Category Archives: Exhibitions

This Month in Port Phillip: May 1842 (Pt.1)

In May 1842 the talk of the town was BUSHRANGERS!  There had been reports filtering into the newspapers from late April about a spate of holdups and invasions and by early May it was clear that the same gang was involved. They were dubbed the Plenty Valley Bushrangers.  I wrote about them at length here, (complete with map!) so follow the link and read about their spree and capture before coming back here to follow up with the trial.

Reenactment of a bushranger robbing some travellers on a country road

Re-enactment of a bushranger robbing some travellers on a country road. Photograph taken by J.W. Lindt 1845-1926, State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/290418

Are you back?  On 3rd May an inquest into Williams’ death was held and the three surviving bushrangers were committed to trial.  Willis scheduled a special sitting on 11 May (even though the usual criminal session would be held on 16th anyway).

Rather controversially, Willis wrote to La Trobe immediately following the committal hearing but prior to the bushrangers’ trial, noting that should the death sentence be passed, “it would have a much more effectual example were that sentence carried into execution within a very short period instead of delaying it until the proceedings could be sent to Sydney and returned”. He suggested that La Trobe request permission from Governor Gipps to make the arrangements at the local level, and that Willis would announce the time and place from the Bench.[1] Governor Gipps in Sydney, however, would have nothing of it.  A terse letter reiterated the necessity, under the Queen’s instructions to the Governor, to bring every sentence of death before the Executive Council.[2]

The courtroom trial itself was unremarkable, beyond Willis’ alacrity in scheduling the  unnecessary special sitting on May 11.  His opening comments congratulating the captors for their services to the community do not seem to have attracted attention or criticism at the time. [3]  The three surviving prisoners faced twenty-four counts, all related to the shooting and wounding of Henry Fowler, the leader of the “gay and gallant Five”. There were other charges that could have been laid from the five-day outbreak of violence but only the charge of shooting with intent to maim, disfigure or disable carried the death penalty.  Given that the wounding occurred during a shoot-out, there was a heavy reliance on forensic evidence and crime reconstruction to prove that it was the bushrangers, and not the captors, who had fired at close range and at particular angle to cause the injuries sustained by Henry Fowler.  The prominence given to scientific evidence is striking, given the usual reliance on character evidence and eyewitness reports that was usually tendered to the courts. [4] The jury retired for an hour and returned with the guilty verdict.

Willis then held sentencing over for two days until the following Friday, perhaps in the expectation that a reply to his request to announce the date and time for execution might arrive.  The audience for the sentencing was more than sufficient: the crowd rushed into the courthouse as soon as it was opened and “both ingress and egress were forcibly prevented”. In the tumult a window was broken, and Willis threatened to clear the court if a “more discreet and distinct silence were not maintained.” [5] He ordered the three bushrangers to remain in jail “until such day as His Excellency the Governor shall appoint for your execution”.

This, however, was not the end of Judge Willis’ involvement with the bushrangers. The Port Phillip Herald of 24 May carried a startling report that Ellis, Fogarty and the now-deceased Williams had planned to murder Judge Willis as he crossed the creek on the way into Melbourne, but had been dissuaded from the plan by their colleague Jepps.  News of this reached Judge Willis, possibly through petitions that were forwarded to him by three settler victims of the bushranger, each mentioning Jepps by name as instrumental in restraining his partners in crime.  No doubt relieved at his reprieve from the fate of being a kidnap hostage, Willis wrote to La Trobe, enclosing the petitions of the settlers and submitting them “for your serious consideration, and that of His Excellency the Governor.” [6]

But too late, too late – the report had gone up to Sydney and now everyone just had to wait until June when the bushranger story met its sorry end.

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You can see an exhibition about Victoria’s Bushrangers, including the Plenty Valley Bushrangers at the Old Treasury Building Museum in Spring Street in the city.  It’s called Wild Colonial Boys:Bushrangers in Victoria and it’s on until August. It’s closed on Saturdays, but it’s open every other day of the week between 10.00 and 4.00 and entry is free.  While you’re there, check out the terrific ‘Melbourne Foundations of a City’ exhibition and the Melbourne Panorama- a display to spend hours looking at.

