Night Life

We went to the Night Life exhibition being put on by the National Trust at Ripponlea.     It showcases evening wear (almost exclusively women’s)  from the early 1920s – featuring lots of beads and glitter – to the “Moderne” style of the 30s (with a greater focus on prints).

It also includes  the works of some contemporary Melbourne  designers who view the era through modern eyes.

From generation to generation

I see that it’s been reported that the last person known to have been born in the 1800s has died.   Isn’t it interesting that someone born in the 21st century, who might well live into the 22nd century could, in theory, have spoken to this woman?

Looking back on history, we tend to think of centuries as being distinct, yet here we have a possibility of four centuries being spanned in two lifetimes.

Bernard Salt recently wrote about this, putting it into the context of a type of time travel:   “If a centenarian today had spoken at, say, the age of seven (in 1924) to their 100-year-old great-grandparent, who in turn had spoken about their childhood recollections, it is possible to connect with a second-hand account of life in 1831. Is this not time travel? Even a 100-year-old’s recollections of their parents provides a window into the mores of the late 19th century.”

Except for the fact that life expectancies in the past were less than they are today, on Bernard’s assumptions it’s possible that a person living in 1852 could have heard 2nd hand about the Great Fire of London in 1666!

UPDATE:   Here’s a report about the woman who might now be the oldest person living.

Streets where we live

The Stonnington History Centre has a temporary display focussing on the evolution of the local urban landscape.   It’s not large but I found some of the material extremely interesting, such as the  early Crown maps which gave an insight into the original landholdings in the area.  These pre-dated the railway, so from these, and from the slightly later maps with the original streets marked, you could ascertain the changes to the streets that took place when the railway went through.

There were early rate books and a slide show of interesting houses that have now been demolished, as well as a number of photos depicting early streetscapes and aerial views.




The streetscapes were from various periods, but I was particularly interested that one or two of them dated from the ’30s, where the scenes depicted were still almost “semi rural”.   It’s a reminder that things have changed a great deal over the last few generations.

The display is set up in an area that’s a bit off the beaten track, so there didn’t appear to be a lot of visitors.   Given the interesting material on display, I thought that was a bit of a pity.


I was vaguely aware that Guadacanal was the site of a major battle during World War 2 (75 years ago this year), but I admit I didn’t know much about it.    The we got a phone call from C, who had just returned from spending 3 weeks in the course of her work at Honiara in the Solomons, where she had been introduced in a tangible way to the history of the battle (apparently before that, she knew even less about it than I did).

She had visited the open air museum with various relics, and had scuba dived around the wreck of one of the Japanese ships.

It sounds very interesting, but even so, apparently the weather in the Solomons is pretty oppressive (at least at this time of year), and the tourist facilities seem not to be well-developed (although the diving is said to be great), so I have to admit a visit there is quite a long way down my “to do” list.

Open air museum
Open air museum 2
Open air museum 3
Sunken Japanese ship now diving site
Trenches where Allies trained
Scenery is good, too

Avenue of Honour

I visited the Australian War Memorial and was particularly interested that they’ve got a photographic display featuring trees from the Avenue of Honour at Ballarat.   We often take these avenues for granted.

img_9956aThe photographs are impressive and the captions set out the service history of the soldiers to whom the depicted trees are dedicated (apparently quite a lot of research was required in some cases).

However, the photos are all of individual trees.   While this is interesting and moving, they appear to have been selected because of their “evocative” appeal.    I guess it’s the photographer’s choice how he chooses to approach the subject, but to me it seems somewhat of a pity that in this case the fact has been overlooked that the whole point of such avenues is that they are in fact an “avenue” – not just a a number of random trees (apparently 22 in the present case, out of over 3800).


Patrick Leigh Fermor

Having read  A Time of Gifts and The Broken Road, I sought out Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick (“Paddy”) Leigh Fermor, Patrick Leigh Fermor – an Adventure.   I haven’t yet located a copy of Between the Woods and the Water, but will keep an eye out for this.

img_9538aCooper writes in a fairly matter-of-fact style, so the biography is interesting in that it fills in some of the details that in Fermor’s own books sometimes appear a little elusive or, perhaps more accurately, get a little lost or out of logical order in the mass of impressions that he records.

While the biography seems to cover covers most aspects of Fermor’s life, I would have like a little more detail on the years spent pre-war with Balasha.  Perhaps, however, the sources for these years aren’t there?    On the other hand, the time in Crete during World War 2 is covered in great detail.

I found the table  included in an appendix listing the places mentioned in each of the accounts of the walks very interesting, as also the mention in the acknowledgements that the author is John Julian Norwich‘s daughter.

As is my habit with biographies, I “dipped into” the parts that interested me, rather than read it from cover to cover.    As this was a library book, and I was to be away for a few days, I returned it before reading it completely, so I certainly intend to return to it.


A Time of Gifts

A Time of Gifts is the first in the series of three works describing Patrick Leigh Fermor’s walk from Hook of Holland to “Constantinople” (the name still apparently used by some English-speakers until well into the 20th century).   This work deals with the section of the walk up to his crossing into Hungary.   Like others, I found the book absorbing (as was also The Broken Road).

Fermor had had an “interesting” upbringing, being described in one of his school reports as “.. a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness”. After studying for entrance to the Army and then trying his hand at writing, he set off at age 18 on his walk.

It’s interesting that, in 1934 the traditional custom of hospitality to pilgrims and travelling students survived;  for example, in many parts of Germany, he received at the inn supper and mug of beer, a bed for the night and bread and a bowl of coffee in the morning – all on the parish.   No slur was attached, the welcome was always friendly, all based on ancient charity extended to wandering students and pilgrims..   But although Fermor also slept on occasions in barns, he had some good connections!  Letters of introduction to well-connected families led to generous hospitality from them, and further introductions to more friends.     And when Fermor had his passport and belongings stolen in Munich, an interview the next morning with the British consul resulted in a passport being reissued on the spot, together with an advance of £5.    Obviously there were fewer travellers in those days, at least to places “off the beaten track”.

He comments on the characteristics of the people, such as “the civilized Rhinelanders [and] the diligent and homey Swabians”, compared with with the perhaps rougher Bavarians.   Hitler had come to over 10 months earlier and in Germany the early signs of the regime were beginning to be seen.    He describes the ebbs and tides of historical conquests and the regional and sub-regional characteristics of the people,  the connection between some of the places he visits and art and far, far more.

img_8963Whatever the defects in his education, he was clearly well-schooled in many respects, although some of the detail may have been filled in by him between the time between the walk and publication of the book some decades later.