In days gone by, I created an app all about the peculiarities of this city I love so much. Among the tributes to the strange and beloved was a post about that most Australian of foodstuffs – Vegemite.
Australians grow up on the stuff and think nothing of it, but migrants and visitors to our shores have to be taught how to enjoy Vegemite. Many never really manage it.
I used to suspect that Vegemite was concocted in some terrible laboratory accident, but it was in fact invented on purpose.
Marmite is a whole other controversial foodstuff, also dividing folks into the ‘love/hate’ camps. Australia’s much saltier version came about because the exports of Marmite from Britain to Australia were limited as a result of attacks on ships during World War One.
Our nation, swearing never again to be desperate for a yeast-extract spread, turned to Cyril Percy Callister.
Cyril was born in Victoria and schooled in Ballarat. With his Masters of Science from Melbourne University and experience developing explosives for the Brits during The Great War, he invented a process from scratch using spent yeast from the Carlton and United Breweries. I’m not sure where the explosives expertise comes into it, but he scienced like anything and produced the goods!
Vegemite: The Final Product was released in 1923, although it didn’t become popular until the late 1920s.
Cyril also worked on cheese products for his employer, Fred Walker & Co Pty Ltd, which may explain why cheese and Vegemite work so well together – though most Australians prefer it thinly spread on hot, well-buttered toast.
Cyril P. Callister passed away of a heart attack in 1949. He is buried in Box Hill Cemetery near the Middleborough Road end, in plot 14 of section 158. Pass by sometime and pay your respects from a grateful nation.
(The jar of Vegemite I left as tribute all those years ago is probably gone now, though.)
And if you’re a non-native and want some tips on how to eat Vegemite like a local, ask away!
I really need to stop buying books faster than I can read them.
*pause for mad laughter*
Yeah, we know that’s never going to happen. So while we’re recovering from our hysterical mirth, let’s have a look at three of my most recent acquisitions!
The Outcasts of Melbourne
ed. Graeme Davison, David Dunstan and Chris McConville
In February, I attended the “Marvellous Smellbourne: early Melbourne’s noxious trades” talk at Docklands Library, presented by John Lack of the Docklands History Group. He spoke about the tanneries, abattoirs and glue factories that gave Melbourne its unflattering epithet, and how the city cleaned up its filthy air and waterways. He also spoke about this book, for which he’d written about the noxious trades.
I’m reading as much as I can about 19th century Melbourne, particularly about the working classes and the era’s social history as well as contemporaneous attitudes towards queerness (rather than what we *think* went on from a 21st century perspective).
The Outcasts of Melbourne offers insights on Chinatown, crime, poverty, disease and “low life” so it should be a rich source of period detail and plot ideas!
Inventing the Victorians
I found out about this book during the recent broo-haha when author Naomi Wolf discovered she’d misinterpreted data about the death sentences for men convicted of homosexual sex in the 19th century. The radio host and author who highlighted the error live on air was Matthew Sweet, an expert in the era.
I’d been considering getting Wolf’s book, Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love , partly because its claims of the number of men executed for sodomy seemed at odds with some of my other reading (notably Graham Robb’s Strangers: Homosexual Love in the 19th Century).
I’ll still get Outrages in due course – a later edition with the corrections Wolf is said to be making, having found out that ‘Death recorded’ in the old records actually didn’t mean an execution took place. However, the whole thing introduced me to Matthew Sweet, so I’ve picked up his Inventing the Victorians to see what he has to say about what the Victorians were actually like instead of what we only *think* they were like. I’m looking forward to reading what the Literary Review says “overturns cliche after cliche”.
(One thing I keep discovering in my reading is that what people think the Victorians were like has a lot more to do with film and television and narrow interpretations through current social lenses than actual social history.)
Pages Passed from Hand to Hand: The Hidden Tradition of Homosexual Literature in English from 1748 to 1914
ed. Mark Mitchell and David Leavitt
I don’t now recall where I read of this title, but it came up in relation to all the commentary on the Matthew Sweet/Naomi Wolf commentary.
Among the things that interest me (or agitates me) is how some people like to insist that if two men or two women in the historical past had an intense relationship that ‘they were just good friends and stop trying to make everything gay you’re spoiling it la la la la I can’t hear you!’. I mean. Maybe it was intense friendship and hello, maybe they were lovers negotiating their love in a difficult time when they couldn’t openly acknowledge it, and either is a reasonable view maybe, but statistically a good number of those relationships were in fact deeper bonds and all my reading suggests quite a lot of them were, in fact, and so shush now, and stop pretending gayness never existed before people started labelling it. Shush now.
Pages Passed from Hand to Hand is an anthology of stories published before E.M. Forster’s seminal Maurice that contains the rich coding by which queerness was explored, hinted at, subliminally supported or otherwise threaded into writing during periods where same-sex sexual practices (and by association, same-sex affections, desires and hopes for established relationships) were under the shadow of the law.
The anthology contains stories and extracts by Herman Melville, Ambrose Bierce, Henry James, Kenneth Grahame and many others.
