Waving not drowning

The summer holidays are a time when many Australians find themselves on a beach. That’s of course unless you’re an Australian Prime Minister serving your country during war time. Then you might find yourself not on a beach at all but off it and, by the by, not waving, but drowning.

Prime Minister Harold Holt on the beach and dreaming about the mermaids before leaving office in the most spectacular fashion. (Source: Australian Information Service)

On a windy summer’s day in 1967, with Australia at war in Vietnam, the then Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt donned his togs and went into the water off Cheviot Beach at the back of Portsea, never to be seen again. That the personal safety of a serving head of state during war time could be taken so lightly was a good one, even for a county as lackadaisical about such things as this one. Conspiracy theories later abounded, the nonsense more in keeping with the Qanon theories of today than in touch with reality. Had he been taken by the mermaids? It was said the PM had a reputation as a pants man and those mermaids certainly have their charms. An even more absurd story soon began circulating which proposed that Prime Minister Holt, a lifelong conservative, had in reality been a Communist agent and had been working for the Chinese government all the time while serving as an Australian Member of Parliament. According to this theory, the PM had faked his own death and instead of drowning he had been pulled on board a waiting Chinese submarine outside Port Phillip by wet suited Chinese frogmen and taken to Red China where he lived out the remainder of his life like some sort of pampered Panda behind the Bamboo Curtain. All complete and utter nonsense of course since, as his widow Zarah later claimed in an unnecessary response, poor Harold, “Didn’t even like Chinese food”. All the same it remains a good story and one to trot out occasionally in the silly season of the Australian summer, a time when our thoughts inevitably turn away from the even harder to believe lies being told elsewhere in the world to a few of the greater questions in life.

Summer holidays on the Mornington Peninsula. (VL McLachlan)

Like where do we go on holiday during a pandemic?

It’s true that most Australians love the beach and with a country that enjoys the advantages of so much coastline, that’s not hard to see why. Yallambie might be a long way from a beach but at this time of year with our streets quiet and face masks unavoidable, the memories of summers long past come to mind as many and varied as the destinations.

Port Phillip Bay, a body of water more or less enclosed by metropolitan Melbourne and the city of Greater Geelong, remains to this day the holiday preference of many Melbournians in the summer time. The bay covers about 2000 square kilometres in area and has a shore line that stretches along 260km of enclosed coast. Most of Port Phillip, while shallow, is navigable with a dredged shipping lane that follows an earlier, prehistoric river bed of the Yarra drowned by rising waters at the end of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago.

The days of gunboat diplomacy. HMVS Cerebus, renamed HMAS Cerberus after Federation, photographed at the mouth of the Yarra, Hobson’s Bay, c1914. (Source: Friends of the Cerberus Inc from the State Library of South Australia, http://www.cerberus.com.au/1914.jpg)
Port Phillip Heads, from a print by Edwin Carton Booth, 1870 after John Skinner Prout. (Source: Wikipedia)

From the earliest days then, Port Phillip was always going to be a key to way we imagine ourselves and it quickly became a stopping off point in our contacts with the rest of the world. The rocky heads at the entrance to Port Phillip through which a “Rip” surges at the turn of each tide were often the first sight most immigrants saw on arrival and they became the avenue by which Victoria’s golden mineral wealth later flowed out to the Empire and its first point of defence. In the 19th Century Port Phillip had the reputation of being the most heavily fortified British harbour in the southern hemisphere. The presence of Victoria’s own rotating turret, monitor class warship, the HMVS Cerebus, supported by batteries deployed at fortress locations on either peninsula and on islands inside the shipping channel led to the claim that Port Phillip was a veritable “Gibraltar of the South”. Indeed the first shot fired in World War 1 is said to have come from one of these Port Phillip batteries when a shell was sent across the bows of a German merchant vessel trying to slip anchor at the outbreak of hostilities.

CSS Shenandoah being refitted at Williamstown, 1865. (Source: Wikipedia)
View of the North Shore, Port of Melbourne by W F E Liardet, 1862. (Source State Library of Victoria,
http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/405148)

The Bay must have been some sight in those great days of sail with multifarious shipping filling the horizon, from lumbering fishing trawlers to elegantly constructed wooden Barques and armed warships, all criss-crossing the bay with abandon to the port at Melbourne. In 1865 the American Civil War Confederate commerce raider, CSS Shenandoah arrived at neutral Port Phillip to refit, an event that caused a popular sensation in the young colony but which later resulted in heavy pecuniary damages being awarded against the British government in an international court of arbitration. A cannon from the Shenandoah, left behind by the parting ship can be found to this very day at Churchill Island in Western Port, the name of which belies its location just to the east of Port Phillip. The story of the visit of Shenandoah to Melbourne is legendary and just one more example of the rich tapestry of our local maritime heritage.

Cannon at Churchill Island attributed to the Confederate raider, CSS Shenandoah. (McLachlan)
The PS Ozone on Port Phillip. (Source: Wikipedia)

The youngest son of Yallambie’s Thomas Wragge, Harry has been mentioned in these pages previously mostly because of his sporting activities. Harry was introduced to boating on Port Phillip Bay at an early age and holidayed at the Nepean Hotel at Portsea where he travelled on George Coppin’s bayside paddle steamers, the PS Hygeia and the PS Ozone. These low draught steamers had the advantage of being able to ply the shallow waters of Port Phillip with impunity and without reference to the vagaries of wind direction required by sail. They became a famous sight on the Bay in the second half of the 19th Century and into the early years of the 20th. The wreckage of the paddle wheel of one, the SS Ozone, is visible even today a little way off the beach at Indented Head on the Bellarine Peninsula. The Ozone was scrapped in 1925 and deliberately sunk at Indented Head as a breakwater, a fate shared by more than one famous ship and even the occasional Great War submarine. Probably the most significant of these though and certainly the oldest was the aforementioned 150 year old HMVS Cerebus which was sunk at Black Rock as a breakwater at about the same time as the SS Ozone at Indented Head, the value of the warship as a very early example of breastwork ironclad naval technology not then properly appreciated.  The Cerebus breakwater is still there even now, a rusting piece of colonial history and easily visible from the beach at low tide, its guns silent and the hulk a home for a mixture of Australian fur seals and rubber suited, sport diving enthusiasts.

In what was a relatively short life, Yallambie’s Harry Wragge is known to have enjoyed various boating activities on Port Phillip Bay and on one documented excursion early in his married life, Harry travelled with a family group in a small dingy across the Bay to Portarlington. The weather roughened and other members of the boating party made a decision to return to Melbourne by road. As Winty Calder later explained:

The sporting Harry Wragge. (Source: Anne Hill collection)

“Harry and his young son, Stewart, set off (to return) by boat. When they did not return in the evening, Annie Murdoch (his sister) and Olive Wragge (his wife) became anxious and organized a rescue party to search for them. The attempt was unsuccessful, but the missing pair was finally found eating a hearty dinner after reaching their jetty. As they failed to let anybody know where they were, they were not very popular for some time.” (Calder, p216)

Harry survived the water that day but, as the fate of another Harold later showed, getting into deep water can have its perils. The world right now seems flooded by some pretty deep tides and it’s going to be tricky to navigate our way out of them. When HMVS Cerebus plied its way up and down the Bay all those years ago, the threat to our sovereignty then was presumed to be military and from the Tsarist Russia. Today it is the threat of economic sanctions from Australia’s largest trading partner in a time of worldwide economic turmoil that is under review. Holt was the Prime Minister under whose leadership Australia began waking up to its place in Asia and although it would take another Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam to formally recognize the People’s Republic, time has only confirmed the reality. I guess there never was a Chinese submarine lurking off the Victorian coast for Holt in 1967 but who knows, these days facts seems to be dependent on Nietzsche and his perspectives, especially in anything to do with politics. We never did get Holt’s snorkel back all those years ago and without a snorkel, waving not drowning might in the end prove just a little difficult. There’s more to being an Australian though than our love of a good holiday and I’ve been thinking, rolling with the punches could prove to be just like rolling with the waves.

We’re a resilient lot. Just you wait and see.

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Who’s afraid of the dark?

In the back streets of Yallambie this month, many homes are ablaze with Christmas lights within and without, an ode to an event that happened under another sort of light, “shining in the East beyond the far” more than 2000 years ago. Tinsel glitters inside while on the roof tops outside, who’s to say you won’t see a reindeer with a nose glowing bright adding to the illuminaton.

Real candles burning on a “resin rich Christmas tree”.

O Christmas Tree, how lovely are thy branches

Don’t you just love Christmas? A time to put the cares of the world aside for a moment. The tradition of hanging lights in trees started about 500 years ago when the Protestant reformer Martin Luther added a candle onto a Christmas tree to symbolize the birth of Christ, “the Light of the World” and it was subsequently popularized in the English speaking world by Albert, the Teutonic consort of Queen Victoria. Given the highly flammable nature of resin rich Christmas trees it might seem surprising that Christmas tree lights were originally real, live burning candles with holders placed to catch the resulting dripping wax. While electrics are used today for obvious reasons, I bet those original flickering fire lights looked magical.

2020 Tannenbaum

The electromagnetic radiation known as “Visible Light” is a universal constant and the ability to create it has long been evidence of civilization and a proof against the night time shadows that any small child can tell you hides the monster under the bed. From the campfires of prehistory to elaborate candelabra in great castle halls, ingenious devices have been found to make light, but it was the perfection of mineral oil lamps and town gas supplies in the 19th Century that properly propelled society into the modern world. It was this technology that reformed industry and kick started the industrial revolution as broad waist coated, cigar smoking, city based factory owners discovered that by using it, the proletariat could be worked right around the clock. It’s an idea that quickly caught on and we’ve been paying that particular piper ever since. In the following years the mass production of lamps in brass, pewter, tin and glass and the relatively low cost of the mineral oils that fuelled them meant that effective lighting soon became a commonplace.

