Aug 302015


On this date in 1835 Melbourne was first settled by free colonists from Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania). It is the capital and most populous city in the Australian state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia and Oceania. The name “Melbourne” refers to the area of urban agglomeration (as well as a census statistical division) spanning 9,900 km2 (3,800 sq mi), which comprises the broader metropolitan area, as well as being the common name for its city centre. The metropolis is located on the large natural bay of Port Phillip and expands into the hinterlands toward the Dandenong and Macedon mountain ranges, Mornington Peninsula, and Yarra Valley. Melbourne consists of 31 municipalities. It has a population of 4,442,918 as of 2014. It was incorporated as a Crown settlement in 1837. It was named “Melbourne” by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Richard Bourke, in honor of the British Prime Minister of the day, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne. It was officially declared a city by Queen Victoria in 1847, after which it became the capital of the newly founded colony of Victoria in 1851. During the gold rush of the 1850s, it was transformed into one of the world’s largest and wealthiest cities. After the federation of Australia in 1901, it served as the nation’s interim seat of government until 1927. Now Melbourne rates highly in education, entertainment, health care, research and development, tourism and sport, making it the world’s most livable city—for the fifth year in a row in 2015, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Before the arrival of European settlers, the area was occupied by indigenous peoples for an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 years. At the time of European settlement, it was inhabited by under 20,000 hunter-gatherers from three indigenous groups: the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung and Wathaurong.The area was an important meeting place for different groups because it had plentiful water and food.


The first European settlement in Victoria was established by Colonel David Collins in October 1803, at Sullivan Bay, near present-day Sorrento, but this settlement was relocated to what is now Hobart, in Tasmania, in February 1804, due to a perceived lack of resources. It would be 30 years before another settlement was attempted.

In May and June 1835, the area which is now central and northern Melbourne was explored by John Batman, a leading member of the Port Phillip Association in Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania), who claimed to have negotiated a purchase of 600,000 acres (2,400 km2) with eight Wurundjeri elders. Batman selected a site on the northern bank of the Yarra River, declaring that “this will be the place for a village”. Batman then returned to Launceston in Tasmania. In early August 1835 a different group of settlers, including John Pascoe Fawkner, left Launceston on the ship Enterprize. Fawkner was forced to disembark at Georgetown, Tasmania, because of outstanding debts. The remainder of the party continued and arrived at the mouth of the Yarra River on 15 August 1835. On 30 August 1835 the party disembarked and established a settlement at the site of the current Melbourne Immigration Museum. Batman and his group arrived on 2 September 1835 and the two groups ultimately agreed to share the settlement.


Between 1836 and 1842, Victorian Aboriginal groups were largely dispossessed of their land. By January 1844, there were said to be 675 Aborigines resident in squalid camps in Melbourne. The British Colonial Office appointed five Aboriginal Protectors for the Aborigines of Victoria, in 1839, however their work was nullified by a land policy that favored squatters to take possession of Aboriginal lands. By 1845, fewer than 240 wealthy Europeans held all the pastoral licenses then issued in Victoria and became a powerful political and economic force in Victoria for generations to come.Melbourne was declared a city by letters patent of Queen Victoria, issued on 25 June 1847. On 1 July 1851, the Port Phillip District became the separate Colony of Victoria, with Melbourne as its capital.


The discovery of gold in Victoria in mid 1851 led to the Victorian gold rush, and Melbourne, which served as the major port and provided most services for the region, experienced rapid growth. Within months, the city’s population had increased by nearly three-quarters, from 25,000 to 40,000 inhabitants. Thereafter, growth was exponential and by 1865, Melbourne had overtaken Sydney as Australia’s most populous city.

