'The burial of Burke' infrared
Examination with an infrared light source can reveal the fascinating back story to how a painting is produced, uncovering preliminary sketches, alterations and hidden details not evident in the finished artwork.
Examination with an infrared light source can reveal the fascinating back story to how a painting is produced, uncovering preliminary sketches, alterations and hidden details not evident in the finished artwork.
William Strutt's large-scale historic paintings were based on a succession of sketches, which became the building blocks for the final artwork.
Touch or hover over the picture below to see the meticulous sketches that formed the foundation for his masterpiece, Bushrangers. You can also hide the finished artwork, to view the series of composite images in full.
Kaz Cooke: Welcome to One Object, Several Stories tonight at the library. And also firstly would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land, the Kulin Nation people, the Borarong and the Boonwurrung here at the library. And also it will become clear why the Wathaurong of the Barwon river and Geelong area as well.
We are going to examine a treasure by the, which is right up there, much larger than it really is, as part of looking at items in the library's collection and in connection with the Victoria and Albert Museum Exhibition of Design Treasures here at the moment.
So we're going have a discussion for about three quarters of an hour and then you'll get a chance to ask questions of our wonderful experts.
So, I'd just like to introduce the others on the panel. Closest to me, Joe Ritali, who's the Collection Services Manager here at the library with nearly 20 years experience of rummaging about in major collections here and in Queensland. Her responsibilities include manuscripts, pictures, Australian history, and literature collections here at the library. So you know, just a few things.
Louise Burnett, who like me has worn her mourning-jet beautiful earrings. She's a specialist jeweller, gemmologist and diamond grader, and a collector from The French Jewelbox shop in the Block Arcade, which many of you will have, I'm sure, paused longingly at the windows of. She's intrigued by the history and provenance of antique jewellery and she's a second generation jewellery sleuth in the Block Arcade.
And further on my right, Lizzie Anya-Petrivna, the cultural collections curator from the National Trust of Australia. She's a Melbourne based curator and fashion historian. She's interested in 19th century clothes, natural history and domestic advice manuals. So, I think I might want to marry her. And she's completing a PHD on the workers of Melbourne who made artificial flowers and related objects. And she's curated exhibitions of ye old wedding fashion and Ms Fisher's costumes most recently.
So, I'll just introduce the brooch a little bit before the people who really know what they're talking about get a chance. This is a rather extraordinary object. It is made of the hair of two people woven together and gold. And it’s mourning jewellery. The idea of using hair to memorialise people was not just a Victorian phenomenon after Queen Victoria lost Albert, this was much earlier. It was in the 1840s. And, oh no, that's me pointing with the laser, that's not going to help.
So here are our two ladies, Carolyn Newcomb, and that's her on the right. A very early photo. We're not sure exactly when but I would think, I've got other experts here, but after 1860s-1870s.
You would have said earlier? Yeah. Yeah, ok. So that's really early to have a camera in the, in the colony.
And that is an artist's impression of where they look like, I don't know, they have the plague and bonnets and they're doing it quite hard near Geelong.
So Anne Drysdale and Caroline Newcomb were fascinating women. They met up in Victoria very early and there's no doubt that from that moment they were constant companions and shared a bed, and in fact farmed together for a long time.
One of the fellows at the library here has done a marvellous job of looking at Miss Drysdale's diary and really translating that, that 19th century writing. And then when Miss Drysdale died, Miss Newcomb actually finished the diary as well. So we actually have proof in a way that of this whole story. And quite amazingly, we have a number of objects in the library that add to the story as well. And we can also see that they were the clients of an architect together. So up the top on the left, this is uh, from the architectural plans that the library holds in another collection. This is the ground-floor plan of their house. So, the bedroom at the front and the parlour and then at, where it says ground plan up on the top left, that was sort of the courtyard where all the drays and carriages would have come in. And there's the kitchen and the pantry and the stairs. So, the sort of, the story sort of starts to come together. And then that's a beautiful drawing of the outside of the house and the next one is a photo and you can see how closely it, you know, and that beautiful bluestone that is, that's part of our history.
But. So Ann Drysdale was a Scot who came to Australia when she was 47. She had some money and experience in farming, and a year after arriving, she met Caroline Newcomb who was 20 years younger. And Caroline had been in Australia for a few years already as a governess in Hobart. And, you know, when Caroline came to Melbourne in 1836 she was one of only 35 white women in the whole of Melbourne. There were 177 people altogether and, quite frankly, Caroline didn't really, she had her pick of the men and she didn't pick anybody. So she took a job as a governess in Geelong, and a year after they met, they decided to move together to this house called Coriole. And they were squatters. So they took and some would say stole 10,000 acres besides the Barwon River, which means that it was land from the Wathaurong people, part of the Kulin nations. And Ann bought money and property to the relationship and did the books, and Caroline bought youth, and horse riding skills, and a huge work capacity, and a knowledge of the colony already, and hands on farming.
And there, there is a little bit of, ah not controversy, but I think you could say that there was, there's a disagreement about whether they were lovers or good staunch Methodist companions. I don't think it's really any of our business what went on in in the bedroom. Possibly a lot of card games, some embroidery. But they, Anne died in 1853 and left everything to Caroline and many years later Caroline married a clergyman, many years younger again. She said that she was doing this for God, although her friends would not approve. And eventually she too was buried at Coriole in the grave with Anne. And she wrote, in the. And Anne Drysdale, who died earlier wrote in the diary, ‘Miss Newcomb, who is my partner, I hope for life, is the best and most clever person I have ever met with’.
And I'll just finish with saying, on the March 3 1854, which is about a year after Ms. Drysdale died, Miss Newcomb was carrying on the diary and she wrote, ‘Fine and very hot. I rode Frase's horse to town’, by which she means Geelong. She ‘did her errands, sold oats, 700 bushels at four and six, took Anne's and my hair to Patterson's to set in a brooch for Mrs Thompson, and he agreed to change my clock. Returned home for tea’. So, we know that that's, so that's the diary with that beautiful writing we have the volumes in the library. And that's how the brooch came to be.
So, all of us here have inspected the brooch and I'd like to ask, just to kick it off, what was the initial reaction of everybody when they first saw it? Jo?
Jo Ritali: Well I'm a little bit grossed out perhaps by the fact that it's made out of hair, although, I mean you can, you see a large version and we actually will have the, the brooch out itself a bit later. It's tiny and looking at it initially, I didn't actually realise it was made out of hair. So, at first I just thought oh wow, it's a very interesting looking item, a very beautiful looking item. But then yeah, when you think about it being people's hair and you know, I see hair on the floor and I just think eww. So that was probably my initial reaction.
Caz: Ok, so we've got one vote for ‘eww’. Louise?
Louise Burnett: I was delighted when I saw it. The lightness of it in colour was quite unusual and the quality of the work is particularly nice. So, for me to see it also in quite good condition, there's a couple of little bits as you would expect, but it's in really good condition. So, for me it was quite a joy.
Caz: And Lizzie?
Lizzie Anya-Petrivna: I was also struck by how white the hair was and how uniform it looked. I also sort of felt it was quite an exuberant looking thing as well. Very ornamental. But it was the kind of virtuosity of it that really struck me and I remember asking a few times if anyone had looked at it under a microscope or done any kind of forensics to sort of see what the sort of strands looked like and, yeah, to investigate further.
Caz: And, and that's one of the things that we'll talk to Jo about too. You know, how you find what things really are and what, perhaps where they really came from. But, first Jo, what is a library doing with a brooch? Aren’t you supposed to just have books? And how come you've got all of the other things that come into the story as well, because the library holds the brooch, the plans for the house, the diary and the photographs.
Jo: That's right, and it's actually really interesting because they've all come in separately. So they didn't come as a complete package.
Caz: That is amazing. And. And all those donations?
Jo: Yeah, they've all come in as donations, all of those items have.
So, the brooch was actually the first item that came into our collection and it was it was donated in 1933. So it's been with us for quite a long time. And really, all we know about that donation was that it was donated a Miss C McLeod. So, so I was determined to kind of find out a little bit more about, about how the brooch had come to the library. Or even just who Miss C McLeod was and what her connection was to the brooch. And we actually know that the brooch is associated with Anne Drysdale because there was a tag that came with the brooch that said, ‘This is the brooch of Anne Drysdale’. So that's, that's kind of how we made that connection, because at that stage we didn't have Anne's diaries in 1933. We didn't have any of the other material.
So as you know, the brooch was made for a Mrs Thomson, and Mrs Thompson was a really good friend of both Caroline and Anne and she was going back to England just about a year after Anne died. And in those days going back to England was like a two year round trip really, and so Caroline had the brooch made for her just before she left as a kind of memento I guess of that friendship that they had. But then how did we get the brooch if it had been, you know, belonging to sort of Barbara Thompson and they, she had a child, one child Jane, and Jane married and they had kids. But it wasn't, it didn't come from that family, so and then…
Caz: Did you use the genealogy, genealogy section of the library to do all that?
Jo: Sort of a one-stop shop here in a way, isn't it? Yeah. Some of that, some of that research is done through those resources, but also because Jane Thompson, Barbara's daughter, had married quite a well-known Melbourne identity and so…
Caz: Well, you make him sound like a criminal.
Jo: No, no, no, no. A substantially respectable identity. And so, they, he is listed in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, and so there's quite a lot of information about him and the children that they had. And so it was reasonably easy to follow that strand.
The Miss McLeod was much more difficult because I didn't have a first name, but there is a lot of references to a Miss McLeod in Anne's diaries and it seems like she was another great friend of the women. And I don't know whether it's the same Miss McLeod, because obviously it's, we're talking about 70 years later that the brooch is donated to the library. So it's either, it could be the same woman, or it could be a relative. So, we're still not 100% sure.
The architectural plans we're the next kind of items to come into our collection and they came through again a donation. A Reverend Brenton was the donor who owned the plans. So he, he gave them to the library, and then the diaries came in 1971. They were on loan for a long time and then the donation was finalised in 2010. So, you know, sometimes these things take 40 years to negotiate, and one collection manager passes on the history of the relationship with that person and obviously we keep a lot of files on that as well. But it can take 40 years for something to become a part of our collection.
And then the photographs of the most recent and they came to the library in 1987. They're by a photographer, John T. Collins, who had a very long relationship with the National Trust of Victoria. Used to go out and photograph all of their sort of heritage-listed houses and so, and often went back several times. So the photographs that we have, we have some from the 1970s and then we have some from the 1980s.
Caz: And is it a National Trust property now or is it privately owned?
Jo: It's a privately owned property.
Caz: Don't go and knock on the door. That would be rude.
Jo: But it's, it is, it is in the, I think it is heritage listed so…
Caz: It would have to be wouldn't it?
Jo: And it's on the National Trust Register, so they would go and photograph those houses.
Caz: Ok, wow, and so that's one of the reasons why I guess cataloguing is really important, so that people can make those connections between objects and things. So, we'll talk a little bit later about keeping things safe. But Louise, our specialist jeweller, are these common do you see them a lot coming into your business?
