Monthly Archives: March 2016

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 23 March-31 March 1841

You might remember than in January  the Clonmel was wrecked along the Gippsland coast, necessitating a 65 hour rescue mission as D.C. Simson and Mr Edwards and some unnamed ‘men’sailed to Melbourne to raise the alarm.  Captain Lewis, who travelled to Gippsland to rescue the unhappy passengers, reported that he had observed what could be access to an inland sea.  On 3rd February the Singapore cleared out, bearing Dr Steward, Messrs Kinghorne, Orr, Rank, Brodribb, McLeod, Kirsopp and McFarlane to investigate this rumoured waterway and to assess  the pastoral potential of the country, which had already been designated ‘Gippsland’ by Count Streslecki in his overland explorations.

The Port Phillip Herald of 23 March 1841 carried a lengthy report of taken from Mr Orr’s notes on his return to Melbourne. John Orr was employed with the firm of Turnbull, Orr and Co, and exemplified the entrepreneurial spirit that drove these heady, pastoral boom days of the early 1840s.  He reported that it took seven days to get there (much longer than the 65 hours that Simson and Edwards had taken to return by small boat to raise the alarm), a reminder should we need it of the difficulty of negotiating the Heads and Bass Strait. Their first efforts were directed towards finding an entrance to Gipps’ Land (which was how it was written) from the north-west side of Corner Inlet, but they soon abandoned this plan.  By travelling along the beach they located the wreck of the Clonmel and noted and named two rivers: the Tarra River (named after their indigenous guide) and the Albert River (after Prince Albert). They erected a storehouse on the beach, and ensured that it was guarded at all times with a ‘sufficient’ number of men.

Then unfolds one of those beach-side encounters,  that liminal space so evocatively described by historian Greg Dening, that could have gone either way and for which we have only the settlers’ side of the story.

During these operations a tribe of natives approached the encampment, when only two of the men and Mr Orr were present, and commenced seizing upon the various articles landed.  Mr Orr, however, and the two men succeeded in driving them off by discharging their guns loaded only with powder.  While riding in the vicinity a few days afterwards, Charlie, the black native lately in Melbourne with Count Strezlecki, discovered the recent footmarks of a large party of natives in the direction of the encampment.  The party immediately galloped back but found that they had not then arrived. In the afternoon, however, two of the gentlemen perceived a spear moving at a short distance, when it was resolved to advance and ascertain their intentions.  To avoid creating unnecessary alarm, only one half of the party proceeded to meet them, and they were discovered to the number of about thirty drawn up ready to receive the advancing party with their spears, which they flourished in the manner customary upon such occasions. Charlie approached them, making at the same time all manner of signs of peaceful intentions, and inviting them to advance.

After a very noisy interchange of salutations they laid down their spears and accompanied the party to the encampment, at a short distance from which they kindled a fire and held a coorobora [sic]. They departed the following morning with a few trifling presents, and were not again seen or heard of until the day the Singapore sailed, when nine of them in three canoes again made their appearance seemingly anxious to get on board.  The ship, however, being then under way, they were obliged to return, but the party despatched a boat after them to their camp, and gave them a few articles of different descriptions at which they were highly pleased. (PPH 23/3/41 p.2)

Messrs  Stewart, Rankin and Orr returned by ship, while the other five gentlemen, accompanied by Charlie, returned home overland in an exploratory journey that took over a month. Highly enthused by the potential of the land, John Orr applied to purchase land on the west bank of the Tarra River in April 1841 under special survey, while John Reeve, a recent arrival in the colony, made an application for a special survey on the east bank.  You might remember that Henry Dendy had recently arrived in Port Phillip from England, bearing a special survey entitlement arranged from London. Not only was the local government fearful that special surveys would pre-empt the best land in the colony, but Gipps was concerned about the cost of administering (and more importantly, policing) settlement in such a remote area.  It was to take the local administration two years to gazette the special survey.

It was not a particularly successful undertaking and Gipps and La Trobe’s fears about the remoteness of the region were justified. By 1843 there were about 200 people in the region, living in five small scattered settlements.  On Orr’s survey, there were 17 men, 6 women and 13 children, while there were 29 men, 14 women and 23 children on Reeve’s survey at Tarraville.  The area did not prosper as much as they hoped. Five years later, there were only an extra hundred settlers, bringing the total to 300 and 75,000 animals.  (Shaw, A History of the Port Phillip District  p. 162)


The Port Phillip Herald of 25 March had some interesting statistics about the free settlers arriving in Sydney and Port Phillip respectively.  I’m not sure how they compile the figures or how heavily they can be relied upon.  Perhaps more significant is the sentence at the bottom of the table that indicates that almost as many bounty immigrants had arrived in Port Phillip in the months 1 Jan-25 March 1841 as had arrived during the whole of 1840.

