Tag Archives: Life in Melbourne

And the footy season begins again

I love the first round of the footy season.  To be more specific, I love the first five minutes of the first match of the first round of the footy season.  For just five minutes,  we’re all equal on zero points.  The premiership is within grasp for every team- even the wooden spooners, who this year happen to be my team, St Kilda.

Oh dear, I think that it’s going to be a very long season or two or three for my Sainters.  I confess to shedding a tear when we were beaten in our last Grand Final appearance in 2010 , fearing that I probably won’t live long enough to see them win another flag. I saw ‘another’ advisedly, because they’ve only won the premiership once in 118 years as an inaugural member of the Victorian Football League.  Some years ago my children bought me a limited edition St Kilda poster which was part of a series produced by the AFL showing the number of premierships that each team has won.


Such elegant starkness, that one premiership.  Not tacky and over-crowded like some of those other teams’ posters.

Anyway, first round and a rare phenomenon in recent years: a match at the MCG on a Saturday afternoon.  Mr Judge barracks for Melbourne, and I suspect that this year I am going to have to look for comfort to Richmond and Melbourne,  my two ‘second’ teams.   So off we toddled to the ‘G on a balmy April afternoon, with the leaves in Yarra Park just beginning to turn, the slight whiff of bush burn-off in the air, the sun warm but not hot.

The AFL has repented of its sins in recent years by scheduling more matches at the MCG, lowering the prices of pies and, it seemed to me, reducing the number of nagging announcements about what you CAN’T do at the MCG.  One thing I didn’t like, though, was the neon-lit injunction to ‘Make a Noise for the Demons’ that ran around the fence surrounding the oval before the match. They had similar announcements at the baseball match we went to in Toronto back in 2011, and I remember thinking that at least football fans didn’t have to be instructed to barrack. Maybe not.

Well not yesterday, anyway because what a match it was!  You had the feeling that -perhaps- this is a football club that has languished at the bottom of the ladder for a few years just beginning to stir!  “It’s a grand old flag….”

And look at the ladder proudly headed my two ‘second’ teams !


It’s not really being disloyal, is it?  I’m just having a little flirtation while my true love is away on a very, very long holiday.

Vale Wisteria….

It’s never good when things go BANG at 7.00 a.m. on a drizzly, humid Saturday morning in January.

Oh dear. Not good at all.  Down came the pergola on the back deck, weighed down no doubt by about fifteen years’ growth of wisteria.   I had noticed the previous day that it was very dark out there, and didn’t realize how thick the leaves had become on the top of the pergola.  We used to prune it fairly hard to stop it getting up into the roof- but obviously not quite hard enough.

My wisteria gave me much pleasure.  Sure, it dropped blossom and covered the deck with its purple haze, but it smelled beautiful and the bees loved it.

We spent all weekend pulling it down.  The pergola had rotted underneath it- in fact, I suspect that the wisteria was holding up the pergola rather than the other way round.  It looks very bare and glare-y out there.  I’ve had to cover the fern with a sheet. I think I shall call it Miss Havisham.

I used to love how green and cool it was under the pergola in summer looking out from the kitchen sink.  Not quite the same now.

My deck and the large sliding doors leading into the dining room face north, so I’m keen to have another pergola with a deciduous vine, to get the winter sun and shade in summer.  I’m thinking an ornamental grape, hoping that it doesn’t have quite the voracious wandering habit of the wisteria.

But, oh dear, I do grieve its loss.  Yes, I know- first world problem.

Hello possums! The Age Breaking News!

Well, thank God it’s not just me! I read in today’s Sunday Age that brushtail and ringtail possums are invading roofs and gardens across Melbourne!

Ron Smith woke one night thinking his Hawthorn house was being robbed.  He crept downstairs and found two possums helping themselves to a fruit bowl in the kitchen.  That’s when he remembered leaving a skylight open.

One escaped through the skylight, but the other “got stuck behind the stove” he recalls. Removing it required an electrician, a pest controller and $350.

Only $350!!  I’ve been ripped off!!! I was charged $500.00, and as you will remember, they were still getting in!

