Category Archives: Current events

Celebrating a new public holiday

I bet that Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, was watching the weather forecasts rather anxiously this week. After all, I don’t think that the weather gods favour the Labor Party. I only need think back to the election day in 2010 that brought the Liberal Party’s Ted Baillieu into power.  The rain absolutely bucketed down, breaking the long drought that had dessicated the nation for about fifteen years, and gifting to the Liberal Party an endless source of much glee about the desalination plant that the Labor government had urgently commissioned. (Mind you, I am positive that there will be summers ahead when we all say “Thank God for the desalination plant”)

But the weather gods were kinder on this inaugural Grand Final Public Holiday.  Had it rained, or been one of the bitterly cold days that spring can buffet us with,  it might have been an absolute flop. Certainly the employer groups were grumbling about it and Prime Minister Mal was gloating about the lack of crowds early in the morning.   But instead, the skies were blue, the sun shone, the crowds came out after a sleep-in and a new tradition has started, I suspect.  It was lovely to see so many Dads with their kids on this day, whether they went to the parade or not.

As for us, we caught the train to the ‘other side’ to Williamstown. I felt like quite the tourist, noticing the benighted Melbourne Star ferris wheel (was it working or not?) which can’t be seen from the northern suburbs; marvelling at the size of the cranes on the docks, and wondering which old factories or stockyards had been levelled to yield all this new housing.

Williamstown6

I was surprised that the train carriage still had the configuration of 3-across seats. On the Hurstbridge line (my line) they have removed the third seat so that more people can stand.

Williamstown is only 8km from the centre of Melbourne but somehow it feels like a completely different place, with Melbourne visible across the water.

Williamstown9

When Governor Bourke came down to the embryonic Melbourne village in 1837, he ordered surveyors to lay out two towns: Melbourne after the British Prime Minister and Williamstown (or Williams Town) after King William IV. With its deep harbour, it became the centre of maritime activity. The Alfred Graving Dock and State shipbuilding yard was completed there in 1874, one of the most expensive infrastructure projects undertaken by the Victorian colonial government. Prison hulks were stationed at Williamstown and this was the site of the murder of the infamous John Price, Inspector General of Penal Establishments.

Williamstown7

This is the bluestone morgue, now in Ann Street, moved from its original position on Gem Wharf. It was constructed in 1859, only a short time after the first morgue was fully completed in Melbourne, possibly at the Western end of Flinders Street (an earlier morgue started near Princes Bridge in Melbourne in 1853-4 was never completed). The Williamstown morgue was built using convict labour from the hulks and it was sited on the wharf where the tidal waters could wash away the…um…waste.

Many hotels (many now disused) catered for the port labourers. However, it was notable as we walked around, reading the plaques attached by the Williamstown Historical Society and the Hobsons Bay Council, that many of these pubs were built from the 1860s onwards, replacing earlier buildings.  There’s a lot of new development happening down there again, and I posted earlier about an old house that didn’t survive.

Hotel tricked up to reference the Titanic. I guess someone thought it was a good idea at the time.

Hotel tricked up to reference the Titanic. I guess someone thought it was a good idea at the time.

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The first hotel on this site was the Royal Oak, built in 1852 but it was replaced in 1893 with this rather grand edifice. It has been used as a boarding house for many years.

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This hotel had a picture of the Shenandoah, a Confederate ship which arrived at Williamstown in January 1865 for repairs after damage received while chasing Union whaling ships. The Confederate sailors were feted by the citizens of Melbourne, and protected from arrest by Governor Darling. There’s been quite a bit of interest in the ship for the 150th anniversary of its arrival

No sign of the Shenandoah,  but there was another controversial ship- the Steve Irwin, part of the  Sea Shepherd fleet.

Williamstown11Williamstown10

The Williamstown Tower was built in 1849, originally as a lighthouse, then after it was taken over by the Williamstown Observatory, a timeball was fitted and  it served as a timeball tower between 1861-1926. At precisely 1.00 p.m. each day the timeball would descend, marking the time exactly for ships anchored out in the bay so that they could adjust their chronometers.  Wikipedia tells me that it’s the second oldest lighthouse in Victoria.

Williamstown2

We had a very good lunch at Tick Tock Cafe, followed by an ice-cream sitting in the park, then headed for home.  The train was filled with people who’d been in at the Grand Final parade and good feeling abounded.  The first Grand Final Public Holiday has been a resounding success, I should imagine.

And Hawthorn won.

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

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

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

MacRobertson

Cherry-Ripe-Wrapper-Small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would Willis do…..if he were Dyson Heydon?