Government ships
  Men Women Children Total
Sydney 444 412 481 1367
Port Phillip  58  51  44  153
Bounty Ships (i.e. commercial emigration schemes)
Sydney 1471 1611 826 3908
Port Phillip  541 628  99 1268
Unassisted (i.e. self-funded)
Sydney 824 285 188 1297
Port Phillip 299 114 130 543
Sydney 2739 2338 1495 6572
Port Phillip  898 793  273 1961

P.S. There have already arrived in Port Phillip since 1 Jan 1841, 1847 immigrants on bounty in addition to a large number who arrived on their own resources. [PPH March 25, 1841]


The highest temperature for the period was 86 degrees (30C) on 23rd and the lowest was 43 (6C). There were strong winds on 23rd and 26th, and the weather was dry but mostly dull and cloudy. The coldest days of the month were between the 27th and 30th March.

Movie: The Big Short

Some of the reviews that I’d read of The Big Short criticized it for being overly-didactic. “Didac away!” I say, because I found the details of the Global Financial Crisis rather mind-numbing and- as any of you who have met me will testify- I’m really no good with numbers.  And so, this film is a bit “GFC for Dummies” but hey- that’s me.  It’s told in a furiously fast, deliberately self-mocking fashion with lots of thrash metal music and swooping camera shots, but it was a very accessible way to approach something that could be as dry as dust.  My repugnance for the moral hazard that these men (and it is overwhelmingly men) exposed themselves to in betting that the whole financial system would crash was soon sidelined by my repugnance for the power structures that allowed the bankers to get away with it.

This Guardian review discusses the historical accuracy of the film, and gives it a thumbs-up. Combined with the film 99 Homes (which I reviewed here), you’d get a pretty rounded history of recent events.


A Capital Idea Day 2

The other drawcard that lured us to Canberra last week was the Encounters exhibition at the National Museum of Australia which was also slated to close on 28 March 2016.  Once again, to my regret I find myself writing about an event that has already concluded but I wanted time for my thoughts to percolate about it before putting fingers to keyboard.


Encounters presents a large, beautifully curated exhibition of artefacts sourced from the huge British Museum collection, supplemented by current-day responses crafted by living indigenous artists and craftspeople from the regions where the artefacts were originally ‘collected’. I use the inverted commas deliberately: some were given as a sign of respect; some were purchased, and others were quite clearly stolen and appropriated.

It is a very well-mannered exhibition.  As you enter, there is a large video welcome and introduction by representatives of the many tribal groups who have been involved, and it has truly been a continent-wide consultation process (as you would hope it would be). The artefacts come from twenty-seven communities right across the country, reinforcing the ‘national’ nature of the museum.  The explanatory panels surrounding the artefacts are very well done, describing the mobility of the object and explaining the means by which it came into the British Museum’s collection. In many cases, artefacts are accompanied by a video with a present-day community member explaining the importance of the artefact as a reaffirmation of identity or as prompt to new learning about production techniques that had been forgotten or changed in the generations since the object was first collected.  Several of the speakers expressed gratitude that at least the object had survived to be seen by later generations, an ironic consequence of its appropriation and removal to the museum environment.  Others expressed joy at the continuity of knowledge within their community, despite a policy of repressing traditional language and crafts. Others again mourned for the loss of the object and yearned to have it literally re-placed and brought back to where it came from.

The most discussed item in the exhibition is the shield collected by Captain Cook in 1770, dropped by a Gweagal man after the ‘encounter’ on the beach turned sour. The hole in the middle of the shield was caused by a spear, generations of White custodians and curators told themselves.  I’m not convinced.  That hole speaks volumes.  The sight of it literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Much of what this exhibition did was done very, very well. But what of my comment that it’s a ‘well-mannered’ exhibition?  Many questions bubbled under the displays: how many of the people of the community are going to see this artefact?  Why does it belong to the British Museum? Why does it have to be returned?  The questions were asked sotto voce but the exhibition was too polite to ask them out loud.

One of the exhibitions is the Dja Dja Wrung bark etchings which were last seen in Australia in 2004 as part of the Etched on Bark exhibition under the auspices of the Museum of Victoria.  As that exhibition drew to a close, activists Gary Foley and Gary Murray launched a series of emergency declarations under the 1984 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act in an attempt to keep the etchings here in Australia.  Eventually a court decision found in favour of the British Library and the etchings returned to London.   There’s an interesting article written by the curator of that exhibition in 2007 here.

