Tag Archives: Melbourne

Lost and Found 1: Bootless

Walking around any town, any village, any city, I’m always aware of the idea of the unknown history of a place. Who has walked this way before me? What worker, thousands of years ago, paused at the foot of this same pyramid? What Roman soldier took a breath as he stood by this wall back when this was Londinium?

Hidden histories aren’t just separated from me by time. People walk past every day, and I sometimes find myself wondering who they are and what their story is. That woman who is smiling as she talks to someone one the phone; that teenage boy who looks so sad: what dramas or everyday histories are unfolding for them? As a writer, and therefore a student of human nature, I can’t help but wonder.

And sometimes, the world at large leaves unexplained artefacts behind. Signs of some other story of which I can only see a single line. A sort of punctuation mark in what could be a comedy, or a tragedy, or some bizarre adventure.

I’m always fascinated by the discovery of random articles of clothing. Over the years I have seen shirts, single shoes (sometimes broken, sometimes not), pairs of shoes, baby’s bibs, single socks, underwear for both women and men, once a pair of good quality black dress trousers, and most recently, boots. I always wonder how these items were separated from their owners, and whether the separation was amicable.

Some things seem obvious (or at least likely) and often the implied story is, let’s face it, a bit sordid, probably involving too much drink and fumbling liaisons between horny friends and lovers.

Still, my brain being what it is, I sometimes think of other stories to attach to this random paraphernalia I see in the streets. Being a writer of fantasy and horror, my brain sometimes supplies fantastical options.

Take this pair of boots, found placed neatly by the bin next to the bookshop at the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke Streets one Saturday morning.

My first thought was that some wicked witches clearly don’t feel terribly comfortable in ruby red slippers, so well-worn walking boots seemed like a fair option. An opinion perhaps not shared by any gingham-clad poppets who may have accidentally crushed said witches to death. I would have thought a sturdy pair of walking boots would have been a better choice to wear while tramping off to find the Emerald City, but maybe they clashed with the dress.

Otherwise, I like to think of these boots as belonging to a rare creature who visited this fair city from some other-wordly realm. Having arrived and adopted a more suitable physical form for this environment, this charming and curious creatue (in the guise of a young Frenchman, perhaps – there are a lot of French visitors in Melbourne these days) spent a few days exploring a human city. Perhaps saw the art gallery. Perhaps lobbed into the Toff in Town to discover this thing called blues music.

And when it was time to leave again, our psuedo-French wraith discarded his disguise, allowing the clothes he’d spun from smoke and cobwebs to blow away. Only the boots, which were real human boots and had been required to protect his delicate feet from the strangely hard and unforgiving surfaces of this city, were left. So he put them to one side and, regaining his true form, wafted down the grates to rejoin the creek that once ran where Elizabeth Street cuts through the city (and still runs its secret way below the asphalt, and thence into the Yarra). Perhaps he’s out at sea now, in some peculiar watery world, failing to convince anyone he knows that there is such a thing as a tram.

Lost and Found is an irregular series of posts about random items I find abandoned on the streets. Sometimes I’ll make up stories about them.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Review: Capital by Kristin Otto (AWW Challenge #3)

For my third book of the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge, I decided to go non fiction, and picked up Kirsten Otto’s Capital. The book traces the political and social life of Melbourne from 1901 to 1927, the years that Melbourne was Australia’s capital city while Canberra was being built.

As you can tell from the dates, this was a tumultuous period of Australia’s history. The joy of becoming a single, federated nation with our own parliament led to a robust and thriving society. Patriotic feeling was still surging when hostilities in Europe broke out in 1914 and Australia went to war in support of Great Britain, still considered the Motherland at the time. The war years were brutal, but in many ways they helped to form Australia’s image of itself, and of course its image to others. Post-war reconstruction of a shell-shocked country occurred against events like the influenza epidemic that killed more people than the war had, and the police strike of 1923, which led to three days of rioting in the streets.

Before I picked up the book, I was hesitant, thinking it might focus on the political arena in those nearly-three decades. However, Otto has done a marvellous job of bringing the whole era to life. It’s not just the story of the men who built this city and nation. Significant men and women in politics, business, architecture, the arts and sciences are all followed.  The story of Melbourne is the story of people like E W Coles (of the Coles Book Arcade), HV McKay, Janet, Lady Clarke, Dame Nellie Melba, Helena Rubenstein, Violet Teague, Percy Grainer and his father John, who built the Princes Bridge, architects Walter Burley and Marion Mahoney Griffin and newsman Keith Murdoch.

Melbourne’s story is told through these ‘characters’, most of whom I know something about—but in these pages I learned more! Of course, these great entrepreneurs and philanthropists all knew each other, and names weave in and out of different aspects of the history. When some of them, and their sons, go to fight at Gallipoli or at the Somme, you feel very invested in their fates.  Sometimes it’s a little hard to keep track of everyone and how they know each other, and a fold out diagram of the names would have been helpful, at least for me.

Each chapter covers a chunk of years, and starts with a chatty precis about the significant events in those years. The tone is brisk and informative and occasionally humorous. In the first chapter, several pages are devoted to analysis and art appreciation of the two major portraits painted of the opening of Parliament in May 1901. In some chapters, she touches on how events are affecting sections of the Indigenous community, particularly the community that lived at Corranderk. Visits from folks like Harry Houdini and Nellie Melba’s frequent ‘farewell tours’ are all given space alongside the politics and business of the city.

Otto’s history is lively, and while it’s not delving into the everyday life, it gives an excellent account of the men and women who built and influenced Melbourne in the first three decades of Australia’s nationhood. Those names and their achievements still resonate today. If you are keen on Australian history, and on Melbourne in particular, this is a lovely addition to your reading.

From here, I need to find John Monash’s biography: he was an engineer as well as a general, and sounds like a thoroughly interesting man.

Capital is published by Text Publishing. You can get the book from them directly, as an ebook from Readings or as a Kindle edition at Capital: Melbourne When It Was the Capital City of Australia 1901-27.


Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.