A mechanically ventilated lamp from the second half of the 19th Century. Winding the key produced a draught allowing the lamp to burn efficiently without a chimney.

Many early lamps consisted of little more than a fuel reservoir or “font” pegged into a candlestick which incorporated a flat, animal-fat fuel laden wick to create the basic principles of a lamp. It must have come as some kind of relief to the whales splashing happily about in their oceans when mineral oils were introduced in the second half of the 19th Century as previously it was their rendered down blubber that was used to create lamp oils. New fuels meant new burner technologies and lamp designs became more elaborate. In some cases, much more elaborate.

“In some cases, much more elaborate.” That one time visitor to Yallambee, Louisa Anne Meredith at home in Twamley, Tasmania, c1860. Note the grand table lamp behind her shoulder. (Source: State Library of Tasmania, from the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, https://stors.tas.gov.au/TASIMAGES$init=AUTAS001126186493W800)

A three wick Shaffer Perfection burner. (Source: A Heritage of Light, Loris Russell)

In the early days of Melbourne it was said that it was easy for the unwary to lose their way at night on the dark, ill-defined streets of Hoddle’s village.  As street lighting was a rarity at that time, people either stayed at home at night or carried a covered lantern with them when daring to venture out. Taverns in those days were required to hang a lamp outside as a requirement of their licence and in many places this might have been the only light available in the street, other than the stars in the sky. Look closely at this early photograph of Kent’s old Plenty Bridge Hotel near Yallambie and you might observe the large lantern hanging above the entrance of the premises, a typical feature of this type of establishment.

Bike riders at Kent’s Plenty Bridge Hotel, c1900. (Source: Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria, H2013.70/14,
http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/239916)

With the coming of the rushes, Victoria’s goldfields presented many problems for the diggers who made the muddy creek banks their home of which lighting was but one. The writer traveller, and social commentator William Howitt who visited Yallambee in 1852, recorded some of the difficulties that he encountered on the Bendigo goldfields and in particular his experiences on the diggings after dark:

Trade advertisement from the Ballarat Times, 1861

“You generally live in the midst of a grand honeycomb of such pits and water-holes. For this reason it is our rule not to go out to dine on the diggings; and we make very rare exceptions, for they are only safe by daylight…” (Howitt, Land, Labour and Gold, Letter XXI, “Intelligent Friends”)

Back Creek, Bendigo by S.T. Gill 1860, (Source: State Library of NSW Collection).

William Howitt

In spite of this, in the same breath Howitt then goes on to chronicle a night time dinner he enjoyed under canvas with that erstwhile, previously mentioned relative of this writer, Bendigo Mac, a meal which in the story was interrupted by a cry outside when, seizing the candles from the table, the diners found a child in danger of drowning in a mine hole behind the tent.

“As we were at dinner, and it was quite dark, there was a cry outside of “A boy in a hole! A boy in a hole!” (Howitt, ibid)

Lachlan MacLachlan, AKA “Bendigo Mac”

In Howitt’s story, the child was saved without any lasting harm but, given the circumstances, the goldfields became an excellent testing ground for new lighting technologies. Enterprising American businessmen with an understanding of the needs of the frontier were soon selling oil burning lamps to the diggers by the thousands. By 1865, well over 600,000 gallons of kerosene were imported annually from the USA into the colony of Victoria where it was sold on the gold fields for about £1 per four gallon tin, while the actual lamp itself could be purchased for as little as three shillings and sixpence. The humble “kero” lamp as the paraffin oil lamp became known in Australia, had come to stay and became a fixture in Australian homes and on rural properties across Victoria, remaining in use there long after the “Rush That Never Ended” properly ended and long after such lamps had become obsolete in other parts of the world.

“Most artificial lighting in the house came from kerosene lamps that either hung from moulded, plaster rosettes in the ceilings or were carried about the house by hand. It was the responsibility of the parlourmaid to refill lamps during the day to ensure continuous lighting at night.” (Calder: Classing the Wool, describing lighting at the Homestead, p84)

Christmas puddings and hanging lamp in the kitchen at Yallambie

While the days of a parlourmaid being available to fill lamps at Yallambie in the manner described by Winty Calder might be long gone, modern electric lighting now coexists with period fixtures in an eclectic, electric mix. The converted American gasolier in the old dining room at Yallambie, pictured below, is one fixture mixing old and new and was picked up on a well known internet auction site a couple of years ago for $100 after it was removed from Sydney’s historic Tattersalls Club during renovations.

An 1860s gasolier relocated from Sydney’s historic Tattersalls Club.

With the widespread availability of electrics and the trend of replacing incandescent and halogen bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps and LEDs, it’s sometimes easy to take lighting for granted. When our electric supply from the street was cut by a falling branch last month it left us without power across four long days. The resulting romantic candle lit dinners and oil lamp lit nights were a novelty at first and the blank screens on our electronic devices a sort of relief, but after a while it got me thinking about how we use the symbolism of light.

An early view of St Johns Church of England, Heidelberg from the north

Over at St John’s Church of England, Heidelberg which Thomas Wragge knew so well, the coming Christmas Eve service will hopefully have the usual candles, carols and Communion, though given the restrictions in this pandemic year, the congregation is unlikely to be sitting elbow to elbow.

St John’s features a number of beautiful windows of stained glass. “Christ as the Light of the World”, loosely based on the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt’s famous painting, is one that maybe recalls Luther’s intent with the candle in the tree. The window was created by George Dancey in 1925, the artist who also created the Wragge “Ascension Windows” five years earlier. It was the window my old Dad chose as his particular pew, sitting under its jewel like colours on all those many sunny Sunday mornings of my childhood. Highly allegorical, the image comes from “Revelation”, and shows a typically western European looking Jesus carrying a lantern and knocking at a door without a handle. A version of Hunt’s original toured the world to enormous crowds in the early 20th century when it was claimed that four-fifths of the newly Federated Australian population at that time viewed the painting, which I’m thinking must still be some kind of record.

So why is it said light has “long been evidence of civilization”? The world has been in a dark place before, both in a practical but also a spiritual sense and while this year will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, in the face of what’s been touted as a “truth decaying” epistemological crisis in a post truth, post modern, pandemic ravaged world, it is the Light we always turn back to.

Astronomers have lately been excited by the prospect of a rare, visible conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the evening sky in which the two planets will seem to be fused over consecutive nights at Christmas into a single, bright “star”. It is an event that has lead to speculation that it was a similar conjunction of the planets that Three Wise Men allegedly saw all those years ago and from which they drew their own meaning.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Someone once wrote this in an old, oft quoted book, a book we used to see opened sometimes at Christmas. It’s an idea that transcends all the the sunshine and corresponding darkness we have had cause to create. Call this the duality of the yin and yang if you like but as any wise man can tell you, without a notion of the darkness, there is no light.

And, who’s afraid of that ?

Rose is a rose is a rose

When it comes to the mostly incomprehensible and often repetitive modernist poetry of Gertrude Stein, the simple words “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” are probably her best known and certainly most imitated. Stein, an American writer who made her digs in Paris, was making the point that things are what they are irrespective of the words we use to describe them. While the mental connections people make when they hear certain words have intrigued metaphysical thinkers since ancient times, “Rose is a rose” has become a bit of a catch phrase with people wanting to sound eloquent while ignoring the richer possibilities of the English language. Other writers have parodied her words and politicians have exploited them but I think it was perhaps the poet’s life partner, Alice B Toklas, who probably found the most fitting use for the verse. She created plates with Stein’s rose line painted right round the rim on which she served hash brownies to their Bohemian guests. Suddenly those rose words from Stein sounded oh, so very deep.

Stein’s words were the work of a self-proclaimed genius for that’s what she boasted to the Parisian avant-garde when they came to the salon she hosted in the early years of the 20th century. With so many of these darn flowers in cultivation though, maybe words cannot describe this most loved of all garden flowering plants. There are tens of thousands of varieties of rose and with no two ever quite the same, how do you generalize? There are Hybrids and Species, Floribundas and Dwarfs, Shrubs and Climbers, all divided into countless types and sub-types completing a bewildering array destined to test all but the most avid of weekend gardeners. Maybe a rose ain’t just a rose after all.

The story of this flower in cultivation starts about 5000 years ago although it’s said the fossil record goes back much, much further. All of another 35 million years or so, give or take a few rocks. Roses were depicted in the art of the ancient Minoans and Egyptians and in several other ancient cultures. King Midas and Alexander the Great are supposed to have grown them while the love of the Roman world for the rose goes without saying. Rose petals scented the wine at their feasts and masses of blossoms showered the naughtiest of their orgies. The Romans are thought to have been the first people to grow large quantities of roses for what we would now call a commercial use and so many flowers were eventually needed by the ruling elite that other crops were neglected, pushing the common folk at times to the brink of starvation.

Rose water which is made by steeping petals in water was used as a medicinal ingredient by the Romans and by other cultures in their turn. The use of rose water as a delicate flavouring in Eastern cuisines has also long been appreciated. It can be added to jellies and syrups, various puddings and is used in exotic cake recipes.

