Wil-im-ee Moor-ring Indigenous Stone Quarry

The Wil-im-ee Moor-ring Indigenous Stone Quarry (also known as Mount William) is just out of Lancefield in Victoria. It’s an area of green stone that was quarried by Indigenous Australians for more than a 1000 years. The name means place of the axe.

I was lucky enough to go on a tour of Wil-im-ee Moor-ring as part of the Australian Heritage Festival this year. It is land administered by the Wurundjeri Tribe Council. Last year I visited the Wurundjeri Earth Rings just out of Sunbury and wrote about them on this blog. You can see the post here:

https://historicalragbag.com/2018/05/21/wurundjeri-rings/

I want to reiterate what I said in that post about the Indigenous history of Australia and my place in writing about it. Firstly Indigenous history is something that all Australians should know more about, it’s arguably the oldest continuous culture in the world and over the years it has been (often deliberately) relegated to a footnote. This is slowly changing and I’m certainly trying to learn more and to share what I find. It’s also just fascinating.

I’d like to pause here to say that I am aware that as a non Indigenous person writing Indigenous history can be problematic. This post is intended to encapsulate the possible history of the site as was explained by a Wurundjeri Elder on the tour and laid out in the National Trust Heritage List report, and I claim no more than that. Wil-im-ee Moor-ring is just so interesting and important that I want to make sure people know about it and to help ensure that Indigenous history is a part of the history of Victoria, if only in my small way.

So to begin. I wanted to start with an analogy, it’s the best description I’ve heard of what’s known of Indigenous history in Victoria. Bill Nicholson, the Elder who took the group I was part of the round Wil-im-ee Moor-ring, described it as a 100 page book, with maybe 30 pages left that are in the wrong order. When Victoria was colonised not only were a lot of Indigenous people killed, through disease like small pox but also through massacres, but culture and language was often banned and they were rounded up, removed from Country and installed in missions. At Coranderk (one of the main missions just out of Melbourne) Woiwurrung, the language group that the Wurundjeri are part of, was banned in 1863. Knowledge was simply lost. Breaking up a culture that is rooted in oral history, is tantamount to burning libraries and archives in Western culture. Efforts are being made to reclaim Indigenous history and new information is being found in archives all the time, but by the time a lot of it was being written down, usually by the colonisers like William Thomas who was an Assistant Protector of Aborigines, what they were seeing was only the tip of the iceberg of what had existed. This is why sites like Wil-im-ee Moor-ing are so essential. Apart from being spiritually important, they are physical manifestation of Indigenous culture and history. There’s a lot more around than most Victorians know about too, and again I include myself in this. There’s scar trees, possible smoking trees, burials, other quarries and more.

Possible smoking tree. Would have been used for smoking meat to preserve it.

There’s been stone formations found in the Western District that are as old or older than Stone Henge and have possible astronomical alignments. Budj Bim, also in the Western District, with its sophisticated eel and fish trap systems and remains of housing is under consideration for World Heritage Status. Petroglyphs are being un-earthed all over Victoria and then you’ve got the earth rings like the ones near Sunbury. Wil-im-ee Moor-ring is part of a large system of sophisticated land management, language, law, ceremony, trade routes, Country and family that stretched across Victoria and Australia.

To return to Wil-im-ee Moor-ring itself. It’s roughly forty acres (though the original quarry would have covered more land), and has been fenced off since the 80s. It’s been a tourist attraction of sorts since the 1800s, visited on day trips along with the near by Hanging Rock. So it has been thoroughly picked over and much of the land was cleared. That being said, since the 1800s it has been acknowledged as a site of an Indigenous quarry pre dating European colonisation, which is very unusual in Australia (it’s much earlier than any Indigenous activity pre colonisation was usually acknowledged). The first European reference to Wil-im-ee Moor-ring comes from William Buckley, who was an escaped convict living in the bush from 1803 to 1833, he describes a hard black stone from a place called Kar-keen which was shaped into stone heads. William Barak, a prominent Wurundjeri Elder in the mid 1800s, witnessed the final operation of Wil-im-ee Moor-ring as a quarry and described it to an anthropologist called Howitt as one of the places that “a group of people claimed for some special reason, and in which the whole tribe had an interest.” This clear recorded history of Indigenous custodial rights and processes is very unusual.

To return to Wil-im-ee Moor-ring physically. The rock in is class five diorite. Simply put, it’s very hard.

Above you can see one of the rocks from which the stone was split. It was done by heating the rock up with fire and then pouring water on it to cause the cracking. The axe heads themselves were shaped on a flaking floor, one of which you can see below. You can also see what might be broken rejects.

Wattle branches were probably split to make a loop for the handles of the axes and Xanthorrhoea sap was boiled to make glue to hold it all together and it was bound with kangaroo sinew. These weren’t axes that were used for fighting, they were used whilst hunting and for things like stripping bark off trees. These specific axes have been found as far as South Australia and Southern Queensland. They were immensely valued, not only for their utility but probably for the spiritual significance of Wil-im-ee Moor-ring itself. Part of the Indigenous belief system of the area is that the ancestral spirits formed themselves into the landscape, and Wil-im-ee Moor-ring is one of these landscape features. There is also records of axes being physically traded in the 1830s when William Bradley observed one polished axe head being traded for two possum skin cloaks, and a rough head for a large number of spears. To understand the value of possum cloaks you only have to think about how small a possum is, and how many you would need and how long it would take to construct one full cloak, let alone two. The axe heads were valued.

While there is more known about Wil-im-ee Moor-ring that a lot of other Indigenous sites there is still a lot to learn and hopefully be discovered and reconstructed where it can be. It’s a beautiful place, part of a broader landscape, that more people should know more about.

References:

Site visit and tour 2019, information provided by Wurundjeri Tribe Council https://www.wurundjeri.com.au/

National Trust Heritage List Report of Mount William.

The photos are all mine.

Otway Redwoods

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In the middle of a pine plantation and native Australian forest, in the Otways, in Victoria is a truly remarkable stand of Sequoia sempervirens, known as Coast Redwoods (they’re native to California). The only access is a very muddy road that is little more than a logging track and when you are driving along it, chasing the last of the sun it can seem interminable. The trees, however, are worth it. They are truly majestic and there is a sense of calmness that permeates through to the ground.

The Otways are extensive dense Australian native forestIMG_0153IMG_0198IMG_0243IMG_0252The European settlers deforested much of it, using the fertile soil for farmland. The land however was difficult to access and the forests kept coming back, so much was eventually abandoned. There was also gold mining in the area and when these mines were closed the land was left scarred.

In the late 1800s it was decided that re-forestation for harvesting was the best option. A small patch of the Aire Valley was one of the areas chosen to test a variety of trees to determine which would grow best in the area.

The Forest Act of 1907 mandated a program to try a whole variety of trees, as timber was needed quickly for construction. The majority of the experiments across the state were in pine and native forest, but the small area of the Aire Valley was chosen to trial Coast Redwood. They were known to be a very slow growing, so it was only a small test area, but it stands today as a testament to the epic nature of the redwoods.

