All posts by Yallambie

Yallambie is a suburb of Melbourne, 16km from the city in the "Goldilocks Zone", not too close and not too far out making the living there "just right". The area was first settled in the 1840s and a mid Victorian era homestead still stands above former agricultural land beside the Plenty River. Today just over 4000 souls call Yallambie home.

They call it Shank’s Pony

It’s said that if you’re not careful, waving a red flag could get you a visit from the pointy end of a very angry bull. That’s if you’re unlucky enough to find a member of that bovine species with its horns down and tail up, charging past when you happen to be holding one. Yet in the 19th century a red flag could be the herald of something quite different and in practice, rather more sedate.

The extraordinary 1865 Locomotive Act of Great Britain, sometimes known as the “Red Flag Act”, was an old law that required a man to precede at walking pace all steam powered vehicles on the open road and to carry a red flag or lantern as a warning while doing so. It developed in the middle years of the 19th century after intense lobbying from horse-drawn carriage operators and the railway industry in what was seen even then as a cynical attempt to stifle legitimate competition to their services. The Act gave local authorities unprecedented powers over speed limits which were set between 4 and 2 mph and the authority to specify the hours during which steam vehicles might use the roads, the combined effect of which was to limit the rise of steam powered road transport throughout Britain and her Empire for decades. It was enough to take the puff out of what has otherwise been called, “The Steam Age”.

Towards the end of the century, with motoring innovation and the use of the new-fangled internal combustion engine gathering pace, the Red Flag Act was seen for what it was. A patently absurd anachronism. The Act was amended and in 1896 finally repealed, after which time experimental steam transport was finally free to develop and operate unhindered.

By then it was nearly too late for road steam but all the same there were still some who were willing to try. Thomas Clarkson began producing steam buses at his Moulsham Works in Chelmsford, England at about this time with the company’s prospectus declaring that, “The Chelmsford motor omnibuses are steam propelled, and… are entirely free from smell, noise, and vibration.” The Clarkson vehicles had a two-cylinder horizontal engine with a tubular boiler and a working pressure of between 150 and 250psi and averaged almost 4 miles to a gallon of paraffin fuel.

Victorian Railways No.1 steam charabanc at the Plenty Bridge Hotel, c1905, (Laurie Daniel Collection, Museums Victoria).

At the dawn of the new century A G Webster & Son of Hobart imported a number of these Clarkson omnibuses to Australia and several were adopted by the state railways for use in passenger services on the roads. This photograph of a Clarkson vehicle parked outside the Plenty Bridge Hotel in Lower Plenty opposite Yallambie was taken in 1905, possibly during a proving exercise in that year. Another photograph apparently from the same series shows the same vehicle on a timber covered road, perhaps somewhere in the Upper Yarra or Upper Plenty area, localities the vehicle presumably might have travelled through after leaving the Plenty Bridge. A closer inspection of this photograph appears to show an indigenous member of the party in the middle of the group, looking away from the camera, fourth from the right. Could this photograph have been taken during a visit to the Coranderrk Aboriginal Enterprise near Healesville?

Victorian Railways No.1 steam charabanc stopped beside an up country road, c1905, (Laurie Daniel Collection, Museums Victoria).

In the other picture, the Plenty Bridge picture, Edward Joseph Rigby has been identified seated in the driver’s seat. His son, Edward Jr is standing at the rear of the vehicle along from his mother. Rigby Sr was an engineer and early motoring enthusiast, being a foundation member of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria. It is believed that he was responsible for the elegant chassis construction of the Clarkson vehicles used in Melbourne.

Six Clarkson vehicles were ordered by the Victorian Railways but they were used for only a short period after proving unreliable in service. Steam transport in Victoria at this time was largely limited to the tried and true uses employed to such good effect by the railways, to which industry it was ideally suited and well established throughout the world.

The story of the early railways in the Heidelberg district reads as a chequered tale. The lack of regional progress throughout the latter part of the 19th century has been blamed mainly on the lack of an efficient, direct route into the north east, the result of protracted councils’ infighting and disagreement over the form such a railway should take and the route it should follow. Getting a train to Heidelberg in the early days involved a juggling act with timetables and a backwards and forwards movement along spur lines before there was even a chance of getting anywhere. As one wag put it at the time:

“In the old days of buses and coaches, travellers could hope, on starting from Melbourne, to reach the place in about an hour, but with the advancing times and the railway communication they could now do the journey in one hour and a half.”
(The Mercury, May 1888, quoted in Garden)

It seems the visit of a Railways steam omnibus to Lower Plenty might have had its merits.