It comes as a surprise, then, to see the Dja Dja Wrung etchings back in Australia again, just over ten years later. An act of good faith on behalf of the British Library perhaps?  Or a provocative gesture now made from within the safety of the Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Act of 2013? This Act was initiated at the behest of Australian cultural institutions that wanted to be able to give a water-tight guarantee to their international counterparts that items would unequivocally return to the lending institution. The etchings have travelled here because the British Library knows that they will be returning to London.

In an article in Overland (21 March 2016), Eve Vincent reflects on the display of the Dja Dja Wrung etchings:

Also on display are the Dja Dja Wurrung bark etchings that last visited Australia in 2004. They were on display at the Museum of Victoria when Dja Dja Wurrung activist Gary Murray joined with Gary Foley and others to prevent them from leaving the country. The fact that Dja Dja Wurrung representatives ‘unsuccessfully’ sought to stop the return of these objects to England is carefully acknowledged. Press a button and Murray’s soft voice starts talking about his aspiration to have the bark etchings stored in Melbourne, closer to home. ‘We beg the British museum to return our cultural materials.’

And then the visitor moves to the next exhibit.

This exhibition is actually one half of a matching exhibition called Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisations  which was on show at the British Museum in London between April and August 2015. An excellent article by Penny Edmonds in The Conversation in 2015, reviewing the British exhibition,  highlights the curatorial challenges faced by in the British exhibition for a British audience. The British Museum is not unfamiliar with disputes over provenance and custodianship – after all, they’ve been fighting over the Elgin or Parthenon Marbles for decades and decades.  While the issues of collection and colonialism, ownership and custodianship were discussed in the abstract in London, there was an expectation (fear?) that the conversation would be more pointed when the Australian exhibition opened.

But it hasn’t happened in this strangely decontextualized exhibition which says little about the international politics, or the emotional and intellectual motivations in act of ‘collecting’ that lie at the heart of this particular display. I think that it is an opportunity lost. It was almost as if we were on our best behaviour, not wanting to cause a fuss. I’ve read a few articles about the “conversation” that is being had here about such issues, and it evokes for me the insistence by the Irish government on the “maturity” of the discussions surrounding the commemoration of the centenary of the Irish Rising this week. No-one wants to seem “immature” and the  insistence that things are kept within the bounds of “conversations” and “dialogues” are curbs that can only be made from a position of power.

So, my response to the Encounters exhibition? Beautifully curated and thought-provoking but at its core timid and polite.

But maybe I speak too soon? Now that the exhibition is being packed up and taken away again, the whispered question is being voiced aloud- see a recent article in the Guardian here;  on The Conversation website here and an ABC report from the very day I am writing this here.  Perhaps, now that it’s finished, we don’t have to be on best behaviour any more.

Other articles:

Quentin Sprague The Monthly Bringing Them Home’


Movie: Eye in the Sky

UK and US armies are co-operating in drone surveillance of suspected Al-Shabab terrorists in Kenya.  When it seems that an attack is imminent, the decision needs to be made whether or not to make a pre-emptive drone strike.

Yes, it’s taut and on-the-edge of your seat. But it also feels a little bit like a simulation game in Ethics 101, with the ethical dilemmas being racheted up, bit by bit.  At first I was sceptical, thinking that there wouldn’t be any question that the attack would be made ( a feeling reinforced by seeing the attack on the Pakistani playground on tonight’s news). But then the film reminded me of the propaganda value of YouTube videos of a drone attack, like those released by Edward Snowden, and the challenge made to unthinking obedience when the military environment is more reliant  on computer experts than grunts laden with weaponry.

A film about a Kenyan terrorist attack is all a bit close to the bone for me, given my son’s presence there, but I reassured myself that it wasn’t really filmed in Kenya but in South Africa- and I’m very proud that I deduced that myself from minor infelicities in the film (the airport; the lines on the tarmacced road; too few people in the market).

Nonetheless, a solid 4/5 for me although I did come out feeling exhausted and as if I’d been coerced into participating in a very unpleasant hypothetical exercise.

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 16-23 March 1841


March 17, of course, was St Patrick’s Day. As Ken Inglis points out in Australian Colonists, recognition of the day in Sydney dated from 1810 when Governor Macquarie provided entertainment for convicts employed by the government, and the annual St Patrick’s Day dinner at a Sydney hotel was a fixture on the social calendar attended by the most respectable Irishmen- both Catholic and Protestant (p.103). Melbourne in 1841 was not yet so organized, and the occasion passed quietly.

