Western Port Bay

Western Port Bay

IMG_8229In this post, which is the third in a series of more in depth articles using material from the PMI’s collection, I’m going to look at the history  and ecology of Western Port Bay. We have a number of books on the Bay and its surrounds and I’ll provide a reference list at the end. Western Port Bay, is the lesser known cousin of Port Phillip Bay, and together they form the Mornington Peninsula.

Screen Shot 2020-07-30 at 3.08.16 pm

To begin with the basics; Western Port Bay is formed by the heads of Flinders and Phillip Island. You can see the view looking over the ‘Nobbys’ at the tip of Phillip Island in the photo below.


The tides are much higher than Port Phillip, partly because the heads of the bay are much wider. There are also two major islands in the Bay; Phillip Island, which as I said forms part of the heads, and French Island. I’m not going to discuss either in detail, but we have a number of books on both if anyone wants to learn more. There are a number of smaller islands in the Bay as well.

To return to Western Port Bay itself. Before European colonisation Western Port Bay was, and remains, the land of the Boon Wurrung Indigenous people of the Kulin nation. They lived around the bay for thousands of years, using its bountiful resources including shellfish, birds, animals and plant life. When Europeans arrived, food sources were depleted, Boon Wurrung were removed from the land, disease spread, some were captured by whalers and sealers, some were incorporated into European society, some were rounded up and sent to missions, where culture and language was forcibly stamped out. Today the Boon Wurrung are rebuilding their language and continue to live and share their ancient culture. It is vitally important to note that this was not unoccupied land when the Europeans arrived. You can find out more about the Boon Wurrung at the Boon Wurrung Foundation 

The map below, which dates to 1940 and can be viewed as part of the PMI’s collection, gives you an idea of the scope of the Bay itself and especially the channels in the Bay.


There are a number of deep shipping channels in Western Port, which weave their way through equally shallow mud flats. This allows big ships to come into Hastings, and Cerberus (which is a navy training base), but lots of little boats make use of the many channels, waterways and even creeks that run around and in Western Port Bay.

The ecology of Western Port Bay is unique, the salt marshes are home to a vast array of migratory birds and Western Port boasts the southern most mangroves in the world, (Corner Inlet at Wilson’s Promontory might argue with that designation). The mangroves help prevent erosion, are fish nurseries,  have aerial roots and produce seeds which the tides take and you find scattered along the surrounding beaches. You can see some of the mangroves in the photo below, with Hasting’s white elephant the HMAS Otama.

IMG_7292It’s a slight diversion, but the Otama is worth explaining. In 2001 the Otama, a 1610 ton Oberon Class submarine, was purchased by the Western Port Oberon Association. It was intended to be the centre piece of the Victorian Maritime Centre in Hastings and they had it towed from Fremantle. Sadly, over the years the Maritime Centre has got very close to planning approval and the funding to build it, but it has never succeeded. In 2008, the Otama was put on eBay unsuccessfully. Hopefully, one day it will come out of the water as part of a state of the art Maritime Centre, but for now it sits waiting in Western Port Bay.

IMG_7971Putting the Otama aside, the ecology of Western Port Bay goes beyond the mangroves. There are salt marshes and seagrass beds of immense importance. The seagrass meadows are the driving force of the bay, they produce seed and and are pollinated wholly underwater, they provide protection and food for a wide variety of sea life. While it might not look so pretty when it is washed up on the beach, seagrass is the bedrock on which the ecology of the underwater world of Western Port is built.


Seagrass is not the only plant found in the bay, there is an extensive assortment, including some truly striking seaweed. IMG_8178

The creatures of Western Port are as versatile and varied as their plant companions. The Bay is home to numerous fish, and other creatures including dolphins, seals and sharks. There is multitudinous birdlife, with masked lapwings, pacific gulls, oyster catchers, ibis, swans, white faced herons and cormorants (amongst many others) being regular visitors. You can see some of the cormorants below.


There’s also many smaller creatures, usually found around the rock pools, including sea stars and crabs, along with many many different types of shellfish.


So Western Port Bay supports an interconnected web of life, including the humans who have come to live around its edges. So I’m going to finish with a little of the human history, post colonisation. George Bass was, arguably, the first European to ‘discover’ Western Port Bay.  He missed Port Phillip, coming from the wrong direction, and being short of supplies on the 5th of January 1798 sailed into Western Port. He described it as “I have named the place, from its relative situation to every other known harbour on the coast, Western Port. It is a large sheet of water branching out into two arms which end in wide flats of several miles in extent, and it was not until we had been here some days that we found it to be formed by an island, and to have to outlets to the sea- an eastern and a western passage.” He goes on to describe the tides, and the mud and is complementary of the surrounding land and soil, but goes on to say they had great difficulty finding good drinking water. Bass did not stay long in Western Port, leaving in the 18th of January to head back to Port Jackson.

So that was the beginning of European involvement with Western Port. The next encounter was when Lieutenant James Grant sailed into Western Port on the 21st of March 1801. It was stormy so he anchored in the lee of Phillip Island and went on to cultivate the land on Churchill Island, just off Phillip Island, planting Victoria’s first garden.  Grant spent 6 weeks in Western Port Bay taking an extensive survey, the botanist on the the trip also gathered new plants.

The English were not the only ones to survey Western Port, the French spent eight days in the Bay in 1802 surveying and determining if it would be viable place for settlement. The expedition was led by Captain Hamelin, this surveying is most likely where the name French Island comes from. They reported back that there was good anchorage, and it had potential, but fresh water might be an issue.

