What’s small and furry, has a duck bill and webbed feet, lays eggs while suckling it’s young and can be found on occasion with a sting close alongside its beaver like tail?
I’m sure you know the answer already although chances are, like me you’ve probably never seen one outside of a natural history museum. If you’ve got 20 cents in your pocket though, you could be closer to one than you think.
Ornithorhynchus anatinus – I was walking in the park early in the morning a week ago when I saw it. As I crossed the river from the Yallambie to Montmorency side at the bridge below the site of Casa Maria I heard a splash and, pausing to look upriver in the direction of the sound, I heard another movement just below me. Turning in the direction of the new sound, I was just in time to see something furry go into the water with a kersplosh and an instant later I saw it rolling over in the water of the overhanging river bank, unmistakable now in its appearance with a short, flat tail. It didn’t break the surface of the water again while I watched but I could see the direction that it took underwater, marked by a “V” on the surface of the pool heading in the direction of an obscuring reed bed and the source of the first splash. ‘Must be a pair of them,’ I thought as I turned away. ‘That’s a good sign for the health of the river.’
Playtpus, for that’s what my furry friend turned out to be, is a somewhat paradoxical animal. A semi-aquatic, egg laying, mammal it is the sole survivor of the family Ornithorhynchidae, in the genus Ornithorhynchus (bird billed). When stuffed examples were sent for study from Australia to Britain at the end of the 18th century, outraged scholars believed they were the victims of an attempted antipodean hoax for if the imaginary Babel Fish can be used as “a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God,” then the Platypus is the ultimate contradiction. It proves that God has a sense of humour.
Platypus are possibly more common along watercourses in the suburbs than you might think. Shy and nocturnal, they are all too seldom seen however. Historically, the Plenty River is said to have been abundant with these aquatic native animals with Thomas Wragge’s grandson, Frank Wright remembering the river at Yallambie before the Great War, writing that, “Possums and platypus were plentiful. Often we would see six or ten platypus in a day.”(Wright, Recollections of the Plenty River, 1974, quoted in Calder, p212). Similarly Wragge’s great grandson, Bill Bush reported seeing them regularly while growing up at Yallambie in the 1950s but in all the years that we’ve lived here, this is the first time I’ve seen one.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Platypus is an endangered species. Not yet. It is evidence only of the difficulties some species have adapting to life within an urbanised landscape and how unobservant we tend to be in our every day lives. I see wallabies often enough in Yallambie Park, including a pair that seem to have taken up residence on the ridge above the Platypus bathing pool. We’ve even had a beautiful, chocolate coloured swamp wallaby in our garden but while wallabies and kangaroos seem to have urbanized OK, other animals don’t necessarily adapt so well. Platypus are susceptible to illegal netting practices in the river and the morning I spotted the Platypus, I saw a dog running off the lead and into the water in the immediate vicinity of the sighting.
It has been reported that Australia has the fourth-highest level of animal species extinction in the world with the number of extinct species topping 40 with another 106 listed as critically endangered. Clearing land for urban expansion and agriculture, logging forests and damming rivers have all contributed to this problem while Victoria also enjoys the dubious reputation of being the most deforested state in Australia. More than 60 per cent of the forest that existed at the time of first settlement is now gone. The announcement yesterday by the State Government that logging of native timber in Victoria would end by 2030 is at least a step in the right direction and an indication that the Government is aware of the problem and concerned by the flow on effects of the destruction of native ecosystems. But will it be too little, too late? Already the critics are lining up, supported by a conservative Federal government, to claim that the State Government is putting furry animals ahead of timber industry jobs. A decade sometimes seems like a long way away.
Meanwhile we city folk can continue to take our walks in the reinstated setting of a suburban park land environment, convinced that everything is going to be alright Jack. It brings me joy to see our chocolate coloured swamp wallaby exploring the lower reaches of the garden although, given the history of urban landscapes, I suppose my chances of seeing another Platypus down by the river anytime soon are about as good as seeing the legendary Babel Fish.