Since my work on Justice John Walpole Willis, I find myself measuring current events in the judicial/political realm against the criterion of “What would Willis do?”  Justice  Dyson Heydon, the commissioner sitting on the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption  has spent the weekend contemplating whether the fair-minded observer would ‘apprehend’ bias in his initial acceptance to make the Sir Garfield Barwick oration at a Liberal [i.e. conservative] Party function. I wonder what Willis would do were he in the same situation.

Of course, the question is moot as the commissions of a colonial judge in the 19th century and a Royal Commissioner appointed in March 2014 are  completely different.  As a colonial judge appointed by Whitehall, Willis was expected to support the executive government, albeit balancing this against his own professional commitment to the ‘rule of law’. It was this assumption of loyalty to the government that underpinned the whole basis of a colonial judicial appointment.  Appointment as a colonial judge was ‘at pleasure’ (the pleasure of the Queen-in-Council and the British Government, that is) whereas appointment as a judge on the English bench was ‘during good behaviour’ with the judiciary intended to be largely independent of Parliament.

There are those who would argue (myself included) that this particular Royal Commission is, and has been, political from its very inception.  The choice of Royal Commissioner falls to the Prime Minister, and no Prime Minister would appoint a Commissioner that he felt would be inimical to the whole project.

Willis often cited Lord Mansfield as a model, most particularly Mansfield’s insistence on not bowing to popular opinion during the Wilkes trials.  “Fiat justitia ruat caelum” declared Willis, following Mansfield (“Let justice be done though the heavens fall”) and Willis frequently declared that he did not seek popularity or the approval of others.  These ‘others’ often tended to be governors and his brother judges. Despite his insistence that he eschewed popularity, many of his most controversial statements fed right into the popular local politics of the day.

In this regard, Heydon likewise looks to black-letter law rather than popular opinion.  Like Willis he, too, dissented from his brother judges.  In 2013 Professors Andrew Lynch and George Williams of UNSW analyzed Heydon’s performance on the High Court and found that he dissented on 40% of the matters on which he sat. Gabrielle Appleby has written a good article on The Conversation website on Heydon as a ‘black-letter’ judge, as does Tom Allard in The Age.  Richard Ackland in the Saturday Paper gives a rather more damning appraisal.

So what would Willis do? Pure speculation and ‘what-if’ery here, but I don’t think he’d stand down. He would see even the raising of the issue as a personal attack, and would turn it around onto his critics, the unions.  He would  almost certainly give a long and learned justification of whatever he decided to do, steeped in judicial and biblical allusions.

What will Heydon do? I have no idea, but I suspect that he won’t stand down either. I may be wrong.

The power of one X 2

Two young women have stood up for a principle recently. More power to them.

Stand up woman #1

The first is Kahlani Pyrah who has taken legal action against Grill’d burgers who sacked her after she raised questions about payrates.

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Not only was the company using a Howard-era 2005 Workchoices era enterprise agreement which paid many staff below the award rate, but Grill’d burgers  also made their so-called ‘traineeships’  a compulsory element of  employment in their hamburger chains.  This scam is rife throughout the fast-food industry. Kids are put onto ‘traineeships’, often designed by the enterprise itself, with little real training, limited transferability, and no follow-through. These ‘traineeships’ use up the kids’  entitlement to vocational training and enable their placement onto a lower ‘training’ wage by their employer.  If, later down the track, the employee approaches a TAFE for vocational training that they want to do, this earlier arrangement is counted as their national training entitlement.

The company has since announced that it will review its employment conditions. Good one, Kahlani.

Stand Up Woman #2

The second is Natalie Collins, who started a petition on change.org to protest the inclusion of Mark Driscoll on the program for the Hillsong church conferences in Australia and the UK.  Mark Driscoll, among other things, came up with these tasteful little insights during a sermon he delivered to the Mars Hill Church in Seattle:

Ultimately, God created you and it is His penis. You are simply borrowing it for a while.Knowing that His penis would need a home, God created a woman to be your wife. And when you marry her and look down you will notice that your wife is shaped differently than you and makes a very nice home.

For a while, it seemed that her petition had been successful, but then Hillsong decided to beam in a pre-recorded interview with Driscoll instead during their Australian conference.  The UK conference featuring the Driscoll video again is taking place at the moment at the 02 arena, no less, and she has decided to mount a one-woman protest outside the arena.

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No doubt she would have appreciated a few more fellow-protesters, but because of social media, she’s been able to secure much more publicity than just one single person standing in the allocated ‘pen’ outside the arena.  She tweeted her experience and posted it on Storify, and you can read about it here.

Good one, Natalie.

