An explanation of the NEL for those who can’t see the wood for the impending tree stumps

“Formulating policy means making choices. Once you do that you please the people that you favour, but infuriate everybody else. One vote gained, ten lost. If you give the job to the road services, the rail board and unions will scream. Give it to the railways, the road lobby will massacre you.”
Sir Humphrey Appleby spelling out the fractious world of transport policy, Episode 5, Series 3, Yes Minister, “The Bed of Nails”, 1982.

The release of a little light reading in the form of a voluminous, Environmental Effects Statement by the North East Link Authority last month has been received with interested concern by some, derided by others, while yet proving the truth of that old adage, “When you try to please everybody, you end up pleasing no one.”

The $16 billion Link, which in effect will extirpate the western end of the Yallambie estate with a sunken surface road parallel to the Greensborough Hwy, is due to open in 2027 and is projected to funnel an extra 100,000 cars a day onto an expanded Eastern Freeway by 2036, up to a total of 135,000 with traffic experts rightly summing it up as:

“…a short-sighted solution to population growth and would only increase the city’s dependence on cars.” (Clay Lucas, The Age, April 25, 2019).

Looking south along Greensborough Rd towards Blamey Rd from a point near to the Yallambie Rd intersection. The current view presented alongside a NELA artist’s impression of the proposed changes. The EES gives this change of view a low to medium rating “due to the low sensitivity of road users”. In other words, the view is already plug ugly. (Source: NELA, EES)

While reaching any agreement on Melbourne roads is about as easy it seems as reaching nuclear agreement on the Korean Peninsula, there seems to be a consensus in some quarters that the north east of Melbourne is already an unsustainably car dependent side of town and a suspicion that the creation of a Link will simply encourage thousands more commuters to leave the existing train networks in favour of roads.

Thomas and Sarah Ann Wragge outside Yallambie Homestead, c1910, Thomas was one of the first owners of a motor car in the Heidelberg district. (Source: Bill Bush Collection).

Short sections of the Eastern Freeway are expected to expand to up to 20 lanes to accommodate the project but as has been proved time again all around the world, as a general rule of thumb the building of major road projects increases traffic volumes without a commensurate decrease in congestion. After those 20 lanes narrow back to six or eight further along the way, what will happen to the extra traffic? Jago Dodson, a professor of urban policy at RMIT University, summed this up by saying that when it comes to NEL, Melbourne is fast heading “towards the failed situation of Sydney where they try to reconcile the incoherence of planning by building large mega projects.” With Melbourne already predicted to outstrip Sydney in size by 2026, it’s not rocket science.

Detail of a display board at NELA Community Hub information office.

As an environmental report, the North East Link Authority’s 10,000 page Environmental Effects Statement I must say is a daunting prospect. I don’t suppose there are many who will manage to read it in its entirety. I certainly haven’t done so, but then maybe that’s just the point. As Sir Humphrey would tell you, if you want to make sure some awkward truths stay ignored, try hiding them away in plain sight inside the detail.

NELA Community Hub office in Watsonia Rd, Watsonia.

You can look at the report locally at an information office that the NELA has opened at 17 Watsonia Rd, Watsonia but for what it’s worth, here is the hard reality of just a little bit of that detail, spelled out here before the first bulldozer rolls past your door next year.

It will be no use saying afterwards we weren’t warned.

The North East Link project will require the permanent acquisition of a combined total of 182,300 square metres of open territory and recreational areas. This is the equivalent of nine MCGs spread across the municipalities of Whitehorse, Yarra, Boroondara, Manningham and Banyule. Dual 3 lane road tunnels will be built under Heidelberg and Bulleen with 12-storey ventilation stacks being needed at either end, including one inside the Simpson Barracks at Yallambie south of  Blamey Rd. Three temporary construction compounds will be developed at the Barracks, one at the north west corner of Yallambie and Greensborough roads, a second on the south side of Blamey Road extending south and a third extending further south along the western flank of Greensborough Rd.

The Banyule creek at Borlase Reserve, May, 2019.

About three kilometres of water flowing through two separate creeks will need to be diverted and turned into drains, including the Banyule Creek which has its source within the south western boundary of Yallambie and which in turn feeds the magnificent wetlands environment of the Banyule Flats Reserve over in Viewbank.

Up to 26,000 trees will be removed by the project with open space at Koonung Reserve, Koonung Creek Reserve, Watsonia Station Carpark Reserve and Watsonia Rd Reserve all being lost.

Borlase Reserve woodland, May, 2019.
The northern end of the Borlase Reserve, May, 2019. Already heavily scarred from its use as a construction zone during the recent redevelopment of Rosanna Station, it is the only part of the Reserve that will be returned to the community after NEL opens.

Borlase Reserve in the south western corner of Yallambie near the Lower Plenty and Greensborough Rd intersection will be particularly hard hit. Borlase Reserve will be entirely consumed by a construction compound during the build with less than half of it expected to be returned to the Yallambie community after construction of the Lower Plenty Rd interchange, potentially making the area no longer viable as an area of passive open space. A four metre high noise wall will be a visually dominant feature around the Lower Plenty Rd interchange which will result in a significant and permanent change to the landscape in the nearby surrounding residential streets.

Willow trees and the source of the Banyule Creek at Borlase Reserve, Yallambie, May, 2019.

The above-ground sections of the road link are expected to have the biggest and most obvious environmental impact with eight hectares of woodland in Yallambie’s Simpson Barracks alone expected to be destroyed, impacting kangaroos and other wild life along the way by removing their habitat. Hundreds of large, mature trees will either be cleared away during this process or lose water supply to their roots and die, but a trade-off promise to replace lost trees with 30,000 new plantings will take decades to have any significant effect. Of special mention is a 300 year old River Red Gum near a service station in Bulleen which is on the National Trust Significant Tree Register. A local landmark, it is just one of those ear marked for the big chop while another 150 other patches of native vegetation spread over 52 hectares will be removed, including 22 hectares where native and threatened wildlife are found.

Giant mouse soon to be made homeless at Borlase Reserve, Yallambie, May, 2019.

So that in a nut shell is what the North East Link Authority is all about. I find it a source of wonder that there hasn’t been more objection heard about this project up to date with the plan still wading around in its early stages. The failed East West Link project copped far more flak, and that misguided idea never moved further than a few lines pushed around a map with some properties peremptorily and unnecessarily acquired before an election. Part of the reason for this apparent lack of interest could be that all those car users living in Melbourne’s heavily car dependent north east may actually be in favour of the road when push comes to shove. It’s an attitude that might hold water with those people who drive on Rosanna Rd regularly, comfortable in the belief that the new road won’t necessarily roll out anywhere near their own back yard, but there is also the Government’s successful policy of divide and conquer to take into consideration, a policy which was implemented to such good effect in the second half of 2017. That battle became a bit of a running theme in this blog for a while, but by suggesting four potential routes for NEL right from the start, Corridors A, B, C and D, the net effect has been largely to dilute the argument right across the board.

Last week Banyule Council, while acknowledging the Government’s mandate to complete the road, released their own, well-considered proposal to modify the existing plan of Corridor A. The Council’s alternative involves a road tunnel that would be 2 kilometres longer than the current 6 km design, increasing the cost by an estimated $350 million and take an extra 1 ½ years longer to complete. It’s a design however the Council says would spare us many of the negative social and environmental consequences of the project. Critics have quickly lined up to dismiss the changes and list what they see as a range of possible negative effects, including a temporary occupation as a work site of a part of Watsonia Primary School and the AK Lines Reserve, and a longer than anticipated shut down of the Hurstbridge rail line around Watsonia Station, but Banyule Council’s Cr Tom Melican speaking in support of the Council proposal said:

“We’re spending an enormous amount of money, dividing the community and wrecking parkland; we’d better make sure we get it right.”

With the environmental impact still a matter of debate, there seems to me to be plenty of opportunity here to get it wrong.

Misty morning at Yallambie with Hoop Pine, photographed in August, 2014.

The writings of the early settlers in this country are filled with observations of the harsh climate they encountered and the difficulties they had reconciling local conditions with what they left behind in Europe. It is known that cool and moist air inside a forest can contribute to rainfall in a process called stomata, but the lesson those settlers eventually learned is, you cut down trees at the peril of the environment in this dry country. After more than 180 years of settlement, Victoria is now reportedly the most deforested state in Australia and more than 60 per cent of the forest that existed at the time of John Batman’s arrival is now gone.

Yallambie Park oak avenue photographed in 1995.

Scientists have gathered much evidence to support a claim that trees and the natural environment can improve our mood and general state of health, although in practice the jury is out as to exactly how or why this occurs. One theory is that beneficial bacteria, plant derived essential oils and negatively charged ions all combine to increase our well being. Another way of looking at this would be to simply say that being connected to nature provides us with relief from the stress and anxieties of modern living. A North East Link road might solve a transport problem in an ever expanding capital city, but how much is the solution also contributing to some of those stresses? Does the end justify the means?

The planned walking trail would pass through forest on the Errinundra Plateau. (Source: The Age, Goongerah Environment Centre)

Before the last State election, the Government announced a plan to build a 120km hiking trail that would extend from the Cape Conran Coastal Park to the summit of Mt Ellery and the alpine forests of the Errinundra Plateau. It was a pitch to the conservation vote during an election campaign which aimed to create a “Sea-to-Summit” walking track through some of the State’s last remaining areas of unspoiled wilderness. It sounded like a good idea at the time but after the Government was re-elected it transpired that the chosen route passed through many areas already ear marked by VicForests for logging and some clear felling had already begun.

Challenged by the media exposure of this story, Alex Messina, VicForests’ General Manager of Corporate Affairs dismissed the walking trail idea saying that part of the proposed track fell along an access route created for logging trucks.

“The route in remotest east Victoria utilises roads designed for timber haulage, not to optimise scenic tourism experience.”
(Alex Messina, quoted in The Age, February 13, 2019)

Birthing tree of the Djab Wurrung people. (Source: The Age, Gillian Trebilcock)

The cultural value of our trees is a sometimes under appreciated resource. Out in western Victoria, VicRoads is currently planning to duplicate a 12 ½ kilolmetre section of the Western Hwy from Buangor to Ararat to reduce travel time on the route by an estimated two minutes. The VicRoads plan will require the destruction of over 260 trees sacred to the Djap Wurrung peoples, including an Aboriginal birthing tree, with one elder, Sandra Onus,  quoted in The Age saying, “We’re just trying to keep as much of our cultural heritage intact as we can. They won’t listen to us blackfellas.”

Banyule’s Yallambie Bakewell ward councillor, Cr Mark Di Pasquale in email correspondence to us relating to North East Link, voiced a similar concern:

“It needs to be an honest discussion and the community need to voice their wants. Up until now the NE Link Authority has been ‘steamrolling’ through with their work… We are looking to the Army, the traders the residents and finally the State Members to push this barrow.”
Droving in the Light, Hans Heysen, 1914-21. (Source: Wikipedia, the Art Gallery of South Australia)
Tree felling of ancient river red gum at Seymour Rd, Lower Plenty in the early 1920s. The property on the opposite ridge is Bryn Teg, later the Heidelberg Golf Club.

The idea that trees might have an aesthetic value beyond their monetary or utilitarian worth might strike some as a surprise, although it is by no means a new concept. Artwork by that famed painter of Australian landscapes, Hans Heysen, is currently on display alongside work by his daughter Nora at a special exhibition at the NGV in Federation Square. Hans, who turned the ubiquitous Aussie gum tree into a work of art in the early years of the 20th century, was famous in his own life time but is sometimes also remembered for his attitude towards conservation in an era when most people never gave it a thought. The story goes that when Hans heard that a road side stand of gum trees he loved was to be removed by his local Council, he approached the authorities and offered to give them the money the Council would otherwise have received for selling the trees as fire wood. It is unrecorded whether those early Council authorities laughed in his face at the suggestion or instead laughed all the way to the bank.

It seems then that the North East Link might not be the only road likely to trample over the environment and the enjoyment of peoples’ lives. It’s just the latest and the largest and by far and away the most expensive.

In Yes Minister, in an episode about the conservation of a wildlife habitat, Sir Humphrey Appleby assured the minister that there are some things that are just best kept out of the public debate. In that episode, “The Right to Know” he burdens the minister’s correspondence with useless detail in an attempt to keep his political master in the dark while explaining to him a fine line of distinction between classing something as a “loss” or “not a significant loss” to the environment.

“Almost anything can be attacked as a “loss of amenity”, and be defended as “not a significant loss of amenity”.
Sir Humphrey Appleby, Episode 6, Series 1, Yes Minister, “The Right to Know”, 1980.

