Category Archives: Melbourne history

Splish splash! Water Stories at PROV

The Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) website has some thoughtfully curated online exhibitions.  They’ve been designed with school curricula in mind, but they’re interesting in their own right.  I’ve been enjoying one on Water in Melbourne called Water Stories. It starts with the Yarra River,( as all good narratives of Melbourne must!) then extends into the various water supply, navigation and sewerage schemes that were developed in the wake of the prosperity of the Gold Rush. Some were far-sighted (Yan Yean, for example in 1856) and others were more reactive, driven by the determination to shrug off the epithet of ‘Smellbourne’ that critics attached to Melbourne. The display then shifts to the major parks and gardens that were planned to beautify the city, several by La Trobe back in the 1850s, which are treasured by Melburnians today.

Click the link below:

https://embed.culturalspot.org/embed/exhibit/water-stories/lAIyzP8Lo1pmKw?hl=en-GB

 

‘The Boyds: a family biography’ by Brenda Niall

boydsfamilybiography

2002, 387p.

In this book we are in the hands of a master biographer.  Not many biographers would have the courage to take on a whole family as a unit, but Brenda Niall does here. The sprawling, artistic Boyd family has representatives in nearly every branch of the arts (literature, painting, architecture, sculpture) and its family tree is studded with seemingly endless iterations of ‘Boyd’ and ‘a’Beckett’ in their names.   Only an experienced biographer would even attempt such a complex group biography across five generations and nearly two centuries,  and she   handles it with consummate ease.

She owes much of her success to the very careful structuring that she has used to organize this unwieldy and voluminous information. She starts with four men: the emancipist-entrepreneur brewer John Mills; the wealthy pastoralist Robert Martin (of ‘Viewbank’ and ‘Banyule’ fame); William a’Beckett the Chief Justice of Victoria; and Captain Thomas Boyd, career militarist and settler. Even though the first section of the book is called ‘The Matriarch’ (referring to Emma Mills, later a’Beckett), Niall firmly embeds these four patriarchs as the founding fathers, so to speak, of the Boyd dynasty.  She takes forty pages to do so in her opening chapter, and she returns to them as touchstones throughout the book. The tainted convict source of the money that Emma a Beckett (nee Mills) brought to the family was a secret, but it  bestowed on its members the time and space to explore their artistic passions across multiple generations.

The second thematic device she uses is that of the house.  Houses were important to the Boyds. Emma’s husband W. A. C. Beckett had the ‘a Beckett coat of arms emblazoned on two houses: the first was The Grange in Berwick (since demolished for a quarry), the second was the lost manor Penleigh House in Wiltshire, England (later sold out of the family). Above the front door of the Grange he placed a stained glass window with the motto “Immemor Sepulchri Struis Domo” (Forgetful of the Tomb, You Build Houses).  Niall uses the house as an organizing device for her narrative, but it was one suggested through the family’s actions rather than the biographer’s imagination.  It works well, both as a means of organizing such an unruly venture, but also in highlighting the paradox that the Boyd family, so embedded and synonymous within Australian cultural life, were also drawn ‘home’ to an earlier ancestral myth of gentry glory. There is a string of Boyd Houses: the light-filled Grange so beautifully captured in Emma Minnie Boyd’s paintings,  the tatty, faded grand Penleigh in UK, Tralee in Sandringham, the architect’s home in Walsh St South Yarra; Open Country in Murrumbeena and Bundanong in Nowra NSW.

The focus is firmly on the Boyds, but it is just as much an exploration of Australian, and especially Melbourne, cultural life as well.  There are connections with other artists and their colonies, architectural commissions for major cultural figures, and networks branching across Melbourne society. At the same time, there is that siren call of “overseas”. Women are certainly present, even if they sometimes subjugated their role as muse behind that of wife and mother.

This is a marvellously complex but disciplined biography. This is how a group biography is done!

aww-badge-2015-200x300I have posted this review to the Australian Women Writers Challenge  site.

Celebrating wetlands for Melbourne Day!

Happy Melbourne Day! 30th August. Not a day emblazoned on our consciousness, I must admit. It seems fitting that the RHSV’s Melbourne Day lecture last Friday should focus not so much on ‘founders’ but more upon what was ‘found’ i.e.  the wetland landscapes of  such fundamental importance to the Kulin people who were already here.   Rod Giblett  spoke at the RHSV on ‘Lost and Found Wetlands of Melbourne’  acknowledging the ecological richness of the wet lands surrounding the bay, the crucial part they played in the Kulin diet and ceremony and highlighting the changing perceptions of settlers to these areas that were at varying times embraced as clear, open landscapes, or derided as boggy swamps.