 

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These are very big trees.

These trees were planted in 1936 and in 2004, the last time they were officially assesed, the dominant tree height was 59.8 metres with an average diameter of 106.6 cm.

They continue to grow.

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IMG_2600These trees stand amongst the mighty native mountain ash, definitely rivalling them in height.

IMG_2627The redwoods have become part of the local landscape

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While some of the redwoods have been harvested, they never became viable commercial timber on a large scale. The pines just proved to be too fast growing and effective. This isn’t the only stand of experimental redwood in Victoria, but the others don’t survive in any quantity.

Both the Redwood and the next door mountain ash are contenders in the race for the tallest trees in the world. By 2084 it is thought that some of the redwoods will reach 115.5 m and there is currently no plans to harvest them. So barring bushfire or other natural disaster, they will probably have the chance to make this record breaking height.

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This is by no means the whole story of the redwoods, to find that get a copy of the excellent book The Redwoods of the Otway Ranges by Roger Smith. (It is available for loan from the PMI Victorian History Library, or you can buy it from the author). This post is intended as a snapshot, an introduction to a remarkable stand of trees.

References:

Site visit 2018

The Redwoods of the Otway Ranges by Roger Smith

Music in the short video is from Doctor Turtle

The photos are all mine.

On a side note there will be no posts from me in September. I’m away. But expect lots about the history of Scandinavia in the following months.

 

Wurundjeri Earth Rings

The history of Indigenous Australians is a vitally important part of the history of Victoria and Australia. It is something that nowhere near enough Australians, and I include myself in this, know enough about. It is a truly ancient history dating back roughly 70 000 years, making Indigenous Australians pretty much the oldest continuing culture in the world. There are Indigenous sites across Australia, many of which are thousands of years old, and if these were in Europe they’d be celebrated and visited by millions, even in places where there isn’t a lot to actually see. In Australia, however, they can be very hard to find. I’ve lived in and around Melbourne my whole life and I work in the heritage field, but I’d never even heard of the earth rings just out of Sunbury until they were part of a National Trust Heritage Festival tour this year. I jumped at the chance to visit and find out more.

I’d like to pause here to say that I am aware that as a non Indigenous person writing Indigenous history can be problematic. This post is intended to encapsulate the possible history of the site as was explained by a Wurundjeri Elder on the tour, and I claim no more than that. The rings are just so fascinating that I want to make sure people know about them and to help ensure that Indigenous history is a part of the history of Victoria.

I’d also like to say that the rings don’t show up amazingly well in photos, but I’m hoping the pictures will at least give you an idea of what I’m talking about. You can certainly see them when you’re on the site.

The rings are earthwork formations and can be found just out of Sunbury, which is an hour or so outside of Melbourne. The landscape has been farmed since 1842, but is slowly being reclaimed, and is surrounded by the curve of Jackson’s Creek. The land is being looked after by the Wurundjeri Tribe Council, using a mix of traditional and modern methods. You can see some general photos of the land and wildlife below.

IMG_0763IMG_0762IMG_0768IMG_0767The current site is 13 hectares, but it might be expanding as negotiations are currently in train to give the land council more land as part of another development.

Some of the land was owned by Salesian College, which you can see in the distance below.

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The Wurundjeri Tribe Council has begun revegetating the land, planting roughly 3000 trees and other plants. They have also cleared an extraordinary amount of weeds, including a lot of box thorn. They are using burning to help rejuvenate the land to bring back the native grasses and plants. Currently pasture grasses dominate the site, as you can see above. The smoke helps to stimulate seeds beneath the ground and regular small burns make it easier for native bushes and grasses to come back as the pasture grasses don’t regrow as easily if they are burnt regularly. You can see what I believe is an everlasting daisy which has come up below.

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While there would have been some trees originally, like the ones below, this area would have been a significant grassland.

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The Wurundjeri Tribe Council land managers have also been trying to build up the quality of the soil by raking together the leaves etc and letting them catch silt after rain before planting.

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So, that is the overall site, but what about the rings themselves. Development actually plays a key part in the history of the rings. No one knew the rings were there until a development went up on the edge of the reserve in the 1970s and they were re-discovered.

They are definitely man made and probably date to at least a thousand years, but in the invasion of western settlers in the 1800s the local Indigenous population was so decimated that the oral history of the rings was lost. They were dug out by hand with digging sticks, with nothing brought in from outside

On the site that I visited there are three rings, though there are others in the area. Unfortunately no one knows exactly what the rings were used for, only one has been archaeologically investigated. The Wurundjeri don’t want these sacred sites dug up, even for archaeology. Rings in NSW are thought to have been burial places, but there is no evidence of this for the Sunbury rings.

The first of the rings is in the worst condition. It has been too open to the public interference, especially from motorbikes. There is also a bad rabbit problem and a recent lack of rain has caused problems as well (this extends to the whole site)

The first ring was the one that was rediscovered in the 1970s with the nearby development. Once this one was re-found it was realised what the other two just over the hill were as well. You can see the ring in the photo below.

 

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IMG_0754It has been fenced off now, but even this doesn’t always work as you can see from the drain in the photo below.

IMG_0758The ring was dug out from the middle and the earth was piled up around.

The second and third rings are in better condition and it was the second one that was excavated in the 1970s. When the ring was excavated it had a pile of stones in the middle, it was thought that there might be burials underneath. There wasn’t, and it is thought that the stones were removed when the ring was dug (there is a lot of rock in the local soil) and piled in the middle. You can see the remains of the stones in the photos below.IMG_0773

IMG_0775The third ring is a little father up the hill and is actually a double ring. There is a larger ring with a smaller ring inside it.

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While it is not, currently, possible to know exactly what the rings were used for it is hoped that it will be in the future. New information is being discovered in diaries and old documentation all the time as for the first time researchers (especially Indigenous ones) really begin to look. The current theory is that the rings might have been used for marriage. You can’t see the first ring from the second and visa-versa and the idea is that the men would have got prepared in one and the women in the other and they would have joined each other in the double ring and actually married there. There is a flat section on the double ring where someone could have officiated from.

IMG_0782While at the moment this is only a theory, it is one that seems to make sense. Hopefully more answers will be discovered.

I am not in the least superstitious, but the rings do have a certain atmosphere. The atmosphere is of a place that has been used for a purpose for a very very long time, a land that has been shaped by human hands for time out of mind. It reminded me a little of the Hill of Tara in Ireland, a site that dates back thousands of years (which is perfectly possible for the rings).  This site and others like it should be part of the education of every Victorian child the way Eureka and the gold rush is. Places like the Wurundjeri rings and Indigenous history  in general needs to become an integral part of the overt history of Victoria rather than the background or subvert history. Indigenous history needs to become part of the historical consciousness of Australia, as important (if not more important) than the First Fleet and the ANZAC legends. It should be celebrated that we have this incredible history stretching back for thousands and thousands of years, and if doing this means coming to terms with and acknowledging how close European invasion came to destroying it all (much of the time quite intentionally) then so much the better.