The NEL will obviously cause a huge loss of amenity in the north eastern suburbs of Melbourne and in particular, within the City of Banyule. Taking a page out of Sir Humphrey’s book, the North East Link Authority have cleverly passed this off as not a significant loss of amenity by releasing so much detail about their plans that it seems most people have given up listening.

Once the traffic starts rolling on the new Freeway in a few years’ time, do you think this will make any difference?

By then, will we still be able to see the wood for the tree stumps?

Woodland sign posting north of Borlase Reserve, Yallambie, May, 2019.
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A stitch in time saves what?

There is no doubt that the lives of each and every one of us are the result of chance and random DNA.

Family legend has it that in her long ago courting days, a Great Grandmother with a fair splash of my wife’s genetic deoxyribonucleic acid brought a prospective beau home to meet the parents. Seeking to make a favourable impression on the young Scot, she wore her best dress, even removing her embroidered silk pinafore for what she perceived was likely to be the most advantageous sartorial effect while serving the young man his tea.

Poor Great Grandmama. Her efforts were all in vain as they had quite the opposite of the intended effect. So the story goes, they didn’t see that boy for the dust as he strode out the door that day and headed for the hills. In the best traditions of Scottish courtship, the prospective boyfriend is said to have feared that such a woman, dressed in all her finery without even seeing a need to protect her outfit with an apron, could never be supported in marriage by a man the likes of him. His amours were soon forgotten and Great Grandmother went on to meet and marry another fellow, my wife’s future Great Grandfather, presumably a man who could afford to supply her with more than one dress. Thus was a family formed.

19th century hand embroidered parlor apron

But what if Great Grandmother had kept her hand embroidered silk apron safely pinned around her slim waist on that day? Our births and our histories are all the results of such random events.

Anecdotal though the story possibly is, it does illustrate the importance that was placed in times past on economy in the home and of the merits placed upon good housekeeping. Great Grandmamma lived at a time not very far removed from the Wragge girls at Yallambie and the world she knew and its restrictions I suspect would not have been all that dissimilar.

Victorian era embroidered velvet cushion cover

Sewing was almost exclusively the domain of women in the 19th century and an occupation generally looked upon with indulgence by the male of the species, at least at those times when he thought about it at all. Needlework and the art of embroidery were viewed as necessary attributes of any genteel young lady and were a reflection on the leisure time available to such individuals and the creative efforts needed for these ladies to perfect their skills.

Aesthetic style era unmounted cushion design

Most upper to middle class ladies of the 19th century therefore spent at least some of their days working at their sewing box. The introduction to one contemporary sewing tome, ‘The Ladies’ Work-Table Book’, states pointedly if condescendingly that, “No one can look UPON THE NEEDLE without emotion; it is a constant companion throughout the pilgrimage of life.”

Hand beaded and machine embroidered purses with a contemporary book, “Dainty Work for Pleasure and Profit” offering advice and sewing instructions to young ladies

The reality was, women’s domestic handiwork was more often than not the only way a woman could reveal an otherwise hidden artistic nature. Tatted doilies, macramé mats, crocheted antimacassars and beaded and embroidered cushions were produced in great numbers by ladies from patterns sourced in popular embroidery manuals, as well as from a growing number of weekly women’s magazines.

Louisa Anne Meredith, (Source: Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts).

One exception to the generally domestic nature of this rule was that doyen of the arts, Louisa Anne Meredith, who as previously recounted in these pages, visited the Bakewells at Yallambee in 1856. She is known to have been a keen if somewhat inexpert worker of embroidery before her arrival in Australia who could, nevertheless, draw on a wide range of her travel experiences and her considerable skills in draughtsmanship to produce original designs in sewing of great Antipodean charm.

Writing of her journey to Australia in one of her published books, she described the days she spent sewing during the voyage:

“I passed every day on deck, busy with that most pleasant of all ‘fancy work’, wool embroidery; and to it I owe my exemption from much of the overpowering ennui so general on a long voyage. To study is, I think, impossible, and I very soon disposed of all the light reading to be found on board, when compelled by illness or bad weather to remain below. But my work-basket and frame were my daily companions, and I was often told how enviable was my happiness in having something to employ me.” (‘Notes and Sketches of New South Wales’, by Mrs Charles Meredith)

19th century lambrequin at Yallambie

Several examples of Louisa’s later Australian themed needlework are believed to have survived, including flower pictures and a lambrequin, a sort of piece of decorative drapery designed to hang across the length of a mantelpiece. The lambrequin as a piece of sewing was at one time the height of fashion in the Victorian home and was most usually created by the hand of the lady of the house as a statement of her skill and good taste. As a furnishing, it was a device used to bring attention to the fireplace, the focal point of any room, and to the clutter of bric-a-brac inevitably displayed there. A similar if less creatively executed lambrequin exists today as a decorative motif over the Marquina dining room fire surround at Yallambie, although as a dust trap, it is usually rolled away and brought out only on occasion.

Embroidered gents smokers’ caps
19th century crazy patchwork tea cosy

Other types of sewn items include cushions and tapestries, smoking caps and aprons, and a single tatty if well used crazy patchwork tea cosy. Unfortunately none of these items come with a Wragge family provenance, but they can make an interesting resource for review all the same.

One of the few artefacts at Yallambie that does have a Wragge family provenance is a beaded and embroidered gout stool. The velvet is faded and the upholstery dented, but the beading is intact and probably unaltered from the time a young Annie Wragge first sewed it into place probably in or about 1890. To my eye it seems a funny shaped object. A bit like a model of the slippery dip at Luna Park, but whether or not it was ever used by a member of the Wragge family for the purpose for which it was designed – resting up a gouty limb I mean, not sliding down the slippery dip – remains unrecorded.

Late 19th century gout stool stitched by Annie Murdoch ne Wragge at Yallambie

People it seems are generally too busy today to be bothered with the sort of creative endeavours our great grandparents were familiar with. The model aeroplanes I built as a child from scratch from balsa wood and varnished tissue paper can now be purchased ready made from any model shop and the vast array of sewn items made by women in earlier times are largely obsolete.

Hand knitted woolen child’s cardigan

My late mother was a keen and expert knitter and when I was a child, socks, scarfs and jumpers came off her woollen needles with regularity and in profusion throughout the winter. The first Geelong football Guernsey I ever owned came from those knitting needles and while I might have thought at the time that the outfit didn’t quite measure up against the VFL approved jumpers of my opponents on the Primary School footy field, there is no doubting the love and the care that went into its creation. Under her instruction I even learned to knit myself after a fashion although I would never have admitted to my friends to being occupied with such a sissy occupation. The pure wool jumper I laboriously completed I probably passed off in the school yard as one of Mum’s.

Most of the clothes I wear these days are sourced from second hand stores, so I guess in my own way I’m doing my bit for the planet and at least I can be sure of wearing outfits not likely to be repeated elsewhere on the streets of Yallambie. My wife and I have been avid Op shoppers from way back but in this fast paced, Marie Kondo led, modern world , it seems such ideas are yet in a minority. It’s said that David Beckham never wears the same set of underpants twice before throwing them away but in a society where it is easier to buy new clothes than go to the trouble of washing the old ones, something has got to give. Inevitably David Beckham’s old underpants are going to end up in land fill and as some people will tell you, given the size of those underpants that’s going to be a lot of land to fill.

 

Here be dragons

The sound of the dragon could be heard from afar as it neared, its approach shattering the brooding silence of the Australian bush as it waded in the dark, slow moving waters of the river with an unrelenting exactitude.

Whump hiss, whump hiss.

Somewhere above, a cloud of parrots scattered from the ancient River Red Gums that suspended gnarled shapes out over the river banks, the birds screeching in protest at the abrupt end of a quiet that had lasted time without measure.

The next moment, like a watery phantasmagoria, it turned a bend in the river and the “dragon” was revealed. A fiery Leviathan, it came on in a cloud of steam, breathing smoke and spitting sparks, its paddle wheels lashing at the languid waters of the Murrumbidgee with an erratic delivery somehow at odds with its consistency.

The Australian river boat steamer.

The story of the navigation of the waters of inland Australia is tied up with a conundrum dubbed the “Riddle of the Rivers”. It started with the spectacle of boats on carts dragged by explorers into dry sand hills and abandoned. It ended with an understanding of where all that rain water went that occasionally fell on the western side of the Great Dividing Range, a place that in another age of exploration might have been simply marked on the edges of a map, “Here be dragons”.

Thomas Wragge, c1860. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

It was in this way that the putative Great Inland Sea of Australia was proved a myth and by the start of the second half of the 19th century, those dragons were taking shape in another form. Thomas Wragge’s arrival in the Colonies in 1851 was just two years earlier than the first experimental steam exploration of south eastern Australia’s inland river system and it coincided with that moment in time that saw the dawn of Australia’s steam age. This ambitious Nottingham farmer carried a letter of introduction to the Bakewells and soon began working for them at their various property interests, including of course “Yallambee Park” near Heidelberg. When the Bakewell brothers returned to England in 1857, Thomas became their tenant at Yallambee with the evidence of the certificate of his 1861 marriage to Sarah Ann Hearn describing him as a “gentleman” and a resident at the “Lower Plenty Bridge”.

The Station Plenty, (Yallambee Park), view I by Edward La Trobe Bateman 1853-1856. Distant view of station with cattle in foreground. (Source: National Gallery of Victoria)
PS Ulonga towing a barge on the Murrumbidgee past the Uardry Station, c1915. (Source: State Library of South Australia)

Soon after this marriage, Thomas joined into a pastoral partnership with his brother William and his brothers in law, John and James Hearn and in 1864 the partnership purchased “Wardry”, a run on the Murrumbidgee River in New South Wales which they renamed “Uardry” expanding it to 32,000 acres by 1866.

“On the Murray River at Echuca”, by P J Lysaght, 1876. (Source: National Library of Australia) http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-134282660/view
Murrumbidgee/Murray River confluence, c1863. (Source: State Library of Victoria)

Distance from the markets was a major obstacle to pastoral activities in the Riverina at this time and while Melbourne was the logical centre for business, bullock drays could take as long as three months to complete a return journey. In 1864 the rail line from Melbourne to Bendigo was extended to Echuca and the Wragge/Hearn partnership, which commenced operations that year at Uardry, found that it could transport wool to the Melbourne market by sending it on barges pulled by paddle steamers along the river to the rail head. A regular steam boat traffic developed on the Murrumbidgee, taking wool and other produce from the upriver stations, downstream to the Murray River confluence and from there upstream to Echuca.

An early view of paddle steamers at the Echuca Wharf. (Source: picture by George Henry Kendall, State Library of Victoria)

In her book, “Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales”, Winty Calder wrote:

“It is highly likely that the partners employed William McCulloch and Company as their transport agents as soon as they began operating from Echuca in 1865. Their (McCulloch & Co) paddles steamers took produce from Lang’s Crossing (Hay) to Echuca, from where they forwarded wool bales to Goldsborough in Melbourne”.

This journey involved a customs levy from the Colony of New South Wales at the Victorian border but it was still a practical solution to the problems of transport from the Riverina and preferable to the alternatives.

The impact of river boat traffic on the properties bordering Australia’s inland water ways at this formative period cannot be overstated. The feeling of isolation endured by the earliest settlers of the Riverina faded as the river boats brought in stores and mail, building materials and farming equipment and took away wool bales loaded onto barges into high pyramids greatly increasing the potential profitability of the inland stations in the process.

Of the partners however, only Thomas Wragge and his young family lived on the Uardry run. He and Sarah were there for three years in the early 60s and lived in a homestead, (later extended) that they built on the property.

Wragge family memorial at Warringal Cemetery, February, 2016.

For all this though, it seems probable that Thomas and Sarah never considered that the Murrumbidgee property was likely to become their permanent home for they maintained a lease on the Bakewell’s Yallambee Park throughout the 1860s and were negotiating for its purchase. Significantly, when the Wragges’ second born child, James died aged one year in April, 1864, the final resting place chosen for the infant was Warringal cemetery at Heidelberg near to Yallambee, not elsewhere.

John Bakewell (Source: Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina, Alexander Henderson, 1936)

Thomas Wragge and his family left Uardry and sailed for England in March, 1868. While Wragge had been sub leasing his Yallambee interests to John Ashton throughout much of the 1860s, it is possible that the visit to England was in some way connected to the death of Robert Bakewell three months earlier on Christmas Eve, 1867. It seems certain that it was on this trip that he visited the surviving brother, John Bakewell at John’s home at “Old Hall” north of Nottingham to finalise the outright purchase of “Yallambee Park” as it was on Wragge’s return to Australia in 1870, that the Wragge/Hearn partnership was dissolved and Wragge’s freehold title at Yallambee was established.