An influx of interstate and overseas migrants, particularly Irish, German and Chinese, saw the development of slums including a temporary “tent city” established on the southern banks of the Yarra. Chinese migrants founded the Melbourne Chinatown in 1851, which remains the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western World. In the aftermath of the Eureka Rebellion, mass public support for the plight of the miners in Melbourne resulted in major political changes to the colony. With the wealth brought on by the gold rush following closely on the heels of the establishment of Victoria as a separate colony and the subsequent need for public buildings, a program of grand civic construction soon began. The 1850s and 1860s saw the commencement of Parliament House, the Treasury Building, the Old Melbourne Gaol, Victoria Barracks, the State Library, University, General Post Office, Customs House, the Melbourne Town Hall, St Patrick’s cathedral, though many remained uncompleted for decades, with some still not finished.


The layout of the inner suburbs on a largely one-mile grid pattern, cut through by wide radial boulevards, and string of gardens surrounding the central city was largely established in the 1850s and 1860s. These areas were rapidly filled from the mid 1850s by the ubiquitous terrace house, as well as detached houses and some grand mansions in large grounds, while some of the major roads developed as shopping streets. Melbourne quickly became a major finance centre, home to several banks, the Royal Mint, and Australia’s first stock exchange in 1861.In 1855 the Melbourne Cricket Club secured possession of its now famous ground, the MCG. Members of the Melbourne Football Club codified Australian rules football in 1859, and Yarra rowing clubs and “regattas” became popular about the same time. In 1861 the Melbourne Cup was first run.

With the gold rush largely over by 1860, Melbourne continued to grow on the back of continuing gold mining, as the major port for exporting the agricultural products of Victoria, especially wool, and a developing manufacturing sector protected by high tariffs. An extensive radial railway network centered on


The decade of the 1880s was one of extraordinary growth, when consumer confidence, easy access to credit, and steep increases in the price of land, led to an enormous amount of construction. This ‘land boom’ was followed by a severe economic crash in the early 1890s which lasted until the end of the century. During the boom, Melbourne had become the richest city in the world, and the largest after London in the British Empire.

The decade began with the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880, held in the large purpose-built Exhibition Building. In 1880 a telephone exchange was established and in the same year the foundations of St Paul’s, were laid; in 1881 electric light was installed in the Eastern Market, and in the following year a generating station capable of supplying 2,000 incandescent lamps was in operation.[40] In 1885 the first line of the Melbourne cable tramway system was built, becoming one of the worlds most extensive systems by 1890.


In 1888, the Exhibition Building hosted a second event even larger than the first, the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, spurring construction of numerous hotels including the 500 room Federal Hotel, The Palace Hotel in Bourke Street (both since demolished), and the doubling in size of the Grand (Windsor).

A brash boosterism that had typified Melbourne during this time ended in the early 1890s with a severe depression of the city’s economy, sending the local finance and property industries into a period of chaos during which 16 small “land banks” and building societies collapsed, and 133 limited companies went into liquidation. The Melbourne financial crisis was a contributing factor in the Australian economic depression of the 1890s and the Australian banking crisis of 1893. The effects of the depression on the city were profound, with virtually no new construction until the late 1890s.


At the time of Australia’s federation on 1 January 1901, Melbourne became the seat of government of the federation. The first federal parliament was convened on 9 May 1901 in the Royal Exhibition Building, subsequently moving to the Victorian Parliament House where it was located until 1927, when it was moved to Canberra. The Governor-General of Australia resided at Government House in Melbourne until 1930 and many major national institutions remained in Melbourne well into the twentieth century.


Now Melbourne is a big sprawling modern city that stands in quite marked contrast to Sydney on the east coast. It doesn’t have the Harbor Bridge or Opera House which are as well known globally as Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, but personally I prefer Melbourne to Sydney for a visit. Most especially it is a great foodie city, with every imaginable cuisine under the sun available. To celebrate Melbourne I’m going to give you a classic Aussie meat pie and Lamingtons. Meat pies are a staple in Australia. A meat pie was my normal school lunch delivered daily by a local bakery. These were the simplest imaginable – minced beef in gravy wrapped in pastry. They’re individual pies so you can hold them in your hand. The ones I ate were swimming in gravy so you typically ate the top crust first, because if you didn’t when you bit into them, gravy would squirt all over you. Here’s a good video:

Lamingtons are the mainstay of church suppers. All you need is a picture and a general description. You take cubes of sponge cake or pound cake, spread chocolate icing over all the faces, and then roll them in desiccated coconut. To be extra fancy you can slice them in half and put jam or whipped cream in the middle. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.


