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 earned 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 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…”.
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:  Date [either the date printed on the slide or, if there was no date or it was unreadable, I made a guess];  Name[s] of the people shown [where possible];  Place where image was taken;  Event/activity;  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.
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
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 –
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
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
Until the 1880s smoke belched from lime kilns at Limeburners Point near Geelong’s wonderful Botanic Gardens. Overlooking today’s boating harbour there is a sign outlining the history and also a delightful statue of an early lime burner carved from a wooden bollard. Lime burning began on the eastern side of Lime Burners Point. As early as 1838 lime was being sent to Launceston in Tasmania [then Van Diemen’s Land] to make mortar for building walls. Four kilns were operating on the eastern side of Limeburners Point by 1866. Demand for their lime peaked in in 1873 when the quarrying and kilns were run by Blair and Campbell’s Victorian Lime and Cement Company. Soon lime burning moved northwards across Corio Bay to the Duck Ponds area [Hovell’s Creek near the present Geelong Grammar School and Lara] where better quality limestone produced lime that “retained its supportive qualities in wet conditions, whereas the Point lime fell apart.” Today the kilns are buried: the face of one is still visible [see image] as is the top opening of another into which crushed limestone and wood were pushed to combust together. Use of lime mortar ended with the introduction of cement in the late 19th century and the birth of another industry which once flourished in Geelong.
Time I posted to this blog—or my regular visitor will think it has gone the way of all blogs. These strange times present opportunities. I slowed down a little and, while walking the dogs, observed families laughing together as they teach their youngsters to ride bikes in the empty station car park. I finally read the brilliant New Zealand novel “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton: 830 pages set in a gold rush town in the 1860s with wonderfully sustained dialogue, detail and plot of the times. I scanned slides from trips made in forty and more years ago before the age of mass tourism and [as the image with this post illustrates] the amazing development that has taken place in China since a then-adventurous guided one-day excursion there from Hong Kong in December 1980. I continued making Trove Lists and am getting used to the new, improved Trove website. I also wrote up some research based on items I came across in the archives at work and thought worth more investigation. One recollection by a former pupil of the school read as follows: “ At the end of 1937 there was a paralysis epidemic in Victoria, and it was extremely bad in Melbourne and Geelong. Kids were getting paralysis* like flies. [The school] wouldn’t accept any day boys. For the last term of 1937 I didn’t go to school at all. I had to stay home and work and the first term of 1938 I boarded. Everybody had to board because that was when the epidemic was very bad . As a matter of fact, they had us in tents parked all over the [school sports] oval for 13 weeks. Great fun when you’re 13, living in a tent…”. *Note: Infantile Paralysis or Poliomyelitis is an infectious disease which can, in a few cases, cause ongoing paralysis. Today it is prevented by a vaccine developed in the 1950s.
I hope this post finds readers safe in these strange times. My new Trove List is about “Geelong Quarries”. It’s a bit of a grab bag of items around the topic of quarries dug mainly in the Barwon River valley in Geelong in the nineteenth century. I started it because there are a couple of sites in South Geelong which I believe are filled quarry land, including one of the old wool mills, and there is a Gravel Pits Road in South Geelong also. Geelong was fortunate that its diverse geology meant river gravel beds and other deposits were close at hand in its early days to assist in road making and construction. The List consists of:  Two items regarding a Mr. Melville’s quarry in Geelong in 1848 which tell us that access to stone quarries across the Barwon was impossible in winter months placing Mr. Melville’s [I don’t know where it was] in a monopoly position as he was located on the town or northern side;  six items relating to quarries in South Geelong from 1863 to 1891 and focus drownings and industrial accidents at the quarries and resulting inquests including discussion of who should take responsibility for some sad events. Some inquests were held at the Commun na Fienne pub which still serves cool beer [though closed for the pandemic at the time of posting];  the third set of items refer to gravel pits that were established later in the nineteenth century and onwards elsewhere in the valley and to the west of Geelong at Gherang and Wormbete where supplies were better and cheaper. There was cooperation among councils and roads to the quarries were improved.
Geelong Quarries https://trove.nla.gov.au/list?id=133036
Road making on the Torquay Road, 1915.
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