Melbourne is just one of many cities that is surrounded by wetlands. Giblett’s forthcoming book deals with Melbourne as one of a list of other such cities including Toronto, Perth, London, New York and (as we are even more aware of this weekend with the 10th anniversary of  Hurricane Katrina), New Orleans.  The early naval surveyors of Melbourne noted the swamps and coastal landscapes on their early maps. The presence of large bodies of water immediately surrounding Melbourne is obvious on early maps that show little more than the Hoddle Grid and the prominence of the Yarra.

The pastoralists who streamed into the Port Phillip prized  the wetlands for their open meadows of grass, the fecundity of the soil, and the ease of access they promised for grazing.  The large lake of water in West Melbourne known as ‘Batman’s Swamp’ was praised for its beauty. Gordon McCrae recalled the sight of the lake, at the base of Flagstaff Hill  in his childhood:

a beautiful blue lake… a real lake, intensely blue, nearly oval and full of the clearest salt water, but this by no means deep.  Fringed daily all round by mesembryanthenum (vulg ‘pigs face’) in full bloom, it seemed in the broad sunshine as though girdled about with a belt of magenta fire…

In his presentation Giblett took us on a “scenic tour of the highlights and lowlights” of the wetlands that surrounded Melbourne. Batman’s Swamp (where Etihad Stadium now stands) was filled with the soil that came from the levelling of Batman’s Hill, thereby topographically extinguishing Batman from the maps of Melbourne (with the exception of Batman Ave). The South Melbourne swamp was transformed into Albert Park, a recreational lake now lapped by Formula One racing cars.  The name Fishermens Bend has undergone both linguistic transformations (alternating between Fisherman‘s and Fishermen‘s Bend) and geographical shifts,being taken  from a bend in the river  near Coode Island to a development precinct that borders South Melbourne.  The artificial Coode Canal cut off the original Fishermens bend, created Coode Island,  and is now West Gate Park.  Bolin-Bolin swamp in Bulleen (the only one of these wetlands to use its aboriginal name) is now used as playing fields by Trinity Grammar.  There are other wetlands too: the Carrum  and Cheetham  wetlands, both prized for their birdlife, the Banyule flats, and the wetlands that became incorporated into the Botanical Gardens.

Attitudes towards wetlands have changed, swinging from appreciation at first for their beauty to a desire to ‘reclaim’ them once they had been polluted by noisome industries and sewage, or if they hampered development.  The few remaining are increasingly being recognized for their ecological diversity and their function as ‘the kidneys’ of a city. There is a world-wide movement to ‘daylight’ rivers and wetlands that have disappeared through development, especially in Toronto which is rediscovering the Don and Humber Rivers.

The RHSV makes its talks available online and you can find this one (along with other talks as well) at http://www.historyvictoria.org.au/whats-on/lectures/podcasts .It was a fitting Melbourne Day talk (albeit delivered two days early) that reminds us of the use of language in describing landscape and the effects both human and ecological of ‘settlement’.

‘Nail Can to Knighthood’ exhibition RHSV 15 July-18 December 2015

Lady-with-rose-hat-and-MacRob-milk

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria have a fantastic exhibition at the moment that draws on their collection of material about Macpherson Robertson – the source (bless him) of Australia’s oldest, and my very favourite chocolate bar: The Cherry Ripe (now produced by Cadbury)

MacRobertson

Cherry-Ripe-Wrapper-Small

Titled “Nail Can to Knighthood”, this exhibition covers the life of Sir Macpherson Robertson and the significance of his factories in Fitzroy, Melbourne.   Australians, it seems, are always being berated for their lack of philanthropy, especially in comparison with the American tradition, but Macpherson Robinson was a Philanthropist with a capital P, and several Melbourne landmarks associated with the centenary of Victoria in 1934 bear his name to this day.