The Wakool River at the Talbett’s Punt crossing place, (Kyalite) 1860, from the Ludwig Becker sketchbook. (Source: State Library of Victoria)

As recounted previously, in the 1870s Thomas Wragge’s pastoral ambitions then turned to another part of the Riverina plains, to an area between the Niemur and Wakool Rivers, both anabranches of the Murray, and to a property known as Beremegad which he renamed “Tulla”. The property would in time clock in at about 110,000 acres but at Tulla, with its closer proximity to the Echuca railhead, Wragge seems to have chosen bullock drays over river transport to move the station wool clips.

Map showing location of Tulla between the Murray River anabranches. (Source: “Walking in Time” by E J Grant)
Bullock dray loaded with wool crossing a flooded creek at Tulla in the 1890s. (Source: Lady Betty Lush collection)
Thomas Wragge’s first Tulla Homestead, on the Wakool River, NSW, c1873. (Source: “Walking With Time” by E J Grant)

As colonial road and rail systems improved and expanded, the use of river steamers became less important and as the years went by, would fade almost into extinction.

PS Nile stranded in the dry bed of the Darling River. (Source: Wikipedia, from the Harry Brisbane Williams photographic collection)
Small steam launch photographed in flooded High Street, Echuca, c1906. (Source: State Library of South Australia)

Steamboat navigation on the anabranches of the Murray like the Wakool and Edward Rivers had been difficult at the best of times and more or less impossible in the dry seasons. Boats could be stranded for months in water holes when the rivers dried up but even when flowing, snags could trap ships at any time and in a flood, if the rivers broke their banks it was not unknown for river traffic to stray for miles off course, only to be left stranded high and dry when the waters subsided again.

Removing snags from the water obviously improved navigation but the practice also removed the habitat of native fish and other aquatic animals and changed the ecosystem of the rivers in the process.

PS Grappler removing snags from the river, c1860. (Source: picture by Stephen E Nixon, State Library of South Australia)

The steamers’ enormous need for wood to fire their boilers, up to a ton of timber every two hours, was another factor in this change. The need for fuel saw the destruction of large expanses of river side woodland culminating in the gradual erosion of river banks and a subsequent further change to the river systems. Finally, the later introduction of locks and weirs to regulate water flows throughout the seasons and to feed the needs of irrigation was to forever change the ecology and flow of Australia’s inland rivers.

Early picture of a paddle steamer loading wood fuel at a river bank. (Source: State Library of Victoria)

The golden age of the Australian river dragons is long ended. Today paddle steamer traffic in the Murray Darling basin is more or less limited to the tourist trade, but the changes that were made to the riverside environment remain. Section 100 of the Australian Constitution was intended to outline the Commonwealth’s powers regarding navigation on the inland river system and for the “reasonable” conservation of its waters for consumptive use, an outline that was made without the Green implications that the word “Conservation” might imply today. It’s an oft quoted clause today when the health of the Murray Darling Basin comes under scrutiny although until 1983 it was never tested in the High Court, and then only in the Dams Case of Tasmania.

Last week the taps were opened on a pipe line from the Murray River to the City of Broken Hill north of the Darling’s Menindee Lakes in a robbing Peter to pay Paul exercise of river systems management. As the Darling River dried up for the second time in three years, Broken Hill had been in danger of running out of drinking water, but while the pipe line will relieve the immediate problems of the “Silver City”, it will not address any of the underlying issues. In fact there is a concern that it will actually lead to less water in the Menindee Lakes, the previous source of Broken Hill water, as irrigators further up the Darling will have less obligation to leave water in the River for use downstream.

The eminent Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists which has a decade long history of commentary on the Murray Darling Basin said last month that their own studies have shown that environmental flows in the rivers are not meeting the government objectives and in at least one case, flows have actually decreased since implementation of the Murray Darling Plan.

The death of a million fish in January in an environmental catastrophe as parts of the Darling River dried up coincidentally coincided with the release of a South Australian State Royal Commission inquiring into the health of the Murray Darling River system. The release of the Royal Commission’s findings highlighted the problems associated with farming in the world’s driest continent and accused the Murray Darling Basin Authority, which had been formed a decade before, of gross maladministration of the Basin Plan and effectively proposed abandoning its principles and starting all over again. The MDBA had been charged to administer the Basin as a whole integrated system and to bring the rivers back to a sustainable level of health but in spite of billions of dollars spent, the Commission found that the original architects of the idea had been driven by “politics rather than science” and had ignored the potentially “catastrophic” risks of climate change.

Temperature gauge at Lower Plenty, December, 2018

The 2018/19 Australian summer that ended with the last day of February on Thursday has been officially acknowledged as the hottest ever recorded, with average temperatures coming in across the nation almost a full degree above the previous record, the “Angry Summer” of 2012/13. In a Bureau of Meteorology statement it was observed that, “This pattern is consistent with observed climate change.”

There is a fanciful theory which suggests that tales of dragons are the result of some sort of genetic memory of a time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth but be that as it may,  the history of the domination of chimp DNA is brief by comparison.

The Plenty River at Yallambie, June, 2018.

In a world of changing climates, the availability and access to fresh water is likely to become one of the greatest challenges facing societies. In other places this could lead to armed conflicts across the borders of nation states but in Australia it is hoped that we will continue to do things a little bit differently. That old Australian approach, “She’ll be right mate” could stand us in good stead, even when everything is clearly not altogether alright. No doubt the conflict in Australia when it comes will be limited to a bit of argy-bargy about State borders and constitutional reform and might end up in the High Court or in a Federal Referendum, but in the end it will come down to one basic question.

How do we save the Rivers?

An incovenient truth

The American writer Mark Twain is generally credited with that oft quoted weather maxim, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Twain was recorded as making a remark similar to this in the early 1900s with his words later paraphrased into the famous old adage but the fact is, the idea had first been espoused by Twain’s friend, the essayist Charles Dudley Warner decades earlier. Twain later borrowed the concept during a lecture tour and the mistake in authorship stuck.

The Twain attribution is an example of how a misrepresentation if told often enough, becomes fixed. The reality is the writer’s name itself was also a fiction but ask anyone who Samuel Langhorne Clemens was in life and you will be met with a blank stare, so with this in mind maybe old Sam won’t mind if I  borrow a line from him right now.

“You know, everybody in Melbourne talks about the weather, but nobody wants to do anything about it.”

As our fossil fuel dependent power grid struggles to keep up with the demands of hundreds of thousands of houses across the state attempting to run electricity hungry air conditioning this summer, the talk has been all about the need to build a new coal fired power station, but wouldn’t you say that could be a case of the chicken and the egg?

It got me thinking about truth and the perception of truth in a globalized 21st century society. Any suggestion that the weather we’ve been having and that the associated record breaking temperatures that go with it might have anything to do with Climate Change or with Global Warming is evidence if evidence is needed that there will always be some people for whom denial is their first port of call. I’m told there is a difference between weather, which is what we have been experiencing, and climate, which is what has been changing, but the facts speak for themselves. We might be in need of a cool change right now, but there are still some around us who would have you believe there is no such thing as a changing climate, a belief which is at odds with all the scientific evidence and expert testimony to the contrary.

We live on a planet where climate has changed many times throughout prehistoric earth history, ranging from balmy warmth to long periods of glacial cold. The last Ice Age ended a mere 10,000 years ago and ushered in an era known to science as the Holocene. It may be no coincidence that in this era, the era that has seen the growth of the human species worldwide and which contains the whole of recorded history, there has been no full crash in climate on a world scale. If there had been it is likely that early civilizations would not have survived and I’m thinking we would not be here at this moment to blog about it on a World Wide Web.

The concern now however is that it may be the actions of humans that has started driving the Earth’s climate and that as a result we may be heading in a direction that will take us past what is an already natural tipping point to a place where too much is being asked of an inherently fragile climate system causing it to snap back in protest into as yet unknown territory.

It might seem like “An Inconvenient Truth” to him, but the leader of the world’s largest economy and by default the erstwhile leader of the Western World has said that he does not believe in Climate Change. End of story. The trouble is, although the boffins might generally agree on the reality of that Change, the jury is out on what this might actually mean in practice. Climate is such a tricky thing that change just one bit of it and the consequences become hazy. Some might say hazier than the sky over Beijing on a smoggy morning.

The emergence of a polar vortex of warm air over the Arctic last week actually drove cold air south which resulted in a record plunge in temperatures over the North American continent. One particularly worrying Climate Change theory anticipates an end to the Atlantic Meridional Ocean Current, the current which keeps European temperatures temperate and this would result in an overall drop in temperatures in Europe. So much for Global Warming.

In Australia we have our own Conga Line of Climate Change denying sycophants, many of whom seem to have found themselves into positions of political power where they maintain obstinately that there is nothing wrong with what we have been doing to this planet. While our economy in Australia is not on the same scale as elsewhere, we do have one of the highest per capita emissions of carbon dioxide in the world, the global effects of which are potentially equally as dangerous.

The Yallambie Creek in flood in 1974. (Source: PIT Environmental Impact Statement, 1974)
The Plenty River in flood at Yallambie,  c1890. (Source: Bill Bush Collection).
Thomas Wragge’s second Tulla Homestead, on the Wakool River, NSW, c1900, (Source: Lady Betty Lush Collection).

Much of Australia is classed as semi arid, a continent where climate is often variable and where frequent droughts lasting several seasons can be interspersed by considerable wet periods. Thomas Wragge who made a fortune running sheep in marginal country in the Riverina, made a success of these difficulties but chose to live at Yallambie after he purchased the Heidelberg property from the Bakewell brothers. His family gathered there before the Melbourne Cup each year and stayed there throughout the summer to avoid the worst extremes of temperature at their properties in inland Australia. Winty Calder noted the milder environment the family enjoyed at Yallambie in her 1996 book, “Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales” writing that:

The Station Plenty, (Yallambie) view I by Edward La Trobe Bateman, (Source: National Gallery of Victoria).

“Another early purchase made by the Bakewells was land beside the Plenty River east of Melbourne, where the climate was (and still is) temperate. Rain falls throughout the year, with slight peaks in spring and autumn, and averages about 700 millimetres (26 inches) per year. The mean monthly maximum temperature is about 27 degrees C (80 degrees F) in January, but falls to less than 12 degrees (53 degrees) in June and July. The mean monthly minimum in February is about 13 degrees C (55 degrees F), and about 5 degrees C (42 degrees F) in June, July and August. Any frosts are light and snow is rare.” (Calder, Jimaringle Publications, 1996)

Rainbow over Yallambie in 1995.

Yes, we’ve always thought it a lovely place to live here at Yallambie but thinking of the climate as something constant is misguided. The weather of our childhood might have felt like the norm but it was in fact a snapshot of a moment in climate history and by association different to what the early settlers found in Australia or indeed to what we are experiencing today.

I remember a time from my childhood when any temperature reaching into the 30s seemed like a heat wave. Now it is a temperature taken past 40. Across the river from Yallambie, the Lower Plenty Hotel in its bushland setting has an illuminated temperature gauge on its signboard visible from Main Rd. I photographed this at 6 o’clock in the evening last month when it was displaying 47° Celsius, or nearly 117° on the old Fahrenheit scale. I don’t know what the temperature might have been in the middle of that day but in the evening the temperature as displayed on the Lower Plenty board was several degrees above the official temperature when I checked it for Melbourne at about the same time.

Temperature gauge at Lower Plenty opposite Yallambie last month.

A story in Domain last month would seem to confirm this. Of all the data examined from all the weather stations across the greater metropolitan area, the weather station at Viewbank right next door to Yallambie came in as Melbourne’s hottest suburb with an average annual temperature there of 20.9° Celsius. The Bureau of Meteorology puts this down to the distance of the suburb from the stabilizing influence of sea breezes but there is also something called the “Heat Island Effect” to take into consideration. The concrete and built structures of Melbourne absorb heat during the day storing it up like a heat bank, then radiating that heat during the night making the city warmer after dark. I’m guessing that it’s those same sea breezes mentioned by the Bureau of Meteorology that are then pushing the warmer air up the Yarra Plenty valley where it is trapped by the hills around the Viewbank weather station.

A stroll in Yallambie Park.