We are glad to be enabled to state that Patrick’s Day passed over without the least infringement upon the public peace. We are almost sorry to have to record the fact that scarcely an additional glass was drained or shillelagh flourished in commemoration of the anniversary of Ireland’s general jubilee, as such might have been done without offence to the Powers that be, a little licence being always conceded on such occasions and a miniature representation of Donnybrook fair would have minded many of what they seem here to forget, that they are Irishmen. Perhaps, however, it is better that the dull monotony of money gathering should have remained uninterrupted than that occasion should have been given Ireland’s enemies to say that her sons in every quarter of the globe are fond of a “row”. Patrick’s Day has now passed over in peace and unmarked by any national display and so much the greater shame for Irishmen say we.  (PPH 19/3/41 p.3)

The day did not go completely unrecognized, though, as twenty to thirty of the men of the Port Phillip Club sat down that night to “a most sumptuous collation”. (PPH 19/3/41 p.3)


Perhaps it’s because I’ve only recently finished reading Roslyn Russell’s High Teas and High Seas (review here) but I find myself reading the Shipping News on page 2 of the Port Phillip papers with a little more interest than previously.  Not only does the Shipping News detail the ships that have arrived and departed from Port Phillip and Sydney, but it conveys the communications that were conveyed between ships as they passed each other.  For example, the Port Phillip Herald of March 20 reported the arrival of the Christina  from Sydney. The Christina “spoke” the ship Victoria from Salem (USA) which it encountered off Bateman’s Bay, describing her as “deeply laden” (possibly with its whale catch?). The next day she “spoke” the barque Susan, sailed by Captain Neatby , off Ram Head (which I assume is Rame Head near Croajingalong National Park). The Susan was 92 days out from Plymouth, taking emigrants to Sydney. (PPH 20/3/41 p.2)

Recent emigrants, with their own voyage still vivid in their memories, might have taken a “there but for the grace of God” interest in hearing of other ships following in their wakes. The Port Phillip Herald  of 19 March carried a report from  Lisbon dated October 15 (i.e. nearly six months earlier) that the English ship John Cooper, bound from Greenock to NSW with a general cargo of 98 emigrant passengers, had arrived at Lisbon after being struck by lightning. A passing merchant vessel reported that he had seen her trying to reach Lisbon but, “owing to her crippled state, she appeared to make very little way”. On hearing this, Her Majestys ship Trimlemo was dispatched to go to her assistance, but returned the same day to report that although the John Cooper was close to the bar, she was in such a poor condition that a steamer should tow her into port. Even then, her troubles were not over, as when towed into port at the cost of £350 sterling, it was “found unprovided with a bill of health” and put under four days quarantine. [The John Cooper finally arrived in Port Phillip on 4th April via Adelaide. She left again for Sydney on 3rd May with a passenger list that included 1 corporal, 3 privates, 28th Regiment, 1 constable, 17 male and 2 female convicts.]

Melbourne itself was still in a state of excitement about the arrival of the Argyle in early March with its load of bounty emigrants, ready for the picking as employees.  The enterprising auctioneer and commission agent  Mr J. C.King established an agency office for Servants at his premises in Elizabeth Street, offering – for a trifling remuneration- to board the emigrant ships immediately after the official inspection of the emigrants and to engage servants for settlers who were unable to get to the ships to do so personally. (PPH 12/3/41).

By 16 March Mr King was able to issue a weekly list of unemployed servants:

WEEKLY LIST OF UNEMPLOYED SERVANTS AT MR KING’S AGENCY OFFICE: Overseers of sheep stations 3; shophands 3; woolsorters 1; hutkeepers 1; watchman 2; overseers of cattle stations 3; stockkeepers 2; bullock drivers 1; overseers of forming establishments 2; ploughmen 2; farm servants 4; Groom and inside servants 1; Gardeners 1; Bricklayers 1; House carpenters 2; Hut builders and fencers 4; female servants 3; Wet nurse 1 (PPH 16/3/41 p.3)

However, a small article in the Port Phillip Herald of 19 March headed ‘DROWNING’ reminds us that the journey to Port Phillip was not necessarily the bright new start that emigrants may have anticipated.  A body was observed floating on the water by the watermen of Williams Town. The body was salvaged. He was very young, dressed in a blue coat and striped cloth trousers and found to have needles and pins in parts of his dress, a few papers and a smelling bottle. He was later identified as a Mr. Macfarlane, who had arrived in the Argyle just a few weeks earlier.