 

References: Site visit 2018.

https://www.wurundjeri.com.au/services/natural-resource-management/

The photos are all mine.

Hanging Rock

Directly ahead, the grey volcanic mass rose up slabbed and pinnacled like a fortress from the empty yellow plain. The three girls on the box seat could see the vertical lines of the rocky walls, now and then gashed with an indigo shade, patches of grey green dogwood, outcrops of boulders even at this distance immense and formidable. At the summit, apparently bare of living vegetation, a jagged line of rock cut across the serene blue of the sky.

Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay pg 14.

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The story and the history of Hanging Rock will always be inextricably linked both with Joan Lindsay’s 1967 book Picnic at Hanging Rock and with Peter Weir’s 1975 film adaptation.

Hanging Rock is an extinct volcano just out of Woodend Victoria that last erupted about seven million years ago. It stands 711 metres above sea level and rises 100 metres above its surrounding plain. It is largely composed of volcanic mamelon. In this particular type of mamelon there was a very high soda content so when it got rained on it was eaten away into the distinctive shapes you see today.

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I have been there twice and until very recently, in fact so I could write this post, I had neither seen the film nor read the book. Even if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock has seeped into Australian culture. The first time I went to Hanging Rock was nearly 11 years ago with my school. We were on a creative retreat and we had a day out to explore the rock. Naturally being a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds we spent most of the time climbing over as much of the rock as we could and running around shouting “Miranda, Miranda” thinking we were very clever.  If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, or aren’t Australian, the reference will become clear a little later.

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I went back a couple of weeks ago because I wanted to have another look. It is a place of great beauty and great history. I’ve never found it as haunting or mysterious as many do, but it is easy to become disoriented and lost up amongst the rocks which all look eerily similar once you lose your sense of direction.

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Ironically enough, on this visit I actually ended up leading two groups of people back down the rock because they couldn’t find the path. I can’t claim especial prescience, I just happened to have been watching where I had come from because I knew it could be tricky, but it still felt kind of appropriate.

The sense of mystery that hangs around  is largely because of the book and the movie. The story of the rock itself will always be linked with them, so I’m going to start there.

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay is at its most basic level a gothic novella, the story of a group of school girls who go on a picnic at Hanging Rock on Valentine’s Day in 1900 and three of them and one teacher don’t come back. It is however more than that. It is the story of the Australian landscape and the attempt to superimpose an European ideal onto it. It is a haunting mystery, it’s a story of friendship and obsession and it is one of the most evocative books I’ve ever read. I know it might sound odd to say that a book which is considered a classic is really very good, but too often for me I find that I read ‘classics’ and appreciate them for their craft but can’t come to lose myself in them. This was the complete opposite with Picnic at Hanging Rock. It helped that by accident I was reading a 1967 original edition. It not only has the most fabulous late 60s cover.

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But also the start of each chapter has a beautifully decorated letter, and each one is different.

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It is an involving, extraordinarily visually descriptive and haunting story that hangs around long after you’ve finished reading. And for the Miranda reference? Miranda is one of the missing school girls, the most perfect, the idolised one. There are a number of scenes in both the book and film where searchers are clambering over the rocks shouting “Miranda Miranda”.

This history of the book itself is an interesting one. Joan Lindsay wrote it over two weeks at her house in Mulberry Hill in Baxter Victoria and some of it came to her in a dream. There are large portions of the book that are based on Joan’s life, she went to a school quite similar to the one depicted in the novel and she also spent a lot of time around and at Hanging Rock in the early 1900s. She and her family were in fact staying in the area in 1900, when the book is set. Joan recreated the long hot late Victorian early Edwardian summers in Picnic at Hanging Rock.  She also refused for all her life to say whether the book was based on a true story or not. In fact she recorded in the forward :

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact of fiction, my readers must decide for themselves. As the fateful picnic took place in the year nineteen hundred, and all the characters who appear in this book are long since dead, it hardly seems important. 

This blurring between fiction and reality is one of the most enduring aspects of the story and the lack of conclusion to the mystery, you never find out what happened to the girls, keeps drawing you back in. It has definitely defined the mystique of Hanging Rock itself. However there was a final chapter to the book, which Joan requested to be published posthumously, in which the girls disappearance is a supernatural event. Personally I prefer the conclusion of the original novel where nothing is really known and the reality is very blurred.

Joan Lindsay died on the 23rd of December 1984, but her work continues to live on and has settled as a mantle over the very stone of Hanging Rock.

Peter Weir’s film is a core part of the construction of the legend. While the book was known and appreciated before the film, it was the film which pushed it into a mainstay of Australian cultural history.

You can see the trailer below.

Weir’s film made the name of several well known Australian actors and in its depiction of the Australian bush and its eerie setting and soundtrack was ground breaking for the time. The most memorable part of the soundtrack was probably the pan pines. The dreamlike atmosphere of the film was created by placing bridal veils over the lens of the camera. The cast of school girls was largely amateur, which is one of the reasons there is so little dialogue. It was shot in six weeks, partly on site at Hanging Rock, but most of the scenes that were not actually on the rock were shot in South Australia. Joan Lindsay was involved in the filming and her house in Mulberry Hill in Baxter and her background as a painter was a strong influence on the film’s remarkable aesthetic. Once the film was released the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock became cemented in Australian culture (with Joan Lindsay besieged with letters and visitors and the media wanting to know what was true) and the narrative of Hanging Rock itself.

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The history of the rock itself is in many ways as interesting as the story of the novel and the film.

Hanging Rock has been an important site to the local Indigenous Australians for thousands of years. The Edibolidgitoorong, a sub-clan of the Wurundjeri, used it as a vantage point, for monitoring the weather, maintaining security of the area and probably for mediations and possibly initiations. The Wurundjeri people still have strong ties to the area and the rock. When settlers began to arrive in the area diseases like smallpox and the deliberate clearing of land for grazing and mining impacted the Wurundjeri very seriously. In 1863 everyone who was left in the area were rounded up and sent to the Coranderrk Aboriginal Mission, mainly as a result of conflict with local colonists. As with all of Australia, the land was very much inhabited before the arrival of the European settlers and colonists and as with much of Australia the indigenous people suffered greatly due to their arrival.

When the settlers did arrive the name “Hanging Rock” was not used originally. Hanging Rock is technically a nickname that begun to be used in roughly the 1850s and it comes from one rock that ‘hangs’ over the path to ascend to the top.

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It is officially called Mount Diogenes in line with the ancient greek theme of the surrounding area such as Mount Macedon, and Alexander’s Crown (which later came to be known as Camel’s Hump). These other names were largely bestowed by surveyor Major Thomas Mitchell, who is responsible for naming large portions of Victoria. I have written about him and his influence on Victoria’s Western District before and you can find the post here. 