Detail from early rail map of the north east showing the meandering route the Hurstbridge line takes through the Plenty and Diamond Valleys. Yallambie is roughly about where the “d” is on the name of Macleod Station on this map.
Train at Montmorency Station in the early years of the 20th century. (Source: Madden albums of Australian railways photographs, State Library of Victoria picture).
Greensborough Station, c1910. (Source: Greensborough Historical Society)
Steam engine and train at Eltham Station in the early years of the 20th Century. (Source: Eltham Historical Society picture).

A direct steam engine rail route to Heidelberg was finally established in 1901, extended to Eltham in June, 1902 and reached the end of the line at Hurstbridge in 1926. The route as built performs a vast arc around the Yallambie area with the stations at Rosanna, Watsonia and Montmorency all about an equidistance from the main body of the Yallambie housing estate which is centred on the western banks of the Plenty River. A modern regular bus service from St Helena, the 517, connects Yallambie today to train services at Rosanna and Greensborough Stations, although the route it takes through the back streets can add up to half an hour to a trip. This however is about the same time that it takes to walk to Montmorency Station along the Plenty River Shared Trail from Yallambie, so it’s really a case of whether or not you fancy the exercise when you’re commuting. Other bus routes connect Yallambie to all points of the compass with the 513 along Lower Plenty Rd to Eltham and the 293 from Para Rd in Montmorency to Doncaster and Box Hill being particularly useful.

The State Government’s commitment to public transport is clear with the recent removal of the Lower Plenty Rd level crossing and redevelopment of the Rosanna Station being just one local example of this policy. At the same time though, the Government’s decision to build a North East Link freeway down the western boundary of Yallambie and underground through Heidelberg is evidence of another commitment entirely.

“Sleepy Hollow”, Heidelberg, c1890 as Thomas Wragge would have known it before the building of the rail bridge across Burgundy Street. Village development at this stage was concentrated further down the hill in front of the spire of St John’s Church in the park. (Source: photograph by W H Ferguson, State Library of Victoria picture).

With the use of hybrid cars and Peak Oil giving the roads of the future an unknown prospect, it remains to be seen what shape the future transport needs of Melbourne might take. As Melbourne bursts at its seams and with new development across the city outpacing existing infrastructure, perhaps we need to look back at what happened in Heidelberg in the 19th century to get an idea of where we are going. “Sleepy Hollow” they called the Heidelberg area due to the poor roads and lack of rail access but when the railway finally arrived, in the face of all the infighting that came with it, the route was not necessarily the best that might have been chosen. As for steam transport on the roads, well that one clearly never moved much beyond a walking pace.

A Bills Horse Trough: originally located in Lower Plenty Rd, now outside the Heidelberg Historical Society headquarters in Jika St, Heidelberg, August, 2019.

Outside the old Court House in Jika Street, Heidelberg, now the home of the Heidelberg Historical Society, there stands an old water trough, a local example of what was known in its day as a “Bills Horse Trough”. Bills Horse Troughs, so named after the public benefactor whose financial legacy created them (but not incidentally the same Bill whose poster activities I’ve seen prosecuted so relentlessly around town), were a necessary device in an era when so much was relied upon from horse travel. The Jika Street trough was originally located on the corner of Martins Lane and Lower Plenty Rd near Yallambie, opposite a place now marked by the glowing golden arches of the Yallambie franchise of a certain hamburger restaurant chain. The trough was moved to Heidelberg in the early 1980s after the widening of Lower Plenty Rd in an earlier period and restored with funding from the Australian Bicentennial Authority in1988.

Commemorative plaque on the HHS Bills Horse Trough.
Probably Will Wragge outside the old Bakewell era stables at Yallambie, c1900, (Source: Bill Bush Collection).

Yallambie’s Thomas Wragge’s love of horses has been well documented and horses were clearly an integral part of life at Yallambie throughout the farming era. Eventually though, horse transport on the roads was to disappear to be replaced by the erstwhile horseless carriages that are so much a part of our lives today. Every one of us relies on our vehicles, whether they be motorised, horse drawn or steam powered but for mine I’ve always liked to think there is an alternative.

It’s ever there and doesn’t need costly road tunnels, rail crossings or even watering troughs.

You’ll find it down below your knees if you stop long enough to take a look.

They call it Shanks’ Pony.

Source: Victoria & Albert Museum
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Harry’s googly

In an unmannerly modern world it seems that the epithet “gentleman” is more likely to be found these days on the door of a public loo than out there in the less than genteel mores of society. It might be that this is evidence of a new standard but the fact remains, it was not always so. The word “gentleman” at one time was a word that carried a certain polite social expectation since to be a “gentleman” removed a man, at least in his own mind, from the general hoi polloi of the professional and labouring classes, the “great unwashed” of literature.

