lord Mayor trying to breathe some life into what seems destined to be a rather low-key ceremonial occasion. In a way, it’s nice that it hasn’t been commercialized and corporatized. I’ve written about it previously here .
Port Phillip aficionado as I am, I’m duty bound to celebrate the day, and so there I was, off to the Royal Historical society to hear Robyn Annear speaking about the writing of her much-loved book Bearbrass, which was first published in 1995 and reprinted in 2005. It is still in print and sells consistently, not only to Melbournites, but also to others interstate and overseas.
Bearbrass is a light, happy book divided into thematic chapters that start with a map of the city grid with the locations that are discussed in the chapter marked out onto it. It’s full of anecdotes and curiosities, with nary a footnote in sight.
Robyn Annear describes herself as a non-academic historian, and she says that at the time of writing the book she was unaware of the scholarly conventions that she had leapfrogged over in writing her funny, affectionate book. Quite frankly, she was oblivious to any disapproval that she might have received from academe, because it was not her world.
She was strongly influenced by the humour in Garryowen’s writing and was swept up in the naughtiness and sheer youth and exuberance of the young population in Port Phillip at the time. Probably her favourite episodes involved the adventures of the members of the Melbourne Club, especially in view of the utter respectability and conservatism of its members today.
She spoke about the availability of Trove and the way that it would make the writing of Bearbrass a daunting prospect today. It would be harder to draw boundaries around it, she said and perhaps there is such a thing as too much information. Is there still room for wondering if information is so readily at hand?
It was a lovely, engaging talk – much like the book itself. A podcast of the talk is available here (along with other interesting podcasts from RHSV)
Happy birthday Melbourne!