The name Mount Diogenes first appears, however, on Robert Hoddle’s map of 1844. Hoddle is best known for laying out Melbourne’s grid and it is quite possible that he chose Diogenes to fit in with Major Mitchell’s slightly earlier naming scheme. Some people argue that Mitchell in fact named the rock, though it was out of his way on his journey south. Hanging Rock had one other name as well, Dryden’s Rock after Edward Dryden who leased the run that the rock sat on in 1837, he was one of the area’s first settlers. Whatever the past naming issues Hanging Rock had, “Hanging Rock” had become the common usage name by the mid to late 1800s.

There has been a settlement near the rock since the second half of the 19th century, at least partly fuelled by the railway coming to Woodend in 1861. The first settlers were pastoralists and squatters who leased and then later bought the land. No one ever lived actually on the rock but there were settlements surrounding it, boasting a hotel, church, recreations reserve and racetrack.

The racetrack has been in operation since 1880, when the inaugural Hanging Rock Cup took place. You can see it today in the photos below.

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Racing wasn’t the only social draw of the rock. Deciding to have a picnic on the rock was  a common occurrence. There was a picnic ground beneath the rock and picnicking on the rock itself in the 1800s was a common social activity for the time. In Picnic At Hanging Rock Miranda mentions a painting of “people in old fashioned dresses having a picnic at the rock”. The picture she is referring to is At The Hanging Rock by William Ford and it was painted in 1875. You can see it below

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From the National Gallery of Victoria:

https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/5568/

The is also plenty of evidence of people climbing the rock in the 1800s, including the graffiti you can see in the photo below.

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Despite its celebrity status through books and film today Hanging Rock remains surprisingly unspoilt. It still sits in its patch of pristine bush.IMG_0691And it continues to hold a fascination that goes beyond the book and the film. It is a truly majestic place.

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And has some of the most amazing views of the surrounding area.

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The walk to the top is absolutely worth it.

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References:

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay 1967

Beyond the Rock: The life of Joan Lindsay and the mystery of Picnic at Hanging Rock by Janelle McCulloch

The Hanging Rock by Marion Hutton

Site visits 2007 and 2018

The photos are all mine.

 

Rural Buildings: St Thomas’, Bunyip Victoria

Bunyip is a small town in Victoria about 84km from Melbourne. The name comes from a creature of aboriginal myth. A bunyip like creature was said to live beneath the waters of the swampland below Bunyip and prey on humans who ventured into the water after nightfall.  The area that Bunyip now stands on is the land of the Bunurong people of the Kulin nation and it was very much inhabited when Europeans settled there and claimed it.

When the Europeans arrived they changed the surrounding land, including draining the swamp. While the area was surveyed and the name first used in the 1850s it wasn’t until the 1860s that the present iteration of the town was surveyed and established. The railway arrived in 1877, it remains today.

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View down the hill at Bunyip.

This is the first of an ongoing series of posts I’m going to do on rural buildings, churches, halls etc in Australia.

The foundation of St Thomas’ Church was laid in 1902

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St Thomas’ is a Church of England church and an excellent example of a turn of the century Arts and Crafts church. It’s built of weatherboard and was designed by Frederick Klingender and has remained in near original condition.

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The total cost of the building was over 377 pounds and when it was opened by Rev Bishop Pain on the 29th of December 1902 approximately 400 people attended the service and 14 baptisms were registered.

Alterations to the church were needed in 1919 because of white ant damage and an entrance gate to the church ground was erected in 1943. The lych gate you can see in the photos below was erected much more recently and is modelled on the original church porch. IMG_9078IMG_9077

The Sunday School building was erected in 1906 to meet the increasing demand of pupils attending. IMG_9099

The interior of the church continues the Arts and Crafts style, and is augmented by a number of lovely stain glass windows.

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IMG_9089The stain glass window dedicated to St Thomas also carried a dedication for the A’Beckett family on its base

IMG_9087The A’Becketts were a prominent district family and the font is also dedicated to one of their number.

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St Thomas’ is a beautifully preserved example of a rural Victorian church and is still an important part of life in Bunyip.

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References:

Site visit 2016

http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/30126/download-report

http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/78302/20081023-0000/www.cardinia.vic.gov.au/Files/Cardiniaaboriginalstudy.pdf

http://www.victorianplaces.com.au/bunyip

St Thomas’ Church information brochure.

A Tale of Two Lighthouses

I’ve always liked lighthouses, I like their solidness, their proximity to the coast and their utility whilst still being beautiful. Growing up on the coast there were two that were constant fixtures in my life, Cape Schanck Lighthouse and Griffiths Island Lighthouse in Port Fairy.

You can see both below

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Cape Schanck

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Port Fairy

Cape Schanck is part of the Mornington Peninsula just south of Melbourne in Victoria. Port Fairy lighthouse is on Griffiths Island at the head of the entrance to the Moyne River in Port Fairy, which is in western Victoria. I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula and have been visiting Port Fairy my whole life. So I couldn’t fail to notice the similarities between the two lighthouses.

There are clear visual similarities between the two structures and they were actually built at almost the same time as well. Cape Schanck was constructed between 1857 and 1859, along with the other buildings of its lightstation, by the Victorian Public Works Department. Port Fairy was built by the Victorian Public Works Department in 1859, it was originally painted red. Cape Schanck stands at 21 m and Port Fairy at 11m. Cape Schanck was built of limestone and Port Fairy of bluestone with a basalt base.

Both lighthouses are now automated, but their original lamps, which would have run on oil, were both constructed by the Birmingham company Chance Bros. The original clockwork mechanism survives at Cape Schanck. Cape Schanck’s beam reaches nearly 30 miles into Bass Strait and Port Fairy’s reaches 12 miles. They are both Fresnel lamps. The other key similarity is that both lighthouses have internal stone spiral staircases, two of only 3 surviving pre 1863 lighthouses to do so.

You can see the spiral staircase in the Port Fairy lighthouse in the video below. (the music is the Wellington Sea Shanty Society and is called Great Open Sea, it’s licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Port Fairy is, unusually for a lighthouse, built at sea level, as you can see below.

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Where as Cape Schanck stands on an 80 m cliff

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The two lighthouses were built in a time when lighthouses were key to travel and commerce in the fledgling colony. Cape Schanck was built as part of a sea road of 3 lighthouses patrolling Bass Strait. The other two were Cape Whickham and Cape Otway see below.

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Port Fairy was built to mark the entrance to the Moyne River and Port Fairy harbour, which at the time was a thriving port. See below

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They have both been in continual operation since the 1850s, though they are both now automated. They are fantastic examples of the remoteness of Victorian lighthouses and their lighthouse keepers.

Cape Schanck stands on an isolated peninsula, which is now a national park, and commands its part of Bass Strait.

