A book launch at Trades Hall

Tonight I went to the Melbourne launch of the The Conscription Conflict and the Great War, edited by Robin Archer, Joy Damousi, Murray Goot and Sean Scalmer.


And who should be there to launch it than Bill Shorten, the ALP Leader of the Opposition, with a very fine speech. He started by drawing some parallels with the present day…a new Prime Minister, unable to take his party along with him, who changed his mind on a political stance that twelve months ago he had vehemently attacked and who foisted onto the people an expensive opinion poll in the form of a referendum.  Sound familiar?


While not at all disputing or undermining the recognition of the sacrifice at the front, he pointed out the international uniqueness of the referendum as a way of resolving the conscription question. In the setting of the oldest operating Trades Hall in the world, he noted that this was the geographic, political and emotional centre of the ‘no’ vote in  a debate that certainly did not exemplify the much-lauded ‘golden age of civility’. To the contrary, it was bitter, vindictive and spiteful and far worse than what passes for debate today.  It was really an excellent speech, (whether he wrote it himself or not) – I wish I’d taken notes- and it was very well-delivered. Excellent.

He was followed by Robin Archer, one of the editors.  He emphasized that WWI was not, as has been promoted, a period of consensus.  Far from being ‘the birth of a nation’, there was already existing in Australia a precocious progressive environment. Nor was ‘mateship’ on the front a uniquely Australian phenomenon, even though the referendum was.

Then a couple of songs from the Trade Union choir, including Eric Bogle’s ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘I Didn’t Raise My Son to Be a Soldier’.

Out into the twilight we went, stopping to admire the replica banners that adorn Trades Hall at the moment.  There’s a picture here of Trades Hall in 1917 festooned with banners.

And here’s the 2017 version:

And you’ll just have to wait for my review of the book!

‘Australia’s Second Chance’ by George Megalogenis


‘Australia’s Second Chance: What our history tells us about our future’

2016, 292

When I did HSC Australian History back in 1973, one of the books we had to purchase was A.G.L. Shaw’s The Economic Development of Australia. With its mud-coloured front cover, it was not an enticing book and it remained resolutely unopened the whole year.  Despite my admiration for A.G.L. Shaw’s work on Port Phillip, I’ve never been tempted to dig it out again.

Generally, economic history does not have a lot of prominence within Australian historiography, especially in recent years.  This struck me particularly when I was looking at Upper Canadian history, where economic explanations of development seem to abound. I wondered if, perhaps the difference lay in the fact that Upper Canada was settled overtly as a capitalist, entrepreneurial venture, compared with Australia’s more ambivalent beginnings as a penal colony in NSW, Tasmania and Moreton Bay, or as a Wakefieldian experiment in South Australia combining economic and social/moral aims.

However, in Australia’s Second Chance George Megalogenis has written a history of Australia  from an economic perspective that starts with the First Fleet and goes right through to 2015. Megalogenis writes more as a journalist more than historian and political commentator and in this survey-history he relies mainly on secondary sources.

The thesis of the book is that with the Gold Rush, Australia had a windfall that opened us up to the  rest of the world and made us, during the 1870s, the most prosperous country in the world. However, by the end of the 1880s we were too rich for our own good, and insecure that we could lose it all and thus grasped at the White Australia policy as a way of keeping people and goods out in order to preserve our standard of living.  This insular, frightened stance locked Australia into low growth and a sluggish economy until post-war migration, in its various guises, reinjected diversity back into Australian society and again stoked the furnaces of economic growth. In the closing chapters of the book, written while Abbott was Prime Minister, he warns that income inequality and fear of competition could lead us to squander our ‘second chance’- the minerals boom and Hawke/Keating open economy- and condemn us again to mediocrity.

The book is written in three parts. Part I ‘The Rise’ covers from the First Fleet to post-Eureka. He starts with Governor Phillip, ‘the accidental egalitarian’ who was forced through food shortages, a dearth of free settlers, and British disinterest into making land available for convicts to prevent them returning to England. The government emigration schemes of the early 1840s, especially into Port Phillip, were a world-first in that they responded to  the local economy’s call for particular skills and made the link between migration and prosperity. When the gold rush came, “no people were better prepared for transformation by gold than the Victorians of the mid 19th century” (p. 67).  The goldfields were in close proximity to Melbourne and Geelong, and La Trobe increased the wages of public servants (to stop them leaving for the diggings) and embarked on a program of public works to ensure that a parallel economy developed for those who stayed behind in Melbourne.  These gold-rush migrants had had experience of the 1848 uprisings in Europe, and there was a consensus that political and social reforms should be ceded gradually.  Megalogenis makes the point that Australia’s late development as a capitalist economy  was an advantage, occurring after slavery had been abolished and in the wake of increasing shipping and communication developments, contributing to a national self-image amongst Australians as being people of the world.

