Monthly Archives: January 2018

Strange things from the box of photos No.2

We’re going through photos that we can show at Dad’s memorial.  One Australia Day several years ago I wrote about the Bicentennial Beacon, and Dad’s fortuitous involvement. And lo and behold, I found a photo!

You can read about it and see the newly discovered photo here.

Strange things from the box of photos No.1

We’re going through boxes of photographs, in preparing for Dad’s memorial service. We started doing it the other day and rushed through it, because we were finding it hard. We did put aside a pile of photographs that have since inadvertently been placed back into the pile of boxes, so I’m going through them again, more slowly. Very slowly. It’s hard to stop being the historian!

I was interested by this leaflet, issued by the Father and Son Welfare Movement. It starts off in the mother’s voice, but seems to become very abstract and third-person by the end. “The opening in front of my body” seems an odd place to be born from: no wonder some children thought they came from their mother’s belly button!  It was presumably a different place from “your private part” (singular).  It reads as if this little letter was designed to be left somewhere to be discovered by the young daughter.

I’m mystified to know why and by whom this leaflet was kept. It was in an old case of photos and documents belonging to my parents, but everything in it predates their wedding (and my birth as their daughter). Curiouser and curiouser.


John Lumley 22.2.29- 25.1.18

My dad died last week from congestive heart failure and renal failure. He lived with us, in the back unit adjoining ours, and I feel as if he is present everywhere I look.  With the assistance of Banksia Palliative Care and Kincare, we nursed him at home to the end. We will miss him so much.



Movie: Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent is the story of a young man who, charged with delivering a letter between the now-deceased Vincent Van Gogh and his brother, tries to find out how Vincent died.  Story-wise, it’s a bit of a whodunnit, questioning the assumption that it was suicide.

But you’re not here for the story, which is lacklustre. Instead, you’re here for the animation, which is just amazing.  You can detect who the actors through their voices and posture but they, along with the backgrounds, are painted with trademark Van Gogh brushstrokes. Each of the 65,000 frames has been painted by one of 125 artists, organized into 125 teams

It’s not a long movie at 95 minutes, but originally it was conceived as a short 17 minute film. It could possibly have remained at the shorter length and made a similar impression on the watcher.  I use the term ‘watcher’ deliberately, because this is very much a visual experience rather than an intellectual or emotional one.

Worth seeing for the spectacle.

Movie: Darkest Hour

I always stay to watch the credits at the end of a film, even with the cinema staff sweeping around me. The credits at the end of ‘Darkest Hour’ list 93-year-old historian John Lukacs, and I found myself wondering just how he feels about this movie. He was the author of the absolutely brilliant Five Days in London: May 1940, which tells in almost hour-by-hour detail the decisions faced by the British government as France and Belgium fell to the Nazis.  I  think he would have fully supported the film’s emphasis on Churchill’s personality and the uncertainty that surrounded the decision to stand up to Hitler, I wonder how he felt about some of the scenes in the movie.

I’ve often quoted the adage that I gleaned from somewhere when watching a film ‘based on true events’: think of the most dramatic scene in the movie and that’s the bit that’s made up. It certainly holds true here. About 2/3 of the way through a scene on the Underground made me think “Oh hold on – surely this isn’t true”- and sure enough, it’s not.

It’s a beautifully lit film and Gary Oldman is brilliant – although I think it’s easier to ‘nail’ a well-known, true-life character by impersonation than to build a completely fictional character up from scratch.  The music was perhaps a little too obtrusive.

I found myself looking for current-day political statements in the film. I don’t think that it necessarily set out to bring a message, but the funding decisions for films surely look for resonances amongst their audience.  So the message here? Perhaps the paucity of modern courage and leadership (although, of course, if the whole thing had gone pear-shaped …..) and a reassuring message that ‘the people know best’. A message for Brexit times, maybe?

‘Six-Bob-a-Day Tourist’ by Janet Morice


1985,  86p.