“An effect of an old home and garden is to give a sense of being part of the continuity of life, of having roots in the past and prospects in the future.”
Ethel Temby, from her personal history of Yallambie Homestead, 1984
Ethel wrote this in the early ’80s while reflecting on more than two decades of life at Yallambie. In the 30 odd years since, the seasons have come and gone and the years have brought change. Plants and garden beds have been removed and reinstated. Drought has wrecked the garden more than once, only for it to recover and be born anew. Geriatric trees have succumbed to the passage of the time and collapsed to be replanted. Some things don’t change though and one of these is the arrival of the Spring time and the possibilities the season has to offer. I like to think the continuity described by Ethel might be something that had its beginning with R Bakewell and E L Bateman, found recognition in the writings of the Howitts and Louisa Anne Meredith and is a tradition that survives to this present day. As Ethel once said, quoting from Brown in her history:
A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot! Rose plot, Fringed pool, Ferned grot.
Fresh buds bloom, showers soften the earth and there is a warmth in the air outside already. It’s been a lovely Spring, don’t you think? Sorry for not writing about it more right now but I’ve got to get outside. Something’s waiting for me.
I’ve heard it said that one man’s treasure can be another man’s trash. As I look around at our tumble down house built in another time and in answer to the needs of another era, I can say it comes as hardly any surprise. As an idea, it’s scarcely novel.
I remember my father having an old folding Autographic Kodak with a lens that popped out on the end of a bellows and with a little silver pointed scribe which could be used to write directly onto the film. As a child I was fascinated by the mechanics of the object, especially the possibilities of that pencil, but it was only later when I was at art school and getting briefly interested in photography that I thought more about it. With access to a dark room I started wondering what sort of a picture such a camera might be capable of producing in the modern era.
When I asked my father his reply was to the point.
“Oh that. I couldn’t get the film for it anymore so I threw it into the rubbish.”
“Oh, never mind that. It was old when I got it. I bought it from a man in a pub you know. By Jove, though,” he paused. He used to talk like that. “Do you think it was hot?”
“No, not really?”
Thus ended in the Pater’s belated realization of his role as a fence, any possibility of a foray into a world of experimental art photography.
My wife’s parents have always had a good appreciation of period style and my father in law in particular has a collection of interesting if now entirely obsolete cameras. At one time he even had his own dark room but, as a freelance commercial artist, that was probably a necessity of business. The reality is, the older they have grown the more modern their tastes have become, a trend in which they are not alone. Just go mid-week to any second hand auction house to see the low prices these sales generate, a by-product of the Marie Kondo led minimalism craze and the dictates of Instagram fashion. It’s a fad but one that overlooks the fact that the old product is generally better made, lasts longer and is sometimes more aesthetically pleasing than a modern day equivalent. Pauline Morrissey calls the trend “fast furniture” and puts it into the same realm as fast food and fast fashion.
The cuckoo clock that hangs over this table for instance and which offers the occasional lunatic tune on the half hour as I type is one example. It keeps pretty good time and makes more of a contribution to family life here than an equivalent digital device. It was rescued from a rubbish pile one day in need of new bellows and replacement weights. Dusted down and rejuvenated, our feathered friend continues to make a fitting and regular Laurel and Hardy commentary on the unstated, state of the union.
So it was no surprise after a recent visit to her parents that my wife returned with another discarded object tucked under her arm.
“It’s a mandala,” she said holding up a bent and rusted object for me to inspect. “Apparently my parents got it from Matcham Skipper at Montsalvat back in the day. Mum and Dad threw it away in the garden but it’s going to be bolted onto that wall over there.”
I looked at it with interest. I’d seen similar things before on suburban homes of a certain age. Many have a sort of Brutalist honesty in form and the rust this example had collected in the garden only seemed to add to the shadows cast by the afternoon light onto the indicated wall. It concealed a story of potentialities. Apparently my wife’s grandmother had taken her father out to Justus Jörgensen’s Montsalvat in Eltham when his family re-emigrated from England as £10 Poms after the War. He was only a kid but he already wanted to be an artist. For some reason or other and in spite of her strict Baptist upbringing, Nan took her son over to Montsalvat where Matcham’s sister, Helen gave them a tour of the buildings many of which were still in the construction phase.