Trees can provide some form of relief – just take a stroll along the river under the trees in Yallambie Park on one of these warm afternoons to see my point – but as blocks of land in the suburbs are ever more reduced in size and more and more houses are jammed into the existing environment to increase the profits of the developers, the heat island effect is only ever increased. The answer they seem to have to this is to put air conditioning into those jammed in houses but these require electricity to function which in the past has been produced in greenhouse gas producing coal fired power stations. It is a situation that becomes self-replicating. A catch 22.

Yallambie, July, 2018.

Yallambie Homestead with its high ceilings and 150 year old walls of solid double brick and plaster, located within a garden setting surrounded by numerous plantings of trees, manages to stay cooler in warm weather longer than most, but when it does warm up it retains the heat far longer. Another example of the heat island effect.

This island earth as seen from space by the Apollo 17 astronauts.

In my October 2017 post about “Conurbation”, I made brief reference to the heat island effect I had seen first-hand at Ocean Island in the Central Western Pacific. The story of Ocean Island or “Banaba” has always struck me as being like an ecological mirror of our own planet and if you can think for one moment about our fragile planet as being like a Pale Blue Dot cast adrift somewhere in the dark depths of space, then spare a thought for solitary Ocean Island sitting out there in the vast Pacific, all on its own.

Abandoned and overgrown mining infrastructure at Ocean Island (Banaba) in the Central Western Pacific, (writer’s picture).

Like the Pale Blue Dot, Ocean Island was the only home its native inhabitants had ever known. That was before the mining industry realized its potential. Roughly two square miles in area or to reference our subject, twice the size of Yallambie, an 80-year long phosphate mining industry in the 20th century reduced the island to a weedy, post-apocalyptic, post-industrial moonscape of broken rock and abandoned mining buildings and machinery. Unlike the inhabitants of the Pale Blue Dot however, a new home was found for the local people, the Banabans who were relocated to a small island in the Fiji group, much to the detriment of their heritage and to their identity as a Micronesian people.

Early 20th century photograph of Banabans in traditional dress on Ocean (Banaba) Island. (Source: A St. C Compton collection)

The phosphate from Ocean Island was meanwhile used to green farm land in Australia throughout most of the last century, so look around you. There’s probably a little bit of Ocean Island below your feet at Yallambie even now.

The sacrifice of the island to the needs of an industry that aided an agricultural revolution in the 20th century resulting in the population of this planet increasing from 1 ½ billion when mining started in 1900 to 7 ½ billion and climbing today, is an irony. The industry left the island source of a small part of that revolution largely uninhabitable but even so, there is a bigger irony at work here. Should general industrial practices across this planet result in Global Warming and a rise in sea levels which is a fundamental prediction of many expert opinions, then ruinous Ocean Island as a raised atoll and politically a part of the Republic of Kiribati will be the only island within that nation that has the potential of remaining above those projected altered sea levels.

It’s a sobering thought and one that might see future peoples of low lying islands calling out the name of a certain American writer as they measure the water outside their front door. Whoever first spoke those somehow Global Warmingly appropriate words, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” the source doesn’t really matter now. It seems instead appropriate that the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, which found its origins from his years working on the Mississippi riverboats where a safe depth for passage was called out as two fathoms on the line – “by the mark twain” – could one day find another use. In years to come as the waters rise, we might all be hearing a bit more about the “Mark Twain”.

A Blake Mystery

When it comes to detective fiction it is perhaps a little known fact that the biggest selling crime novel of the 19th century appeared in that quondam den of iniquity, boom time Melbourne after the gold rushes. Released in 1886 a full year before the first Conan Doyle, in the words of one modern review the Australian novel ‘The Mystery of a Handsome Cab’ was “a crucial point in the genre’s transformation into detective fiction”, (Rzepka & Horsley). With a story line set in and around “Marvelous Melbourne” the book was a positive, pot boiling, sleuthing success from the moment it appeared giving its writer, Fergus Hume fifteen minutes of fame and selling 100,000 copies in its first two Australian print runs on its way to becoming an international bestseller.

Detective novels by Fergus Hume

As with any success however came the public demands for a follow up. The resulting loosely drawn sequel, ‘Madame Midas’ was published about two years later with a story line that transferred the drama from late 19th century Melbourne onto the Ballarat gold fields. Although it didn’t achieve anything like the runaway success of the first novel, Midas is notable for introducing the world to a murder mystery set within the scope of an Australian regional country town and featuring a narrative centered round an independently resourced and singularly minded pre-Suffragette female protagonist.

Alice Cornwell photographed about the time Fergus Hume used her as the inspiration for his character, “Madame Midas”. (Source: National Library of Australia collection)

It is said that truth can be stranger than fiction. While the characters of Hume’s subsequent prolific literary output mostly descended into fantastical cloak and dagger melodrama, the fictionalized Madame Midas of his Ballarat based effort was an altogether different story. Hume based the portrait of Midas on his friend, Alice Cornwell whose real life tale reads like the scattered pages of a romanticized fiction. Lady mining magnate and financial wunderkind, part time inventor and full time newspaper baroness, Cornwell’s life was full of contradictions. They were contradictions however that made her a fortune and earned her the epithet “Princess Midas, the Lady of the Nuggets”. Hume found he had plenty of background material for a story, so much so that when the book became a play, Cornwell’s estranged husband sued over the content.

Fast forward a hundred years or so, give or take, and in what seemed like a continuation of the Hume whodunit tradition, Ballarat was again to become the setting for a fictional detective drama complete with its own behind the scenes, later court room problems. Viewers of the former ABC Australian TV period detective television series “The Doctor Blake Mysteries”, might have been forgiven for thinking that by the 1950s, Ballarat had become a pretty perilous place. In that post war country town of television theatrics, murders seemed to happen with an alarming regularity that would have surprised even Fergus Hume, the bloodless bodies of the lifeless victims bobbing out across the small screen with a clockwork consistency.

Two fine Australian actors. Craig McLachlan and Nadine Garner as they appeared in the original The Dr Blake Mysteries series which screened on ABC television. (Source: IMDB)

It was fiction but it proved to be rather fun and made good television, especially for the role of the lead character, the Police Surgeon Doctor Lucien Blake played by Craig McLachlan whose job it was to run to ground a new set of nefarious villains each week while supposedly juggling the duties of a neglected country medical practice and conducting a dilatory romance with his housekeeper. As a formula it was a clever take on the established detective genre and ran for five entertaining seasons before the ABC unexpectedly embarked on its own brazen act of cold blooded murder – inexplicably killing off the show at the end of 2017 at the height of its popularity in a process they claimed was a necessary cutback due to Federal Government imposed budgetary constraints.

The timing was opportune, or maybe not. That was a matter probably dependent on your view point for it came just before unassociated  hashtag Me Too allegations of misconduct were being made against the show’s leading actor, allegations themselves which are now the subject of a high risk, 6½ million dollar defamation case brought on by the actor against two media outlets, but it left the show’s creators with very little room to manoeuvre.

So it came as some surprise then when last year the makers of the show, December Media, announced that the production would make a return to the small screen, albeit without its titular character, in a made for telly, movie length drama commissioned by a commercial broadcaster. The Seven Network had earlier shown interest in saving the production and with help from Film Victoria and Screen Australia in an out-of-rounds special funding commitment, they had offered December Media a lifeline. The broken strands of the show would be pasted back together into a story which propelled the remaining cast forward into the 1960s.

Perhaps opportunely, the doctor in the Doctor Blake series had married his former housekeeper in the last of the broadcast ABC stories thereby keeping the name in the title alive in spite of the actor’s absence. The show would be repackaged as simply “The Blake Mysteries” with Jean Blake, who in the earlier series had acted as a sounding board and wise counsel to the doctor, stepping up to the wicket as a sort Australian variant on the Miss Marple theme. If it rated well it was said there was a prospect of more things to come.

“Blake found itself at that most unlikely of “country town” destinations – suburban Yallambie…”

From the start the Blake franchise has been a brand of which the regional center of Ballarat has been proud and trips are still run on a regular basis to introduce tourists and the show’s legion of fans to some of the more prominent local landmarks used in the series. It may come as a surprise to readers of this blog then that when it came to finding locations for the new telemovie, Blake found itself at that most unlikely of “country town” destinations – suburban Yallambie in Melbourne’s north east.

Prior to filming last year, the producers had been looking around for a “haunted house” to build part of their telemovie around. They wanted a country style home of semi derelict stature which their script described had stood empty and abandoned for 30 years, but for logistical reasons it also had to be within easy reach of their South Melbourne based production team. Casting Yallambie Homestead as the “haunted house” of their dreams ticked the boxes.

Readers of these posts might recall another occasion when a visiting film crew lobbed here at Yallambie. That visit continued a tradition in the district that commenced with the earliest days of film making, but the Blake shoot was certainly on a scale never seen in Yallambie before.

Bigger than Ben Hur

As we watched more and more people troop through the gates carrying equipment and film paraphernalia down to the house on that first morning back in June, it quickly became apparent that this one was going to be bigger than Ben Hur.

The lighting tower under early construction
A Zephyr sedan with a balsa wood siren

An enormous lighting tower quickly went up at the head of the drive like Jack’s bean stalk and two early-model Police cars were parked underneath, one an original 1961 Ford Zephyr Mk 2 Police Divi van, the other a repurposed Zephyr sedan with a balsa wood siren prop and a temperamental head light that we learned later only operated at night when the driver got out and gave it a bang with the palm of his hand. These cars were driven by stunt drivers who in one of their action sequences were required to whirl the vehicles up to the front of the house in a spray of gravel. In trepidation I said, “See yonder shrubbery, planted there by the Knights Who Say ‘Ni’. It’s taken years to grow back to what you see before you after the first, (and last) time I took to it with the hedge trimmer.”

“What’s that you say? Drive right over it and flatten it into match wood. No worries, we can do that for you. Happy to oblige.”

Ben Hur and his chariot never had it so tough.

Residents of houses in the local area had received timely letters inside their post boxes the week before advising them of the planned activity in the back streets of Yallambie and a traffic controller had been strategically positioned in Tarcoola Drive with apparent instructions to lean on his paddle pop in a sleepy sort of way to bamboozle the passing motorists.

Actor Finn Scicluna-O’Prey playing the part of boy scout Geoffrey Roper enters through the front door at Yallambie to find the first of the three murders
“This place is really spooky…”
“Just us ghosts…”

I once wrote a Halloween themed post for this blog but on the first evening of filming as a special effects fog was pumped into the night air, I overheard one of the child actors who had been cast in a role in the new movie comment as he looked up at the darkened house, “This place is really spooky. Does anyone even live here?”

That brought a smile to the old dial. “Just us ghosts I’m ’fraid young man.”

“The gift that keeps on giving”
Emptying bags of leaves inside the front hall

In spite of appearances to the contrary, the ghosts had vainly spent the weekend prior to this sprucing the wreckage, but the first thing the Blake crew did on arriving was to hang fake cobwebs around, empty bags of old leaves where they had previously been swept away, and generally turn our lives upside down in a topsy-turvy sort of way. If the house hadn’t looked derelict before they started, it did completely by the time the cameras were ready to roll, but this was entirely the effect they had been trying to achieve. Yallambie Homestead for film makers was they said “the gift that keeps on giving”.

Actor Matthew Connell discusses preparations for the fall from the ceiling with his stunt double

One of the key scenes shot at the house called for an actor to smash his way out of a ceiling and somersault down the 23 flight staircase inside. Originally the plan had been for the actor to be positioned on the balcony outside throwing fictional broken slates off the roof, but perhaps after looking at the non-fictional very real crumbling state of the balcony, veteran director Ian Barry wisely chose to move the action inside. A stunt double was used for the tumble and a whole lot of special effects falling plaster, but the plan also called for the removal of some large furniture that was deemed to be blocking the way of the big landing.

“But that furniture hasn’t moved for years.”

“No worries, we have somebody to handle things like this.”

A plethora of somebodies

We soon learned there was a plethora of somebodies ready to handle all manner of things as the need arose. There was even a bloke whose sole job apparently was to look after the “blood”. Blake prides itself on the restraint of its drama but the “blood man” arrived armed with a special effects, fiberglass pool of blood lovingly prepared on a tray and ready to be placed near the foot of the stairs when required. Meanwhile the intended murder victim himself stalked around in the sun outside, talking on his mobile phone while waiting for his cue to lie down dead in what I guess was probably one of the less demanding of the on screen roles.

