Elizabeth Austin Cottages


Elizabeth Austin Cottages [and Austin Hall], Yarra Street, South Geelong, Victoria, Australia.

My latest Trove List https://trove.nla.gov.au/list/153904 is of some resources for the earlier history of the remarkable Elizabeth Austin Cottages and Austin Hall in South Geelong, Victoria, Australia. The cottages were opened in 1887 and were the generous benefaction of Mrs. Elizabeth Austin of Barwon Park, Winchelsea, who donated initially £2000. Mrs Austin also funded the tower clock [1889] and the organ in the hall [1891]. The Homes were opened on Mrs Austin’s birthday, August 14th. She visited regularly on that date and usually spoke to all the residents. Additional funds for fitting out and for maintenance were raised as part of the Geelong 1887 Jubilee and by subsequent fund raisings. The Cottages were administered by the Geelong and Western District Ladies’ Benevolent Association. The following was in the Argus newspaper of 16 August, 1886:”…Some months since Mrs. Elizabeth Austin, of Barwon Park, Winchelsea, near Geelong, determined upon erecting 12 cottages in the town of Geelong [and also Winchelsea] for the purpose of providing homes for the aged poor of the labouring classes, and also for persons in reduced circumstances belonging to the more educated classes of the community. A site for the almhouses, containing one acre 27 perches, was obtained from the Government… It is situated close to the South Geelong Railway Station, and has frontages to Yarra, Lonsdale, and Mundy streets. It was determined to build the cottages of brick, with stone foundations and corrugated iron roofs, special provision being made for the accommodation of the more educated poor in the shape of four-roomed cottages fronting Yarra-street, the frontages to the other two streets being…” The manager for many years was Miss Ada Goodman [ -1931] and some of the items in this List refer to her life and charitable work. The original hall has been converted into additional homes and additional cottages have been added at the rear of the site but the original Cottages, though improved, appear from the street much as they would have done originally and still fulfil the functions envisaged by Mrs Austin. They stand beside South Geelong station, at which Mrs Austin used to alight for her visits. Mrs Austin, a widow for forty years, lived in a large mansion and had an income from her husband’s estate, but lived frugally and was a regular churchgoer. Her ideas may have been influenced by the situation of one of her servants who had nowhere else to go as she aged. Through her eldest daughter Mrs Elizabeth Embling, the wife of Dr William Embling, she may also have been aware of the fate of other aged poor. There are also other examples of application of the idea of the English ‘almshouse’ in Geelong and Melbourne.

Trove List


Robert Hill & Sons


Robert Hill & Sons, engineers and agricultural machinery manufacturers

This new Trove List is of some resources for the history of Robert Hill & Sons, an engineering business established at 46 Verner Street, South Geelong in 1887 by Robert Wilson Hill [1845-1923]. Hill’s manufactured [and in some cases patented improvements for] items for farmers and contractors including chaff cutters, horseworks, baling presses, circular saw benches, pulpers, root cutters and chain elevators. [Note: A chaff cutter is a mechanical device for cutting straw or hay into small pieces before being mixed together with other forage and fed to horses and cattle. This aids the animal’s digestion and prevents animals from rejecting any part of their food. Chaffcutters are dangerous if operated incorrectly and there are many reports in newspapers of the time of injuries and fatalities while using them in the era Hill’s made them. Quality, design, safety and cost must have been important to the business’s success at making products in demand around Australia for many years. ] Hill’s factory was co-located for many years with Jas. Dyson & Sons who manufactured equipment for the textiles industry from the 1900s to 1980s. Robert W. Hill had worked for other local engineering businesses including Humble & Nicholson before going out on his own in Yarra Street, South Geelong in 1883 to repair: “steam engines, threshing machines, reapers and mowers, pumps, windmills, and reapers and binders by all makers.” Robert W. Hill died at his home at 24 Lonsdale Street, South Geelong, in 1923, survived by his wife Eliza [nee Sinclair] , his son Leo W. Hill [who took over the business after being an instructor in engineering at The Gordon Institute of Technology in Geelong], and by Mrs. A J. Matthew of Camberwell, Sister Lucie, Gordon J. Hill of Traralgon, and Mrs. H. L. White of Sydney. Another son, Ray R. Hill, died of influenza in 1919 aged 37.