“Nan took one look at all those “Bohemians” and their libertine lifestyle and couldn’t get Dad out of there quick enough. She eventually found him an apprenticeship at Colour Gravure but imagine if he had been allowed to stay.”
“Yes, he might have missed out on a spectacular career as a commercial artist where he reached the top of his profession and instead learned how to mix concrete and spit rocks for Justus Jörgensen.”
The story of Justus Jörgensen’s artists’ colony at Montsalvat is well known. It is Australia’s oldest artist colony and is famous for being constructed by the artists themselves from cast off materials scavenged from places all across Melbourne. It’s a principle that seems to have extended into the production of art as for most of his life Matcham Skipper, 1921-2011, as one of the principle artists in residence at Montsalvat, was a keen advocate of the concept of “art in the found object”.
One of Justus’ sons, Sigmund Jörgensen who died earlier this year wrote of the Matcham method:
“He loved the stuff and, given the opportunity, would have filled the whole of Montsalvat under metres of his junk. To Matcham, it was inspirational… each piece containing an inspired thought of what he might do with it when he had the time.” (Sigmund Jörgensen, “Montsalvat”, 2014, Allen & Unwin)
Everyone remembers Matcham Skipper today for his exquisitely fine jewellery but that was only one side of what was in essence a multi-faceted career. Sculptor, jeweller, ironworker, photographer and builder of dreams, in his lifetime Matcham Skipper would turn his hand to many things. Mandalas could be described as an eastern sort of cosmic diagram of the infinite world which extends beyond our vision and Skipper borrowed from the concept, using off pressings sourced from the Sidchrome tool works in Heidelberg and incorporating welding skills learned from the Commonwealth Industrial Gas complex in Preston to create strong yet sometimes delicate structures. In the 70s, Skipper mandalas became a bit of a must have for the bare arsed exteriors of many newly minted brick veneers, like the shag pile carpets inside and the flared trousers of their owners outside. For a while they became a much copied static design motif all around town although often it can be said without the mastery of a Skipper original.
“Once, driving him (Matcham) through a Melbourne suburb, I pointed out an ill-formed mandala that had been fixed to a front wall of a cream brick veneer home. I said to Matcham, ‘Well, there is your legacy, the welded mandala.’ Matcham groaned, his great idea prostituted for the almighty dollar.” (Sigmund Jörgensen, ibid)
The annual Montsalvat Arts Festival is happening this weekend but with admission fees and prices charged for individual events across the two days, perhaps the almighty dollar long ago subsumed the guiding principles of what Montsalvat originally stood for, indeed if those principles ever really existed.
Many of the architectural elements that were used to build Montsalvat were reputedly sourced from the yard of the demolition company “Whelan the Wrecker”. Whelan’s sign on building sites “Whelan Is Here” followed by “Whelan Was Here” on an empty block became synonymous with a Post War desire for urban renewal and social change in Victoria. Like the buildings it consigned to the scrap heap, the Whelan company in its original form is now long gone but it’s said that during its existence, the company always expressed an appreciation of the heritage of the old buildings it was their task to destroy as evidenced by the select parts of the buildings they salvaged from the wrecking ball. But it is also true that under their watch, much of Melbourne’s 19th century character was sacrificed with hardly a voice heard in protest.
As reported in Robyn Annear’s fascinating 2005 book, “A City Lost & Found” detailing the history of Whelan the Wrecker in Melbourne, in 1965 Whelan purchased a disused quarry in East Brunswick with a million-and-a-quarter cubic metres of ‘air space’ to fill. It was estimated that the old quarry hole would take Whelan’s 50 years to fill. In less than 10 it was half-full and many of the best buildings in the city had ended up in it. I’ve sometimes wondered what might be found if in years to come an archaeological dig was conducted on the site.