It didn’t take long for Thomas Gardner of  117 George Street East Melbourne to enlist in what was to become  the Great War. Due to the time difference, news of Britain’s declaration of war reached Australia on the same day that it was made (5 August 1914). Just three weeks later, Thomas Gardner, aged 33, had joined the AIF, E Company, 7th battalion as one of the ‘Six Bob-a-Day Tourists’, the deprecating term given to the highly paid Australian soldier, whose generous pay outstripped that of many working men at home and the soldiers of allied countries.  Without wanting to diminish it in any way,  Tom’s story ticks all the WWI narrative features that have come to be associated with ‘our ANZACs’ : sent out to the Training Camp in Broadmeadows; the sea voyage; waiting around in Egypt; Gallipoli; Lone Pine; France; hospital in England; back to France; sent home; discharged on grounds of ill-health; dead.  You can read about Thomas Gardner’s war and see pictures of him at the National Anzac Centre website.

I was attracted to reading this book not so much for Tom’s story on the front, but for the interactions with his family back home.  Tom had been rather peripatetic in the years leading up to the war, travelling from town to town as a wood-turner, but he returned often to 117 George Street to visit his mother, sisters Mabel, Adeline and Edith, and niece Cecily and nephew Guy.  His widowed sister Mabel re-married in June 1914, just before war was declared.  She had matriculated from PLC, and after returning to Melbourne following her first husband’s death after just four years of marriage, worked as a secretary, learned Esperanto, and was involved in debating and literary societies.

As Morice notes:

Two months after their wedding, war was declared, and at home the verbal battles raged. Tom was a volunteer and his mother and two of his sisters took the patriotic stance. Mabel and [husband] Will, however, took the opposite view. Will did not volunteer partly because he had just married, but mainly because he and Mabel were both pacifists (p.45)

Mabel and Will were drawn to the lectures and anti-war stance of Dr Charles Strong of the Australian Church.  Mabel, and her childhood friend Eleanor Moore, were present at the inaugural meeting of the Sisterhood for International Peace at the Russell Street Australian Church, and became the correspondence secretaries for the Sisterhood. She also joined the Free Religious Fellowship, an organization with a literary base that included Vance and Nettie Palmer, Louis Essen, Frank Wilmot (Furnley Maurice) and Alan Villiers.  It was headed by Mr Frederick Sinclaire, the former minister of the Unitarian church in East Melbourne.  She used her elocution skills by lecturing on pacifism for the Peace Movement, and hosted sewing groups and letter-writing and pamphlet-printing sessions at her home in East Melbourne. During the conscription debates she attended meetings and marches for anti-conscription.

Her mother and sisters, as strong patriots, disapproved of her political activism but how did her brother Tom – serving in the same way that she was protesting-  feel about this anti-war political involvement? In a letter from November 1916, after the conscription proposal had been defeated, he wrote that he was sorry that politics had led to tension between Mabel and her sister Adeline:

I was very glad to see Hughes’s proposal ousted….If conscription had been carried, goodness knows where it would have stopped.  And you can tell Addie this- that were I a married man in Australia (I am not speaking of Belgium or France) and had children who were depended on me, I would not deem it my duty to enlist until every eligible single male had gone… Re your conscription remarks.  You are very violent, my dear, peace-loving sister.  Well, let me lower “me breff” while I tell you that a fellow named Tom who lived at 117 George Street, East Melbourne, also voted ‘No’. And he knew a lot of other fellows, who knew a couple of thousand other fellows who voted ‘No.’ So I’m blest if I know.  (p. 55)

This book features only Tom’s letters, not those sent by his family.  The book is organized chronologically, with the focus on Tom’s war, intersected by Mabel’s peace activities back home. Through Tom’s letters, we see him becoming increasingly disillusioned by the war, until by June 1918, at the age of 38 he described himself as “so nervy I can’t bother about anything.”  You just know that this is not going to end well.