Louise: Definitely not. They, they have been ruined. I think they've, by and large, you can find sometimes frames with the hair missing. I think there’s been probably a very big backlash over time against hair jewellery.
Caz: That it's out of fashion?
Louise: Out of fashion and, and people really don't like it.
Caz: People like you Jo, people going ‘eww’
Louise: I imagine that's why it was donated. I can imagine somebody feeling it was important and going ‘nobody wants it’.
Caz: Yeah, I can understand how if it's not your friends or your, it's not someone in your family. I think we were all talking before that there's hair and there's hair, in a way.
Louise: There's a good core of Gothic folk out there who really love this stuff and do collect it heavily.
Caz: Help us out with the symbols, Louise. So there's a lyre in the middle and I quite confidently was telling somebody the other day that it had a little briar roses. But.
Louise: No, no.
Caz: So, I did, I did wonder.
Louise: Ok, the symbolism is extremely strong in this piece. Basically you’re gold as a starting point. Gold was, because gold can be melted and solid in alchemical terms, it refers to the transition of the soul. So there's a strong reason for using gold for this kind of jewel. And it also represents eternity and perfection. And the lyre in the centre is, it, it's got quite a few different meanings. I found some references. Well, it's Orpheus, the Golden Lyre of Orpheus, and I think Orpheus.
Caz: Who's Orpheus when he's at home?
Louise: He was the son of Apollo.
Louise: And, and all of this gets debated because there's more than one version of it being ancient stories, but the, the son god Apollo and one of the muses Calliope, who did verses in music. And so, so Orpheus was very famous for Eurydice. His wife was killed, suppose again variations on the myth, bitten on the heel at her wedding by a serpent and died, is gone to the underworld. He found her body and played his harp. He could make trees and rocks, and everything move, his music was so beautiful. So he charmed Hades and Hades took pity and said you can have your wife back. He rescued her from the dead. He's the only one ever to have done it.
Caz: What a reception. A wedding reception to remember.
Louise: Exactly, well they love a bit of drama don't they? Yes. But the, the problem with the story is that he got to the surface. So he comes out of the underworld, gets to the surface and looks back at her. And the condition was he mustn't look until…
Louise: Yep, she wasn't up yet. Deal breaker. She goes back to the underworld and he loses his wife. So umm.
Caz: That’s a lot going on in that broach.
Louise: Well, there absolutely is. Now there's also a cross. We know that Caroline was extremely religious. So the cross is also important. And our flowers, not roses, but forget-me-nots.
Louise: And forget…
Caz: Would they have had little blue, little blue jewels in them at any point? Or did they…?
Louise: Yes. They did in Victorian jewellery. A little, hmm, there's so much of it, sentimental jewellery and mourning jewellery is so, so huge that there's all sorts of variations. Enamel comes in a big later. They started to enamel forget-me-nots. But this is definitely the little five-petalled flower. It would've had a golden centre, flower blue, leaves are correct. It's, it's spot on. Quite naturalistic really if, if you know the flower and, and also, very, very known at the time.
There was a book Sentiment of Flowers from Robert Tyas, that was reprinted over and over and over through the '40s, 1840s that is.
Caz: So everyone would know the language of flowers.
Louise: Everyone, everyone knew it and forget-me-not was one of the really basic ones. And, and the quote, there's little verses in that book, and the one that is for forget-me-not was ‘It softly tells an absent friend that links of love should never rend’. So
Caz: Aw. Well, we're going to run out of time, so we better move on a little bit. But let's, that sort of Spirograph passion of the hair, I know both of you it reminded me of the knitting Nancy. So I wondered if perhaps that was what had happened with the hair.
Now Lizzie, you have done some research into the hair workers, and there were hair workers here in Victoria, I think and here's a chap who I think is making a merkin, but it does say in the book that this is from, that he is making hair jewellery. And behind him, those rather anatomical looking things are moulds that the hair was placed in to be sort of set into, into a shape, is that right Lizzy?
Lizzie: Yes so that kind of machine that he's using, that's almost like a lace pillow is all, is weighted around the base, so that the braids can, can happen. And it actually then travels down through a little hole in the middle, and it would be worked over a form. So the broach that we're looking at tonight would have been woven with a centre of a kind of rod to kind of keep its, keep its shape.
Caz: So if we have a look at some of the other, the patterns. And, and this here it says Albert's. And, now, in those days an Albert was a watch chain. So these ones here, that sort of braided hair that could be made into a chain, these that—don't look up Albert jewellery on the internet because it doesn't mean that anymore. Penis. A horizontal penis piercing now, which I don't think Miss Drysdale and Miss Newcomb had any knowledge of—so Lizzy, and Louise, these are the other kinds of designs and it, it looks like it was very easily-recognisable that these were sort of patents that people could perhaps go and order.
Lizzie: Well, I managed to find some really lovely information from the Police Gazette, and of course jewellers are often robbed. So, finding a list of a jeweller called Gant. He was a well-known hair-work jeweller in Geelong. He had his premises on Ryrie Street. And he was entering many, many competitions of, you know, of industry and expositions of colonial expositions and so on, and winning gold medals for his work.
And some of the descriptions just from the Intercolonial Exhibition for instance he's making roses and thistles and shamrocks, butterflies, his boomerangs, and waddies, a snake, all sorts of different objects. And when he passes away, his wife takes over from the business, and has her premises in Russell Street and is also exhibiting.
But she's making things like temples and architectural structures. So, these are listed on, in the Police Gazette as being stolen, and as well as just ornamental broaches, colonial gold-work, Alberts. Yeah, so, so quite a variety.
Caz: Wow, that's, that's amazing. That, so, that's just the side of the broach to show you how 3D it is. And you will be able to see it afterwards. We're going to have a look at a few things. But that was one of the things that really surprised me about it because when you see the front of it, it feels flat like a Spirograph. And there's just some more which, which also shows that lyre symbology was very, very common to be used with, with the hair.
That is the back, which I'll just leave up for a moment. So Lizzie, were the hair workers mostly young girls or were they very experienced?
Lizzie: Um well.
Caz: It sounds like quite hard to.
Caz: Weave a temple, and I have heard that there was a tea-set made, I think Louise found it online, out of hair.
Lizzie: So I guess it's get back to that kind of virtuosity and being able to take, take a handcraft and actually sort of excel and display your work. So that's where these sort of exhibitions were really great places for women to sort of show, show their abilities and sort of take some of these tasks and create them into an art form for themselves.
I found the Gant example really interesting because, you know, Henry is exhibiting while he's alive, but then his wife takes over and is exhibiting temples and all sorts of things. So I kind of wondered what the story was there and who was actually doing the work? And who you could actually attribute the hair work part of the jewellery business to? And who actually did the, using the, you know, I guess you can sort of look at it from the hard materials and the soft materials if you wanted to kind of divide it in that way.
The, it is I guess with a lot of these sorts of skills, which required dexterity, small hands are, you know, a necessity. I mean, if you're braiding strands of hair of up to, you know, about six strands, and you're weaving them on that machine, that sort of, device that we saw, you know, you'd have to be quite delicate at your, at your work.
Caz: And Louise, would it with that hair, the way that it's been treated there, would it be springy to the touch? They wouldn't let us touch the brooch. I did want to give it a poke and see if it sort of, you know, had any give in it.
Louise: It is very springy.
Caz: Is it?
Louise: Yeah, if you, if you touch it, it will, yeah, it's kind of how it holds. It gives. It does, it's still hair not in a natural sort of fall. So yes it does have the springiness of hair. I guess it's kind of dead once in comes out of our head anyway, but I just wonder, I've got a secret theory, you see, that this is actually a Shetland pony tail, and I wonder, without actually taking a piece of hair, which I don't think Joe would let us.
Jo: No. There will be no touching of the hair brooch tonight.
Caz: How do we know, or do we just have to kind of believe that it's human hair? What do you think?
Louise: Well, I, I, there was terrible scandal about hair. You can understand that hair weavers might be tempted to replace difficult, they brought, imagine extremely curly hair or.
Caz: Well this is said to be two people's hair and it does…look, look at your face hmm yeah…it does seem very uniform doesn't it to be two. I mean in colour and in consistency, to be…
Louise: Well do, do you want my two cents worth on that?
Caz: I do Louise. I do very much so.
Louise: I think it's one person's hair.
Louise: I think there was a locket in the centre, which you can see very clearly here, which is no longer in there. It would be right for the piece for the era and the style. And I think there was a glazed part in there and I suspect that Caroline's much darker hair would have been in that locket space. And it’s, and it’s gone.
Caz: Cause she was younger where as Ms Drysdale probably had the light hair.
Louise: Because I did loop it and it is in my opinion one person's hair. It's so even.
Caz: Wow, ok. And do you think Mr Patterson did it all himself or sent it to London? Or do you think the work was done in Geelong?
Louise: I think the work was done in Geelong.
Louise: Yep, definitely the gold-work, there were certainly good enough jewellers to execute a piece like this. And I asked my jeweller about it, and after he sort of wiped his brow and said ‘Oh hello, ooh I haven't done’, talking about the sheneers on the back, which are the sort of pipy looking pieces.
Caz: What are they called?
Caz: Sheneers. Yep.
Louise: He said, ‘Oh I haven't had to do anything like that’. And he looked at me and said, ‘Oh two days work’ and then he went ‘make that four’.
Caz: Right. Wow.
Louise: So, yeah, that gives you an idea of how much work would go into it.
Lizzie: And I guess just back to the, sorry Kaz, just back to that idea of is it, is it really their hair what's going on? I brought along a household manual, of course. I can't leave home without it; bringing one of my manuals out with me. It's a Cassell's Household Guide and there's a section on hair work, and it begins with sort of saying, oh, you must learn to do this yourself, so that you don't find yourself swindled and, and, you know, find yourself self-wearing the hair of a stranger.
And certainly the instructions provided are very simple. So it's all platting and curling. Adhering hair to goldbeater’s skin, which was the intestine of a lamb. Doesn't sound very palatable.
Caz: Sounds delightful!
Lizzie: But really, it sort of seemed like the ornate stuff was professional and some of the more simple displays were, were home, were amateur.
Louise: I did find an interesting, a piece of information that was in the middle of the 19th century. 50 tons of human hair a year was imported into England for use by the country's jewellers.
Caz: Do we know where it was from?
Louise: Europe, across Europe.
Caz: Oh, wow, ok. So that's…I'll just leave it on the back for a sec. Now we've got all the experts we need here, so I'm wondering if, if you found something like this in a drawer at home how would you clean something and I'm thinking probably a bit of Spray and Wipe and steel wool. I love saying things like that to Joe.
So Lou, firstly Louise, what, how would you? Would you ever touch it in your profession as jeweller?
Louise: Yeah, yeah, absolutely and, ok, you'd have it with some brass iron. If it's got. Well, well the first thing with this is the lightness of it, so it could easily have a stain spot or something like that.
I would go at it with a cotton-bud and some water, very gently. Just over, over it. And I would do that very slowly over the whole thing. You need it to dry out. You don't want mould. Hair often has mould because it's been immersed at some stage and not dried out properly.
