MARGIN: Life & Letters in Early Australia

Life & Letters in Early Australia: Book notes

Book notes – Book Review

Photographs of Boom Town Melbourne in the 1880s

This is a new book just published and I have not yet received a copy for review but it sounds quite spectacular. A professional photographer, Charles B. Walker has recorded the splendour of Melbourne before the collapse of the boom economy. The album of his photographs has recently been acquired by The Library of the University of Melbourne. The work is edited by Ian Morrison the well known librarian and editor.

The photographs are said to include the Botanic Gardens, the University, St Patrick’s Cathedral and Port Phillip Bay. Some of the buildings no longer exist like the Eastern Market, Menzies Hotel and the Federal Coffee Palace. There is even a balloon view of Melbourne. They are not simply photographs of the buildings but include the life of the city with its people and vehicles.

There is an accompanying commentary by historians, librarians and archivists.

MORRISON, Ian, Editor

A New City. Photographs of Melbourne’s Land Boom

Melbourne, Miegunyah Press (Melbourne University Publishing), 2003 Price $39.95

We plan to publish a full review in the next issue of Margin


In the nineteenth century Melbourne was the centre of the Australian Book world. Large quantities of books were imported from England and distributed to the other colonies from Melbourne. Wallace Kirsop who is the font of information of Australian book selling has written an absorbing account of the selling of law books in the colony. The Law was an important aspect of life and the judges and Barristers were often the most important people in the colony. They were often the writers bt more often were book collectors. The basis of many of the libraries we now take for granted were from such collectors. Their books were sometimes sold at auction on their death or departure from the colonies. These books were often also donated to the fledging libraries like the State Library of Victoria or the High Court. The university Library also benefited from these far sighted collectors.

Kirsop ells the story of how they collected their books from the other side of the world. While concentrating of the Law books the story covers the world of bookselling in general. In this way it is a miniature history of book selling in the Australian colonies.

KIRSOP, Wallace

Buying Law Books in the Nineteenth Century Melbourne

Melbourne, The Centre of he Book. Monash University, 2003 price $10.00


Imagining the Blue Mountains by Martin Thomas

The Blue Mountains west of Sydney imposed a massive barrier for the first settlers of New South Wales. The colonial myth of the ‘first crossing of the mountains is outlined as is the further myth of the ‘Three Sisters’. Martin’s book includes the attempts of explorers and surveyors as well as the dreams of artists and writers including aboriginal legends. It is ‘marvellously illustrated’ Many well known writers as well as artists have lived in the Blue Mountains and the author of this book lives there in Katoomba.

Melbourne, Melbourne University Publishing, 2003 304p. $49.95


by Mark McKenna and Wayne Hudson (Editors)

The editors have brought together the main documents of Australia’s republican history. This outlines two hundred years of agitation and the aspirations of men and women who worked for an Australian Republic some of them in the nineteenth century like Daniel Deniehy, the poet Charles Harpur and the Rev John Dunmore Lang. Louise Lawson and her son Henry were also staunch supporters of the idea of a republic.

Melbourne, Melbourne University Publishing, 2003 204p. $39.95


intrepid pioneer in a strange new land … by Meredith Hooper

You may imagine my astonishment when I came across this book. Was it a satire? It was found in the children’s section of the bookshop. Naturally I bought it because of my interest in Watkin Tench. It is a children’s book although it has many satirical aspects to it. It records the story of a black rat named Watkin Stench who came out on the First Fleet together with shiploads of other rats. He landed and examined the strange land he had come to and has numerous adventures The author Meredith Hooper is an historian and an Australian who had much fun I am sure in writing this delightful satirical book. The facts are all correct except that she is unable to ‘prove’ her story but there is no doubt that rats did come with the First Fleet.

London, Hodder Headline, 2000 132p. 3.99 [pounds sterling]


The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra has recently acquired two important Colonial Paintings. One is a self portrait by Georgiana McCrae of Melbourne. It is a small painting of head and shoulders with the subject turning slightly towards the viewer. It displays her superb technique and is an important acquisition for the Gallery. The other portrait is by Wainwright and the subject is a delicate water-colour head and shoulders of Jane Scott and is a Van Diemen’s Land painting. Here again we have a wonderful display of the delicate technique by an important painter. A few issues ago Margin published an article on the convict artist Wainwright. Both portraits are not only of historical significance but are important works of art.


Digging up Sydney

In the last few years there has been a lot of redevelopment in various parts of the city and the archaeologists have been at work examining sites where buildings have been demolished in search of evidence of what may have been there before. One example which caused much controversy was the roadway found beside the Conservatorium of Music in what was originally the stables of Government House built in Governor Macquarie’s day. The agitation which included arguments by the National Trust did not save the piece of early Sydney road.

Last month it was reported that the remains of some early buildings were uncovered in the block bounded by Sussex, Kent, Erskine and Napoleon Streets. These are thought to date back to the 18th century. No I did not type the date incorrectly. Most of the substantial remains date from the 1830s. Much of these substantial remains were simply buried when the retaining wall was built and the area behind it was filled in over she buildings.

May personal effects have also been uncovered including toys, shoes jewellery and crockery in an area which was relatively affluent in the 19th century. All the sites have been mapped and recorded. The developers said that some of the finds would be kept on permanent display on the site where a $630 million tower block is to be built.

I wonder if in another two hundred years the new Tower block about to be built will be the site of another Archaeology dig.

Another excavated site is one besides the Town Hall which was built on one of the earliest cemeteries in the colony. A number of graves have recently been discovered beneath a roadway there but as yet no indication as to who was buried in them.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Mulini Press

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group