At only 85 pages, this is not a long book, and it rattles along at a pace.  It combines imagined scenes with excerpts from Tom’s letters, illustrations, and contextual information.  The author,  the grand-daughter of Mabel, has rather delicately omitted the details of Tom’s encounter with venereal disease which is mentioned on the National Anzac page, and as a reader you can sense her sympathy for both Tom and Mabel.

The book is not easily available today, and you’ll need to turn to secondhand sellers if you want to find it.  It puts a very human face on WWI, and it complicates the image we have of the family left ‘at home’.  Family members could love and grieve for their ‘boy’ overseas, and they could campaign for peace back home as well. Some family members expressed their love through patriotism; others through fighting to put an end to war.


This is my first review for 2018 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Movie: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

It’s violent, it’s funny in places, it presents cliches and then subverts them.  It’s a rather Coen-Brothers-ish movie, and Frances McDormand (who has starred in several Coen Brothers movies) fully deserves the acclaim that she is receiving.

My rating: 4.5 stars.

Georgiana McCrae

During this week, Bill of the Australian Legend blog is running Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week.  He defines Gen 1 as “those writers who came before the 1890s and the Sydney Bulletin ‘Bush Realism’ school, although many of them continued writing into the first part of the 20th century.”  To be honest, I was surprised when he asked me to write about Georgiana McCrae, whom I have generally considered as a source, rather than a writer. She did not write for publication, and had it not been for the efforts of her family (for good or bad), she may well have stayed in the shadows of family history.  Nonetheless, let’s consider Georgiana McCrae.

Georgiana McCrae

During this summer break, tens of thousands of Melburnians traveling to the beaches of the Mornington Peninsula will pass the beachside town of McCrae, with its holiday houses nestling among the gums on Arthurs Seat and its caravans clustered along the foreshore.

MccraeBeachIt is named for Andrew and Georgiana McCrae, who lived there for just six years between 1845 and 1851.  People today would be more familiar with Georgiana, rather than her husband Andrew, largely on the basis of her writings about Port Phillip, which have come to us thanks to the efforts of her family in protecting and promoting her legacy.

GeorgianaMcCraeNiallSo, who was this Georgia McCrae?  Her biographer Brenda Niall, describes her like this:

She was a Duke’s daughter, illegitimate but acknowledged by her father; she had been a child in Regency London; a professional portrait painter in 1820s Edinburgh; a lawyer’s wife in London and in Melbourne; the sole architect of the two houses she and her husband built; a central figure in Melbourne’s early social and artistic life; a settler’s wife on a Port Phillip cattle run; the mother of nine children; a witty, perceptive diarist and recorder of her times. (Brenda Niall, Georgiana, p. 2)

In many ways, Georgiana’s life reads like a romance novel.  She  was born in London in 1804 as the illegitimate daughter of the 5th Duke of Gordon.  Her illegitimacy did not prevent her father the Duke from acknowledging her and financially supporting her, even if he was not involved in her day-to-day upbringing.  Within the moral latitude that the aristocracy appropriated for themselves and among themselves, the Duke had fathered a second illegitimate family as well, likewise acknowledged and provided for.

Georgiana and her mother were installed at Somers Town in London, between St Pancras and Euston, where she circulated amongst the French royalist refugees who had fled Napoleonic France and congregated in the area.  This immersion in French culture lent to her writing and world view a wealth of French expressions that were to later sit rather incongruously with her descriptions of little, burgeoning Port Phillip on the other side of the globe.

It was at Somers Town that she trained as a painter under the tutelage of John Varley, John Glover, Dominic Serres and portrait and miniature painter Charles Hayter. She exhibited at the Royal Academy, garnering several prizes.


Georgiana McCrae self-portrait. She painted both this self-portrait and the one used on Brenda Niall’s book. Source: State Library of Victoria.