A child of the goldfields, Macpherson Robertson was born in Ballarat in 1859 to a Scottish father and Irish mother.  The family returned to Leith, Scotland when his father moved to Fiji in search of work and as a photograph in the exhibition shows, this was not a wealthy family at all. To help the family finances, Macpherson took odd jobs, including working in two confectionery factories.  When the family returned to Melbourne in 1874, he started an apprenticeship at the Victoria Confectionery Company.  At the age of  21 he started his own business in the family home in Argyle Street Fitzroy, using a nail can and tin pannikin to boil up the syrup that he poured into moulds and rolled in sugar that his mother wrapped in paper cones.  Macpherson  went on foot to distribute his lollies for sale.  From these humble beginnings (and the original nail can and pannikin are on show), he built up a huge enterprise that dominated the suburb of Fitzroy and made him enormously wealthy.

He certainly had entrepreneurial flair and knew the benefits of good advertising. He realized that the name ‘Macpherson Robertson’ was too long to fit onto a lolly wrapper, and so he shortened it to ‘MacRobertsons’.  Often his advertising and personal interests converged.  When promoting chewing gum (which he brought to Australia after living in America for several years) he spruiked it as being of particular benefit to cyclists.  He established a Cycling School, presided over by “Professor Eckenstein” who had taught no lesser luminaries than the Prince of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and Lord Lennox! He was fond of cars and sponsored the Round Australia Competition in 1928, and established MacRobertson- Miller Airlines.  A croquet aficionado himself, he contributed the land from his own estate in Station Street Fairfield to establish the Fairfield Bowling and Croquet Club, and the MacRobertson Shield is still the most prestigious tournament on the International Croquet scene.  He knew how to market his own story as well, with several publications issued during his lifetime that drew on the legend of the nail can.

His philanthropy really hit its straps during 1934, the Centenary of Victoria.  He sponsored the London to Melbourne International Air Race in 1934, Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School, MacRobertson fountain near the Shrine and MacRobertson Bridge.  As you can see, he was not shy in having his name attached to his gifts, and Sir Douglas Mawson likewise thanked him for his sponsorship of the Antarctic Exhibitions of 1929 and 1930 by naming MacRobertsonLand in Antarctica after him.

The RHSV has a wonderful collection of material, supplemented by material on loan from a variety of sources.  As well as the original tin can, there’s a cabinet of lolly samples which are displayed one drawer at a time for conservation reasons, showing the different sorts of lollies produced by MacRobertsons in test-tubes. There’s some fascinating video footage, complete with sound, and I was interested that, considering he left school at such a young age, he had acquired over his lifetime an upper class, albeit completely Australian, accent.  Most intruiging of all was a bust of Macpherson Robertson that turned out not to be as it seemed.

The exhibition will be open until Friday 18th December, Mon-Thurs 10.00-4.00 and Friday 10.00-3.00.  Gold coin donation entry

If you can’t make it, there’s an excellent site (so excellent, in fact that I wonder if it doesn’t pre-empt the exhibition?) at  http://www.culturevictoria.com/stories/built-environment/macrobertsons-confectionery-factory/

‘Imagining Early Melbourne’ Kathryn Ferguson

I just found an online article about Early Melbourne from 2004,  published in the very first edition of Postcolonial- an open source journal that is now in its eleventh year.

You can source the article at:

http://postcolonial.org/index.php/pct/rt/printerFriendly/294/780

In this article, I will examine three elements that were posited by Melbourne’s early surveyors as incompatible with the development of a city invested in post-Enlightenment commitments to the rational and orderly division of space: the indigenous population, the extant landscape, and the poor. Each of these ‘problematic’ features was, for the most part, posited as antithetical to the creation and sustainability of an ordered and orderly social space through which the settlement, the colony and the Empire invented and inhabits a place.  Each element was, ostensibly, addressed in the founding strategies of Melbourne, with varying degrees of success, between 1836 and 1839.  Thus, this article highlights the irrationality — the almost mythical foundations — of the city.

As she points out, Major Thomas Mitchell’s encomium of the beauties of Australia Felix and Robert Hoddle’s grid were both describing something that wasn’t there.  Mitchell feigned complete ignorance of the presence of indigenous people, while Hoddle just superimposed a public-service template onto the landscape. They were producing predictions, rather than describing extant realities.

There were, of course,  indigenous people right in the centre of Melbourne, and settlers had started building along their own natural contour lines, following the geography of the site before Hoddle got to it with his surveying tools. Even though the word ‘slum’ would not be used for another fifty years,  the Hoddle grid and the push to construct only wide streets was responding to a fear of the vice-ridden poor.

