Monthly Archives: February 2016

Movie: Hail, Caesar

Mr Judge rarely wants to accompany me to the movies, but if its a Coen Brothers movie, then that’s different. So there were both were, frocked up to see Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar is like a mash-up of every 1950s Saturday afternoon movie you ever saw.  It follows Eddie Mannix, the ‘fixer’ at Capitol Movies  over one day as he juggles stars and starlets between movies, sorts out their private lives, soothes egos and fends off the press. All in a day’s work, it seems, including negotiations the ransom of the star of Hail Caesar, a biblical blockbuster when he is kidnapped by Communist Hollywood film writers (yes, Virginia, there really were Communists in Hollywood).  In passing,  the studio door opens and shuts on Esther-Williamesque swimming sequences, tap-dancing sailors, and a costume drama with an ill-chosen lead actor who is more comfortable in westerns. T’were that it were so simple.

This film reminded me a bit of Monty Python films in that in small snippets it is hilarious, but you’d be hard pressed to find any overarching meaning in the whole thing.  I watched it still under the influence of jet-lag and must confess to ‘resting my eyes’ just a little during the film. When it finished, I wondered if it had actually finished, or whether it was going to start again after the credits? Had missed I something crucial that made it hang together? No, it was just a self-referential spoof with a wink. Good fun though, and like Monty Python, may become better known for its parts than for the whole.

This Week in Port Phillip 16-23 February

THE POST OFFICE

Perhaps the approval of the new post office was conferred too readily, because complaints began to be voiced about the ‘penny wise pound foolish’ approach being undertaken in building the first post office. In particular, there were criticisms that the office was only a small room 12 feet square, and that the delivery and receipt of mail would be carried out at a window that did not have protection against bad weather.

 We would suggest either the erection or the hiring of a suitable building on the part of government for the purposes of a Post Office, sufficiently capacious to admit of a receiving and sorting room, a private office for the Postmaster, and a delivery room which should have a window opening into a passage, lobby or verandah, for it will not be denied that the comfort of the public should not altogether be lost sight of in these arrangements

You can see an image of the old Post Office here.  The clock shown in the picture was not part of the original building.

JUDGE WILLIS

The Sydney correspondent for the Port Phillip Herald reported that Judge Willis was due to arrive in Melbourne soon.  He gave a hint of the trouble that was to arise during Willis’ time in Port Phillip

Mr Justice Willis has been appointed Judge at Port Phillip, and expects to be in time to hold a court in March. His Honor has been on bad terms with his learned brethren for some time; and probably wishes to have a court of his own, where he cannot be overruled. Mr Willis is a very learned, very clever, and above all a very conscientious man, but it must be admitted that he is rather eccentric; as an equity lawyer he is not equaled in the colony (PPH 19 Feb 1841)

MR NATHAN’S CONCERT

On 18 February, Melbourne was treated to a concert given by Mr Nathan at the Caledonian Hotel.The next day, the Port Phillip Herald reported that:

A vocal Concert was given at the Caledonian Hotel last evening by Mr Nathan and his talented Family. We have only time to notice that it was exceedingly well attended, and passed off with the greatest eclat. His Honor the Superintendent, J. Simpson and W. H. Yaldwyn Esquires, with their Ladies were amongst the company present.

Nathan
Isaac Nathan was born in England in 1790, the son of a hazzan (Jewish cantor) and was so musically precocious that he was apprenticed to the famous London Maestro Domenico Corri to learn singing and composition.  Like all musical artists, he cultivated patronage links to further his career.  One such patron was Princess Charlotte (who had taken music lessons with him); another was Lord Byron, who Nathan urged to write words for the melodies of the synagogue service that Nathan was so familiar with.  The result was Byron’s Hebrew Melodies, which remained in print, along with Nathan’s settings, for the rest of the century.

Nathan’s career declined, however, with the death of both Lord Byron and Princess Charlotte and he was forced to diversify into writing newspaper articles on boxing and music and he penned popular operettas to cover his gambling debts.  He published a history of music in 1823 but with little prospect of rehabilitating his career, he and his family emigrated to New South Wales.

His concert in Melbourne consisted of eighteen items, five of which were his own composition.  A review of the concert noted that:

He appears, with an egotism perhaps in this case pardonable, to have selected several of his own compositions for performance.