After her mother was severely injured in an accident, Georgiana moved to live with her grandfather at Gordon Castle in north-east Scotland.  After her grandfather’s death, her father and his childless wife took up at the Castle, and Georgiana lived with them, continuing to paint and exhibit.   So- we have the Duke,  and we have Gordon Castle: now add a vindictive stepmother (for lack of a better term, given the convolutions of her family tree ) who thwarted Georgiana’s romantic prospects with ‘Perico’, a Catholic kinsman of the Gordons.  In September 1830 Georgiana married another Gordon relative, lawyer Andrew Murison McCrae instead, a relationship which never seemed to have had the passion of her relationship with Perico. After Georgiana’s father died, control of the family money passed to her stepmother, and with dampened prospects of an inheritance and on the basis of enthusiastic reports from Andrew’s friend Major Thomas Mitchell, they decided to emigrate to Port Phillip along with their four children.

Andrew Murison McCrae aged 30

Andrew Murison McCrae, aged 30, painted by Georgiana McCrae. Source: State Library of Victoria.

Arriving on the Argyle on 1 March 1841, Georgiana then enters into the historiography of Port Phillip, then a newly-opened district of the colony of New South Wales. Georgiana’s Journal, edited by her grandson Hugh McCrae and published as part of the Victorian centennial celebrations in 1934, has long been seen as a witty  ‘womans-eye’ view of Port Phillip society.  But all is not as it seems. In her PhD thesis, Therese Weber painstakingly compares the original documents written by Georgiana McCrae with the published versions of Georgiana’s journal.  Unfortunately Weber’s thesis is only available at State Library of Victoria, but Marguerite Hancock drew heavily on the thesis when writing her foreword to the fifth edition of Georgiana’s Journal, which is still the most readily available version of Georgiana’s writing that you can access today.


The third edition of ‘Georgiana’s Jounal’ edited by Hugh McCrae

As  Hancock (following Weber) points out, grandson Hugh McCrae was a poet and when he extensively edited Georgiana’s journal, he freely added his own artistic flourishes.  Georgiana wrote in short sentences and phrases, separated by dashes, but Hugh McCrae transformed it into flowing prose, as you can see on p.9-12 of Hancock’s foreword, available through the LaTrobe Society here.  Moreover, the colonial children and grandchildren of Georgiana McCrae were far more sensitive to her illegitimacy than she was herself, and her illegitimacy and aristocratic connections were carefully expunged.  But murkier still: McCrae was not even working from the original manuscripts. Georgiana herself had rewritten the journals in 1864, burning the originals, including one volume that her son destroyed at Georgiana’s request.  She did further work on her recollections in the 1880s. On the basis of these changes, both on the part of Georgiana and her grandson, Therese Weber asserts that  the published Georgiana’s Journal  edited by Hugh McCrae “can no longer be read as the journal of Georgiana McCrae”.

Be that as it may, Georgiana’s Journal  does capture Port Phillip from the point of view of a well-connected, intelligent member of ‘good’ society. The whole McCrae family of brothers and sisters emigrated across to Australia, as was common particularly amongst Scots migrants. We gain an insight into the webs of connection among the women of an extended family and their husbands’ networks amongst the commercial and professional milieu of a small colonial settlement.  After a period of renting a house right in the middle of town, Andrew and Georgiana built a house ‘Mayfield’ to Georgiana’s design in Abbotsford.   I stand amazed at the energy of these women and their children who would think nothing of striding across the fields for a three kilometre walk into town.  Georgiana attended all the balls and levees and was a friend of Superintendent (later Governor) La Trobe and his French wife Sophie, although her grandson-editor embroidered this relationship somewhat.  She had another three children in Port Phillip, the births of whom she describes in a matter-of-fact fashion.  In her entry for December 28, 1841 (in Hugh McCrae’s version) she wrote about the visit of Captain Cole, the suitor of Georgiana’s sister-in-law Thomas Anne, who was also present:

