News & Updates

 

Dear Diary #1: Edward White (The Man of Space and Time)

Presenter: Dr Richard Gillespie

Further information and links: Astronomy GoldScienceShrine of Remembrance

 

On the Beat #2: Murder in the Eastern Market

Presenter: Alexandra Roginski

Further information and links: Crime, Law & Order Eastern MarketPhrenology

 

Looking for… #1: Jean Field

Presenter: Professor Andy May

Further information and links: Aboriginal Melbourne BlackburnSir William John Clarke — DoncasterKewNunawadingOrchards — Suburbs and SuburbanisationSorrentoSydney Road — Vermont

Credits

Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenters — Richard Gillespie, Alexandra Roginski, Andy May

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Music — Andrew Batterham, ‘And there I was’; ‘Spring Music 3 Birrarung Marr’

Sound Effects Creditsbbc.co.uk — © copyright 2018 BBC

Narrations — Gretel Evans, Tom Ford, James Lesh, Henry Reese

Page Image Credit —Head of comet drawn by Samuel Calvert, The Illustrated Melbourne Post, 18 February 1865 (State Library of Victoria)

Audio Clip — Excerpt from Dudley Frederick Field as a major, 2/22nd Battalion, interviewed by Hank Nelson for The Keith Murdoch Sound Archive of Australian in the War of 1939-1945 (Australian War Memorial, S01044, licensed under CC BY-NC)

 

Aural Postcards #1: Bells

Presenters: Henry Reese, Roland Wettenhall

Further information and links: BellsGold — Melbourne Cricket GroundPentridge PrisonSeparation — St James’ Old Cathedral — St Patrick’s CathedralSt Paul’s Cathedral

 

Sources & Resources #2: Luly Collection

Presenter: Professor Andy May

Interviewees: Evan Luly, Lexie Luly (1985)

Further information and links: Alfred Hospital — Department of Crown Lands and Survey — Golf Light and Power Motor CarsPhotography — Presbyterian Ladies’ College — Preston — Wesley College — Yarra Bend Asylum

 

On the Beat #1: Ivy Cogden

Presenters: Helen Morgan, Dr Nikki Henningham

Further information and links: Crime

Credits

Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenters — Henry Reese, Roland Wettenhall, Andy May, Helen Morgan, Dr Nikki Henningham

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Music — Andrew Batterham, ‘And there I was’; ‘Such sweet sorrow’

Page Image Credit — Dismantled bells lying on the old site of St James’ Cathedral, William Street (Royal Historical Society of Victoria)

 

Transcript

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Welcome to My Marvellous Melbourne, a podcast on Melbourne’s history with Professor Andy May and the Melbourne History Workshop.

 

Henry’s going to start us off with an aural postcard that should get our ears ringing. I’m going to introduce you to a fascinating set of photographs of Melbourne from the 1950s and 60s. And Helen and Nikki will tell us about a case of sleepwalking with tragic consequences.

 

AURAL POSTCARDS #1: BELLS

Presenters: Henry Reese, Roland Wettenhall

I’m Henry Reese and this is ‘Aural Postcards,’ a podcast segment that listens in closely to the sounds of our city. Join me as we explore Melbourne through our ears and unravel some of the rich tapestry of sound that shapes city life. To kick things off, today we’ll be talking about bells, of all shapes and sizes.

I’ve been thinking a lot, recently, about the bells of Melbourne. I live in Coburg and every morning I awaken to the sound of the bell of St Patrick’s Catholic church ringing out above the rumbling traffic of Sydney Road, the clangour of the Number 19 tram as it passes every eight minutes, and the shouts and chatter of children walking to school. As a historian writing about the history of sound, I think it’s great that my ears awaken me in this way. The busy city provides its own kind of urban dawn chorus. I’m not quite as enthusiastic about the hoons whose burnouts keep me awake at night, though.

Now the humble bell of St Patrick’s has been tolling ever since 1888, and it provides the soundtrack to my daily studies. Every hour it rings out, reminding me that time has a way of spooling away from us, of shrugging out of our grip, no matter how tight. Us historians are acutely aware of this. But recently this bell got me thinking: what other bell stories might there be out there? What other relationships with these strange resonant heavy bronze objects might Melburnians have formed over time? For while the city changes around them, old bells have a stubborn tendency to stay the same, doggedly ringing out the same notes as they always have, even if they’re drowned out by growing urban noise as it rises like a tide of sound around them. While a lot of other colonial voices have long since gone silent, the bells of Melbourne ring out still, putting us in touch with the possibility of a long-lost sound-world, just out of reach.

The sound of a bell has meant different things to different people in different times. Bells, for instance, can be a tool of authority. For convicts, prisoners, soldiers, sailors, schoolchildren and Aboriginal people confined to European missions, bells have long been used to impose discipline, routine and efficiency. Can you imagine going to school without bells? I know I can’t. The ringing of a bell is a symbol of civic order, it marks out the hours of the day — the modern world is one that is lived by the clock, and bells have provided an audible marker of this time regime. Historian Graeme Davison has argued that, in the colonial era, bells were the ‘metronome[s] of the local community’.[1]

Indeed, public clock towers and bells were a feature of the colonial urban landscape from the foundation of European settlement onwards. I’m sure you can think of some fine examples of this kind of architecture from a church or town hall in your own suburb or community. The tragic glass cathedral of Peter Carey’s brilliant novel Oscar and Lucinda always springs to my mind. The early governors of New South Wales and Victoria placed a high premium on bells and clock towers. They saw punctuality as a modern, efficient, public good, necessary to impose from without. Everyone was to live by the clock and its bronze cousin, the bell. By the 1850s gold rush era, however, public bells and clocks were less of a priority for urban planners and architects.[2] They were already ubiquitous in the landscape.

By the end of the nineteenth century, some even felt that church bells were becoming increasingly irrelevant in the modern world. The Melbourne journalist and urban explorer John Stanley James, otherwise known as the ‘Vagabond,’ was one such voice. As he wrote in 1884, ‘In this country where everyman has a watch and every house 2 or 3 clocks, I think church bells should not be allowed, unless musical’.[3]

But still these signals continued to matter for a long time. As late as 1915, a Melbourne workingman wrote to the City’s Town Clerk, complaining that the Town Hall clock was always a little bit behind time. The problem was, his employers marked time using the Town Hall’s clock. To this man’s annoyance, when his foreman rang the six o’clock bell to dismiss the workers at the end of the workday, he would routinely run late for his train. The railway’s time was more punctual than that of his factory.[4] When bells and clocks fell out of sync like this, all sorts of social order could break down.

Bells, then, can also be symbols of disorder, of private activities, of the hum and buzz of street life. In fact, the clang of the auctioneer’s handbell was ubiquitous in boom-time Melbourne, when land-hungry settlers jostled for a slice of the new city to call their own.[5] Hawkers and door-to-door salespeople rang bells to advertise their goods, trying to make themselves impossible to ignore on the street. Bullock teams clanged furiously as they dragged drays of goods to port or market. City bellmen — such as Sullivan, who plied his ancient trade on horseback through the Hoddle Grid — rang and roared the news, advertisements and other announcements throughout the city streets. ‘Hear ye, hear ye’ means just that – an injunction to listen in. In 1845, the City Council even passed a by-law regulating the ringing of bells on the streets, and routinely declined citizens’ applications to act as official Council bellmen from the 1860s through to the 1910s.[6] There were too many bells on the streets already, the town clerk thought.

So, if you close your eyes and imagine yourself back on Melbourne’s streets — especially from the mid-1880s or after, when trams with their own iconic bells started to fill the landscape — you are imagining a world where bells rule, where the variety of signals that they transmit were intimately understood by citizens navigating the streetscape. These sounds were civic, commercial, informative, devotional, for entertainment or transport or warning. And these signals spread far and wide.

In the booming 1870s, when the eight new bells of St Patrick’s cathedral in Fitzroy rang out, they could be heard from as far away as Heidelberg, miles away, out on the bush fringe far to the north-east. You could stop up your ears, perhaps, but you could not escape the sound of bells in the Melbourne environment.[7]

These eight bells at St Patrick’s had undertaken a remarkable journey to get to Melbourne. They were hung in the new belfry of the cathedral in 1868, but their journey goes back much further than this. Church bells are heavy, expensive and rare. They’re not easy to come by. They require great expertise and cost to cast, transport and install, and their biographies, their movements around the British Empire and the world are even more fascinating for this; they can help us to map the global cross-currents and flows of commodities and lives that came together in Melbourne.

The St Patrick’s bells began their life in the Murphy foundry in Dublin in 1851. They were put on display in the Crystal Palace in London, at the famous Great Exhibition, that iconic celebration of British industrialisation and imperialism. It was here that Bishop Goold, the foundation Catholic Bishop of Melbourne, first saw and heard these bells on a trip to Europe. He was impressed. Goold had only been residing in Melbourne for three years by this time, and plans were afoot to build a cathedral to minister to the city’s growing population of Catholics in the gold-rush period.

Bishop Goold bought these bells for the kingly sum of £500 and had them shipped back to Melbourne, where they arrived in February 1853. Unfortunately, there was no bell tower to house them as yet, so for eight years they sat on the porch of St Francis’ church on the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets, at the mercy of the elements. They were eventually hung and baptised in the south-eastern tower of the Cathedral in 1868, when their sound first radiated out to the hills of distant Heidelberg.

There is also a long tradition of Protestant bell-ringing in Melbourne. In 1848, the humble St James’ church, on the corner of William and Little Collins Streets, was named the first Anglican Cathedral of the city. It needed six bells to summon the faithful. These arrived in 1852 and they also had an interesting journey; they were cast at the bell foundry of Mears & Stainbank, in Whitechapel.

This storied old foundry had supplied many famous bells throughout the world. In their 1885 catalogue, the foundry staff boast of their world-wide trade. In addition to Melbourne and throughout Britain, they had supplied peals of bells to cathedrals across India, Hong Kong, South Africa, Jamaica, Trinidad and Canada. Their Australian clients also included congregations in Sydney, Hobart, Geelong, Ballarat and Sandhurst. Mears & Stainbank were responsible for distributing a very particular type of religious sound throughout the British Empire.[8]

They also offered a list of popular legends to be inscribed on the face of the bells themselves. Here is a typical example of a bell referring to itself and its community functions in the first person:

I toll the funeral knell,

I hail the festal day;

The fleeting hours I tell,

And summon all to pray.[9]

The six bells of St James’ had a long and illustrious career. They rang for eight days straight in 1863 to celebrate the Prince of Wales’ wedding. They were also muffled for more solemn occasions, like for the three-hour funeral procession for Burke and Wills in 1861.[10] The City Council provided a salary to a team of ringers to ring the bells every Sunday and on important civic occasions such as the Queen’s and Prince of Wales’ Birthdays, Separation Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.[11]

But they eventually fell out of regular service. In 1913, St James’ was found to be unsafe and it was moved northwest and rebuilt, stone by stone, just off Flagstaff Gardens. An amazing photograph, held by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, shows the six bells sitting forlorn on the site of the demolished church, ready to be moved on.