Formal settlement of the area took place in 1826 when the government decided to establish an official settlement. The Dragon under the command of Captain Wright was sent to Western Port. They came ashore near Rhyll, on Phillip Island and on December 3rd the flag was raised and a 21 gun salute was fired, officially announcing the first European settlement.

As time went on settlements came and went around the Bay, many not really taking hold. There were also fishermen and sealers aplenty and eventually  actual townships did develop around the Bay. There were also squatters moving into the area and large areas of land were sold off by the government as pastoral runs. The Bay has also been the site of industry, especially in Hastings which has an oil refinery and a reasonable sized port.

Today Western Port Bay is surrounded, for the most part, by small towns. Thankfully much of its natural beauty has been retained, and will hopefully continue to be valued into the future.



This is by no means a comprehensive look at the history of Western Port Bay, but hopefully it has given you a good idea of its importance from an ecological  and historical standpoint and if you’d like to know more, the books in the photo below have a wide range of information.

thumbnail_IMG_8232The photos are all mine.


Australian English- our idiosyncrasies of speech

Australian English- our idiosyncrasies of speech

There’s lots of words that Australians use, that are peculiar to the country or even the state. I’ve got into several good natured arguments over whether it is a potato cake or a potato scallop (it’s a potato cake, but I’m a Victorian so I have to say that), for example. Beyond rivalries over bathers vs togs, and devon vs stras and don’t even get me started on family words (I thought ‘zapper’ was a perfectly normal word for the TV remote for a long time), there is a lexicography that is Australian and has come about because of our mixed and fascinating history.

The PMI has a number of books on Australian words and Australianisms, including the Australian National Dictionary- which you can see below.

Australian national dictionary

We also subscribe to and index OzWords the journal of the Australian National Dictionary Centre. You can see the index on our catalogue here. 

Words come and go from the common vernacular, often shaped by events. For example I suspect ‘zooming’, in the context of online meetings, is going to be a new word for 2020. Probably along with isobaking- it was in true Australian tradition that isolation was almost immediately abbreviated and then added to other words. So I’m going to go through some of the books that the PMI has on the Australian vernacular, because as the Collections Librarian exploring the collection is always going to be a good thing, and explore some of the phrases and words contained within. I’d love if anyone has some other words they’d like to talk about if they could comment, and hopefully we’ll get an interesting discussion going.

Before I go any further I want to discuss the fact that English was not the first language spoken on the continent of Australia. There were hundreds of different languages, spoken across Australia for more than 60 000 years, before European settlement.

You can explore the indigenous languages of Australia visually through AIATSIS’ map,


You can also use AIATSIS’ AUSTLANG- which is a language database which covers not just the languages spoken, but all the other names they are known by. Both are worth exploring


Returning to English, I wanted to say a little bit about the The Australian National Dictionary (AND) which you saw in the photo above. The PMI holds the second edition, which was published in 2016. The AND is an historical dictionary, which means that each entry begins with “the oldest sense of the word and moves through to the most recent sense”. This differs from a general dictionary, which will begin with the most common usage of a word and move to the less common. The AND is modelled on the Oxford English Dictionary, in the historical model. The AND is essentially a biography of the language and the people who speak it, which means it contains both some fabulously obsolete words alongside new and modern words, it also contains a lot of slang, and as it’s an Australian dictionary- this means a lot of abbreviations.

For example: Aggie- an agapanthus- first mentioned 1988 in the Sydney Morning Herald ‘the aggies are coming into bloom’

I also like Ballarat lantern- a makeshift lantern formed by removing the base of a bottle and inserting a candle end first through the bottle into the neck. The first mention is 1875 from Wood and Lapham in Ballarat, but by 1887 it was being used in the Brisbane Courier, which just shows how, even what would seem to be a localised geographical word, can travel.

Another phrase which caught my eye, is emu bob:  the act or process of picking up litter, a group of people doing this, the act or process of searching an area of the ground for something. I particularly like this one, because it is so Australian and so evocative. You can just so easily visualise how it would look.

Modern political concepts also make an appearance  such as Pacific Solution- which dates from 2001 and outlines government policy in regards to Asylum Seekers.

It’s very easy to get lost in these dictionaries, scanning through them, and discovering new words, old words and everything in between. I wanted to finish my exploration of the AND with some rhyming slang: Pat Malone. The phrase it usually gets used in is, ‘on one’s Pat Malone’ meaning alone- it feel appropriate for our current isolating circumstances. Its earliest mention the AND can find is from 1900, when it is used in a Hobart newspaper. It’s possible the phrase comes from an Irish ballad about a Pat Malone who suffered a series of misfortunes, but no one is entirely sure.

So, to move beyond the dictionary; the other books I’m using to discover words and phrases are:

All these books look at much more specific realms of English in Australia.

So I thought I’d start with Lily on the Dustbin, which looks at slang of Australian women and their families. I picked this one, because ‘women’s words’ can sometimes be seen as less important, or frivolous. So I’m glad there is a book dedicated to them, and there are some real gems:

Putting make up on: “to put on your face”

Annoying children: “a pain in the pinny”

Trying to get children to behave: “birds in the their little nests agree”

Describing unkempt hair: “hair like a birch broom in a fit”

A blunt knife: “you could ride to Bourke and back on that knife and it wouldn’t cut your bottom”

A lot of the idioms are around house, family and domesticity, but not always, and some were shaped by the concept that women were not meant to swear, so they came up with more inventive but not invective phrases.