An early picture of Thomas Wragge, c1860. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

In 1861, Yallambie’s Thomas Wragge signed the certificate of his marriage describing himself as a “gentleman of Lower Plenty” while his bride signed herself as Sarah Ann Hearn, a “lady”. A hundred years earlier, Lord Chesterfield had written plenty of advice about what this actually meant in practice, advice that had become pretty widely accepted by the time Wragge brought his bride to Yallambie, but it is advice which today has been largely forgotten. The good Lord is better remembered now chiefly for having a chair named after him.

Sarah Ann Hearn in the early 1860s about the time of her marriage to Thomas Wragge. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

As a code, the Chesterfield ideal flourished in the otherwise egalitarian society of the Australian colonies of the 19th century in spite of, or perhaps because of the 20 thousand kilometres by sea that separated Australian society from the rest of civilization. Transplanted from the British Isles by early settlers the code attempted to reproduce as far as possible the traditions of a polite society in a rude world under the demanding vicissitudes of an alien sun. Colonial intellectuals might look to the contents of a man’s library to judge a gentleman’s character, the dandies the cut of his coat and heralds the existence of armorial bearings, but for all of this one standard remained inviolable. That was the ability of a man to live respectably within his means on an unearned income.

Thomas Wragge’s armorial bearings, a rampant lion, clawing the air in noble rage with the Latin motto, “audacia et sincero”.

When Thomas Wragge decided to take his growing family on a visit to England in 1892 to see the land of his birth, he did so as a representative of Australia’s new landed squattocracy. The family chose to travel that year as saloon passengers on a single class steamer, the Peninsular and Orient Steam Navigation Company’s SS Valetta with the manifest describing each member of Thomas’ family as either a “gentleman” or “lady”. Keeping up appearances, there would be no room for any of life’s riff raff on this voyage for Thomas.

The 4904 ton single class iron screw steamer, SS Valetta at the wharves in Sydney, c1887. (Source: State Library of Victoria)
Dr William Gilbert Grace

The ship left Melbourne on the 26 March, 1892 and stopped at the Port of Adelaide where ongoing passengers were excited to find Lord Sheffield’s 1891-92 returning English Test cricketers come on board. The team was captained by the renowned Dr William Gilbert Grace, a huge figure in the cricket of this era in both his sporting achievements and his commanding presence – 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m), an ever expanding girth and a bushy, black pirate beard to match. To the great interest of Thomas’ sons, nets were put up on the deck to allow the cricketers to keep in condition during the long sea voyage and to their general excitement Thomas’ youngest son Harry, then nearly 12 years old, was given the opportunity to bowl to the great W G in the nets. The unexpected result of this would be remembered by his family for generations with Harry’s nephew, Frank Wright later writing of the encounter and of Harry’s subsequent development as a cricketer.

“In the playing of deck games, young Harry, then aged only 11 or so, clean bowled Grace in a game of deck cricket. It seems to have created such an uproar that Grace lost his temper, so things could have been so-so for a while. The aura surrounding young Harry for this feat was probably the cause of his later interest in cricket. My first recollection of him in the early 1900s is in his flannels, eating an enormous meal at Yallambie one Saturday evening after having played in some match at Heidelberg.”
F S Wright, 1949, State Library of Victoria, Manuscript Collection and quoted by Calder, p119, Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales

Deck cricket from a Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co postcard, c1915. (Source: Museums Victoria)

The lack of grace of Grace at losing his wicket to an eleven year old might seem to have been a bit of an over-reaction but the bearded cricketer was well known for possessing a highly competitive streak. The stories of his refusal to “walk” when out are legendary and although some of them are probably apocryphal, one sometimes quoted tale recalls the cricketer coolly replacing the bails in a first class game after they had been dislodged by the leather, remarking as he did so for the umpire’s benefit, “Windy weather out here this morning.”

Fred “The Demon” Spofforth photographed by the pioneering sport photograher George Beldam in 1904 at Hampstead CC, still a fearsome sight at age 51.

Such blatant examples at gamesmanship could have and sometimes did have unintended consequences in the sporting arena. In a match at The Oval in England in 1882, Australia’s  Fred “The Demon” Spofforth is said to have boiled over in righteous anger at an unsporting run out by Grace of an Australian batsman who had wandered out of the crease to do a “bit of gardening” between balls. It inspired “The Demon” to a bowling rout of the Englishmen with the Australian quick capturing a decisive 14 wickets, Australia winning the match by seven runs with a famous published “obituary” to English Cricket afterwards appearing in the press, the body to be “cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.