By the late nineteenth century, the bells of St. James’ were also overshadowed by William Butterfield’s[12] gothic cathedral of St Paul’s on Flinders Street, which was consecrated in 1891. Henceforth, St James’ was known as the Old Cathedral. St Paul’s had a grand thirteen bells, weighing in at over 7 tons and also cast in the Whitechapel foundry. They were first rung in November 1889.[13]

At his New Year’s Day service at St Paul’s in 1890, Bishop Field Flowers Goe waxed lyrical about the importance of bells in colonial society. He stated that ‘bells mingled themselves with all the greatest and the most important events of life from the cradle to the grave’.[14] By now, talk of Federation was in the air, and the Bishop claimed that civic ceremonies, led by bells, ‘tended in a measure to bring about what, as patriotic citizens, they desired to witness — Australian Federation’.[15]

These three cathedrals still boast the most renowned collections of bells in Melbourne, but there are many other examples of the function of bells in public life still. One of my favourites is the Federation Bells, an installation of 39 bells that opened at Birrarung Marr in 2001. The public are invited to compose for this contemplative, beautiful, gamelan-like instrument, with composing software that is freely available online. I encourage you to check it out.

But there is perhaps one bell that is more famous than all others in Melbourne. This is the bell of the ship Lysander, whose remarkable story joins Victoria’s colonial and convict pasts to our present-day passion for the great game of Australian Rules Footy. Thankfully today Roland Wettenhall – an expert in the prison hulks of Port Phillip – is here to give us a sense of the biography of this fascinating bell. Roly, take it away.

 

Roland:

Thanks Henry. As all Melburnians know, Australian Rules Football is one of the great sporting institutions of the city. Towards the end of the game, the supporters may be desperately crying out ‘ring the bell’, ‘ring the bell’. At the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the spiritual home of Australian Rules, a bell has not been heard for over 60 years. Only long-standing supporters will remember when a bell was last used – it was a ship’s bell affectionately known as ‘Old Lysander’.

Old Lysander rang out over the MCG for thirty years. But before its life at the ‘G – as Melburnians love to call the ground – the pealing of the bell attracted the attention of the citizens in other exciting ways after its arrival in Port Phillip Bay in 1850.

Old Lysander was the ship’s bell on the vessel, Lysander, an East Indiaman built in Scotland. The Lysander travelled from British ports to Adelaide and Melbourne in the 1830s to the 1850s. Her most famous voyage was that which took her to Melbourne via Adelaide in November 1850. Having picked up the newspapers in Adelaide, the Lysander entered Port Phillip Bay heads on 11 November 1850 carrying the news of what the newspapers of the day called ‘the Separation rejoicings’.

This was news telling of the separation of the Port Phillip District from New South Wales. The accounts of the celebrations tell of the Lysander bell being rung as the ship arrived – news that set off four days of holidays, bonfires across the district, a grand celebration and other celebrations in towns across Victoria. The Lysander was to make one more voyage from England to Melbourne in 1851 by which time the town was gripped by gold fever, with crews deserting their ships for the goldfields, and vessels lying idle in Hobson’s Bay. The owners, with nowhere to sail, sold the Lysander to the Victorian government that initially used her as a hospital ship, but proclaimed her as a prison ship in 1854. Painted yellow and known as a prison hulk, the Lysander was moored off Williamstown with four other prison hulks, all painted yellow. The Lysander’s ship bell would have sounded the watches and served as an alarm when disturbances or attempted escapes occurred – and the escapes did occur.

When the vessel was decommissioned, the bell was transferred to the bluestone-built Pentridge Prison, which was being remodelled in the early 1860s, where it continued to be used as an alarm when the prisoners rioted or attempted to make their escape.

The Old Lysander’s next life came when it was transferred to the Coburg Fire Station, just around the corner from Pentridge, where it continued to be the community’s alarm for action. After a short stint at the Richmond Fire Brigade, the Fire Brigades Board eventually presented it to the Melbourne Cricket Club in 1922. Hanging on a metal frame and being rung by William Spry – the timekeeper from the 1920s to the end of the Second World War – Old Lysander would have had the ringer as nervous as the supporters, shouting at the players.

In 1925, the Sporting Globe reported on the complaint of players and umpires not being able to hear bells at football matches. There were no such problems at the ‘G. Under the heading ‘The bell at the Melbourne Cricket Ground that everyone can hear’, the reporter enthused that Old Lysander ‘can be heard all over the ground and beyond it’.

In a thrilling game in 1936, the Age newspaper reported that ‘Saturday’s 54,000-person crowd was in a ferment five minutes before the famous Old Lysander bell brought the thrilling quarter to a close’. By the way, the mighty Demons beat Carlton in that game, with the reporter excitedly telling the reader that the Carlton president was ‘so beside himself that he almost burst into tears’. Such was the power of the bell.

Two decades later, the re-modelling of the MCG for the 1956 Olympic Games brought with it a new-fangled replacement – a siren. Old Lysander’s active life was over. She now hangs proudly in the Melbourne Cricket Club museum, silent, brass shining, Lysander 1835 proudly stamped on her side, largely forgotten but always ready to step back into action if needed.

Ring the bell, ring the bell!

 

Henry:

Thank you, Roland, for that thrilling journey you’ve just taken us on. So, as we’ve heard, the sound of bells has pervaded almost every aspect of Melbourne life, from worship and work, to education and incarceration, across and between communities, from Separation to Federation, and beyond. A curtain of bronze sound hangs over this old city, and I think it’s worth paying attention to it.

Now the conversation doesn’t have to end here. We’d love to hear from you. Do you have any bell stories you’d like to share? Are you a bell ringer? Does anyone know any of the old ringers at the ‘G? Or which stand Old Lysander used to sit on?

Please also check out some documents, images and suggestions for further reading on our website, at mymarvellousmelbourne.net.au. Until next time, keep your ears open.

 

SOURCES AND RESOURCES # 2: LULY COLLECTION

Presenter: Professor Andy May

It’s kind of easy to lose count isn’t it, in an everyday way, not to notice the slow, daily accretion of new things? Until one day, you chance upon an electric typewriter with a one-line memory in a box in your shed, or an old mobile phone the size of a small brick in a bottom drawer, or any of those obsolete appliances with no cords to plug them in with any more, that once were small miracles, but now are just old junk. And you realise, how much technology has changed. And you wonder, how much have our lives changed, for better or for worse?

Technology is all about remembering, and forgetting. It takes us backwards in time, as well as forwards. My teenage daughter asked me, but how does a record player even work? How do you know where to start the track?

I once spoke to a man who remembered the first time he saw a motor car, and the first time he came home to find the first electric light. Can you imagine that? Life changing, city changing technology. The first time you see it, you marvel to yourself, how does that actually work without a horse to pull it? How does that light stay on, with no flame?

I was 23, Evan Luly was 90. It was October 1985. He was the father of one of my mother’s good friends and work colleagues, Lexie. Born in Preston in 1895, Evan went to Tyler Street State School from 1901 to 1907, then the scholarship class at Fairfield State School, winning a half scholarship to Wesley College.

There’s an exercise book in the University of Melbourne archives; Evan Luly, aged fourteen, lessons and homework, in history, grammar, arithmetic, geography, science. The wonders of the world:

  • The chief industries of Switzerland,
  • When Pitt became war minister, what reforms did he carry out?
  • How do you find the north or south pole of a magnet?
  • What is meant by political equality?
  • What is a monsoon and state two causes?
  • A train leaves London at 10 a.m., reaching Portsmouth at 1:15 p.m. And another train leaves Portsmouth at 6:15 a.m., reaching London at 11:30 a.m. At what time do they meet?

But with all this curiosity and knowledge, Adamson of Wesley, the headmaster – the first person to import an aeroplane into Australia a year or two before – advised against his going on to University on the grounds of his health. So, Evan Luly entered the State Public Service as a Clerk 5th Class, rose to be Chief Clerk of the Lands Department, lived a long and healthy life in fact, retiring in 1960.

His younger sister Gwen went to the University Practising School, before training then working as a nurse at the Alfred Hospital. Her exercise books graph the melting points of beeswax, explain the cubic expansion of methylated spirits, document the effect of adding salt to ice, and record an excursion to Royal Park Cutting in April 1912:

The first point we noticed was a flood-plain which had been built up by a little stream, which ran at the foot of a small hill … We then took notice of the different speeds at which a river travels as it goes around a bend or curve…We then examined the railway cutting. On one side the rocks were hard and of a dark colour and in the darkness of these rocks we found fossils of shells.

Their mother was a Bartlett, the second of eighteen children. They lived in Spring Street, and as a nonagenarian, Evan recounted those salad days in Preston, where the Spring in Spring Street actually flowed, the glue factories and market gardens, when if they didn’t get that smell wafting off the tannery they wondered what was wrong; when Evan used to go to school in a real train, a steam train; when there was only one train into the city on Sundays for church. Guy Fawkes bonfires in the paddock. Huttons unloading their pigs at Bell Station. Going down to Altona for a holiday, learning to row a flattie between the shore and the sandbank. Sunday School picnics to Whittlesea or Epping. The nightman, the iceman; the old cats whiskers wireless with earphones, when on your birthday, at your party, they’d put an announcement over the radio, ‘happy birthday, Lexie from Preston’, everyone screaming around you, and you could hardly hear; when Lexie’s mum, a tailoress, would take her into town on what she called her ‘feeling days’, feeling material and seeing what she liked to buy. Stirring the clothes in the copper; a dirt road, a post and rail fence, having to shut the window every time the jinkers went past. And yeah, cars, and electric lights:

Evan:  I found one down the street; a car broken down and I’d want to have a look at it. First cars I saw.

Lexie:  We didn’t get a car ‘till the 30s sometime.

Evan:  High Street and Regent street; the shopping centre there.

Lexie:  Yes

Evan:  And the other shopping centre was right down to South Preston. And a few shops – two storey places – where the post office is, opposite where the post office is now.

Lexie:  Yes. And Mister Harvey used to come round the horse and cart and deliver the groceries.

Evan:  When we started – when I was in Spring Street – there were no lights at all. Then they put a lamp in – a kero lamp; Murray Road, Regent Street, and one in the middle. And the chap had to come round and light it. That went on for a while. Then they put the gas up the streets, ‘course they had a gas lamp down at Murray Road, gas lamp at Regent street, and a gas lamp in the middle. Then we got gas put into the house. Then we got electricity round there, and I came home one day, and we had an electric light! Be after the First World War 14-18; that’s when Preston started to grow a bit. And after the Second World War, the place went whoosh! Buildings went up everywhere!