As you might guess from a journal called Postcolonial, there’s some fairly complex language in this article, but it’s an interesting reflection on map-making, symmetry and geographical fantasy.

Hours of fun! Victorian Places

There’s a website created as a joint venture between Monash University and the University of Queensland called Victorian Places.

You can see it at  http://www.victorianplaces.com.au/

It was commenced in the mid-1990s at the National Centre for Australian Studies at  Monash University and has been updated using a template that was developed for Queensland Places by the University of Queensland.

Victorian Places aims to provide an historical and current assessment of all settlements in Victoria and addresses both metropolitan and regional growth issues in a readily useable fashion. It includes over 1600 entries (headwords) on Victorian settlements that now have or once had populations of 200 or more at any census. The entries include cities, towns, villages, suburbs and shires both old and new. It includes suburbs not only for Melbourne but for regional cities as well. The entries weave the story of place using extracts from gazetteers and handbooks and are illustrated with a wide range of images including historical postcards, recent photographs and tourist promotional material.

The ‘About Us’ section of the website includes the qualification that the website focusses on white settlement. They provide references for indigenous history of the landscape, and note in the entries themselves the Registered Aboriginal Parties throughout Victoria and attempt to comment on indigenous/settler relations when the sources allow.

So many places! 1600 of them!  I’ve whiled away an hour or two here, looking up places large and small. It’s fascinating to have the census information to watch the rise and decline (and sometimes rise again) of locations.

‘Melbourne’ by Sophie Cunningham

cunningham

2011, 272 p.

This book is one of a series published by New South where an established author  is given an open brief to write a ‘travel book where no-one leaves home’  of about 50,000 – 60,000 words about their own town.   There are nine in the series: Peter Timms (Hobart); Matthew Condon (Brisbane); Delia Falconer (Sydney), David Whish-Wilson (Perth); Kerryn Goldsworthy (Adelaide); Paul Daley (Canberra), Eleanor Hogan (Alice Springs);Tess Lea (Darwin) – and this one, Sophie Cunningham’s ‘Melbourne’.

As the commissioning editor Phillipa McGuiness said:

the inspiration for this series was literary, not some pointy-headed urge to make a grand statement about Australia’s cities….While people may read local histories, or dispassionate general histories about where they live, we rarely get the chance to read about our own cities in a way that resonates with our own experience and resurrects memories….So I wanted to ask some of our best novelists and writers to write non-fiction about the cities they lived in – or have adopted – in a way that would evoke intense sense memories for people who are familiar with them and give those who aren’t a sense of what it’s like to live in Brisbane or Adelaide or wherever.

In this book, Sophie Cunningham uses the seasonal year as her organizing structure, starting off with summer and moving through the seasons until finishing up with summer again.  Of course- in a city that is obsessed with weather- too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet- and famously has “four seasons in one day”, what other device could you use?  In particular, she uses the year 2009-2010, reflecting no doubt the date of commission, but that year was also a particularly memorable one for weather.  The summer of 2009 saw three days of excruciating heat (I wrote about it at the time, here) that culminated in the Black Saturday bushfires (that I also wrote about here) that razed Marysville and Kinglake.  I think that the fact that I can so easily link to four posts in this blog (and there are more than I could have linked) demonstrates how deeply these events are gouged into the consciousness of a Melburnian.

Cunningham’s book is consciously literary. Not only is she a writer and likely to bring a writer’s consciousness to the task, but the book was written in the wake of her resignation from Meanjin, a literary journal deeply embedded in Melbourne’s cultural identity.  She may have left Meanjin under contested circumstances, but her frequent citations of articles from Meanjin commissioned and published under her editorship suggest a continued identification with – and even a lingering sense of grief over- Meanjin.

For readers who are familiar with the city being discussed, there’s an internal comparison at work – “Would I have written the book this way??” Cunningham’s take is very much based on the inner suburbs of Melbourne, and a much younger perspective than I could bring.  She is gay, without children, and part of a literary milieu that as a mere reader, I can only observe from outside the window.  I think that if I were writing it, I’d be harking back to an older liberalism (all those Victorian worthies who in their way were quite radical), more architecture and possibly more politics.  I think I’d have to roam outside into the suburbs beyond the inner city, because I see Melbourne very much as a suburban city too.

