The Wilkinson Fountain

We were at Williamstown, and I noticed the Wilkinson drinking fountain (and here).  It’s right there, on the corner of the roadway leading to the pier, outside the information centre, but I’d never noticed it before.   I see that it was restored recently (and here).

The inscription (which has the Bicentenary logo) states that “Rev George Wilkinson of Holy Trinity Church was a teetotaller and a homeopathic doctor.   Public subscriptions in 1878 purchased this Glasgow-built fountain to dispense pure water for ferry passengers at the ‘Front Door to Williamstown’ “.



I’ve been lent Danubia, by Simon Winder, described as “A personal history of Habsburg Europe”.  To be honest, until now, I had only come across the Habsburgs incidentally, when reading or looking into other aspects of European history.   Danubia isn’t strictly a “history”, in that it seems to assume you already know the history (and thus it’s prone to gloss over the major historical events themselves), but instead it puts the events and eras that it covers into context  (geographically, ethnically, musically, artistically and so on).   It also probes, often in a very conversational style,  the minds of the individuals involved, particularly (but not limited to) the various Habsburg rulers.

I admit that I really wasn’t knowledgeable about many of the matters that the author describes (EDIT – I’ve previously acknowledged that!)  That said, I still gained a lot from reading it.    And in instances where I did have a little familiarity with the places described, it took on added fascination.     So when mention was made of a place that I have a little knowledge of, such as Belgrade, Krakow or Zakapone, the text took on a much greater significance.

The geographic scope is extensive, ranging at times from the Adriatic, over to what is now Ukraine, north into Poland and at least in the early parts, down to Spain. In terms of time it commences at the end of the end of the Middle Ages and runs through to the end of World War 1.  It’s over 500 pages long, and apparently it’s all been researched “on-the-ground” by the author.  He actually states that a lot of the research time was spent just walking!

For much of the era, the Ottomons were a constant threat, and I lost track of the number of battles with them.  The author describes the frontier between the Habsburg lands and the Ottoman Empires as a “a shifting, frightening reality from the fifteenth century to the end of the eighteenth”.    But there were also numerous European wars, culminating of course in World War 1 which spelt the end of the Habsburgs.   Early in the era, there were fortified castles and strongholds (one with a bear moat) and numerous marriages between close relatives;  the author describes unlikely alliances, uprisings and rebellions (including repression of Protestants and anti-Semitism).  Areas became depopulated, people were taken into slavery – these were tough times indeed.

The language is often quirky and conversational, sometimes going off on tangents to describe matters of particular interest to the author.   For example,  although its descriptions of the numerous issues that gave rise to World War 1 and the conduct of that war are fascinating, it appears to make the assumption that the reader is familiar with many of the actual events.  Of course, these are readily available on Wikipedia,  but having to refer to another source is rather cumbersome.

Unfortunately, I had to return the book to A.  But combined with Patrick Leigh Fermor’s works  (here  and here) I’m beginning to build up some impressions of the extensive history of this part of the world.

Steam trains

B mentioned to me that Steamrail were running steam loco-hauled shuttles around Melbourne, so we headed off to the local bridge at the appointed time.   Joining a few children (the fascination with trains seems to be enduring!), we were there when along came the train, with an engine at each end.  A few minutes later, it came back in the other direction after reaching its destination a couple of stations down the track.

It doesn’t seem very long ago at all that we were travelling in the carriages forming the train each day as we rode around Melbourne.

South Africa and China War Memorial

I was fascinated to come across the South Africa and China War Memorial in the median reserve in Whitehorse Road at Box Hill (long story why I was there).  The memorial commemorates men from the district who served in either the Boer war in South Africa or the Boxer Rebellion in China, between 1899 and 1902.  The adjacent board states that it’s the only known memorial to those from Victoria who served in the “China War” and the inscription on the memorial refers to the volunteers who responded to the Empire’s call.


The board also states that the monument was originally located at the corner of Whitehorse Road and Station Street, and was relocated to its present position at some stage between 1914 and 1920.   It’s at the other end of the median strip to the White Horse statue.

The Boxer rebellion was to an extent a reaction against Western settlement in China.  Hence, the location of this monument in Box Hill, where today the non-English signage outweighs that in English, is certainly ironic!


Street scene, Box Hill


Did you see the news item that part of a “fatberg” taken out of a London sewer has been placed in the Museum of London?

Strange display for a museum, but I suppose it sheds some light on an aspect of modern life that we often prefer not to think about, namely, what goes on down in the sewers!

We’ve got some time in London in a couple of months time, but if we do go to the Museum of London (not sure), it won’t be because we want to see the “fatberg”!


What is history?   The subject came up at a discussion I participated in, in the context of statues of Confederate notables , such as Gen. Robert E. Lee, being removed in America’s South.    Doesn’t this constitute a re-writing of history?   Or is it legitimate to remove symbols that remind us of “distasteful” events in the past?  Or is it a question of degree?  For example, a statue of Hitler would be regarded as distasteful by almost everyone. Obviously there are no easy answers!

There have been lots of instances of statues being removed over the years.  For example Ukraine recently removed all statues of Lenin (apparently 1,320 in total).   And in recent years, the removal of statues has been raised in Russia.     This wouldn’t be new:   statues of the Tsars were removed after the 1917 revolution.  Is it that history is politics looking backwards?

If so, how ought it work at Cooma, where there are flags denoting the countries from which people who worked on the project came;  should these be changed as the countries change (such has occurred in the Balkans), or even as countries change their flag (as with South Africa)?

The above barely touches on the the topic.   Right now, there are discussions occurring in Australia about statues of Captain Cook (even if the discussion seems to be more about the inscription), and not so long ago in Britain, there was an issue about the statue of Cecil B Rhodes at Oriel College, Oxford.     Perhaps topics for future posts!