 

Andy:

Evan’s work in the Lands Department took him round the city; to its parks and open spaces, triangulating its purposes, and observing its buildings and transport technologies. After the old Yarra Bend Asylum closed in 1925 – having opened as the Lunatic Asylum in 1848 – he was part of the process that turned the site into a Public Golf Course:

Lexie:  We used to go over to Yarra Bend – that’s the Yarra Bend National Park – was originally –

Evan:  Yarra Bend Mental Asylum

Lexie:  – Mental Asylum. And father and the Lands Department was the one who suggested that golf course, and that. And he was there on the committee – you were–

Evan:  I was Secretary

Lexie:  Secretary of the–

Evan:  I was on the Inquiry before that, as to what to do with the land when the asylum was moved. And I was appointed secretary to it, and I went over the Chief Secretary’s Department ‘cause I was like: ‘What have I got to do?’ And they told me they would soon be up to it, you see?

So, we started off, and we made the inquiry, and we made the decision it should be made into parkland. And that was it. And then after a while, they wondered what to do with the place, had Whelan the Wrecker in there for years, taking the old buildings down. And the last building to go was a two-storey building, bluestone, where the head of the asylum lived.

So, then they made me Secretary of this committee, and I used to spend a lot of time out there, and I wondered, the department allowed me to do what I did do. I had the brain wave to make a public golf course there. I got the idea from a public golf course in Adelaide. And forced them to make the golf course out at Yarra Bend, was bluestone. We couldn’t even use a tractor to try and plough it. So they had to put soil on top.

And they started off with nine holes. And the first year we opened the nine-hole golf course, I reckon we got £1,600, then we got about £1,700. And that started the ball rolling. And after a while they made another nine holes, and they wanted to put a too-complicated hole, and I said ‘no, you can’t do it —they’ll be hitting it into the Yarra’.

Lexie:  In La Trobe Library in the City, they’ve got a photo album of all the photographs taken – he took – before it became a golf course, and a park, and so on. And you know, looking up there and saying, ‘this is going to the ninth green, and tee, and whatnot’, is all documented in photographs. Including the ribbon used for the opening of the Kane Bridge, which used to have his name up.

Andy:

Lexie was a great traveller, an art teacher with an eye for texture and form and colour; in the 1950s she started teaching out at PLC in Burwood, driving from Preston down Manningham Road at eight o’clock in the morning, and only passing three or four cars between Heidelberg and Doncaster, watching Melbourne’s post-war suburban spread unfold over the undulating terrain of the south-east.

And they were keen photographers – in an era long before mobile phones had us drowning in pictures – the Lulys selectively and systematically recorded the urban landscape of a Melbourne in transition, bluestone and cast iron lacework, spire and chimney, but also concrete slab and curtain wall; other things that now seem old and established to us, just part of the furniture, were once – to their mind – brand spanking new and novel.

You can have a look at some of them – we’ve digitised over 300 colour transparencies and put them online as an open resource:

  • Flinders Street Station crowned with red white and blue bunting for the royal visit in 1954.
  • The former ICI house in Nicholson Street during construction in December 1957, its glazed curtain wall architecture half finished, breaking Melbourne’s old 132-foot height limit.
  • The Olympic Games Pool being built in 1956.
  • The marvel of the new Sidney Myer Music Bowl.
  • The modern architecture of suburban churches: St Benedict’s in Burwood, 1959; the Methodist Church in Reservoir, 1961.
  • The first goods train ‘straight thru’ from Sydney in 1962.
  • An aerial view from the National Mutual Building looking south-east over Melbourne in 1965, the old Allen’s sweets factory dominating the southbank skyline.
  • The arrival of the first TAA 727 jet in 1965.
  • Old bluestone warehouses in Robbs Lane.
  • The West Gate Bridge still under construction and the opening of the Tullamarine Freeway in 1970.
  • The Federal Hotel in the year that grand old Coffee Palace was demolished, in 1972.
  • The old Travellers Hotel opposite the State Library on the corner of Swanston and La Trobe Streets — demolished in 1973 for the underground station.
  • Coops Shot Tower in Knox Street, 1974, before it was encased in its cone.
  • Jonah’s Fruit Shop at 89 Collins Street, opened in the 1930s between the Melbourne Mansions and the Athenaeum Club, renowned for its magnificent window displays of fruit and its novel gift baskets made up especially for ships and hospitals.
  • The Bourke Street Mall just closed off to traffic in a trial around 1974.

And there are classics of course – the National Art Gallery and Museum, the Windsor, Princess Theatre, Vic market sheds in Peel Street, the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Yarra River.

I dropped in to see Lexie the other day – a sprightly 94-year-old – older than her father was when I spoke to him in their back garden in Preston in 1985. One evening, just a fortnight after we all had sat around yarning, as the days lengthened towards summer between that sunny October afternoon and the close of the year, she had called her father in for tea. When he didn’t reply, she went outside to find him slumped over his broad beans, secateurs in hand. A final act of tending the landscape, at the very end of his days.

But there’s his voice, and some of his photos, and his love of Melbourne – that celebrated it, marvelled at it, but also played a small part in creating it.

 

ON THE BEAT # 1: IVY COGDEN

Presenters: Helen Morgan, Dr Nikki Henningham

Welcome to the first My Marvellous Melbourne ‘On the Beat’ segment. Given the nature of the content, I’m not sure that the moniker Marvellous really applies here, although we do reveal a first – in case law at least, if not in sadness.

I’m Helen Morgan, an archivist and historian of Australian women; with me is Dr Nikki Henningham, also an historian of Australian women and an oral historian who does life history interviews for the National Library of Australia.

I’ve no wish for this segment to become merely a parade of murder and vile deeds in Melbourne’s past. In telling these stories we do hope they reveal something meaningful about that past. That said, we’re taking a step back to 1950 to look at a murder which turned out to have ramifications locally and internationally – and I’d never heard of it until Nikki mentioned it to me in the context of truth in the oral tradition of storytelling and family yarning around the dinner table. Nikki…

Nikki:

Ok, so this is a story of discovery, one that began over an ordinary family dinner and which revealed a family connection to an Australian legal precedent.

Thursday night is roast dinner night at my mother-in-law’s house. Three generations of us gather around Norma’s table to enjoy her excellent roasts and puddings. While she holds us captive with her cooking, she slips in the odd story of life ‘back in the day’; back in Melbourne, where she has lived for all her 85 years. Generally, these tales have the capacity to clear the room of grand children of all ages, who offer to clear the table and clean the dishes rather than listen to stories of the doctors of Collins Street, or whatever Norma’s antiquarian obsession of the week might be.

One night, one of the kids decided to guide her onto her more entertaining topics. ‘Nanny, tell us more about your courting days with Pa’, he suggested, knowing that these stories were generally about their late grandpa making a fool of himself at the Ormond Picture Theatre or the Australia Hotel. Tonight, however, we were treated to something unexpected.

As we waited for the dinner to be dished up, she began: ‘Well now, early on in our courting, we were catching the tram back to Carnegie when your grandfather, the old romantic, pointed out a house and said, “Now that’s an interesting place! That’s where Dulcie’s sister murdered her daughter with an axe”’ .

Nothing grabs attention like a tale of true crime in the suburbs! ‘Why haven’t we heard about this before?’ we asked. ‘This can’t be true – Ma, stop exaggerating, stop making things up’. That was the immediate response from all of us — we assumed that there was some dramatic license being taken with this tall tale! Immediately, I went to the google machine on my phone, and entered ‘Oakleigh Road, axe murder, 1950’ (we figured that if it was early in their courting days it had to be around then). We had no names except Dulcie – whose surname was unknown. The google machine revealed nothing.

I then went to the National Library of Australia’s digitised newspaper collection, entered the same search terms and, lo and behold, up came dozens of stories providing details that went on to prove that Norma was not making things up. On the night of August 11, 1950, Ivy Cogdon – aged 50 – killed her nineteen-year-old daughter, Patricia, with an axe while she was sleeping. The crime was reported to the police by Florence (Dulcie’s real name) and Sid Miller, who lived next door.

Now that I had basic details, I went back to Google and discovered an article in the New Yorker written by a journalist who, in his opening paragraph, refers to learning about the case of Ivy Cogdon from Australia when he was a law student in the 1970s. A variety of other true crime websites and books also mentioned her. Ivy Cogdon, a fifty-year-old housewife from Carnegie, Melbourne, was internationally notorious.

What happened? On the night of August 11, 1950, Ivy’s husband Arthur, went to his lodge meeting while Ivy and Patricia went to the movies. The two women arrived home before Arthur did and both went to bed. At about 11:45, Ivy’s neighbours heard a loud banging on their door. When they opened it, Ivy, clad only in her nightdress, fell inside, crying hysterically. ‘I’ve had a terrible nightmare, really terrible,’ she said. ‘Patty is on her own and the place is full of soldiers. I was fighting them’, she continued. He neighbour rushed next door and made a gruesome discovery. Patricia was lying dead on her bed, covered with blood; an axe lying next to her. Ivy had bludgeoned her own daughter to death, thinking she was attacking a platoon of Korean soldiers who were intent on ‘polluting and violating’ her. ‘The war was all around our house,’ she said. ‘I went out to the woodpile and got an axe. I rushed into Patty’s room and it was full of soldiers. I kept hitting them with it…’ and then she woke…

Subsequent investigations could find no motive to support a conviction of first degree murder. There was no tension between Patricia and her mother, beyond normal squabbles. Ivy was devoted to her daughter; arguably she was over protective.  Most recently, she had been worried about Patricia’s decision to join the army as a driver. Australia had committed troops to the conflict in Korea a bit over two weeks earlier, on July 26, and Patricia saw an opportunity for work that she thought might be glamorous. Ivy, having lost a brother and nephew in the Second World War, was fearful of what this new war might bring, but Patricia probably saw it as an opportunity to get away from her cloistered life in the Melbourne suburbs, and she was ‘always talking about what she would do when the war came’. Dulcie said her sister was very, very worried. ‘Won’t it be awful if the girls have to go to this one?’, apparently she said over and over again.

Apparently, Ivy was known for her awful nightmares. Only a fortnight earlier, Patricia woke to find her mother brushing her face with her hand. At the time, she explained it away as ‘just tucking her into bed’, but later, she told an examining psychiatrist that she thought her daughter was covered in redback spiders, after having a dream that a swarm of them had infested her house. Another night, she was found outside watering the garden, after she had turned on all the gas jets in the house. She didn’t know why.

During the trial, evidence revealed that she’d had over twenty of these ‘turns’. She’d had nightmares where ghosts appeared at the door, and that she had developed real fear and terror. When she walked in her sleep, she had no idea what she was doing and where she was going. Given her mental illness, psychiatrists thought that not only would it be reasonable for Ivy to have had the dream that led to her daughter’s death, they would have ‘expected it’.  She ‘would take every step she could to protect her daughter from violation or pollution’.

It didn’t take long for a jury to acquit Ivy Cogdon, making her the first person in ‘the English-speaking world’ to successfully use the defence that she was sleep-walking at the time. A handful of cases worldwide have successfully been run using somnambulism as a defence, but Ivy was the first ever sleep-walker in Australia to be acquitted of murder. She was not set free, however; Ivy was sent straight to Mont Park Asylum, where she died in 1952. Her tragedy, nevertheless, lives on in legal textbooks used by leading law schools.

