Monthly Archives: November 2016

Movie: High Rise

When, within the first ten minutes or so of the movie starting I saw a head sawed in half vertically and the skin peeled off, THEN I remembered that this was a J. G. Ballard story. I do not like J. G. Ballard stories (except perhaps for Empire of the Sun).  This was a dystopian, violent nightmare of a movie that I didn’t understand one little bit.

All those four and five star ratings! No, this was too bleak and ugly for this little old lady. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it.


Celebrating 1916 in Brunswick in 2016

Even though it’s only fifteen kilometres from home, apart from a brief house-sitting stint in Brunswick about twenty years ago, attending my doctor’s surgery and the occasional visit to a Turkish restaurant, I have very rarely been to Brunswick. Yet in the last three days I’ve been there twice, both times for events organized by the Brunswick-Coburg Anti-Conscription Commemoration Committee 1916-17.


On Saturday night we attended the Metanoia Theatre at the Brunswick Mechanics’ Institute to see ‘1916’, written by local playwright Neil Cole as part of the centenary of the successful ‘no’ campaign during the two referenda over conscription during WWI.  Of course, a play written with an intent to inform and based on real events (as this play was) faces constraints in characterization and plot that a play written purely for entertainment does not. That given, the performance rocketed along for sixty minutes, tracing the activities and perspectives of three women in the months leading up to the referendum in October 1916. Adela Pankhurst, the estranged daughter from the famous English Pankhurst suffragette family arrived in Melbourne, where she appeared in anti-conscription rallies alongside local suffragist and peace activist Vida Goldstein,  the first woman to stand (albeit unsuccessfully) for Parliament. However, fellow suffragist Milly Woods (the playwright’s grandmother) broke with her former colleague Vida  out of a desire to support ‘our boys’ in the war, when her own family members enlisted and were sent to the front. The interplay between these three women demonstrated the rupture of relationships between activists who had fought for women’s votes as just one manifestation of the general fracturing of public opinion during the referendum. The play consisted of multiple scenes, depicted chronologically, which were supported by visual images on a slide show, and separated by songs of the time, very ably sung by girls from the Brunswick Secondary College.  The lead singer of the chorus, in particular, had a beautiful voice and the three main female characters were well drawn, especially, I thought, the older woman Milly Woods.

Then on Monday, over to Brunswick we went again for a history walk conducted by Michael Hamel-Green, seeing places connected with  local Brunswick anti-conscription activists John Curtin, his mentor Frank Anstey and local schoolmistress and activist Julia Guerin.  Brunswick and Coburg were hotbeds of anti-conscription activities, largely because of the strong dominance of Irish Catholics in this working-class neighbourhood.

We started off in St Ambrose Hall, the hall that was attached to the Catholic primary school next door. One of the few 19th century church halls surviving in Moreland, anti-conscription meetings were held here even though the Town Hall was just next door.  The council worthies tended to be pro-conscription, as were most of the major institutions of the day (schools, churches, local newspapers etc) and so meetings were held in the more amenable surroundings of the Catholic church hall.

John Curtin, the future WWII Prime Minister shifted to Brunswick with his family as a young boy in approximately 1899. For a short while he attended St Ambrose Primary School, until leaving school at age 14, as was common at that time for working-class lads.  When Archbishop Daniel Mannix opened a wing of the school on 28 January 1917 (maybe the one with the 1916 foundation stone?) he made his famous ‘trade speech’ where he characterized WWI as “like most wars- just an ordinary trade war”.

The Brunswick Mechanics Institute, constructed in 1868, was used as the recruiting centre for the war during 1914-18. (It was here that we saw the play 1916 on Saturday night). I’m a little surprised that it was used for recruiting, rather than the town hall across the road, although often the committees of Mechanics Institutes tended to be stalwart and ‘respectable’ men of the district and perhaps they were happy to lend their premises to the enlistment effort.


Then into the Town Hall itself and its stunning vestibule covered on all four sides by the names of the 3575 Brunswick men who enlisted.  Those who died were commemorated in a special panel, but it is notable that all enlistees were named, including those who enlisted but did not embark, in alphabetical order, irrespective of rank.

We visited two of the many homes that the Curtin family rented in Brunswick. They lived in the house below for five years between 1903-8 (the longest that they stayed in any one home). By then Curtin was working in a regular job as an estimates clerk with the Titan Manufacturing Company in South Melbourne and his weekly wage of 35 shillings ensured that they could now confidently meet the rent each week- something they had not been able to do previously.  They lived in the cottage on the left hand side, with the arched window.  The four-dwelling terrace has these rather ecclesiastic windows on three of the houses, but the fourth window next door to the Curtin residence has been replaced by a rather unprepossessing aluminium window.  There is no plaque outside this house.  There is now a park beside the house (which has been renumbered since Curtin lived there). The MMBW map shows that during Curtin’s time this was a clay hole, which would have provided clay for the brick factories in the surrounding area.