Pluto

So, we’re about to get a good look at Pluto.  I heard a very enthusiastic man talking on the radio this morning.

http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-14/australian-centre-helps-new-horizons-getting-up-close-with-pluto/6616834

[CSIRO Spokesman ]Mr Nagle likens the imminent close encounter with Pluto to Neil Armstrong’s historic Moon walk and the recent Mars Curiosity Rover mission.

“New Horizons is another one of those moments,” Mr Nagle said. “You will remember where you were and what you were doing on that day when the whole world sees a brand new place in our solar system for the very first time. You will take a deep breath and go: ‘Wow this is something that no human has ever seen before.’ A world that has been out there for 5 billion years, waiting for human eyes to stare and ponder its mysteries for decades and centuries to come.”

I don’t think so.

We have become jaded by images, especially those fantastical images generated by computer. What made the moon images so transfixing was the presence of a real, live, moving MAN there.  We were watching it unfold: no-one really knew what was going to happen. Would he sink into sand the moment he put foot to the surface? Was he going to be safe?   Even though that blurred, black-and-white video footage was, of course, repeated on the news, it was not a video clip  that could be re-played again and again on YouTube at our whim.

moonlanding

Where was I during the moon landing? I was in Form 2 (Year 8) at Banyule High School.  The school only had one television, perched on a high stand on wheels in the corner of room 4 (I think), which had black-out curtains.   We were permitted (encouraged?) to go to watch it at home, which I did.  We were supposed to come back to school afterwards, although knowing what I do now, I can’t really imagine that any of the staff really wanted us to do so.   I can’t actually remember the act of watching it, but I do remember closing the curtains and fearing that the ferocious Miss Crewther, the girls’ principal, would come to the front door to berate me for not returning to school as instructed.  As if!

School Days: Education in Victoria

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

PROV, VPRS 14517 / P1 / Unit 17 / E82839129

PROV, VPRS 14517 / P1 / Unit 17 / E82839129

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

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

higinbotham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some references:

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

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

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

Medieval Moderns

MEDIEVAL MODERNS: THE PRE-RAPHAELITE BROTHERHOOD

National Gallery of Victoria (International), Until 12 July 2015

There’s a lovely small, free exhibition of pre-Raphaelite paintings on show at the National Gallery International until  12 July.  The exhibition exemplifies the fallacy in trying to carve off ‘Australian’ from ‘International’ art because it includes artists like Edward La Trobe Bateman (in Australia between 1852-69) and Thomas Woolner who worked in Australia in 1852-4 after arriving for the gold rush.  He, like Bateman, associated with the Howitt family who were the centre of cultural Port Phillip in a reminder to us of the transnational nature of artistic and cultural interests.  Many of these works- particularly those of William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones- were purchased as part of the Felton Bequest.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of artists in the mid -19th century who eschewed the current trends in art and the increasing industrialization of production, and consciously turned to older styles of painting and imagery – hence dubbing themselves ‘pre’ the painter Raphael (1483-1520). Many of their works, created in the last half of the 19th century harked back to a quieter medieval milieu and a mythical forested, European setting. They marked their paintings with a small PRB logo in the corner. They came to the attention of the wider public through their illustrations of Tennyson’s poetry which was itself steeped in the mythological realm. Reproductions of their works were circulated throughout the Empire, with the Maitland Mercury noting on 26 September 1885 that a reproduction of Holman Hunt’s “The Shadow of Death” on show in a shop window had formed the basis of the local vicar’s “very eloquent” sermon.

An unusual window display for Maitland - Holman Hunt's 'The Shadow of Death'. I wonder what they were advertising?

An unusual window display for Maitland – Holman Hunt’s ‘The Shadow of Death’. I wonder what they were advertising?

When we were in Birmingham we heard a lecture about Lizzie Siddal, whose long red hair and pale, thin features adorn many of these paintings, and she (and others visually similar to her) can be found in several of these paintings. As well as paintings and sketches for paintings, there are woodcuts, furniture, photographs, book bindings and wallpaper produced by the PRB, marking the extension from painting into the decorative arts and production methods, especially through William Morris’ influence with his company, Morris & Co.  Men predominate, of course, but there are photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron

We downloaded a PDF of the wall-panel labels used in the display before visiting, which I thought would be a good way of avoiding having to cluster up close to the painting, squinting at writing in the dark before moving back to view the picture. Unfortunately there seems to be no order at all to the PDF- or at least, I couldn’t detect it, and it seemed to be completely unrelated to the layout of the exhibition. A good idea poorly executed.

All-in-all, it’s a lovely little exhibition that reminds us of the riches that the Felton Bequest has brought to Victoria.