Now this is where what I know happened ends and speculation begins. Leaving to one side the historical context that narrates the treatment of people with mental health issues in mid-twentieth century Australia, and the way gender intersects with that, how would someone with some sort of psychotic disorder and severe anxiety, process what was happening in 1950s Melbourne, in the grip of the cold war? Historical material shows how fearful Australians were of ‘reds under the beds’, of the ‘advancing, rapacious yellow hordes’, of what would happen if war came to Australia again. Propaganda, in the form of posters, newspaper articles, newsreels and more, was all around us, fuelling that fear. Australia had just committed troops; Patricia was anxious to get involved. Ivy and Patricia had just been to the movies; perhaps they’d seen a newsreel that noisily proclaimed the danger Australia was in. Maybe she went to the bed in a heightened state of anxiety?

So, I am, personally, really interested in using this case study as a way of teasing out the historical dimensions associated with the use of propaganda to create enemies, and the human cost involved in manipulating people who, for whatever reason, do not have the capacity to resist it. It remains as relevant today as it ever has been. And if it hadn’t been for the serendipitous conversation over dinner, and the immediate feedback mechanism that is Trove, I wouldn’t be talking about it as a case study with you now.

 

Helen:

Thanks Nikki. I have inklings of what it must have been like to be alive during the Cold War in Melbourne through fiction, such as Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, but this really brings it home. It makes me want to talk to my older relatives and find out how they experienced this period in Melbourne. It’s a real eye opener.

 

I’d like to finish now with some quiet reflection in memory of Ivy and Patricia Cogdon.

 

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My Marvellous Melbourne is a production of the Melbourne History Workshop, in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Our thanks to Gavin Nebauer at the Horwood Recording Studio, University of Melbourne, and Andrew Batterham for our theme music. You can find episode notes, further resources, and contact details at our website:

 

mymarvellousmelbourne.net.au

 

We’d love to hear from you.

 

_____________________________________________________________________

© The University of Melbourne, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

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[1] Graeme Davison, The Unforgiving Minute: How Australia Learned to Tell the Time (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993), 33.

[2] Davison, 79.

[3] Davison, 65.

[4] Davison, 41, 46.

[5] Andrew May, Melbourne Street Life (Melbourne: Australian Scholarly, 2017), 107.

[6] May, 107.

[7] Helen Pettet and Anne Doggett, The Bells Are Ringing! A Celebration of Melbourne Life through the Story of Her Bells (Melbourne: Helen Pettet & Anne Doggett, 2001), 11.

[8] Whitechapel Bell Foundry, Catalogue of Peals and Bells from the Foundry (London: Mears & Stainbank, 1885), 8–13, 41–44.

[9] Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 19.

[10] Pettet and Doggett, The Bells Are Ringing!, 4.

[11] Pettet and Doggett, 5–6.

[12] The architect was William ‘Butterfield’, not ‘Butterworth’.

[13] Pettet and Doggett, 14–17.

[14] Pettet and Doggett, 17.

[15] Pettet and Doggett, 17.

 

The Memory Bank #1: Henry Briggs

Presenter: Gretel Evans

Interviewee: Henry Briggs at National Library of Australia Oral History and Folklore Collection (recorded 1981)

Further information and links: MontagueWharves and DocksPort of Melbourne

 

It’s Elemental #1: Bluestone

Presenter: Professor Andy May

IntervieweeProfessor Stephanie Trigg, Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor and Reader of English; Director of the Melbourne Node for the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE), University of Melbourne (sjtrigg@unimelb.edu.au)

Further information and links: Building Technology  Collingwood Stockade — Pentridge Prison — Quarries and Brickmaking

Stephanie Trigg, ‘Bluestone and the city: writing an emotional history’, Melbourne Historical Journal, 2017, 44 (1), pp. 41-53.

Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) plans.

Archive Fever #1: Australian Red Cross Archives

Presenter: Helen Morgan

Interviewee: Stella Marr, Archivist, Collection Management, University of Melbourne Archives

Further information and links: Red CrossPhilanthropy Woman’s Christian Temperance Union

Stella Marr, ‘Historic records are not relics — they are events unfolding’, University of Melbourne Archives Blog, 12 May 2017.

Australian Red Cross photographs.

Red Cross WW2 card online.

Credits

Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenters — Gretel Evans, Andy May, Helen Morgan

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Music — Andrew Batterham, ‘And there I was’

 

Transcript

download pdf

 

Welcome to My Marvellous Melbourne, a podcast on Melbourne’s history with Professor Andy May and the Melbourne History Workshop.

Great to have you with us for another episode. Gretel’s going to kick us off with some snippets from ‘The Memory Bank’ that take us down to the waterside. I have a chat with Stephanie Trigg, in our ‘It’s Elemental’ segment, about the history and meaning of bluestone in Melbourne’s psyche. And Helen rounds us up in ‘Archive Fever’ with an introduction to the Red Cross Archives.

 

THE MEMORY BANK #1: HENRY BRIGGS

Presenter: Gretel Evans

Welcome to ‘The Memory Bank’, where we keep an ear out for the voices of Melbourne’s past. I’m Gretel Evans. Often, we when want to discover more about Melbourne’s history, we disappear to libraries or museums in search of documents or objects that have survived from the past. But sometimes we just ask the people who lived it — just as we do when we want to find out about our own family history. Another way that history can be recorded and preserved is through oral history recordings. It’s obvious that not all experiences are captured in the written historical record, so it’s great when we have the opportunity to listen to people about their firsthand accounts.

In ‘The Memory Bank’ we’ll get to listen to snippets from some fascinating oral history interviews. The National Library of Australia has an extensive collection of interviews with people from all over Australia, including some people who remember living and working in Melbourne. In this episode, we’ll hear from Henry Briggs who worked on the wharves in Melbourne.

Melbourne’s foundation and development were very much linked to its maritime connections and capabilities. As its economy grew, so did its role as an important coastal and international port, especially in its early days when imports were essential for its survival and growth.

As Port Phillip Bay was not a natural harbour like Sydney’s, the wharves stretched along the Yarra River, right into the heart of the city. In 1877 the Melbourne Harbor Trust was formed to address the urgent need of port improvements by widening and deepening the Yarra river, and rebuilding and strengthening the wharves along the riverbanks. Port Melbourne continued to be an important centre throughout many changes and developments in the shipping industry, but one major change which we will hear Henry reflect on was the period of containerisation which began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Cargo was now shipped in containers rather than boxes or drums. Within a decade, 70% of the cargo was handled in this way. Port Melbourne’s adoption of the container revolution gave it a major boost in the national shipping trade—indeed it was the largest cargo port in the Southern Hemisphere. But the high costs of operating container vessels led to less frequent port calls, which then very much changed the character of the waterside.

Henry Briggs was born in 1918 and worked for many years on the wharf in Montague and Port Melbourne. As a locality in South Melbourne, Montague had grown up as an industrial area from the 1870s, with a railway station on the Port Melbourne line from 1883. As historian Susan Priestley notes, its strong community identity was focused around shops, churches, primary schools, workers’ homes and hotels—and intense local rivalries were played out in larrikin gangs as well as on the sporting field.

Henry’s family was involved in show business. In 1945, after the depression and the war, he started working on the wharf. In 1981 he was interviewed by Wendy Lowenstein and Tom Hills at his home in Port Melbourne, as part of the ‘Melbourne Waterside Workers Collection’. You can hear the entire interview through the National Library of Australia, but here we can listen to Henry recalling early details of his life growing up in a family involved in show business, his early education and life experiences in the suburb of Montague (which as a residential locality more or less completely disappeared after World War II). And then, we hear his subsequent reflections on what it was like working on the wharves, and how much it has changed.

Henry:             Well, where was I born, now I got an idea it was on a pitch at Carlton. We never had a residential address.

Well they were in show business, the carnival life, you know, any variety shows at all which was going at the time, motor bikes going around the wall, all that business, buck jumping shows and everything like that, the usual run. Which they were at their time was the biggest showmen here, by far, there was no one…

Tom:               Yeah there was one

Mary: What was the name of the show?

Henry:             Oh Briggs Amusements

Mary: And are they still going?

Henry:             No ah, it was a funny thing they died out, it was just like a tree dying, they … the sons and that … some never got married, those that got married had daughters and no one to carry on.

Mary: And what sort of, what were your side shows, what did you do?

Henry:             Oh, merry-go-rounds, snake pits, boxing tents, motorbikes going around the wall of death. Everything, embraced almost everything in show business.

Tom:               It was a pretty big show, wasn’t it?

Henry:             Oh big show, big show, oh yes. Oh yes, they were in a big way as I said, in their day they’d be the biggest showmen in Victoria.

Mary: Did you go to school?

Henry:             I only done … I think it was approximately, it might have been two and a half years of schooling, that’s the only the schooling I ever done. Because there was an agreement reached in them days that showmen’s kiddies … your father would take on and he’d learn you. So, okay the father he took it on alright but he said now look son he says … this business about, I think it was algebra, history and everything in them days. He said all you want to do in life, he said, is be able to read and write. Well I could always read and I could always write, he taught me nothing else. And that’s, that was about the limit of my education.

Mary:              And when, how long were you with the show, I mean did you have a home, a home in a suburb of Melbourne?

Henry:             We used to live down in Montague, at the time. Oh, there’s episodes there, … one of the funniest ones I could recall down there is when we had a bull, ’cause it was the biggest bull in the world.

Tom:               Right.

Henry:             You take that for granted, that’s showman’s. It was a large bull but it probably wasn’t the biggest in the world, but you bill it as the biggest in the world, that’s showman’s, that’s what you call Showbiz. And that run amok down there once and it charged the back of the house and its head and shoulders poked right through the back here, so we’re in the kitchen — pulled half the back of the house down.

Mary: Montague was a waterfront area, was it?

Henry:             Oh yes, always has been, yes.

Mary: And, and what did a lot of wharfies and that sort of thing live down there?

Henry:             Oh yes.

Mary: You always wanted to go to the wharf?

Henry:             Oh it was always in my mind to be on the wharf ’cause I used to sit down there as I said and we had nothing and the wharfies’d sit round there, you know. And they say I got a job there, how much they got, it seemed to be a fabulous amount of money to me which it wasn’t really. But I suppose it was in the depression. And I thought well I want to become a wharfie you know but it took a lot of, you know, what’ll I do.

Mary: Wharfies are very generous people, aren’t they?