Roses appear in traditions of all the world’s major religions and used as a motif it has particular significance to many. The large circular windows of stained glass in Gothic cathedrals are commonly known as “Rose” windows, the stonework tracery of the windows mapping out in architectural form the petals of a flower. One famous rose associated with a cathedral is the Tausendjähriger Rosenstock or thousand-year rose, a wild dog rose which grows on the wall of the Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany. It’s thought to be the world’s oldest living rose and may have been planted in the early 9th century. The Tausendjähriger was nearly destroyed by Allied aerial bombing which hit the cathedral in 1945 but the roots survived and the rose blossomed amongst the ruins which just goes to show, sometimes an old dog really does have a few new tricks.

As badges of heraldry the rose was used by the Houses of York and Lancaster as emblems in their long Wars of the Roses. These were the simple gallica and alba roses of Europe but the arrival of the China rose into Europe in the late 18th century changed everything. It introduced the colour yellow into rose cultivation, an explosion of repeat flowering cultivars and the start of what we now call “Old Garden” roses, many of which are heavily scented to a degree not enjoyed by modern varieties.

Roses of course are a big part of Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival and it’s a pity that, in this pandemic year, they will be doing all that flowering tomorrow with no one much to appreciate their effort, ’cept maybe “Robert the Rose Horse”. Reds and pinks, yellows and mauves, stripes and solids will be on display. The only thing you will never see at the Cup, or anywhere else for that matter, is a blue rose.

Take a walk around any back street of suburban Yallambie right now and you’ll see roses growing in profusion in many gardens, often with scant regard and all the while doing what they do best. That is flowering away for all the world to see while being totally ignored, the air around them tinged with scent, food for the bees.

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

Roses were grown by Robert Bakewell in the early years of Yallambee and in 1856 when Louisa Anne Meredith visited the property she described enthusiastically the roses she saw growing there, naming several of them and singling out especial praise for the “Cloth of Gold”, a popular yellow climber of the middle 19th century, now little grown.

And then the wreath of roses! Nothing like them has gladdened my senses since. One, monarch of the whole, seemed a giant elder brother of the noble ‘cloth-of-gold’, with great ruddy juicy stems, polished spreading leaves; and such flowers!

The Station Plenty, view VIII by Edward La Trobe Bateman 1853-1856. (Source: National Gallery of Victoria)

A full-blown one might have formed a bouquet for the ample bosom of Glumdalclitch herself; the colour was rich warm buff, almost saffron colour, deepening in the centre, and the texture of the broad petals was that rich wax-like substance, like a Camelia, but even thicker.

It was the noblest of the rose-tribe I ever saw, and well contrasted by the delicate Annie Vibert and Devonienses, Banksias, &c., while the cloth-of-gold and some other deep-red roses aided to make up the courtly group around.

(Over the Straits, Louisa Anne Meredith)

“Paul Ricault”

While that old “Cloth of Gold” is long gone we do have a number of hardy roses growing here which we look at fondly with our rose coloured glasses at this time of year, every year, the names of many of these plants now forgotten.

One amazing cabbage rose growing near the front of the house is possibly “Paul Ricault”, a cultivar originally bred in France in the mid-19th Century. The flowers of this plant are quite literally the largest blooms I’ve ever seen on a rose and at its best this flower is more like a double peony in structure than what I normally think of in a rose. Cabbage roses or Centiafolia (one hundred petalled) as a type date from about 1550 and their earliest forms were once regarded as a type of species but are now thought to be a naturally occurring hybrids. Cabbage roses were bred by Dutch rose growers as early as the 17th Century and it is this rose that you see in so many of their still life paintings of that era.

A standard “Peace”

Probably the most widely known rose type we have in our garden though is “Peace”. This famous and much grown hybrid tea was developed in France in the 1930s. Legend has it that with war looming cuttings of a new creamy yellow rose were sent to the US, some say on the last plane to leave Paris before the Nazi invasion, and in America in 1945 it was given the name “Peace” to mark the ending of hostilities. Sample roses were given to each of the delegations at the inaugural meeting of the United Nations with the words, “We hope the Peace rose will influence men’s thoughts for everlasting world peace”. It is a hardy and vigorous plant described by one rose expert as “without doubt, the finest Hybrid Tea ever raised”. With over 100 million Peace roses said to have been sold since 1945 that’s a pretty fair call. The rose in our garden is a grafted standard, a ‘rose ball on a stick’, which we rescued from the garden of my wife’s late grandparents’ home in Eaglemont about 20 years ago.

A bit of “Peace”

“Peace” as a concept is a worthy symbol for a rose I think. Heaven knows we all need a little peace around the edges of our lives this year. The White House Rose Garden was replanted in 2020, the first time in 60 years, but I don’t think peace has been on the agenda there much lately. Maybe it’s an irony but the new Rose Garden recently became the source of a super spreader pandemic event among White House personnel, an event which included the President himself. In the weeks leading up to an important election, what happened at the Rose Garden a month ago has come to exemplify a lot about what’s been happening in America.

“Peace” – it’s a small word with a very big meaning and one worth keeping in mind. The healing properties of roses, the essence of their aroma and the symbolic associations of the plant itself with the Amor have long been appreciated. Maybe the pictures I’ve included here which were taken mostly this last month or so will tell the story of what I’m feeling more than words ever possibly can. You see, sometimes words aren’t enough. Rose is a rose is a rose taken together makes a garden, and that’s a lovesome thing.

Primavera

Botticelli’s, “Young Man Holding a Roundel”. (Source: Sotheby’s)

Legend has it that in February, 1497 when art across Florence was destroyed in a religious fervour that would become known as “The Bonfire of the Vanities”, the Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli consigned many of his greatest works to the flames. In consequence paintings by Botticelli, an artist who painted secular subjects in tempera that look surprisingly like religious objects in tapestry, are rare. So rare in fact that last month when the press reported the last known Botticelli portrait in private hands was on the market, the starting price then was a cool US $80 million. Remind me to check my trousers for loose change next time I’m pulling on my socks, but with only a dozen or so of Botticelli’s portraits thought to have survived to the present day, it’s pretty much a clear case of supply and demand.

Anyone who remembers the pre-Creative Cloud versions of Adobe Illustrator will know the angelic face of Botticelli’s Venus.

I’ve said before in these pages that artistic expression is one of the things that defines our humanity, but I’m afraid this is not something that can easily be defined in dollar terms, a truth that was all too evident when the arts community held out its empty beret for a Government funded COVID rescue package in March. As a case in point, Botticelli’s two best known masterpieces are of course “The Birth of Venus” and “Primavera,” both considered to be key moments in the history of Western art but neither of which you are ever going to see wearing a price tag. The paintings are believed to feature the original “It-girl” of the Renaissance Simonetta Vespucci, who in the case of the Venus, was painted in her very becoming birthday suit as a tribute to angelic beauty. In the Primavera the same face is used again but as an allegory of the youth and vitality of spring. Simonetta died young so both the Primavera and Venus must have been produced posthumously. If the Venus is a homage to beauty and the Primavera an affirmation of spring, then both paintings can be seen as a testament to the short lived nature of beauty in all its forms.

Botticelli’s Primavera in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. (Source:Wikipedia)

Botticelli worked as an artist more than 600 years ago but his paintings were still an inspiration to the Pre-Raphaelites when they came along in the 19th century and to their supporters like Edward La Trobe Bateman who sketched the Yallambie landscape in such famously minute detail and who later developed as an important garden designer. I’ve written posts about gardens and the changing seasons a couple of times previously but this year I’m thinking it all seems somehow different, and not just in the playing of footy finals interstate. An ABC science report yesterday about the health giving benefits of getting out into the garden during the pandemic quoted a Dr John Martin of the Taronga Conservation Society who said: “In our everyday life, there are things to discover about nature, and they don’t require travelling to the African savanna. There are very interesting things just on our doorsteps.”

 The same article pointed to the Urban Field Naturalist Project, a programme that urges people to look more closely at the natural world all around them, to be inspired by it and in some cases use it as a spring board for creativity.

“Take a moment
Listen, smell, look
Observe life around you
It may be familiar
Perhaps without intent, your attention has been caught
Share your observation as a story
We can all be Urban Field Naturalists” (The Urban Field Naturalist Project)

Yallambie Peony, September, 2020. Peonies flower just once a year and their blooms never last long. Fortunately when one lot of flowers ends in the garden there always something else just beginning. Bit of a life lesson really.

The Primavera was painted with a meticulous observation with perhaps 500 identified plant species depicted and about 190 different flowers recorded. Art historians have agonized about the meaning of the Primavera for hundreds of years but on one level at least I think it’s all quite simple. As an ode to spring the source of the Primavera is classical mythology but as for inspiration, well that itself is eternal. You don’t need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy into such niceties. You don’t necessarily need to find an artistic talent otherwise hidden under a rock to create it and you don’t need to travel to the African savannah to discover it. You see, it’s all around us. It’s around us even now in the form of a season that arrives around about this time of year, every year. Poets have written stanzas dedicated to it, painters have tried to capture its mood while gardeners the world over have rejoiced in nature’s unquestioned ability to be a show off.

I’m talking about spring of course, the real Primavera, and it doesn’t cost a thing. I’m afraid 2020 will long be remembered for all the wrong reasons but with Melbourne having been in a second lockdown these past two long months I’m hoping that the long dark tea-time of the soul is now almost over. The genie has been pushed back into the bottle and if we take care from this time on, there’s every chance he will stay there. Take a deep breath through the confines of your face mask and taste a change in the air. The bees are buzzing, the flowers are blooming and spirits are lifted outside in the glorious sunshine of early October. It’s spring in Yallambie, a time when hopes rise and we can all enjoy a bit of our own personal Primavera.