Caz: Oh wow.
Louise: And the gold work, again, probably I would leave it alone. I think oxidized this kind of, because it's textured on the front that actually looks really good with a bit of bloom to it anyway. So I would be tempted to leave that alone. It doesn't need to be bright and shiny and new looking.
Louise: But certainly the hair I would recommend very gentle cause obviously.
Caz: But don't.
Caz: Take it to Louise.
Caz: If you find one.
Louise: Let me do it.
Caz: And Joe, what's the philosophy? What's the theory of the library? Does everything have to be cleaned up and gorgeous? Or do you never? Cause I have seen some broken jewellery in the collection. What's, how do you approach that?
Jo: I think for the library it's about, well, do we need, I mean we try to keep things as authentic as they were or they.
Caz: As they arrive or as they were in their heyday?
Jo: Well probably as they arrive, really. But we also have to make sure that things are able to be handled and stored and displayed. Because, you know, it's no point in us keeping everything in a dark vault and not being able to kind of make it accessible to people. So, a lot of the kind of treatment work that we do is, is around making, being able to make the material accessible. So, and not shiny and pretty accessible, but just so that it can be used or looked at by people.
So with something like this object, again because we are a library and we mainly deal with paper, so we do have conservators who work with our collection material and we mainly have paper conservators, so we would actually get a specialist textiles conservator, or an objects conservator to to do any work on this particular piece of jewellery.
Luckily for us the, the brooch is actually in really good condition. And that's because we've, we've, we've made a great effort to store it quite carefully in a specially made box so that it doesn't have to be handled a lot. So when you see it tonight, you'll see that it has its own box and it has a little tray that we can lift out of the box so that we don't actually have to touch the brooch, because hair is quite fragile.
Caz: And I, in fact I should just, I just want to interrupt, just to say that I have seen even little Safeway lapel badges from the 1970s treated with exactly the same care and, and having their own box. And there, there's a conservator here called Caroline Fraser who makes a beautiful box, everything fits in perfectly. And the ribbons that you can sort of pull the top layer out of and then underneath there's sort of some more things if, if perhaps it's a donation of several things from one person. And it's, it's part of the joy of being able to see that everything is treated with the same respect here, which I think's really interesting.
Jo: I think, yeah, I mean one of the things is that, you know, about, I mean one of the things that Caz and I were talking about when we were talking about the brooches, about how we value objects, or how we value material that comes into our collections, and of course, you know, monetary value is something that does come into play. But for us it's, there's a lot more involved in how we, how we assess material and, and so it’s historical significance. It, it could be association.
So this brooch is really important to us because of its association with Anne and Caroline, who were very interesting women in Victoria's history. Not so much because it's a beautiful object, but obviously, you know, that's important as well. But for us it could be quite, you know, it could be a really ugly piece of jewellery and we would still consider it to be really important because of its association with those two women.
So there's a whole range of things. So, you know, a badge, a Safeway badge can be just as significant to the library, because it might have belonged to someone who was really integral to Victoria's history. And so that's why we would, you know, we would put it in its own beautiful box just as we do with this one.
Caz: And that's, that's what I love about that collection. Is actually from a man who went to Collingwood Tech and he kept his Prefect's Badge and then went to work for Safeway for 35 years, and he kept his the badges that commemorated you know his 10 years, 15, 20. And they were obviously really precious to him, and it shows some of, you know, some more of Melbourne's working history that is not, not so pretty.
So, I just want to show some more things, just quickly, we'll, we'll whip through. But here's some hair jewellery we have in the collection, and Joe will be really familiar with, the things that belonged to Georgiana McCrae who lived down on the peninsula and was an artist.
And bottom right is a miniature that she painted of her dad, the Duke of Gordon, back in Scotland, who was, look, I'm going to say it because I can, he was a mad rooter. And he had three illegitimate children, and that's not in the library catalogue, but it's true. And so, Georgiana was one of them, and she came to Victoria and when he died she painted that portrait. It's in a pendant and about that big and it's actually in the exhibition that I've put together, the little one up on the fifth floor that you can see until November.
And on the back side of that portrait is—it's, it's a terrible photo cause I took it—but you'll have to take my word for it that on the left at the bottom is a basket-weave pattern of Georgiana's own hair on the back of that pendant as a memorial. And up the top, is the legitimate wife of the Duke of Gordon. The Duchess had bracelets made when he died with Jet and real diamonds and the ducal coronet on the top. And that was the top of the bracelet that went there. And then underneath hidden was her hair in a basket-weave pattern.
So they're all at it at the same time, but just in their various ways. And this is another brooch which we'll have a look at afterwards in the foyer. It's in the collection. And, I mean I think partly why hair was so important was that it was a way to connect with people who were gone because they were across the seas and someone had travelled a long, long way away. And it was, it was still quite dangerous to do that, you know? There was, there were no antibiotics, people would drop off from Diphtheria, or Measles, or whatever. So you didn't know whether you were going to see somebody again. So they didn't necessarily have to die for you to make the memorial jewellery.
But then, of course, when photos came along, much more popular later in the 1800s, things like lockets and that beautiful idea of being able to close a locket and have two faces together, which I think is very nice.
And, this, I've had a blog as part of my exhibition, which is about what people wear to show where they belong or to say something. And, so, these earrings that I'm wearing are the ones up on the left, and they're made of Jet and they're from the late 1800s. And I just thought I'd ask Lizzie and Louise, that was such a thing, wasn't it? Jet jewellery, and it, they feel like plastic, they feel really light. And I, when I first saw them, I thought they were, loved them, but that, but, but I particularly loved that they have sort of an industrial cogish kind of look to them.
Caz: Steampunk. But what was the deal with Whitby Jet? Was it discovered at the same time that Victoria lost Albert? Or why was Jet such a thing?
Louise: Yeah, it was, it was pretty close in time. She started to wear it.
Caz: And Whitby is the area in Yorkshire, isn't it, where they dug it out? Yeah, exactly right. Beautiful little town where Dracula landed. The, if you've been there it's so cute. And they still make Jet jewellery there, hugely expensive don't buy it there unless you have to. And its, it's fabulous because it takes a very high shine. And Whitby Jet was particularly fine. You can get Jet from other places, but there was a decent amount of it. They, it attracted then very good carvers, and they made all sorts of things out of it.
So the earrings that you got are interesting for that very geometric shape. When I first saw a chain from the same era. It's probably 1870, it's probably slightly earlier. I got the shock of my life. I thought, ‘oh, this is Deco’. Mm. This is quite a few years ago. And if…
Caz: Oh, she's really good at it now!
Lizzie: I'm much better now. She'd know now.
Louise: But no, there was some very industrial looking pieces in Victorian jewellery around the 1870s.
Lizzie: And I've also heard that you can tell real Jet by licking it? That it has a certain, because I guess there were other kind of natural polymers that were available at the time, like Gutter Percher and Vulcanite and those sorts of things.
Caz: Which are rubber, aren't they?
Lizzie: Yeah, and also had a kind of plasticky, sort of Jet-like…
Louise: They feel quite different. Jet feels harder, but lighter. Those other things have a softer feel to them. They also don't take that real shiny black. They're not quite as bright and shiny.
Lizzie: And we've got a lot of fake jet in the Trust's costume collection. And I remember I won't mention who, another curator mentioned that she had heard that you can tell the whether Jet was real by licking it. And I just wanted to know whether that was true? It would be quite inert, I mean its fossilised coal.
Caz: Yeah. I'll lick mine later and I'll report back.
Oh, see, we're, we're going to be talking until three in the morning. But down in the bottom left is a fabric poppy, about 1919, in the collection. And bottom, bottom right is a tiny badge about that big that looks quite modern, looks like it's sort of perhaps the bass player in Elvis Costello's band, but it was an actor called Max Clifton in the early 1900s. And, and that badge was passed down through his family as a memorial.
And here's, we'll be seeing these afterwards too. I just put these in because lovely metal and saved from the picture collection who also looks after objects, and Joe said that we could so that was exciting.
Cause, there are things that you'll see tonight that won't be on show possibly for years again, because once they come out they have to go back for their own protection. But these were sort of do-it-yourself lapel badges with the colours of the English flag on the left. Dardanelles 1915, and then of course Gallipoli 1915 as well. And this was a badge I found early on during my project, and it was a badge given to mums who had sons in the war. And you got one star along the bar for every son who died. And there was a very different reaction, some women wore them proudly and some women threw them in the bin. So, I thought that was really interesting as another form of memorial.
And here in the collection there are lots of textiles. And although there isn't a textile conservator, there are a few textiles in the, my exhibition upstairs. We, we got a conservatory in. And but, there was some things that I couldn't show and one of them was this, because it's in such bad nick. It's a morning cape and a little bit of an outfit. And you can see down in the bottom left, just a little—again a very bad photo, I didn't know they were going to be blown up on stage—but you can see the little Jet buttons and the lace. And I learned this word ‘top left’ that when the fabric is rent it's called ‘shattered’. Which, it does look a bit shattered. And Lizzie, you work a lot with, with costume and, and textiles. Will, will this sort of thing just stay in a box forever because it's so very fragile now?
Lizzie: Yes, once the shattering starts it's irreversible unless, you know, you've kept something in pristine condition and it's been in perfect, perfect in museum environment and it hasn't started the shattering process. You know, it's really, it's irreversible and it's inherent in the textile.
From the, in the late 19th Century. Of course, silk has always been sold by weight. And textile, silk was weighted with mineral salts that in, in, in the baths would create tin, a tin compound. So the fibres were all impregnated with these salts and over…
Caz: So, it's actually a metallic fabric, even though it's not shiny.
Lizzie: Yeah. It, it gives it a kind of scoop, a sort of froufrou, a weight. And so it could be sold and, you know, swindle people, because, of course, you're paying more for something that's an inferior quality. Or you could buying for its actual feel and the sound, the froufrou sound it might make, and…
Caz: The froufrou sound.
Lizzie: Well, you know,
Caz: No, I love it.
Louise: Like rusting petticoat
Lizzie: You know, when you, when you rub silk together, that rustling sound.
Caz: Yeah, yeah.
Lizzie: And of course, you know, over time it just turns the silk to powder. What is also quite troubling when this sort of occurs, and I'd advise wearing a mask, is that you can't always be certain that the right mineral salts were used, because a lot of people used lead and it would poison the wearer. And then you've got the added sort of chemical soup of the aniline dyes, which were sometimes fixed with arsenic. So umm.
Caz: Great. Snugly. And speaking of aniline dyes, because one of the first ones was mauve, wasn't it, and purple, and. When I looked at this dress, which is in the collection. And they come down in flat, in huge boxes that are about that tall and, you know, way long, from the storage in Ballarat. It's terribly exciting, and then you take off the lid and there, you know, there's crackling tissue paper. And there was this darling lying face down in the box for the last 100 and so years. And I was, I got it out because I knew it was mauve from the catalogue, and I thought it must be a half mourning dress, because Victoria, Queen Victoria, sort of decreed that it should be black and then grey or mauve, but it turns out to be a wedding dress. So it's not always what it seems. You have to know a bit more history.