The book is only small and beautifully produced- it fits well in your hands. It is by turns personal, historical, anecdotal and observational.  I did have a frisson of dissatisfaction near the end which seemed to have too many Melba-esque (pun!) farewells.  It was probably more the sense of rounding-off too many times, rather than the ending itself: in fact, I could have happily read another fifty pages more.

An interesting concept, and a really enjoyable read.

My rating: 8.5

Read because: It was on the library shelf

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

aww-badge-2015-200x300I’ve read this as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

School Days: Education in Victoria

If you have a spare hour in Melbourne city, pop along to the Old Treasury Building at the top of Collins Street to see their exhibition ‘School Days: Education in Victoria’.  Drawn from the voluminous archives of Education Department material placed at the Public Records Office of Victoria, the exhibition runs until 31 August, open Sunday to Friday (ie. closed Saturday) 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. and entry is free.

PROV, VPRS 14517 / P1 / Unit 17 / E82839129

PROV, VPRS 14517 / P1 / Unit 17 / E82839129

Victoria has good cause to be proud of the 1872 Education Act which provided for “free, compuslory and secular” education for all children aged between 6 and 15 years of age.  It set the pattern for the education acts of the other colonies with Queensland and South Australia passing similar legislation in 1875, NSW in 1880, Tasmania in 1885 and Western Australia by 1893. Ironically, by the time the later legislation was passed, the Victorian act itself had been altered to allow more religious influence and the leaving age had been lowered to 13 years.

Prior to 1872, public education in Victoria was provided through a dual system of denominational schools run by the churches, and government-assisted schools which charged a small, but nonetheless significant, fee.  The huge increase in population during the 1850s resulted in a demographic bulge of school-aged children in the 1860s, and there was much public anxiety about the number of children not receiving any schooling.  Charitable schools had been started by Hester Hornbrook, whose ‘Ragged Schools’ followed the model of the English Ragged School Union to provide a basic education founded on biblical and ‘practical’ education.   At its peak the ragged schools educated 1000 children at twelve schools. An article from Trove in 1859 lists eight of them: one in Simpson’s Road [originally Victoria St Abbotsford/Richmond], three in Collingwood, two in Little Bourke St, one in Little Lonsdale Street [near O’ Brien Lane] and one in Prahran [a second school in Prahran was the forerunner of the present day Hornbrook Childrens Centre]. In fact, there’s a picture of one of the Hornbrook Schools in the exhibition, but taken in 1900 when it had become the Cremorne Street School in Richmond.  But by the 1860s, the anxiety about the connection between lack of schooling and crime compelled the government to step in.

higinbotham

As it happened, before we went into the Old Treasury Building, we’d commented on the statue of Chief Justice Higinbotham  that stands on the plaza at Treasury Place.  I was well familiar with this statue. As a child, I used to go to an orthodontist in Harrison House, the former home of the VFL, in Spring Street. Being a strictly-brought-up child, I wasn’t allowed to say “bottom” but I was able to surreptitiously utter that naughty word by pointing out the statue of Justice “Higginbottom”.

Higinbotham was not only Chief Justice: he was also the driving force behind the Education Act of 1872 even though he was no longer in Parliament when it actually passed.  He had, however, been chair of a royal commission of enquiry into education in 1866 and from its findings, introduced a bill into Parliament in 1867 that largely anticipated the 1872 bill.  In his speech to Parliament Higinbotham made no secret of the class-based aspect of ‘free, secular and compulsory‘ education. To the working class he said:

You have accepted the vote; now, in the national interest you must accept middle class culture.  You will have to change your own way of life and adopt ours. Maybe you will find this difficult, but at least give us your children.  In fact, we will remove your children from you for several hours each day by compelling you to send them to school, where they will be imbued with middle-class culture, we will raise them from the savages that they are to become civilized human beings, and for this you should be grateful. (Bessant, 1984, p. 9)

Even though the idea of free schooling stuck in the craw of both conservatives and liberals who wanted a ‘price signal’ so that working-class parents would appreciate the schooling [some things never change], it was recognized that unless education was free, the parents they were targetting  wouldn’t send their children.

But if the government was going to make this huge financial commitment- and it was huge- then it was going to be efficient, damn it! A fundamental part of the Education Act was that it created a direct line of oversight from Cabinet to the Minister to the Schools. Control of teachers, control of students.  This is made very clear in the exhibition which focuses particularly on the position of young female teachers who were often sent to isolated schools and expected to lodge with local families who resented the imposition.  Marriage resulted in instant retrenchment.