Edward Green’s borough

Greens-brah, Greensburra, Greensborrow, the Burra, Down-Burra Way, Greenzie – call it what you will, but if Yallambie is the geographic heart of the City of Banyule, then Greensborough just to the north is the administrative capital. The new Council Centre which was opened three years ago on the site of the old public baths has certainly been a leg up for an area previously known only for its commercial hub and the back end of an ugly shopping plaza, but it might surprise those who have never given a thought to the pronunciation of the word “Greenzburra” that the town nearly had another name right at outset. It might surprise them still further to learn of the common commonality Yallambie shares with the Burra’s flamboyant founding father, that colourful if at times controversial Port Phillip luminary, Edward Bernard Green.

Soldier, squatter, social benefactor – “one of the most dazzling business entrepreneurs of early Melbourne”, (Dianne Edwards) – Green was the instigator in the early days of a pioneering overland mail run between Sydney and the burgeoning settlement at Port Phillip. Born of English parents at Cork in Ireland’s south west in 1809, E B Green arrived in New South Wales in 1831 as an officer of the 4th Regiment of Foot, the King’s Own Regiment.

That “dazzling business entrepreneur”, Edward B Green. (Source: Greensborough Historical Society, https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5455c9272162f10d64fa1f43)

Leaving the King to go whistle, Green quickly resigned his commission in favour of pursuing commercial and pastoral activities in New South Wales. He took up land at Bogaland Station near Yass on the Southern Tablelands where he found himself well placed to familiarise himself with the overland travel routes in the south just then being explored by Major Mitchell. When a bank failure later in the decade lost him money, Green applied for and won the contract for the carriage of the mails from Sydney to the new settlement at Melbourne. Initially Green conducted the arduous and sometimes perilous journeys himself, alone on horseback at first, then with a light cart and paying passengers, gradually building his activities into a successful coaching business.

Little changed from the way Green knew it. Grimshaw St near the corner of Marcona St, c1914. Marcona St was called Barham St on Green’s original plan and marked the western boundary of his estate. (Source: Worfolk Collection, The Diamond Valley Story, D H Edwards)

E B Green held the overland mail contract for the next decade, maintaining his monopoly against all comers while at times resorting to what can only be described as occasionally shrewd tactics. In 1844 while he was temporarily absent from the colony, the mail contract came due for renewal and a new tenderer unexpectedly appeared, a man named Walsh. Green returned to find his business in jeopardy and weighed up a tactical response. Early the next year when Walsh attempted to commence his mail service he discovered that all supplies of fodder along the Sydney Rd had mysteriously become unavailable, to the extent that he was soon forced to relinquish the obligations of the mail tender. The owner of the fodder supplies on the Sydney Rd, E B Green who had been secretly buying up supplies, then stepped forward to renew his former contract with the Government. This time the contract was on Green’s own terms and he held it for another five years, making a fortune along the way.

The “Dashing Mr Gilbert”, 1869. (Bishop Strachan School Museum, Toronto)

Green lived in palatial style in St Kilda and became a director of several companies. He was a donor to a number of charities and was honorary treasurer of the Melbourne Hospital of which the “Dashing Mr Gilbert” was also a member. In 1848 he purchased the south east corner of Bourke and Swanston Streets in Melbourne at a cost of £1750 on which he erected the Royal Mail Hotel which he used as the Melbourne terminus of his coaching activities. For the purposes of this story however, it is the considerable pastoral interests Green developed in the up country Riverina that is of special note to us here. In 1843 Green followed the course of the Murray downstream and was so impressed by the well-watered country of the anabranches of the Murray that he secured a pastoral lease of 45,130 hectares (114,656 acres) on the south bank of the Wakool River which he called Barham. To this he then added another lease of 27,700 hectares (69,200 acres) on the north bank which he called Beremagad, building a slab hut from roughly hewn native timbers which was designed to be defendable from the local tribes who at that time were described as “troublesome”. A subsequent owner of Beremagad would later rename this station when he turned the lease into freehold. But more of Thomas Wragge and Tulla Station a little later.

Such heady entrepreneurship was pretty typical in the boom and bust early years of Melbourne but when it came to land that Green purchased on the Plenty River it appears he risked taking his sometimes sharp business practices a step too far.

Looking across a part of Green’s 640 acres from Grimshaw St in the early years of the 20th Century. (Source: Greensborough Historical Society, https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/54e01fd82162f11b94ffe91a)

In 1840, six months after establishing his mail run, Green had purchased 259 hectares (640 acres) of land on the Plenty River from the Sydney speculator Henry Smythe. The land had cost Green £1600 but he harboured grand ambitions for the riverside location. A new township was planned which with sycophant intent, Green proposed to call La Trobe. A surveyor was employed to draw up plans for a village on the slopes overlooking the river and instructions were issued to mark out small farm lots along the river flats.  It was a street plan that in general form survives to the present day, however it was Green’s greater plan to turn the site into a coaching stop on his mail run to Sydney that was to bring widespread condemnation.

A rural scene in Greensborough (or possibly Diamond Creek), late 19th Century, looking much the way Green would have known it.
(Source: Picture by Edwin H Cooke from an album in the State Library of Victoria)

Green’s object was obviously to increase the value of the subdivision of his Plenty River land but it flew in the face of the Government’s position that the overland mail should go north along the established Sydney Rd with a course through Seymour. Green’s alternative route would have crossed the mountains into the upper Goulburn area near the Yea River, thereby bypassing Seymour and its Goulburn River punt altogether. It was a plan that was not without merit, especially if like Green you happened to own property along the way, but it provoked the government to proclaim official road routes to forestall any further private enterprise adventures into road planning. Green’s town, which soon came to be known as Greenborough, then Greensborough, would not in the end find itself on the coach road north to Sydney after all. Instead it would remain a sleepy backwater until the coming of the railway in the 20th Century, its district development a side story in the wider context of the story of the Plenty Valley.

Main Rd, Greensborough, c1920 looking down towards the River, “a sleepy backwater until the coming of the railway”. (Source: Diamond Valley Library)

In 1859 Edward Green, the 50 year old epitome of a successful Australian businessman and pastoralist, sailed for England with his wife and son. He left a manager in charge of his considerable Australian interests and instructions for his agents to begin selling his entire holdings. For Green his star was at its zenith, but you know what they say about the higher you climb… Things were about to become mightily unstuck.

Map showing location of Green’s Beremegad (Tulla) and Barham Stations north of the Murray. (Source: “Walking in Time” by E J Grant)

The problem appears to have begun with the sale of Green’s Wakool River pastoral leases and an honest misunderstanding between all parties involved as to whether a 4050 hectare (10,000 acre) area known as Bucket Island belonged to the Beremegad or Barham runs. Green’s agents entered into contracts of sale with John Hay of Noorong for the Beremegad lease and with Driver and Co for the Barham lease but confusion of place names, details describing localities and boundaries of both runs ended up in a legal bun fight. The litigation got very complicated with Green seeing red and taking the matter all the way to the Privy Council, but in a legal catastrophe for him, the courts ruled against Green’s case.

It has been estimated the whole debacle cost Green approximately £30,000. Driver and Co, believing the contract of sale had not been properly honoured withdrew from the sale and soon after Green died in England at the comparatively young age of 52 years, his star well and truly set.

The trustees of Green’s estate maintained his Wakool country for another decade following his death. Finally, when the dust had settled, Green’s Riverina property was successfully sold and at the start of the 1870s one of the eventual owners of the property was a name familiar already to readers of the Yallambie story, Thomas Wragge. Winty Calder writing of Wragge’s early foray into the Wakool region stated that:

“It is possible that Thomas had met Edward Green a few years earlier and became interested in his account of land by the Wakool River…” (Calder: Classing the Wool, p91)

Thomas Wragge from Nottinghamshire, (Source: Bill Bush Collection)

Thomas Wragge from Nottinghamshire of course had arrived at Port Phillip in 1851 with a letter of introduction to the Bakewells at Yallambee. While Wragge’s town life would be centred round the Warringal village at Heidelberg, Thomas must have been well familiar with Green’s attempted township just a few miles to the north and chances are he visited the Beremegad run at times in the 1860s for a look see. By then Green was dead, the Wakool leases were up for grabs and Thomas was travelling regularly between Echuca and Uardry, the 13,000 hectare (32,000 acre) pastoral run to the north Thomas held in partnership with his brother William and brothers in law John and James Hearn.

The rest, as they say, is history. Wragge began buying into the Beremegad run at about the same time that he built his house at Yallambie, converting the lease hold of Beremegad into freehold and renaming it Tulla. The story of Thomas Wragge’s Tulla Station has been told elsewhere but the memory of E B Green has faded into obscurity, his name remembered now primarily for its conjunction with that other word, “Borough”, a name that appears on street signs, council chambers and the discombobulated 513 Dysons bus route seen all over the City of Banyule.

Greensborough – but pronounce it with an emphasis on the “Burra”, the town on the Plenty conceived by E B Green.

A tendentious argument

This day marks an ignominious event in world history. 75 years ago on August 6, 1945 an American B-29 Superfortress flying high over the Japanese city of Hiroshima dropped an Atomic weapon that destroyed the city in a flash. The rationale behind the use of Atomic weapons against a virtually defenceless civilian target at the end of World War 2 has long been debated and brings rightful condemnation today, but horrific though that weapon undoubtedly was, there is a counter,  less familiar argument which suggests that  ultimately The Bomb saved more lives than it cost.