He was not to stay in Melbourne for long. On his arrival in Sydney in April 1841 he established an academy of singing, became the choir master of St Mary’s Cathedral and organized the largest concert of sacred music ever heard in the colony. Later dubbed ‘the father of Australian music’, he composed Australia The Wide and Free, with words by W. A. Duncan, for the inaugural dinner of Sydney’s first council in 1842 and two other ‘choral odes’ Long Live Victoria (the Queen, not the state) and Hail Star of the South. He commemorated the 58th anniversary of the founding of Sydney with Currency Lasses in 1846  and wrote two works related to the explorer Ludwig Leichardt- the first mourning his disappearance; the second celebrating his imagined return.  His opera Don John of Austria (not Australia) was the first opera wholly composed and produced in Australia and it was performed at the Victoria Theatre in Sydney.  He also wrote  a strange miscellany of called The Southern Euphrosyne,  where he attempted to transcribe traditional Aboriginal music, the first serious attempt to do so.  He died in Sydney in 1864 after being hit while alighting from a city horse-tram.

The ABC Lateline program screened a segment on him in 2003, featuring his biographer Dr. Graham Pont. You can read the transcript here.

His Wikipedia entry summarizes his significance thus:

Nathan’s Hebrew Melodies must rank as a real achievement. Nathan’s music for them was in print in England at least until the 1850s and was known across Europe.

Moreover, Nathan can claim some credit as inspiring Byron’s texts. These not only in themselves diffused a spirit of philosemitism in cultured circles (indeed they became perhaps Byron’s most genuinely popular work); but they were used as the basis for settings by many other composers in the nineteenth century, both Jewish (Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Joachim) and gentile (Schumann, Loewe, Mussorgsky, Balakirev, and others).

Nathan’s writings on music had little direct influence, small sales, and received no serious reviews in the press. In isolation, he struck upon and highlighted a theme which was at the time a major concern of the Jewish intellectual movement in Germany; the delineation and promotion of a genuine Jewish culture. The same spirit seems to have motivated his pioneering work with the music of the indigenous Australians.

Finally, Nathan’s indomitable refusal to admit defeat in life in exile – he undoubtedly paralleled himself with his hero Byron – has enabled him, from his concertising and writings on Aboriginal music, to be justly remembered by antipodean musicologists as “the father of Australian music

Isaac Nathan may have lived and worked in Sydney, but he came to Melbourne first!

AND THE WEATHER…

The weather was typical Melbourne summer weather- hot, followed by a cool change. On 16th and 17th February the weather was in the low 80s (28 degrees), but a cool change on 18th was followed by five days of temperatures below 70 (about 20) degrees.

 

Movie: Carol

This is a beautifully shot, slow movie, based on Patricia Highsmith’s long-ago novel.

lt seems as if I’ve been seeing trailers at the Nova advertising Carol for months and I felt as if I knew what the story was going to be before I sat down to watch it at last.   So I was rather surprised to find that Rooney Mara’s character Therese was an observer as well as a protagonist for events faced by Cate Blanchett’s character Carol.  It was a quieter, more detached movie than I expected and I (dare I say it?), I felt that it was a little slow.

This Week in Port Phillip 1841: February 8-15

HENRY DENDY ARRIVES

During this week Mr Henry Dendy arrived from England, bearing an entitlement to select 5120 acres of Port Phillip land under the Special Survey legislation that had been enacted in England.  This legislation enabled prospective settlers, while in England, to pre-purchase a general entitlement to land at one pound per acre, pay for it in England, then come out to Australia to select the specific land that he wanted to buy.  When news of this scheme reached New South Wales (and particularly Port Phillip as its most rapidly expanding frontier), Gipps, La Trobe and local purchasers were horrified at the thought of the best land being gobbled up before their eyes. Gipps quickly passed regulations in March 1841 to restrict Special Surveys to land more than 5 miles from the closest surveyed township, and to limit waterfront purchases to only 1 mile of 4 square miles of purchases, to avoid whole riverbanks being monopolized by one purchaser. After Gipps severely criticized the scheme to the Colonial Office, it was abandoned in August 1841.  Nonetheless, in these short months eight Special Surveys were instituted, three in what is now suburban Melbourne: Frederick Unwin’s Special Survey in Templestowe, Henry Elgar’s survey in Box Hill, and Henry Dendy- whose arrival was noted on 12 February 1841- who snaffled what is now prime blue-ribbon residential land in Brighton.