Not far away is another of the rental properties occupied by the Curtin family (below).  John Curtin lived here with his family between 1913-1915 and it was at this house that he was arrested for refusing to attend the call-up on October 9, just prior to the referendum. At this stage he was working for the Timber Workers Union.  There is a plaque here in the footpath, the only one in Brunswick marking his presence.

Finally, and rather poignantly, we ended up outside the Union Hotel, one of Curtin’s favourite watering holes, close to home and a favourite of the Irish brickworkers.


The walk over, I headed to Jewell Railway Station to catch a train into town. Ah! here’s one of the artworks created along the Upfield railway line out to Fawkner cemetery.  I read about these.

Inside the abandoned ticket window at the unmanned station there’s another little art installation.  It’s of a chemist shop window, but when you look more closely, they’re rather subversive products on sale

And so, as the train bore me the remarkably few stations into the CBD, I bade farewell to Brunswick for now, and its referendum commemorations.  Although, from the sound of the activities that the Brunswick-Coburg Anti-Conscription Commemoration Campaign have planned for next year, I think I may be back….

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: November 1-8 1841

Election time!

The excitement just keeps coming: last week the visit of Governor Gipps and now, this week, the first election in Port Phillip. An election – not for the Legislative Council (that wouldn’t happen until 1843) or for the Melbourne Town Corporation (which wouldn’t happen until late 1842)-  but instead for the Melbourne Market Commissioners.

A reserve for a market had been set aside on the original grid survey, close to the wharf and bounded by  Market, Collins and William streets and Flinders Lane. Liardet’s picture of the market space, show below and painted from memory some forty years later, is striking in its depiction of the stumps of felled trees in the large square space that was used for the market.


The Landing Place and Market Reserve in 1839 by W.F.E. Liardet (1878) State Library of Victoria

In October 1839 the NSW Legislative Council passed an act (3 Vic No. 19) permitting the establishment of markets in towns other than Sydney and Parramatta, where there had been markets for some time. By 1840, with its population and trade steadily increasing, the good people of Melbourne wanted a market too. In August 1841  after the stipulated request from householders, the NSW government authorized the election of market commissioners  by public election.

Under the act, the number of commissioners was fixed to the size of the population. If the population was more than 4000 (which Melbourne was), then at least 3 wards would be created with two commissioners each. As a result Melbourne was divided nearly into four wards with the dividing lines being Bourke and Elizabeth Streets, a division which was maintained through most of the 19th century. The franchise was low – an annual rental of £20 or freeholders to the value of £200 – for males only, of course. Bernard Barrett in The Civic Frontier (p 23) estimates that of a total population of about 9000, about 3000 qualified under the property franchise. [You’ll note that Barrett’s number of 9000 was much higher than the numbers reported in the 1841 census. In fact, it’s hard to pin down exactly what the population of Melbourne was. The Geelong Advertiser of 17 July reported a total of 11,728 for the Port Phillip District and 4479 in Melbourne. I’m sure that this election would only have covered Melbourne. Quite frankly, I don’t know.]

In the week or so leading up to the vote, advertisements were placed in the newspapers, requesting a particular candidate to stand. By 2 November, the candidates were:

North West Ward: Messrs F McCrae and Stephen

South West Ward: Messrs Arden, Kerr, Fawkner and Nodin

North East Messrs Simpson, Barry, Dobson and Cavenagh

South West Messrs Porter, Pears and Locks.

The newspaper editors and proprietors are well represented here (Arden, Kerr, Fawkner all in the SouthWest ward, and Cavenagh).  Under the Act, the arrangements for voting were:

Section 18: That every person being qualified and registered as aforesaid and intending to vote at such election shall deliver to the presiding officer a ticket with the names of the persons written thereon for whom he intends to vote, the number of such persons not being greater than the number of persons to be elected, otherwise the said vote to be null and void, and the said ticket so signed by the person presenting it after being read aloud by the presiding officer shall be forthwith deposited in a box, and shall not be withdrawn therefrom until the same shall be delivered to the scrutineers.

Section 14 At the hour of three o’clock on the day of election the box shall be delivered to the scrutineers who shall within forty-eight hours afterwards certify in writing to the police magistrate the names of the persons elected.  [PPG 23/10/41]

As was the custom at the time, this was an open election where after a voter filled in the ballot and his selections read aloud. This was seen to be a public check on the process, as the voter could challenge it immediately if the wrong names were announced and any attempts to ‘steal’ the election could be publicly challenged.