It’s said that life imitates art and the idea of recycling has now become far more accepted today than it ever was in the days when Matcham Skipper was alive and punching out his mandalas. Recycling has become a catch cry in the 21st century but with China becoming more selective with the plastics it is willing to accept from Australia to be sent back to us as mass production stamped “Made in China”, we may have to start taking responsibility for our own actions. The collapse of SKM in August with debts of $100 million has sent the state’s recycling system into chaos with some councils reportedly forced to send thousands of tonnes of recycling to land fill.
No one wants to be “that hoarder” who ends up consumed by the detritus of a life out of control, but it’s also true that most of us could do more at patching and repairing than throwing away. For every piece of recycled timber used in a building project, a plantation tree or patch of old growth forest is saved. For every dumpster diver sourcing a culinary feast from a bin outside a supermarket, edible food that would otherwise end up as landfill, (up to 7.3 million tonnes in Australia every year according to a recent report) is a win in the war on waste. Recycling it seems has always been an art form, one that old Matcham was onto a long time before anyone else.
Throughout the ages the collective memory of primitive societies has been preserved by what we call “the oral tradition”. It might seem unlikely now in this age of the internet and digital space, but before the invention of the written word, oral tradition was often the only way that human beings were able to preserve the record of generational knowledge outside the superfluous grey matter found between their ears.
We might think we’ve come a long way since but in some ways the power of memory is as important now as it ever was. Oral history, as opposed to oral tradition, is an academic discipline which can be defined by the collection and study of historical information using recording devices and interview techniques, a process which strives to obtain information unavailable by other methods. Publishing these personal histories has never been more popular with desk top publishing and cheap printing making the process relatively easy.
Locally, the Greensborough Historical Society has taken a leaf out of what could be called the oral history book by publishing a couple of recent companion volumes, “As I Recall” and “Do You Recall?” which feature stories drawn from the memories of long-time residents of Greensborough and nearby suburbs. Last week while travelling on the 293 Greensborough bus with my nose buried in the pages of one of these tomes which happened to be opened at a chapter describing the history of the now defunct Diamond Valley Community Hospital, a woman sitting next to me after first apologizing for reading over my shoulder pointed at the page and said, “I was born at that hospital.”
“You and about 10,000 others,” I said, quoting directly from the pages of the book.
What followed then turned into an interesting chat about her memories of the local area before I had to let it go and get off at my stop, leaving her story only half complete. It was a loss in one respect. Given longer I’m guessing I might have turned her story into a post, but in another respect it was a gain as it got me thinking about history and the importance of memory within the spoken framework. As it happens, both GHS volumes contain chapters recording the memories of one Eric Barclay and are complete with his impressions of what it was like growing up in a Post War rural environment on what was colloquially known as the Grace Park Estate, Greensborough. This estate was located more or less on the northern boundaries of Yallambie and at one time was home to a rough and ready, 9-hole golf course. It was an area parts of which remained semi-rural into the last quarter of the 20th century and Eric’s story makes an interesting tale.
Born in 1938, Eric Barclay was the only child of Henry and Dorothy Barclay who were aged 60 and 40 respectively when their son surprised them by being born. The family owned a small weatherboard cottage on a 10 acre farm in Elder St, Greensborough, south of where Henry St ends at the T intersection. The Barclay property was located about an equidistance from Greensborough, Montmorency, Watsonia and Lower Plenty and could only be accessed along unmade roads and bush tracks. The house, which had been relocated from Collingwood in an earlier era, was without power, sewerage or mains water and although basic in its necessities, it proved to be a happy and healthy childhood environment for young Eric.
“We were hillbillies. We never ever got the light on until the early 50s…. We were very primitive out there. One thing about it, when we were hungry we had a bit of an orchard. Dad was a good gardener. We had vegetables. We had plenty of chooks, plenty of eggs.” (Eric Barclay, “Do You Recall?” GHS, 2017)
Much of Eric Barclay’s story as related in the two GHS books is devoted to what he called his memories of “The Big Paddock”, (the title of his chapter in “Do You Recall?). The Big Paddock was a 600 acre area roughly bounded in the west by Greensborough Rd, in the north by Nell St, the east by the River where the unmade track that was Elder St petered out, and by Yallambie in the south.