However, as Part II ‘The Fall’ points out, this self-confidence was on shaky ground, and by the turn of the century, fearful that the good luck would run out, Australian policy became more insular and protective, revealing ‘the chauvinism of the affluent’ . There had been harbingers of this tendency in the earlier century, first with the rejection of  Earl Gray’s Famine Orphan Girls (which he describes as springing more from anxiety about sex, rather than anxiety about race). In the wake of the Eureka uprising, Australia became the first in the world to use democracy as a deliberate tool of exclusion, first with the Chinese gold-seekers, then with Pacific Islanders.  By the late 1880s, flushed with Centennial celebrations and the influx of overseas finance that fuelled Melbourne’s housing boom, the decision was made to wind back migration in order to reduce the Irish influence and in response to union pressure about Chinese undercutting wages. When the property bubble burst,the “entire swaggering edifice of the world’s richest settlement” collapsed too:

Australians reverted to to something closer to their sullen former convict selves, separated from the world, and overly reliant on an inattentive mother country. Australia could only define itself to the world by what it wanted to exclude.  The White Australia policy, drafted at the top of the boom, became the wrong answer to almost every problem the colonies confronted once growth ended, and then the wrong message to sent the world when they finally formed a federation in 1901. (p. 149)

The White Australia policy became Australia’s first defining feature, and Australia’s political class was “born thinking small” (p. 159). Although WWI generally (and perversely) boosted the economies of other countries, it did not do so in Australia. The 1920s were a flat, muted decade, especially compared to the rest of the world.  It was only after WWII that Australia reclaimed “its true, open migrant self” but even here we see a trajectory of rejection that started with the Irish Orphan Girls and followed with the Chinese diggers, the Irish during WWI, Italians in the 1920s and then post-war Jewish refugees.

In Part III ‘The Return’ he traces this return to migration as a source of growth during the second half of the twentieth century.  Although the election of Menzies marked a shift to the right, he claims that there was more continuity between Chifley and Menzies than is often assumed.  Menzies, for example, accepted Labor’s model for national post-war development and overturned Calwell’s War-time Refugees Removal Act.  In fact, there’s little evidence of Whitlam’s multicultural-friendly ALP here, and as Megalogenis points out, many present-day Liberals are more like Calwell’s ALP. Although Whitlam hammered the last nails into the coffin of White Australia, it was Menzies and Holt who shouldered the coffin to that point.  Not that it was a popular policy either, which makes it all the braver, with a 1951 survey revealing approval of Greek migration only at 43%, Yugoslavian at 34% and Italians at only 27%. Post-war migration followed the pattern that we see with Middle Easter migration today with the men arriving first, then after a decade women coming in to close the gender imbalance.  The practice of both parents working arose first amongst migrant families, and it was the second generation that really reaped the benefits of their parents’ sacrifice.

Taking a broad sweep across twentieth-century history, Megalogenis identifies two periods that combined policy innovation, political stability and a shared sense of purpose across the parties of both labour and capital.  The first was the Curtin-Chifley-Menzies era, spanning 1941-1966, and the second was the Hawke-Keating-Howard arc between 1983 and 2007.  They were similar in length, and each was preceded by global humilitation. Both commenced with the ‘Halley’s Comet of Federal politics’- a Labor government, and both ended with the complacency of a conservative government that won too many elections. Both led to a period of prime ministerial volatility similar to that of early Federation politics.

I also suspect that Megalogenis’ upbeat cheerleading for migration would have been dampened somewhat by Pauline Hanson’s success in the recent double dissolution election and the recent opinion poll that showed that her ideas on migration are held by half the electorate. Megalogenis would  almost certainly point out that post-war migration wasn’t electorally popular at time either, and that true leadership lay in taking the country in an ultimately positive direction that its citizens might have, with lesser leadership, baulked at. But I think that even he, with his generally positive mindset would be sobered by recent developments.

Source: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

My rating: 8/10

This Week in Port Phillip in 1841: 15-22 October 1841

Hot air in winter!