And so, as the Port Phillip Patriot ( the paper with connections to William Kerr and John Fawkner) recorded:

THE ELECTION. Tuesday, the 2nd November, being the day appointed for the election of the Commissioners of the Melbourne Market, at an early hour Thomas Wills Esq. JP, the gentleman appointed by His Excellency to preside at the election, accompanied by Skene Craig Esq, one of the scrutineers, took his seat on the bench at the police office, which Major St John had kindly vacated for the day.  The several candidates who had been put in nomination were also invited to take their seats on the bench.

The number of voters who had registered their qualification was very small as compared with the number whose names should have been on the list, but indeed, it was obvious that up to the last moment (notwithstanding that the press had been laboring to attract public attention to the subject,) the great bulk of the people were not aware whether they were entitled to vote, or even of the Ward in which they were respectively resident.  Generally speaking there was the usual listless apathy displayed which is characteristic of the people in these money-making colonies, but Mr Fawkner and his supporters formed an exception to the rule, the candidate himself being decorated with a blue sash, and his voters distinguished by breast knots of blue ribbon.  Indeed, in Mr Fawkner’s case, the customary festivities of an English election were in some degree observed, open house being kept in the William Tell for all such electors as displayed “the ribbons o’blue” and the walls being placarded in all directions with “Vote for Fawkner and Economy”.  [PPP 4/11/41]

The Port Phillip Gazette (with connections to George Arden) wrote in a similar vein:

As early as possible in the day, Mr Wills JP, appointed by the Governor to act as president on the occasion, took his seat on the Bench, accompanied by Mr Skene Craig, one of the scrutineers; they were joined at a subsequent period of the morning by Mr J. B. Were and Captain Cole.  Among the candidates were also present: Mr W Kerr, Mr J Stephen, Mr J Peers, Mr G Arden and Mr J. P. Fawkner.  As soon as the doors of the Court were thrown open, the electors who had incurred their rights of voting by previous registration, came up in considerable numbers to present their tickets in the prescribed form. Although great good feeling and order was preserved, there was an absence of spirit and a lack of promptness, which resulted probably from the novelty of the power vested in their hands by free citizens. Some little display of blue ribbons, and what we deprecate as being less harmless, some approach to hilarious excess was visible among the electors …The polling was quickest  between the hours of eleven and twelve, flagging after that period, until the close of the proceedings which took place at three o’clock.[PPG 3/11/41]

As was the Port Phillip Gazette’s wont, it had great fun at the Patriot’s expense through a Bob Short anecdote. This article, featuring an ignorant  ‘Bob Short’ (a thinly disguised John Fawkner) and his friends, was an ongoing joke that ran through the Gazette’s pages, playing no doubt on the pre-decimal currency idiom of ‘a few bob short of a pound’ to suggest dim-wittedness.  Is this the start of the traditional Australian sausage sizzle at the election booth?

“HERE’S YER BOB SHORT SAUSAGES!” Such was the shout which startled the electors upon “the first dawn of civic freedom” on Tuesday last. Anxious to obtain a view of the mouthpiece, we elbowed our way through the crowd and observed a man who is professionally known as the “Flying Pieman” covered from heel to truck with blue ribbons, while upon his arm hung a basket, containing about twenty pounds weight of the spicey [sic] article denominated “Bob Short Sausages” and which some of the supporters of that worthy were purchasing and masticating with much apparent gout; while others screwed their faces into divers contortions as morsel after morsel found its way down their throats, and swallowed more in honour of their champion than from any particular relish, or press of appetite.  The articles certainly looked very suspicious; but whether manufactured of the canine or feline race, were admirable representations of that choice Melbourne Commissioner “Bob Short”. [PPG 6/11/41]

Despite this being the first chance for Melbourne householders to flex their electoral muscles, few bothered to vote.  Only 328, or about 10% of eligible householders according to Barrett’s figures, bothered to enrol.

As the Port Phillip Gazette editorialized on 6 November:

…we cannot refrain from remarking on and lamenting the unnatural apathy which has marked the conduct of the residents in carrying out an affair of the first municipal consequence…The qualification for a vote was so low ( £20 rental)  as to render it virtually universal in its operation. Every householder, from the lowest to the highest, had the opportunity of exercising a privilege which, as it was the earliest occasion of its introduction into the colony of New South Wales, should have been claimed with avidity worthy of its character, and in accordance with the enterprise of the people of Port Phillip. [PPG 6/11/41]

The successful candidates were North-west ward: Farquahar McCrae, John Stephen (no election needed as there were only two candidates); South-west ward: George Arden, John P. Fawkner; North-east Ward, James Simpson, William Dobson; and South-east ward: George Porter, John Jones Peers.