Rupertswood, Sunbury, c1890 (Source: Wikipedia)
The parents of Sarah Ann Hearn, James and Louisa Hearn of Thorngrove, photographed in the early 1850s. Louisa was the sister of William John Turner “Big” Clarke, father of Sir William J Clarke, Baronet of Rupertswood, Victoria. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

In a way strangely pertinent to our story, these “Ashes” as they became known enjoy a vague familial association with Yallambie which you won’t find mentioned in any of the many history books of the subject. Wragge’s wife, Sarah Ann Hearn was a full cousin of Sir William Clarke, 1st Baronet and it was at Clarke’s country seat, “Rupertswood” near Sunbury that the most enduring and famous trophy in cricket was created as a nod to the earlier death notice to English cricket. One of cousin Clarke’s many hats was as president of the Melbourne Cricket Club and he was instrumental in bringing the English cricketers to Australia in 1882 after their shock loss at the Oval.

Sir William Clarke of Rupertswood, Victoria. (Source: State Library of Victoria)

The tour became known as the battle to reclaim the imaginary Ashes of newspaper obituary invention but how much Sarah Ann had to do with her cousin’s family at Sunbury in this era is uncertain. What is known is that her husband Thomas’ brother, Henry Wragge, a veterinarian was at Rupertswood around this time working in Sir William’s stables and that Henry had been living with his brother’s family at Yallambie. Perhaps the story of The Ashes had become a family anecdote to them by the time Harry had a chance to roll his arm over to Grace 10 years later. It’s a thought.

The Wragge family on the verandah at Yallambie, c1900. The cricketing “nemesis” of W G Grace, Harry Wragge, is standing to the right in the straw boater. His brother Syd is seated in front of him and is wearing what could be argued is a suspiciously striped, cricket style blazer. (Source: Bill Bush collection)

W G Grace remained a much loved cricketer for many years with the public both in England and abroad and a respected and sometimes feared opponent. The contemporary monthly almanac “Cricket” wrote of the 1891-92 English tour of the Australian colonies, “The great as well as the most pleasing feature of the tour to the general public was Dr W G Grace’s consistent success as a bat. Time has not even now withered, nor custom staled his infinite variety.”

It was the second tour of the Australian colonies for Grace, 18 years after the first and the first of the Test cricket era. W G was 43 years old at this time but still took third place on the English Test batting averages while in Australia.

William Gilbert Grace, a huge figure in cricket with “an ever expanding girth and a bushy, black pirate beard to match.”

Grace chose to take the field as a Gentleman/Amateur as opposed to the Player/Professional class but herein lies one of the great shams of what is sometimes referred to as the “Golden Age” of cricket. The game could be said to have been suffering from a sort of existential crisis at this time for to be a gentleman in cricket parlance meant to take the field purely for the love of the game and without financial incentive. At least that was the theory. “No gentleman ought to make a profit by his services in cricket,” wrote the MCC in November, 1878. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it but it was a decree in practice openly flouted by many of the greatest of the Amateur cricketers of the era. This was a time when leading Amateurs were often better rewarded than the game’s Professionals, commanding high appearance fees and extravagant expense accounts but still demanding separate gentlemen’s dressing rooms from their labouring class team mates. Grace was no exception and made a considerable sum of money as an Amateur in 1892 even while Lord Sheffield’s loss making tour racked up expenses, including the cost of the presentation of a magnificent silver shield to the colonies to be used for a domestic competition still bearing his name to the present day.

Lord Sheffield’s magnificent silver trophy, the “Sheffield Shield”, Australia’s domestic cricket trophy.

As an in demand if theoretical Amateur first class cricketer, Grace probably didn’t have a financial need to take his medical practice too seriously, which may have been just as well for his patients as I’m thinking the cut of his scalpel might not have matched the cut shot of his cricket. On one occasion in 1870 while playing for the MCC, Grace then a 22 year old medical student was present when an opposing batsman was struck in the head by a rising delivery on a difficult wicket. Grace took command of the situation and prescribed a stiff brandy for the patient and a lie down who, without further treatment, was dead four days later from an undiagnosed fractured skull.

So much for medicine as a profession for one of the great Amateurs of the game.

It’s natural to think of sport as being a form of play but for the Professional there is no doubt that it has become a task orientated occupation like any other involving physical exertion and carrying a formal structure. In other words, work. Play on the other hand, is all about leisure and having a good time and it is perhaps this distinction that has always separated the Amateur from the Professional and the Gentleman from the Player.