THE FIRST G.P.O IS COMMENCED

Initially John Batman took care of the mail deliveries, but in 1841 a dedicated post office building was commenced on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets, the site of the building that we still call the GPO even though it has been turned into shopping.   It included an eight room cottage for the postmaster (which seems rather generous) and a lobby and offices facing Bourke Street.  As time went on, it suffered from the frequent flooding of Elizabeth Street but in February 1841, the good people of Melbourne were very pleased with the building which they felt reflected credit on Mr Rattenbury, the Clerk of Public Works. They were particularly pleased at the design for the inward-mail post boxes:

 The plan adopted in America with so much advantage will be introduced of having a set of pigeon holes corresponding with the letters of the alphabet, which will be painted on the panes of one of the windows, so that any person going to the office may, by looking into the pigeon hole opposite the initial of his surname, be enabled to perceive whether there be any letters therein, and if none, of course he need not delay or trouble the postmaster by making enquiries.

NUISANCE DOGS

The Port Phillip Herald applauded the decision by the magistrates that stray dogs should be killed, but didn’t like the way it was implemented:

A number of those quadrupeds, which were destroyed about a fortnight since, were thrown upon a heap at the bottom of Elizabeth-street and loosely covered with earth. The consequence has been that they were speedily disinterred by the pigs and the stench arising from the mass of putrefaction has been insufferable

AN EXTREME CASE OF CHARITY

Settlers traveling to New South Wales without the bonds of family and neighbours from ‘home’ were vulnerable if their plans for a new life were disrupted by death or illness.

We rejoice that it is seldom our duty to revert to cases of poverty in Melbourne, but an instance has come under our notice of pecuniary distress, under circumstances which irresistibly urge upon us the necessity of appealing to the public sympathy. By one of the late vessels from England there arrived a Mr McLean, his wife and seven children, and eight days after their arrival Mr McLean died, leaving his family totally unprovided for. Mrs McLean is an entire stranger, without a friend or the means of subsistence and to add to her distress she is on the eve of her confinement. She is at present in a wretched hovel, in the rear of Mr Ley’s the Watchmaker, and only prevented from starving by some slender support furnished by the neighbours. Under the circumstances we trust the feeling of humanity is too strong in the breasts of our fellow colonists to require greater excitement than that produced by the mere mention of the case to ensure some assistance. Even a shilling will be of service, and there are few amongst us who could not spare something to mitigate the suffering of an unfortunate stranger amongst us. (PPH 12 Feb 1841)

HOW’S THE WEATHER?

Hot, actually. It surprises me, given that many of the new members of Port Phillip Society came direct from ‘home’,that  there weren’t more complaints about the weather and particularly about the heat. Also, given that white settlement in Melbourne had only started six years earlier, there must have been a degree of learning still going on about the weather patterns.

But at this time in 1841, the weather was so exceptional that it attracted the attention of the Port Phillip Herald of 16 February:

During the last few days the inhabitants of Melbourne have experienced some of the most intensely hot weather that has ever been experienced by the settlers in Australia Felix; the atmosphere has been dry and oppressive, accompanied by heat so well-known and so much dreaded. We have been informed that on Saturday evening the thermometer stood at 100 degrees in the shade at Mr Mills’ brewery, and since Wednesday it has never been below 93 during the day. The want of rain has been severely felt in the interior; in some places we are informed, not a blade of grass can be seen, and the most fearful consequences to the stock &c is anticipated, if the ground does not receive timely moisture. A storm passed over the town on the afternoon of Thursday with successions of [most?] vivid lightning, accompanied by peals of the most startling thunder; the electric [fluid?] struck a tree on the summit of the Eastern Hill and deposited it in several parts of the bark; a man who was standing near narrowly escaped with his life.

 

 

‘Leap’ by Myfanwy Jones

Leap

2015, 324 p.

There are two epigraphs to this book. The first is from Emily Dickenson on the weariness of grief. The second is from Parkourpedia the online encyclopedia of parkour, the practice of running and leaping on urban structures. Running, Climbing, Jumping are the three parts of this book, as two people make the leap from crippling grief to living again.

Joe lives in a share house in the northern suburbs of Melbourne and works multiple jobs in cafes in High Street (Northcote?) at night. Much of his time is spent in the darkness, either working or barrelling along bridges and streets as he practices his parkour moves.  His girlfriend has died some little time earlier and he blames himself.

Elise, on the other side of town, is a middle-class, middle-aged graphic designer and she too is grappling with grief.  Her daughter has died; her husband Adam has left her. She goes to the zoo weekly and paints the tigers.  They are beautiful, but they are powerful too, and it is her awareness of their coiled savagery that attracts her.