The soccer ground car park at Yallambie taken over by the Blake catering staff and support crew
Blake catering tent

Catering tents and caravans were set up in the soccer ground car park in Yallambie near the Lower Plenty Rd Bridge and at meal times a shuttle bus ran between the locations and the sports field in order to get the empty stomachs of the cast and crew to the place where they could be filled. One thing I learned from observation is that the film production process requires many, many people all pulling together apparently in different directions before suddenly coming together at the moment the cameras start to roll. Hours of work might translate into only a few minutes or even seconds of screen time but for the interested bystander, it is a fascinating process to watch.

The blackout screens at the front of the house
Preparations for the outdoor shoot in Yallambie Park

We watched as large blackout screens were erected in front of the house in an attempt to achieve continuity in some of the night scenes that for practical reasons had been scheduled to be filmed in daylight hours but later on, when filming had moved on to an outdoor shoot in Yallambie Park, the question then became how much camera time could be fitted in between the sun popping in and out from behind the clouds. Apparently too much sun can cause havoc with exposures so another of the aforementioned Blake “somebodies” had the job of peering at the sky through a glass then calling out his estimates of sun time between the patches in the overhead rolling clouds.

Child actors at Yallambie

The child actors themselves had minders to oversee their welfare but it was the costume department’s dedication to the detail in their dress that I found extraordinary. The script required the children to be dressed in scout uniforms and these I learned had been borrowed from the Scout Heritage Center. The uniforms were not only authentic for the period but were decorated with the correct, matching insignia badges for a Ballarat based troop.

Ballarat boy scouts camping in Yallambie Park
Blake on location in Yallambie Park

The script required not only Boy Scout uniforms but also a Boy Scout camp and this was cleverly constructed using bush skills on the banks of the River Plenty in Yallambie Park. Filming took place in the Park on two consecutive nights in front of a roaring campfire, which for OHS reasons, wasn’t a real camp fire at all but a very convincing gas log fire that could be pumped up into flame or extinguished as required.

Nadine Garner in the role of Jean Blake looking for clues
The Blake crew making preparations for a scene inside the front hall

The final result of all this Yallambie based film making aired on the Seven Network at the end of November. Personally, I found the format didn’t translate well onto commercial television with the need for ad breaks interrupting the flow of an already needlessly convoluted story line. All the same the telemovie still averaged 450,000 viewers across the five capital cities with another 247,000 tuning in from regional areas with the Seven Network’s Angus Ross reported as saying, “We never rush decisions around quality shows such as The Blake Mysteries but the first round of numbers are very encouraging.” Whether this is enough to save the Blake franchise in the long run remains to be seen. The Seven Network announced last week that it would not commission any further Blake stories in 2019 but maybe like Fergus Hume’s Handsome Cab, Madame Midas themed follow up, they are waiting on just the right character formula coming along for a sequel. The very large elephant in the Blake room has always been the absence from the production of the good Doctor himself. Towards the end of the November telemovie, actress Nadine Garner in the role of Jean Blake turns to the camera and says, “You can spend your whole life focusing on the past. Or you can look forward. Be grateful for the people you have and the time you have with them.”

Spectator to a night shoot at Yallambie

She was speaking in character of course but the cast and crew were obviously offering up their feelings on events external to the show and those matters that have been outside of their control. As a writer of a blog that has busied itself in the past more often than not with history and the lives of people now long departed, those words struck with me a chord. Hosting the Blake crew at Yallambie was one hell of a ride and meeting the cast and crew while being a spectator to the organized chaos that is the process of film making was an absolute privilege. Whether Blake will be, like “Lazarus with a triple bypass”, resurrected for a third time after these events remains unclear. Like the stage version of Madame Midas, it may depend upon the result of an apparently unrelated court case. With the recent turmoil surrounding the decision makers at the ABC, perhaps our national broadcaster could start listening to their audiences and themselves consider reinstating free to air, one of their more recent successful ventures. Whatever the outcome, the Blake visit to the suburbs in down town Yallambie last year was an experience we will long remember, even after all else around here has become just history.

I’ve been a very good boy all year

Multi armed goddess at Bhaktapur, Nepal, (writer’s picture).

Have you ever thought what it would be like to live your life as some sort of multi armed, Hindu deity? She who I share my breakfast table with probably knows. She’s often said she could do with an extra pair of hands about the place but maybe that’s got less to do with the domestic goddess in her and more to do with her ongoing passion for old keyboard instruments and the consequent number of fingers needed to bang out a tune on the same. At last count she owned three pianos of varying descriptions and in fluctuating playing condition. She also has a pedal pump parlour organ, a folding church reed organ and even a virginal style, rectangular harpsichord, but unless things have taken a turn in a decidedly Zaphod Beeblebrox direction lately, at last count she only had the usual issue of piano playing arms.

I’d been thinking there must be some other purpose for having all these keyboard instruments around our shared domicile, other than the obvious musical motif. Then it struck me. The folded up tops of those instruments are where the annual harvest of Christmas cards get deposited each and every December, come what may in the Yule tide Season. In the days before television and wireless when most homes owned an upright, the piano top was an obvious and apparently ready made shelf for all manner of things, albeit the place where the cat would sometimes jump to knock it all flying.

But that was then and fashions change. Nowadays the cat plays the piano on the internet while the piano itself has been replaced by an App on your lap top that will do just about the same thing with an on-screen keyboard. Pianos struggle to make a hundred dollars at auction and I’ve even seen them left out on the side of the road. It’s all a bit sad really but, more to the point, it’s not like anyone even sends out bundles of Christmas cards these days.

Christmas cards in a New York shop window, 1910. (Source: Wikipedia, from The New York Times photo archive)

Every year it seems our Christmas card list is pared back ever more and I don’t think that’s just a reflection on my dwindling list of friends, although maybe I should take that as a hint. I reckon I could now fit the Christmas card list onto the back of a postage stamp but wait, when’s the last time you actually saw a postage stamp outside of a philatelic album? The reasons for the decline are obvious and represent another change in societal fashion. Log onto Facebook or send an e-card out to your contacts and the job is considered done for another 12 months, and that’s without any of that tedious and unhygienic business of licking stamps, addressing envelopes or perish the thought, actually writing anything resembling a properly personalised message.

Christmas theatre programmes from Ocean Island.

My maternal Grandfather, Alfred St C Compton designed his own Christmas theatre programmes on Ocean Island in the Central Western Pacific in the 1920s. As with most things, there’s something to be said in favour of the effort required to achieve a little home grown originality although I must say, in my case I gave up making my own cards at about the time I paid a swan song to a much loved first car.

The Noddy car leaving Yallambie for the last time.
The “Noddy” car Christmas card.

I guess the decline in the popularity of the printed Christmas message could be seen as saving a tree from giving up its life to cardboard, but does it really have to be like this? A friend in the UK still sends me her “Advent Calendar” which is a series of emailed illustrations sent one day at a time in the days leading up to Christmas. They never seem to quite follow a Christmas theme but recipients on the CC list “Reply All” with stories inspired by the images. It’s quite random and evidence perhaps that there’s still room for creativity even inside the digital age.

Christmas card by Gibbs, Shallard & Co, 1881, from the collection of Michael Aitken. (Source: State Library of Victoria)
The world’s first commercially produced Christmas card, designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole in 1843. (Source: Wikipedia)

It has been recorded that the very first printed Christmas cards were created in England in 1843 for use in the newly founded penny postal service. This was about the time that the Bakewells were settling in to their new surroundings at the Plenty Station, Yallambee, but it wasn’t until three decades later at a time concurrent with the building of the present Homestead that the giving and receiving of cards at Christmas became widely accepted. At that time inexpensive, mass produced chromolithographic cards became available and these were posted to Australia by friends and family living back “home” or were imported directly into Australia for domestic use. These cards of course typically depicted scenes from a Northern Hemisphere winter, scenes that were somewhat at odds with the heat of an Australian summer or life in the bush, so it was not long before card manufacturers started producing cards in Australia with a distinctly Australian content.

Christmas postcard showing rural scene at Heidelberg, c1918. (Source: State Library of Victoria)

In the days when you might need a bank loan to place a long distance telephone call, the so called trunk call, letter writing and dropping a card of some description into the corner letter box was the easy and inexpensive alternative. There are people who probably still remember a time when the post man on his bicycle rode past their house with a delivery on Saturday. At Yallambie we share our Post Code number with neighbouring Macleod and while Yallambie has never had its own Post Office, the Simpson Barracks up the road apparently had an office located inside the camp before the postal services were removed about 20 years ago. Maybe they got confused by people continuing to incorrectly address mail to the garrison which is located in Yallambie, to Army personnel at the “Watsonia Barracks”.

But as for what people actually write at Christmas, the other day I was looking through a collection of old Christmas cards and turned up a couple of hand written notes that had been written to Father Christmas by a boy at some now long forgotten Christmas eventide. The story of the fox recalled to mind a recent post and brought back to me nostalgic memories from another time, a time before the boy stood six foot in his socks and when the magic of Christmas on Christmas night was very much a real thing.

It is said we all yearn for the Christmas times of our youth – a time of long, hot summers in Australia and a time when people still wrote those copious quantities of Christmas greetings. In those days the scent of spruce seemed to fill the house in the weeks leading up to Christmas, just as it does now. Somehow though the idea of a jolly fat, fellow dressed all in red and flying through the night sky on a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer, landing on the roof of your house and climbing down your chimney even if your house didn’t have a chimney, seemed not an altogether impossibility. In the uncertain world of today, maybe that is one thing that hasn’t changed.

Who am I to say?

Albert, the Christmas pudding

“The wood-fire stove in the kitchen was always hot. Cured pigs, sausages, dried fruit and vegetables hung from a central beam beneath the ceiling. Although a cook was employed, the family invaded the kitchen each year to preserve fruit in large, labelled jars and store it in the pantry; and then again to make the annual Christmas pudding.”
Winty Calder: Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales – The Wragges of Tulla and Yallambie, Jimaringle Publications, 1996

Norman Lindsay painting in the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

When we think of the artist Norman Lindsay perhaps it is as the painter of those naughty pictures of salacious Amazonian women in their birthday suits that we first think of him. A striking mixture of Arcadian pantheism and Bohemian semi-eroticism, those controversial paintings caused quite a stir amongst the strait laced wowsers of their era. However, there was more to Norman than just the creator of a lifetime’s work of marginally risqué Rubenesque images. A shining light in a family widely accomplished in the arts, Norman’s creative output across multiple disciplines throughout three quarters of the 20th century was prodigious. From the late 1890s until his death aged 90 in 1969, Norman worked in both the fine arts as a painter, etcher, sculptor and modeller and in the commercial arts as an editorial artist, cartoonist and draftsman.

Norman Lindsay photographed with one of his paintings by William Buckle in 1936. (Source: Art Gallery of NSW)

Not that it ended there. In his youth Norman had established a reputation as something of an amateur boxer, a fast left jab perhaps coming in useful when it came to defending himself against some of those more ardent critics, but for the moment I want to go down a completely different different track.

Norman Lindsay liked puddings.

An author of more than 20 books, only one of which was banned by the contemporary censors, Norman’s most enduring legacy is probably a book he wrote initially for children. I’m talking of course about that most quintessential of Australian childhood picture books, “The Magic Pudding”.

A first edition of Norman Lindsay’s “The Magic Pudding”.

The story of a magic pudding that wants to be eaten and reforms after every bite has enchanted Australian readers of all ages for generations. The book was supposedly the result of a wager between Norman and his friend, the journal editor Bertram Stevens. Norman, skinny as they come, maintained children preferred reading books about feeding their faces but Stevens said they preferred fairies at the bottom of the garden. It started out as a joke but Stevens’ fairy story never saw the light of day while Lindsay’s effort became a classic of Australian childhood literature.  Since its release in 1918 it has never been out of print in this country.

From this I’m thinking now that Norman would have approved of what generally happens in kitchens at this time of the year. At Yallambie, the making of the annual Christmas pudding was a Wragge family tradition, a tradition that continues up to and into the present day. While the pudding in Norman’s story was a grumpy old sod, there is one thing the Yallambie pud shares with its Lindsay counterpart.

It wants to be eaten.

Watch your head. Low flying puddings…

As I write this post this evening, a string of puddings hangs cooling over my ear, suspended from an old meat hook on the kitchen ceiling as if to say, “Eat me, no eat me,” and reminding me that Christmas is just around the corner.

You see, I left it rather late to make the pudding this year. By rights a Christmas pudding should have been made and left to air a month or more ago, but it’s hard to think about Christmas before the twelfth month of the year don’t you think?

Oranges from the garden at Yallambie, painted onto a door by Jessie Wragge in the 1890s.