He had been employed by Mr Rucker as a farm servant, and resided on his estate, about two miles from town, but since his arrival he appeared greatly depressed in spirits, and it is supposed that in a fit of temporary insanity the wretched man put a period to his existence. The deceased was a native of the county Tyrone, Ireland, and was respectably connected.


The Christina came bearing the London newspapers which carried detailed reports of the birth of Queen Victoria’s first child, Victoria Adelaid Mary, the Princess Royal on November 21 1840.  It was such momentous news that the Port Phillip Herald published a special edition on 20th March, to follow the issue that had appeared on 19th.  Even though this is, strictly speaking, not Port Phillip news, it strikes me as strange that Her Majesty’s subjects, so far away on the other side of the globe, would be reading a report of a birth that seems so intrusive to modern eyes.

On Friday her Majesty and Prince Albert walked in the garden of the Palace and again did her Majesty take her seat at the dinner table, and continued apparently in her usual health till eleven o’clock, when she retired to rest, no suspicion being then entertained of the near approach of those sufferings, which providentially have terminated in a manner so satisfactory to every branch of her august family as well as to the delight of her loyal and devoted servants. At two o’clock yesterday morning the first symptoms of uneasiness were indicated, and at four her Majesty with great firmness directed that her attendants should be summoned; among these was Mrs Lilly, who, we have heard, was formerly nurse to the Duchess of Sutherland, and whose experience at once forewarned her of the propriety of immediately summoning her Majesty’s professional advisers. Sir James Clarke, Dr Locock, Mr R Ferguson and Mr R Blagden were instantly sent for and were quickly on the spot. No doubt now existed that Her Majesty was in labour, although certainly some days sooner than had been anticipated, as the impression was that she would have remained convalescent till early in December.

Once labour had been established, all the protocol of a royal birth swung into place. Good grief- ding!dong! the gang’s all here!!

Such preparations as the suddenness of the emergency would permit were made without delay; and by command of Prince Albert, whose conduct was distinguished by the most affectionate solicitude, combined with firmness, the Hon. W. Murray, the comptroller of the household, roused the inmates of the Palace and special messengers were dispatched to her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Melbourne, Lord Palmerston, Lord Errol, Lord Albemarle, Lord John Russell and other Privy Councillors, whose constitutional duty it was to be present at the birth of an heir to the throne…. In her Majesty’s chamber were the Duchess of Kent, Prince Albert and the medical men with Mrs Lilly and some of the ladies of the bedchamber; while in an adjoining apartment, the door of which was open, were the other distinguished individuals mentioned. As the day advanced the Palace was kept in perfect quietness, while all noise from without from the passing of bands or otherwise was interdicted. From those who had the best means of information, we learn that her Majesty evinced a firmness and composure almost incredible- at intervals exhibiting a cheerfulness and patient submission to her sufferings, in all respects consistent with the well-known attributes of her character. The near approach of that interesting moment which was to give to these realms an heir to the throne at last arrived and precisely at ten minutes before two o’clock Mrs Lilly entered the room where the Privy Councillors were assembled, with the “Young Stranger”, a beautiful, plump and healthful Princess, wrapped in flannel in her arms. She was attended by Sir James Clarke, who announced the fact of its being a female. Her Royal Highness was for a moment laid upon the table for the observation of the assembled authorities; but the loud tones in which she indicated her displeasure at such an exposure, while they proved the soundness of her lungs and the maturity of her frame, rendered it advisable that she should be returned to her chamber to receive her first attire. PPH 20/3/41

Apparently, ministers and privy councillors and ladies-in-waiting continued to attend royal births until 1894 when Queen Victoria decided that for the birth of her great- grandson, the future Edward VIII, the home secretary would be enough. Home Secretaries attended until the birth of Prince Charles in 1948, when it was announced that the practice would be discontinued.  Jolly good thing too.




1916 Irish Rising: Australian Impact


On this Easter Sunday, I’m going to be at the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church to hear Dr. Val Noone speak on ‘1916 Irish Rising: Australian Impact’. It starts at 11.00 am. on Sunday 27th March, 2016.

This year is the centenary of the Rising, and the University of Melbourne is conducting a two-day international conference on 7th and 8th April to commemorate and interrogate the event. There’s details about the conference here– it looks excellent.

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: 8-15 March 1841


It is often amusing to Australians just how scared the rest of the world seems to be of the dangers of the antipodes. Snakes, spiders- even drop bears! But the depiction of Port Phillip as a Place of Peril seems to have started early.