Presbyterian School House (Scots School House) by Joseph Burns. It was erected at the north-west corner of Collins and Russell Street by December 1839 and used for services until Scots Church was built. It was for some time the only building available for public meetings, like this first meeting of the Debating Society.  It was demolished in 1870. Source: State Library of Victoria


On 13 October a meeting was held in the Scots School House to discuss the transformation of the Debating Society, which had previously been meeting in private homes, into a larger and  more substantial organization. In Sydney, the Debating Society was a branch of the Mechanics’ Institute, and had use of their lecture room and library.  Although there was a nascent Mechanics’ Institute in Melbourne,”their temporary committee room is too circumscribed to afford accommodation for the debates being held therein; the use of the books in the library is the utmost that could be offered, and this, no doubt, would be cheerfully conceded.” (PPG  13/10/41)  As a result, the Melbourne Debating Society decided to open itself up to the public as an independent organization.

Mr John Stephen was called to the chair, and the rules were discussed. There was some controversy over the rule which prohibited reference to scripture in the elucidation of argument, but Mr Darling, who proposed the original rule was sticking by it.  Then Rev James Forbes, the Presbyterian minister (in whose rooms they were meeting, after all) said that religious controversy should always be avoided in a Debating Society, but that he didn’t disapprove of referring to scripture in support or confirmation of an historical fact. He then proposed an amendment that quotations from scripture should be excluded in the debate (i.e. reference was allowable, but quotation was not). His motion was carried. A great number of people enrolled their names as members.(PPG 16/10/41)

On 20 October the first public debate was held, again at the Scots School House.  There were twenty members present, plus visitors. The question for debate was  “Did the motives which incited Brutus and his associates in the assassination of Julius Caesar originate in patriotic desire or personal feeling”? Quite frankly, I wouldn’t know where to start. Neither, it seems did the good men of Port Phillip, in the opinion of the writer from the Port Phillip Gazette:

One thing was evident; that neither of the parties, pro or con had sufficiently studied the question, as to bring the points which most materially bore upon the subject in aid for its elucidation. This system should not be permitted to obtain, if the society is to prosper. [PPG 23/10/41]

Oh well, better luck next Wednesday, when the topic was: “Whether America or any other nation is likely ultimately to supplant Great Britain”?

I’ve written more about the Debating Society here.

It’s ball time again

You might remember the fuss about the Private Assembly Ball back in June. Well, another Private Subscription Ball was planned for October and, according to the Port Phillip Gazette, it all went very well:

PRIVATE ASSEMBLIES. The first ball of the season took place last night at the Freemasons’ Lodge-Room in the Exchange Hotel.  The attendance was numerous, considering the unsettled state of the weather, and the arrangements made reflected the greatest praise upon the stewards of the evening. The ball room was most tastefully decorated, under the supervision of Mr Buckingham. The refreshments were of the first-rate description. Quadrilles, waltzes and Gallapades divided the entertainments into their due proportions, to which the exertions of the orchestra contributed the full share of mirth and activity.  The supper room was ornamented with flags of various descriptions. Altogether the entertainment appeared to afford ample satisfaction to all parties; and the tout-ensembled afforded a gratifying specimen of colonial gaiety, with cannot be too often [applauded?] [PPG 23/10/41]

The drapers of Melbourne took advantage of ball season and the upcoming visit of Governor Gipps to spruik their wares:

ADVERTISEMENT- THE GOVERNORS VISIT.  The proposed Visit of the Governor, accompanied as he will be by his Lady, will cause a degree of gaity in the Provice which has seldom before occurred.  With the Governor’s visit a series of BALLS, ROUTES AND SOIREES &C will follow in its train, and Melbourne will be for the period of their stay relieved from its usual monotony.  The ladies of Melbourne will of course be prominent in their display of FASHIONALE [sic] TASTE for which they are so much admired, and which upon this occasion they will doubtless show to the best advantage, proving alike to Sir George as to Lady Gipps, that the ladies of Port Phillip can justly appreciate the beauty of British Manufacture.  Cashmore & Co desire to encourage this amiable emulation on the part of the ladies of Port Phillip, have obtained, and they will open this morning A CASE OF FANCY GOODS which are expressly provided for this enlivening occasion.  Early application is necessary, as this is the only case they have of those articles [PPG 20/10/41]


Michael Cashmore, photographed by T. F. Chuck in 1872. Cashmore’s store on the corner of Collins and Elizabeth Streets was very well known. Source: State Library of Victoria

As it turned out, Lady Gipps didn’t accompany Sir George, so all that competition to impress was rather wasted.


A Coroners Inquest into infanticide held during this week provides an insight into the jobs and living conditions of  the servant class in Melbourne, and most particularly those of recently-arrived immigrant women from Ireland.