The 1819 Dictionary of Criminal Slang has a whole new gamut of words, this one is really interesting because it is the start of where a lot of our Australianisms are born.

I particularly like:

Go-alonger: A simple easy person, who suffers himself to be made a tool of and is readily persuaded.

Morning-Sneak: Robbing private houses early, by slipping in the door when the servants or shopman are occupied getting ready for the day.

Resurrection-Cove: Stealer of dead bodies

Cat and Kitten Rig: A game of stealing pewter pots from public houses.

Blow The Gaff: To reveal a secret.

Now I can’t see much use for some of these in today’s speech, but I could see Go-alonger making a comeback

Furphies and Whizz-Bangs: ANZAC slang from the Great War, has some other excellent examples, some which have become common now and others which have been completely forgotten.

Bumf: Now used to mean essentially useless stuff, it comes from bumfodder, slang for toilet paper and the ANZACs used it to mean official forms, paperwork and bureaucracy.

Furphy: Still used today to mean a rumour, or a lie it comes from the Furphy made water carts in World War One where soldiers would gather to swap tales and stories.

Hop the bags: To go over the top

Flybog: Jam- comes from the idea that it attracted flies. (probably not one condiment companies will be trying to revive)

Clefty: To steal, probably comes from the Arabic word kalifa which means to become brownish-red in the face.

Lost For Words brings together words that Australians once used everyday but have since fallen out of favour.

Strike me pink, yellow and blue, I’m an Irish cockatoo: Surprise

Wake up, Australia, Tasmania is floating away: Pay attention

It’s money for old rope: A no brainer

The creaking hinge creaks the longest: Someone who is always sick- essentially ‘they’ll outlive us all’

If his brains were dynamite they wouldn’t blow his hat off: Stupid

The final book we’re looking at is The Pronunciation of English in Australia. This one is much more technical and seeks to explain things like vowels, diphthongs, stress and rhythms. So I’m not going to go into detail about that here, but I will discuss briefly the ‘general impressions’ of Australian speech it outlines- keep in mind it was written in 1947

They do outline that these are sweeping generalisations and largely criticism.

Australian speech is “ugly, lazy and slovenly, nasal, drawling, not clear (lots of mumbling), cockney, marred by lip laziness.”

This is often how Australian, or really ocker (to use another Australianism), speech is viewed from outside Australia, I’d actually also throw in uncultured. None of this is true of all Australians and the way we speak and these assumptions have led to some truly awful Australian accents on movies and TV. It also leads to pejorative assumptions about a person before you’ve actually listened to what they’re saying, which is something to be avoided.

I think what all the books make clear, is that even if the ‘tone’ of Australian speech may be a bit grating to some, the words and phrases that have come to be uniquely Australian  are certainly filled with colour, history and for me a really vivid visual layer.

I want to finish with a brief discussion about a phrase that has gotten me many a blank look. Making a wigwam for a goose’s bridal- essentially you use it when someone asks you what you are doing, and it’s blindingly obvious. It isn’t in common usage these days, I picked it up from my family and when I use it automatically I’ve had some very odd looks. It probably originates from Britain or Ireland in the 16th or 17th centuries, there’s arguments over exactly what, if anything, it means. The ‘goose’ is possibly a term for a prostitute, or it might be mother goose of fairytale fame. Wigwam, seems to be a bit interchangeable with wing wong, or whim wong, or whim wham, it is also debatable whether it was originally bridal of bridle- bridle possibly making more sense. Whatever its origins or usage, I love that in one form or another this completely random phrase has been a part of Australian language, it typifies good Australianisms for me; colourful, visual, arguable origins and not always making complete sense.

You can see all the books I used on the PMI Catalogue. The links are below

Lily On The Dustbin:


1819 Dictionary of Criminal Slang:


Lost For Words:


Furphies and Whizz Bangs:


The Pronunciation of English in Australia:


The Australian National Dictionary












Collections Under COVID 2

Collections Under COVID 2

Another week done, so it’s time for another Collections Under COVID.

Although the book budget is still frozen, we’ve been lucky enough to receive some brand new books as donations in the last week or so, and I wanted to highlight them and discuss how they fit into the collection.

I’m going to start with In The Name of Theatre: The history, culture and voices of amateur theatre in Victoria by Cheryl Threadgold.

Theatre Heritage

This book came out of Cheryl’s PhD thesis and she actually did quite a bit of research for the book at the PMI. It’s always wonderful to see the outcome when PMI resources have been used, it reinforces for us why the collection is so important to so many people.

In The Name of the Theatre covers the full gamut of amateur theatre in Victoria, from the goldfields right through to COVID-19, so in itself it is a valuable addition to the PMI’s collection. This is the small scale of history and I love some of the stories, like Lola Montez being so well received for her spider dance in 1856 in Ballarat that gold nuggets were thrown onto the stage. The book covers amateur theatre from all over Victoria and with its excellent index will be a vital resource for anyone researching theatre history at the PMI in the future. We also really appreciate Cheryl’s inscription in the front of the book. in the name of the theatre


Books like In The Name of the Theatre  are important to the collection because resources about entertainment are part of the cultural touchstones that make up our society. You can read more about the entertainment resources at the PMI in the Collection Corner in our February 2019 newsletter https://www.pmi.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/2018-02-February-Vol-107-Newsletter-web.pdf

The other two books I wanted to discuss are Bundjil and Barraeemal which you can see below.


