BOOKS: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
A NEW CITY: Photographs of Melbourne's Land Boom, edited by Ian Morrison
, January 31, 2004
A NEW CITY: Photographs of Melbourne's Land Boom
Edited by Ian Morrison
Melbourne University Press (MUP)
Rec. price: $39.95
Reviewed by Max TeichmannThe Special Collections held in Melbourne University's Ballieu Library contain remarkable evidences of our past which are only now being published.
This collection of photographs by Englishman Charles Bristow Walker, edited by Ian Morrison, is one of MUP's latest productions. It is a triumph of intelligent selection, taste and genuine beauty. The now unknown artist, a professional photographer, who captured these scenes of Melbourne and Victoria in his spare time would be gratified.Exhibition
Charles Bristow Walker migrating to Victoria in the 1880s, staying for a decade until moving to Perth, was only known in his lifetime through some exhibitions of these and other photographs. He then disappeared into anonymity. Ian Morrison has brought him to life.
Walker's photographic compositions show Melbourne in the Boom - our second counting the Gold Rush of the 1850s. They reveal a volatile community and a beautiful city with many of the outstanding buildings, thoroughfares, lanes and parks which we still possess; and with feelings of pleasure and gratitude to those who put them in place. But ... many of the landmarks featured in Morrison's book - buildings including churches, parklands, lanes and roads - have disappeared or are so hemmed in by skyscrapers or high rises, to be unrecognisable.
Melburnians took religion very seriously. There were masses of fine churches, filled
on Sundays. Many sects and continuous religious and social debate.
Out of these churches and their secular allies came the powerful Temperance Movement - a force which politicians could not ignore. Cafés for coffee, great coffee palaces with accommodation as well as meals - but all teetotal, arose. Hence the Grand Temperance Hotel - later renamed the Windsor - only activated its liquor licence when straitened financial conditions set in after the Crash of the 1890s.
But masses of hotels, cafés, restaurants competed with the abstinent members of the city, while a thriving theatrical and musical culture made any suggestions that Melbourne was just a city of churches and piety, money and industry, quite misleading.
Nevertheless, the drive to expand was fuelled by the desire to make money - often big money - and virtually everyone seemed to be joining in.The Crash
It was only after the Great Crash of the '90s - in many ways more devastating in its social effects than the Depression of the 1930s - that many people began to question the wisdom of chasing wealth irrespective of the consequences to others and self.
There were in fact many poor and destitute people in Melbourne and much miserable housing - but dissenting voices were rarely heard. However, after the '90s Crash the public mood changed and I think we only recovered that chase after the Golden Calf and the belief that growth is not only desirable but inevitable ... around about the 1980s. We are busy watching the consequences of this theory of inevitable progress.
The entrepreneurs, the financiers, speculators and gamblers might have been reckless and in a tearing hurry, but they built well and designed well. These things were meant to last.
This was a time of great hotels arising to cater to the wealthy farmers, pastoralists, miners who were doing so well. It was a city where sport was already a central part of the common culture, with horse racing king, and the Melbourne Cup the ultimate in mass culture.
Beautiful gardens were appearing or maturing so as to make Victoria the Garden State. The foundations of our culture - the great Library, the Museum, the Gallery, the University were being joined by other cultural centres, while bookshops for new and second hand literature helped to establish Melbourne as the cultural centre of the country.
As further evidence of the rise of the rich and powerful in the young democracy, Gentlemen's Clubs appeared in difference parts of Melbourne. Not noted for their beauty, but centres for much of the decision making that shaped the life of the city.
When the next great burst of economic activity struck Melbourne after the last war, I'm afraid our planners and architects and city fathers had lost the ability or even the desire to continue the work of the men of the 1880s: to build a graceful, eminently liveable city at the corner of our great continent.
Most cities and societies develop - when they do develop - in fits and starts. And Melbourne has. Sometimes the developers have shown foresight and a social conscience.
I happen to think that in the Bolte period and again in the Kennett/Bracks period there was little intelligent foresight and even less genuine social conscience.
One way of gauging how much we have lost and to count up the beautiful and historic things we still possess, is to go through the photographic album of Charles Walker and his New City.