Millions of them.

Harry Truman in his post-war memoir stated that the Atom Bomb saved at least a half-million American lives on the X-Day invasion beaches of Japan. Enemy losses were anticipated to be in the millions. It is said that history is written by the victors but throw into this equation the unacceptable consequences of radiation poisoning from nuclear weapons as demonstrated on Japanese civilians, knowledge of which undoubtedly saved the planet from heading down the path of a Third World War, and the argument becomes tendentious.

Ex-Prisoners of War at the Watsonia (Yallambie) Camp entering bus enroute to the Heidelberg Military Hospital, 14 November, 1945. Photograph by Sgt F Carew (Source: Australian War memorial) https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C202396?image=1

Ex-Prisoners of War at the Watsonia (Yallambie) Camp being examined by a doctor of the 2/6th AGH, 14 November, 1945. Photograph by Sgt F Carew (Source: Australian War Memorial) https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C202671

Rice was not on the menu. Ex-Prisoners of War at the Watsonia (Yallambie) Camp mess, 14 November, 1945. Photograph by Sgt F Carew (Source: Australian War memorial) https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C202668

What this controversial subject has to do with the history of Yallambie is not immediately apparent but a clue may be provided by the above photograph that was taken at the “Watsonia” Camp, AKA the Simpson Barracks at Yallambie in November, 1945. This picture was sourced from the collection of the Australian War Memorial and was posted last month by Chris Scull on the Thomastown Area Facebook page which I follow. It  shows ex-Prisoners of War being processed at the Yallambie location before being sent on to the Repatriation Hospital in Heidelberg. The survival of these men and others like them can be attributed to the sudden ending of the War by the Atomic Bombing of Japan in August, 1945 as, following any attempt at an Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands, their lives would almost certainly have been forfeit.

Even so, their numbers take a little getting used to. Of the 22,000 Australians who became Prisoners of War of the Japanese in World War 2, one in three perished in captivity. Roughly 14,000 survivors returned to Australia at the end of 1945 which, from a population of just 7 million, meant nearly one in every 500 Australians was an ex POW after the War, this writer’s own father included. Not many of that generation are alive today but with what’s been happening in the world lately, especially to people of a mature vintage, maybe it’s worth pausing for a moment and reflecting on what that generation went through.

Ex-Prisoners of War at the POW Wing of the Watsonia (Yallambie) Camp, 14 November, 1945. Photograph by Sgt F Carew (Source: Australian War Memorial) https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C202395

The writer’s father with ex-POW mates, hay making at Barnawatha, post war. (Source: T C McLachlan collection)

Someone born a hundred years ago like my long dead father was conceived just after a Great War which killed at least 9 million combatants. A global pandemic then killed another 50 million people. Childhood was marked by financial ruin, the result of an economic crisis that started in 1928 but didn’t really end until war broke out again in 1939. That Second War killed between 70 and 85 million people, no one was really keeping a proper count by then, and a third war was only averted by the threat of the unacceptable consequences of Total War in the nuclear age. The Cold War they settled on lasted 50 years but the end of it did not usher in the advent of the egalitarian society that had always been hoped for. When people say the current plague is some sort of conspiracy and doesn’t affect them coz they’re not old, it is a reflection of just how entitled some of us have become. Centenarians alive today must look at our dystopian society and the retinue of incompetent and/or corrupt leaders on the larger world stage who have been prepared to put votes and popularity ahead of lives and wonder, just how did we let it come to this?

Greensborough Rd entrance to the Watsonia (Yallambie) Camp, probably post war. This had been Harry Wragge’s old paddock, now a part of the Simpson Barracks. (Source: National Archives of Australia) https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/DetailsReports/PhotoDetail.aspx?Barcode=30104194

The British civilian gas mask of World War 2. No one asked the wearers about “human rights”.

An example of a fashionable face mask available from a local supplier. Could double as a pair of jocks, maybe? Which would your prefer? (Source: © 2020 by Bundarra Sportswear – All rights reserved)

At the start of that Second War they carried gas masks around the suburban streets of London without complaint in daily expectation of a Nazi gas attack. Today a small minority, armed with “law degrees” from the University of Facebook have refused to wear a small mask to protect the lives of those around them because of what they call “human rights”. The State of Disaster that has been called by the Victorian Government has caused grumbling from these same people and it is true, it’s not a disaster in the manner of the tragic explosion that yesterday destroyed the Port of Beirut or for that matter, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago. It is a means of giving the governing authorities finite powers for a finite time but really, it is simply the power to save us from ourselves.

The catastrophic explosion that destroyed the Port of Beirut yesterday has been likened to a small nuclear explosion. (Source: Nader Itayim, Twitter)

Returning ex POWs realized how fortunate their survival had been in 1945 and got on with things without complaint after World War 2. This new lockdown in Victoria is a depressing time to live through right now but it’s better than the alternative, especially if you are elderly. By cultivating a spirit of unity we can get through this and come out the other side, eventually.

Well most of us.

Tea and scones

The heart of any home, August, 2003. (McLachlan)

If the kitchen is the heart of any home then I reckon the typical Australian homestead of the 19th Century was in need of some serious cardiac rehabilitation. Before the 1880s, the usual arrangement in an Australian farmstead was for the kitchen, together with the associated wash house and other domestic requirements, to stand separately away from the main building. Imagine creating your culinary masterpiece then needing to hike over open ground to eat it. Not exactly a practical arrangement and small wonder then that these houses generally featured a retinue of domestic staff hurrying from the kitchen at every hour of the day, from the crack of dawn until the dark of night.

It was a common enough setup in the early days and was found right up until the latter years of the Victorian era in any but the humblest of homes. Initially it was seen simply as a way of reducing fire risks but in practice it limited the heat from cooking fires entering into the living environment in the heat of the Australian summer and became a means of separating the kitchen realm from the normal social boundaries of home life.

The Bakewell brothers’ Yallambee by G A Gilbert, (Source: Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria, H29575, http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/294649)

Entally House, Hadspen, Tasmania, January, 2009. (McLachlan)

The stand-alone kitchen might have been common but by 1850 it is estimated that half of all dwelling places in Australia were without even that since men living in rough huts in the bush tended to cook outdoors over open fires or in roughly constructed fireplaces. As noted previously, the Bakewell brothers’ home at Yallambee used open fire places, “the old English dog,” (W Howitt), however their prefabricated building must have been conceived with some sort of a separated kitchen in mind as evidenced by G A Gilbert’s early drawing of the property in which the little prefab house is clearly supported by the presence of other built structures. That much is apparent, but in the case of Thomas Wragge’s later homestead, the story is not so straightforward.

The back of Yallambie photographed from the water tower, November, 1995. The low roof line of the buildings in the foreground suggest a separate wing while the two kitchen chimneys are seen to be attached to but are not part of the wall of the main house. (McLachlan)

The common assumption has always been that Yallambie Homestead was built in 1872, the year the title was formally conveyed to Thomas by John Bakewell and the prelude to a significant jump in rate valuations on the property. At Yallambie today though, the kitchen forms a part of the main building, a fact seemingly at odds with a mid-Victoria build date. The answer may lie in the position of two kitchen fireplace chimneys which are attached to, yet are not a part of the north wall of the house, an indication maybe that the property underwent a secondary building phase even before Annie Murdoch’s 1923 renovation. A surviving letter sent from Tulla in 1898 and cited by Calder in Classing the Wool (p86), mentions structural work being done at Yallambie requiring removal of part of the slate roof of the house in that year and may be an indication of a secondary building date. Calder’s own interpretation of the dining arrangements at Yallambie, which was based on written sources, appears to describe the domestic setup after this change:

“A second wooden door (from the dining room) opened onto the verandah, and a third led to the kitchen via a small passage. Dinner was brought from the kitchen on a wheeled trolley and was kept warm in large silver servers.” Calder: p82, Classing the Wool

Yallambie kitchen, 1994. (McLachlan)

Yallambie kitchen, 2003. (McLachlan)

The only certainty is that the kitchen wing at Yallambie has undergone several significant alterations even into contemporary times. With this in mind, it might be interesting to discuss in general terms the typical kitchen of a 19th Century farm house since, in the absence of a clear record, this may give the only idea of what life was like on the domestic front at Yallambie in the early years.

The central focus in any 19th Century kitchen, big or small, was first and foremost the fireplace. By the 1870s cast iron stoves of many shapes and sizes were available in Australia, imported into the country from abroad and produced locally by Australian blacksmiths. In essence the stove was nothing more than an oblong iron box painted black and stuffed with burning wood but from it came the warmth, strength and appetizing smells that gave the kitchen its heart and soul. Geoffrey Blainey called it:

“…a workplace, a tiny factory. It was the nerve centre of the home and, at times, the scene of high theatre when everything went wrong.” Blainey, Black Kettle and Full Moon

And things could go wrong. Blainey called the domestic fire a fine servant but a harsh mistress, a situation Albert Facey might have been thinking of when writing his famous autobiography, “A Fortunate Life”, in which he described coming in from the paddocks one day to see smoke pouring from his house in Western Australia and watched it burn to the ground before his eyes.

The job of lighting the fire box was the first task of the day requiring patience as strips of bark, twigs and splinters of wood were coaxed into flame in the cold, pre-dawn darkness with flint and steel or, for the better provided household, a Lucifer match. A weekly supply of chopped firewood was needed to feed the stove and in those homes without domestic help the sight of a housewife with axe in hand at the back of a kitchen was said to be a sure sign of the presence of a wastrel husband inside.