These two books are both stories by Boonwurrung elder Carolyn Briggs, told with the Balnarring Bubups, the children of Balnarring Preschool.

They’re both gorgeous publications in their own right, with photos of the kids interwoven through the story, but the PMI collects this sort of material for another reason. Books telling Indigenous stories, especially including Indigenous language in Victoria are rare, and many of them are now being produced with or for children as part of teaching the new generations. This makes them vitally important parts of the PMI’s Indigenous collection, as we move to expand it and ensure that the Indigenous history of Victoria is at the heart of the PMI’s collection.

In this case the stories of the children as also valuable, as they are exactly the small scale of history we want to preserve at the PMI.

All three of these books will be for loan, when we are open again.

See you all in the library in the not too distant future (hopefully)


The origins of Port Fairy

The origins of Port Fairy

As part of the lockdown, we thought that bringing you some more informative blogs could be fun. We’re all about sharing our love of Victorian history, so to begin with we’ll be looking at Port Fairy. This is not intended to be a full history of the town, but a discussion of its origins. The PMI holds a number of books on Port Fairy and I’ll provide a photographic bibliography at the end of the post for those who want to learn more.


The area that is now Port Fairy was the country of the Gunditjmara people before European settlers arrived to colonise the land and ultimately lay out the town. It was not unoccupied. There is a memorial in Port Fairy which states “In memory of the thousands of Aboriginal people who were massacred between 1837 and 1844 in this area of Port Fairy. Today we pay our respect to them for the unnecessary sacrifices they made. Your spirit still lives on within our people. Wuwuurk.”

I am not going to discuss the massacres in detail, mainly because people much better qualified than me have done so, and for more information on massacres the University of Newcastle map has more detail. https://c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/colonialmassacres/map.php

It is vitally important in any examination of Victorian history that the Indigenous past is not forgotten.

The colonial origins of Port Fairy date to the 1839 when Governor LaTrobe sent the Government Surveyor to the area to “go and see what people are doing there.” The settlement of the area until this point was largely informal with whalers and sealers, squatters and the odd settler, but there wasn’t a town of any substance. The name for the town comes, probably, from the ship the Fairy which was a sealer and sailed into the area by Captain Wishart in c.1810. There is debate as to whether he actually sailed into the area or not and whether he was in fact the captain, but somehow the name stuck and the region came to be known as Port Fairy. The town itself though, as it is laid out today, comes from a little later and was actually originally known as Belfast.

The man who laid out the town was James Atkinson. He emigrated to Sydney in 1830 from Ireland. In 1843 he was granted the survey rights to lay out the town which he called Belfast. There were some people living in the town area, very basically, and inland squatters were establishing vast pastoral runs. It was to Atkinson’s benefit to retain as many of the existing settlers as he could, because then they would be either leasing or buying the land from him. Atkinson spent little time in the town, arriving in 1846 with his wife, seven children and four servants. He did not stay that long, appointing various land agents including in 1848 his 25 year old nephew (and incidentally my great great great grandfather) Robert Henry Woodward. It was under Woodward that most of the town was laid out and land either rented or sold as he remained land agent until 1869. A local council was developed as well. The majority of the public buildings you see in Port Fairy today were built on land given for that purpose.


Atkinson also purchased the islands just off the coast, including Griffiths Island where the Port Fairy Lighthouse stands today.


By 1857 Belfast was a thriving town with a population of 2190, and schools, hospitals and churches, like St John’s which you can see in the photo below.


In 1885 Atkinson’s children sold the unsold land from the survey to a syndicate of local investors and the remainder of the land was sold off, partly to the local council and partly to individuals and the era of Belfast being owned by one man was over. The town became a hub for fishing and trade and by the end of the 1800s it was one of the most important international ports in Australia, because much of the wool shorn as far away as NSW was taken by the river systems and bullock drays to Port Fairy for transportation.  The town continued to be called Belfast until 1887 when the town petitioned parliament and it was renamed Port Fairy by a special act of parliament.

So that is the beginnings of Port Fairy, a town with a rich and interesting history and if you want to explore it on more detail, all of the books below can help with that. You’ll be able to borrow them when we re-open, but if you’d like some specific information from any of them, we can scan it and send it to you. Just email library@pmi.net.au




thumbnail_IMG_8140The photos are all mine.

Collections Under COVID

Collections Under COVID

I was hoping to not have to write another of these posts, but as we are back in lockdown and I’m back to my first day working from home again- I thought I’d give a brief update of what I’m working on, and how things are going to work.

Once again I have my box of books, and I’ll be working my way through some more of the cataloguing backlog, so you can expect updates and profiles of some of the titles that I’m working on. It’s always great to have the chance to highlight some of the material that is coming into the collection.


I’ll also be indexing periodicals, which is an ongoing job, and hopefully finally having the time to undertake a full periodical audit, which will basically mean going through all the periodicals we receive on a regular basis and working out if we’re missing any. It does mean I get to talk to a few different historical societies, which is always interesting.

I’m also going to be writing more blog posts, beyond my COVID ones. I’m hoping to write about a new topic once a week, to bring you more content to explore. Next week’s post will be about Port Fairy, you can see the books I’ve collected for it below. I’m taking requests so if there is something you’d me to research and write about email me at ellen@pmi.net.au. Also if you’d like to write something for the blog, just let me know.