Captain Cole [came] to tea, and whether for the sake of prolonging his stay beside his lady-love, or from actual thirst, he took no less than nine of our small teacups full of tea.  While pouring out the seventh cup I could hardly conceal the effects of a twinge of pain, but the captain and Thomas Anne didn’t make a move till 10.00 p.m.  The moment they were gone, I hurried off to my room at Landall’s, and sent Jane for Dr Myer (his house at the end of Great Bourke Street East- Gardner’s Cottages.) Soon after eleven, Jane and the doctor arrived. At 3.00 a.m. I gave birth to a fine girl.  The doctor, on his way home, tapped at the window of Mr McCrae’s bedroom and hold him what had happened while he had been asleep.

Like many others in Port Phillip during 1842-1843, the McCrae family was seriously affected by the 1840’s depression. Andrew McCrae made several poor financial decisions during his life and in 1843 he ‘took up’ – that famous Australian euphemism-  the 20,500 acres (8,296ha) Arthurs Seat run on Bunurong land on the Mornington Peninsula.  Although a very beautiful location, it is poor quality farming land and the pastoral enterprise was not a great success.  Andrew built a homestead there, again to Georgiana’s design, and she very reluctantly lived there between 1845-1851. It was a considerable distance from Melbourne, but it was enlivened by frequent visitors from the cultural elite of Port Phillip.

McCrae. McCrae Cottage Homestead Charles St.1964

McCrae Cottage 1964. Photographer John T. Collins. Source: State Library of Victoria

McCrae. McCrae Cottage.2

McCrae Cottage and outhouses 1972 after the re-shingling of the roof. Photographer John T. Collins. Source: State Library of Victoria

The marriage between Georgiana and Andrew was not a particularly happy one, and it’s interesting to observe a lukewarm marriage under the Marriage and Matrimonial Causes Act of 1864. They had spent a considerable time apart during their marriage: Andrew had travelled to Port Phillip two years before she joined him with the children; he shifted to the Arthurs Seat run almost two years before she joined him there, and in the 1850s he accepted the position of police magistrate at Port Albert and Kilmore, leaving the family in Melbourne. Even when they were living together, Andrew was often absent for social occasions. In 1867 Georgiana looked into obtaining a judicial separation, but it was not possible to meet the stringent grounds available.  The situation was alleviated by Andrew leaving Australia for ‘home’ for a seven year period. He did finally return to Melbourne, but died soon after.

After Andrew’s death, Georgiana lived with her children, as was common practice.  Although she could have made a sufficient income through her painting to alleviate the family’s financial distress, Andrew and the extended McCrae family took a dim view of painting ‘for money’.  It’s possible that had she done so, she would be widely celebrated as an Australian artist.  It is pleasing to see her listed on the Design&Art Australia database.

Georgiana was a prolific and lively correspondent, and the reminiscences that she brought together as an extended narrative are evocative and couched in that formal, ‘old-lady’ tone of the nineteenth century.  Her diaries, especially before grandson Hugh got to them, have a brusque matter-of-factness about them.  The literary waters are muddied by her descendants’ attempts to promote and protect her legacy, but it was largely because of Hugh’s publication of his reworked grandmother’s diaries in the form of Georgiana’s Journals that McCrae Homestead was saved from demolition. Apparently the mother of the developer had read Hugh McCrae’s book, and insisted that the house should be retained.  The house was later purchased by the family who donated to the National Trust as ‘McCrae Homestead’, even though the family who followed the McCrae’s brief six year sojourn stayed there for eighty years.  Dromana West was renamed as McCrae in the 1930s.


Despite the reworkings of her manuscripts, Georgiana McCrae gives social historians of early Port Phillip a glimpse into the cultural, commercial and professional elite of a newly-forming colonial district from a strongly-networked woman’s perspective. It’s a refreshing counterbalance to the more common narratives of rural isolation on the one hand and entrepreneurial masculine boosterism on the other.