Henry:             I would say very generous. I don’t know about today, I could not say the modern day wharfie, I don’t know. Tom’d know more about that than me, because when containerisation started on the Melbourne wharves that was the death knell of the waterside workers, that was the death knell. Twenty years from now if you are, there wouldn’t be much I could tell you about personalities. About the skills. All the skills was erased from the waterfront. People used to take pride in their flour stacking, sugar, shortening the snotter. You’ll never see again on the wharves where a ship will be in working five hatches at once and all the hatchmen there like a ballet dancer pirouetting with all their fancy motions some had, all this. That’s all gone. The wharf has gone. Containerisation was the death knell of the wharves as Tom knew and as I know it. Now, it’s nothing. I could take my four little grandchildren down there and do it. There’s no skills left on the wharf. The wharf’s gone as Tom knew it whether he realises it or not, it’s gone. Twenty years from now you couldn’t tell the stories about the wharf what I can tell or Tom more so than me, I’m a later version than Tom, on the wharves, because you were so close knit on the wharves and you walk around the wharves and you knew everyone. You work seventeen men gang. Eight below, six in the wharf, three deck men and in between your slings you was down. You discussed your problems with each other and you found out the weakness of each other. Or he’d feel you out, and you could find your weakness. You say ‘Lay off him, don’t mess around with that bloke, he’d put you on your seat as quick as look at you’. And it took that intimate relationship we had Tom. Tom, you haven’t been on the wharf since containerisation?

Tom:               No.

Henry:             It’s not there now mate.

Tom:               Yeah, I know.

Henry:             It’s gone. They’re a different breed of men.

 

Gretel:  There’s showbiz there, in that old Australian voice. There is also the camaraderie, passion and poetry of work, and an intimacy about being in the room with Henry as he talks to Wendy and Tom about his life working on the wharf.

You can listen to the entire interview with Henry online through Trove and the National Library of Australia.

 

IT’S ELEMENTAL #1: BLUESTONE

Presenter: Andy May

Welcome to ‘It’s Elemental’, the segment where we get down to basics in terms of the way the city is made up, both in its environmental and natural form, and its built form as well. It’s a real pleasure to have with us Professor Stephanie Trigg. Stephanie is the Redmond Barry distinguished Professor of English at the University of Melbourne and in fact a Chaucer scholar in particular, but today we’re going to lure her away from Canterbury for a moment and up some of the backs lanes of Melbourne. Stephanie’s got a long-term interest in the history of Melbourne’s changing relationship with bluestone and in a recent article she wrote about this relationship that Melburnians have with bluestone as a passionate one. And I know that passions and emotions are things that Stephanie’s particularly interested in. But just stopping there for a moment, Stephanie can you explain to us how can we have a relationship with a rock?

Stephanie:        Rocks are notoriously important affective charges — think about Stonehenge, one of the most popular British tourist sites — and in the context of Melbourne bluestone is both, it’s under our feet every day, most of us walk along bluestone. We look down bluestone laneways, we have bluestone foundations in our houses especially in the northern and western suburbs, and a lot of our most important Colonial buildings are made out of bluestone as well. So it’s a really strong part of the visual identity of the city and that makes it easy for us to have an affective relationship with the fabric of the city in that sense. It really defines our sense of Melbourne as a glorious city, as a city with a strong heritage and as a city that is very distinctive visually. Compared for example to Sydney’s famous sandstone which is all golden and bathed in beautiful light and seems to bespeak Georgian civilisation even though it has a strong undercurrent of a penal colony. Melbourne’s bluestone is dark, it’s gloomy, people kind of love and hate it at the same time, so it’s a really rich emotional site.

Andy:              So if we did a kind of vox pop in the city and stopped people and said ‘bluestone’, what are the first sort of five words that come to mind? Would it be that kind of sombre, dark, I guess emotional response, that sort of, the kind of unsettling response almost that you have when you think about prisons and institutions and so on. Would it be mixed also with this sort of newfound heritage kind of consciousness that this is something wonderful and something to be celebrated as a Melbourne thing?

Stephanie:        I think on reflection that’s where people would end up and I think probably one of the most dominant things in the CBD itself would be the idea of a bluestone laneway. And that figures the sort of, the kind of the cross currents across the main streets — Bourke, Collins, Swanston, Elizabeth — those bluestone laneways that thread behind, they are the secret back passages of the city, that’s where waste used to be collected and when trash is still collected, but of course now it’s a site of tremendous urban renewal and again that’s something that Melburnians take very seriously as a sign of their cultural urban renewal, that’s where the best coffee is found, that’s where the little jazz bars are, that’s where the independent fashion designers are. But that is also where we can get glimpses of the city’s past.

Andy:              Was the lane’s re-invention into this century as a great place and a feature of Melbourne, did that help bluestone become a bit more, take on different sort of different affective tones to it?

Stephanie:        That’s interesting. It’s a bit hard to unravel the history of all this. The bluestone is so distinctive and so people like it for that reason. It’s very difficult to walk on. It’s very difficult to walk on in high heels. It’s very difficult to ride a bike over. It’s very difficult to wheel a pram or a wheelchair over, so there are all kinds of practical impediments to the beauty and utility of bluestone, so sometimes the council makes a real effort to relay the bluestones. That in itself is controversial, even though sometimes that’s better than just completely ripping them up and replacing with asphalt which would have been done in the 40s 50s 60s 70s I guess. Now we’re tending more to preserve the bluestone, but to relay it so that it’s flatter. That can make it both more practical but it also destroys a little bit of what people actually love about the bluestone, that it seems to be something that is handmade, that is artisanal in some way, that seems to fit Melbourne’s ethos as a distinctive Melbourne city. So, it’s a really mixed blessing. The councils now often mandate the keeping of bluestone and the relaying of it, but sometimes there’s now even a shortage of bluestone, so sometimes Melbourne has had to import bluestone from China, for example, to build around the MCG to retain the characteristic of Melbourne as a bluestone city even though it’s not the local stone that was originally used to make the city.

Andy:              I’m interested in the way that stone sits under Melbourne’s consciousness but also physically in relation to a kind of north south divide even. So, when we think of those suburbs like particularly Brunswick and Northcote and Footscray, these are places where a lot of the stone came from for building Melbourne?

Stephanie:        Exactly. You’re right, it’s a north-south and almost an east-west divide as well, so the bluestone that we built Melbourne on came from volcanic formations from the north of Melbourne and also the south-west down near Warrnambool, Tower Hill. So, there’s kind of two lava streams that kind of flow towards Melbourne and they kind of stop at Dights Falls where the Merri Creek meets the Yarra River. It’s very interesting, you can go down to that point, stand on one side of the river on bluestone and look across to a completely different geological formation which is sedimentary rocks on the other side of Dights Fall. So, the bluestone is really a north-west and south-west phenomenon. So yeah, Williamstown also, a really important source of bluestone. We’ve done a little preliminary plotting of churches, which are often made of bluestone, and the vast majority of bluestone churches are to the north, the west and the south-west. East and south-east they tend to be made much more likely of brick.

Andy: There is that association with prisons and particularly with Pentridge…

Stephanie:        yep…

Andy:              as the kind of archetype of that rough-hew rusticated gothic style bluestone institution. What strikes you there in terms of Melbourne’s relationship with Pentridge as read through stone?

Stephanie:        That’s a great question. When I first started talking about the bluestone project the first question from my friends would always be ‘are you going to be write about Pentridge’? So, it does seem to be the real bluestone landmark and it figures very largely in what I think I’m going to call the ‘Bluestone Imaginary’. When you think of bluestone you do tend to think of that, what’s called Baronial gothic architecture. So that prison was erected in the 1850s, and it was kind of the walls were actually built by the prisoners so it’s got this terribly ironic dark history. It was actually made by convict labour to house to house the convicts, and it rose up over the plains of Coburg and it was just hated by the local residents.

Andy:              I think that sense of the hardness of stone obviously sort of naturally, but also the labour that’s gone behind extracting and dressing and cutting and carrying and carting and breaking, it’s that whole industry around quarrying and breaking of stones is something we’ve kind of lost touch with and lost our knowledge of in a sense, but the labour that went into building roads and walls and so on is extraordinary. The prisoners at Pentridge built the prison.

Stephanie:        They were first lodged in stockades — these are kind of like really, in huts really — and so then they’ll be some chained up and taken out to work on the walls. After while there was made a decision that prisoners were not going to be allowed to work on the external walls, just on the internal walls of the prison, just for security reasons.

Andy:              I think some of those early stockades were actually in … there was a Stockade called the Collingwood Stockade in Carlton.

Stephanie:        That’s right.

Andy:              And where Curtain Square now is, was actually the site of a bluestone quarry if I remember correctly.

Stephanie:        Indeed, and under the Lee Street Primary School there were recently excavated I think ten underground bluestone prison cells. Can you imagine? Being sent to live in solitary confinement underground in dank dark grey bluestone and now it’s a primary school.

Andy: The hulks might have seemed like a better alternative.

Stephanie:        Indeed yeah.

Andy:              But I love the way that the quarries and stone is the kind of footing to Melbourne. A way that you can see that original landscape is by looking at some of the old Board of Works maps through the State Library website, that date from around the 1890s 1910s and a lot of contemporary parks and shopping centres are built on old quarry pits and it’s a wonderful way of looking at your suburb and seeing if there are any old quarries around. There’s an interesting character that you’ve written about Stephanie, John Price, who was I think a particularly hated Inspector-General of Prisons and someone that Marcus Clarke modelled a character in For the Term of His Natural Life on, but he had something of run in with bluestone didn’t he?

Stephanie:        He used to be the superintendent up at Pentridge, so he was in charge of the prisoners cutting and hewing up bluestone, sometimes to make blocks for prison walls, sometimes the prisoners just had to cut the bluestone up to make road fill. They used to have to produce a square, a cubic yard of road metal in a day just by breaking it up. But then the more skilled prisoners could get slightly better rations by learning how to chisel the blocks, chisel the bluestone into big blocks, and they would dig it up out of what is now Coburg Lake. So that’s again one of those great ironic sites that is now a beautiful picnic ground but it used to be a kind of a bluestone depository, a bluestone mine, and then the bluestone would be lifted out and carried up to the prison to make for the walls. When the prisoners were recalcitrant — strangely enough they didn’t always want to be breaking stone every day — and they would sometimes then be chained to a big bluestone which was later called John Price’s stone. It was huge and it had a kind of a bolt in the middle and the prisoners would be shackled to it with their hands behind their back and they would be punished and they were given lazy rations, so their food rations would be reduced because they were unwilling to work on the stone. And this hatred of John Price really took a kind of a strong form both at Pentridge and then also down at Williamstown.

And there was a dreadful account of the murder of John Price. He’d gone down to inspect, there was some insurrection amongst the prisoners again being reluctant to work. Can you imagine, you know, working in the long heat, long hours of the day cutting up bluestone, a dreadful, dreadful job. And he made the mistake of turning his back on the prisoners at one point having being sent down there, gone down there to discipline them. And someone of the prisoners picked up a clod of earth and threw it at him.

And then another picked up a bigger clod, and then more and more prisoners picked up stones that were lying around around the quarry and then eventually he was he was killed. And at the inquest various accounts, I read through all of these accounts looking for the signs of the bluestone role here and it became very very clear that when some bluestones were actually brought into the inquest with the blood and the hair of John Price still on them, mentioned as bluestones. So, it was, I just wanted to get that final confirmation that it was actually a bluestone that had killed him — so there’s a beautiful ironic poetic history.