We have to move on so that we've got time for questions. But, I just wanted to ask all of you, I know that it was considered that mourning was a fetish after Prince Albert died. Do you think all these things that we've been looking at are, umm, are weird? Or do you think it's just different in different times? That now we have tattoos, or we have Facebook pages or, you know, do, do you feel that this is something that somebody might do now, I guess, Joe? You know.
Jo: I mean, I don't. I don't think it's weird.
Caz: She does really.
Jo: I mean maybe the, the, the hair thing seems a bit odd. But, I guess it's, because of, I mean I must admit when I first saw the brooch I didn't realise that working with hair was such an industry at that time and that it was actually quite common to have different pieces of, you know, whether it was the Albert, or a brooch, or other, or bracelets made out of hair.
But I guess, you know, things, personal objects that have some, you know, real strong connection to an individual is something that you see throughout our collection and they come from all periods of time. So, yeah, I don't see that as being weird. And I think, you know, contemporary society does it as well, whether it's, whether it's something that they wear on their body, as in the form of a tattoo, or a piercing, or…
Caz: Like armband.
Jo: Yeah, or, or it's, you know, or it's, you know, the, the friendship bracelets and things that, you know, I remember from when I was a teenager and we all, you know, wore them. So, I think, I don't think it's weird.
Caz: And actually, so that we can get the questions in. I'm just going to get a little bit vulgar and ask Louise, if somebody turned up with this for you to sell and you popped it in the window of the French Jewel Box. What would the tag say?
Louise: Ok, I, without provenance, because obviously with the provenance it wouldn't end up with me. Umm. I would be probably putting somewhere around $2,500 on it.
Caz: Ok. And Lizzy what do you think it might have been worth back in the day? To have this made?
Lizzie: Mm, I think it might have been between £5 and £10.
Caz: Which would be what now do you think?
Lizzie: Oh, I don't like these questions I can never…
Caz: No, I know it is vulgar.
Lizzie: Oh, I, I, would say that that was. I mean if you think that a working man's weekly wage in to mid-to-late was about a pound or something or other. So you know you put that into context and it's an expensive.
Caz: That's two months wages.
Lizzie: Yeah, yeah.
Caz: Yeah. And Joe have you insured it?
Caz: Are you going to tell us how much for?
Jo: No, I can't tell you how much, cause it, we have a, basically we have insurance for our entire collection, so.
Caz: I imagine that you just get a form and write ‘everything's priceless’ on it.
Jo: Everything. I mean obviously the broach is priceless to us and it's interesting because we don't actually have an individual evaluation for this particular collection item.
Jo: It's never been out. Well, as far as I can tell it's never actually gone out on exhibition externally. It's been on exhibition here in our own building.
Caz: But didn't it go to Ballarat for the Scottish exhibition?
Jo: I don't, I don't know that it did or.
Caz: Oh, ok.
Jo: So, so that would be a point where we would get it valued.
Caz: I'm guessing you don't just call a taxi.
Jo: No, no we have very rigorous processes. Yeah. And hopefully no one from our conversation department is here and cringing at this point in time guys.
Caz: Oh, they're always cringing when I ask them things.
Jo: But no, it's so…we don't actually have a value amount for that particular item. And it, so I was quite interested to sort of hear what Louise would sell it for as an unprovenanced item, and then what we might then add to that considering that, you know, it's got all that history associated with it.
Caz: Well, before we all go out and have a look, cause I was reminded too of I think that you, that some people can use the remains of a loved one to be compressed into a diamond.
Louise: We have set one.
Caz: Oh, ok, so there you go. Oh, that's got the biggest gasp of the night, hasn't it?
Well, on that cheery note we might go out and have a look at the objects. But please do check out the exhibitions, both upstairs and downstairs. And before we go, I just want to say thankyou so much to the Library, to Pete on sound, to Zoe and Harry on door. Thank you to Tara Christian Palet for organising the whole shebang and doing some research herself.
A wonderful panel, all of whom have done independent research, well, all their lives, but particularly for this evening. So thankyou for coming.
And if we could thank Joe, Louise, and Lizzy as well.
Thankyou so much.
Well thankyou. I just failed the IQ test about how to get up here.
Thankyou for honouring me by coming out and I do hope this isn't simply a lecture but actually an animated conversation, because what I'm presenting comes with no definitive answers or orthodoxy, and being Victorian for most of us, I'm assuming, is something that we in dwell. It's our lived experience and, therefore, we bring a whole range of perceptions to what that's all about.
Thanks for the welcome. Great to be back in harness with Jill Singer. We were on the Real Republic ticket together at the constitutional convention. When we got elected on our ticket and it went really successful bringing in a Republic, Jill. That one really worked.
But this evening, I want us to think a little bit about Victoria. And to say that, it's not about Sydney. I can quote, and we all know them. The famous David Williamson line in Emerald City, ‘In Melbourne, people anguish over the meaning of existence. In Sydney, the meaning's given. It's to get a harbour view’.
We like to think we're deep and they're shallow, and we grapple with existential ideas. Now there, I think, is some truth in that. Neil Lawrence, an old friend of mine, was down today. He grew up here in Melbourne. You might have seen him on the Gruen Transfer, and he did the Kevin 07 campaign and the mining company's campaign that he doesn't like to talk about so much.
He's lived in Sydney now for 20 years. And I told him, I'm talking about this topic and he said, ‘Well, you can quote me’, saying, ‘in Melbourne, people are much more open to big ideas and discussing them. He said, that, for me, is the difference between Melbourne and Sydney’. Now, that's his experience.
But tonight, a challenge in saying something about Victoria and Melbourne, in particular, it's not to think in comparative or competitive terms, Melbourne versus Sydney. Not all of us do that but here's a story, sounds like a joke but it's actually true. Two Melbourne office workers dress fashionably in black and a little festive dark grey. Walk into a bar. It's a small, dark bar hidden in a small, dark Melbourne laneway. It's a very fashionable bar, a few people know about it and it's packed out by the noise. But, as the crowd dies down, these two get into a serious conversation because it's past six o'clock on a Friday, they're on their second drink, they're putting their working week behind them. The conversation becomes speculative and philosophical, like we do in Melbourne. We're deep. Ruminating on existence and their pr, their present circumstance, one says, you know?
Right now, people are sitting in brilliantly lit pokey-infested pubs all over Sydney. Sydney does have 10% of all the worlds’ pokeys, so that's probably a good guess. And right up there, in Sydney, they're thinking how wonderful it is to be here. How they've got really the best of life. You know the harbour, the sun when it's not raining, the beach culture, all of that. And they're thinking that down here in Melbourne, people are hunkered down against the grim weather, inside darkly-lit bars like this one, wearing black and talking about Sydney. But what they don't realise is, we never think about Sydney. Well, that is, sometimes the experience Sydney-siders say to me. On my board, I've got a few and they say, ‘You're obsessed with Sydney down here, we never think about you’.
Well tonight, let's think a bit about Victoria, but without it necessarily being comparative. What does Victoria have that sets us apart? Is it a question of having the best of everything, or being the best at everything? Probably not, but there is a case to be made. Let's start with Melbourne.
Apparently, we've been the world’s most liveable city for the last four years running. That's according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. We're, or at least one of them, year after year, we're ranked with places like Vancouver and Vienna. Going back beyond four years.
We have a strong claim as the sporting capital of Australia. Of course AFL, Melbourne Cup, Australian Open, tennis and golf. We have a real tribal culture in football. And even when we're talking football, Neil reminded me of this. It's serious talk. It’s actually serious strategy, and tactics, and coaching, and plays. We take ideas seriously even if it's sport.
We show up, not just as theatre crowds, but at our sporting team's crowds. Think about 86,000 the other day at the MCG for a cricket game that didn't even involve Australia. I was part of the record 90,000 State of Origin league match, that's league rugby or they call it league. Queensland versus New South Wales. First time it was ever played. Out of one of those states at the MCG and it had the biggest crowd ever in league history, 90,000. I was there. 89,000 of us were there saying, why have they stopped the play? Why are they throwing the ball? What are the rules? We don't get this at all. But being Melbourne, we went. We went. We were there.
The prestigious QS rankings say that Melbourne is second only to Paris among the best cities in the world to be a student. That's a pretty high praise. We have Australia's largest university and student numbers Monash, and its’ largest and wealthiest in research, Melbourne University.
Alongside the sporting coliseums, we have just fantastic public spaces. South Bank, Burang Mar, Federation Square, the exhibition building, fantastic in White Night, I don't know if you saw it the other night. These are extraordinary public institutions of public culture, with the National Gallery, the Melbourne Museum, the State Library a national treasure, here we are, and Australia's best regional art gallery in Bendigo.
Perhaps the best theatre, certainly the best food, definitely the best coffee, and as former-BBC correspondent in Australia, Nick Ryan, put it, ‘We, in Melbourne, are a lifestyle superpower’.
But all these riches, great as they are, don't explain, necessarily, what's really special about our patch of Australia.
We understand the history of how we got here and what built just extraordinary buildings, like the one we're in. It was gold.
Visitors to Victoria are often struck by our confidence and optimism. One of the sources of Victoria's and Melbourne's confidence is the heritage we're still resting on from gold. It’s a sense that success and prosperity is our destiny. It's a metaphorical truth underpinned by the literal geological fact that the state is underlayed by precious metal. This instinctive faith is caught in a series of slogans we've used to encourage ourselves for now nearly two centuries. Australia Felix, Marvelous Melbourne, The Jewel in the Crown, the Garden State, conjuring up in Victoria a luxurious Eden. The establishment and jewel in the Liberal Party crown. The establishment for power and elite, its past, but it was here in Melbourne.
So, the real history of Victoria may be dotted with boom and bust. But we get up, we manage to dust off our optimism after a bust and we start again. I was quite struck by this when I was invited to speak to a gathering in Perth about four or five years ago. The event was a reception at Government House, it was attended by Western Australia's great and good, Gina Rinehart, and lots of the wealthy were there.
It was organised by Giving West, an organisation they are launching to promote philanthropy in Western Australia. They're doing it in the middle of a mining-boom. And leading West, leading citizens in Western Australia, were deeply concerned that the prosperity was being wasted. They wanted to encourage a new wave of philanthropy, so the future generations of West Australians would have some kind of legacy.
They asked me to come over and speak, always dangerous being an easterner going over there. On the subject, what has Victoria to show for The Gold Rush? What can we learn? And I did the figures on per capita giving, and found that Western Australia was by far the lowest, per capita, giving to philanthropy and charity anywhere in Australia. The highest interestingly is ACT, then us and NSW, neck and neck. We're a bit ahead. Western Australia, really, really low.
Well, when I look into this question, what does Victoria have to show for the gold rush? Lots and lots. It brought huge immigration and growth. You know, in 1840, when Governor Latrobe came here first there was about 4,000, 5,000 people here. By the end of the gold rush we were one of the largest cities in the world bar London. We had, in Bendigo was the second richest stock exchange but to London.