Dyson’s of South Geelong

Dyson’s of South Geelong [Jas. Dyson & Co.], Textile machine manufacturers


This new Trove List is of online items which I have found on the Dyson textile machinery manufacturing business which operated in Verner Street, South Geelong, Victoria, from the 1910s to the 1980s. The firm manufactured a wide range of the equipment for the textiles industry in Australia and New Zealand including “improved wool drying and carbonizing machines, wool scouring machines, warping mill, scouring and milling machine, piece working machines, dyeing machines”. [Note: wool scouring is the process of preparing and washing a batch of raw sheep’s wool to remove impurities such as grease, dirt and suint (or natural wool grease) ]. The company’s founder was Mr. James Dyson [senior] [circa 1863-1939] who came to Geelong from Britain circa 1886 and was employed at the Excelsior Mill, Geelong as a wheel or millwright before setting up in business initially as a wheelwright in Verner Street in about 1900. The business was adjacent to Robert Hill’s engineering workshop [which still exists as Mr. Courtney Field’s workshop] and opposite South Geelong station and sidings. Dyson’s grew as the number of woollen mills of Geelong grew alongside the nearby Barwon River [some called Geelong the ‘Bradford of the South’], equipping, modifying and maintaining equipment and making patented improvements. The business earned a reputation for high quality work and reliability. In the 1920s there were 70 employees.James Dyson sen. and his wife Elizabeth had five sons and three daughters. One son, Eli, a fitter and turner, was with the Australian Light Railway Company in World War One and, after serving, spent time in Huddersfield to learn about the English textile industry in 1919. The business was continued by the Dyson sons. The firm won tenders to make machinery for the CSIRO as late as the 1970s but, following the decline of the industry following removal of tariff protection from the 1970s and 1980s, the business was closed. The former site opposite South Geelong station is now residential housing [36-44 Verner Street] built circa 2010.

Cold & History

Cold & History

Our local library at Belmont in Geelong  reopened after our long lockdown and on my first delighted visits back, I came across two unexpected gems. The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright [Text Publishing, 2014] weaves contemporary newspaper items and journals about life and events in the mid-nineteenth century Victorian goldfields around Ballarat into a lively history of a flourishing female culture. The famous Eureka Stockade ‘rebellion’ of 1854 and associated events have usually been portrayed as a male experience —as if women were absent. Clare Wright uses notices for dances and balls with childcare provided, of women setting up a business in baby clothes and even advertisements for breast pumps, combined with extensive use of private journals and letters to weave a history of the lives of ordinary folk who often get written out of the official records and histories. I enjoyed the lively storytelling without sacrifice of scholarly accuracy, detail, or complexity of ideas. My second gem was Daisy Hay’s Mr and Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance [Chatto and Windus, London, 2015.]. Daisy Hay is an English historian working at the University of Exeter. Her book examines the marriage of the mid nineteenth-century British Conservative politician and sometime Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and his wife Mary Anne [the images of them above are from Wikipedia]. Mary Anne was a wealthy widow who supported her second husband through thick and thin, earning his unstinting gratitude and great regard. There are many books about Disraeli and his achievements in the male domains of literature, parliament, politics, and public affairs. His marriage and the role of Mary Anne had not previously been documented at length. Hay’s main source of information was, in fact, the archive principally gathered and arranged by Mary Anne herself, who Hay describes as: “… a skilled and dedicated collector of documents, and the results of her impulse to collect and curate are visible today at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where the Disraelis’ papers are held. These papers constitute an archive of unparalleled richness, numbering some 50,000 separate items. The political sections of the archives have been extensively studied by scholars of Disraeli but the 10, 000 items related specifically to Mary Anne have historically received little attention. Yet the archive in its entirety represents Mary Anne’s greatest creative achievement. That we can recover so much of her and Disraeli’s biographies is due to her efforts to catalogue the various chapters of their lives” [pp. x-xi]. Daisy Hay took several years to write the book and she adds: “…These years have been among the most stimulating of my professional life. They have also been the coldest courtesy of the relocation of the Bodleian’s manuscript holdings to a temporary reading room in a minimally heated and under insulated 1950s basement. This relocation means that at the time of writing you have to be a hardy creature to work on a Bodleian manuscript in winter, or to be among the heroic Special Collection s Reading Room staff. The cold [there] has opened up the Disraeli’s’ history to me in unexpected ways. Their letters are full of references to being cold; to the way it confines the body and chills the mind…”.