The narrative alternates between the two characters and gradually enlarges its focus, just as the two characters do also.  Joe embarks on a crepuscular relationship with a nurse who has joined their share house, referred to only as ‘she’ or ‘the nurse’, and his friendship deepens with Lena, a workmate at one of the restaurants.  Elise reaches out to her friend Jill after the breakup of her marriage (as women often do) and begins to make plans for travel while her ex-husband Adam, increasingly vulnerable as the reality of the separation sinks in, begins to share with Elise the grief he had suppressed after their daughter’s death.

‘The Leap’ is the image that gives this book its title and acts as the metaphor that ties  the two stories together for much of the narrative.  Joe plans a carefully-executed leap from a bridge as a skilled parkour manoeuvre, while Elise contemplates the power of the leap of a tiger.  They are both obsessed by the thought of the leap, and there is page after page of detail of either parkour or tigers.  I soon found myself just skipping over it, which mounted up to quite a bit of missed text by the end of the book.  I could have put the book down at any point, really, but what kept me reading was my curiosity over whether the two characters would actually bring the two ‘leaps’ into reality and whether the author would do it with finesse.

The book was listed as one of the ‘Summer Reads’, set in Victoria and suggested by the State Library of Victoria, and it is a light enough read.  I generally soak up books set in my own home town but in this case, the Melbourne setting was not enough to quell my impatience with a book that seemed, paradoxically, both over-egged and yet thin.

 

 

 

Off yet again to the Land of Increasing Sunshine

I have embraced my new vocation as a Lady’s Travelling Companion, and am off to Perth, Singapore, Mumbai en route (circuitously) to Nairobi. I have taken up writing about my travels, with some hesitation, on my earlier blog The Land of Increasing Sunshine.

Vale John Hirst

hirst

Australian historian John Hirst died on 5th February.

I remember seeing his name on his door in the history department when I first did undergraduate history at La Trobe in the 1970s, but I sailed through a B. A. without encountering him.  It was to Dr Hirst that I had to make application, forty years later, when I decided to return to university after a prolonged period of ill-health, determined to do something that I really wanted to do instead of working in a cut-down capacity in my present job. I had addressed my email of inquiry to “Dear Dr Hirst”, and as he opened the door to his office he exclaimed “I knew you’d be a mature-aged student! None of this ‘Dear John’ stuff!”  Dear John was, however, rather stringent in admitting me to the post-grad program at La Trobe, with his eagle-eye detecting the single ‘C’ mark in second-year history back in 1974 (given to me, ironically enough, by the lecturer I ended up working for as a research assistant some years later!) in amongst a CV that included good results in many other post-grad courses.  He enrolled me in an honours course, just to see how I went, and had the grace to quickly waive the requirement after the first assessment task.  By that time, however, I no longer wanted to leave the honours class. I had enrolled in a readings course with John, and I ‘grew up’ as a historian in the six months I sat in his tutorial room.

We read one Australian history book a week, starting with colonial history through to a range of ‘shist’ (Short History) compilations.  I learned to read for the overarching argument as well as detail, to uncover assumptions, to weigh evidence, to notice structure.  Some of my fellow students flagged a bit at one book per week, but I loved it.

I went on to tutor for John in his final presentation of first year Colonial History before retiring from lecturing- a subject he had taught for many years and had honed well.  Each lecture was a tightly woven argument, with none of this trailing-off half finished because time had got away.  You came out, not necessarily agreeing with him (in fact, I often did not agree with him), but having witnessed a historical argument being constructed, and supported, in front of your eyes. At the end of semester, I mentioned to the students how fortunate they had been to have had him, and I sat at the back of the room, proud of these 19 and 20 year-olds who spontaneously gave him a standing ovation at the end of the last lecture.

John wanted me- he wanted all his postgrad students – to write big history, and I’m afraid that I probably disappointed him in that regard.  John had a long-standing interest in the Australian character, republicanism and the democracy of manners.  In recent years as ‘John Hirst’, rather than ‘J. B. Hirst’, he moved out of academe into the public sphere, where he published a number of books under the Black Inc impress.  Although some of his recent books combined span with brevity (e.g. The Shortest History of Europe) several of his other recent publications  were compilations or reworkings of articles he had written in academic journals over the years, and were marked by his trademark punchiness in both language and logic.  He argued with his brain, without rancour or oneupmanship.

I did a search of this blog under ‘Hirst’ to see how many of his books I had reviewed. There was only one, Convict Society and its Enemies, but many, many posts came up where I had referred to him by name.  His own work in Australian colonial history was big history, even though in his chapter-length articles the canvas he worked on may have seemed to be small.  He influenced me deeply as a historian, even though I found his politics frustratingly difficult to pigeon-hole.  He was a man of the mind and  generous in his attention.  Vale, John.