We forget just the enormity of what the gold rush did here. The gold rush brought immigration, growth, the waves of prosperity that lead to the age of Marvelous Melbourne. The architectural legacy in the grand Victorian buildings like the GPO, the Town Hall, the Exhibition Building, even Flinders Street station, to say nothing of the magnificent architecture of surely the most impressive provincial cities still in Australia today.
But the legacy of the gold rush is something much bigger, much deeper than the outward display of architectural glory. I'll return to that later. What it is in Victoria's culture, indeed our collective psyche that we have retained from the age of gold is really worth thinking about that I will come back to.
There's another thing often associated with Melbourne and that's the term ‘wowsers’. At least, historically we are the Puritan, Puritan city of Australia. Many will trace this in church terms to the dominance of the Presbyterian Church. Scots particularly up there and the fact that Melbourne was particularly built on Presbyterian ethics and principles, different to Sydney and other, other capitals.
Well, we were known as Victorian by name and Victorian by nature. The term ‘wowser’ was coined in Melbourne. It resonates with meaning. One of the finest journalistic chroniclers of Victoria was Keith Dunstan. As you know, he wrote a column for decades in the Sun, later worked at the Age, wrote a whole book called Wowsers.
Well there were two basic interpretations of Wowsers. One is that of social reformer. Appalled at the cost in human suffering of the effects of commercially-driven vice, particularly alcohol and gambling. The other is that of kill-joys, spoil sports, puritanical, often hypocritical puritans who wanted to deprive ordinary people of their fun and force a gloomy, repressed straight-jacketed conformity on everyone. These people bring in the Nanny state.
To this end the Wowser is opposed, not only obvious vice like public drunkenness but simple, innocent pleasures theatre, dancing, social drinking, playing card games. The culture war between Wowsers and their critics was often played out in mutual denunciations. If the pulpit and the public meeting were the preferred platforms for the Wowsers, the popular press especially that highly-esteemed Melbourne Institution the Truth newspaper, gave plenty of space to their opponents.
The Truth was always an independent and respectable paper, and its views had nothing to do with the financial interests of John Wren and his ilk as some think, but it was anti-Wowser. The best known crusaders against vice were two brothers, both Methodist ministers, Reverend William Henry Judkins and Reverend George Alfred Judkins.
Legendary debates with John Wren, some people have likened my debates with Packer and the casino as just a reincarnation of this. The elder brother, William Henry, famously retorted to the Wowser epitaph, by means of a … he claimed Wowser actually stood for We Only Want Social Evils Remedied. Well this culture-war moved round and round various battlefields. Gambling, prostitution, drugs, the regulation of the liquor trade that was often the most keenly contested ground, not just here, but throughout the English-speaking worlds.
I have a little bit of this in my genes, right opposite my great-great grandfather's pub. Now on the site of the railway station. He came out in 1841, Patrick Costello. At 17 he could read and write before gold. Started pubs…pubs back then…got at first elected to Melbourne City Council. Why? Because Melbourne City Council handed out the licenses for pubs. Then, in those days, pubs were the voting booths when you had elections. So, with his network, he stood for the first Colonial Parliament and got elected and took his place. And it was only some months into taking his seat and someone blew the whistle on him that he had rigged his election through, and the word was ‘personating’. We'd call it impersonating. Personating people who are dead and now are voting.
Just a side-track, I remember Clive Holding when he was in Richmond. He was Protestant, had Catholics running the state Labour Party in Richmond. Dead were voting for Clyde back then, and Clyde said it's a safe labour seat, we don't need to do it. And the chair, Catholic chair of his election committee said that's what's wrong with you Protestants, you don't believe in the resurrection of the dead. They kept voting for a while, the dead.
Well my Catholic, all Costello’s were Catholic, it’s only an accident of sport that my branch is Protestant. Dad was baptised Catholic, wanted to play with the best cricket team in Ascotvale, which was Presbyterian, so we're a testament to the power of sport really.
Mum and Dad married in a Presbyterian church and we get sent to the Baptist church, anyway. Going back, Patrick was charged. Such was the publicity in Melbourne, because Patrick was so well known, they had to move his trial to Ballarat. This is 18 years before Redmond Barry tried Ned Kelly. Redmond Barry was the judge. He and Patrick lived opposite each other in Carlton here and hated each other. One Irish Protestant, Redmond Barry. The other, that very responsible for this. The other Irish Catholic. Patrick was condemned, was found guilty, and sentenced to 12 months prison. He only served three months because he threatened to sing, about all the others who had rigged their election. And so Parliament quietly let him out of prison. He resurfaces in 1891 after about 40 years gap as the Mayor of North Melbourne. And his first act as Mayor is to reinstate a drunken Irish employee, who's constantly drunk at North Melbourne Council. Patrick says, ‘No, it was just bad beer. He wasn't drunk’.
Well, here in my family is this whole Wowser, and prohibition, and liquor debate. And it was in liquor that, particularly, this debate was played out. This is the arena where women really started to become active. Women, still true today in indigenous communities, have a vote wherever women in remote communities outnumber men and they usually do, they always vote for a dry community.
Always, sick of the abuse and the violence and they, they've had enough.
Well, in the early 20th century, and it was at its heart here in Melbourne and Victoria, the leading campaign against full liquor reform was the Women's Christian Temperance Union—still active today, now its focus more on drug education and support for youth—and out of that, women organising against the evils of alcohol, organising politically saying we've got to get into power and we've got to have the vote, and we've got to…you start to see this Wowser debate and early feminism in some ways really flowing together.
When we place ourselves in the environment of our time and recognise that those seeking to control alcohol were not seen as conservative but as reformers, a bit like the situation with tobacco and even pokies today. You get a different picture around this term Wowser.
Many of the Women's Christian Temperance Union's key opponents were women. Women's employment opportunities and businesses, and business and professions, were constrained by the attitudes and the educational systems of the time. So other women said you should be in the home. You should be subject to your husbands. You shouldn't be making political trouble. We'd call it today horizontal gender persecution.
But the retail and hotel trade was another complication in the story Anna Blaney, what's the name, anyway, I got that name wrong, describes in her history of alcohol in Australia that women constituted a large percentage of publicans in the early 20th century. Women's Lounge, you can read the book. Because women in pubs, such as drunkenness and violence, so epidemic, were regarded as a civilising influence. So if you made the licensee a woman, you might actually, and it was really the first and one of the only areas of a profession and work that women could go into.
So you had a whole lot of women debates going on in a quite convoluted, complicated way. Well, the WCTU and their allies never succeeded in their aim of passing a referendum to prohibit alcohol in the state. But in the 1920s they saw a great reduction in licensed premises as well as the local option that continues to see Camberwell and Box Hill as dry areas even today. They had some political power and some impact.
These developments, somewhat similar to what happened in other states, but here was really the engine house for these movements. It was not surprising that Victoria and South Australia were the slowest to reverse the trend over the following decades. Both states retained six o'clock closing right up to the mid-1960s.
From 1960s on, Victoria started to change dramatically. And Victoria became a path breaker in liberalising the laws. It extended the sale of liquor but it decriminalised consensual sex in private, homosexual sex, legalising sex work, ending censorship, allowing for huge expansion of gambling. I'll never forget John Cain saying, ‘they called me a Wowser because I refused to have a casino license and pokies. But I did legalise brothels and the drinking laws’, so, and John Cain came and said really, really publicly ‘as soon as I was out of my desk within five minutes of being premier, those powerful, greedy, gambling interests were in the door. They knew they'd get nowhere with me’. He was right in my view.
So I think Wowserism was undoubtedly a double-edged sword with good and bad effects, but a distinctly Victorian character. Maybe exaggerated, but it's a part of our DNA.
I have sympathy with the view that a civilised community protects its members from the worst impacts of apparent freedom, even if prohibition is usually a mistake.
It's interesting that Sir Henry Bolte—and I think we often mistake him as sort of like a jovial Sir Joh Bjelke Peterson our generation and you remember the hanging or Ronald Rhine—but in 1955 when he got elected, Bolte was a liberal in a quite progressive sense. I'm going to clear the slums. I'm going to put up high rising, which were actually regarded as much more humane at that time. A lot of problems now. Bolte, you know, introduced the first mandatory seatbelts anywhere in the world. The nanny state. Kennet introduced the first fences around swimming pools to protect young people drowning. When you hear liberals saying red tape, nanny state, libertarian views. Victorian liberalism has actually always been quite different and I'll, I'll get to that.
But Victoria, though dull and conformist, had a reformist past. Less to do with I think, more to do with a contentedness of a provincial and suburban culture. May have looked dull in the 1950s, but the other side of the coin. Have a look at the Bohemian Melbourne Exhibition currently on in this library. There were other things also that were pushing the dullness. Conformist Victoria is the place that's produced the legion of free thinkers, descenters, bohemians. Norman Lindsay, Nick Cave, Jermaine Greer, Barry Humphries, the list goes on.
Well, the conservative jewel in the liberal crown particularly. Where does Victoria sit in Australian politics?
During the post-war years, Victoria was often referred to as the jewel in the liberal crown. The Victorian Menzies reigned in Canberra and from the 50s to the 80s liberals reigned unchallenged in Spring Street as well, not even having to form a coalition with the Country Party.
The Melbourne Establishment for Conservative Power, even a superior attitude of being born to rule, a born-to-rule elite was identified with Melbourne. On several occasions, when federal Labour looked like it might win 1954, 1961, again in 1969, Victoria stayed solid and kept the Liberals nationally in power.
Since the 1980s, the tide seems to have reversed. Victoria has become anything but a happy hunting-ground for the conservative side of politics. Bob Hawke's victory in 1983, Victoria proved more pro-Labour at that federal election than the national average. With the major exception of a 1990 federal election, when the electorate punished federal Labour for the sins of their state colleagues, Joan Kirner, you all remember that period, this has held true in Victoria. Even in the meltdown circumstances of 2013, when Rudd, a second time as PM, held an election, Labour held the majority of federal seats here in Victoria.
As you know, Victorians seem especially resistant to the charms of Tony Abbott and his particular brand of masculine conservatism. And I don't think that it's just because he's from Sydney. On a range of issues over a long period from Republicanism to refugees, climate change to Australian aid—devastatingly cut by this government. A billion dollars gone. It's going to cost lives as surely as lives when you send people to war—Victoria seems consistently, to be to the left of the rest of the country. It's the activist area, when it comes to Mabo, WIK, fighting for land rights. The Victorian bar, unlike the Sydney bar, Queensland bar, has been the one at the forefront of these great indigenous battles in huge numbers with pro-bono cases. There's something quite distinctive about this reformer strand here.
So, how has a state once noted as the liberal jewel. How has it become Australia's dissident state of the left? Has Victoria changed? Or has perhaps Victoria remained fairly constant while the national benchmark has shifted radically to the right? I suspect a bit of both. But definitely a bit of the latter, because Victoria has a political tradition that goes back more than a century of chasing the radical centre. The progressive but moderate strand of political thinking.