A baby was found in a cesspit servicing three separate houses in Little Flinders Street. Joseph Stewart, an” eating house manager” said that he had two female lodgers in his house, but they were married people and their husbands resided with them. Neither had been ill and nor had any alteration taken place in them since residing there. He had had a female servant who left last Sunday, discharged for disobedience of orders in going to chapel without permission:

…she passed as a single woman, and went by the name of Catherine, she was a stout woman and had very good health; she is as stout now as ever was; she lived with witness for about two months and a half; think she took up her residence in the back yard after she left.

The District Constable reported that the woman, Catherine Rigney had left Stewart’s house immediately after she heard of the cesspool being empties and had run away, taking a portion of her clothes and saying that she would be back for the others.  She was called to the stand and said

I am a servant and arrived on the 16th July in the Royal Saxon; I went to live with Stewart the latter end of that month; he discharged me on Sunday because I went to mass without asking his permission.

Her former shipmate Catherine Banquo took the stand; said that they had travelled out from Cork together and that there was no alteration in Catherine Rigney since she first knew her. She was a servant to Mr Robson, of the London Inn and Catherine had called on her and said that her master had discharged her because she went to mass; she slept that night with her, she seemed a little distressed in being out of a situation.

Dr Cussen, who conducted a post-mortem, testified that it was a full-term baby. The jury after a short consultation returned a verdict of ‘Wilful murder of the child, by some party or parties unknown’.

But then, some hours after the inquest, a woman known by the name of Bridget (Biddy) Lapping,who had resided in Stewart’s house for two months before being turned out for drunkenness,  informed that Stewart had, a day or two previously, taken an infant and a bag of wool “removed from a mattress, for reasons which delicacy forbids us to mention” and thrown them into the privy at the rear of his house.  Stewart was arrested and taken to the watchhouse [PPG 20/10/41]

The following morning when he was brought before the police court, she said that she had not the slightest recollection of making any statement, and if she did so it must have been under a state of intoxication.  She said that she knew nothing whatever of a child being put into a bag containing some hair and being thrown into the cesspit. But several witnesses said that she had said so.

There is one circumstance which must strike everyone who has taken the most cursory glance at what transpired relative to the case… it is clear that the woman stated she saw Stewart put the child into a bag containing some hair, and she then enquired of Clifford (who was employed to clean out the place), which he found first, “the hair or the child?” Clifford said “the hair”. It is an extraordinary circumstance that nothing relative to the hair came out in evidence at the inquest; therefore, unless the woman was well acquainted with the facts, she must have arrived at the circumstance of the hair being with the child, by intuition. Not the slightest clue has been obtained of the mother of the child, which is somewhat extraordinary.  The man Stewart, of course, in consequence of the gross prevarication of the woman, has been discharged.  The woman Lapping turns out to be a prisoner of the Crown and according to her own showing, has been living a life of gross infamy.  The Bench have turned her into government and ordered her to jail. [PPG 23/10/41]

The mother of the child was never identified.

And the weather?

Between the 15th and 21 October there were fresh breezes, strong winds and gales- it certainly sounds like our changeable spring weather!  There was fine weather up until 19th; the 20th was the hottest day at 82 degrees (27.7) before rain on 20th and 21st.  Certainly Georgiana McCrae was enjoying the weather, noting the thermometer at 82 on 16th “a delightful day”.  On 20th she noted “Another delicious day. I feel all alive!” and recorded 84 degrees on her thermometer on 21st. The lowest temperature was 41 (5 celsius).

Some good news (for now) about Banyule Homestead


Banyule Homestead (a)_PeterCrone

Those of us who submitted objections to the proposed use of Banyule Homestead as a wedding venue received welcome news from Heritage Victoria recently.  The owners have withdrawn their application, for now at least.


I think that there’s yet another chapter in this story.  You can follow it at my other blog, Banyule Homestead Matters.


Exhibitions: Pholiota and Strutt

Once again I find myself visiting and writing about exhibitions just as they’re metaphorically turning the lights off and getting ready to shut the door. Well, perhaps not quite, because both these exhibitions close on 23 October, but that certainly doesn’t leave long to catch them.

Pholiota Unlocked 7-23 October 2016, 9am-5pm. Dulux Gallery, ground floor, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne. Entry is free.

I knew that there must be something up with Pholiota because I’d noticed so many hits on a posting I wrote back in 2013 about Walter and Marion Griffin which included photographs of the interior of Pholiota, which I was fortunate enough to view on an open day.