Early style kitchen range at Elizabeth Farm, Rosehill, NSW, July, 2014. In this style of range the flames burning in the firebox are visible from the outside. (McLachlan)

The kitchen stove when working, and in most homes it was working every day of the year, gave off an intense heat although in all but the earliest models, there was no indication from the outside of the fires raging within. The handles of the ovens could become dangerously hot and children might be burned if they innocently reached out to touch but generally this only ever happened once. Such lessons were quickly learned but seldom forgotten.

Yallambie wood fired stove, 2003. (McLachlan)

An all-purpose apparatus the kitchen range was used for roasting, frying, steaming and boiling food and for making jams, candles, sauces and soaps. Typically a large iron kettle, blackened by flames, would be left on the flat top of the stove where it remained close to boiling, providing water for tea, washing dishes and numerous other household tasks. I remember my father describing the kitchen of an elderly relative in Ballarat between the wars, a maiden aunt who lived with her widowed sister. She bought tea by the seven pound Griffiths tin and kept a kettle left continuously close to the boil on the fire. When one day my father remarked on the rattling noise the kettle made Aunt looked up over the rim of the teacup that seemed never out of her hand and said with her gentle Scots brogue, “Never you mind that young Tom, that’s the alley.” No, Aunt didn’t boil cats in her pot. The alley was a marble made from pressed glass which commonly filled the end of the old lemonade bottles of that era. Small children would collect them to play at ‘marbles’ but old Aunt kept one in her kettle to rattle around in the boiling water to remove the lime scale. “Young Tom” of course wasn’t satisfied and insisted on seeing the kettle drained where the marble was found misshapen and indeed, half boiled away by the years of constant rattling.

Masonry oven and flanking chimney crane at Old Government House, Parramatta, NSW, July 2014. (McLachlan)

A Standard E – AGA cooker photographed at Mt Rothwell Homestead, Little River in 2003 (McLachlan)

Most farming properties baked their own bread in the 19th Century and there is anecdotal evidence that at Yallambie the kitchen once featured a “Scotch” or masonry style oven used for baking. Something similar is documented at the up country Wragge property Tulla, but most bread at Yallambie by the advent of the 20th century must have been baked more simply in a kitchen stove.

The AGA leaving for the great kitchen in the sky, November, 1994 (McLachlan)

Geelong made, iron IXL stove during installation, February, 1997. (McLachlan)

The Bush family installed a huge enamelled Standard E – AGA cooker at Yallambie after the Second War, in its day the most modern of kitchen appliances and a vast improvement on the earlier styles of kitchen range. The classic AGA stove was invented by a Swedish physicist in 1922 and was a technological wonder when introduced using heat from slow burning fuels to power its multiple ovens and cook tops but sadly, the Yallambie Standard E had already been removed when we got here, so a less elaborate if antique, Geelong made, IXL cast iron stove has been introduced in its stead. Sourced from the “Tell him he’s dreamin'” Trading Post when it was still a printed newspaper, the IXL had supposedly been removed from the Melbourne Grammar School.

Beyond the kitchen range, a big, roughly made deal table was a feature of the typical farm kitchen with a sideboard, wall clock, the inevitable chipped Staffordshires and perhaps a rocking chair completing the scene. Meat might be stored in a perforated zinc metal box or that unique Australian invention, a Coolgardie safe which was simply a wooden frame covered in hessian over which water could be continuously dripped to keep the contents cool. At Yallambie four massive iron hooks were also strategically arranged on the ceiling from which a beam was suspended and cuts of meat were hung until required for use.

“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.” Calder: Classing the Wool

The pantry and servants’ bell, August, 2003. (McLachlan)

Ceiling hook and kerosene hanging lamp, November, 2018 (McLachlan)

All this required a domestic staff. Ethel Temby believed there had been up to 14 staff at one time but I’m guessing that was for the whole farm and that only a few of these would have been used as house servants. At Yallambie an electric servants’ bell was positioned on the wall outside the pantry to call attention to the needs of the family but if that bell was to ring now, I guess we’d be waiting a while for someone to come along in answer.

The Heidelberg Gasworks in Banksia St was producing coal gas from 1887 but at Yallambie lighting was limited to kerosene lamp and candle right up until the Second War.

The subdued lighting that resulted must have made reading kitchen books like Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management difficult but would have been a decided help when deciding against the need to sweep the floors again.

The Scullery, December, 1993. (McLachlan)

Slate and sandstone were favoured floor surfaces in kitchens although sometimes pine boards or linoleum covered pine boards were used. In some houses though, even grand boom time houses like Ravenswood in East Ivanhoe, the only floor in the kitchen area remained the bare earth. A properly formed earthen floor was a surprisingly durable surface and consisted of a special mix of ingredients that might include lime, sand, anvil dust, ox blood, furnace ash, ochre, oil or even stale milk. The resulting floor was deemed good enough for the paid help.

Scullery, August, 2003. (McLachlan)

At Yallambie the kitchen floor was pine boards covered in later days with linoleum but this floor was completely rotted away by the end of the 20th Century and has been replaced by slate sourced from Mintaro in South Australia. Curiously, a blue stone step under a door at the back of the house once featured a deep depression which at first glance I mistook as evidence of a hundred years plus of hob nailed boots wearing a path across the threshold but which I now realize represented a hundred years of domestic staff having an axe to grind, literally. That’s where the cook got down on her knees and sharpened her carving knife.

Crockery closet at the National Trust property Barwon Park, Winchelsea, June, 2011. The style of these cupboards was the inspiration of the new kitchen cupboards at Yallambie shown above. (McLachlan)

Pantry at Barwon Park, Winchelsea. (McLachlan)

Most houses planned today require a purpose built, state of the art kitchen constructed along clean lines and sporting shining surfaces and polished stainless steel at every turn. That sort of thing certainly has its uses in a sensible household but for mine, the quixotic impracticalities of an old kitchen still has a subtle charm, the primitive contours and earthy textures lending an attraction to the house beyond the synthetic materials so much in use today. Earthen ware plates stacked overhead on a dowelled plate rack, canisters lined up in a row on a sideboard, copper saucepans hanging from a hook, iron pots balanced on a tall stand, the smell of wood smoke and burnt toast on a damp morning – all these things lend a degree of ornamentation and rustic domesticity usually absent from the clinical world of a modern kitchen.

On a cold Melbourne afternoon in July there’s nothing like freshly baked scones from the oven. With another Stage 3 lock down looming, a couple of friends dropped by on Saturday and “Devonshire Tea” was the order of the day.  I’m guessing thousands of scones must have been baked over the last 150 year in this kitchen, in solid fuel burning stoves and our modern gas/electric, but the recipe I used is the simplest thing and comes from 92 year old CWA member Muriel Halsted. Her lemonade scones became a viral sensation in April and can be prepared in minutes while your attention is elsewhere. On Saturday I halved the mixture, baking half plain and the other half with chopped prunes and tried lemon mineral water in place of lemonade. With lashings of jam and cream and freshly brewed tea these scones simply slide down like oysters as the conversation inevitably turns in another direction and that age old question.

Are they scones?

Or are they scones?

  1. Set the oven at 220°
  2. Measure five cups of self-raising flour and sift
  3. Add a couple of pinches of salt
  4. Fold in 300ml of cold cream
  5. Add 300ml of lemon mineral water
  6. Fold the mixture together until the flour is all mixed in and the texture is consistent
  7. Add some chopped prunes or other dried fruit if preferred
  8. Spread out onto a floured board and cut into rounds with an upended, thin edged drinking glass and brush with milk
  9. Bake for 10 minutes or so or until golden brown, turning the tray once during cooking
  10. Serve with butter, cream, jam and freshly brewed tea

HOME IS WHERE THE HEARTH IS

There’s something soothing in the warmth of an open fire on a cold, Melbourne evening in winter. It’s like the heat on your face wakens some sort of genetic memory from a time when our collective ancestors gathered around the fire blazing at the mouth of a cave, the flickering light a protection against the unknown dangers of the night. As a domestic arrangement, hearth and home have been an inseparable part of our lives ever since those early fires moved from the caves to a favoured place inside our homes. Firstly to a centrally placed location in the Iron Age round houses and Saxon timbered halls of Northern Europe, then about a thousand years ago to a place on the walls of those stone castle building Normans.

“…a glance into the world of the blurry, glass plate photography of the 19th Century.” Sixth-plate Daguerreotype of the Bakewell brothers'”Yallambee” from the State Library of Victoria Collection.

By all reports the draughty old castles of the picture story books took some heating, but in this world of electric fires and central heating, it’s easy to forget now all the developments that have gone into getting to where we are today. One thing that a glance into the world of the blurry, glass plate photography of the 19th Century does not reveal is the smell of that world. The odours of the outhouse at the bottom of the garden or the aroma of wood smoke from thousands of kitchen cooking fires must have been something altogether and would have more or less permeated everything. In the 1880s when Melbourne after the gold rushes became known for a while as “Marvellous Melbourne”, the wags soon coined another term for it. “Marvellous Smellbourne” they dubbed the great, unsewered southern metropolis. With thousands of domestic fires pouring out their smoke and adding to the pollution of early industries, the air must have been pretty thick in those “good ol’ days”. The infamous peasouper fogs of old London for instance, the air that Dickens called a ‘London Particular’, were of course not fogs at all, but smogs. Thick, sulphurous layers of polluted air without parallel today, even in China, and those smogs were dangerous. They could kill people stone dead in their beds. Thankfully air quality has improved greatly since those dark times but for some this achievement just isn’t enough. Recent calls in the press have suggested the state government introduce a wood fire heater, buy back scheme aimed at improving air quality in Melbourne, a scheme similar to something already operating in the ACT. However, for those on a tight budget there sometimes just isn’t any alternative to getting out there and scavenging a bit of firewood and, then again, an open fire does have its comforts. Contemplating the glowing embers of a cosy living room fireplace with feet toasting nicely in their socks on the fender during the recent “work from home” protocol, I know where my thoughts on this lie. At such times my mind is apt to wander back to the days of those comfortable caves and, although I sometimes think the neighbours have given up burning proper firewood for old mattresses, really there’s nothing quite like having an open fire is there?