I think I’m writing in the past tense.  I decided, after a few nights,  to bring the bananas back out of the fridge where I had been hiding them and to chance the fruit bowl again, to see if they were still coming in.  So far, touch wood and May Jennifer Get Rheumatic Fever (the family invocation against illfortune- mind you, Jennifer had Rheumatic Fever last about 48 years ago but it just goes to show how lucky we are in this family)- the possums haven’t been back.  But as soon as they are, no more Ms Nice Guy! I’m going to get value out of my $500 and six month’s guarantee.  I too, will again have a man on the roof with his bum sticking up.

On Rhodomontade

It would seem that there is no longer a Melbourne Debating Society. I’ve found the Debaters Association of Victoria Inc. but no sign of a Melbourne Debating Society. Which is rather a shame, as it was one of the earliest civic and ‘intellectual’ societies of Melbourne.

Edmund Finn writing as ‘Garryowen’ tells us that the debating society commenced in 1841 with a Managerial Board consisting of President: Hon. James Erskine Murray; Vice-Presidents: Rev. James Forbes and Surgeon A. F. Greeves; Chairman: Mr J.G. Foxton; Committee: Messrs James Boyle, G.A. Gilbert, R. V. Innes, D.W. O’Nial and J. J. Peers; and Treasurers Messrs. Thomas B. Darling and E. C. Dunn. The Herald of 12 October 1841 reports its first meeting. It appears to have met weekly, on a Wednesday evening, although sometimes on a Friday.

In his book The Capacity to Judge: Public Opinion and Deliberative Democracy in Upper Canada 1791-1854, Jeffrey McNairn highlights the importance of voluntary organizations in the development of “democratic sociability” i.e. that it was possible for men to deliberate in public, using argument. In particular he highlights literary and debating societies as a site for this development. So perhaps it just wasn’t that there wasn’t anything on in Port Phillip on a Wednesday night….

Garryowen continues:

This Society attracted to its ranks most of the talent of the town. Weekly meetings were held at the Scots’ Schoolroom on the Eastern hill of Collins Street, and considerable debating power was rapidly developed. It was not a mere ordinary school-boy exhibition of vapid declamation and puerile rhodomontade, but an intellectual gathering, where questions of interest to the community were good-humouredly, intelligently, and patiently discussed.

Rhodomontade??!! Now there’s a word to conjure with!!! Merriam-Webster tells me that it means “bragging speech, vain boasting or bluster”. Well, there was certainly scope for some rhodomontade at the Melbourne Debating Society because here are the topics that I’ve found in the Port Phillip Herald so far

  • Topic in October: “The motives which actuated Brutus and other conspirators in the assassination of Caesar”. The meeting came to the conclusion that “the death of Caesar resulted from patriotic motives”
  • Next topic “Whether America or any other nation will ultimately supplant Great Britain in the scale of nations”. Conclusion- no, Britain reigns supreme
  • November topic “Whether India has been befitted by British Connexion?” No clear cut result here – the meeting adjourned after a long discussion.
  • The November topic“Was the conduct of Elizabeth towards Mary, Queen of Scots, justifiable?” provoked a “long an animated discussion” but the meeting was all but unanimous for the negative. I suspect that the strong presence of Scots emigrants held sway here- there’s a heavy preponderance of Scots on the committee (President, and both Vice-Presidents at least), and the meeting is being held in the Scots school room
  • December: “Whether the character of King Charles the First is entitled to respect? The question was decided in the affirmative.
  • January “Is the practice of dueling justifiable?” also decided in the affirmative
  • February “Are literary and scientific pursuits suited to the female character?”, again decided in the affirmative
  • “Is Phenology founded on reason and the evidence of acknowledged facts?”.

At the stage I’m up to in my reading, the Phrenology debate in late February was postponed because of the imprisonment for contempt of court of one of the members of the society, the young Port Phillip Gazette editor George Arden, on the orders of Judge Willis, the ‘real’ Resident Judge of Port Phillip. The night was spent discussing the imprisonment, and a petition and address signed to George Arden (although from what I can find at the moment, not actually made public)

Here the Melbourne Debating Society spilled over into Politics with a capital ‘p’. As McNairn pointed out in relation to the Canadian debating societies:

P. 90 “The political significance of debating societies thus lay more in their guiding principles and in the skills and sociability they fostered than in the content of their meetings. Since most brought together men from various religious and partisan affiliations, denominational and political controversy was shunned and, in most cases, prohibited. Societies provided a haven from the less-controlled debate of public politics, but as training grounds their political role was undiminished.”