 

 

Notes

[1]Willis to La Trobe 3 May 1842, PROV 19 Unit 31 Encl to 42/1163

[2] E. D. Thomson to La Trobe 16 May 1842 PROV 16 Unit 31 42/1163

[3] Port Phillip Herald 13 May 1842

[4] Especially the evidence of Dr Charles Sandford, Judge’s notes enclosed in Willis to La Trobe 3 May 1842 PROV 19 Unit 31  42/1163

[5] Port Phillip Herald 17 May 1842.

[6] Willis to La Trobe 25th May 1842 PROV 19 Unit 31 42/966 enclosure to 42/1163.

 

Exhibition: Something Borrowed

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This fleeting exhibition at Victoria’s Parliament House would have to be the closest-held secret in Melbourne!  It’s only on for a week (i.e. 15-19 May 2017) and there’s not a single sign or indication outside Parliament House that it’s even on.  You need to walk up the steps and ask the person on the door to let you in, then go through X-ray security before going to reception and signing in. Even once you’re inside, there’s nothing to let you know that the exhibition is on.  But enter the beautiful Queens Hall, you’ll see it, and an interesting little exhibition it is, too.

Now that Canberra has been Australia’s capital city since 1927, we tend to forget that the newly-constituted Commonwealth Government first sat in Melbourne. Why Melbourne? First, it may have been a bit of a sop to Victorian pride, given that the decision was made to locate Canberra in New South Wales.  Second, thanks to the Gold Rush, Victoria had suitably grand buildings available- probably more so than in the older capital city of Sydney.

So, like a guest that lingers too long, the Commonwealth Parliament sat in what was then, and is again now, Victorian Parliament House. It was anticipated that they might squat there for four or five years, but it ended up being 26 years.  The Victorian parliament was booted up to the Exhibition Building where they took over one wing while the Exhibition Building continued with its usual functions- including a huge hospital ward for the Spanish Influenza (I bet the pollies weren’t too keen on sharing the premises then!)

The Victorian pollies didn’t particularly like being shunted off to the Exhibition Building. It wasn’t right in the centre of the city like Parliament House was, and they had to leave behind their Parliamentary Library for the use of their federal colleagues.  To add insult to injury, there were 1400 volumes missing from the library when they finally moved back in 1927. The exhibition shows the correspondence back-and-forth between the state and federal librarians, each blaming each other for the disappearance of so many books.

The Exhibition Building was hot too. During the hot summer of 1902-3 the Commonwealth Government took pity on their sweltering state counterparts and allowed them to use their own Parliament House for thirty sitting days, but that was a one-off.

Meanwhile the Federal politicians made themselves right at home, with our first Prime Minister Edmund Barton taking up residence in the attic, and Billy Hughes building a man-shed on the roof of the north building, complete with a microphone connected to the parliamentary chambers so that he could hear what was going on.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Melbourne during WWI, and it was good to remind myself that the wartime Federal Government was located right here. Melbourne was the centre of all the action. Nonetheless, I suspect that the worthies of the Victorian Parliament were glad to pick up sticks from Exhibition Building and head back to their ‘real’ chambers once the Commonwealth government moved to Canberra on 9 May 1927.

So, an interesting little exhibition- but you’ll need to be quick!

Exhibition: ‘Remembering ’67’

For the first few months of this year, much of my time was spent working with the team that has put together the ‘Remembering ’67’ exhibition at the Heidelberg Historical Society. This year is our 50th anniversary, and we celebrated as a society last weekend at the Centre, Ivanhoe with Graeme Davison as speaker at a really enjoyable luncheon.

But our celebrations don’t end there! We’re celebrating the WHOLE YEAR of 1967, as experienced in the City of Heidelberg.  Our exhibition would be of special interest to people who were in Heidelberg at the time, but it’s broader than that, encompassing housing, schooling, shops, entertainment, and childhood.