If nothing else, I’ll know which tomes to put subtly into the hands of my 19th century queer characters – from my interpretations of Holmes and Watson to other inhabitants of my historical fiction.
Over on my Patreon, I’ve started posting cahpters for the fourth Duo Ex Machina book, set in 2014.
Kiss and Cry brings Frank and Milo five years on from the events of Number One Fan: Frank is a successful producer and Milo is concentrating on raising funds and doing work with his Foundation. I’m inventing lyrics and bands for the story, but the real music scene was full of amazing real Australian musicians.
Melbourne live music was also changing in 2014. Music venues had been facing difficulties with restrictive regulations on things like liquor licensing, noise level complaints from new residents in areas where venues had been for decades (we nearly lost Cherry Bar), and conditions for all-ages concerts – then in March 2014, the Victorian government introduced reforms to ensure the city’s incredible music scene not only survived but continued to thrive.
Actually, a report by Pollstar had revealed Melbourne venues were among the top in Australia: from Richmond’s Corner Hotel as the top Australian spot and 13th worldwide. (In fact, the Corner makes an appearance in my upcoming novel, Kitty and Cadaver.)
In 2014, Sia, Iggy Azalea and 5 Seconds of Summer were all charting in the UK and US while the JJJ Top 100 2014 was full of Chet Faker, the Hilltop Hoods, Lorde, Chvrches and Vance Joy and contained the since-ubiquitous Uptown Funk.
(While we’re here, this is one of my favourite videos using Uptown Funk.)
Here in 2019, some of the venues that were under threat 5-10 years ago are still going strong: Cherry Bar, the Tote and The Espy, which has just undergone a massive refurbishment and still has three stages and some impressive cocktail bars as well as free local music in the basement.
But back in 2014 Melbourne, Frank and Milo and their friends and family will continue to listen to the Hilltop Hoods’ Cosby Sweater and Sia’s Chandelier and donate to the soundproofing of venerable venues to save them for the future.
When Duo Ex Machina‘s Frank and Milo first appeared in a story, they’d just returned from Amsterdam – they were kinda big with the Dutch – to attend a funeral in Fremantle. They had no home but a hotel.
By the second story in 2004, they were on a publicity tour, and still no home was mentioned. At this stage, Frank had in fact inherited a flash house by the Swan River but here they were in hotels again. Milo’s mother and some extended family were dotted about Melbourne, though.
So here we are in 2009 with Number One Fan and I thought it was about time they had a home of their own. The house by the river was full of sad memories, and besides, it’s a lot harder for me to research locations when I don’t live in Perth any more.
When looking for a home for them in Melbourne, I knew I wanted them to live in one of those beautiful Victorian-era two-storey houses with iron lace and stacks of charm. I knew I wanted them to be somewhere with an open view in front of them, in a suburb that connected to their Italian roots. While they had a heritage home, I wanted them to live somewhere full of young energy; maybe on the line between traditional and hipster.
After a bit of poking about, I kept coming back to Carlton. Although Lygon Street, also called ‘Little Italy’, is a bit overhyped, it’s still a lovely area when you get away from that central street. It’s said Melbourne cafe culture started here, with all the Italian restaurants. It’s home to La Mama Theatre (where playwright David Williamson made his debut), Readings Bookstore, Cinema Nova, and Italian delicatessens, and Melbourne University is just over the tramlines.
Carlton was established just after the Victorian Gold Rush, in 1851. It started out a bit posh – Sir Redmond Barry (the man who pronounced the death sentence on Ned Kelly) lived on Rathdown Street in the early days – but became a place of small industry and the working class. The Jewish population got their synagogue in 1919, and after WWII an influx of Italians strongly influenced the area’s character, along with all those hungry minds at the university.
Some beautiful houses with iron lace are dotted all about Carlton. Quite a few parks are in the area too. I went for a walk around it one recent sunny day to choose where I’d like their house to be, and to see what was nearby.
This row of terrace houses opposite Argyle Square was the best option. From those front balconies, people can look over the English elms in the park and see the students lollling about on the lawn to study, or families picnicking and eating ice-cream they bought up on Lygon Street, a short walk away. Around the corner is The Lincoln Hotel if they want a quietish drink. At the Lygon Street end of the square is what was in 2009 a red brick power substation, but as of a few months ago is a new cafe called Parco.
The location was right but the houses there weren’t so I took some small streets, crossing Lygon and heading towards Drummond and Rathdown Streets. There I found two lovely white terrace houses. One of them has beautiful leadlighted decorations on the downstairs window and above the door. The other was plainer at ground level, but had lovely etched glass in the upstairs window and the balcony door.
A wee bit of googling gave the prices that they last sold for. One of them, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and even a car space, went for $800K in 2005. I think Frank’s Swan River place would have covered that.
Of course, Frank and Milo’s place isn’t really real. I’ll be playing around with its insides and outsides, maybe having them refurbish and add a fancy music room onto the back of the house while the front gazes onto the park with its demure 1890s lace of iron.