There were industrial accidents:

A few days ago a poor man named Johnson in the employ of Messrs Alison and Knight, incautiously placed his hand on a piece of timber which the steam saw was then cutting up, and before he was aware of his danger his hand was caught by the machine and dreadfully lacerated. Doctor McCrae was immediately applied to, who found himself under the necessity of amputating one of the fingers, we are happy to add that the sufferer is now fast recovering. (PPH 9/3/41)

Then there were stingrays (if only you had taken heed Steve Irwin!)

EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCE “We regret that one of the officers of the Majestic now lies seriously indisposed from the effect of a severe wound which he received whilst that vessel lay at Geelong. It appears that he was standing in the water near Point Henry, when a large string-ray drove its sting into his thigh and dragged him some distance before assistance could be afforded. He was taken on shore and put under the care of Dr Clarke, the assistant colonial surgeon, who with much difficulty succeeded in extracting the sting which measures eight inches in length and nearly one [inch] breadth. (PPH 9/3/41)

Even walking down Elizabeth Street (above the ‘River Williams’ which ran under it) you put your life in peril:

This beautiful and picturesque piece of water was on yesterday near being the scene of the loss of human life. A man in a state of inebriety rashly attempted to cross it, near Collin’s –street, instead of going over at the only fordable place, near Messrs. Lovell and Co, the consequence was almost fatal, he fell into one of the many holes with which the river abounds, and had it not been for the humane exertions of a person who stood on the banks, who on seeing his perilous situation instantly jumped off and ultimately rescued him, he must have been drowned. (PPH 9/3/41)


It was just as well, then, that the good people of Melbourne turned their attention to the lack of hospital facilities in the town. It is a good example of the way that public institutions were formed from scratch in a new community. On 5 March a meeting was held at the Police Court, with Superintendent Charles La Trobe in the chair, conferring respectability and authority on the proceedings. Justice of the Peace Thomas Wills moved, seconded by the Anglican minister Rev. A. C. Thomson, that

It appears to this meeting that the rapid Increase in population in Melbourne and the surrounding country, naturally involving a proportionate increase of cases of sickness, accidents and distress, renders necessary the immediate establishment of a Public Hospital, for the purpose of affording to patients clean and comfortable accommodations, regular medical attendance and the means of attention to diet and regimen.

It was decided that subscriptions would be opened immediately and once contributions reached £800, an application would be made to the government for a site and financial assistance in erecting a building for what would be known as “The Melbourne Hospital”. A provisional committee of nineteen men was established and a quick glance at their names reveals a microcosm of respectable networks within Port Phillip Society, many of whom I’ve mentioned before in this blog. There were seven J. P.s : Brewster, Lyon Campbell, Kemmis, Lonsdale [who acted at various times as both Police Magistrate and Sub-Treasurer], Simpson [also a Police Magistrate for a time], J. B. Were and Thomas Wills. The clergy of the dominant congregations were prominent: Rev. Geoghegan for the Catholics, Rev Orton [Methodist], Rev Waterfield [Congregational] and the two secretaries of the committee were Rev A. C. Thomson from the Anglican Church and Rev James Forbes of Scots Presbyterian. Dr Patrick M. D. was on the committee, as were a slew of other Esquires: Robert Deane; J. W. Howey; F. Manton; A.M. McCrae; A. McKillop; D. C. McArthur (manager of the Melbourne branch of the Bank of Australasia), and J. H. Patterson. Once the board had been appointed, La Trobe vacated the chair to the Rev. A. C. Thomson who took over the meeting which then adopted 17 regulations for the role of directors and subscribers which had clearly been formulated beforehand. (PPH 9 March 1841)


Finally, and most importantly for this blog, Justice John Walpole Willis and his wife arrived on the evening of Tuesday 9th March by steamer from the Australian Packet which was moored out in the bay. The Port Phillip Herald welcomed him with some reservations

We hail the arrival of the first Judge with no small degree of pleasure, as the introducer of a new era into the monetary affairs of our province, and should he be the means of effecting as much good as is anticipated, his appointment will indeed be a blessing to our country of no small magnitude. He is generally understood to be an eccentric, learned and impartial Judge; and these three characteristics when united do not make up a bad mean. Every person has some peculiarity or deficiency of character, and those which would pass unobserved in a private individual appears of the first magnitude, when possessed and displayed by a Judge from his, in every sense of the term, elevated seat on the Bench. Hence it is, that Judge Willis’ eccentricities may not be greater or more numerous than those of many other men. In a Judge, ability and impartiality make up for many deficiencies, and, therefore, upon the whole, we have every reason to congratulate ourselves upon his appointment amongst us. (PPH 12 March 1841)


So what weather greeted our new judge? Pretty mild really, at about 65-mid 70s daytime temperatures (18-24 Celsius) . The warmest day was 15th March, with a morning temperature of 81 (27C)

A Capital Idea Day 1

Many people I know have had good things to say about the Tom Roberts Exhibition currently on at the National Gallery of Australia, and after finding that it is only on until 28 March, we made the snap  (– well, snap for us-) decision to come up to Canberra for a couple of days.