The reality of this has become clouded over the years but any park cricketer today could probably tell you more about what it means to play the game in the amateur spirit than those who have played the game as Amateurs historically. There have always been cricketers who have pulled on the flannels for nothing more than the smell of the new mown grass, the blue skies and the sheer love of the game, including this writer in his youth as an indifferent but always hopeful opening bat for the Lower Eltham CC.

Russell Drysdale’s iconic 1948 sporting picture, “The Cricketers”. (Source: Wikipedia)

Modern associations with the game of cricket are rarely found in Yallambie but they do exist if you look carefully. The only full sized cricket grounds in Yallambie are those that can be found inside the Simpson Barracks but I’m not about to enlist to get a game there. A junior team was founded locally in 1979 and fielded sides, the Yallambie Sparrows and the Yallambie Eagles across two decades in the NDCA, JIKA, PDCA and HDCA using the Winsor Reserve in Macleod as their home base and winning premierships in 1983, 84 and 86. Alan Connolly who represented Australia as a medium-fast bowler in Test cricket from 1963 until 1971 lived in Tarcoola Drive, Yallambie after retiring from first class cricket. Probably the most unique cricket connection in Yallambie however is the existence of a book shop in a suburban court side home location dedicated entirely to the subject of cricket. Roger Page Cricket Books has operated in Yallambie for 50 years with a customer base from across the world.

Cricket book seller, Roger Page photographed among his books in Yallambie, July, 2019.

The days of thinking about cricket in terms of Amateurs and Professionals are long gone, if they ever truly existed with the last of the prestigious “Gentlemen versus Players” games staged in 1962 after which the MCC voted to abolish the concept of amateurism altogether. Next month will mark the start of a new Ashes campaign, the 71st in the history of the game and if there’s still room to remember the principles of that earlier era I’m afraid you won’t find them voicing it on Rupert’s Fox Sports. The introduction of a numbering system this year on the backs of cricketers’ whites marks one more break from tradition but what can we expect in a world where players take the field with huge pay packets in the pockets and a win at all cost mentality that saw three Australian Test players shamed and banned last year for ball tampering. The boos the English crowds reserved for the players on their return to first class cricket in the recently completed World Cup “coloured pyjama” short form of the game was not unexpected. Just a bit ironic. Theirs was not the first occasion of cheating in cricket and it won’t be the last. Just the most amateurish.

The Ashes urn as it appeared in The Illustrated London News in 1921. (Source: Wikipedia)

It may be true that the only Gentlemen to be found in cricket today is in the form of a word on a dressing room door, but watch out. Come the first ball bowled in The Ashes at Edgbaston on the first day of August, expect to see batsmen doing what they have always done in cricket in every form of the game. Flashing the outside edge of a bat at a rising delivery and as we say in this country, “Swinging like a dunny door”.

The Spirit of Yallambie

Listen closely and you might hear it.

A distant rumbling from a place deep beneath your feet.

It’s not the sound of the North East Link tunnel excavating machinery running up against a horned gentleman in his subterranean realm, dressed all in red leotards. Those machines aren’t due to start rolling ’til next year, though by crikey when that time comes, they’d better watch out for that gent’s pitchfork.

No, the sound comes from quite another source. Like a grinding and gnashing of teeth it is the sound of a man turning over quietly in his Heidelberg grave.

Wragge family memorial at Warringal Cemetery, February, 2016.

Thomas Wragge of Yallambie was buried at the Warringal Cemetery at Heidelberg in 1910. As outlined in these pages previously, Wragge was a man “of solid Yeoman stock,” (Calder) who had made a mark in the Australian colonies by following a variety of rural pursuits in Victoria and New South Wales in the second half of the 19th century. He was also a man of some pretty fixed ideas. Although the Wragge farming dynasty would eventually come to rely heavily on motor vehicular transport to administer their distant Riverina properties, in his life time Thomas was known to oppose such machines and various other mechanical devices, dismissing them as modern extravagancies. Horse flesh had been good enough for him and he saw no need for a change.

Thomas and Sarah Ann Wragge and car outside Yallambie Homestead, c1910. (Source: Bill Bush Collection)

By way of illustrating this point, when Thomas’ youngest son, Harry expressed a desire to own a motorcar, Thomas threatened to disinherit him. This perhaps was no idle threat coming as it did from a man who had done just that to a daughter who had opposed him in her choice of partner, but unknown to Thomas, Harry went out and made the purchase anyway, secretly buying an early model Hurtu and keeping it hidden in town and out of his father’s way.