The liberal in a conservative party. This, I think this strain is still very strongly in the culture in the water and our DNA. The liberal protectionism of Alfred Deakin, put at the centre of Australian political life in the years after federation, was a very Victorian way of thinking. Deakin a most remarkable prime minister and leader. A spiritualist, a novelist, an academic, a very deep thinker. That sense of Melbourne tackling existential issues.
He started as a free trade at Deakin. But as the young man, he came into the orbit of one of the most influential Victorians of all time, David Syme.
In the late 19th Century, David Syme was proprietor of The Age, a forward-thinking paper compared to The Argus. And his influence extended well beyond what we'd normally associate with even a powerful media force. Syme was not a dilettante when it came to the pursuit of politics. Like Deakin after him, Syme had written extensively on political philosophies. His works were widely read in Europe. They were translated into other languages such as German.
Syme developed a strong view, the civilised community could be created by a system of government that combined support for private enterprise and competition locally, with an active effort to maintain protection against external competition and threats, and that private enterprise would give back and build public spaces, civic spaces, a public culture.
Well, policies and even philosophies come in and out of fashion. What I think’s enduring about Syme's approach, which Deakin successfully translated into action as PM, and a couple of times in Australia, is its characteristic of compromise. Complementarity. Lateral thinking. Civic culture. Public good. It's the inventiveness of finding creative solutions to problems and not falling into the trap of binary thinking. The view that turns everything into black and white categories and turns politics into a battle for corners, for brand identification. Aren't we all sick of that?
I think the tone, the tone that Syme and Deakin set has formed deep roots in the Victorian political culture. As a community, I'm generalising, we're not especially attracted to hard ideological certainty. The so-called conservative side of politics enjoyed decades of success in Victoria, largely because they were not especially conservative.
Politicians like Deakin were essentially radical and progressive. They had the imagination to think of a society better than anything known up to until their time, while also firmly grounded in liberal thinking that recognised the value of enterprise, the role of individuals in pursuing their own happiness and destiny and having the rights to pursue that.
By liberal, I'm sort of meaning as a code word, a vision of the future that lures you and you change the present, you're dissatisfied with the present to move to that future.
Conservative usually is happy with the future, you don't meddle with it. Its unintended consequences, you don't, you leave it! If you're happy with Australia, or the government in Victoria, conservative governments will be fine in a true conservative sense. Now, mind the shop. They actually won't want to change much. That's generalising, a conservative default setting. Well that's not Victorian liberalism starting with Deakin.
Menzies may have been personally conservative by temperament, and we know his love of the Crown and all things British, but his political instincts and his pragmatism took him to the centre ground of Australian politics. The Liberal Party wasn't going to be a party for the idle rich or the seething masses of the poor. It was the forgotten people, those in the middle, who valued their culture, their community, their hard work and businesses.
In Menzies' government, he didn't undo the many reforms and innovations that Labour Prime Ministers Curtin and Chifley had introduced as the foundation for post-war reconstruction of Australia.
If you follow your American politics, you'll know that the great hatred of the Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is really Franklin Roosevelt. It's not those who've come since. That reconstruction in America of Roosevelt. State intervention, particularly in the Depression, and Roosevelt's Bill of Rights that he didn't get through, which was a right to a house and a job and a right to food on the table, that is socialism, communism, and Democrats in so far as they espouse those views, and because of the legacy in America, the cost now of government programs and the debt. See Republicans, they're hating what Roosevelt did.
Menzies did not undo those reforms. He was a liberal in that sense. If he was a true conservative he would have had some of those responses. I think it's also true of a long-running state governments, Sir Bolte, Dick Hamer, pragmatic and progressive and reformist.
I’ve mentioned Bolte's historical image with the last person who suffered capital punishment. Isn't that alive in our thinking as we pray for the Bali two at the moment. And yet he wasn't a street fighter of the style of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. He was pragmatic. He expanded housing education and the arts. And I've talked about the high rise estates seen as progressive then. So yep, Bolte's style seems conservative, but no more than you might expect for someone born in 1908.
The years that followed under Hamer, the government continued to evolve and implement an array of modernising reforms. And we know of Dick Hamer's passion for the environment and parks and the arts and reforms that we are living with today.
So, my case really is the subsequent Labour of the government, led by John Cain, built on these foundations renewed the tone and direction that Hamer set before his government grew tired. But there's continuity. There's no change. This still is a liberal tradition.
For me, the underlying fact of Victoria's apparent transition from conservative jewel to ratbag central is that the paradigm of Australian politics has shifted while Victorian's have proved sceptical and resistant to that lurch to the right. That more conservative strain. Rolling back a carbon tax and a mining tax and undoing what’s gone before. I don't sense revolution in the air in Victoria, but I feel the steady swell of moderation, progress, pragmatism, the sensible centre, a common ground, a common sense approach to the common-ground seeking modest improvement open to progressive ideas. Debating them, thinking about them in our darkened cafes with bad weather outside. Believing that as we debate them, there's a sane, humane, more civilised world that is possible.
Well, I think there's something else about politics in Victoria that stands out for me. Australian politics operates within a fairly small and familiar space most of the time. Not only are the major parties traditionally not all that far apart, although with a lot brand distinction going on. Not only is Australia a fairly small, exceptionally homogeneous nation, there's a peculiar familiarity and egalitarianism that you get in Australia. Not many countries where prime ministers and other leaders are routinely called by their first names. We just call them Tony and Julia and Malcolm and Joe and Barnaby.
And I remember this moment, since she's in the news, I was catching the last flight out of Adelaide and walking toward me, the opposite way, was this Amazonian striking woman. And I literally was transfixed. I couldn't take my eyes off her as she was approaching. As we got close, I heard the voice of the person walking next to her, ‘Oh g’day Tim, how're you going?’ I looked, and it was our Prime Minister. I said, ‘Oh, g’day Tony’. And my eyes just went back to this woman. It was like, wow. Now I thought later, well, that's our Prime Minister and I just said ‘G’day Tony’ and, you know, it's a bit unusual. It's not Mr President. It's not Mr Prime Minister.
Well, state politics have an intimacy that's different to national and international stages. The kind of leaders we've seen in Victorian politics, I think, tell us something significant about our state's cultures.
Our leaders generally aren't remote figures, they're not celebrities, they're more like people we're familiar with even if we don't see them all the time. They're like old school friends, neighbours, distant-relatives. In my lifetime, Jeff Kennett aside, he's the exception, Victorians have generally preferred leaders who are reliable, likable, sober, modest in their style.
Think of Bracks and Brumby and Dan Andrews and Denis Napthine a vet. We don't look for wild-eyed idealists and visionaries, but we expect them to be personable, decent. We're intolerant of actual dishonesty or corruption. We're intolerant of arrogance in them. I think if we're advertising on seek.com for a premier, most Victorians would say modesty, decency, and earnestness as essential qualifications, and especially optimism. We rate competence as highly desirable, but we're values driven.
Now I'm probably going over my time. What time do I need to finish? Pretty soon? 5. Ok.
Look, I was going to take a little time to talk about philanthropy. The reason most of the biggest charities have their head offices, 70% here in Melbourne, and international-aid agencies, not just World Vision, which is the biggest, but Oxfam, and Save, and Plan, and Red Cross. One of the reasons is the spirit of optimism observable, even before the Gold Rush, took off in 1851. And with that gold, we said let's not just waste in a spendthrift way the boom, which really is the debate we're having nationally.
Under John Howard and a certain sibling of mine, there was, there boom and there was huge spend, built-in tax cuts that now, once you've given them to people, we know impossible to take back and how do we actually budget, balance this now? But, for Victorians we actually poured so much of that money into great public buildings.
Governor Latrobe, lovely story, did I mention it? I'm feeling confused. He, he was naïve. He'd written, he never governed anything, governor of trade when he arrived. He was wet behind the ears. He had written a paper on emancipation of slavery, a principled man. And when he was here, it was just Port Philip District, Governor Bourke of New South Wales was in charge. He wanted to, he needed a plot of land for Government House.
Back then, when the Jolimont area came up for sale, prime land, Melbourne's rich, in a small community, only about 5000, colluded. They said, this Governor needs to buy this. We shan't force up the price. We won't bid. We’ll run dumb and dead. Government, Governor Latrobe goes himself, and staggered at his brilliance that he gets all of Jolimont land for 20 pound, for government house. Governor Bourke is furious because he wants more in the treasury. Here even before gold rush, there's sort of civic culture. You know, the governor, he might be innocent and a bit of a fool, but we'll make him look successful. We'll actually do the right thing.
Well, he chose Governor La Trobe Ferdinand von Mueller as the site botanist, extraordinary botanic gardens, laid the foundation for scientific understanding of all Australian flora.
So many who are part of the elite of Victorian had a strong spirit of optimism. It's a powerful mark. As I said to my audience in Perth, you need to discover the spirit of optimism. You need to bottle it. You need to say the whole purpose of making money is actually—cause you didn't bring it when you came here, you're not taking it with you—is actually to build something here that lasts. That future generations are proud of. And don't we have that?
We have it in the extraordinary buildings. The heroes, like Francis Almond, who founded RMIT just down the road, the working man's college. He'd seen technical colleges in Germany on a trip in the 1880s, put up his own money, and 130 years on thousands of world-trained professionals in an institution that adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the state economy.
We see it in the Felton Bequest, seemingly modest, that allowed the National Gallery to acquire works whose nominal value was estimated a few years ago at $2.4 billion. Giving it away, giving back. It's the American tradition in part. You know, Andrew Carnegie, the industrialist, philanthropist said, ‘the man who dies rich dies disgraced’.
I remember trying to bring this up when Kerry Packer died, who didn't leave. Oh, any trust, any foundation, and I tried to put it gently and I still got into terrible trouble. I was annoyed that John Howard, Prime Minister, and Alan Jones had eulogised him as phenomenally generous. Well, he gave a couple of large gifts to Micah ambulances and that. But actually, he was phenomenally mean. And you wouldn't get away with that in America. You wouldn't have gotten away with that in Victoria to actually not have left foundations and trusts and give back. You wouldn't get away with it.
He was a phenomenally successful businessman, but wrong to eulogise him as phenomenally generous. We know at World Vision, with the nearly million names on our database. Thankyou to any of you who donate or sponsor a child. We've ranked them by post code. Overwhelmingly, the greatest number of gifts come from the poorest post codes. It's really interesting. People who know struggle and what's the struggle of African mum trying to get clean water for her children and education.
Well the rich, our mega-rich, in Australia we often let off. But to be fair, in Melbourne, with the boom and we had the bust in the 1890s, there were many who actually put back in. They were optimistic about the future. But it's not just that optimism, you know, MacRobertson the Chocolate King. You know, Fred Fog and Cherry White. Robertson, who contributed to innumerable works in the public interest, schools, bridges, Mawson's Antarctic Expedition. He persuaded the Victorian government. It should forgo income from death duties in respect of certain charitable legacies. That was over 60 years before those duties were abolished anywhere else in Australia.