Andy: That’s an extraordinary…

Stephanie:        …isn’t it amazing …

Andy: … extraordinary sense of the revenge of the stone, symbolically.

Stephanie:        Well very interestingly yes, because a lot of the, a lot of the current discussion about material culture, about objects, about the life of objects in the world, often gets quite excited about that idea of the agency of the material world and this is clearly a poetic form of agency but it does seem that bluestone you could say had its own revenge on John Price as well as the prisoners having its revenge. So that’s quite a good story for thinking about, you know what we’re calling the affect or the affective charge of bluestone. And I guess in terms, in comparison to something like an emotion where we would think about hatred or fear or envy, affect tends to be somewhat less intellectualised as a concept, somewhat less linguistically bound, and often much more closely associated with a bodily response. So, it’s sometimes seen as being more powerful than an emotion because it sort of somehow gets under your skin. I think that’s quite a good way of thinking about our relationship with bluestone and other forms of, other forms of stone or the materials of the natural world, that we do have a kind of a, it’s skin to stone, it’s that kind of moment, that I think is really important when we’re thinking about what I’m calling the affective charge of bluestone.

Andy:              Yeah, I love that sense of, as you say, the materiality getting under our skin kind of physically and symbolically. And the way that changes over time of course is fascinating and the sense that bluestone kind of frames Melbourne through, through the geometry, through the lanes and the patterning but also in this in this sort of deeply psychological way.

Stephanie:        It’s so, it’s so weird, to me it’s quite contradictory. If I think about the Melbourne, you know Hoddle’s grid of Melbourne, all those geometric lines on perpendicular right angles cutting across each other, then I think of lines of bluestone, but then when I think about laneways, again I can, in my mind I see the uneven, unevenness of those stones, and the way that they move and that they jump up, they don’t stay flat, they jump up, they are hard to ride over but their edges are actually quite soft, it’s a, it’s a stone that softens and ages, so even though the prisoners or stonemasons might carve sharp edges into it, the stone actually becomes quite soft, giving the lie I think to those Gothic dark penal associations that we have with it. And also, the stone varies tremendously, the stone that we use for building, they prefer the stone that, it’s volcanic stone that cools very slowly, so it doesn’t have bubbles and lines and holes in it, that’s the highest quality stone. But I have with me, I’m just picking up that now to hold it — give you my affective touch of bluestone.

Andy: I was wondering whether you had a pet stone.

Stephanie:        I have a pet stone and it’s a piece of basaltic rock that I picked up from the Merri Creek, next to my house in Fitzroy, and it’s deeply pock-marked, it’s full of holes, you wouldn’t use it for building, it would crumble, bits of it come off on my fingers all the time and this is a piece of bluestone full of holes because it cooled, it must have fallen very quickly into water and cooled quickly, so it’s the complete opposite of the smooth stones that would you use for example on the National Gallery of Victoria.

Andy:              I love that idea of the sort of biography of objects, that objects live different lives, and stones are the same. You must have come across some interesting examples of people collecting stone or as a kind of a memorabilia almost of connections to places or buildings.

Stephanie:        Absolutely. One of my favourite stories is from one of the curators at Melbourne Museum who moved from the western suburbs to the eastern suburbs and when she moved she took with her one of the bluestone pitchers from the laneway outside her house as a reminder of what the western suburbs felt and looked like, yeah. And there are lots of stories of people stealing bluestone too. Somebody else told me, Delia Falconer who wrote that wonderful book about Sydney and she’s got some wonderful things to say in that book about Sydney sandstone. She said that when she was living in Melbourne, when she first moved in there was a council tent set up on the bluestone lane way beside their house and she thought, oh well there they’re renovating the bluestone laneway, but in fact it was people stealing all the bluestone pitchers.

Andy:              We can’t end without asking you where maybe some of your favourite bluestone buildings or places are in Melbourne. If people wanted to go and look and get that sort of visceral sense of stone, what’s a good place for them to go?

Stephanie:        One of my favourite bluestones sites is a four-storey building down in William Street which was originally built as a, as a storehouse for wool, and it’s quite an imposing building, and to me it’s reminiscent of the Medici Palace in Florence. The Medici were also wool merchants originally so I think that there’s some kind of link between the architecture of this wool storehouse, a very grand building, and Renaissance Florence. So, I think bluestone is both a really local stone for Melbourne but it does have this longer, a longer cultural history as well.

Andy:              That brings us right back to the origins of Melbourne, the mercantile — all those warehouses, the bluestone warehouses that lined the western end of the city, Flinders Lane and so on, so many of them now of course are not with us but it does take us back to the, to the economic foundations of Melbourne as an importance entrepôt to the region. So, thanks Stephanie for putting a bit of stone into our hearts and I think we’ll be able to walk around Melbourne with a new sense of that emotional landscape that stone sort of brings to the city.

Stephanie:        It’s my pleasure. I’m also collecting people’s stories about bluestone. If anyone would like to get in touch with me with their further anecdotes or pictures or stories about bluestone, I’d love to hear from everyone.

 

ARCHIVE FEVER #1: AUSTRALIAN RED CROSS ARCHIVES

Presenter: Helen Morgan

Welcome to the first My Marvellous Melbourne Archive Fever’ segment. The title, for those in the know, isn’t a reference to the work of the same name by well-known French philosopher Derrida. It is simply a reflection of how we at My Marvellous Melbourne love archives. Although you’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t directly related to the subject of our first segment which happens to be the Australian Red Cross Archive.

I’m Helen Morgan and I’m an archivist as well as an historian with an obsessive new interest in family history and tracing relatives through archives, and the Red Cross Archive ticks all those boxes. With me is Stella Marr, an archivist at the University of Melbourne Archives where the Red Cross Archive is now housed. Stella wrote a great blog piece about the archive titled ‘Historic Records are not Relics — They are Events Unfolding’, which is certainly something I found in my family history research, so it’s interesting to hear a bit more about the context and scope of this particular collection.

Stella:              The Red Cross National Office and Victorian Division Collections have been acquired by the University of Melbourne Archives and these records cover the first hundred years of this historic organisation and map its vital contribution to medical and social welfare services, both in Australia and internationally. The collaboration that’s made this possible to bring these records to the University of Melbourne will enable greater access to these records and our ability to use the really significant potential within them to investigate some quite complex subjects.

I think it’s important to remember that the reason why the national office of the Red Cross Society is in Melbourne is because Melbourne at that stage in 1914 was the capital not only of Victoria but of Australia. So, the Defence Department was on St Kilda Road, the Governor General was also on St Kilda Road, and it was only four months prior to the Declaration of War that the new Governor General Ronald Munro Ferguson and his wife Lady Helen actually arrived in Australia. What’s really interesting is that many of the women who were in the leadership of the Australian Red Cross had leadership roles already. So Lady Helen was the founder and president of the Fife branch of the British Red Cross and so as soon as the war was declared she, one, not only was in a position and was really comfortable with authority, she also had this enormous house at her disposal. So she established what was then the Australian branch of the British Red Cross and she took over the house as the national headquarters. So, the grand ballroom was an enormous warehouse of goods — pyjamas, socks everything, bandages, everything that would be required to treat patients, to assist hospitals, and also packages for POWs.

What we currently have and what is available for the public to read online — because all of our collections are listed online — would include the executive correspondence from both the national office and the Victorian division. There’s annual reports, there’s meeting minutes, there’s publications. The bureau, the missing bureau, and that includes the 60,000 cards relating to mostly military persons but sometimes civilians who the Red Cross were facilitating the flow of information between the army service personnel back to families, so there is a vast variety of different record types within this collection. We also have posters and audio, but those two are still being processed and having conservation treatment on them.

They were able to provide a service that the government and the army couldn’t provide. Many of the relatives didn’t have any contact with the persons who went into service for maybe two years. All the letters they sent, all the enquires they made of the army came to nil, so the service that the Red Cross provided was central to morale both at home and in theatres of war. That lifeline that they provided between POWs and their families who actually felt like they were involved in the continued welfare is a feat that we can’t underestimate.

In Melbourne there was a very early established philanthropy and social welfare movement, all sorts of different movements, and we have many of their records in the archive. Temperance Unions, social work, charities, all those sort of things, and I think if you can view the Red Cross as part of that, you get a really interesting picture of the development of social welfare services in Australia. The very early philanthropy in Melbourne, which many of our established families were part of, was really male centric and as you move forward and as these organisations like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Red Cross develop, leadership in these very social organisations are opened up to women.

Our service is open to academics, historians and the general public. Our collection is listed online. The addition of the Red Cross for me has changed my view of the collection as a whole. What it really brings into focus for me is the interrelationship between activities, so the nexus between government policy (such as the administration of PNG), mining interests (we have the Bougainville Copper Mining Limited papers), and then the Red Cross in terms of their relief and development, refugees from Bougainville after the civilian uprising. I think seeing that cause and effect between collections — and the same can be done with East Timor, because we have the Malcolm Fraser collection, David Scott collection, CICD which is a really vocal in the history of East Timor independence debate — those interrelationships between archival collections are for me the most exciting and with the Red Cross given how sweeping its remit has been over the years and it has changed certainly through wartime and peacetime, that is for me the most exciting thing, and to see how we can use resources like the Australian Women’s Register to tease out those stories and show how these things connect.

The Red Cross is a lot more than world wars and I think it’s very important for people to see the immense diversity that they have achieved in their service, from Cyclone Tracy to development projects in the Asia-Pacific region. One of their current campaigns is around working with the UN to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. We have always had war and the Red Cross are so aware of the impact of nuclear war they’ve now taken a very big stance and in this current climate of renewed bluff and missile launches I think it’s really sobering to see an organisation which has fought for so long to care for people now actually advocating for that type of weapon to be eliminated.

Helen:             Stella described the archive as creating an opening of the nexus between government policy, consumer demand, business interests, civil war, refugees and humanitarian organisations. And I’m sure you’ll agree it really does give us a unique view of these aspects of our history.

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My Marvellous Melbourne is a production of the Melbourne History Workshop, in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Our thanks to Gavin Nebauer at the Horwood Recording Studio, University of Melbourne, and Andrew Batterham for our theme music. You can find episode notes, further resources, and contact details at our website

mymarvellousmelbourne.net.au

We’d love to hear from you.

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© The University of Melbourne, 2017. All Rights Reserved.

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Sources & Resources #1: The Everyday War

Presenter: Nicole Davis

Further information and links: The Everyday War web resource

Creature Feature #1: Frogs

Presenter: Professor Andy May

IntervieweesAssociate Professor Andrea Gaynor, environmental historian, University of Western Australia; Associate Professor Kirsten Parris, urban ecologist, The University of Melbourne

Further information and links: ClimateConfectionaryFrogs — Natural Environment — Rivers and Creeks

Can We Help? #1: Christopher Morris

Presenters: Amelia Curran & Ross Karavis

Further information and links: GreeksHawthornHead of the River  — Rowing and ScullingYarra River

 

Credits

Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenters — Nicole Davis, Andy May, Amelia Curran, Ross Karavis

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Music — Andrew Batterham, ‘And there I was’

 

Transcript

download pdf 

 

Welcome to My Marvellous Melbourne, a podcast of the Melbourne History Workshop.