The Port Phillip Herald reported that: “The scrutineers have thought it best not to make known the number of votes for each candidate, the tickets and numbers have therefore been sealed up to prevent disclosure” [PPH 5/11/41].  However, the Port Phillip Patriot did give the figures for the south-west ward (where Fawkner, the paper’s proprietor won): Fawkner 62  Arden 47  Kerr 26  Nodin 21.  Twenty four had neglected to vote; and several votes were in dispute.[PPP 4/11/41]

Guy Fawkes Night

Readers of a certain age in Melbourne will remember Guy Fawkes night, building bonfires and setting off crackers.  Although still celebrated in England, it’s largely forgotten in Melbourne now.  It was, however, celebrated in Port Phillip:

GUY FAUX “Pray remember the 5th of November” &c. In humble imitation of the mother country, the rising generation of the province carried out the usual ceremonies and proceedings which obtain in the vicinity of the [?source?] of its origin, and Mr Guido Faux was effigied throughout all parts of the town, and in the evening was consumed at sundry bonfires amidst various specimens of the pyrotechnic art[PPG 6/11/41]

Pony up!

There was an influx of Timor ponies into Port Phillip in early November, and they were sold at auction on 4th November.


The Port Phillip Patriot reported:

HORSES “The Lombock horses for spirit and powers of endurance resemble those of Timor, but they are in addition much larger and stronger. The present lot have been selected by an experienced judge from the stud of the Rajah of Lombock, and their sale will doubtless attract a numerous concourse of the admirers of “blood, bone and beauty”.

On 8th November, the Patriot reported that the majority of them  sold at prices varying from £13 to £22 each. A second consignment of 112 ponies landed on  The Georgiana,  from Copang, in the Island of Timor. This later group, reported to be in “a very reduced condition” sold for between £8 and £15, while the remaining Lombock horses sold at average price of £14 per head. [PPP 11 November]

A song for November

The Port Phillip Patriot was characterized as the most radical of the three Port Phillip newspapers. I was surprised by this poem published on 4th November which, while extolling the freedom and liberty of Australia, praised the champions of independence Washington and Bolivar as leading stars. Not sure that Her Majesty would be too amused…


It’s to be sung to the tune ‘Scot Wha Hay’. So, here’s the tune- feel free to sing along!


And the weather?

Fresh breezes and strong winds; weather generally cloudy with frequent rain, but in inconsiderable quantities. The top temperature for the week was  a balmy 79 (26) with a low of 44 (6.6)  The coldest day for November was recorded on 7th.


Bernard Barrett The Civic Frontier, 1979, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.



1916 at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute

Given my track record of writing about events after they’ve closed, I probably won’t write about this until after it’s finished. So, in case you haven’t heard about it and you might wish that you had, I’m going to see ‘1916’ at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute tomorrow tonight


from the Metanoiatheatre website:


October 25November 5

Anti-Conscription Brunswick Chapter

1916 is about the first No Case for conscription that took place in 1916. The play is set three months prior to the vote, in Brunswick, starring two characters who are feminists and peace movement activists Adele Pankhurst and Vida Goldstein. 1916 will include the rollicking music of the era.   

Written by | Neil Cole

Produced by| Brunswick-Coburg Anti-Conscription Commemoration Campaign

Directed by | Natasha Broadstock

Starring | Harlene Hercules and Marissa Bennett

Tues – Sat 8pm | Sun 2pm


Exhibition: A Brush with Heidelberg

Here I am, writing about other people’s exhibitions and I don’t think I’ve mentioned the exhibition I’m most closely involved with- A Brush with Heidelberg, at the Heidelberg Historical Society closing on Sunday 27 November 2016.


As you would know if you live in Melbourne, Heidelberg has a long connection with artists.  Most famously, the ‘Heidelberg School’ of Australian Impressionists (Roberts, McCubbin, Streeton, Withers etc)  stayed in Eaglemont during the 1890s and painted ‘en plein air’ in Heidelberg and the surrounding districts.  Then, there’s Heide, named for Heidelberg, across the river where John and Sunday Reed attracted modernist painters like Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester.

But other artists- some well known, others less so- have been attracted to Heidelberg, painting the river and its surroundings and also the quaint village of Heidelberg which somehow retained some of its earlier charm.

This exhibition has reproductions and original paintings of Heidelberg scenes, juxtaposed where possible with photographs of the same vista today.  If you know Heidelberg at all, you’ll see familiar buildings and landscapes, and perhaps learn about the history of the building or the painter.

The exhibition, located at the old courthouse in Jika Street (opposite Heidelberg Gardens) is open on Sundays between 2.00 and 5.00 p.m. Entry is $5.00. The exhibition is on for only a few weeks more, closing at the end of November on Sunday November 27.

And we were delighted to receive a commendation for our exhibition at the 2017 Victorian Community History Awards.