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IMG_0156Port Fairy’s Griffiths Island is now connected to the mainland by a causeway, IMG_9161But in the 1800s the island was only accessible by boat and it was often dangerously rough so was cut off completely from the mainland. It was extremely isolated. The island was originally 3 islands, Rabbit (on which the light house stands), Goat and Griffiths. They have joined together as one island, partly from coastal erosion and partly from the construction that surround the islands. They serve to protect the entrance to Port Fairy. Rabbit island would have been extremely remote in the 1800s.

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Nothing survives of the lighthouse station at Port Fairy apart from the stand of Norfolk pines, which you can see in the photo above, which were planted by the lighthouse keeper as a windbreak. The quarters were demolished after the Harbour Master was relocated in 1956. The last lighthouse keeper who lived on the island was there from 1929-1954.

At Cape Schanck a number of buildings survived, as well as some later additions. There were lighthouse keepers living on site until 2016, though they had little to do with the running of the light and more to do with running the tourist accommodation that is also on site. The site is now run by Parks Victoria. The original Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s cottage from 1859 can be seen below.

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While both lighthouses had a different specific purpose they both stood as a bastions against the wildness of the sea and protected ships, in an era when shipping was, apart from gold, the lifeblood of the growing colony. In the future I hope to look at more of Victoria’s lighthouses, but I thought this was a good place to start.

 

References:

Port Fairy

http://www.lighthouses.org.au/lights/Vic/Griffiths%20Island/Griffiths%20Island%20Lighthouse.htm#History

http://www.visitportfairy-moyneshire.com.au/activitiesattractions/coastal/466-port-fairy-lighthouse

http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/2711/download-report

Numerous site visits over the years.

Cape Schank

http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/8661

http://capeschancklightstation.com.au/history-of-cape-schanck-victoria/

http://www.lighthouses.org.au/lights/Vic/Cape%20Schanck/Cape%20Schank%20Light.htm

http://mpnews.com.au/2016/05/02/keepers-farewell-light-on-the-hill/

Numerous site visits over the years.

 

The photos are all mine.

Mechanics’ Institutes

Mechanics’ Institutes are something that most people will be vaguely familiar with. They’ll have some idea of halls in country towns, possibly something to do with cars? But the concept of Mechanics’ Institutes is much more than this. This post is not intended to be an exhaustive history of Mechanics’ Institutes, but rather an introduction to the concept and the ideals, a little of their origin and a brief run through some examples of Mechanics’ Institutes that still exist today in Victoria, Australia.

To begin with, the term mechanics in this case has nothing to do with cars. In the sense that it was used in the early 1800s it simply meant ‘worker’. Sort of the equivalent of blue collar workers today.  The basic concept of a Mechanics’ Institute is usually a member owned and run group, set up by the community that provides self educational opportunities.  These opportunities were normally through lectures, entertainments and often through the provision of a lending library. These were institutions that were run for members, providing free, or largely free, educational opportunities at a time when formal education was for the wealthy and the clergy. The lectures were usually run in the evenings to allow workers to attend. These were not government run institutions, they were started by local communities and had no centralised control, which makes their prevalence and ongoing existence even more remarkable.

The first Mechanics’ Institute was begun in Glasgow in c.1800 with Dr George Birkbeck of the Andersonian Institute in Scotland when he gave a series of lectures to local workers. The lectures proved to be very popular and the Edinburgh School of Arts was formed in 1821 and the London Mechanics’ Institute in 1823.

The movement spread quickly to Britain’s colonies and they were extremely prevalent in Australia, which is where I’m going to be focusing. The first Mechanics’ Institute in Australia formed in Hobart 1827, but it wasn’t long before they reached Victoria. It is worth pausing here to note that these institutions weren’t always known as Mechanics’ Institutes. They usually were in Victoria, but in New South Wales School of Arts is the more common name. They have many other names though, from Athenaeum through to Temperance hall, through to Agricultural Institute. They all held to the same principle of the provision of opportunities for self education.

The first Mechanics’ Institute in Victoria Australia was the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institute, which was founded in 1839 and is now known as the Melbourne Athenaeum (the name was changed in 1872). Ultimately there were over 1000 Mechanics’ Institutes in Victoria at their peak, which is truly remarkable given that there was not a centralised organisation setting them up, though many did receive government funding. Most of these were in country towns and most held: a hall, a library, reading rooms, facilities for games and programs for educational activities. More than 500 remain physically, with the halls used by the local community. There are only a handful though that continue to operate as Mechanics’ Institutes. 12 are still operating from their original buildings, 10 have their original library collections, and four others  exist on other sites with their collections. Roughly 6 are still operating as a lending library service. There is even one that is still incorporated with its own act of parliament.

With this number of Mechanics’ Institutes there is no way I am going to cover them all, but I have visited quite a few and I thought I’d go through and provide a few photos and a bit of history on each of them. I am using the remarkable book These Walls Speak Volumes for the majority of the history for these sites, so if you want to know more get your hands on a copy. It covers all the Mechanics’ Institutes in Victoria. The below list is alphabetical and is only based on Institutes I have been to and have photos of.

Ballan Mechanics Institute. 

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Ballan Mechanics’ Institute. The institute was established in 1860, though the current building dates to 1887. The ‘new’ building was erected in 1887 because the previous 1860 site was not central enough. In 1894 the Mechanics’ Institute had 1680 books.  The building was fully renovated in 1922. Today the building is used as the local council library as well as being used by many community groups.

Berwick Mechanics’ Institute and Free Library. 

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Berwick Mechanics’ Institute and Free Library was founded in 1862, though the current building dates to the 1980s. Berwick didn’t have a substantial hall the way other Mechanics’ Institutes did, but they still hosted events. After the early 1900s the focus shifted to the library, a function it maintains to this day. In the 1980s Lady Casey provided funding for the construction of the new building which was completed in 1982 and the pre existing 500 year lease was extended. Berwick  holds the private library of Lord and Lady Casey as well as some of their art and an extensive general collection. It operates as a public library.  You can search their collection here. 

Briagolong Mechanics’ Institute Hall.

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Briagolong Mechanics’ Institute Hall was established in 1874 and still stands in its original building.  The hall was the first part built with the reading room and kitchen added in 1879, the third addition, including the stage, was opened in 1887. There were further additions as time went on including a 1999 addition which houses the Briagolong Community House. The library ran from 1874 for 90 years. The fact that a significant part of the original library collection survives intact is because the doors to the library were locked for some time and the books just left in there. You can see some of the remaining collection, which is housed in what was for a time the billiard room, in the photos above.

Bunyip Public Hall

bunyipThe Mechanics’ Institute dates to 1905, but the current building was built in 1942. The hall was used for everything from ANZAC celebrations to rollerskating. The hall burnt down in 1940 but it was rebuilt, as you can see it today, by 1942. The new building is built in greek revival style and is under the ownership of the council. Today it is used for everything from tai chi to playgroups.