Jan 262014


Today is Australia Day, the official national day of Australia.  26 January marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships at Sydney Cove, New South Wales, and raising of the flag of Great Britain at that site by Governor Arthur Phillip (see 13 May). In contemporary Australia, celebrations are marked by community and family events, reflections on Australian history, official community awards, and citizenship ceremonies welcoming new immigrants into the Australian community.


The meaning and significance of Australia Day have evolved over time. Unofficially, or historically, the date has also been variously named “Anniversary Day,” “Invasion Day,” “Foundation Day,” and “ANA (Australian Natives’ Association) Day.” 26 January 1788 marked the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia (then known as New Holland), rather than the simple arrival of the First Fleet, which had arrived in several stages at Botany Bay based on advice from Captain Cook. Finding the location unsuitable for a colony, the fleet moved as a unit to Sydney Cove where they claimed the land.


The First Fleet encountered indigenous Australians when they landed at Botany Bay. The Cadigal people of the Botany Bay area witnessed the Fleet arrive. When the fleet moved to Sydney Cove they encountered the Eora people, including the Bidjigal clan. A number of the First Fleet journals record encounters with Aboriginal people. Although the official policy of the British Government was to establish friendly relations with Aboriginal people and governor Arthur Phillip ordered that the Aboriginal people should be well treated, it was not long before conflict began. The colonists did not understand Aboriginal society and its relationship with the land, and the Aboriginal people did not understand the British practices of farming and land ownership. Furthermore, the colonists did not sign treaties with the original inhabitants of the land. Between 1790 and 1810, Pemulwuy of the Bidjigal clan led the local people in a series of attacks against the British colonizers.

At the time, Australia was the only continent in the world where the indigenous peoples were exclusively foragers (hunter/gatherers) with no domesticated plants or animals.  Foragers worldwide (even to this day) have no intrinsic interest in land ownership. They are often seasonally nomadic, following resources as the seasons change.  They do have notions of land rights (for hunting, water, etc), but not of ownership.  So when the British settlers claimed the land as their own and excluded the aboriginal people from land they had rights over – and because no treaties were signed – conflict was inevitable.  There was an inherent arrogance and ignorance on the part of the British in assuming that because the aborigines did not have a legal system that they could recognize, treaties were unnecessary.  To this day indigenous peoples are contesting the legality of seizure of their land without treaty, with some measure of success (see Mabo Day, 3 June).

Although it was not known as Australia Day until over a century later, records of celebrations on 26 January date back to 1808, with the first official celebration of the formation of New South Wales held in 1818. On New Year’s Day 1901, the British colonies of Australia formed a Federation, marking the birth of modern Australia. But there was no national day of unity and celebration following Federation. It was not until 1935 that all Australian states and territories had adopted use of the term “Australia Day” to mark the date, and not until 1994 that the date was consistently marked by a public holiday on that day by all states and territories.

In contemporary Australia, the holiday is formally celebrated by the presentation of the Australian of the Year Awards on Australia Day Eve, announcement of the Australia Day Honours list, and speeches from the Governor-General and Prime Minister. It is an official public holiday in every state and territory of Australia, unless it falls on a weekend in which case the following Monday is a public holiday instead. The day is celebrated in large and small communities and cities around the nation with community festivals, concerts, and citizenship ceremonies. Australia Day has become the biggest annual civic event in Australia.