Attendance was carefully monitored.  There are letters from parents beseeching for a school to be built in a small settlement, promising the attendance of twenty, thirty children from the surrounding district.  If a school was granted, it was likely to be built from one of the template-based designs of Henry Bastow, the Chief Architect and Surveyor who was responsible for the construction of 615 schools in five years.  The more opulent of these schools were of hawthorn brick with steepled roofs and included his favoured  neo-gothic features (you can see a video feature in the exhibition here).

I was fascinated by a video of Ascot Vale Primary School in about 1910 I suspect. It shows the school ground, assembly (complete with flag-raising and oath), marching,  ball games, folk dancing (oh, how I loathed folk dancing) and boys doing push-ups.  It all seems so physical and martial.  There’s a strap on display- a fearsome looking thing which, as a girl I never encountered fortunately.  School children joined clubs, and there are the beautiful certificates that we were given for the Gould League, for example.  Did you know that I won the state award for the Temperance exam in Grade 6 and received a beautifully embossed certificate that I wish I’d kept  (and I’ll thank those who know me not to snort with derision).  Girls knitted during the war; male teachers enlisted; female teachers donated (?) a percentage of their wages for the war effort.

It’s only a small exhibition- just two rooms- but there’s much to look at. They have a good public program of talks and events too.  Well worth a visit.

Some references:

Bob Bessant “Free, Compulsory and Secular”  Paedogogica Historica, Vol 24, Issue 1, 1984, p.5-25  [available from University libraries]

E-Melbourne website  http://www.emelbourne.net.au/biogs/EM00507b.htm

There’s a fascinating case study of a disciplinary action taken against a teacher at Baringhup State School by Carolyn Woolman in Provenance (the journal of the Public Records Office) ‘The State of Feeling in the District’ Provenance, Issue 11, 2012

A day trip to….Brighton

Saturday a few weeks back was a beautiful autumn day and the feeling of sheer panic over the thesis had abated (just for the moment) enough that I felt I could indulge myself with a day off. So onto the train we hopped for a day trip down south to ….Brighton.  Why Brighton? Well, Brighton was established very early as a suburb of Melbourne-( as Heidelberg was)- and there are some interesting houses down there.  Henry Dendy, an English speculator based in England,had purchased the land in August 1840 as part of the short-lived special survey scheme and arrived in February 1841 to take it up just before Gipps introduced regulations to prevent prime land being sold off at bargain basement price in March 1841.  The land was laid out in a very Georgian style with crescent avenues and large blocks, but sales faltered and Dendy was forced to relinquish it.  It was purchased by J. B. Were, Dendy’s agent and a well-known speculator who fell under Judge Willis’ eagle eye.

brighton

So we downloaded a historic walk (St Cuthbert’s trail)  onto our phones from the very helpful Bayside City Council site and off we went.  I had a yen for a cemetery (as one does), so we got off the train earlier and walked down to Brighton cemetery first.

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Brighton cemetery (which is actually in Caulfield South) is an old one, with land put aside in 1853 and possibly the first burial in 1855.  According to a talk given by Jan Rigby from the Brighton Cemetorians to the Port Phillip Pioneers Group the very earliest graves were laid out at odd angles to the path, and I must confess that we found it hard to orient our way around the cemetery. Unfortunately the box containing pamphlets showing graves of interest was empty, and although I’d downloaded a map of the cemetery on my phone, it was difficult to read in the bright sunlight. Nonetheless, we found some interesting graves:

We were mystified by this tall memorial, with a beautifully rendered copper sculpture on the top.

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James Coppell Lee? Who was he?  I looked him up when I returned home and found that he was the 19 year old son of the owners of the James Coppell Lee copper foundry, which is still operating- amazing! His workmates crafted the copper statue based, apparently, on his cousin because they had no photographs of him.

From the Argus, 29 December 1919

FISHING BOAT OVERTURNS.

YOUNG MAN DROWNED.