One change for me this time is that I’ll be onsite in the library on Wednesdays, with Steven. This will allow us to begin a shelf read (going through all the books and making sure they’re in the right spot) and to scan and send material you might need. It also enables me to work on some of the fiddlier books with the right resources and to help with catalogue maintenance.

I has been really nice the last 4 weeks seeing everyone back in the library, and the enthusiasm you’ve all shown in us being open again. Thanks to everyone who was so supportive yesterday in particular as we began to work out how we would operate whilst closed, and all of you who came in and stocked up on books- it was great to see you.

While it’s sad that we’re back in lockdown, we’ll keep in contact and hopefully welcome you all back into the library in the not too distant future.



Meet the Volunteers: Elena

Meet the Volunteers: Elena


Elena began volunteering at the PMI in 2019. Some of her volunteering background was working with indexing, including some archive work with the National Trust in their fashion collection and the Beechworth Pharmacy records. She also worked in the Holocaust Museum in their archives. With this in mind I asked her to start work on the PMI’s ‘to be archived’ material. Essentially this meant using our Retention and Disposal Authority to assess old PMI records to determine whether they would be archived, preserved for a certain period, or destroyed. Elena took to the job with enthusiasm and spent a lot of time shredding old financial records that were not destined for the archives. I believe she even found some of the shredding quite cathartic. I had a go as well, and it was quite fun. She did have to spend quite some time waiting for the shredder to cool down when it got too hot.

Once she had shredded, saved, and archived her way through the ‘to be archived’ material, I introduced her to indexing old journals. Her first job was the back issues of the Eltham and District Historical Society, which had been donated by the Yarra Plenty Libraries. The PMI’s journal indexing is a bit fiddly, with some idiosyncrasies (like most things at the PMI), but Elena soon had it figured out and has become one of our regular back issue indexers.

When COVID broke out, and it was clear that her regular volunteer gig working in the Melbourne Visitor’s Centre was going to dry up, she asked us for more work that she could do from home. So, during the lock down she worked her way through the back issues of the Apollo Bay Historical Society, Mission to Seafarers newsletter and all of the Aboriginal History Journals from 1977 to the present. Now that the library has re opened Elena is going to mainly continue working from home, because she can (she is now working on Garden History Journals, and checking the books listed in the Aboriginal History Journals against our catalogue). She has, however, been in the library for the first two weeks we’ve been open, patiently printing off all the Aboriginal History Journals so they can be bound. This is fiddly, meticulous work, which often means arguing with the photocopier (always a fun job), but she got through the last of it on the 24th and they will soon be available to our members.

Elena’s enthusiasm and work ethic have been greatly appreciated and it’s always fun having her in the library. She was also one of my regular correspondents while I was working from home, as we established the best way to index the Aboriginal History Journals, so having that connection back to the PMI was very nice too.

Elena asked me to write this post, an option we always offer volunteers when we’re doing profiles, and I hope it does her hard work justice.

Cataloguing Under Covid 5

Cataloguing Under Covid 5

This probably won’t be the last Cataloging Under Covid post, but as the library is re opening next week I will be working from home less frequently, so I thought it was worth giving an update on what I’ve been working on.

Today I wanted to talk about the journey a book can take before it ends up in the library and the pieces that can survive in a book to tell its story.

One of the books I catalogued today was An Australian Bird Book by J.A Leach. This is the 1912 edition and you can see the cover in the photo below.


As you can see it is a little battered. Sometimes, we don’t know exactly where a book comes from before it arrives at the PMI. In this case, it was part of a large donation in 2017 that, as you can see, the last few books of which are still filtering through to be catalogued.

What is intriguing though is the inscription on the frontispiece


You can see on the top of the page, E. King 1957– this is the maiden name of the donator of the book, so she had held it in her library for fifty years. As you can though, it obviously has had a life before this as well.

After a little bit of digging on Trove I discovered the ‘Bird Day’ was somewhat common at schools in Victoria at the time the book was published. I haven’t managed to discover who H.C Dixon was, or who H.M.L might have been. But, in someways, I don’t mind that. It’s always interesting to be able to imagine how they might have fitted in. They are part of the story of the book.

I also found a small pressed flower


It’s obviously been there for a while, but whether intentionally or otherwise it’s impossible to tell. Like the names, the flower is part of the history and story of the book, though not one I can leave in its pages, as it will simply be lost.

The book itself is a fairly simple guide book, it’s a pocket book for field use. It has some lovely coloured plates though.


They might be slightly, less anatomically correct than you would see in modern bird guides, but they are lovely none the less.

The book itself isn’t worth anything in monetary value, despite its publication in 1912, but it was given as a present to commemorate Bird Day, it’s been used to press flowers and stayed with the same person for more than 50 years before it made its way to the PMI, so it does have a story. It probably won’t be used specifically as a bird guide again, but as an example of how Australian birds were seen at the time it is invaluable.

Inscriptions in donated books are quite common, we only cover them up if they have addresses on them, otherwise we leave them as part oft the story of the book. It’s one of the delights in dealing with donated material, finding these little things that are part of the book’s journey. Especially, when the book was given as a present. I in fact had another two books today with inscriptions in them, though simpler and less, I suppose the word is elegant, than the bird book. You can see them below


We also often find newspaper articles, letters, and random pieces of paper. If I can’t leave them with the book then I put them in a file. One day I hope to put them on display. Usually it’s impossible to trace them to their owner, and there are some cases where I do leave them in the book. This was particularly true of a donation from a deceased estate a couple of years ago. It was very large donation and the lady whose library they had come from had a habit of collecting newspaper articles that were relevant to the book and leaving them inside the front cover. The articles were worthless by themselves, but were interesting when tied to the books, so we made the decision to leave them in.