Tom Roberts was well worth seeing. There’s the iconic pictures of course- Shearing the Rams; The Breakaway; the big Federation picture- but I hadn’t really appreciated Roberts’ versatility until I saw the portraits, narrative pictures, Impressionist pictures all together in one exhibition. 


I was surprised by this portrait, executed in 1900, which had quite a Bill-Hensonesque feel about it.

The exhibition was at pains, I thought, to distance itself from any mention of ‘Heidelberg School’, making only slight reference to ‘Eaglemont’ where it had to, and highlighting that Roberts, Streeton, Conder et al painted at ‘camps’ in various locations in Victoria and New South Wales.  But, as a Heidelberg girl, I instantly recognized the Darebin Creek in this small painting which featured in the exhibition and also appeared as a prop on an artist’s easel outside the entrance to the exhibition.


The Australian art section has been relocated in the gallery and now is prominently displayed as soon as you come up the escalator.  On the ground floor there is a sobering display of 200 painted traditional burial poles to mark the bicentenary and there are several rooms of indigenous artwork.


Remember Erik von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods and how he tried to convince us that indigenous artists were really painting astronauts?  Haven’t heard much of that hypothesis since….

The Australian art exhibition is beautifully done, with interesting themes and a really broad exhibition of major Australian artists.  It did, however, reinforce my awareness of how rich the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection is, too.

In the gardens outside was a striking sculpture Skyspace Within without. Externally it was a grass covered dome, but inside was a stone stupa  suspended on a sheet of water, open to the sky. It reminded us of the Kaaba in Saudi Arabia, but instead of a swirling, chaotic mass of people surrounding the monolith, it stood silently with the water falling over the edges of an infinity pool.  You could then enter the stupa itself, a cool, round, resonant room with a hole in the ceiling through which you could see the sky.  I wish my pictures did it justice, but they don’t. You’ll just have to come see it for yourself.

IMG_2220a IMG_2221a


Here’s a video walk-through

Then off to the War Memorial.  As you might have gathered from other blog posts, I am rather ambivalent about the commemoration of war and its tendency to tip into celebration.  The War Memorial is absolutely brimming with expensively mounted displays- it must be the best funded museum in the country, I think- but almost to the point of overwhelming you.   The memorial is divided into  First and Second World War wings, and the World War I section is excellent, as you might expect in these centenary years.

Our main reason for going was to find the works done by Steve’s grandfather, Charles Web Gilbert, who worked as a War Artist immediately after WWI.   He created some of the dioramas that are displayed to such good effect, now supplemented by sound effects and multimedia photographs and film clips.  The names of the war artists are not displayed on the dioramas, but we did find a small named sculpture of stretcher-bearers.

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We were surprised to find that the large sculpture, previously called ‘The Memorial to the Light Horse’ had been shifted from its position close to the War Memorial to further down ANZAC avenue.  This is not its only shift: the original was erected in Port Said in 1932 (several years after C.Web Gilbert died) and was severely damaged during World War II. The remnants were brought back to Australia and reconstituted in the statue that now stands along ANZAC avenue.  Not a whisper of the artist for this one, either.

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I very much liked the Hall of Memory, with its beautiful Waller stained glass windows.  Looking out across the commemorative flame, I noticed that all of the tablets naming the wars that Australia has been involved in have now been filled on every surface of the rectangular space at the heart of the Memorial.


Oh that it could stop now.

‘Nice Work’ by David Lodge


1988, 277 p.

I often find that my response to a book is largely influenced by the book that I read immediately before.  For example, I found myself quite unable to pick up another fiction book for some time after reading War and Peace, and sometimes I want to get my teeth into something really meaty after reading some self-indulgent fluff.  In this case, I came to David Lodge’s Nice Work as a face-to-face bookgroup read after just finishing the challenging (on all levels) A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing.  I must confess that much of the joy in reading this book was Lodge’s masterful, urbane and instantly comprehensible prose.  In comparison with the book that I read immediately preceding it, this one just flew off the page.