Scanning Colour Slides

Scanning Colour Slides

Happy New Year and all the best for 2021! Thank you to our 660 plus visitors in 2020. You came from ten countries, [mind you] 99% of you were from Australia, UK and USA!

An archiving task which saved my sanity in this strange year was learning to scan, title and arrange [so far, part of] my colour slide collection. I had a trunkful in the shed: some were neatly labelled in slide boxes [mostly from my days as a teacher], others were unlabelled and still in those yellow plastic mailing boxes. The challenge I set myself was to transfer and interpret the information [the images] to sustainable and accessible media for permanent retention and to enable future generations to learn how my generation lived.

A bit on definitions from Wikipedia first: “Reversal film is a type of photographic film that produces a positive image on a  transparent base. The film is processed to produce transparencies or diapositives …instead of negatives and prints…A slide is a specially mounted individual transparency intended for projection onto a screen using a slide projector. This allows the photograph to be viewed by a large audience at once. The most common form is the 35 mm slide, with the image framed in a 2×2inch cardboard or plastic mount.”. Colour slides were widely taken from the 1950s to the 2000s, but to show them you also had to own or have access to a slide projector, so I think it was a technology mostly adopted by middle class households or teachers like me.

I decided to start with a set of about 200 slides on one topic. I bought a Qpix 4-in-1 Film and Photo Scanner [see featured image] which I used to save scanned images direct to my computer via a USB. The instruction book was a challenge, but in a couple of hours I got going and found the technical quality of images generally OK. I aimed for uniform titling of the .jpg images along these lines: [1] Date [either the date printed on the slide or, if there was no date or it was unreadable, I made a guess]; [2] Name[s] of the people shown [where possible]; [3] Place where image was taken; [4] Event/activity; [5] Important other information. I could then start thinking like an archivist, sorting [arranging] images into sub-topics or sequences rather than simply the order in which they were taken.

Geelong and the Spanish Influenza, 1918-19

Geelong and the Spanish Influenza, 1918-19

I have just made a 21-item Trove List on “Spanish Influenza” and its arrival in Geelong late in 1918 amid debate about local preparations and the capacity of the Geelong Hospital to cope. Local case numbers receded late in 1919. I was intrigued by this passage from page 3 of the Geelong Advertiser newspaper of Monday, 3 March 1919. “…There is only one way of providing a proper continental control of strange diseases, and that is by an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States. Commonwealth Ministers hope that the experience of the last month will have given everybody wisdom, and it is likely that very soon proposals will be made to the States to meet again in conference and to settle the questions now at issue between the Commonwealth and the States, and between the States themselves. “It is absurd,” says Mr. Watt, ‘to allow the trade and commerce of Australia to be thrown out of gear by every outbreak of strange diseases, more especially should the diseases be really dangerous. It will skip over border lines so easily…’ History seems to show it pays to keep these matters under very careful review and to keep relevant plans absolutely up-to-date.

The Trove List


W. A. Watt was the Federal Treasurer [the national Minister of Finance] of the time:-



Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), Monday 21 April 1919, page 3