While I didn’t find any paper in any of today’s books, there is one more with an interesting provenance that I wanted to write about briefly. The book is: Australian Aborigines by James Dawson. It was written in 1881, and it was a donation at the start of 2019. As you can see below, it is a little worn.


It is actually a book we already hold a copy of, electronic and hard copy, but because of its age and its rarity we decided to keep it as a second copy. The book itself is interesting as it is one of the earlier accounts of Indigenous Australians in Victoria, though of course it has to be taken very much as being of its time. Sadly, because there is often not a great deal of written information and the oral tradition of Indigenous Australians was purposely broken, these sorts of books are often the only source available. They are colonial and can be disparaging and overly simplistic. They still provide some useful information as long as their context is taken into account. It is also an excellent example of colonial thinking towards Indigenous Australians at this time.

How this copy of the book came to be at the PMI is an interesting story in and of itself. It was in the possession of the Queensland Women’s Historical Association. QWHA is an organisation founded in the 1950s “to stimulate interest in the history and heritage of Queensland and in particular, the history of pioneer families and the contribution made by women to the development of Queensland.”

They’d had the book for many years, but when they were going through their library and narrowing their collection focus to items that were more relevant to Queensland, they thought they should find a good home for Dawson’s book as it is specifically Victorian. They got in touch in early 2019 after finding us online and we were delighted to be the book’s new home.

This is often the case with donations to the PMI, we are a new home for ex library books from other libraries who have to weed on circulation, we are a new home for books when people are downsizing, we are a new home for books when someone has died, and we are also often a first home for new books when the author wants to make sure the book will be available to anyone who would like to use it. I suppose the point that I am making is that donations are an important part of the PMI’s collection. In tandem with purchasing books, so the collection can be curated and various areas expanded, they make the PMI what it is today. Ultimately the PMI’s collection is its raison d’être and I really enjoy bringing in books, new and old, and finding out what I can about their stories along the way, as they become part of the PMI’s story.


Post Script: Since putting this blog together I sent it to the family of the lady who donated An Australian Bird Book and have discovered that HC Dixon was Humphrey Campbell Dixon, the  great uncle of the lady who donated the book. So that is another piece of the puzzle, which is very nice.

Cataloguing Under Covid 4

Cataloguing Under Covid 4

It is the end of another working week, for me anyway, so I thought I’d share what I’ve been working on, just to keep everyone in the loop as we move towards reopening the PMI to members.

I went into the PMI yesterday to pick up more books, to update a few files and shelve the periodicals I’ve been indexing. You might have seen posts on our social media pages about a big donation by Moreland Libraries. These are the books I collected to bring home for cataloguing. Our Secretary Librarian Steven, had sorted them into books the PMI already holds (which will go to the book sale eventually) and the ones we will be adding to the collection. So I picked the three boxes, you can see them in the photo below, and brought them home for cataloguing.


It’s always fun going through the new books from a donation, and this is a great selection. The highlights are several Indigenous art books and some great natural history titles, an area of the collection we’re trying in particular to grow.

Today I catalogued the contents of the box on the right. This involves adding the books to our Accession Register, so we know that they are in the library (well theoretically in the library for now), downloading their records from Libraries Australia, and making sure we are listed as holding the book, and then cataloguing them inline with our cataloguing and operational procedures. For the most part the most interesting, and the trickiest, components of this are deciding what Dewey number to assign to the book (the PMI has a modified Dewey system as we are so specialised) and assigning the subjects (we also run our own subject thesaurus). Today this was largely straight forward as I was working on a number of books from the same area, but it can be quite complex.

I wanted to show you a few of the books I worked on today, to give you an idea of the scope of the donation. As I said the highlights are Indigenous art and natural history. So I thought I’d profile one of each.

My favourite natural history book from today is: Freshwater tortoises of Australia and New Guinea : in the family Chelidae / by John Goode ; designed and illustrated by Howard Johnson.

I mainly like it because it fills a gap in the collection, we didn’t have anything on Australian tortoises, and because of the somewhat amusing way they tried to show scale… have a look at the photo below and you’ll see what I’m talking about.


For the Indigenous art books, I wanted to look briefly at Australia’s Greatest Rock Art / Grahame L. Walsh 

Like other books on Indigenous Australians I have discussed before it is of its time, it was written in 1988, but it has an astounding and varied array of rock art depicted from all over Australia.

rock art

It brings home again, the importance, complexity, beauty and narrative nature of Indigenous art in Australia, especially in the face of recent depredations by mining companies. This is why these sorts of books are so important to the PMI’s collection, very sadly Indigenous rock art has been and is still being destroyed. They are also an important part of the history of art in Australia more generally.

The final thing I wanted to talk about is cataloguing material that has been donated from another library. You come across a great variety of library stamps and stickers. It’s always fun to see them, as they are part of the life and history of the book and to know that we’ll soon be adding PMI stamps to continue the book’s history in our collection. You can see some examples in the photos below.

So that’s a quick tour of today’s work. I’ll be back next week with another look at what I’ve been working on, and hopefully back in the library, at least sometimes, not too long after that.


Book Review: Mallee Country

Book Review: Mallee Country

Mallee Country: Land, People History.