Forced by a blinding rainstorm to abandon a proposed fishing expedition off Mornington early on Saturday morning a party of youths attempted to turn their boat shorewards when the light craft was over whelmed by a big sea, and one of its occupants was drowned. Two other members of the party were rescued in an exhausted condition after a stem struggle in the surf

Thc victim of the accident was a youth, James Coppell Lee l8 years of age, whose parents reside at Pyrmont, Barkly street, St Kilda. He had been spending the holidays at Mornington, and with two companions, J Cook, l8 years of age, who lives in Fitzroy street, St Kilda, and P Ratchford, 20 years of age residing m High street. St Kilda, he decided upon a fishing cruise in the Bay. With this object the three youths hired a 15ft. rowing boat at 5 o clock on Tuesday evening.  Setting out before dark, they cruised along the shore as far as Grice’s beach, four miles from Mornington, and pitched a camp there so as to permit of an early departure on Saturday morning for the schnapper grounds. Though a rather choppy sea was runnig the party pulled out to the reef and remained fishing there for considerably over an hour.

Under the influence of a fresh northerly at about 8 o’ clock on Saturday morning the sea rose, and as the driving rain began to sweep over this part of the Bay, the youths decided to run tor the shore to avoid the squall that appeared imminent. Their light boat tossed about to such an extent in the confused sea that a great strain was imposed on the rowers on the return journey.  Nevertheless good progress was being made until the boat was opposite Mills’s beach Here an attempt was made to run the boat as closely as possible to the boat sheds but the prolonged rowing under such arduous conditions had weakened the rowers. Near the mouth of Tanti Creek, where large rollers were sweeping inshore, the boat was seen by people on the beach to be m a perilous position. Despite the efforts of the crew to keep its bow to the shore the incoming sea buffeted it broad side on, and a second later tho little craft was engulfed in an unusually large roller. Striking tlie boat abeam the wave spun it over and drove it swiftly into the shallows about 25 yards out from the beach

All three occupants were thrown into the water and the boat sank. Cook and Ratchford found bottom in about 5ft of water, but it is evident that Lee in some manner became entangled in the boat or some of the tackle, and went under with i.t A powerful undertow was running at this point but Cook made a plucky effort to drag Lee from under the boat. With water neck high, however, and the under current threatening to sweep him off his feet, the task of extrication was too much for Cook, who by this time saw that his other companion Ratchford, was in distress. A man whose name was ascertained to he Martin ran into the water and brought Cook and Ratchford to the shore. Several young men swam out in an endeavour to find Lee but their efforts did not meet with success It is understood that a second man helped in the rescue of Cook and Ratchford, but his name could not be obtained.Lee was said to have been the strongest swimmer in the party

Telegraphing on Saturday night our Mornington correspondent said that up to then Lee’s body had not been recovered. He was the son of Mr T Conpell Lee brass founder of La Trobe Street

Enough sadness.  We caught a tram down to the Nepean Highway and had a very nice lunch at a deli place, then headed off for Middle Brighton. It was further than we thought, so we caught the bus.  Dammit, it was an all-day ticket- we were determined to make the most of it.

From there we followed the St Cuthbert’s walk, which you can is online here anyway, so I won’t repeat it.  It meandered around the curved avenues in Middle Brighton, around Firbank Grammar.  One of the sites described on the walk was a house at 12 Middle Crescent, described as a single-storey Victorian villa built for a dairyman in 1877, when more conventional villas replaced the early 1840-50s cottages.

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The house itself was unremarkable but  I was struck by the house next to it, which was very similar and obviously being allowed to fall into disrepair sufficient to undermine any value of the house (as distinct from the land, that is, which was in a very prestigious spot).

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The heritage-listed Brighton Civic Centre was a curious-looking building, erected in 1959 and probably more valued now than it might have been in the mid 1980s, I’d say.

Brighton2

Brighton3

The Brighton Town Hall was featuring a free exhibition of works of Graeme Base, the writer and illustrator of the Animalia book which I remember reading to my children.  The exhibition has several of the original paintings from that, as well as the many other books he has illustrated.  The video of him from the 1980s talking about Animalia is worth it just for the mullet hairstyle! The exhibition is on until 26th April, but closed over Easter until Wednesday 8th April

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Back onto the train, then “Home James and don’t spare the horses”. We’d had value from our day ticket- four trains (two each way), a tram and a bus, and a pleasant day was had by all.

Our very own new grassy knoll

There’s an art installation on the steps leading up the State Library.  You might think of it as a garden, but it’s not.  (Click on the photos to embiggen)

Created by Linda Tegg and titled ‘Grasslands’, it is

a living installation that gathers over 10,000 indigenous plants.  This organic composition aims to recreate the vast grass plains that stretched over this site before the State Library of Victoria was established in the mid nineteenth century…. The result is a transformation of history and nature by artistic imagination, inviting us to visualize the layers of memory and place.