“It had a wire fence around it and besides briar bushes only had cattle, kangaroos and hares in it… Every year The Big Paddock used to get burnt out. We had no fire brigades in Greensborough in those days. The locals would get out and fight it, my father and Mr Bell and others. Almost every year up to the late 40s our area’s 5 to 10 acre farmlets had a planned burn off and they’d do maybe three places one night, all the men. The women would have a central place where they’d have cups of tea and a few beers later on. We did that until all the tussocks had been cleared off. We’d look forward to it as kids, we’d have a bag each and go round beating out the posts so they didn’t take fire.” (Eric Barclay, “Do You Recall?” GHS, 2017)
Eric’s father, Henry was employed at “Stubley’s”, a produce merchant in Main Rd, Greensborough with ties to a motor garage and service station of the same name. Later Henry found work at Annie Murdoch’s Yallambie, a circumstance that will be of particular interest to readers of this blog. The following words are reproduced here, directly from the pages of the Greensborough Historical Society volume, “Do You Recall?” published by the Society in 2017.
My father Henry Banwell Barclay ended up working at Yallambie House, the mansion. They used to have quite a market garden there, they would have had a couple of hundred acres I reckon. They had river frontage on the Plenty. The driveway of Yallambie House ran through to Lower Plenty Road.
Going through the paddocks I’d take Dad over his lunch and a bottle of cold tea. Dad worked down there on the river flats. They had vegetables and fruit trees. It was pretty substantial. Old Joe worked there as well as Dad who was 60 when I was born in Whittlesea in 1938.
The people that had Yallambie, the elderly lady was Mrs Murdoch. She was the owner, the matriarch. Her daughter married a Mr Bush. They were lovely people. They had two children, Elizabeth, about my age, and Billy who was a lot younger. I can remember Elizabeth going to Ivanhoe Grammar.
They had two Daimler cars and one day Mr Bush said “Now, young Eric I’d like to give you a bit of pocket money.” I used to wash the two Daimlers once a fortnight and get three bob… three shillings, which was good. We didn’t have a lot of money. My father had spent a lot on his children (from his first marriage) in the earlier days setting them up. I would have been about 11 at the time. He was 71 and still working over there.
They had an asphalt tennis court there and a year or so later Mrs Bush said “Eric, if you’d like to bring some of your friends over you can play tennis.” So Leslie Dunstan, Donny Bell, Robert Collins and myself would go over there and sweep the leaves off and mark the lines and play. There were elm trees and a big verandah out the back and Mrs Bush would come out and she’d say “Righto boys!” She’d have a table set up on the verandah and we’d have lemonade and butterfly cakes and that. They were terrific.
Each year around Melbourne Cup time they’d put Dad and Mum and myself in the Cup sweep and I’d have to go across Melbourne Cup morning and see what horses we had.
There was a manager’s house there, the cookhouse, the whole lot. In the early days the manager was a Mr Gardiner. The cook was Nellie.
Eric’s story continues with his memories of the Plenty River, the riding school at Woodside, (Casa Maria) and Wragge’s Anglican Church of the Holy Spirit.
Us kids learnt to swim in the Plenty River, you’d get holes 20 foot deep. There were platypus and water rats. It was a beautiful stream. When I was a bit older Leslie Dunstone, Donny Bell and myself used to fish it from one end to the other, nearly down to the junction with the Yarra River. That’s a long walk. We’d take hurricane lamps and the dogs with us, a tin of baked beans and a bit of bread.