By Richard Broome, Charles Fahey, Andrea Gaynor and Katie Holmes. Clayton, Vic.: Monash University Publishing. 2020. Pp.415. $39.95   ISBN 9781925523126

Reviewer Jennifer R McCoy

Mallee Country Cover IMG_9610

Many of us when we think of the Mallee, in our ignorance only think of desolate country in north western Victoria, and of dusts storms, rather than of farming practices and wheat crops. Nor is Mallee country confined to the north-western part of Victoria. The same vegetation straddles the Murray River into southern NSW, and again in southern South Australia; it also occurs in south eastern Western Australia.

The word ‘Mallee’, comes from the Aboriginal word mali, the name of a form of eucalypt that thrives in a climate of hot summers and mild winters, with low rainfall and low-nutrient soils, The authors describe the multiple varieties as ‘frontier members of the eucalypt family’, with an unusual physiology whose root system gives the plant great resilience.

The authors, all respected historians, have taken a broad historic perspective, beyond local and farming histories, to show how this mallee country with its harsh climate shaped ‘the story of human occupation’ from its Aboriginal custodianship through European pastoral runs to crop farming and then to its gradual ‘reinvention’ today. They recognise that the people striving to forge a living from this land, while developing huge resilience and applying great ingenuity, often created problems that still require expensive solutions, at both a personal and government level. Their underlying concern is that despite being one of Australia’s main ecological systems, much of the Mallee has been cleared for agriculture.

The book ranges from Deep Time, covering all human land uses, focusing on dryland farming (not irrigation) to explore the interaction of humans and nature. It builds a brief but evocative story of the creation of these lands, evolving over millions of years, with geological upheavals and climatic extremes. While there is evidence of human occupation over forty-two thousand years ago, the land only became more habitable about four thousand years ago, finally rich in ‘a diversity of indigenous plant life that provided sustenance to a myriad of insects, birds, and animals’.

Those first Aboriginal people now began to shape that land with fire: creating pathways and grazing lands for kangaroos, encouraging food species like yams, managing foliage around water sources, skillfully adapting their lives to that country. Fire was controlled with cool burns at regular intervals, carefully managing the land for sustainable living in a difficult environment. Aboriginal society evolved in the land for two thousand generations, until the arrival of Europeans just six to seven generations back. Now the contact between the two peoples would prove disastrous to the Indigenous – and to the land.

Early European explorers were almost defeated by the land and lack of water; the nature of that land then remained a barrier to white settlement until the demand for fine wool in Britain drove pastoral expansion from the 1840s. The pastoralists story held endless challenges – ‘The mallee scrub, the soils, predators, climate, lack of water and distance to ports’ offered limited opportunities for success; combined too with their own inexperience, leasehold constraints, itinerant work force and inadequate funds. While their sheep destroyed the land with cloven hooves and destroyed plant diversity, rabbits and dingoes added to the assault on the land.

From the beginning too, white invasion and then settlement on Aboriginal homelands so often led to violence; until ‘a two-way paternal relationship’ developed; as the Aboriginal people became their workers, and as Aboriginal lives became controlled by legislation.

The end of pastoralism came in 1879 with the Crown Lands Commission Inquiry into pastoral leases, followed by the Mallee Pastoral Leases Act 1883, which ended land monopoly and returned millions of acres of land to the government for subdivision and closer settlement. The scene was now set for endless costs: to government for financial compensation to pastoralists and then to numerous small farmers following their dream.

It was now expected small land holders would fulfill the ‘agrarian dream’ of civilizing the land, replacing sheep with wheat. But machines that cleared the land efficiently, exposed the soil to wind and created dust storms, continuing the destruction of the land. Nor was thought given to the scarcity of water or to drought. Mice plagues were an unexpected challenge; later locust plagues were met with massive aerial insecticide drops. More expense and more environmental impact.

Government optimism about closer settlement continued though, driving farming expansion in the Mallee, supported with infrastructure and scientific advice. The Empire Settlement Scheme and then The Soldier Settlement Scheme added burdens on the land and on inexperienced settlers now saddled with debt, until the government stepped in with compensation and a royal commission. And still, as settlement extended and more acreage was cleared, dust storms and drought continued.

Railways were built to encourage settlement, giving access to markets and providing water during drought; thousands of kilometres of water channels were constructed to ensure more regular supply; science and technology in the early twentieth century introduced dry-farming practices, which although highly effective for crop production, in the long-term excessive cultivation led to massive wind erosion; the need for heavy superphosphate dressing was advised, adding to costs (and then environmental impacts); and strong recommendations were made for mixed wheat-sheep farming, although farming allotments were inadequate in size; the Better Farming Train, an agricultural demonstration train, linked scientific authority to practical farming methods, but ‘ironically the farming methods promoted by the train had a devastating impact on the Mallee’.

Aboriginal people were still part of this story. Although dispossessed of their lands, they adapted again, camping on available land, working for settlers, their children attending schools.

The mid to late 20th Century saw life and productivity improve for mallee farmers. Governments continued support, and scientists experimented with ways to arrest soil drift, improve seed varieties and destroy rabbits. New machinery too improved efficiencies. By the 1980s public interest in conservation led to the creation of national parks and farmers interested in conservation of flora and fauna. 1983 saw the end of large-scale release of mallee land for agriculture. Gradually the nature of farming has changed and along with it the surrounding communities. Nature reserves now occupy 10-30 per cent of the area, holding the promise for the mallee. Aboriginal people have also survived, and Native Title claims are being negotiated. The new challenges ahead lie in climate change but there is hope in finding solutions through technology and socially driven responses. Hope too lies in building again strong mallee communities possibly around new industries – eucalyptus oil, bees, silo art projects, Aboriginal heritage.