 

Hi there — I’m Andy May. In this episode, our Creature Feature lifts the lid on the humble frog; Amelia and Ross answer a listener query that takes us up the Yarra River in the nineteenth century; but first, Nicole tells us about a new resource on the history of World War One on the home front in Melbourne.

SOURCES & RESOURCES #1: THE EVERYDAY WAR

Presenter: Nicole Davis

Hi — I’m Nicole Davis. We’ve recently seen major commemorations of the First World War, one of the twentieth century’s most dramatic and disruptive events. But actually, the majority of Australians didn’t experience the war on the far-flung battlefields of Europe, but at home, in very everyday ways, in the cities and towns where they lived and worked.

Daily life in Melbourne was filled with events that brought the war close to home. Public entertainment, economic prosperity, the day-to-day running of the city, international trade relationships, housing and health— all were to be shaped by this conflict.

So how can we get a clearer sense of some of these experiences? Well, recently we’ve digitised a selection of records from the City of Melbourne archives—around 6000 pages in fact—so you can explore these stories of the Everyday War for yourself.

The Council was involved in numerous ways in the war: it raised money for ambulances, encouraged enlistment, and distributed recruiting posters. The growing visibility of the military as the war progressed is evident in council files through discussions of marches and other war-related activities.

Let’s dig a little further into some of these letters.

So in August 1914, Mrs J Graham writes to the Council requesting use of the Kensington Municipal Buildings to hold a Euchre Party in aid of the Patriotic Fund. A month later, the importers of the Gestetner Rotary Duplicator ensure the council that despite his German-sounding name, D. Gestetner is in fact an Englishman, and the products are made at Tottenham Hale in England. Another small note records the council’s deep regret on news of the death of yet another of its employees—this time, William Williams from the Electric Supply Department, who was killed in action in German New Guinea. A handbill for the Southern Cross Tobacco fund reminds readers that “something to smoke is the comfort asked for more frequently than any other in letters from the front”. The Victorian Football Association was also involved, sending notification in 1916 that it has decided to abandon its matches during the currency of the war.

Another letter from the Department of Defence suggests to the Lord Mayor that rather than giving the privilege of selling foodstuffs and flowers in the streets of the city to foreigners, that they might think of giving preference to returned soldiers instead. Another man, James Livingston, wrote to complain about pro-German agitators haranguing crowds in Carlton Gardens; but in the same file, we find another man J.H. Beecham taking a different view. He cautions the police against cracking down on freedom of speech, so as not to “penalize many of the old pioneers, whose only source of enjoyment for years past, has been to listen or join in the discussions in these gardens”.

Finally, another letter from William Lee, representing the Licensed Motor Drivers & Cabmen, hearing that the council has granted a licence to a woman, sent “a strong protest against” what he saw as a “degradation to womanhood and humanity”. He says: “There is a vast difference, between ladies, or women, being granted a driver’s license for motors, and one licensed to drive one for hire in the street… We are not England, where the man power shortage has brought out patriotic women to fill places in buses, trams, etc., and there is no reason that women should be allowed to hold such a license and offer a chance to the abuse and humiliation, that will certainly come their way.”

Times have certainly changed, as we can see from this, but these records, and almost 600 other files, help us to make a fine-grained analysis of changing attitudes that are not easily reducible to simple labels of enthusiasm or patriotism. ‘In wartime’, as historian Jay Winter challenges, ‘identities on all levels… the individual…the city, the nation—always overlapped’.

Dive in and have a look—I’m sure you’ll find something surprising.

CREATURE FEATURE #1: FROGS

Presenter: Professor Andy May

When I unwrapped my presents on Christmas day in 1968, I found to my delight a copy of The Wonderland of Nature, written and illustrated by the exotic-sounding Nuri Mass. The lime-green cover design featured the kind of diagram usually used to show atomic structure—in the nucleus was a magnifying glass that warped the book’s title under its lens, and astride it sat a proud praying mantis, its front legs folded up in classic pose. The electrons that whizzed around the perimeter were in turn a compass, a mushroom, a ladybird, a weather vane, a cephalapod, a bee, a sea anemone, an ammonite fossil, the cross section of a flower…and a frog.

The 1960s was a decade of big science — the space race, plate tectonics, the computer, the nuclear age. In a little over six months time I’d watch the moon landing on our next door neighbours’ black and white TV. But although physics was the zeitgeist of the age, Nuri Mass had delivered this suburban boy a universe in his own backyard. In a family of science boffins, I was always more likely to get a book than a barrel of monkeys as a present. The back-cover blurb of this new addition to the May library claimed that here was a book ‘written and produced in Australia for Australian children’. I don’t expect that my six-year-old self quite understood the subtlety of the nationalist agenda, but whatever the case, Nuri Mass had somehow read my mind, and the minds of my two older brothers, my naturalists in arms.

Nuri Mass was born in Richmond in Melbourne in 1918, and after a stint in Argentina, came back to Australia when she was twelve, and later studied in Sydney. Disillusioned with the lack of encouragement for Australian writers, she set up her own publishing house, and the first edition of The Wonderland of Nature rolled off The Writers Press in February 1964.

Much of the book was about insects, but one of the creatures orbiting around that central magnifying glass was a green frog. “At some time or other”, she wrote, “every boy and girl catches tadpoles, and hopes to be able to keep them until they turn into frogs. Have you? If not, you should try to, because a frog is one of the most interesting things in Nature, and the way he changes from a tadpole is really wonderful”.

OK, so we already knew this miracle, but it was great that some expert adult also thought it was pretty interesting. Our street was in an outer eastern suburb that boomed in the postwar decades, its housing subdivisions still punctuated by seasonal watercourses and remnant bush blocks. So it was that we stalked ducks in the creek just down the road, now a barrel drain; we collected longicorn beetles and emperor gum caterpillars off the mahogany gum in the paddock next door, now long since built over; and we fished for taddies in swampy ground at Koonung Creek using a plastic kitchen colander that dad had lashed to the end of a length of bamboo, on land later bulldozed for the Eastern Freeway extension.

And we brought them home, our amphibian friends, and the gelatinous frog spawn too, which we kept in old ice cream containers and yoghurt pots in the back verandah, and as the tadpoles took shape we fed them on boiled lettuce leaves, waiting for legs to sprout, and eventually set them free in one of the ponds in our back yard. Any day I could lift up a rock or two around the pond and know that everything was in its place, that you could always find a frog when you wanted one. And they were part of the soundtrack to my suburban childhood. On those sticky summer evenings with the louvre windows open to catch a whiff of breeze, we were sent off to sleep to the pulsing rhythms of their chorus.

That’s just my memory. You might have your own, from your childhood days around the creeks and waterways of the spreading city, or the dams and swamps of the outer rural fringe. You might remember chasing frogs on weekends or Show Day holidays, in Coburg Lake or the disused quarry pits of East Preston and Frankston, or maybe just in the drain behind the Post Office at Williamstown.

Frogs meant other things to kids as well — in 1930, at the Great White City, Macpherson Robertson’s confectionary factory in Fitzroy, where on still days the back lanes were suffused with the scent of chocolate, nineteen-year old Harry Melbourne thought it might be a good idea to produce a chocolate in the shape of a frog rather than a mouse. Everyone knew kids loved frogs, and they were just a bit more mother-friendly than rodents. And so the Freddo Frog was born, a Melbourne invention in more ways than one, in twelve different flavours, the best penny chocolate of 1940. When Harry died at the age of 94 his coffin was draped with a Freddo Frog flag.

I haven’t seen a frog in any of my back gardens for many years now, but that’s not to say that small boys and girls don’t stalk them still in the liminal and littoral spaces of greater Melbourne. Frogs could be surprising fun, placed under a sister’s pillow or in a classmate’s lunch box. The late educationist and historian Barbara Falk once told me how as a girl she and her friends would sneak into St Patrick’s Cathedral and put frogs in the holy water to scare the Catholics.

The postwar decades seemed to be some kind of turning point for the frog. Where small children loved their slimy mystery, mothers fretted about their kids falling into creeks and flooded quarry pits, and especially in the 1950s, the new residents of the ever-expanding suburbs saw frogs as a nuisance and a curse.

An eleven-year-old Kwong Lee Dow from Burwood—later to become founding senior lecturer in the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne—wrote to the Age in 1949 about how he bred tadpoles in his spare time. In 1953, out at Happy Hollow Farm on the Plenty River in Greensborough, twelve-year-old Christopher Bell found a tree-frog in his canoe, named it Algernon, and kept it as a pet. As he wrote in a letter to the Weekly Times, he marvelled as it changed colour from fawn to brown to green. Christopher grew up to be a medical scientist who worked for part of his career in the department of physiology at the University of Melbourne.

Both of those frog-loving boys won a ten-shilling prize for publication of their letters—which was more money than you could make out of frogs in any other way in Melbourne at that time. When the summer heat dried up its worm pits and frog breeding grounds, the Melbourne Zoo used to advertise for entrepreneurial boys to supply buckets of worms and frogs and yabbies to feed the hungry platypus and the reptiles that emerged starving from their winter hibernation: the going rate in 1950 was two shillings for a jam tin of worms; between sixpence and three shillings for a dozen frogs, and sixpence a dozen for yabbies.

But in the 1950s, frogs were often used in the same sentence as mosquitoes and smells, as symbols of the heartbreak suburbs where housing construction outstripped proper drainage and sealed roads. From the swampy ground in Brighton and South Melbourne to the water-logged sand pits of Springvale. From Deer Park on the Keilor Plains to the grassy ground at West Heidelberg, where tiger snakes gorged themselves on the frogs that bred in the drains. As the Elwood canal flooded the housing developments that grew up at its margins, and the Maribyrnong broke its banks, again, the sound of frogs croaking was now the signal of poor urban infrastructure rather than the siren of bucolic bliss.

Murrumbeena, according to one version of the name, comes from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘land of frogs’. As the city spread east and west, north and south, the gentle and mesmerising sound of the frog became a clamour rather than a lullaby. People couldn’t sleep from the hullabaloo of frogs in Chelsea. A resident of George Street Highett took a neighbour to Court because she couldn’t sleep from the noise of frogs breeding in pools of water that he’d allowed to gather by their fence line. A resident in Deals Road Clayton South complained that she couldn’t hear the radio for the noise of frogs congregating in the water pumped from the local sandpits. As the suburbs spread, the frog switched from a simple beauty silhouetted against a backdoor fly-screen at dusk, to a nuisance in the backyard swimming pool.

But the frog could also be educational as well as fun— the child migrants knew it as they kept frogs and lizards in tins under their beds, away from the watchful eye of the superintendent at the newly-opened Orana children’s home in Elgar Road Burwood. At the same time, along with the latest in scientifically designed school architecture with radiant floor heating and tubular desks, the young ladies at Tintern Girls Grammar School in East Ringwood were privileged to have a new school that boasted a wildlife sanctuary and a frog pond to encourage outdoor as well as indoor education.