Days of Creation

Days of Creation

During our second ‘COVID lockdown’ here in Victoria, I found I had time and focus to take on another exceptionally long book, one recommended by a good friend years ago. Horace Judson Freeland’s The Eighth Day of Creation – the makers of the revolution in biology is a dense 678 pages written in 1979 and deals with scientific concepts and experiments, the history of physics and biology , and the professional doings and complex personal and professional interactions of scientists mainly from the 1930s to the 1970s. Things were discovered that we take for granted today in science and in popular culture and underpin so much of the technical progress in biology we see around us. This passage from Freeland’s obituary describes this remarkable book well: “…it remains the definitive account of the origins of molecular biology and is, in the opinion of many scientists and writers, the greatest popular science book ever written. It described the discoveries by James Watson and Francis Crick of the double helix of DNA [the illustrative image above is from http://www.genome.gov] and by Matthew Meselson and Franklin Stahl of the mechanisms by which DNA is copied, and recounted the contributions by dozens more researchers to our understanding of the language of genes”, continuing: “…Based on hundreds of hours of interviews with scores of subjects conducted over more than a decade, it established a new kind of science writing: technically painstaking, but possessed of a historian’s feel for intrigue and conflict and the ambitions and styles of individual scientists.” To a non-scientist like me, Freeland’s account of the subsequent discovery of the haemoglobin molecule was particularly demanding to read but also remarkably riveting. As an occasional archivist, I was also intrigued that two archival sources Freeland relied on had almost been lost. Freeland found that Francis Crick’s somewhat chaotic correspondence from the 1950s had been disposed of inadvertently, but also that a colleague in South Africa had saved and filed Cricks’ jottings, notes of phone calls, and chatty flimsy air mail letters often dashed off by Crick at the ‘coal face’ of scientific conferences and after intense and creative conversations with colleagues in Britain, France and the USA. Freeland could then forensically reconstruct, with reference to other sources like scientific papers, the sequence and ferment of ideas, timings and speculations in which Crick was widely seen as a primary player. Thankfully, the laboratory notebooks of Dr Rosalind Franklin, who made important X-ray images from which the double helix model was inferred, had also been saved by a university colleague in London after she died making it possible for Freeland to present precise evidence of her role in scientific understanding of the DNA molecule.

Freeland’s obituary in The Guardian –


1919 and Now

1919 and Now

As I write, we are wearing masks in public and following other rules put in place by our State Government aimed at reducing the spread of coronavirus. Our Premier, Daniel Andrews of the Australian Labor Party, is grilled daily by journalists in a tour de force of accountability by television and traditional and social media. A hundred and one years ago [as the article in the image above shows] borders were closed, people were left stranded and there was blame to share thanks to another global pandemic and Dr Peter Hobbins’ short article illustrates the impact of the ‘Spanish Influenza’ on health workers and hapless victims. Victoria’s Premier then was H. S. W. Lawson, a pragmatic lawyer from Castlemaine and from the Nationalist Party [roughly the equivalent of today’s Liberal Party]. Before radio, television and the internet, Lawson used newspapers and the mail to influence opinion. He governed with various coalitions from March 1918 to April 1924 and was later a Senator and sometime minister in the Australian Parliament from 1928-1934. Interestingly, his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, does not mention the 1919 influenza epidemic—when 15, 000 Australians died, mostly young men and women, deaths which effectively extended the Great War and its impacts into a fifth year. Lawson’s management of the Police Strike of 1923 without widespread unrest is referred to. So too is his setting up of the State Electricity Commission under John Monash which went on to see the building of the brown coal-fired power station at Yallourn and, over time, the supply of electricity to all parts of the State greatly improving the quality of life in country Victoria. How will history place our current pandemic?

Article [see image]

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Wednesday 12 February 1919, page 10

A good summary article marking the Centenary of the Spanish Flu Outbreak in Australia


H. S. W. Lawson’s entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography


Fyansford Paper Mill

Fyansford Paper Mill

These strange times are a chance to visit heritage places close to home. This week I walked along the track and was amazed to behold a striking building atop the bluestone cliff on one side of the narrow gorge through which the Barwon River flows towards its junction with the Moorabool River. The Fyansford Paper Mill is now a creative hub for artists and open to visitors. There are several helpful websites which tell its story:-

Fyansford Paper Mill Creative Hub video – 17 minutes and well worth the time!

Barwon Paper Mill – Alexander Romanov-Hughes’s website – full of information about the paper-making history of Fyansford – and beyond

Barwon Paper Mill Complex – Heritage Significance

The wonderful Barwon Blogger’s takes on the site, including Button Hill

Another interesting blog about the site