The recipe I use appeared four puddings ago in one of my first posts on this site. It’s a real old fashioned recipe that uses several varieties of glace fruit which chances are you might find aren’t always easy to buy, especially at this time of the year. The glace angelica is particularly difficult to get. I used to buy glace angelica at Christmas over the counter at the Myer Food Hall before they canned it – the Hall I mean, not the angelica. These days it’s just as easy to go on line with a credit card. The glace angelica is an attractive alternative to green glace cherries and is used as a complement to the red glace cherries in the recipe, without actually being more of the same. The other ingredients are easier to source. The citrus came from our own garden.

Part of the Christmas pudding ceremony is getting each member of the family to have a stir of the mixture as it’s prepared. It’s said that this stirs in luck for the coming year. When our son came down to take his turn this year he took one look at the brown, uncooked mass mixed with fruit and declared it looked like Ronnie Barker’s prison gruel.

But he had a stir all the same.

Pot stirring isn’t the only Christmas pudding custom you will read about. When I was a kid, my mother used to throw in a few pre-decimal currency coins to be discovered and hopefully not choked on by hungry pudding hunters on Christmas day. If you’re going to do this though it’s important to use coins containing a high silver content. The metal of anything else will contaminate the mixture. My over cautious mother tended to insert the coins after the pudding had been reheated just before it was about to be served on Christmas Day. Today some dealers in old coins will sell you pre-decimal coin sets packaged up especially for use as Christmas pudding tokens. Try doing that with Australian, plastic folding currency.

This recipe requires beer and either whisky and/or brandy to mix with the fruit. The beer has the added attraction of the cook being able to finish the bottle as he makes up the recipe, but the only spirit I had on hand this year was a bottle of single malt Irish Whiskey which I’m afraid all good Scotsmen will tell you isn’t Whisky at all. At any rate, using a Malt for cooking purposes is probably sacrilegious by some measure or other, regardless of your preferred nationality.

The magic pudding of Norman Lindsay’s book spends most of the story on the run from would be pudding thieves before settling down with his rightful owners with whom he finds he has a good working relationship. The pudding’s name was Albert, which if a pudding is going to have a name, is a good name for a pudding, don’t you think?

Anyway, after a day of boiling, the pudding is done. A smell of fruity  elixir permeates the kitchen. So for any who missed this recipe when I first ran it in these pages in the week before Christmas 2014, here is ye olde Yallambie pudding recipe, reprised.

Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

 

Pudding ingredients: Beer, flour, bread, Whisk(e)y, butter, sultanas, dried pears, raisins, brown sugar, eggs, glace apricots, red glace cherries, glace angelica, chopped almonds, orange and lemon.

CENTURY-OLD YALLAMBIE CHRISTMAS PUDDING
125 grams self-raising flour
125 grams fresh white bread crumbs
125 grams ground almonds
185 grams sultanas
185 grams glacé cherries, cut into halves
30 grams angelica, diced
60 grams blanched almonds, cut into chunky pieces
60 grams dried pears, chopped small
60 grams glacé apricots, cut into small pieces
185 grams raisins, halved if very large
150 grams brown sugar
Grated rind of one lemon
Grated rind of one orange
Juice of one lemon
185 grams unsalted butter
1 cup light beer
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons whisky or brandy

Sifting the flour.
Mix the sifted flour and fresh bread crumbs.
Mix both dry ingredients, and fruit together.
Prepare the pudding cloth.
The first boiling takes seven hours.

Mix the flour, fresh white bread crumbs and almonds. Put the fruit and nuts into a basin and stir. If they are sticking together, add a few spoonful’s of the dry ingredients to separate them. Mix in the brown sugar, lemon and orange rinds and lemon juice. Have the butter cold, and grate it coarsely over the fruits. Do this, a little at a time, and stir to mix it through or it becomes one large lump. Mix both dry ingredients, and fruit together. Add the beer, eggs and whisky or brandy and using your hands or a wooden spoon stir the mixture thoroughly for a minute. All family members should take turns to stir the pudding mixture, traditionally from East to West in honour of the journey of the Three Kings to Bethlehem. Don’t forget to make a wish. To prepare the pudding cloth, scald the centre of the cloth with boiling water and then dust with flour. Put mixture in the centre of the cloth, gather the cloth up and tie it securely leaving a little room for the pudding to expand.

The recipe makes nine cups and is better cooked in halves, rather than one large pudding. The first boiling of this pudding takes seven hours for a large one and five hours if halved. Dry by hanging in an airy spot. Reheating times on Christmas Day are three and half hours and two and a half hours respectively. If you have any silver coins or tokens, insert them into the pudding. Douse with good quality brandy and set the pudding alight. Serve with ice cream, cream or custard.

Or maybe all three.

Mud, mud, glorious mud

At first glance, leafy Eltham with its artist colonies in Melbourne’s north east, far flung and fabled, Timbuktu in Saharan West Africa and Yallambie might not appear to have much in common, but look further. Surprisingly there is one thing seemingly attached to all three, and it’s not the peculiar place that each occupies in our collective imagination.

Mud Brick.

The Great Mosque of Djenné near Timbuktu. (Picture: Joe Benke)

It’s a building construction method that has been used by humans ever since we first realized there was an alternative to sharing our homes with the angry cave bear. At Timbuktu, Mudbrick building has been practiced since Iron Age times where sun-baked earth bricks are called “Ferey”. In other places, Mudbrick is known by a variety of provincial names (Adobe, Banco, Earth Structure, and Clay Lump) and is practiced in a variety of related technical forms (Rammed Earth, Cob, Pisé de terre and Sod).

The Taos Pueblo Native American adobe complex in New Mexico. (Photographed by the writer)
Mudbrick building in Eltham, 1947 with Alastair Knox pictured centre. (Source: alistairknox.org)

In Eltham, Mudbrick building was a construction practice that was adopted widely after 1947 in what was then a still largely rural community. This was partly as a result of post war building shortages, but also in response to a building programme that had been going on at the artist community at Montsalvat since 1934 and a general desire to return to a more primitive building aesthetic. As a material it had indefinable human and emotional qualities and a succession of local builders, starting first with the self-taught Mudbrick pioneer Alistair Knox, quickly made it their own.

Today it is estimated that there are over 1300 mud brick homes in the Shire of Nillumbik alone. Every year our son’s soon to be alma mater, runs a tour of a small selection of some of these houses as a fund raising event to support the very excellent Eltham HS music programme, continuing a tradition that dates back more than 50 years. The 2018 tour takes place this coming Sunday but the ticketed event is already a sell-out, which perhaps proves the enduring community interest in Mudbrick and by extension, the Sustainable House Movement.

Bakewell era stables corner of Tarcoola Drive and Lambruk Court, removed to make way for the Temby Mudbricks. (Source: John Botwood Collection)

In Yallambie, Mudbrick homes on the A V Jennings estate are in reality a rarity, but there are two Mudbricks located in Tarcoola Drive of comment. These houses were built at the start of the 1980s on land that was formerly occupied by the Bakewell era “Yallambee” stables. They were built by the sons of Ethel Temby after their mother had ended her 20 year association with the Wragge era Homestead. Although the Bakewell stables were sadly sacrificed to make way for these buildings, the two homes did incorporate a few selected materials salvaged from the original structure and are in a way a continuation of that spirit of place.

Bear’s Castle, Yan Yean, from a 1905 postcard.
At Bear’s Castle in 1997.

Earth building in the Plenty Valley is a story that can be traced back to the earliest days of settlement. The building of Bear’s Castle at Yan Yean used Cob, a sort of trimmed earth construction method not dissimilar to Mudbrick, and is a rare pre goldrush example of that style of earth building. It is unique in Victoria today and was built in about 1847 although at that time it appears there were other buildings of a similar type in the area. As noted by the architectural historian Miles Lewis in his book “Victorian Primitive”, a Victorian Government Prize essay of 1859 stated that at Yan Yean could be found at that time, “common pise houses about twelve years old, and the conspicuous pise tower known as Bear’s Castle.”

The Station Plenty, (Yallambie) view V by Edward La Trobe Bateman 1853-1856. Station outbuildings in distance with trees and creek in foreground. (Source: National Gallery of Victoria, Accession Number 645E-5)

It is unknown whether the Bakewells used earth construction methods in any of their buildings at Yallambee. E L Bateman’s View V of The Station Plenty series seems to hint at bark roofing and vertical slab style construction methods used in the station outbuildings with just a tantalizing hint of a “Three Little Pigs” thatched roof on the horizon, so that is not to say that other styles of primitive building were not followed in the landscape beyond the picture. Lewis states in the opening of the introduction to his book that:

“A colony is a sort of cultural laboratory. Customs and crafts which have developed in their homeland over hundreds of years are translated abruptly into totally new conditions.”
(Lewis: Victorian Primitive, Greenhouse Publications, 1977)

He goes on to on to say that slab construction in Victoria was “related to traditional English precedents” but that bark roofing was “an unequivocally local response to the presence of suitable barking trees” at Port Phillip while in regard to earth building, “in Australia mud brick quickly became acclimatised.”

In its simplest form then, all primitive building techniques make use of local resources and require only the labour of preparing and erecting the building material, whether that be mud brick, split timber or otherwise, a consideration that must have been of considerable appeal to the early settlers of the Port Phillip District.

John Batman portrait by William Beckworth McInnes (Source: City of Melbourne Collection )

The very first European building in what was to eventually become the Colony of Victoria was a blockhouse built on Churchill Island in Westernport Bay by Lieutenant James Grant during a visit in 1801 which used an early form of common horizontal slab construction. Thirty years on, the very first shelters built by the party left behind by John Batman at Indented Head after his initial contact with the Kulin Nation were of Sod.

Sod or “Turve” construction was a popular method of housing in the “Bearbrass” settlement of 1830s Melbourne. The first two buildings in Melbourne were a hut and a storehouse of this style and in 1836 the “Sydney Gazette” reported that two of Melbourne’s three public houses were formed of turf sods. Early writers make numerous references to the resulting ramshackle appearance this material gave to the new town.

“…Melbourne which at present consists entirely of turf and weather-boarded huts, a very primitive looking place.”
(James Willis, Plenty River squatter, Diary, 2 May, 1837)

Sod buildings were constructed by cutting patches of turf into rectangles with a hatchet or plough and then piling the material up into walls. The resulting structures, although easy to create, required continual maintenance and were therefore not surprisingly easily vulnerable to rain damage.

Mudbrick or “Clay Lump” was the alternative and became more popular in Victoria as the century progressed. In Mudbrick building, bricks are made by mixing earth with water to make the mud, adding straw or other fibres as a binding agent, then placing the mixture into moulds and allowing the resulting blocks to dry in the sun. It all sounds terribly easy, which is probably the reason for the enduring popularity of the process.

Although questioning his sources, Miles Lewis quotes from a description of this method of construction as applied locally during the first years of settlement at Melbourne:

“It will not always occur that the young beginner will have either the time or the money at his disposal for burning bricks – if he has, he is well off. Sun-dried bricks, if mixed with chopped straw, and carefully made, are an excellent substitute for the burned brick, and as they may be made very large, say, nine inches wide and eighteen-and-a-half inches long, they are very quickly laid. In Victoria there is, in general, a scarcity of lime; it can always be had in Melbourne though but seldom in the country a mortar made of sandy clay or loam must, therefore, be substituted for it.”

At Yallambee the Bakewells had the cash resources to pick and choose from available building resources. Their prefabs were neat weather boarded buildings but these structures also incorporated soft fired bricks in various ways. The bricks used by the Bakewells were reportedly slop sided, narrow profile handmade bricks that had been brought out as ballast on the early clipper ships to Port Phillip. By contrast, when Thomas Wragge came to build the present homestead around 1872, the bricks used for that stucco style Italianate construction were fired on site from locally sourced clay.

Thomas Wragge’s stucco style Italianate Yallambie Homestead was constructed with hand made bricks fired on the property. (Source: Bill Bush Collection)

It took until the second half of the 20th century before the Temby boys made their attempts to return Yallambie to a more archaic style of building. The resulting houses they built today stand as a curiosity among the A V Jennings brick veneers of the Yallambie estate.

The stone built, oold Bakewell era stables, c1900, (Source: Bill Bush Collection).