In these immediate postwar decades, before Nuri Mass promoted the wonders of natural history to suburban boys and girls, other naturalist like Crosbie Morrison charmed the readers of his ‘Backyard Diary’ column in the Argus: “Cicadas are still with us”, he noted in November 1954, “taking up the chorus in the morning where the frogs leave off, and continuing almost until the evening, when the frogs start up again”.

Let’s hear a little more from a historian and an ecologist about how things are shaping up for the frog in the Melbourne of today. I’m speaking here with Andrea Gaynor, an environmental historian from the University of Western Australia in Perth, and Kirsten Parris, an urban ecologist at the University of Melbourne.

AM:     Now look, the frog seems to be a creature that once we took for granted, it seemed to be ubiquitous and in everyone’s backyard or local park, but now it’s sort of the poster animal for ecological fragility. So how did that change happen in a fairly short space of time?

AG:     I guess the thing that contributed most significantly to the timing of the frog becoming this poster child for ecological awareness was the decline in frog numbers that scientists started noticing in the 1970s and 1980s and really accelerated into the 1990s. So, by 1990 frogs were listed as a category of animal that was in decline, and in the mid-to-late 1990s we discovered that the chytrid fungus, which is a fungus that affects amphibians, and quite severely in some cases — particularly upland amphibians — had arrived in Australia.

They also are an indicator species, so because they are very sensitive to their ecological surroundings, because of their porous skin and the way that they breathe and live, they are very sensitive to pollution, they’re very sensitive to temperature change, to drought. Ecologists regard them as an indicator species of general ecological health. So, with the rising ecological awareness in the 1980s and 1990s, frogs became an apt symbol for all of the changes that people could see going on around them, in terms of increasing pollution, the ‘greenhouse effect,’ now known as climate change of course. The fact that they’re green, I think, really helped; they were associated with being green, being ecological.

AM:     I think in the early 2000s, when the Western Ring Road in Melbourne was being constructed, they had to bypass a patch where the growling grass frog was abundant. You can tell us a bit more about the growling grass frog, I think?

AG:     If you look online you’ll see people who remember, for example, them being very abundant in Reservoir in the 1960s; they were in every drain, you know, every time it rained they would be flopping about on the road, and they’re quite a large frog, so they’re hard to miss. They did decline probably through a range of these threatening processes again, so urbanisation, loss of habitat, and the chytrid fungus as well. And probably also changes in rainfall patterns, I think.

AM:     So when we think about — for those of us of a certain generation in Melbourne — our childhoods when we did go hunting frogs and so on, and we think that now we haven’t seen a frog for a while, that’s not just an act of nostalgia perhaps; there really is a decline in population?

AG:     Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. They have declined very dramatically in a very short time. So it’s something that people have noticed; it’s happened within living memory.

AM:     So what other ways have humans encountered frogs in urban settings?

AG:     There’s been some frog events in Melbourne. For example I was looking through Trove, and found a report of a frog — what would you call it? — I guess if you were being Biblical you’d call it a frog ‘plague,’ but it was masses of frogs emerging after rain. This was in 1938, and the report was that they were appearing in their thousands between Oakleigh and Dromana, in the south, and crossing the roads, heading west.

AM:     I’ve read similar reports in historical newspapers, and also about — I don’t know whether these are apocryphal or not — of showers of frogs, reports from the papers of people driving from Geelong to Melbourne and encountering downfalls of frogs. Does that actually happen?

AG:     No, that is a thing apparently. I think they are drawn up through water spouts, somehow, and you’ll get showers of frogs and showers of fish as well. A frog-free future would I think be a very sad thing, but they are a canary in the coalmine, and point to the imminent or the urgent need for us to learn to live more sustainably.

AM:     Why did the frog cross the road? Well, it didn’t — it was run over half way. I wonder if that sums up the fate of frogs in cities? I’m talking here with urban ecologist Kirsten Parris.

KP:      Certainly the construction of roads is a big problem for frogs and other small animals that need to move across the landscape. There is quite good information about the relationship between the volume of traffic on the road and the probability of a frog being squashed before it makes it to the other side. And once you get above about ten thousand vehicles a day, it’s pretty difficult for your frog to make it safely across. Roads in urban environments cause habitat isolation for frogs. They can be in happy pockets of habitat, but if these areas are separated by roads it’s very difficult for the frogs to move from one place to another. We have a case around Melbourne of one of our threatened frog species, the growling grass frog, and it lives to the north, west, and south-east of Melbourne, right where our new urban growth corridors also happen to be, so there has been some work to construct tunnels or spaces under roads for the frogs to cross. We don’t really know whether they will use those spaces though.

Another issue which that brings me to is the issue of road noise in cities. Noise is a problem for humans, it disrupts our sleep, it makes it difficult for us to hear each other, and it also has the same effect for other wildlife that communicate using sound. So frogs call to each other, birds sing, all of those groups of animals have problems hearing each other in noisy cities. If we’ve got lots of male frogs out there calling their hearts out and using a lot of energy to make that sound, but the females can’t hear them, then that’s a problem for population persistence. At the moment we’ve demonstrated that female frogs do find it difficult to hear male frogs in cities, and the distance over which they can hear them can be reduced by up to 90%, so it’s pretty dramatic.

If you’re walking around in the wintertime, you would hear the southern brown tree frog and the common eastern froglet. The southern brown tree frog is an urban survivor frog and does very well even in the very centre of the city, so you could hear that frog calling in the Carlton Gardens, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Queen Victoria Gardens, just across from the Arts Centre. And then in spring we have the marsh frogs, so the ‘pobblebonks’ — they go ‘bonk bonk, bonk bonk bonk’ — the striped and spotted marsh frogs are active then. Then in summer the growling grass frog and sometimes, depending on where you are in Melbourne, we also have the emerald spotted tree frog, and that likes a warmer night for calling.

The growling grass frog that I mentioned earlier is struggling, particularly with increasing urbanisation, and a colleague of mine, Geoff Heard, has been studying this frog in northern Melbourne, around the Merri Creek corridor, since probably the early 2000s, and in that 15-year period we’ve lost probably 20 or 30% of the population. And that’s likely to continue with increased urban development, with the new urban growth areas of Melbourne, wetlands that are away from creek corridors are nearly all going to be destroyed for housing.

I think it’s fun to find when nature is still persisting in the city, because often people just assume that, well, now that there’s so many people — we’ve got 4 million or so people living in Melbourne — there’s not really space for nature anymore. But if you look in particular parts of the city, you can find frogs as well as many other groups of animals still persisting, and I think that’s really fun.

AM:     Scientists tell us that frog numbers have been on the decline since the 1980s; eight species have become extinct, and a further 20 are under serious threat. My account of the frog is marbled with nostalgia, of course, but when I was a kid, there did always seem to be a frog if you wanted one. If I close my eyes and cup my hands just tight enough to enclose, but loose enough not to smother, my muscles still hold the memory of that wet and jumpy life between my palms. I can’t imagine a world without them, under a rock, lurking somewhere in Melbourne’s greenery.

CAN WE HELP #1: CHRISTOPHER MORRIS

Presenters: Amelia Curran and Ross Karavis

AC:     Hi—I’m Amelia Curran, and with Ross Karavis we’re helping out with a query that’s come in from Chris Morris, who is researching details of his family history on his father’s side.

RK:     Chris’s great grandfather Christodoulos Moros—or Christopher Morris as he was known in Melbourne—was born in Greece around 1834, and died in Hawthorn in 1885. Chris tells us that Christodoulos arrived in Australia as a ship’s carpenter.

AC:     Of particular interest to Chris is his great-grandfather’s boat hire business on the Yarra in either Hawthorn or Richmond, and he’d like a bit more information about this part of his life. We’ve got a few clues to go on—his 1867 marriage certificate notes that he was living in Sandridge, which of course is the old name for Port Melbourne, and his occupation was recorded as “mariner”.

RK:     Well Sandridge might be a logical place for a salty sailor type to be hanging out. Chris sent us a copy of an intriguing document, and the first thing we can do is give him a little bit of help working out what it says. It’s actually a certificate issued in Paros, Greece in 1864. The harbour master certifies that in accordance with the power invested in him by the Greek state, he can certify that Christodoulos was an emboronaftis, or a merchant sailor.

AC:     Chris also knows that his great grandfather at some point had some kind of boat hire business in either Richmond or Hawthorn. We know that in that era before motor cars, a cheap and popular outing was to take river cruises on the Yarra, and boats regularly plied from Princes Bridge up to the Hawthorn Tea Gardens, which were on a site under the Wallen Road bridge. So the likelihood is that Christopher Morris was involved in this trade. But we’ve found a couple of snippets that do in fact place Christopher further up the Yarra River.

Now if you hung around the Yarra River for long enough in the nineteenth century, you were bound to come across a drowned body or two. I’ve had a look at some inquest records and sure enough, Christopher Morris, boathouse keeper at Hawthorn, found a body entangled in the willows about fifty yards above the bridge in 1883. In the man’s pockets was a bottle of colonial ale, which might be a clue as to how he ended up in the river.

RK:     Hawthorn Bridge was opened in 1861 connecting Richmond and Hawthorn, and it’s the earliest surviving major metal bridge in Victoria. Hawthorn Rowing Club formed in 1877, and according to the club’s history it has “always operated from the part of the Yarra River that flows under Hawthorn Bridge in Bridge Road connecting the suburbs of Hawthorn and Richmond”. Melbourne Directories in the 1880s also record Christopher Morris as living on the south side of Burwood Road at the river end. So I think we can say that we have pinned him down to this location.

AC:     I found another clue to Morris’s activities in his 1885 will, which gives his occupation as boat-proprietor. One of the executors of his will was one Sydney Edwards, Boat Builder of Princess Bridge. Sydney Edwards was the eldest son of James Edwards and therefore a member of a very famous rowing family. The Edwards Boatshed was long a feature on the Yarra Bank in Melbourne—you can see it in many old photos of the riverbank.

An article from the Argus in 1928 tells us a little more about the Edwards Brothers and their father James, who learned his trade from a famous boat builder on the Thames in London. A number of the sons were professional sculling champions of Victoria, and Sydney had steered the Scotch College Head of the River crew to victory in 1872 and 1873. My favourite story about Sydney is that he used to give exhibitions on the Yarra River of clever balancing feats like standing on his head in an outrigger.

RK:     So there we have it—Christopher Morris was part of a venerable river trade, and connected to some of its leading exponents. The peak of Greek immigration to Melbourne was in the 1950s and 60s—so Christopher Morris—or Christodoulos Moros—was also one of only around 200 Greeks who settled in Victoria before 1900.

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My Marvellous Melbourne is a production of the Melbourne History Workshop, in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Our thanks to Gavin Nebauer at the Horwood Recording Studio, University of Melbourne, and Andrew Batterham for our theme music. You can find episode notes, further resources, and contact details at our website

mymarvellousmelbourne.net.au.

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