We’re open every Sunday between 2.00 and 5.00 p.m. (and your Resident Judge will even be there on the 2nd Sunday of each month: I’m there this coming Sunday too!) It’s at the Heidelberg Historical Society Museum, Jika Street Heidelberg until December

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Exhibition: ‘Remembering the ‘Burbs 1850-1960’

I know that I always write about exhibitions just as they’re closing the door and turning off the lights, but with this one, there’s still a month to go see it. It’s at the Royal Historical Society in a’Beckett Street (close to Flagstaff Gardens) and it’s called ‘Remembering the ‘Burbs 1950-1960’

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It’s a tie-in with the book that RHSV released just prior to Christmas ‘Remembering Melbourne’, which draws on images from RHSV’s own collection and the collections of twenty suburban historical societies to capture ‘Lost Melbourne’.  As their website says,

Remembering the ‘Burbs showcases the images supplied by these historical societies.
The images of suburban housing, work, industry, commerce, community service and
recreation – collectively trace the development of Melbourne’s suburbs between 1850 and 1960 as its population expanded from the city’s confines.

The exhibition has a snapshot of each of these twenty suburbs. Walking around, you can do a historic perambulation of suburban Melbourne, all in the same room!

Well worth a look if you’re in Melbourne in April.  It closes on the 28th April – see! plenty of time!

Exhibition: The Jesus Trolley

If you nip into Central Melbourne for some Christmas shopping, stop off at the City Gallery that nestles into a corner of the Melbourne Town Hall on Swanston Street.  ‘The Jesus Trolley’ exhibition has been on since 8 September but with my habitual tardiness, I’m only writing about it now- and it closes on 24 December, most appropriately.

I see from today’s paper there have been a number of ‘Jesus bikes’ left around Melbourne with evangelical slogans on them.

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I thought instantly of the Jesus Trolley exhibition. The exhibition features Desmond Hynes who, for thirty years since 1983, pushed a decorated shopping trolley around the streets of central Melbourne and stood in his ‘Jesus is Lord’ windcheater, holding aloft a hand-painted sign proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection.  It was a full-time job for this self-appointed street evangelist, who lived with his sister in a rented property in Hotham Street Elsternwick, immediately opposite Ripponlea which, until sold and demolished, was similarly festooned with posters and exhortations (see photo here). All his preaching paraphernalia was headed for  the tip until a neighbour recognized it for the social history it is and salvaged some of it.  And here it is in the exhibition- a little cluster of shopping trolleys- and posters, photos showing the ephemeral nature of his eternity-oriented quest.

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There’s also a short 4 minute documentary about Desmond Hynes called ‘Doing’Time with Desmond Hynes’ filled by Russell McGilton in 1997 as part of the Race Around the World series. It’s also available here on YouTube:

But take advantage of seeing the exhibition while it’s still on.  There’s a beaut little book that you can pick up, with an excellent essay by Chris McAuliffe about street preaching more generally in Melbourne and photos of objects from the exhibit.

On until 24 December 2016 City Gallery, Melbourne Town Hall.

Exhibition: A Brush with Heidelberg

Here I am, writing about other people’s exhibitions and I don’t think I’ve mentioned the exhibition I’m most closely involved with- A Brush with Heidelberg, at the Heidelberg Historical Society closing on Sunday 27 November 2016.

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As you would know if you live in Melbourne, Heidelberg has a long connection with artists.  Most famously, the ‘Heidelberg School’ of Australian Impressionists (Roberts, McCubbin, Streeton, Withers etc)  stayed in Eaglemont during the 1890s and painted ‘en plein air’ in Heidelberg and the surrounding districts.  Then, there’s Heide, named for Heidelberg, across the river where John and Sunday Reed attracted modernist painters like Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester.

But other artists- some well known, others less so- have been attracted to Heidelberg, painting the river and its surroundings and also the quaint village of Heidelberg which somehow retained some of its earlier charm.

This exhibition has reproductions and original paintings of Heidelberg scenes, juxtaposed where possible with photographs of the same vista today.  If you know Heidelberg at all, you’ll see familiar buildings and landscapes, and perhaps learn about the history of the building or the painter.

The exhibition, located at the old courthouse in Jika Street (opposite Heidelberg Gardens) is open on Sundays between 2.00 and 5.00 p.m. Entry is $5.00. The exhibition is on for only a few weeks more, closing at the end of November on Sunday November 27.

And we were delighted to receive a commendation for our exhibition at the 2017 Victorian Community History Awards.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.