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It’s a good place for it.  I think of the grass outside the State Library as being the real heart of Melbourne.  As soon as the sun’s out, there we are, stretched out on the lawn with our shoes off, wriggling our toes.  The former City Square on the corner of Swanston and Collins opposite the Town Hall is now a gritty unpleasant desert since they sold half of it off and covered the rest with granitic sand.  And don’t get me started on Fed Square that alternates between icy blasts and baking heat.  I’m horrified that there could even be any consideration of letting high-rise buildings block the State Library forecourt: a planning restriction that we were told was sacrosanct (huh!). Just like the overshadowing of the south bank of the Yarra, which it seems is another no-go zone that becoming somehow negotiable.

Back to Grasslands.  It’s not intended to be a permanent installation. When you look at it closely, the grasses are still in their containers, laid out in pallets directly onto the concrete.

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It’s only intended to be there for six weeks.

There’s a fantastic little timelapse video of it being installed.  Watch it- it’s good! And just as I said, you can see people coming to sit and lie on the grass either side of the installation.

http://media.theage.com.au/news/national-news/timelapse-grasslands-by-linda-tegg-5868696.html

Having read Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth, I’m seeing my city differently.  A good history does that.  Gammage takes seriously the writings of early settlers when they described the land around them.

Here’s John Helder Wedge, Letter to Mr Frankland on settlement at Port Phillip, VDL Magazine, 1835 :

The country between the rivers [Maribyrnong and Yarra] extending to the north forty or fifty miles, and to the east about twenty-five miles… is undulating and intersected with valleys; and is moderately wooded, especially to the east and north-east; to the north there are open plains… The surface is everywhere thickly covered with grass, intermixed with rib-grass and other herbs. (cited in Presland, p. 27)

Or here’s the gardener James Flemming, who along with Acting-Lieutenant Charles Robbins and Charles Grimes the acting-surveyor-general sailed to Port Phillip in January 1803, prior to the Collins settlement at Sorrento.  They sailed right round the bay- the first of the British visitors to do so.

4th February 1803. Started at six and came to the branch we passed before [junction of Maribyrnong and Yarra] at the entrance the land swampy; a few miles up found it excellent water, where we saw a little hill [Batman’s Hill] and landed… went on the hill, where we saw the lagoon seen from the hill where we first landed.  It is a large swamp between two rivers; fine grass, fit to mow; not a bush in it [West Melbourne Swamp].  The soil is black rich earth about six to ten inches deep, when it is very hard and stiff. About two miles further went on shore again, the land much better and timber larger. (cited in Presland p. 13)

Although, then there’s George Arden’s report from his Latest Information with Regard to Australia Felix, the first book published in Melbourne.  He claims to be an eyewitness

When the writer first saw this settlement (Melbourne) in January 1838, a few months after its authorized establishment, it presented more the appearance of the villages he had seen in the interior of India; a nucleus of huts embowered in forest foilage and peering at itself in the river stream that laved the thresholds of its tenements, than any collection of buildings formed by European hands. (p. 68)

Hmmm. Don’t know quite what to do with that description.

And finally, good old Edmund Finn (writing under the pen-name ‘Garryowen’). Linda Tegg used this quotation on her explanatory panel:

From the spot whereon Melbourne was afterwards built to the Saltwater River confluence, the Yarra Yarra flowed through low, marshy flats, densely garbed with ti-tree, reeds, sedge and scrub.  Large trees, like lines of foliaged sentinels, guarded both sides, and their branches protruded so far riverwise as to more than half shadow the stream… As for herbage, it luxuriated everywhere, and two persons still living, who walked through un-streeted Melbourne in 1836, have informed me that in the places now known as Collins, Bourke, Elizabeth and Swanston Streets, they waded through grass as green as a leek and nearly breast high (Garryowen, Chronicles of Early Melbourne p. 497)

References:

Garryowen (E. Finn), The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, vols 1-2 (Melb, 1888)

T. O’Callaghan, ‘Fictitious History’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol 11, no 1, Mar 1926, pp 6-37  (accessible through the SLV site)

Gary Presland Aboriginal Melbourne: The Lost Land of the Kulin People, 2001

A.G.L. Shaw A History of the Port Phillip District: Victoria Before Separation, 2003