David Lodge, as a former Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham, is well placed to turn his wry, satirical eye to red-brick university life in his ‘Campus Trilogy’ comprising Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses (1975), Small World: An Academic Romance (1984), and this book  Nice Work (1988).  In this book, flame-haired feminist academic Robyn Penrose, trying hard to get a tenured position at the University of Rummidge (a thinly disguised Birmingham), agrees to be involved in a job-shadowing scheme as part of improving links between the university and the workplace.  She is allocated to Vic Wilcox, the manager of an engineering firm. I think that you can guess what happens….

And it does, and to a certain extent there’s a reassuring predictability about the plot. What I really enjoyed about this book, though, is Lodge’s satirical but penetrating analysis of his characters.  He’s not kind about either of them, but he does not lack affection for them either.  Robyn is immured in the postmodernist sludge served up by Derrida and Kristeva that makes me shrivel up inside, while Vic Wilcox is one of those buttoned-up, slightly pathetic middle-aged men who might be driving his small company car next to you at the traffic lights at 8.00 a.m.

Not content with mere waspishness, Lodge has literary fun in the book as well. The epigraphs that separate the multiple parts of this book are sprinkled with quotes from 19th English novels, most particularly Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and there’s quite a bit of North and South in this book as well.  It’s enjoyable without knowing any of this, but for those in on the joke, it adds another layer as well.


‘ A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’ by Eimar McBride


2013, 227 p.

I find myself quite at a loss to know how to talk about this book.  It was raw and intensely sad, and also one of the most frustrating reading experiences that I have had in my life. The book is written in short, disjointed sentence with words missing and phrases left unfinished.  It amazes me that, somehow, despite the difficulty in actually reading the words, the story is so powerfully conveyed in all its squirming discomfort and sorrow.

The story is told chronologically by a young, unnamed girl whose older brother suffered brain damage and behavioural difficulties after a childhood brain tumour. For a number of reasons, she embarks on her own spiral of degradation and self-defilement while her brother subsides into unemployment and depression before the brain tumour returns.  It is a book steeped in guilt- oldfashioned, Catholic, rural Irish guilt- which reminded me of the equally gruelling Lars von Trier film Breaking the Waves.   But at the points where the emotion is rawest and almost beyond words, the gasped, incoherent text is at its strongest in its inability to speak.

The language is a staccato  stream-of-consciousness, largely composed of snippets of conversation and fleeting images and thoughts.  It is a child’s voice, but it persists into adulthood, the tortured syntax a reflection of the tortured narrator:

Howl winter all through the night that year in the trees where we climbed on and the hedges on the road.  No cars here. No one comes.  Things crying in the fields for me. Say they want me and coming down the walls for. She’s coming Mammy. Who? The banshee. Don’t be silly. Sure isn’t your brother here? Won’t he mind you if anything comes along.  Should I close the door or leave it open? I don’t know. Shut bad out or shut it in. Worse you. And said They are coming. For you and me. Stop it. Coming for us and we’re without the knife. What knife? The one that goes with the magic machine. What is it? Makes the noise for killing bad things. A big dark tunnel bangs. How do you know? That’s what I had, me shouting it burns awful ahhh. The doctor said fire come out my eyes. He didn’t. He did and these aren’t mind. They are so. Mine melted. These are goats. Goat eyes and the devil wants them back. My throat’s closing. Shut up. Ugh shut up. Mammy? But wakes me in the night. Goat eyes riding off into the sky.

It’s a very demanding book but it gives much. It teaches you to read it. (I found when I copied out this quote from near the start of the book, that having finished, I could understand it instantly. I struggled to make sense of it on first reading.)  Like A Clockwork Orange and Ulysses , which likewise use their own idiosyncatic language, you need to almost stop reading with your eyes and just give over to your inner ear.  There’s absolutely no skim reading here: you have to stop fighting against the text and just go with it.  It is one of the most powerful books I have ever read.

In her review in the Guardian, fellow Irish writer Anne Enright ventured the suggestion that McBride might be a genius. I don’t know if McBride has other books to come – it took nine years to find a publisher for this one- but I will be bitterly disappointed if it’s a rehash or continuation of this one.  I reserve my judgment about whether McBride is a genius herself but  I think that this book is a work of genius. I hope it becomes and remains a completely unique classic.

AND, I’m counting this towards my Reading the World International Reading challenge as a book from Ireland. How appropriate on St Patrick’s Day!