“Many a quiet run he had round and about after doing all possible to find out where his father might be going, so he could go elsewhere. Cars were not registered and carried no identification numbers. During one of these runs, his one-lunger (sic) was snorting south in Nicholson Street a bit north of the Exhibition Building where the road is fairly level. A policeman on a push bike decided he was speeding and called on him to stop. Harry began to panic, visualising his name in the newspapers and his inheritance gone, so he decided to make a run for it. The bobby came pedalling after, and Harry gradually drew away on the level road. Reaching the slight rise to the Exhibition Building, the car slowed up and soon the bobby was right behind breathing heavily and gasping threats. It seemed that capture was imminent, but with a flash of genius, Harry slapped on whatever brakes he had; the bicycle crashed into the rear and the policeman took a fearful toss with a buckled front wheel. Harry and car escaped unhurt, and Harry had saved himself from the loss of perhaps £50,000.”
(Extract from Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales, Winty Calder, Jimaringle Press, 1996).

Harry Wragge, left and the infamous Hurtu, c1910. (Source: Lady Betty Lush collection)

In essence a conservative, Thomas was a God fearing man whom Winty Calder found difficult to categorize, “It is not easy for later generations to summarize the character and career of Thomas Wragge,” (ibid, p200) although Thomas’ namesake eldest son, Tom Wragge did his best, putting it rather more plainly:

“He certainly ruled his family with his cheque book. His reputation was that if he had a dozen watches, he still would not give the time of day away,” (ibid, p200).

As neither the cheque books nor receipts for donations have survived, it is not possible to know now whether this was an altogether fair assessment of the old boy, but what is known is that Thomas could be generous when the mood or the inclination struck him.

For many years a staunch member of the Church of England, Thomas is known to have made several substantial donations to that institution during his life time including the purchase of land near the Heidelberg Rail Station for the building of a Church Hall and with his wife, a presentation of a magnificent carved and polished Blackwood altar which remains to this day as a prominent feature in the sanctuary of the Anglican Church of St John’s in Heidelberg.

St John’s Church of England, Heidelberg from the north east before addition of side chapel &, vestry

It follows a pattern then that on his death, a provision in Thomas’ will saw a single acre on the north-west corner of the Yallambie estate, now the south west corner of Yallambie and Greensborough Roads, bequeathed to the Church of England, along with the sum of £500 and a stipulation that a church be erected onto the site.

Planning for the building of the Church of the Holy Spirit on Greensborough Rd commenced in 1912, two years after Thomas’ death. Negotiations between the Parish of St John’s, Heidelberg and the Parish of All Saints’, Greensborough saw an alteration of parish boundaries so that the planned church might fall within the Greensborough Parish. The expectation was that with the coming of the railways the new church would serve a growth in population at Macleod and Watsonia. In deference to its location however, the church would be known as the Holy Spirit, Yallambie.

Progress was delayed by the outbreak of War but a building committee was finally appointed for the Holy Spirit in September, 1924 with a Miss Allen, Miss Elliott, Mrs Rogers, Mrs Watson and a Mr and Mrs Petterson selected, along with a Mr Sparling to serve as Secretary. It was envisaged that the Holy Spirit would be attended initially by the Vicar of Greensborough, at that time The Reverend Frederick Reynolds.

The architect of the Holy Spirit, Louis Williams photographed in his library. (Source: Brian Williams from a MU thesis by Gladys Moore, 2001)

Plans were sought from an architect, Mr Louis Williams a well known ecclesiastical architect based in Queen Street, Melbourne who specialized in buildings inspired by the Arts and Crafts style. Williams was noted for designing churches of a specified capacity within a specified budget and the Holy Spirit would have been one of his earlier designs.

Williams brief was to design a building capable of seating 400 worshippers. By this time Thomas Wragge’s bequest of £500 had, with interest grown to £1000 so a contract was let to Mealy Pty Ltd of Rosanna for £1050. Construction commenced on 18th August, 1926 and the building was dedicated to the Holy Spirit by the Archbishop of Melbourne, The Most Reverend Harrington Lees, appropriately enough on St Thomas’ Day, 1st December, 1926.

The Church Sanctuary and a Chapel to seat 50 people were built first with a large vestry added for Sunday School classes and Parish meetings. The original plans for the building had been conceived along the lines of a mini Romanesque basilica built in the Anglo Saxon style, but with the population of the surrounding district not properly developed, construction soon stalled. By the 1940s the church was nowhere near complete and the original architect, Louis Williams was called in and asked to provide new plans to complete the church, but on a reduced scale. Williams recommended that the height of the existing sanctuary and chancel be reduced and the bricks and timber be reused to finish a much smaller building although in the end, even this plan proved to be impossible.