To be really honest, Victoria is the home of charity thanks to Matt Robinson. That gave a direct incentive for the rich avoiding death duties, to actually set up foundations and legacies, before death duties were eventually abolished all around Australia.
That's one of the reasons gold, death duties, the other reason, to be honest, is the Jewish community in Melbourne. The extraordinary generosity and commitment, and large Jewish community here for why so many philanthropic foundations, over 70%, here in Melbourne.
Look I could talk about human capital, but time has gone. Although, I do think, since I'm an Essendon fan, I want to mention Michael Long. I don't know if my teams going to be able to put a team on the park this year. We just have the best pharmacist in all of Melbourne
But when you think of football, AFL, Nicky Winmar lifts his jumper in front of a led crowd that was spitting on him and points at the colour of his skin. I'm proud, I'm black.
Michael Long, a footballer, breaks the golden rule, never happened in sport. The rule in sport is what happens on the field stays on the field. So, when players who have been assaulted go to the tribunal to give evidence, they can barely remember their own names, let alone if they were playing, let alone if somebody hit them. You just don't rat on what happened on the field.
Michael Long breaks the code of silence, a muter, he says of Damian Monkhurst, he called me a black bastard. Damian Monkhorst is quite shocked, cause he said, ‘I know I'm a good bloke. I know I'm not racist. I know. All my life, I've called aboriginals black bastards, but It's not racism cause that's just what we call them’. And you watch Melbourne, thanks to Michael Long's courage of saying ‘its racism when you denigrate me because of the colour of my skin. You've never asked how I feel about that’. And literally, you watch Melbourne football crowds counsel with Monkhorst until the penny drops. Ah that's what racism is. There’s this moment.
AFL football, his long walk to Canberra and indigenous reconciliation, this human capital and it can go on and on about, Melbourne is really quite extraordinary.
I want to finish by saying, this civic culture I've been alluding to I think is really strong. The American historian, Louis Hartz, his book The Founding of New Societies has an interesting idea. He says, ‘New societies embodied the cultural spirit of the founding society, during the period when their institutions were being formed. America's individualism owes much to the unlimited free market and liberalism of 18th century, England’.
Think John Stuart Mill, and think Liberty. All those phrases, still cries out in America. Latin America, extermination by land owners, and a clerical elite, derives from the ways of feudal Spain when their institutions were being formed.
Hartz says the defining Australian characteristic is utilitarianism. This was dominant in England of the early 19th century. Following this line, I see a lot in Victoria that derives from the middle of the 19th century rather than the early period under Victoria, Queen Victoria and Albert, the rise of technology, expansion of empire. Britain entered its age of improvement. The Victorians believed, perhaps naively, in modern things, railways, parliamentary reform, modern medicine, universal education, a reform act in 1832, in England.
Now, I'm not endorsing imperialism, or colonialism, or arguing for a retro-fit of Australian institutions. It sounds more radical than Tony Abbott's knighthoods. But with all their faults, the Victorians had a pervasive sense of uplift. Belief in the future. Getting kids out of coal mines and child labour. Wilberforce and his group, dominant by 1835. Dominant and that's why New Zealand had a treaty with Mary's because Wilberforce's group were now dominant in the House of Commons. We of course had no treaty.
Well that uplift, I think, explains our state. I think we can look at our Victoria, the state, not the Queen, and see now the DNA, optimism, enduring faith, reform, that things can be better.
I told my listeners in Perth, if you want to make the benefits of last for a century or more, look for the real gold, not the fool's gold. The real gold, civic culture. That will keep your community striving for improvement long after the rocks of gold have run out.
So for us, this is our history, and why I think Melbourne and Victoria are special.
It's an honour to be asked by the Murray-Smith family, to follow many distinguished speakers, in remembering the life of Stephen Murray-Smith, as we do this evening.
It strikes me that he and his wife Lita lived a very Melbourne life, even allowing for the happy escapes to Aerith and Bass Strait and the family base being at Mt Eliza.
The Murray-Smiths drank deep from the pleasures of urban life and in turn, because of their smarts and their style, they undeniably boosted the pulse rate of Melbourne in the post-war years.
They must have been grand days.
For a young returned serviceman, one of patrician bearing but egalitarian temperament, to engage with some very different Australians. The newly arrived Jewish émigrés, among them Stephen's future wife Anita, they were all there on the campus of the University of Melbourne. Alive to the possibilities of life, intellectually precocious, challenging themselves and everyone else, and above all intensely political.
Stephen's initial chosen path would be the god that failed. He was an early apostate. Good for him. But he paid a price in being shunned by some who would take decades to arrive at a similar position. No doubt it left its mark, but Stephen would go on to become, in Joanna's memorable phrase, ‘A missionary for the imagination’.
A historian, a literary editor, a great promoter of the talent of others through his editorship of Overland and always a teacher.
Did Stephen, I wonder, consciously think of himself as an educator? He certainly appears to have understood that we learn best from those we love.
Joanna's recollections are of a dad who put her to bed each night by reading the stories of Henry Lawson. Years later, in pursuing her own brilliant career, she realised that among other things, she'd absorbed important detail about structure and pace. Then there was the careful cultivation of an artistic sensibility. Joanna also recalls that the necessary accompaniment for trip, for a trip to the opera, the ballet, or the theatre, was a mini-tutorial by Stephen or Nita on the life of Mozart or some foundational points about the plays of Beckett or Osborne. They were quite consciously helping shape Joanna's aesthetic.
Australian contemporary drama, I think, can be grateful that the Murray-Smiths never favoured the fuzzy and increasingly forlorn idea that Joanna just might pick it up as she went along. Which brings me to my theme tonight, and if Stephen's ghostly presence joins us this evening, I wouldn't be surprised. I suspect he would have robust ideas on the subject of modern education.
Now, as Jill said, I've been working on a book that I've titled Class Act. I've been doing that work for about, really about the last two years.
I had the opportunity, first of all as a federal MP, to spend a lot of time in schools in the Northwest of Sydney, and it was really one of the highlights of the job. I also had a key role to play in shaping public policy on early childhood. And it is gratifying to see that changes that were put in place in 2008, the Early Years Learning Framework, which I spent a lot of time on, and the National Quality Standards, that they are still standing today and indeed have been endorsed by a group as hard-headed and as budget conscious as the Productivity Commission.
In writing Class Act, I had a couple of goals in mind. Primarily, a practical one. I wanted to document the specific approaches that schools are taking to transform themselves. To lift the academic achievement of all students and where teachers follow the mantra of Professor John Hattie, ‘Know thy impact’.
The elaborate song and dance act that teachers might put on in front of their students really counts for naught if they are unaware of what it is that students are learning. So the critical questions to be asked in the classroom, and in effective schools this is what's happening, the critical questions are around student growth and challenge. What's been absorbed? Can you explain this concept to others? How do you get to the next phase of learning? How to go deeper, rather than just do more of the same?
Now, you might have noticed that a few of these questions form part of the public education debate. As in so many areas of public policy, we are stuck in pretty useless binary debates. Whole language versus phonics, public versus private, autonomy versus command and control, and so on. These are all secondary issues. What matters is what's working. How we can replicate success across what is now a very fragmented sector and how we get a system-wide lift.
We need that lift because there really are some red lights flashing. The international data, the PEARLS and PISA tests show that we have a wide gap between our top performers and our lowest achievers, a gap that many of the top-performing countries manage to bridge. Well, actually, they don't allow that gap to emerge, because they intervene early.
Equally worrying, and quite puzzling to many, is the fact that since the start of the century our best students are trending down. Now, there's another statistic that I find the most depressing of all. In surveys conducted among Australia's primary school children, a worrying 45% say they only read if they have to.
You think about that. The keys to the kingdom, the world of intellectual discovery that meant so much to the Stephen Smiths, that is closed to these children because most only begrudgingly pick up a book.
It's why one of the Class Act stories that I love concerns Garran Public School in the ACT, because they did something quite revolutionary. There are no basic readers. There's no basic or standard anything at that school. They teach children to read, wait for it, by putting the best and most emotionally engaging literature in front of them. As a result, Garran is able to get more of its students into the top achievement bands than most others in the country. And at Garran, 80% of students say they read for the love of it. At Garran they also have a policy of only employing teachers who understand functional grammar.
I know you're gasping.
A real class act in education would be if we could have national figures that more closely resembled that of Garran. Now, in order to do that we need to get some fundamentals right.
Only this week, a friend of mine, a highly qualified math teacher, she quit a regional Victorian high school where she's been teaching, mainly because the school has such a lackadaisical attitude towards something as basic as attendance. Year 10 attendance levels can be as low as 60%. Now, this is discussed in a kind of relaxed way in the classroom, ‘Oh, sorry’ in the staff room, but there's no strategy in place to deal with it. To state the obvious, if the kids aren't there, you can't teach them.
There are things you can do to ensure that children attend regularly and they are in place in some of the poorest areas in the country.
Now, fortunately, my friend has not been lost to teaching. She's relocated to another very low SES school here in the city, and it's a place that actually puts a premium on attendance, on achievement, and growth in student and professional practice. But that regional high school that she's quit, more than likely, they've dragged in the PE teacher who's now attempting to teach maths.
Now, I want to stress that I have not come up in my book with a unique, I'm sorry, a piece of unique scholarship, but I have applied my narrative skills to the mountain of reports, the mountain of documentation that's been compiled over the years, all looking at what works and how we can apply those lessons.
You won't be surprised to hear that what I found is that it's a complex story. You can get some quick wins, but lifting academic performance and sustaining that performance is a whole lot more intricate than just getting a bit of a kick in NAPLAN.
Now my starting point is to celebrate success. To acknowledge the quite exceptional efforts that are happening right here in our major cities and in schools where children in some cases are bringing themselves up. Either that or they come from families where there is very little social capital and certainly not much geographic mobility.
The most shameful part of our education story as many of you would know is the extreme social segregation now of our schools and for poor children that means all sorts of things. They don't travel past the State Library every day. They don't get to see the Italian Masters at the NGV. More often than not, you are told of these schools that a lot of suburban kids don't even come to the city. That physical isolation has an effect on how you view the world and how ambitious you're likely to be.
I was at St. Alban's School, St. Alban's Secondary College a few months ago, and through one of their partnerships they had organised a trip to the city for the Year 7 children. And I was told one little boy looked out at the CBD towers as they drove across the West Gate Bridge and said, ‘Sir, is that New York?’ I hope his teacher said, ‘No son, New York has a better transport system’.
So what does a successful school look like? Well with the exception of one school I've written, and that's Garin, I've written five case studies of what we can call turnaround schools. Now these are places where, before major, whole school improvement took place, nothing was going on in the academic department. Children were being looked after. A lot of pastoral care. Teachers felt sorry for these children. They did their best, but not much else.
