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Thursday, 11 August 2022

Not the Explorers' tree


Not the Explorers' Tree

ESSENDON is very particular about its ancient history, and at the risk of spreading gloom by the shattering of a tradition the author of the district's chronicles (Mr J. McJunkln) points out that the old red gum on the Mt. Alexander Road does not mark the first camp of the Burke and Wills expedition after it left Royal Park on its ill-fated journey.


The explorers camped about a quarter of a mile away, watering their horses and camels at the chain of ponds which has since been transformed into the ornamental lake of Queen's Park.


The genuine explorers' tree grew at what is now the intersection of the Strand and Robinson Street. The oldest inhabitants support Mr McJunkin. Cr. E. H. Kinnear, who was born close to the explorers' actual camping place, says that councillors know full well that a false glamor has been woven round the gnarled trunk now covered with ivy and standing in the street plantation. He believes the tradition arose years ago through the statement of a councillor, who wished to preserve the tree from the municipal axe, and with that object invested it with historical significance.


In Town and Out (1930, July 10). The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 - 1954), p. 4.

Councils have indeed been notorious for taking the axe to any well-grown tree, so this story has the ring of plausibility to it.  However, in view of Burke's instructions to blaze a tree along his route, I am somewhat inclined to think he may have blazed the tree in Mt Alexander Rd rather than one off the main track in The Strand, so perhaps both things are true.

For a survey of the known images of the Burke and Wills tree in Mt Alexander Road, see the Time Travellers website.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Park Street, Moonee Ponds Gatekeeper's Cottage


Once upon a time you would often pass a gatekeeper's cottage or cabin at level crossings, but they have been largely swept away with the advent of boom gates, and even boom gates are disappearing these days. Marilyn Kenny has done a wonderful study on the Moonee Ponds Gatekeeper's Cottage, which disappeared 50 years ago, and what the work and conditions were like for these men and women who manned the gates. I can assure you they were not good conditions, and the pay was lousy, so if you have a relative who worked as a gatekeeper, this will be of considerable interest to you. It is followed up by a personal reminiscence from Rod Berry, who will tell you what it was like to grow up in a house two feet from a railway line. See the full story here:

Monday, 2 May 2022

St Paul's Church of England Football Team, Ascot Vale, circa 1939

This photo comes courtesy of Peter Nankervis, whose father Frank Nankervis is in the back row, fourth from the right.

The carpet on the floor of the Dover Studio suggests the photo was taken after July 1939, but before August 1940 when Frank Nankervis joined the 2nd AIF. 

Frank served as a  Lieutenant in the 2/29th Australian Infantry Battalion. He became a Prisoner of War on Burma Railway and in Selarang Prison Camp in Chiangi, Singapore.  Frank took his oath of enlistment in the AIF on 5/8/1940 at Royal Park and ended his service on 12/2/1946. Active service in Australia of 126 days and overseas in Malaya for 1369 days.

Frank played A Grade Amateur Football with St. Paul's C of E Team in Essendon. He also later trained with Essendon 'Seconds' Football and with Essendon 'Thirds' Cricket. He was both good at batting and as a left arm swing bowler!

If you can identify any other players, please get in touch. See my email in my profile.


Monday, 3 January 2022

Moonee Ponds Midwife - Mary Ann Scharness

Dominey's Hall, Mt Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds, once the home 
of the Scharness family in 1893. Photo: M Kenny, 2017.

"A heavy knocking awoke Mary Anne Scharness.   It was the cold, early hours of a Saturday in late June 1919.  Although she may not have expected such a call it would not have been an unusual intrusion because Mrs Scharness was a midwife and used to responding to the midnight bell.   This wakeup call however was different.   On her doorstep was a distressed, confused, angry and embarrassed man.  He lived with his wife and children, five minutes’ walk from Nurse’s private hospital and they probably knew each other by sight.   Out tumbled a story that even Nurse Scharness with all her experience had not yet encountered.   His wife had woken him very ill at 2am and told him that she was about to become a mother.   His initial reaction was disbelief for he did not know she was pregnant.   When the reality sunk through he summoned a neighbor then went seeking professional help from the local midwife.   This might not seem a particularly unusual story however the husband in this case was a returned soldier who had disembarked in Melbourne only some four months before.   He had served overseas for three and a half years and during that time his wife had received his allotment of four shillings a day.   The family were just re-establishing itself and only the week before the birth had welcomed home the second of his brothers who had also been with the AIF.  The mother to be was brought to Nurse Scharness’ Lorne St hospital, local doctor Dr Newing  summoned and eventually a male infant born".

While women relied heavily on the service of their local midwives, following that profession was not without risk of prosecution and financial penalties.  As more and more regulation was placed on the midwives themselves and their private hospitals, more scrutiny was placed on their activities.   Not that the government should not have interested itself in the safety of expectant mothers, but sometimes the prosecutions around the Essendon district seemed to be more to do with malicious intent that the safety of mothers and babies.  It should be noted that at the same time obstetricians were not scrutinised to the same degree. 

Mary Ann Scharness fell foul of the law on more than one occasion, but she remained a Registered Midwife until her death in 1931, having commenced perhaps in the 1890s.

Marilyn Kenny has taken a detailed look at the regulation of midwives and their hospitals and the changing situation as the laws developed to try to protect infant lives from baby farmers, to ensure good standards of training and hygiene and so on.   If you have an interest in this subject, you will be rewarded by perusing Marilyn's story about the Moonee Ponds midwife, Mary Ann Scharness

Friday, 12 November 2021

The Swamp Vanishes - an online exhibition

In this view of Melbourne, looking south west, taken by John Noone in 1869, the West Melbourne Swamp can be seen lurking unhealthily in the background.  By this time the swamp was evil-smelling and thought to be the source of disease.  Before white incursions, however, the swamp enabled large gatherings of First Nations people to gather for ceremonial, social, and law sessions by providing a veritable larder of food. (Royal Historical Society Collection, S-1292.001)

The Swamp Vanishes traces the slow eradication of what was a significant resource for the Kulin Nation for millenia. 

This exhibition, curated by me, was launched at the RHSV in late January 2020, but lockdowns brought a reduced opportunity to view the exhibition.  As a  result, the RHSV has now made the exhibition available online.  

Click here to see The Swamp Vanishes

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Mrs Rule's Lending Library, Essendon

This book turned up recently in the Book Nook, Christ Church Op Shop, North Essendon (corner Marco Polo St), from a former lending library, recalling for us the days of circulating libraries dotted about the suburbs. 

Mrs Rule ran a confectioner's shop (cakes, or possibly a milk bar) with the library as a sideline.  Mrs Rule died in 1950 and the business was thereafter run by her son, Frank Rule.  The business in the 1960s has been recalled as a milk bar, fancy goods and stationery shop.  Does anyone remember it when it also had a lending library? 

You can learn a bit more about Mrs Rule's Lending Library by clicking on the link.

Thursday, 13 May 2021

The Missing

See this tribute to the workers of the Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau and the post-war work of the Australian Graves Detachment and Graves Services men who retrieved the remains of the fallen to bring together into a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.  The Missing.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

This media item is licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). You may share (i.e. copy, distribute, transmit) this item provided that you attribute the content source and copyright holder; do not use the content for commercial purposes; and do not rework (i.e. alter, transform, build upon) the material.

© Copyright of Wind & Sky Productions
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Director: Jary Nemo. Writers/Producers: Lucinda Horrocks and Jary Nemo.

Documentary film, The Missing, 2019, 11:21 minutes, director Jary Nemo, writer/producers Lucinda Horrocks and Jary Nemo, Australia, Wind & Sky Productions.