The Age reported this week that one result of the continuing property boom is that the quarries that have supplied the clay and shale used in creating Melbourne’s distinctive red bricks, are fast being exhausted. Clay and clay shale demand in Victoria is expected to grow by 33 per cent to 1.6 million tonnes in 2050. The construction house market is not only depleting clay and clay shale supplies, but also the amount of land from which it can be extracted. Mudbrick houses as a building type however are  by definition, naturally sustainable. They make use of the earth from the ground on which they stand and incorporate low energy, natural materials with a preference for recycled timbers and natural stones. The Temby houses in Tarcoola Drive are no exception and use assorted stone sourced from the Bakewell stables with joinery and additional slop sided burnt bricks derived from the same source. These Yallambie houses were designed to sit into the natural contours of the land at the top of the Plenty River escarpment and are surrounded by the native gardens that were planted by Ethel during her tenure at the Homestead. Both Mudbricks passed from Temby ownership two decades ago but the larger of the two is now up for sale with an auction scheduled later this month, a consolation for those bound to miss this weekend’s 2018 Eltham Mudbrick Tour.

Mudbrick house at entrance to Yallambie Park, a long way from Glenauburn, October, 2018.
The renowned psychiatrist Dr Ainslie Meares whose house, Aldermaston Manor, is a Yallambie landmark.

In the best Ainslee Meares’ tradition, a well-respected psychiatrist whose Buddhist beliefs are much evident in the garden, lived at this house until recently. I’d have to agree with the spiel on the agent’s website which uses phrases including, “rustic charm”, “country style” and “warm earthy feel” but the same listing also manages to confuse the location of the property as being next to Glenauburn Park in Lower Plenty instead of Yallambie Park, in Yallambie, so make of that what you will. Perhaps they were confused by finding a Mudbrick house up for sale in Yallambie at all and thought it better to place it on the road to Eltham. It says something when even the real estate agents can’t separate Yallambie from Timbuktu.

It is better that we don’t know what we don’t know until such time as we know it

It was in the cold, glowing, radioactive light of the Post-Apocalyptic new day that the truth was unveiled. The facts were utterly undeniable, even by that seemingly discredited Godzilla, post-Karen Silkwood institution which constitutes the nuclear power industry of this 21st century island Earth. A little over a year after the nuclear melt downs at the Fukushima nuclear power station following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, an independent investigating commission found that, given the earthquake prone nature of the country, the disaster had been entirely predictable and that the safety failures that occurred during the crisis should therefore have been perfectly preventable.

It was a finding that was of little comfort to those gleaming in the warm, green glow of the nuclear aftermath. The resulting catastrophic release of radioactive material into the environment was a disaster of atomic proportions for Japan and its neighbouring countries around the Pacific Rim, the ongoing effect of which is still being felt and which may not be fully realized yet for decades to come.

With the finger pointing that followed, the operator of the Japanese Fukushima plant subsequently revealed that one of the main reasons for its lack of preparedness was an underlying fear of the negative publicity and protests that might follow any admission of these safety concerns. When it comes to the nuclear industry then, it seems it is better that we don’t know what we don’t know until such time as we know it.

Lower Plenty Rd c1965 before the realignment across the new Lower Plenty Rd Bridge. This picture, which was taken from a position approximately where the ARL would later be built, shows the rural nature of the area in this era. (Picture source: © from the collection of the Eltham District Historical Society)

In Yallambie in 1974 a similar line was drawn in the sands of truth when a proposal was made to carve off about eight acres of green fields from the Army camp and build an Australian radiation laboratory in what even then was an emerging suburban environment. The land was part of a Federal Government reserve but since the start of the 1960s it had been leased by an inoffensive pony riding school fronting Lower Plenty Rd near the corner of the present day Yallambie Rd intersection.

Lower Plenty rd, a single lane in either direction at the Yallambie Rd intersection. The timber building prominent in the picture was replaced by the ARL development. (Source: PIT Environmental Impact Statement, 1974)

At the time, the proposal was met with stiff opposition from local residents of Yallambie led by the Yallambie Progress Association which had formed in 1972 to give residents of the embryonic A V Jennings housing estate a voice in local affairs. The Association convinced the Department of the Environment and Conservation to stump up $1000 to pay for the Preston Institute of Technology to write an expert environmental impact statement for the proposed laboratory site. It was a move that was surrounded with a degree of irony as the government Department of the Environment and Conservation was effectively paying to investigate the actions of another government department, the Department of Health, which was the body ultimately responsible for the Australian Radiation Laboratory.

Jim O’Connor who wrote the PIT environmental impact study into the proposed laboratory, (Picture source: The Heidelberger, 12 June, 1974).

The report was written by John O’Connor, an air pollution PHD post graduate from the Centre for Environmental Studies at PIT, Bundoora. His three month study found that the expected radiation created by the laboratory when operational would be about the same amount as the fallout from French nuclear testing in the Pacific, which at that time was becoming a major international environmental concern. On site radioactive waste however was not deemed to be an issue. The report noted that:

“Both low level and high level solid radioactive wastes are to be disposed of at a site remote from Yallambie and do not present a hazard to local residents”.

In light of subsequent developments, it would be interesting now to know what information O’Connor based that statement upon.

The Yallambie Progress Association wrote to the director of the Australian Radiation Laboratory, a Mr D Stevens in May 1974 asking him for a response to a list of 23 questions that the Association had prepared pertaining to the nature of the proposed complex. Mr Stevens reply when received was a typical bureaucratic exercise in evasive double speak:

“It would not be appropriate for me to reply direct to you with answers to your questions. However, you may be assured that answers will be provided at the public hearing of evidence. The Health Department has been advised by the Secretary of the Public Works Committee that explanations, answers to questions and the like should now be part of the evidence presented and considered by the committee.”

Yallambie Progress Association member, Robyn McConville and her daughter in their Woona Crt backyard, Yallambie overlooking the proposed Australian Radiation Laboratory site. (Picture source: The Sun News Pictorial, 17 September, 1974.

Vice President of the Yallambie Progress Association, Doug McConville who lived in Woona Crt at the back of the proposed site at this time said in response, “We should have answers to these questions, otherwise we will not be able to give considered objections.” He might very well have also added, “We don’t know what we don’t know until such time as we know it.”

Nevertheless, a petition opposing the proposed laboratory was signed by 342 local residents and presented to the Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works which sent members to visit the site before convening a meeting at the old Lower Plenty Community Hall behind the Lower Plenty shops to discuss the issue over a two day period in  September, 1974. Members of the Yallambie Progress Association took time off from their busy working lives to attend the meeting which was chaired by Keith Johnson, MHR in the wide tied Whitlam era government, with seven of the eight bi-partisan Parliamentary Standing Committee members present. A 22 page “Statement of Opinion on Behalf of the Residents of Yallambie” was tabled detailing residents many concerns with the proposed development.

The ARPANSA building visible through the trees in its suburban location as seen from the southern end of Yallambie Road, September, 2018.

The result was of course a foregone conclusion. The Government needed a site for their laboratory. It needed it to be on land owned by the Federal Government. It needed it to be within the area of metropolitan Melbourne, in reasonable proximity to Melbourne airport and suburban hospitals and also easily accessible from the City. Oh, and it had to be a place no one had ever heard of. Yallambie ticked the boxes, especially the last. In a story probably familiar to followers of the more recent saga of North East Link, a decision may have been made behind closed doors months before the public meeting was played out. The resulting resolution in favour was suitably rubber stamped and construction commenced, the only concession to residents’ wishes being the adoption of a policy to overplant the area with native trees.

River red gum and pond at “Streeton Views”, Yallambie, March, 2015

The design approved by the Standing Committee placed the “high radioactive areas” in the basement of the east wing of the complex with the direction of radiation going westwards into the undulating hillside. “As earth is an excellent absorber of radiation, this has lowered the amount of shielding that would have been required by other means”. (Standing Committee, Fifth Report, 1974) As the Streeton Views estate was subsequently constructed on that hillside, one would hope that the earth really is the “excellent absorber” described in that 1974 report.

Architect’s rendering of the ARL proposal at Yallambie. (Source: Report on the ARL proposal at Yallambie, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, Fifth Report, 1974)

Three 5000 gallon holding tanks were planned as part of the construction, capable of holding low level radioactive waste with the intention of developing a regime of watering the waste down and disposing of it regularly into the Metropolitan sewerage system. The Standing Committee Report noted that this was a standard practice provided for in the Victorian Radioactive Substances Regulations and in similar legislation in other states. The report did not mention any plans for ongoing storage facilities of solid radioactive wastes.

The facility was budgeted at $3,600,000, which was about three times the price the Whitlam Government controversially paid for Pollock’s Blue Poles in the same era. Which do you think was the better bargain?

The Australian Radiation Laboratory moved into the building four years later with their stated objectives at that time being to provide protection standards and codes of practice for radiation emitting devices throughout Australia and to maintain standards in radiopharmaceutical drugs used in nuclear medicine.

A sullen silence descended over the facility, the young trees shadowing the new property like a dark veil of secrecy surrounding the site. What was really going on in there? It was anybody’s guess. The minutes of the Yallambie Progress Association indicate the ongoing concerns of local residents. Minutes from the Annual General Meeting in March, 1986 show correspondence from Victorian State Premier John Cain offering “assurance of no dumping of radioactive waste at the Nat Radiation Lab at Yallambie”. As the site had always been controlled by the Federal Government it is unclear why Mr Cain felt he was in a position to offer this assurance. Maybe it was wishful thinking.

A 1981 aerial survey of the area showing the proximity of the ARL facility to Yallambie and Viewbank.
A 2018 view of the ARL ARPANSA site surrounded by the suburban streets of Yallambie and Viewbank.

In 1992 the Yallambie Progress Association noted a newspaper article that stated Victoria’s radioactive wastes were stored at four locations – East Sale, Bandiana near Wodonga, Broadmeadows and “Lower Plenty”. The newspaper article went on to say that some of the locations were deemed to be inadequate for storing radioactive material, noting that one of the four sites “was in a flood-prone area”. (Herald-Sun, 1 June, 1992) As the Yallambie facility was built next to the outfall of the Yallambie Creek near its confluence with the lower reaches of the Plenty River, a site that had been known to flood previously, it seems pretty clear which site the newspaper article was describing as inadequate.

The proposed ARL site flooded by the Yallambie Creek. (Source: PIT Environmental Impact Statement, 1974)

In 1998 the Australian Radiation Laboratory changed its name to ARPANSA (the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency) in a move some thought was a cynical attempt by the Laboratory to appease the great unwashed by removing the unfriendly word “Radiation” from its letterhead altogether. It’s been 40 years now since the radiation facility first started their operations at Yallambie but residents in the back streets of the south east end of our suburb, together with those in neighbouring Viewbank might have wondered what was up this year at ARPANSA. The obvious thing was a crane. It appeared in the sky over the tree tops at the back of the facility and stayed there for months. But what was it for?

ARPANSA photographed from the Viewbank side of Lower Plenty Rd, September, 2018.

Last week an article by Clay Lucas appeared in the columns of The Age newspaper which gave a hint. Clay reported that an FOI request had revealed that 210 drums of waste from the former Commonwealth Radium Laboratory at Melbourne University had been marked for indefinite disposal at the ARPANSA facility at Yallambie and that the removal to the site which had started on the quiet was already well under way. The material had been classified as “suitable for disposal in engineered near-surface facilities and [requiring] isolation and containment for periods of up to a few hundred years” but alarmingly an ARPANSA spokeswoman was also reported as saying that the 210 drums from the University represented only “a tiny percentage of the radioactive waste held at the facility – 0.1 per cent.” By their own admission then they were suggesting that the facility is holding a staggering 210,000 barrels of radioactive waste at Yallambie.

I beg your pardon, what?

Surely that is an exaggeration of the facility, or as is more likely, a fault with the finger counting of my school grade mathematics. The FOI request asked for a public disclosure to be made about the arrangements of payments between ARPANSA and the University but this had been denied with the plan deemed as being “subject to a confidential memorandum of understanding”, while the University itself described the arrangement as “commercial-in-confidence”.

In July, 1992 the Keating Government announced it would find a site for a national storage site for the “relatively” small amounts of nuclear waste materials produced in Australia. More than 25 years on and with multiple changes of government the Feds are still looking. The trouble is, while all the states think the proposal of a National storage site is a pretty good idea in principle, that principle only holds true if the site is not in your own back yard.

The Age newspaper story last week about the radioactive material going on its one way journey to Yallambie asks more questions than it has answered. Looking back over the old minutes of the Yallambie Progress Association from the 1970s it is clear to me that even with all the strong objections that were mounted at that time to the construction of the Radiation Laboratory, it was never suggested that the facility would later become a defacto nuclear waste dumping ground. Former members of the Yallambie Progress Association and long-time Yallambie residents, Alec and Brenda Demetris told me on Friday when I discussed this with them that if they had known in their younger days what would be revealed this week in The Age, they would not have been writing petitions and reports in 1974. They would have been chaining themselves to the builders’ fencing.