The Rev Alfred and Mrs Emma Bamford. (Source: Green and Growing, 150 years”, All Saints, 2005)

By 1941 the temporary western wall of the building had begun to deteriorate and possums and birds had taken over the roofing beams inside. The Reverend Alfred Bamford, Th. L, Vicar of the Parochial District of Diamond Creek and Greensborough, conducted fortnightly services of Holy Communion at Yallambie throughout the War years and he would later recall that before each service he would need to brush down the Communion Table and keep the Communion vessels covered throughout the whole service because of falling dust and feathers from flapping birds moving their roosts overhead. A Mrs Joules was remembered as bringing her dog to church services and sitting him down on one of the pews with a piece of newspaper under him but it wasn’t clear if the newspaper was intended to protect the pew from the dog’s bottom, or the dog’s bottom from the pigeon poo covered church seat.

The Rev Leo and Mrs Norma Ball in 1955. (Source: Green and Growing, 150 years”, All Saints, 2005)
The Rev Leo Ball’s Parish paper from May, 1954 describing an issue very much of concern to the world in that year.

With the boarded up ends of the church clearly a home for possibly more pigeons than parishioners, services at the Holy Spirit were suspended from 1945 until 1950. In 1951 The Reverend Leopold Ball, MA, the Vicar of Diamond Creek and Greensborough was the minister responsible for the Holy Spirit when an attempt was made to reinvigorate it as a place of Christian worship. Services were scheduled for Sunday afternoons at the church but these were never well attended. In 1955, Bill Chamberlain who was a parochial and Diocesan Lay Reader and who assisted the Rev Ball at several churches in the Parish, arranged with the Vicar to start an afternoon Sunday School at Yallambie. Bill had a new, 1955 Ford tray truck onto the back of which he built a cabin which he stocked with Sunday School literature and a travelling pipe organ. This vehicle, known locally as “The Jesus Car” and “Little Toot”, the later name due to the sound it made upon its approach, became a familiar sight in the area as it drove about Watsonia on Sunday afternoons picking up children to take them to the Sunday School. During this “Baby Boom” era Sunday School attendances throughout the Parish grew exponentially. Some of the events associated with the Sunday Schools of the area were an annual dance night and an annual picnic at the Tourrourong Reservoir located on the head waters of the Plenty River.

The Jesus Car, AKA “Little Toot”, c1955. (Source: “The Origins of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Yallambie and Watsonia”, Omond and Haustorfer, 1990)

After Bill’s death his wife, Norma continued the work of the Sunday School with the help of some dedicated teachers. A young Keith Luxford, whose father played an old pump organ at the Holy Spirit, was one and the accompanying photograph sourced from his sister, Jean is a representation of the building as it appeared at this time. In this picture a little lean to weather board shack at the front can be seen. This was added to the unfinished west side of the building and is a sign perhaps of an intention to repurpose the building within its existing design limitations but also is an indication of post war building austerities. The lack of steps up to the door are however not further evidence of these building austerities but of the desperately poor situation of the homeless people temporarily housed at the nearby Watsonia Military Camp, (now Simpson Barracks) after the War. The Army Camp was used as Post War emergency accommodation in this era and the Church steps disappeared and needed to be replaced on what seemed like a semi regular basis, taken it was believed by nearby residents to be used as firewood.

The Church of the Holy Spirit, Yallambie showing its unfinished west side, a home for “possibly more pigeons than parishioners”, c1955. (Source: Jean Luxford)

Other than as a make shift source of kindling, the Church of the Holy Spirit found a variety of other uses throughout the 1950s as one of the few publically scaled buildings in the district. From 1953 it was used as the first meeting room of the Watsonia sub branch of the Returned Services League and on Friday nights that institution used it as a screening house for black and white movies of World War II, a subject still raw in peoples’ minds. On Saturday nights, dances and other social events were sometimes arranged and on week days Macleod State School used the building as an overflow classroom for the School’s Grades 3 and 4 in an attempt to cope with a Baby Boom surge in student numbers. On at least one occasion the Church was used as a venue for a fund raising fete in aid of a planned local kindergarten.

In spite of this activity, with housing development in the district concentrated around Macleod and Watsonia, by the end of the 1950s it had become apparent that the Church of the Holy Spirit, Yallambie was situated in the wrong location. The Reverend Richmond McCall, Th. L, Vicar of Diamond Creek and Greensborough arranged to vary the Deed of Trust and in 1959 the property was sold to the Neptune Oil Company. The proceeds of the sale allowed the Diocese to purchase a church site closer to the population centre of Watsonia near the rail station and construction of a new church, the Holy Spirit, Watsonia commenced.