Along Yallambie Road, which was a gravel road, on the left was Bellamy’s. They had a poultry farm, there were very few houses. You went right along and there was a gate. You’d open the gate and keep going and right down the end of Yallambie Road was Nancy Hosack’s riding school. She had a nice home and the riding school and the stables and so forth. Nancy used to compete in a lot of the gymkhanas and Benny Weir, who lived in Greensborough off Alexandra Street down near the river, was probably one of her greatest competitors in them.
Past the gate, on the south side of Yallambie Road, going west, was the army camp land. Years later they brought all the people in from Camp Pell, which was like a Housing Commission kind of setup in Royal Park. That’s when all our chooks started to get stolen and so forth. They brought them out to the army camp for housing up at the top end of the camp in Yallambie Road.
Where the petrol station is now, there used to be a church there. It was a little brick Church of England church. I think they used to have a service there about once a week. A lot of people wouldn’t know that had been there.
Benny Weir’s swimming hole was probably one of my favourite spots on the Plenty. They had a rope hanging over the river and kids would go swimming there.
In about 1950 Eric’s father began selling off parts of their 10 acre farm. Australia’s leading Greyhound trainer, Stan Cleverly bought half and built the substantial brick home that stands today on a double block at the top of the rise in Elder St at the Henry St intersection. Stan installed a straight greyhound training track alongside his home where he trained from 50 to a 100 greyhounds at a time, although in the words of Eric, “Later on, it paid him more to get dogs beaten. He got outed for a year.” Eventually, Eric sold the last 3 ½ acres of the Barclay farm and moved to Macleod in 1966. His family’s presence is remembered in the area in the name of “Barclay Park”, a small reserve in Plenty Lane, Greensborough.
The importance of these spoken histories has also been recognized by the Heidelberg Historical Society which has recently put out a call for volunteers prepared to offer their services in recording the oral stories of older residents of the Heidelberg area. In reading back over the two companion volumes of oral history published earlier by the Greensborough Historical Society, I am of a mind that the more successful chapters of such books are those that, like Eric Barclay, allow the interviewee to tell remembered personal anecdotes as opposed to dry lists of unchecked facts and figures. Oral history is not about the replacement of the established order of historical sources. Go struggle with a University thesis if you want that. Oral History instead is about the perspective, thoughts, opinions and understanding of interviewees in a primary form.
On a personal note, as previously mentioned in this blog, around 1980 my late father sat down with a cassette tape recorder and recounted a life time of memories. As a lad I used to wonder about what he was up to. It seemed to me he had taken up the habit of talking to himself behind closed doors. Only after he was dead could I recognize, as he had probably done earlier, the importance of an oral legacy. A decade later I turned a transcript of those recordings into a book, the larger part of which records his impressions of World War 2 and his life as a POW of the Japanese. To my mind today, it makes an absorbing read, not as a history of that War but as the impressions of how the War affected the life of one man, caught up in a world conflict far beyond his control. My father’s was just one more voice from an otherwise unheard viewpoint falling from the pages of the history of the vast tragedy that engulfed Western Civilization in the first half of the 20th Century.
“Now, about five o’clock the next morning, our commanding officer, Major Keith Lawrence, gathered us around in a group. Not in ranks or anything like that and with words to this effect. He said, “I have a few things to explain to you here.” And he went on to tell us, you know, the position as he knew it. That the war had virtually ceased on the mainland and that we were now all gathered on Singapore Island and we had to make the most of what we had. And then, I suppose I’m only one of the two hundred and fifty or sixty men within our unit. I’m sure the others were just as shocked as I as when he turned around and said, “There is not a mile of barbed wire anywhere in front of us.” In other words he meant, we had no fortifications at all.” (Spr McLachlan learns the truth of the myth of ‘Fortress Singapore’, from “Titch – Telling Tales of T C McLachlan”, Yallambie, 1999).
So if you know an old-timer, sit down with them sometime soon and listen to their stories. It can be a pretty rewarding experience for the listener, but make sure you write down what you are told or even record it on your iPhone if that’s the way you work. There’s a gold mine of undiscovered primary history sources out there just waiting for someone to sit down, to stop, and listen.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.”
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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)
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
“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)
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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”.