The Melbourne Debating Society had been grappling with the issue of religious and partisan affiliation from its commencement.Within the first months, there was discussion over whether rules should be promulgated for the quoting of scripture, and one of the December meetings was turned over to a discussion of ‘the expediency of countenancing the discussion of polemical and political subjects by the society’. At its 31 December meeting (no New Years Eve frolics here!) it was decided to prohibit  religious and political discussions.

Am I surprised by the topics chosen? It seems that they draw on a shared knowledge of British and classical history (a knowledge that could by no means be assumed today) and an awareness of Britain’s wider empire- at least in the United States and India. It’s important to remember that these debates are conducted within the politics of their time: the 1857 Sepoy rebellion in India had not occurred; the United States at that time included the original 13 states and the states ceded through the Louisiana Purchase, but the western 1/3 of what we now know as the United States had not been annexed at this stage. Australia hadn’t seen the last of dueling: Sir Thomas Mitchell and the politician Stuart Donaldson fought a fuel over allegations of extravagance in the Surveyor-General’s department in September 1851!! (and I thought politics today was all theatre!)

I was fascinated by the “female question” debate, which was reported in some detail on 8th February 1842. It’s very hard to find reports of public activities of women in Port Phillip in the 1840s, but on 30th November, the Debating Society decided that in future ladies will be admitted, “their fair presence and patronage being secured, victory is certain.” They were certainly present for the Charles the First debate, which was “graced by the presence of ladies”. However, there is no further mention of a female audience in later reports, which seems odd given that the February debate centred on “Whether literary and scientific pursuits are suited to the female character?”. Certainly, if they were there, they didn’t contribute to the debate- only men ever spoke.

The Hon. President James Erskine Murray opened the debate in the affirmative by enumerating various females of literary distinction, and asserting that they were rendered “more sensible and conscientious in the discharge of their domestic duties” than women of limited capacity and neglected education- “in short, that it was easier to direct the intelligent than the ignorant”. The respondent, Mr Osbourne, contended that woman was not by nature intended mentally or physically to sustain the labour of acquiring that superior extent of knowledge, and that it would interfere with her devotion to domestic affairs. Women would no longer be fascinated by respected individuals of the other sex “upon whose opinions she rests with confidence as the safest code of general direction”- instead of being fascinated, they would actually take a part in literary and scientific discussion! Thoroughly modern SNAG as he was, however, Mr Osbourne commended the more beneficial system of education that has become prevalent in Britain, America and Europe where “all the pretty nothings which at one time formed the almost entire course of female education” had been replaced with general principles of science and useful literary studies. The Hon James Erskine Murray, in reply, decried this education that made women “in many instances as only fit to hearken to the insipid babblings of young men in preference to intelligence and rational conversation” He instanced Mrs Somerville, Lady Jane Grey, Mrs Clarke, Johanna Billie, Edgworth and others. Mr Smith, speaking for the negative, accounted for the difference in ability between men and women by a description of the respective skulls of the two sexes. Mr Stafford, for the affirmative, brandished Mary Stewart, Elizabeth, Catherine II and the Countess of Pembroke to shew that the sex gave evidence of genius , which no system of exclusion could obscure.

The warmest applause of the evening went to Mr Smith who “alluded to the domestic happiness to be experience by a Benedict, who, returning to dinner after the duties of the day, instead of finding the rump steak and oyster sauce &c. smoking a welcome to his appetite, finds his lady so deeply immersed in Euclid, or buried in the mysteries of Algebra, as to let him cater for himself.”

And so the evening ended. As the Herald concluded:

The subject of debate, as far as opinion went, had, we imagine, been decided in the breast of every one ere the discussion commenced. The question was too loosely and generally given for an advantageous discussion, and was decided in the affirmative.

So there you have it.


 Finn, Edmund The chronicles of early Melbourne, 1835 to 1852 : historical, anecdotal and personal / by “Garryowen”, Melbourne, Fergusson and Mitchell, 1888

McNairn, Jeffrey, The Capacity to Judge: Public Opinion and Deliberative Democracy in Upper Canada 1791-1854, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2000.