Janine Schultz, (front) and friend Jeanette Saunders in 1961 in the garden of the house that Janine’s father Fred built on the corner of Laings (now Yallambie) Road and Greensborough Road. The Church of the Holy Spirit, Yallambie visible over the fence. (Source: Glenis Henderson, née Schultz)

This photograph shows a young Janine Schultz and her friend Janette on the lawn of the home Janine’s father built on the north corner of Yallambie and Greensborough Roads. The picture was taken in 1961, the year the Holy Spirit was torn down and the broken and empty windows of the building are just visible beyond their shoulders.

In 1948 Janine’s father, Fred Schultz had brought his wife and three children (later four) to live in a simple two room house he began building opposite the church. Fred became the Sunday School Superintendent at the Holy Spirit, (this task later superseded by John Andrews) and Fred’s intention had been to extend and develop his nearby home as the inclination took him and as post War materials and building resources became available. It wasn’t long however before the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works announced plans to widen Greensborough Rd into a six lane highway and this rather took the wind out of the sails of his building ambitions. In 2019 the house Fred created still stands on the corner of Yallambie and Greensborough Roads, although given the threat posed by the conceived widening of Greensborough Rd, it was never completed on the planned scale.

Banyule Homestead, February, 2015

70 years after this road threat was first posed and 60 years after the loss of the Church of the Holy Spirit, the building of the North East Link at last will see the final chapter played out. Chapter 19 of the North East Link’s Environmental Effects Statement features a whole section dedicated to identifying heritage sites impacted by the planned route. Many places are named including Aldermaston inside the Simpson Barracks, Banyule Homestead at Heidelberg, Heide, Clarendon Eyre and even the gate posts of the old Fairlea Women’s Prison. They all rate a mention. However the site of Yallambie’s first and only church, the foundations of which are still partly visible on open ground back from the Yallambie Rd corner, does not. Wragge probably believed that his bequest would lead to a church building that would still be standing at Yallambie in a hundred years but today most people have forgotten  now that it ever even existed.

Aldermaston Manor inside the Simpson Barracks.

A Neptune Service Station occupied part of the site of the Church in the early 1960s before this was later replaced by the Shell Station that can be found there today. It is an irony that, given Thomas Wragge’s opposition to such machinery, it was a petrol station for motor vehicular transport that replaced his ambitiously conceived church and that it is a road for motor vehicle transport that will now replace the station.

What Thomas would have made of this story is anybody’s guess but my vote is for a bit of turning over in the grave.

Select sources:
“The Origins of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Yallambie and Watsonia, 1926 – 1990”, Peter Omond and Max Haustorfer, 1990

“Green and Growing, 150 years – Historical Snapshots of All Saints’ Anglican Church, Greensbough”, All Saints, 2005

Conversations and correspondence with Glenis Henderson, (née Schultz), Janine Wood, (née Schultz), Noel Withers, (GHS), Beth Jones, Jean Luxford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NELA Community Hub office in Watsonia Rd, Watsonia.

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

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

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

The Banyule creek at Borlase Reserve, May, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yallambie Park oak avenue photographed in 1995.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woodland sign posting north of Borlase Reserve, Yallambie, May, 2019.

A stitch in time saves what?

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

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

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

19th century hand embroidered parlor apron

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

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

Victorian era embroidered velvet cushion cover

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

Aesthetic style era unmounted cushion design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19th century lambrequin at Yallambie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hand knitted woolen child’s cardigan

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

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

 

Here be dragons

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

Whump hiss, whump hiss.

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

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

The Australian river boat steamer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wragge family memorial at Warringal Cemetery, February, 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temperature gauge at Lower Plenty, December, 2018

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

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

The Plenty River at Yallambie, June, 2018.

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

How do we save the Rivers?

An incovenient truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rainbow over Yallambie in 1995.

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

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

Temperature gauge at Lower Plenty opposite Yallambie last month.

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

A stroll in Yallambie Park.

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

Yallambie, July, 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Blake Mystery

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

Detective novels by Fergus Hume

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bigger than Ben Hur

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

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

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

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

Ben Hur and his chariot never had it so tough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A plethora of somebodies

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

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

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

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

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

Child actors at Yallambie

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

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

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

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

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

Spectator to a night shoot at Yallambie

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

I’ve been a very good boy all year

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas theatre programmes from Ocean Island.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who am I to say?

Albert, the Christmas pudding

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

Norman Lindsay painting in the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

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

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

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

Norman Lindsay liked puddings.

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

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

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

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

It wants to be eaten.

Watch your head. Low flying puddings…

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

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

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

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

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

But he had a stir all the same.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe all three.