To live and farm in this environment, to survive, these farmers needed ‘resilience, tenacity, forbearance, adaptability’. This is a story that could probably be revealed in many parts of Australia. What makes it unique is the nature of this land, which made it so difficult for humans to survive, demanding so much of them, until the land was subdued. These authors have drawn on early station records, letters, diaries, reminiscences, descendants of Aboriginal people and settlers, to give life to so many of those people; at the same time revealing the enormous impact of their endeavors on themselves and on society up to today.

Ignorance and idealism combined with optimism and government encouragement drove the settler’s efforts. Serious doubts though are raised about government decision-making: ignorance and idealism too in striving to fulfill a vision of a continent populated and developed through closer settlement schemes; inevitably though, each time failing in its achievement.

The evidence presented at every stage is detailed, with brief footnotes which allow readers with a historic interest to follow the research, but without discouraging general readers with complex academic argument. It is a compelling history and immensely readable, the language often evocative, imaginative: in the final blink of time ‘humans and their associates – fire, animals, plants, technology – transformed the entire mallee stage’, and ‘Nature and sheep became entwined as sheep munched their way across mallee country’, on the labour-intensive process of clearing the land ‘The ploughman and his horses were followed by a labourer – or family member – who painstakingly grubbed out, lifted and carted away the roots’.

Its intrinsic value lies in the charting of this story: showing what humans are capable of under the most extreme conditions, demonstrating their resilience in the face of those conditions; identifying government’s misguided decisions; and finally showing the seeds of renewal as human ingenuity slowly restores balance to nature.



Collecting Under Covid 2

Collecting Under Covid 2

It is the end of my working week again, so I thought it might be a good time for another short update. I picked up more material from the PMI yesterday, but I’ll be writing about that next week because I wanted to talk about what I’ve been working on today.

Today has been about finding material to add to the collection, and growing the PMI’s electronic resources.

A big part of my job is being on top of material becoming available that fits with our collection policy, this often includes going through a publisher’s entire listing to see what is relevant. As I’ve explained before, at the moment the book budget is frozen but these checks still need to be made, so new material can be purchased as soon as it is possible again.

So, today I was going through Magabala Books https://www.magabala.com/ and the publications of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) https://aiatsis.gov.au/

This means checking their backlistings and new books and other publications (in the case of AIATSIS) and seeing what we have, what we don’t and what fits with the collection policy. For anyone interested you can see the PMI’s collection policy here

Both of the organisations I was going through are Indigenous publishers, so I wanted to talk a little about our policy. The PMI collects:

All works on Indigenous Australians. Indigenous groups do not adhere to state/territory boundaries and interstate policy has had a profound effect on Victorian policy. The same principles outlined for Local Histories also apply.

The idea is to create as complete a picture as possible of Indigenous history, and (largely due to the scarcity of material) this often means reaching beyond Victoria’s boundaries, and collecting material such as children’s books when there is no other resource for the information. This is especially true of books written in Language, because if a children’s book is the only written form of Language available, then it is a vitally important part of the collection, they are also a great source of Indigenous stories.

I was also lucky enough to take part in an online book discussion about Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu today. It tied in beautifully with the material I’ve been looking through today and was really interesting (it also included a virtual tour of Melbourne Museum’s Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre by a curator). Additionally, it was an excellent networking opportunity to explain the PMI’s Indigenous collections to other professionals.

But to return to the collecting. Between AIATSIS and Magabala, I managed to find just over sixty books we didn’t have that fit with the collection policy. Some fit more closely than others, as in they are specifically Victorian, so they will receive first priority when purchasing begins again. These books have been added to my growing list of to be purchased items, and they’ll be an excellent resource at the PMI in the not too distant future.

There were some, however, that I was able to acquire immediately. AIATSIS has some electronic resources that you can download for free. I added their two, to two other electronic resources that I’d sourced yesterday when going through the National Library’s Recent Additions. So I had four electronic resources to catalogue. Under normal circumstances, as in if I was in the library, I’d upload them to our server, but for now I have just saved them to Dropbox and I’ll pick the files up in the library next time I’m there.

The PMI has a wide range of electronic resources, ranging from books, to audio, indexes, gazettes, databases, heritage studies and directories. These are all available on the PMI’s computers. We are looking at the possibility of making some available to members online, but it will depend on our new website when it is up and running. Today’s four come under books, using a broad definition of the term.

We have Latrobe Valley Social History: Celebrating and recognising Latrobe Valley’s history and heritage



FOLA anniversary celebrating 25 years 1994-2019 / text: Daniel Ferguson

25th Anniversary Booklet_FOLA_32pp_web


And the two from AIATSIS

The Gunditjmara land justice story / Jessica K Weir



Indigenous partnerships in protected area management in Australia [electronic resource] : three case studies / Toni Bauman and Dermot Smyth.




The four are quite different, but between them they represent both the work I’ve been doing today in finding new Indigenous books for the collection, and the diversity of the PMI’s electronic collection. It’s been an interesting day, finding all these new potential and actual resources, and I’ll be back next week with some of the material I filled the box with yesterday.

Hope you found it interesting