For some Australians, particularly indigenous Australians, Australia Day has become a symbol for adverse effects of British settlement on Australia’s indigenous people. The celebrations in 1938 were accompanied by an Aboriginal Day of Mourning. A large gathering of Aboriginal people in Sydney in 1988 led an “Invasion Day” commemoration marking the loss of indigenous culture. The anniversary is also known as “Survival Day” and marked by events such as the Survival Day concert first held in Sydney in 1992, celebrating the fact that the indigenous people and cultures have not been completely wiped out.

In response, official celebrations have tried to include indigenous people, holding ceremonies such as the Woggan-ma-gule ceremony, which was held in Sydney in 2006 and honored the past and celebrated the present; it involved indigenous Australians in tandem with the Governor of New South Wales.

“Invasion Day” has been widely used to describe the alternative indigenous observance of Australia Day. Although some indigenous Australians celebrate Australia Day, Invasion Day protests occur almost every year. In January 1988, various indigenous people of Australia made a concerted effort to promote an awareness among other Australians of their presence, their needs and their desire that there should be communication, reconciliation and co-operation over the land rights issues. To this end, during January they set up a highly visible Tent Embassy at a shore side location at a point called Mrs Macquarie’s Chair adjacent to the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens. The embassy, consisting of several large marquees and smaller tents, was manned by a group of Aboriginal people from Eveleigh Street, Redfern, and was organized with the co-operation of the local council’s department of parks and gardens. It became a gathering place for Aboriginal people from all over Sydney. One of the aims of the embassy was to be seen by the many thousands of Sydneysiders whom the organizers claimed did not know, and rarely even saw, any Aboriginal people.


There is no truly Australian cuisine to speak of although there are a few iconic dishes.  The pavlova, named for the prima ballerina Anna Pavlova in honor of a visit in the 1920’s, is perhaps the most well known Australian dish (although New Zealand claims to be the birthplace).  It is a meringue pie shell filled with fresh fruit and topped with cream. Never could get enough of it.


Lamingtons are also more or less universal.  They are cubes of cake coated in chocolate and rolled in coconut. Very popular for picnics and church suppers.


In South Australia the state dish is a pie floater (usually just called a “floater”), which has also found a place in Sydney and a few other spots.  This is a meat pie floating in pea soup and doused with ketchup.  They are commonly bought from pie carts in the streets of Adelaide, although I gather these are rapidly dying out.

That pretty much sums up Australian “cuisine” – and I guarantee you’ll see many pavlovas and lamingtons at Australia Day parties (usually barbecues).  There is, however, a less common tradition which in some ways I think of as being more truly Aussie, and which unites both Euro-Australians and Aborigines: bush tucker.  “Bush” is Australian for “open country,” and “tucker” is “food.” So, bush tucker is food you cook out in the open, possibly made of hunted or foraged ingredients. Obviously this is the way Aborigines cooked for millennia, but the methods have been adopted by Europeans living in the open.  When I was in the Boy Scouts in South Australia one of the chief principles of camping was learning how to cook bush tucker – essentially using an open fire as the sole cooking method, and producing certain standard foods.  Chief of these is the damper – a bread cooked in hot coals.  Europeans use a heavy camp oven of cast iron; Aborigines cook the damper directly in the coals without utensils.




4 cups self-raising flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups milk
butter, for greasing
extra flour


Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and make a well in the middle.

Pour in the milk and mix.

Grease a camp oven and dust with flour.

Place the dough in the camp oven.

Cut a cross in the top surface of dough.

Bake in the hot ashes of a camp fire for about thirty minutes. You can test the damper by pressing on the top.  It should be springy when it is done.


There is a variant known as a twist which I had to produce one summer in Boy Scout camp as part of my test for the cook’s badge (yup, at 12 years old I was an aspiring cook).  You take the damper dough and roll it into a rope which you then wrap around a green stick and slowly grill over hot coals.

For more on bush tucker I strongly recommend this website.  It has a good listing and descriptions of indigenous edible plants and animals, such as witchetty grubs, yabbies, bloodwood apples, and honey ants that are staples of bush tucker and have been so for centuries.