There’s been a fair bit of conjecture about the need for Orwellian truth in society of late. The tabling of a mountain of documents in State Parliament about an old planning decision gone wrong is said to set a dangerous precedent for the system of Westminster Government in Victoria. I say, bring it on. It’s time to fess up. Those outdated and undemocratic conventions where governments can hide their decisions behind a veil of secrecy for decades need to be reversed as it is only by disclosure that freedom of information and the public’s right to know can be satisfied in a democratic society. If the people of Fukushima had known what they didn’t know before the time that they knew it, would the power station operator have been able to leave the Fukushima plant so inadequately prepared for the disaster that overtook it? If we had known in the past what questions to ask about the radioactive waste dump that has been allowed to operate at Yallambie, would it have been able to exist in the middle suburbs of Melbourne for so long?

The large and bushy cat

After more than 14 years, the old dog still has a few tricks.

One morning last month after climbing out of bed she made a bee line for the back room and started doing somersaults.

“Woof, woof, woof.” She pranced from one corner of the room to the other, stopping regularly at the fire place to sniff at the grate.

‘What’s going on here?’ I wondered as I unlocked the door that opens onto the back verandah. She was immediately between my legs and outside, tearing down the slope into the crisp July morning air at a great pace and barking into space fit to wake up the neighbourhood. As I came out after her I was just in time to see something ginger and bushy shoot out from under the timber deck of the old verandah and vanish into the trees shaded by the pale morning light.

‘That was a very large, bushy cat,’ I thought to myself as I tried in vain to call the dog back. ‘How did our venerable, short sighted and hearing impaired hound know something was under the verandah from her comfortable tartan bed, inside the house?’

“Dogs are like that, aren’t they?”

Dogs are like that, aren’t they? The next morning it was on again. This time it was my wife who was looking from a window looking out onto the same verandah when, in response to another commotion from the dog, she clearly saw something shoot out from under the deck and take off down the slope for a second time. Moggy indeed my good lady! Have you ever seen a fox trot?

“Oh, but he was so cute,” she said as she went on to describe to me the fox she had seen from her window.

Cute maybe, but the Fantastic Mr Fox is an introduced pest in Australia and has been held responsible for the extinction of several of our native species across the mainland since settlement. Foxes are common in urban areas and they are widespread across a country where it has been estimated that there are now over 7 million of the blighters. That’s nearly two foxes for every pet dog in the country. My only sainted aunt, the said venerable hound must be feeling like a member of some sort of Yallambie social minority.

Hunt Club meeting outside the Old England Hotel, Heidelberg. (Source: Old England Hotel)
Melbourne Hunting Club meeting at Heidelberg, from “The Illustrated Australian News”, 1895. The prominent building in this picture is possibly Wragge’s Heidelberg Recreation Hall. (Source: State Library of Victoria)

Foxes were imported for sport to Port Phillip in the early days and Heidelberg to the north east of Melbourne was to become a favourite meeting place for the Melbourne hunting clubs that formed, particularly towards the end of the 19th century. The Old England Hotel in Heidelberg opposite the recreation hall owned by Yallambie’s Thomas Wragge in Lower Heidelberg Rd was for nearly half a century the favoured venue for many of these hunting club ventures. The course generally involved the release of a fox on one of the larger local estates followed by a chase over the fields and a subsequent return to the Hotel for refreshments. The Old England as a staging post provided purpose built kennels and horse stalls for the hunt while local children, displaying an entrepreneurial spirit, sometimes earned a shilling holding the reins of unstabled horses as the riders took their tea inside.

Oaklands Hunt Club meeting at Viewbank,1958. (Source: Picture Victoria, ©Heidelberg Historical Society)

For a while the hunts proved to be important social occasions in the district and the events were even occasionally patronized by Victoria’s vice regal society. At one occasion in 1874 it was recorded that the Lieutenant Governor and his wife, Sir George and Lady Bowen followed a hunt all the way from Heidelberg to Eltham in their four horse carriage, a route that would almost certainly have taken them past the southern fields of Yallambie itself.

Sanitary style wallpapersof the Hunt from an upstairs sub floor area at Yallambie Homestead.

While Thomas Wragge’s youngest son Harry is known to have hunted in the Pink on a visit to England (Calder: Classing the Wool, p145), it remains unclear now whether the Wragges on the whole followed any of these local gatherings on a regular basis. Their love of the equestrian has been documented elsewhere and, perhaps tellingly, a set of oleographs of the Hunt are remembered as hanging over the dining room fireplace at the Wragge family’s Riverina country property, Tulla Homestead and wall papers of hunting scenes have been found behind the skirting boards of the original billiards room at Yallambie Homestead.

Thomas Wragge’s second Tulla Homestead located on the Wakool River, NSW, c1900. (Source: Betty Lush Collection).

At Tulla the spread of vermin foxes had reached the vicinity of the nearby Barham by 1895, but with the coming of the motor car on the family’s up country Riverina properties, a more pragmatic mount seems to have been favoured for the hunt in the 20th century.

Thomas Wragge’s grand-daughter Lady Betty Lush recalled a thrilling fox hunt that took place at Chowar in the station Chevrolet when a fox led them on a long dance through the paddocks, the car driving through swamps and tussock grass, wire net fences and fallen timber before finally being run to ground in a haystack. With Betty’s sister Molly behind the wheel of the lurching car, their mother crouching on the floor in abject terror, their father stood to attention on the back seat, swinging the loaded shot gun wildly around in every direction in search of the target.

“(The fox) was aware of us when father who was standing up in the back of the car with the gun, the hood of the car was down of course, called out to Molly, ‘Let her go’. Molly misunderstood and jammed on the brakes where upon father fell onto the back seat and both barrels fortunately discharged into the air.” (Calder, ibid, quoting Lush)

Thomas Wragge (bearded, behind left) with children at Yallambie. Youngest son Harry is in the front holding up a shot gun while another son, Syd is lying behind him also with a shot gun. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

From this story and from photographic evidence in the Bush Collection, it is obvious that guns were important to the Wragges, both as a recreation and as tools of the trade on a working farm where not all targets came in the size of the proverbial haystack. The fact is the record shows that the Wragge’s had something of a prior history with the Fox and the story of the cavalier attitudes towards firearms described by Betty at Chowar is perhaps to be wondered at upon reflection.

William Wragge, 1875-1906 (Source: Anne Hill collection)

The inherent danger associated with firearms is nowhere better illustrated than in the following tale of the sad demise of Will Wragge at Yallambie in 1906. William, the second youngest son of Thomas, met a premature end after going out with a gun under his arm in the early morning air, calling after his sister Jessie as he did so that he had seen a fox from his window. His sister wrote afterwards that:

“Willie while dressing – morning saw from his bedroom window a fox in the orchard. He hurried threw on a raincoat & taking a pea-rifle followed the fox. When he did not come into breakfast, after a reasonable time, someone went in search and found his body beside a stile shot dead. They think that in crossing on the stile he must have stepped on his raincoat, blundered and the loaded rifle killed him.”

Will was just 30 years old when this happened, a life cut short. The Coroner, Dr Cole delivered an open verdict due to an insufficient evidence to show how or by what means the gun had exploded but there is no doubt Will’s tragic death left a hole in the lives of all those around him.

“Oryctolagus cuniculus”, the bunny who wandered in from the cold and stayed on at Yallambie as a pet. She was once lost inside a chimney of the house for several days but survived that adventure to enjoy many more carrots.

The Fox won that one but although feral foxes have been a problem on rural properties across Australia for many years, their presence did help in a small way to keep a check on another introduced species whose presence was to wreak even greater general damage to the Australian mainland environment. Oryctolagus cuniculus, better known to us as that ever so cute wild bunny rabbit is said to have been introduced to Australia in 1859 by Thomas Austin, whose money after his death founded locally Heidelberg’s Austin Hospital.

Wood engraving from “The Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers”, 1867 after an original by Nicholas Chevalier showing a rabbit hunt at Barwon Park. (Source: State Library of Victoria)

Thomas Austin was a keen sportsman and wanted a few bunnies to hunt around his Western District property, Barwon Park at Winchelsea. It’s said that he stated at the time that, “The introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home.” Like the American Civil War general who said, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance,” they were to prove to be famous last words. Australia didn’t get elephants running wild at the bottom of the garden, but we did get rabbits. Loads of them. Rabbits adapted so well to local conditions that Austin soon found, keen sportsman though he was, that his rabbits were breeding faster than he could ever possibly manage to shoot them down.

“Loads of them…”

All sorts of programmes were developed to try to control the spread of the species, from dynamiting and poisoning their burrows and erecting rabbit proof fences to the cruel biological controls of the 20th century, but still the damage continued. Rabbits were first mentioned in the Tulla diaries of 1883, the year in which the Rabbit Nuisance Act of Parliament was passed, but the threat seemed to have been regarded of small consequence by the Wragges at that time. 10 years later measures were being taken at Tulla to control their numbers, with Thomas Wragge purchasing wire net fencing from England to replace the brush fences which harboured the pests, and Aboriginal middens that had been developed by Australia’s first people over a presence of tens of thousands of years, ploughed over to remove established warrens – a great loss to the Aboriginal record.

The poison wagon at Tulla used to fumigate rabbit warrens. (Source: Betty Lush collection)

Winty Calder’s conservative estimate in “Classing the Wool” was that, at its height, there was a plague of well over a million rabbits at Tulla – probably several millions. By the depression years of the 1930s a “rabbit man” had been employed to fight the rabbit problem with the agreed arrangement being that he should take measures to keep numbers down, the supposed incentive being that he should pay any nominal fines imposed on the property by the government for rabbit outbreaks.

Piling up dead rabbits at Tulla. (Source: Betty Lush collection)

George Flight proved to be a rabbit man with a singularly good mind for business. The Tulla trustees paid him £1000 per annum for the responsibility of fighting their rabbit problem and he subcontracted to gangs of other rabbiters who made camps all over the station, trapping the rabbits and sending the meat and skins down to Melbourne to market. It was only after a year or two of this activity and after rabbit numbers had exploded to astronomical proportions that it became apparent just what a good businessman George really was. He and his rabbiting pals had been trapping rabbits, dispatching the bucks but releasing the does and young back into the paddocks to breed. In effect Tulla had become Flight’s very own personal rabbit farm, a rabbit farm of over a hundred thousand acres and he profited handsomely from the exercise. When it became obvious what was going on, the team of about 70 so called rabbiters was summarily sacked but by then the matter was totally out of hand, a situation that was not brought back under control again until the drought years later in the decade.

As we have seen, foxes and rabbits have been an environmental problem for 150 years in this country with the two animals going sort of hand in hand in a sort of uneasy Br’er Fox, Br’er Rabbit, hunter and its prey exotic coexistence. With the challenges presented by climate change however, the threats to our environment in the future have never seemed clearer. With this in mind it’s worth finishing up here with another sometimes overlooked, feral animal familiar to us all but which some experts hold is arguably the single most destructive of all the introduced predator species present in Australia.

Scientists have cited the humble pussy cat as the “main threat to Australia’s biodiversity” with an estimated 23 million feral cats running wild in this country, or more than three times the number of foxes, and these cats manage to destroy 75 million native animals every single night. That’s more than 20 billion mammals, reptiles, birds and insects killed by cats Australia wide, every year. It’s a sobering thought when you look at that fluffy ball of fur pushing its way between your legs in the kitchen at tea time to know that his pals are out there all the time and that they are responsible for the destruction of many of our most threatened species, notwithstanding the fluffy balls of fur themselves all so often irresponsibly let out at night by their owners in suburban river side locations.

The truth is that feral cats are harder to eradicate in practice than those other traditional problem animals, the wild fox and the rabbit with all the evidence indicating that cats do not respond to conventional control methods such as baiting. In those places where fox numbers and rabbit populations have been reduced by baiting, it has been shown that there is inevitably a corresponding explosion in feral cat numbers leading experts to state that one cannot be controlled without reference to the other.

When it comes down to it then “the large and bushy cat” seen here last month, although exposed as a fox, might just as well have been a cat as judged by their comparative potentially destructive values. An interesting proposition I’m sure, but I’m afraid that’s probably not much consolation to the doomed native bird or animal as it slips down the throat of one or the other while contemplating the relative merits of the killer’s respective bushy tail.

Telling tales of life in the suburb, it's history, homes and hyperbole

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