I'll mention a couple of things that are common to all these schools. Leadership is absolutely critical. Leadership that sets the bar high, sets a plan, finds the resources to back that plan, and follows through with effective implementation with the whole team. And we've got a wonderful asset here in Melbourne, we've got the Bastow Learning Institute in North Melbourne, which is doing really some fine work in this regard.
Schools, as I say, are complex places and the skills required to lead can be learned. The starting point is to recognise that getting promoted to the position of Principal is the first point. That doesn't necessarily equate to you automatically having the leadership skills.
In all the cases that I have documented, you have leaders who push and push. They push themselves, they push their teaching staff, and they push the system. They test the limits of their authority all the time. Not because of some power trip, but because they want to address significant educational deficits.
Now this kind of leadership does mean unsettling the status quo.
When Mark McConvel took over the very troubled Toronto High School on the New South Wales Central Coast, he thought he would take about 12 months to take a good look around before he started his change program. Well that idea went out the window in the first week, just after he called for a look at the learning plans for all subject areas and at the curriculum documents, pretty standard. Well, there was almost a riot among staff, and when McConvel got to the bottom of it and got all his staff behind a closed door he found out just how poorly organised the school was. In some Year 12 subjects, there was no curriculum plan. What was worse, some teachers didn't even seem too embarrassed about this. And by the way, I'm talking about the period of seven or eight years ago, not 20 years ago. Toronto had a dismal academic record but that has changed, and I say in about seven or eight years, now around 40% of those students from Toronto go on to university, about another 30% go on to TAFE.
To start with something even more basic, that of the personal safety of staff and students. I spent time over in Perth. A wonderful school, Roseworth Primary, and a better model of integrated schooling. It's a bit like a Scandinavian model, where the health, the social and the educational needs of children and parents are met. They really have brought it all together. But again, very, very different about a decade ago.
When Geoff Metcalf started there as Principal, no teaching was possible because the place was so violent. Teachers just hunkered down. Either that or they were too afraid to even get out of their cars in the morning. Because standard practice was that local families—my, my, editor kept questioning me when I had this in my initial draft. She said, ‘Are you serious? Local families who are actually coming into the school during the day. Certainly at lunch time and continuing their inter-family feuds in front of children?’—Well, that was tolerated. It wasn't tolerated for long by Geoff Metcalf, who literally put his own safety at risk, at first by staring down the worst of the offenders and then by setting new rules and enforcing them.
Now a huge help, and this is where the resourcing matters, a huge help was a complete redesign of the school with supervised entrances and exits. Roseworth now picks up Safe School awards, but it's taken a lot of years, some critical partnerships, because no schools transform themselves without critical partners, and very purposeful leadership.
In the case of Metcalf, he was driven by a very basic idea. The children deserve a slice of normality. A safe environment where they can be taught and where performance can be lifted.
Now that kind of leadership is always allied to a particular ambition. All of the effective principals I've interviewed have big ambitions for their schools. They all repeat that much quoted line that by trying to overcome the soft bigotry of low expectations, time and time again they still come up against the view in poor schools that ‘well, these kids can't cope with much’.
Maria Karvouni, in this town, heard all of that when she took on the principalship At Charles La Trobe. When she looked at an analysis of how students spent their time, and again, this was only five years ago. When she looked at this analysis for how students spent their time, she found that far more time was spent in PE than in English. Yet most of the students had extremely poor vocabularies and exceptionally poor writing skills. When she, when she queried these priorities she was told, ‘well, this is what suits the kids. It's where they're happy’. It didn't suit Maria Karvouni. She changed the timetable, put a major emphasis on literacy at all levels and got rid of the dumbed-down electives, junked the lot of them. This is another theme that comes through.
She's interested in challenging her students, not in feeling sorry for them. A migrant herself, she remembers the public schools of her day where she was pushed to do better, and that's what she's been doing at Charles La Trobe. You visit today and they'll take you to a philosophy class for Year 9 students where they practice Socratic dialogue. Attendance is up, behaviour is not the problem it was, and the school is no longer bypassed by parents because of the poor reputation of the school.
So leadership, ambition and that brings me to the third element, rich content. Give the kids the good stuff, where else are they going to get it?
In schools that are stretching their students. In secondary schools they're ensuring a broad range of subject offerings and in primary schools they're getting rid of the idea that you give your poorest performers the low calibre readers with the baby vocabularies. Turnaround schools are doing the reverse.
We know that a child's vocabulary is one of the best predictors of success at school. So smart schools are ensuring that young children are exposed to rich literature.
I've interviewed—it's one of my favourite chapters—I've interviewed a University of Canberra academic by the name of Misty Adoniou. Wonderful name, isn't it? I recommend her very lively, and in some cases quite iconoclastic pieces, in the conversation, if you, if you look through the conversation regularly.
Misty is prepared to say out loud what many won't. That too many of our children are falling through the cracks because teachers don't have the tools to help them to develop sophisticated language. So she teaches pre-service teachers functional grammar. And she doesn't do it the old way, you know the noun, verb, predicate. She hit on something again, quite radical, she takes teachers through the wonders of the English language by getting them to read and reflect on great children's literature. Who would've thought it?
One of her favourites is the book by Margaret Wild, Fox, if there are any teachers here. And she takes students through, you know, Margaret Wild’s language line-by-line, talking about the adverbial phrases, why writers use language in the way they do.
She also runs, she's actually run off her feet doing this, she runs seminars across the ACT and increasingly across the country, and she calls this 10 things that every teacher needs to know about the English language. She goes through simple compound, complex sentences, you know, how many tenses in English, what's ellipses, you know. By morning tea, the kind of the, the grammar if you like, what we say the grammar bores, the people who think they know everything, are sounding, you know, a little bit shaky.
The point is not to be a grammar fundamentalist but to give children, guess what, an important framework. And it's poor children who don't get to hear rich language and they surely deserve the same repertoire of language as children from affluent homes.
The final feature I'll mention from the schools I see as successful is that they have a lot of respect for the people at the heart of the system, the students. Now, I know everyone says this, you know, it's about the students. But you have to see a school that takes seriously the idea of student voice, before you appreciate this point. And I mentioned St. Albans again, here in Melbourne. It used to be one of the schools I mentioned; a lot of fluffy care but lousy results.
And I have to say that people who, you know, who've engineered the change say this about themselves, which is very interesting.
We know that it turns out that it was St Albans students who actually thought that they were getting a pretty mediocre education. We know this because St Albans did a very bold thing and actually asked the entire student body what they thought of the place. This is a very big school about thousand students, years 7 to 12, and they conducted forums right across the student cohort. The students took the exercise very seriously. It turned out they were acutely conscious of the fact that they were at a low-performing school. They mentioned the fact that many teachers turned up late for class with no organised learning plan, that they rarely provided feedback, and more than not set homework that was never marked.
Now, in the hands of someone else this might have caused a bit of an industrial relations meltdown, when the feedback went back to the staff. But with Carrie Dosley as Principal, someone who had been at that school for a very long time, she managed the very difficult conversations with the faculty about the response of students.
Kerry then took a second step. She went back to the students and she asked them what they thought a high-expectations environment would look like. Back came the answers. The students wanted order, structure, clear guidelines and teaching of the curriculum. They didn't want to go into exams and be surprised by what they encountered. Above all, they ordered specific feedback and feedback about how to get to the next stage, you know, how to keep on learning. This is all the stuff that is invisible learning. The product of Professor John Hattie's immense research over 20 or 30 years.
Well, needless to say, you cannot conduct an exercise like that and not act on it. So, of all the lower SES schools I've looked at St. Albans really has achieved the most consistent uplift in results, because they have acted on this. And I invite you to read the chapter. It's most interesting, I think, in the precision and the detail that the school has applied, but it has not happened in five minutes. It's really been a 20 year process at that school, marked again by intelligent leadership, a high-level of collegiality and significant ambition. The result is a huge pride in what's been achieved and a culture of consistent improvement.
So lead, be ambitious, challenge students and above all listen to them.
I could mention many other things, and I've heard some exceptional stories over the last couple of years, but I'll just go to the end point. As I go around schools, I find myself thinking a lot about the world that young people are being tipped out into. Excuse me. For those of you, I think with teenage children or young adult children or grandchildren, it is a compelling question. Degrees have never been more expensive and about to become more so. Apart from the professions, and even there we are going to see a lot of disruption, but whether it's a straight bachelor degree, a combined degree or a masters, graduates are finding the labour market a very difficult place to negotiate.
Many are in jobs that have nothing to do with their area of expertise. So the post-GFC world is a very different beast. We're seeing plenty of creative destruction, because of massive changes in technology. More and more, the expectation being that young people are required to create their own work. How many times have we heard this? That's fine for the entrepreneurial types, but what about the others?
We've always had a mixed record on innovation in this country, and I don't see much evidence that in schools we’re any more savvy about nurturing a future generation of creators and inventors. It's why there is huge interest in what Sir Ken Robinson talks about in his TED Talk lectures on education; the importance of building and encouraging the creative potential of our young people. He claims to have had something like 20 million hits on his TED Talk. The one, I think its entitled How Schools Kill Creativity. And as he says, the fact that so many people have downloaded and looked at this video suggests that a lot of people feel, you know, badly done by in terms of their education.
At the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, where I've spent a good deal of time over the last two years, Professor Patrick Griffin has had nearly 20,000 students across the globe sign up to his online moot course on 21st century skills and those skills that emphasise collaboration and creative problem solving.
And you might say, what's new about this? I bet Stephen Murray-Smith did that a bit of that in his time. Certainly, many of the big breakthroughs in science and elsewhere have come from an ability to work and share data and to systematically work through problems. But this is now an issue not just for scientists in the labs, but an issue for the wider workplace. As Pat Griffin says, some of the big global corporates, the Intel’s, the Microsoft's, they've backed the 21st century schools project, because they want to hire people who can work out what the problem is in the first place. And they have significant skill shortages because too few individuals can effectively work like this.
It’s why I think we might see a revival in the study of the humanities. As long as they are challenging courses, they can help extend the ability of young people to synthesise their arguments and to understand the power of language and concepts. Humanities studies teach people how to play with possibilities and how to be comfortable with ambiguity. And if you look at some of the inertia in either I think our commercial arenas or in this country or in government, boy do we need people who can imagine alternative ways of solving problems.
One of the more interesting things I've read on the subject has come from a column written by Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist. And it was, it was done about six months ago. It's one that gets passed around a lot. What Friedman did, he interviewed the Vice President of People Operations, don't you like that, for Google, who made some very interesting points. He said, ‘For every job, the number one thing we look for is general cognitive ability and that's not IQ, its learning ability. The ability to process on the fly and we assess that using structured behavioural interviews that we validate to make sure that they're predictive. Ongoing learning ability’. Very, very interesting. And, and Friedman concludes that column by saying, ‘Beware’, this is his message to young people, ‘Beware, your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about and pays off on what you can do with what you know.’ I think they might be right.
So to conclude, I'm hoping that my little work Class Act is something of a catalyst for some different discussions about what success looks like, about how we can create a richer set of opportunities for all of our young people, and particularly, about how we can apply a more consistent policy approach to one of our most compelling national issues.