Glengarry Mechanics’ Institute

Glengarry1Glengarry2The Institute was established in 1886 and the current building dates to the 1920s. Glengarry began as a library and was much used with hundreds of people visiting the library every year in the 1800s. When the new hall was opened in 1920, it was moved across the road, it was used as a library, a picture theatre, and by many local organisations. The hall had reached a fairly degraded state, on the outside, by 2013 and funding was raised to restore the outside including the hall roof which was in a perilous state. It is still used extensively by the community today.

Longwarry Public Hall

longwarryThe Longwarry Public hall, formerly Longwarry Mechanics’ Institute and Free Library, was established in 1886, and the first building built in 1889, though the current building dates mainly to the 1950s. Longwarry operated as a free library and lecture hall as well as being the home of the local brass band and health centre in the 1800s and early 1900s. The hall burnt down in the 1950s and the hall you see today was constructed, it was opened in 1953 with additions in the 1960s. In 2009 it was significantly upgraded including a new roof. It is still used by many community groups and an old time dance has been running every Monday evening and every fourth Saturday since, roughly, 1900.

Malmsbury Mechanics’ Institute

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Founded in 1862, the current building dates to 1876. This is the original Malmsbury building though. Due to various factors, including lack of funds and council involvement, the building wasn’t completed till 1876 despite the institute being founded years earlier. Malmsbury was still functioning as a Mechanics’ Institute in 1919, including a library, but by World War II the building had largely fallen into disuse and for a while it was used as a bank branch. The Shire now owns the building and it is the home of the historical society, as well as various community events.

Meeniyan  Hall

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Meeniyan Hall, formerly Meeniyan Mechanics’ Institute, was established in 1892, but the current building dates to 1939. The hall was never a library and it was mainly used for visiting entertainers and for music lessons. The building burnt down in 1938, but a new hall was built and opened in 1939. It was used for local dances in 1960s often holding as many as 600 people. It is currently used for a wide variety of community programs, including the inaugural Meeniyan Garlic Festival in 2017. The hall was the home of the Garlic institute and you can see the crowds attracted in the photo above.

Melbourne

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The earliest Mechanics’ Institute in Melbourne. The Melbourne Mechanics’ Institute was founded in 1839 and the current building dates to 1886. The original library, and collection of scientific specimens, was housed in rented accommodation. A permanent hall was built in 1842, but the programs offered including: entertainments, political and business meetings, social gatherings and church services proved to be so popular that it was decided that a bigger building was needed. The funds weren’t found until the 1870s and in 1872 the new facilities were opened, including a 100 foot long hall and significant space for the library upstairs. At the same time it was decided to change the name to the Melbourne Athenaeum. In 1886 the building was significantly remodelled, including the facade, which you can see today. In the early 1900s it was determined that a theatre was needed and the Athenaeum Theatre, built inside the old hall, was completed in 1924. The theatre is still very much in use today by acts from all over the world and is one of Melbourne’s most popular venues. The library is also still in existence and runs as a subscription library. You can search their collection here.

Port Fairy Library and Lecture Hall

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IMG_0463Founded in 1860 and the current building dates to 1865. A library was functioning in Belfast, as it was then known, as early as 1856 but an institute wasn’t officially formed until 1860. In 1864 land was granted by James Atkinson to build a library for Belfast and it has remained in the same position since it was opened in 1865. The Lecture Hall next door was also opened at roughly the same time. The library is now used as the public library, after 120 years of independent operation it joined the Corangamite Shire libraries in 1981. The lecture hall is used by lots of community groups including the local theatre group and the spring festival.

Prahran Mechanics’ Institute. 

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The Prahran Mechanics Institute was founded in 1854 though the building they currently reside in, a converted 1960s fabric factory, was not their home until 2015. The original building was in Chapel Street and is still owned by the institute, though it is rented out as shops.

The PMI started as a lending library and as an institute for education and lectures. Due to a dispute with the the Secretary/Librarian in the mid 1800s (he wouldn’t vacate the building and the roof of the institute was removed to force him to leave) and the neglect of another secretary/librarian in the late 1800s the PMI building was rebuilt onsite in 1900. However there was not enough space, so in 1915 they moved to High Street in Prahran, also starting the Prahran Technical School (this building can be seen in the photo above). In the 1980s a decision was made to move away from being simply a general collection library to being a library which specialised in Victorian history.

This specialisation continues today with the PMI holding a collection of over 30 000 books and being dedicated to preserving the history of Victoria. In 2009 space was desperately need for the rapidly expanding collection. So the PMI sought to end the 99 year peppercorn lease which allowed to Minister for Education to use the buildings that formerly held the Prahran Technical School, which was now being used by Swinburne University. The Minster agreed to relinquish the lease if the PMI sold their High Street building to Swinburne University. They did and moved around the corner to St Edmonds Road into a more modern building with the extensive space that the collection needed (you can see the exterior and interior of the new building in the photos above). The PMI is still functioning under its original rules and incorporation and is the only Mechanics’ Institute in Victoria which has its own Act of Parliament for its incorporation. It is run by a committee with four professional staff running the library. You can check out their catalogue here

Rosedale Mechanics’ Institute Hall

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The Rosedale Mechanics’ Institute was established in 1863 and the current building dates to 1874. Rosedale began operating in 1868 in rented premises and the original form of the current building was built in 1874 after being designed by William Allen. Rosedale was originally called The Mechanics’ Institute and Library and Scientific Association. It contained a surprisingly large hall, a stage, a supper room, several meeting rooms and a library. The stage was removed at some point and an extension with toilets added in roughly the 1950s. The hall was also extended fairly early in the process, you can see the addition in the photo above, and much later a floating ceiling was added. The hall used to house the public library, but it was moved. It is now home to the op shop and is used by community groups.

Stratford Mechanics’ Institute.

stratfordStratford2The Stratford Mechanics’ Institute was founded in 1866 and the current building was constructed in 1888. When it was originally founded Stratford lapsed very quickly and another attempt to form a Mechanics’ Institute was tried in 1874, which didn’t work either. However, by 1882 a committee was formed and the library was set up in the shire hall and books bought. By 1888 they’d built the existing hall. In the 1950s a spectacularly ugly addition was built on the beautiful 1800s facade. It mainly housed toilets. In the early 2000s, through fundraising and government grants, the hall was restored to its former 1800s glory. It is run by an active committee and is the home to many local events, including the parts of the Stratford Shakespeare festival.

Toongabbie Mechanics’ Institute.

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Toongabbie Mechanics’ Institute was established in 1883 and the building you see today was also constructed in 1883. It was a fascinating example of a two story weatherboard construction from this period. The second story was a 1890s rear extension. The hall contains a stage, where many local performances were held, and was home to a library. There are also a number of smaller rooms in the two story extension. It was used as the local Court of Petty Sessions and as a bank. By 1983 the building was in extremely poor condition and it had been suggested that burning it down was the best option. Thankfully the local community rallied and with government funding it was saved. Now it is used for everything from weddings, to school concerts, to old time dances.

