Well, true to form, I visited the current exhibition ‘The Swamp Vanishes’ at the Drill Hall in a’Beckett St, the home of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, just days before it finishes. Extended because of the pandemic, the exhibition will close at 5.00 p.m. on Friday 5th February – so if you want to catch it, you’d better hurry.
‘The Swamp’ was a large wetland, west of Melbourne which has been variously known as the Batman’s Swamp, the West Melbourne Swamp, the Dudley Flats etc. It is still hard to describe exactly where it was because the area is now criss-crossed with infrastructure and construction works. I remember leaving Spencer Street (now Southern Cross) railway station by bus at sunset, bound for Adelaide, and turning to my then-husband I asked “Where on earth are we?” because, despite the high-rise buildings in the background, it felt a completely deserted, flat, wasteland. This is the area described in David Sornig’s excellent book Blue Lake: Finding Dudley Flats and the West Melbourne Swamp (my 10/10 review here) and the book and this exhibition complement each other.
However, unlike the book, the emphasis here is more topographical, with many maps and diagrams, many from the RHSV’s own collection. There is a section in the exhibition on Dudley Flats (the aspect of the by-then-drained swamp that I found most fascinating in Sornig’s book) but this is more about navigation and engineering. If you like poring over old maps, you’ll enjoy this exhibition – if it’s still on!