A cold morning for the birds.

Ethel Temby in her memoir once remarked how cold Yallambie in the farming era could be compared to other neighbourhoods. Richard Willis’ diary which he kept through a Melbourne winter spent under canvas on the Lower Plenty in 1837 similarly contains various references to the cold and also to their primitive camp fire arrangements, “a sort of gipsy-looking affair to shelter us from the dews of heaven”. The deprivations and the extremes of that early Melbourne winter very nearly killed Richard but with developing settlement came civilization. Although the first settlers at Port Phillip are known to have heated their homes in relatively primitive fashion, when it comes down to it the Bakewells prefabricated home at Yallambee must have been snug enough. William Howitt reporting on his visit to the Bakewells in October, 1852 wrote:

One thing pleased me there, — the old English dog, in the fire-places of the country houses instead of stoves. Wood is the chief fuel; the fires it makes are very warm and cheerful; and at the Plenty we found them very acceptable, for it came on heavy rain, followed by a south wind, which is always cold. I don’t know when I felt it colder than when we arose at five o’clock in the morning to return. The valley was filled with white fog, and the grass glittered in the rising sun with a frosty dew.  (William Howitt, Land, Labour and Gold, 1858)

“Chimneys at every protuberance” photographed November, 1995.

Twenty years later when Thomas Wragge came to build his homestead, nearly every room would be provisioned with either a corner or sometimes a centrally placed fire place, the resulting roof line seeming to sprout chimneys at every protuberance. The fire places inside were for the most part plain – white marble used in the drawing room, black marble in the dining room and marble and slate painted to look like marble in the bedrooms and secondary rooms. The Victorian era would see a medley of styles used for interior decoration and with wealth rolling into Melbourne from the gold rushes, people had more money to spend on their homes but at Yallambie in the best Yeoman tradition, style was kept simple. In the 19th century the hearth blazed brightly throughout domestic life, a symbol of family togetherness and comfort. Geoffrey Blainey called this the “maternal spirit”, and it was a spirit that could be found in kitchens and front rooms right across the nation.

Can you see the faces in the fire?” old people would enquire of one another, because sometimes they observed that the flames and the silhouette of the burning wood took the shape of human faces.” (Blainey: Black Kettle and Full Moon)

The process of fire place restoration – before

Others were to take this idea a step further and maintained that flames were a means of foretelling the future and of predicting the weather. Pale coloured flame could mean rain, fierce flames a frost. Sooty smoke predicted the arrival of a stranger and fire retreating to one corner on a hearth meant a separation. Round cinders could mean money but rectangular, (or coffin shaped) cinders meant death.

After

I don’t know about any of that but then I haven’t seen too many round cinders in my time I guess. It’s true though that watching a fire does induce a dreamy, peaceful state of mind where thoughts are apt to wander. In most households a poker was usually kept near at hand to give the fire a prod as much to awaken those nearby from their reverie as anything else but it was an unwritten law that a visitor should not prod his host’s slow burning fire. The expression “back log” as applied to our working habits today comes from the large log commonly placed at the back of a wood burning fire and which was intended to burn throughout the night. Etiquette demanded that a visitor should never disturb this back log as touching it was deemed a discourtesy. The handling of the fire and poking at the back log was held to be the prerogative of the owner as anybody who has tried making toast on the end of a long toasting fork in front of an open fire will attest that fiddling with the fireplace can be a happy diversion. Just ask my son who throughout his childhood years was a dab hand at toasting marshmallows, “Burned to perfection, Dad.”

All the same, lighting a fire is best left to the potential pyromaniacs of a family. In the days before we had proper heating at Yallambie I once found my very understanding, then pregnant wife sitting in front of a cold fire place stuffed with half burned newspapers and charred logs, her tears  of frustration soon followed predictably by the installation of some proper gas space heating in the house.

A 19th century engraving of an indigenous Australian encampment

The ability to light a fire is something we now take for granted but imagine for a moment those cave men banging two rocks together or the Australian Aboriginals rubbing at sticks for hours to produce a flame. Fire was so important to the First Australians and so difficult to produce from scratch that care was taken never to let a flame go out and if one tribe needed to request fire from another, it was a request that could never be refused no matter what enmity might otherwise exist between them. In the early era of settlement right up until the gold rushes, most travellers carried a piece of hard English flint and a steel pocket knife which were used to make fire by a spark. The invention of the Lucifer match which could be lit by striking it against a wall or rough surface changed everything. At Yallambie we have a table with rough copper plates attached to the apron below the table top, a feature I believe to be a specially made surface for striking matches in an earlier era.

The development of the portable match is said to have been one cause of the eventual increased use of tobacco in the 19th century. Where lighting a pipe previously had required much fooling around with a flint and steel, matches made everything so much easier. Much too much easier I’d say. It’s taken until modern times for a majority of people to kick a habit so obviously injurious to health.

Wallpaper fragment from sub floor area of former smoking room indicating the style of the previous decor in that room.

Thomas Wragge had a smoking room at Yallambie next door to the drawing room where the men would retire in the evening to puff away and yarn. The women would remain in the drawing room although Betty Lush, a grand-daughter of Thomas, remembered another fire side at Yallambie, writing later that, “I loved these visits even though nearly always in the early years I would fall asleep with a book by the billiard room fire while the older ones played a game or so after dinner.” (Recorded in Calder: Classing the Wool)

One of Annie Murdoch’s Edwardian fire surrounds removed at the end of the last century.

When Wragge’s daughter Sarah Annie Murdoch decided to remodel the house in 1923, marble chimney pieces were removed and smashed to pieces, some fire places were blocked up or repositioned, and wooden replacement fire surrounds were introduced into the house. In modern times though some of Annie’s replacements have themselves been replaced in an attempt to create a style thought to be more in keeping with a mid-Victorian era house. The white marble fire surround pictured above was made from pieces scrounged from multiple demolition yards on a shoestring budget. The enamelled grate was found at the back of a plumbing shop where it had sat for decades after being pulled out of a house in Brighton.

Another fire surround installed by Annie Murdoch, c1923 and now replaced by the restored black Marquina chimney piece pictured above.

As the winter solstice passes by this weekend, the days will lengthen again in their stride. Not so long ago it seems I was writing about bushfires and summer heat waves. Those days seem far off now and much has happened this year in the interim, both here and abroad. Where we are heading right now is anybody’s guess but while it seems sometimes that the world beyond the front door has gone kaput, to my mind that’s all the more reason to celebrate what we do have at home. To put this in a nut shell and to throw another spin on some otherwise well-known, much oft repeated words.
“Home is where the hearth is.”

All in the golden afternoon

Finding a quick and easy solution to this epidemic thingo isn’t going to be easy. Like finding fairies at the bottom of the garden I reckon, but who says that can’t be done? The human race has survived diseases before and the end of the world has been predicted often and always since those first 7 Days of Creation. I guess the whole point of easing the lock down right now is that we may just have to learn to live and to die with this for a while. It won’t be easy but none of this is going away in a hurry, just like those yon garden fairies.

Walkers passing the lone Hoop pine in Yallambie park, May, 2020.

A curious concomitant of the need to leave the proletariat at home during this crisis has been that many people are only now discovering the park lands and gardens beyond their local streets, some for the first time. Suddenly there’s an alternative to their coffee shops and gymnasiums as people leave their cars at home in favour of Shank’s Pony and breathe in the deep fresh air of the great outdoors. It’s hardly surprising then, given what’s been happening. I’ve heard tell that during a similar time of plague in the 16th Century, Henry VIII took to his country estates, moving from house to house regularly in the belief that fresh air was more-healthy than city. “One is safer on the battlefield than in the city,” wrote his Chancellor Thomas More highlighting the dangers of close living conditions in the towns (while, given his fate, maybe not appreciating that an axe can be sharpened equally in both), but Thomas did have a point. The rural escape, the so called tree change of society has always had its appeal.

Old Farm at the end of Martins Lane, May, 2020.

It’s an idea reflected in a growing trend that’s been dubbed “Cottagecore”, a movement promoting a romanticised interpretation of the life we imagine can be found in the countryside. Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers tried this on in the 70s in a much loved television show, but the movement has boomed during lockdown with real estate agents reporting an increase in enquiries for rural property and the hashtag cottagecore running at close to a quarter of a million posts on Instagram. Cottagecore as an idea promotes a belief that mental wellbeing can benefit from a removal from the fast paced environment of city living. “Rebalance your energy and remember relaxing is far from a waste of time,” says one young cottagecore influencer. I like the sound of that.

Getting out on Shank’s Pony, May, 2020.