Trafalgar Public Hall

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The Trafalgar Public Hall, formerly the Trafalgar Mechanics’ Institute and Free Library, was founded in 1889, though the current building dates to 1935.  The original hall operated as free library and it was rebuilt in 1908 when it became the home of the Naracan Shire. The hall became the focus of the community with traveling shows performing there and it was used as a library and a dance hall. The hall and all its contents were destroyed in a massive fire in 1934 and a new hall was finished by 1935. The new hall contained a bio cabin for the showing of movies. There was also a library, but by 1957 this had become a kiosk, and by 1964 a ladies toilet. The hall was used for everything from badminton to school concerts and is now the home of the local amateur dramatic society as well a number of other community uses including weddings and family reunions.

 

So that’s the end of my collection of Mechanics’ Institute photos and information. As I stated, this is by no means anywhere near all the Mechanics’ Institutes in Victoria and they can be found in other states as well as all over the United Kingdom and in Canada and America. As a concept they are a fascinating example of communities helping themselves and coming together. Even if many of the institutes themselves don’t survive today the halls are still very much at the heart of the community.

References.

Site visits, 2017, 2016 and 2015.

http://www.pmi.net.au/home/timeline/

http://www.pmi.net.au/home/mihistory/

http://home.vicnet.net.au/~mivic/

http://www.melbourneathenaeum.org.au/

http://www.berwickmilibrary.org.au/

These Walls Speak Volumes: A history of Mechanics’ Institutes in Victoria by Pam Baragwanath and Ken James ISBN: 9780992308780 you can borrow it from the Prahran Mechanics’ Institute Victorian History Library here library.pmi.net.au/fullRecord.jsp?recno=23726

 

The photos are all mine.

 

Disclaimer: I work at the PMI Victorian History Library.

Cemeteries: Port Fairy

img_9133Port Fairy is a town in Western Victoria that was founded as a town in 1843. There were settlers in the area before this date, and the current name for the town comes from the ship the Fairy which is believed to have arrived in the area in c.1828. The area was also regularly visited by whalers and sealers. The date of 1843 comes from the special survey which was granted to James Atkinson at that time. The special surveys were a system where the government of the Colony of New South Wales was able to control ownership of the land in the Port Phillip District. This was well before federation of Australia as a country in 1901, but also before Victoria became a colony independent from New South Wales which happened in 1851. The basic premise behind the special survey system was to stop squatters just claiming land, because when they did there was little ability to regulate it and there was no fee for the government.

Atkinson arrived in Sydney in 1830 from Ireland and became a prominent and well connected member of Sydney society, at least partly due to his family connections to Colonel Charles Wall of the 3rd Buff regiment who was married to his sister. As he had a high social standing he couldn’t use trade to make money, so he turned to land. He was granted the right to the special survey of the Port Fairy region in 1843. He worked with the existing settlers, but also moved to attract new settlers to the town he named Belfast. He most likely applied for the special survey rights to the land without ever seeing it, as there is no evidence he set foot there before arriving in 1846 with his wife and seven children. He offered very long term leases for land in the town he established, but while he was definitely trying to encourage settlement he was not immediately successful. In 1848 he appointed his nephew (and my great, great, great, grandfather) Robert Henry Woodward, who was farming in the area, as his land agent. Woodward was 25 and oversaw the majority of the establishment of the town proper. It was also Woodward who oversaw, with the blessing of Atkinson, the gifting of parcels of land within the town for churches of different denominations and for community purposes, such as a post office, a hospital, government offices, public wharves, a savings bank, a town hall, public meeting places and a cemetery.

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St John’s Anglican Church Port Fairy built between 1854 and 1856. It was the first church in Victoria to have a chancel. The tower was added later in the 1950s.

Atkinson did not remain in Belfast, returning to Sydney and to Ireland, but he did visit to survey the progress of the town in 1859, 1861 and 1864. Atkinson died in Sydney in 1864, though Woodward continued to administer the lands until 1869. The town petitioned, successfully, to change its name to Port Fairy in 1886

Before continuing to discuss the cemetery I would also like to acknowledge the indigenous people of the land which Atkinson bought as the special survey. This area was the land of the Gunditjmara people. If, when Atkinson arrived, there seemed to be a lack of indigenous inhabitants it is not because there wasn’t any ever, but because between the 1830s and the 1840s the indigenous population of the area was destroyed by settlers. A monument to them now stands in Port Fairy on Bank Street. It reads:

In memory of the thousands of aboriginal people who were massacred between 1837 and 1844 in this area of Port Fairy.

Today we pay our respects to them for the unnecessary sacrifices they made.

Your spirit still lives on within our people.  Wuwuurk

This was not isolated to the Port Fairy area. The early history of Western Victoria is mired in bloodshed. A list of the frontier wars in which the indigenous population were by and large overwhelmed and destroyed by superior western weaponry can be seen here.

http://www.australianfrontierconflicts.com.au/index.php/conflicts/chronology/vic

It was also a time of severe retaliations against any interference with livestock and systematic killings, taking of land of the beginning of the removal of children. Not to mention the introduction of alcohol and western disease and their long term affects. This article from the Warrnambool local paper The Standard out lines clearly the actions against the local indigenous population

http://www.standard.net.au/story/792108/the-south-wests-bloody-past/

It is essential that the past of indigenous Australians and the brutal suppression of them is recognised as part of the history of Victoria and Australia. This is especially true when discussing somewhere like a cemetery which provides concrete and tangible records of the deaths of early pioneers, a record that is not available for the deaths of the indigenous population.

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Port Fairy cemetery was founded in the 1850s. There is confusion as to whether it is the ‘old’ or ‘new’ cemetery as many descriptions seem to use the term interchangeably. The other cemetery at Port Fairy was laid out by Robert Hoddle, famous for Melbourne’s CBD grid, at the orders of Governor La Trobe. This other cemetery was in the sand hills out of town, was discontinued and little survives today. The current Port Fairy cemetery has many very early burials and is believed to be one of the first cemeteries in Victoria to have adopted the concept of a lawn cemetery.

The earliest burials in the cemetery are of the local pioneers and their families. These people are often listed as from a local ‘station’ on their tombstones. The pioneers of the area did not have an easy life and as such there are a high number of young burials, very few survived to old age. One of the earliest and one of the youngest is the grave of Harold Woodward, a son of Robert Henry Woodward and his wife Letitia Wall (daughter of Colonel Wall). Harold died on the 8th of October 1856, but was only born on the 4th of December 1855. img_9147

Of Robert Henry and Letitia Woodward’s 11 children Harold was the only one to meet such an early end. I am descended from his brother Albert William Woodward, the youngest of Robert Henry and Letitia’s  children. Robert Henry and Letitia are buried in St Kilda Cemetery.