Pholiota – you can just see the Knitlock brickwork

Pholiota (meaning ‘mushroom’) was constructed by Walter and Marion Griffin in Eaglemont, beside the Lippincott House which Griffin also designed for his brother-in-law. Knowing that its miniscule size (6.4 metres by 6.4 metres) would preclude it receiving building approval, they claimed that it was only a doll’s house for the Lippincott House next door.  They lived there between 1920 and 1925 very happily: so happily in fact that Marion claimed that they sometimes walked backwards on the way to Eaglemont station so that they could admire it from afar.

The original house is, in effect, a single room with sleeping alcoves, a too-small kitchen and a largish dressing room surrounding the dining room with its open fireplace.


The large table in the centre of the room; very small kitchen in the middle rear

Students from the Melbourne University School of Design have built a life-sized model of Pholiota from  plaster blocks fabricated using modern materials manufactured using the Knitlock system invented by Griffin as an inexpensive, do-it-yourself form of building.


The walls only reach about eight feet high and there is no roof, so you feel as if you are looking down on the model.  Even though it was empty and completely white,  it seemed smaller than I remembered the real Pholiota to be. You can don virtual-reality glasses to look at a student’s design for updating Pholiota to current taste.

In an adjacent gallery students have reimagined the Glenard Estate which was laid out by Griffin in 1916.  Charged with making it a medium-density suburb while maintaining Griffin’s vision of shared green space, the students have designed streetscapes with multiple dwellings, the same size as Pholiota and each with 2 bedroom spaces, more than doubling the density of the suburb.  I’m sure that the good people of Glenard Estate are horrified.

There’s a good article about Pholiota here

Heroes and villains: Strutt’s Australia State Library of Victoria 14 July-23 Oct 2016, entry free.

Despite the rain, we caught a tram down Swanston Street to the State Library of Victoria to catch the last days of ‘Strutt’s Australia’, an exhibition previously on show at the National Library featuring works by the painter William Strutt.

Have a look here and you’ll see that you probably recognize many of his paintings without necessarily realizing that he had painted them.  Burke and Wills; bushrangers; the Black Thursday bushfires: he’s a veritable one-man-band of Australian imagery- or perhaps rather, he helped create it.

Born in England, he began drawing at  the Paris atelier of Michel-Martin Drolling in 1838 (just 13!) where he was trained in figure drawing leading to the painting of large history paintings.  He lived in Australia between 1850 where he painted portraits of John Fawkner (Judge Willis’ most vocal supporter), members of the Native Police Force and Robert O’Hara Burke (of Burke and Wills fame) He travelled to the goldfields where he made sketches of the diggers at work and  made sketches in preparation for making big-history paintings of the opening of the Victorian Legislative Council in 1851 and Parliament House in 1856.  Many of his scrap books furnished small sketches which he later incorporated into his pictures. He returned to England in 1862 where he painted ‘popular’ pictures to keep body and soul together, as well as the big historical paintings of Australian events that we know so well e.g. Black Thursday and the burial of Burke (which of course he never witnessed).

There’s an interesting interactive display where you can click on the figures in his Bushrangers picture and see the original sketches that he had done in preparation for this larger picture. I was surprised by the variation in quality of the works on display: his nude figures as a 13 year old are very good and the details in his big history paintings are vivid and well-realized but to be honest, some of his portraits are pretty ordinary.

Movie: Love & Friendship

Well, this is all a bit confusing! The young Jane Austen did write a novella called Love and Freindship [sic] reviewed here by Whispering Gums (who is an insightful guide to all things Austen) but this film by Whit Stillman is actually a rendering of another Austen novel completely, Lady Susan, also reviewed by Whispering Gums.  I suspect that Stillman was riffing off the other double-barrelled Austen titles (Pride and Prejudice; Sense and Sensibility) and perhaps he thought that nobody would notice.

Kate Beckinsale is absolutely luminous in this film as Lady Susan Vernon, the rather merry widow who has been cast onto her own resources to find financial security for her rather wet daughter and herself. She is quick witted, acerbic and ambitious and uses her skills and beauty artfully.  It’s a rather arch and knowing romp and thoroughly good fun, without being in the least ponderous.

Of course, the historian in me never quite goes away, and I found myself drawing links between the film and the financial dilemma of the female without means that I saw lived out through the life of the real-life Judge Willis’ sister Jane (known to the family as Jenny). I strongly suspect that she did not have the beauty, and she showed little evidence of the wiles of Lady Susan. Nonetheless, as with Austen’s other works, it’s an interesting commentary on early 1800s social and gender relations offered up to the historian’s eyes almost unwittingly.

I enjoyed this review of the movie:


Spotted in Melbourne 16 October 2016

In a laneway near the Queen Vic market yesterday….