As a concept I’d say it’s not entirely without its parallel in Yallambie these days. “I’ve lived in this area for 20 years and never gone into the Park,” I’ve heard people say as they get out for the first time on these crisp autumn mornings or sunny afternoons. On a good day it can be a quite magical place if you’re seeing it with fresh eyes, a point apparently not lost on some park users. Under one of the magnificent Yallambie Oak trees, a relic from the distant farming era, somebody in a flight of fancy recently created a little grotto inside a hollow of one of the trees and sign posted it, “The Secret Garden.”

The “Secret Garden” at Yallambie, May, 2020. Keep this one to yourself.

A hidden world inside, May, 2020.

The Secret Garden is of course remembered as a work of children’s fiction, a tale of redemption through the beauty of landscape. The latest 2020 film adaption was in the can and became one of the first casualties of the Covid crisis but this thing was the work of children doing what children do best. Or maybe it was the work of an adult to whom a child like outlook on life remains no stranger. Whatever the inspiration, it was first and foremost a work of “art in the found object” and a nod to a “Borrowers” world usually kept just beyond our sight. While I was there a small girl balancing on training wheels wobbled into the park ahead of her mother and made excitedly straight for this tree. I watched to see if she was about to disappear like Alice down a rabbit hole but no, she was just a visitor and lingered only long enough to do some rearranging.

So who believes in faeries? Raise your hand Conan Doyle if you’re there but to paraphrase another writer, J M Barrie, it’s said that every time a child says they don’t believe in faeries, a fairy somewhere pops out of existence. The Findhorn community on the north east coast of Scotland is one place where this sort of belief is firmly rooted. That community was founded in a belief in the healing benefits of the spirits of the forest although these days I think they call it an experiment in everyday life, guided by the voice of an inner spirit. Whether you want to believe in that or not, the Quantum World is proof that there could be more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

"Faerie tale glen of toad stools", (Fly Agaric) growing under Baron von Mueller’s pinetum, May, 2020.

Big Ears house growing under Baron von Mueller’s pinetum, May, 2020.

So, as if to reinforce this point, further along from the oaks, I found this day the place where those fairies have obviously been hanging out locally all these years. There it was, a fairy tale glen of toad stools growing under the scattered remains of Baron von Mueller’s pinetum, the red caps of which I’m sure would have had Big Ears reaching into his pocket for his latch key.

Field mushrooms, April, 2020.

A harvest of Farmer Maggot’s best found out the back of the “Cactus House”, April, 2020. Look like mushrooms. Smell like mushrooms. What else could they be?

To digress just a little, it’s been a good autumn for fungi don’t you know with all this extra rainfall and cool mornings resulting in a burst of toad stools and mushrooms which have been popping up seemingly everywhere. Out the back of the still vacant site of the Cactus House we found a lovely crop of mushrooms  growing but generally people take about much notice of the Fungi Kingdom as they do the Faery Kingdom. Fungi is however a completely separate world to both the plant and animal kingdoms and has an estimated 2 to 3 million species world wide of which only 120,000 have been described. It includes microorganisms such as yeast and moulds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms of the dinner table. Those red cap, fairy tale toadstools though are officially classified as poisonous. So too are the yellow stainer and death cap, both of which apparently can be mistaken as mushrooms by the near sighted, but both of which are exceedingly toxic. In fact the death cap is very appropriately named. One bite of it will kill you stone dead. Every year various poisonings, usually of a minor type, are recorded in Australia during the mushroom season but this year the newspapers have been filled with more stories than usual, probably due to the extra fungi around and people getting out into the parks who haven’t been out there much before.

The reality is however that going for a walk these days is probably about the safest and most sensible form of recreation you can do. With nearly 5 million people calling Melbourne home, a figure that comes complete with all the benefits and disproportionate difficulties associated with such a number, Henry VIII himself would have been happy enough to get outside. We’ve always needed our parks and gardens but right now we need them like never before. Meanwhile the world keeps turning and the sun keeps shining. The faeries are out there for those who want them to be, dancing between the mushrooms on moonlit nights wherever the healing benefits of the spirits of the forest are needed.

My mother told me there’d be days like this

Just before his unexpected death in New York City in 1980, John Lennon sang those strangely presentient words, “Nobody told me there’d be days like these.” The song was released posthumously, Lennon’s last ode to a fractious world, but 40 years on, how true were those words?

The cover of Time magazine three years ago

For a long time commentators have warned that the greatest threat to our civilization is not nuclear war or even the depletion of the Earth’s finite natural resources, though those threats are real enough. While billions have been spent every year maintaining armies we hoped would never be used and engaging in environmental talk fests that seemed to go nowhere, comparatively little has been spent building up a surplus of hospital buildings, medical staff and supplies and preparing the world for the predicted and seemingly inevitable fight to come. The fight against a new virus against which the human race has no natural immunity and the potential for a subsequent collapse in the existing social order.

Covid 19 may be that virus, or it may not. It’s still too early to say but ultimately it may be dependent on whether the slippery nature of the Covid 19 virus allows it to mutate into something more deadly in the coming months, a doomsday scenario that would not be without precedent. The so called Spanish Flu of 1918-19 returned in multiple forms before it was finally spent, killing an estimated 50 million people along the way and right now, even the best case scenarios are predicting the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people from Covid 19 worldwide.

Private cemetery in a garden, probably Yallambie, by E L Bateman, (Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia).

The fact is, as a species the human race has always lived, and died with the ever present threat of a shortened life from disease. The devastating effect of Smallpox on Aboriginal people in Australia at the end of the 18th Century is one example of what can happen to a community when it comes into contact with diseases against which it has no natural immunity. The Black Death in 14th Century Europe is another. It is only in modern times that, with advances in medicine, we have developed a mistaken belief in our invulnerability. But the Asian Flu of 1956-58 killed two million, the 1968 Hong Kong Flu killed another million while AIDS is thought to have killed about 36 million at its peak. The victims of any of these plagues are a danger of being just numbers when presented on a page but just think about it for a moment. Each number represents a life lost, the suffering of a real person, each with their own story to tell and with friends and family effected by loss.

The easement behind the Yallambie shop, April, 2020

The threat to the human race from Covid 19 then is quite clear but as we go into lock down and into something not far short of Martial Law, it is the threat to our society and social order that is the elephant that has been crammed inside the isolation room alongside us. With businesses closing all around Melbourne and people who have never been without work suddenly out of work, the fabric of society itself suddenly seems very fragile. Last night when I stopped outside our local shop to admire the morale of a group of kids still willing to play basketball outdoors and to ask their permission for a photo, it was disconcerting to be suddenly met by the passing constabulary who appeared as if out of nowhere, questioned me and directed the group to break up and be on its way. The “Stay At Home” directive from the Victorian Government which began on 30 March means just that, unless you have a valid reason for being out, and already there have been reports of scores of people being fined for ignoring it.

For a nation that values its freedom and civil rights so highly there is something unnerving, almost sinister about this. Maybe it says something about this country that, while sales of toilet roll in Australia have soared, in the United States, it is the sale of firearms that has seen a similar growth. I mean, I think I know what people will do ultimately with all that stock piled toilet paper, but what are they going to do with the guns? I have family in the US but I worry and thank my lucky stars I live here.

Chef Terry taking a break outside Li’s restaurant on Main Rd, Greensborough, February, 2020.

Only two months ago I wrote a post about a much loved local dumpling shop while urging support of Asian businesses. That post seems an age ago now. Like so many others, the shop is closed with the owners struggling even to source the ingredients for their products at a price that matches their business model. It is a story being repeated all over Melbourne and all over the world in countless ways every day as the snowballing effects of this crisis unfolds.

It is a crisis but if you think about it, maybe it is a crisis with some unexpected benefits. People asked to stay at home for work or because they have no work to do are reconnecting with their loved ones and home lives in ways they have probably never thought of. Suddenly a job seems no longer so important, a car is just a tin box on wheels and a house is just some walls keeping you from being outside in the sunshine. It’s what we do beyond those walls, in our hearts and in our minds I mean that really define us. At last people who have never had time to stop and think are doing just that.

Yallambie Park

Oak avenue

Misty morning with Hoop pine

Soccer ground

The streets of Yallambie are quiet now. Cars remain parked in their drives and the flight paths above are devoid of the planes that have previously always crossed our skies. In the evenings you can still see family groups in the Yallambie parklands, all of them maintaining the correct social distancing from other groups for fear of encountering the heavy hand of the law. (To avoid another run in with the authorities, photos used here have been recycled from previous posts). I see couples walking hand in hand, pushing a pram or walking a dog and think, ‘We still have our families. They haven’t managed to ban them yet.’ This after just six days, but where will we be in six months? Will the old order prevail or is this just a moment in time before we have a chance to reinvent ourselves and make a better world?

The current economic model of the Capitalist society emerged from the theories of men like Adam Smith writing in the 18th Century. Smith, the so called Father of Economics had a lot to say in the Scottish Enlightenment on the proper ordering of society but who says his ideas were necessarily the only right ideas? We have fought wars both real and Cold to maintain the ideas first espoused in “The Wealth of Nations”, but is a system where half of the world’s net wealth is held by just 1% of its 7 ½ billion people necessarily a fair society?

In 1968 John Lennon appeared in a now largely forgotten anti-war film, “How I Won the War.” In an eerie foretaste of his real fate a dozen years later, Lennon’s character is shot in the chest near the end of the film and turns to the camera dying, breaking the third wall with the words, “I knew it would end this way.” In those words is the ultimate truth. Life is by its very nature transitory. These days might seem like strange days right now but I want to believe that some good will eventually come out of living and in some cases dying in them. We cannot see now the shape of the new world that will eventually emerge from this but as Lennon once said, we can Imagine.

 

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

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