Much of the stone in the cemetery displays intricate examples of early stone masonry. The best example of which is probably the tomb of Abijah Brown.img_9146img_9144He died in 1862 at the age of 40 and the tomb reads:

In affectionate memory of Abijah John Brown who departed this life July 19th 1862 aged 40 years. Watch for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 

It is an interesting monument because it does not fit any regular pattern seen in Victorian era funeral monuments. It is a, sadly much worn, figure of a young man looking skywards. This man is not an angel or a cherub but a person. It is also a remarkable piece of sculpture in its own right. The Brown tomb is not alone is being striking in the cemetery. The older section of the cemetery is a combination of plain and ornate funeral monuments. Some can be seen in the photos below.

img_9140img_9141img_9150img_9143There are more people buried in the cemetery than are known about. Many of the early burials would have been laid to rest under simple wood crosses and these simply wouldn’t have survived the harshness of Port Fairy’s coastal weather. Despite this, the surviving burials provide a fascinating record of the life and death of the early inhabitants of the district.

References:

http://www.ohta.org.au/organs/organs/StJohnsPortFairy.html

http://www.portfairypubliccemetery.com.au/

An Historic Graveyard: Some early records of Port Fairy Cemetery by P. Frazer Simons.

A Special Survey: Aspects of the development of Port Fairy from 1843. Edited by Rod Collins.

Both books can be borrowed from the Prahran Mechanics Institute Victorian History Library

The photos are all mine.

Cemeteries: Tower Hill

Tower Hill Cemetery lies between Port Fairy and Warrnambool in Western Victoria.

img_9230Tower Hill itself is a former volcano not far from Port Fairy and about 3 hours drive west of Melbourne. You can see the view looking over the remains of the Tower Hill crater and looking out towards the sea from the top of Tower Hill in the photos below.

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Tower hill itself is not really a town, though there are a few houses around it. Tower Hill was first sighted by Europeans in 1802, the sighting was made by the Frenchmen in the ship the Geographe, but it wasn’t surveyed until 1846. In the surveys conducted between 1846 and 1850 it is described as heavily wooded, with descriptions of ferns and large trees. It was also a favourite site of settler James Dawson of the near by Kangatong station. He had it painted in oils in 1855 so he could show others how beautiful it was. The painting was done by Eugene Von Guerard and you can see the view from the lookout point he painted it from below.

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However between 1857 and 1860 the hill itself and the surrounding area was heavily deforested, mainly for the use of the timber but also for grazing. This use of the land continued until 1961 when Tower Hill was proclaimed Victoria’s seventh state wildlife reserve. There has been significant re planting done since.

I would like to pause in the ongoing narrative of Tower Hill at this point to discuss its pre-European importance. When Tower Hill was first sighted by Europeans it was certainly not an unknown hill. For the local Koroitgundij people it is a site of great importance and their ancestors undoubtably would have witnessed the eruption that created the funnel shaped crater 30 000 years ago. Today there is the Worn Gundidj  visitor’s centre in the middle of Tower Hill which tells the indigenous history of the site.  You can see the visitor’s centre in the picture below.

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The cemetery at Tower Hill stands at the base of the hill’s slope. It was established in 1856 and contains some of the most impressive monuments for a cemetery of its size that I’ve ever seen.

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The monuments range from small, such as the heart shaped stone below.

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To the significantly more dramatic

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There are a number of interesting people buried at Tower Hill, but I thought I’d briefly discuss a man whose death was a key part of Australian labour history. William John Mclean was the first person to die for the union movement in Australia. Known as Billy Mclean he was born in 1869 and lived in Koroit, a small town very near Tower Hill. In the late 1800s the nearby town Port Fairy was one of Australia’s most important international ports, though you certainly wouldn’t know it now.

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Port Fairy

As an important port much of the wool shorn in areas as far away as southern NSW was taken by the river system and bullock drays to Port Fairy for transportation. Shearers would hitch rides with the bullock drays back in the opposite direction for the shearing season. Billy Mclean was one such shearer. The shearers often endured awful conditions and pretty terrible pay at the same time as being forced to pay exorbitant prices for food from stores that were owned by the stations. As such there were a number of shearer strikes. On the 26th of August 1894 in NSW the paddle steamer Rodney was transporting a non union labor force up the Darling River to work at the near by station of Tolarno. Many of the river captains refused to support the pastoralists by bringing in non union labour to try to break the strikes. Captain Dickson of the Rodney was not one of them. The paddle steamer was set upon by striking shearers and after the non union labour and the crew had been removed from the boat, the shearers doused it in kerosene and burnt to the water line.

The afternoon of the same day, a little further up river, Billy Mclean was one of about fifty shearers who were headed for Grassmere station near Willcannia where it was believed that non union workers from New Zealand had been brought in. Mclean was one of the first to enter the shearing shed and he was shot in the lung, one of his mates Jack Murphy was also shot. Neither died on the scene and they were arrested by the police on the way back to the strike camp. There is definite argument that the shooting was retaliation for the burning of the Rodney earlier that morning.

Mclean was tried and convicted of unlawful assembly, sentenced to 3 years hard labour and sent to Goulburn gaol. In the cold of the prison and never having recovered from his injury Mclean developed tuberculosis of the lung and was sent home to his mother to die, so it couldn’t be said he died in gaol. He died in 1896. He was 26. The man who shot him was never tried and was given a medal by the pastoralists association.

The other shearers rallied round Mclean’s mother and raised 90 pounds for the erection of the monument over his grave. It still stands in Tower Hill Cemetery today and is 14 feet high. You can see it in the photos below.

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img_9210The epitaph reads

ERECTED BY

HIS FELLOW UNIONISTS

AND ADMIRERS

IN MEMORY OF THEIR COMRADE,

WILLIAM JOHN McLEAN WHO WAS SHOT BY A NON-UNIONIST

AT GRASSMERE STATION, N.S.W.,

DURING THE STRUGGLE OF 1894,

AND WHO DIED 22nd MARCH, 1896,

AGED 26 YEARS,

A GOOD SON, A FAITHFUL MATE, AND A DEVOTED UNIONIST, UNION IS STRENGTH.

Donald MacDonald, the general secretary of the AWU wrote to Henry Lawson asking him to compose the epitaph. It is not known if Lawson did or not.

For more information on Mclean and the shearers’ strikes see…

http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=unity

Billy Mclean is only one of a number of fascinating people buried at Tower Hill Cemetery. Alongside the outstanding individual monuments Tower Hill Cemetery also houses several groups of matching monuments such as those that you can see below. img_9220

As with many cemeteries of this era, there is a distressingly large number of young deaths and whole families. You see the same surnames repeated over and over, showing the long term connection to the area.

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My next post will be on the nearby Port Fairy Cemetery.

References

Billy Mclean: http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=unity

Tower Hill: Victoria’s heritage. http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/315547/Heritage-story-Tower-Hill-Reserve-history-and-heritage.pdf

Books:

Tower Hill: What happened at Tower Hill? Fisheries and Wildlife Dept 1960.

Tower Hill by M.C Downes.

Both books can be found at the Prahran Mechanics’ Institute Victorian History Library.

The photos are all mine.