Georgiana’s Journal ed. Hugh McCrae, 2nd edition, 1966

Georgiana’s Journal 5th edition. Foreword by Marguerite Hancock, 2013 available through LaTrobe society website here.

Norman Cowper, ‘McCrae, Georgiana Huntly (1804–1890)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 16 January 2018.

Design and Art Australia Online Georgiana Huntly McCrae

Leo Gamble,  Georgiana McCrae Kingston Historical Website

Brenda Niall,  Georgiana: A Biography of Georgiana McCrae, painter, diarist, pioneer, 1994



‘East West Street’ by Phillipe Sands


2016, 389 p & notes.

You’ve always wanted to read a book about the philosophical differences between the crimes of ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’, haven’t you? No? Ah- but you should and you should read this book in particular.

The author Philippe Sands is an international lawyer who has appeared in all the big international courts: the European Court of Human Right and the International Criminal Court.  He acted as counsel for Australia in its case against whaling in the Antarctic, and for the Philippines in its recent case against China in the South China Sea. He’s spoken out against torture and for refugee rights.

But in this book, he is also a historian as well as a lawyer.  In a narrative rather reminiscent of an extended ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ he is impelled initially by curiosity about his grandfather, Leon. He had received an invitation to speak at a university in Lviv, a Polish town which had changed its name from Lemberg under the Austro-Hungarian Empire; to Lwow as part of newly independent Poland; Lovov when occupied by the Soviets in WWII; Lemberg against under Nazi occupation, and then Lviv when it became part of Ukraine, the name by which it is known today.  He knew that his grandfather Leon had been born in Lemberg in 1904, but little else.

However, his grandfather was not the only person known to him who was born in Lemberg. Hersch Lauterpacht, professor of international law was born in 1897 in the small town of Zolkiew, a few miles from Lemberg, and Rafael Lemkin, prosecutor and lawyer shifted to Lwow from Bialystock in 1921 as a 21-year old. These two men- Lauterpacht and Lemkin- attended the same law lectures by the same professors, but each developed diametrically opposed philosophies about international law. Lauterpacht developed the principle of ‘crimes against humanity’, rooted in individual rights and offences committed against individual men and women. In contrast, Lemkin developed the concept of ‘genocide’, rooted in the rights of groups, where the intention is to annihilate the population or community from which those individuals spring.   Both these concepts emerged in the Nuremberg Trials, attended by both Lauterpacht and Lemkin, when Hans Frank, the Nazi-appointed Governor General of Poland, faced trial.

The book, then, traces mainly through the lives of these three men: grandfather Leon, Lauterpacht and Lemkin. The setting is Lemberg/Lviv , drawn through a fine-grained, street-by-street analysis, most particularly during Governor General Frank’s period in office, when as Nazi henchman he announced the extermination of the Jews in Poland. Woven through these stories are those of other lesser characters:  Miss Tilney of Norwich who organized the rescue of Jewish children into England ;The Man in a Bow Tie – a shadowy character involved with his grandmother; The Child Who Stands Alone – a mystery reference in a letter; and The Girl Who Chose Not to Remember, one of Leon’s nieces. The narrative switches back and forth, with Sands telling of his ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ encounters with descendants and documents, interwoven with a historical account based on archival sources both personal and governmental.  There are black and white pictures throughout the text, embedded in the narrative right where they are most relevant.

The book starts and finishes with the Nuremberg Trials, and here Sands writes as a lawyer, but in thoroughly accessible language.  You may not believe me, but he is able to write about the Trials that underlines their novelty, tension and the uncertainty of both approach and outcomes.  I was perplexed at first to see that John Le Carre had written a blurb for the front cover of the book, but having finished the book, I can see why.  It’s a damned good read that keeps you turning the pages.

I can’t speak highly enough of this book, which won the 2016 Baillie Gifford prize (the re-badged Samuel Johnson Prize).  It draws together personal story-telling, historical narrative and legal analysis seamlessly, and is quite frankly, one of the best books I’ve read in ages.