Plotting History:Tim Lambourne

Plotting History:Tim Lambourne


My name is Tim LAMBOURNE  I am a Sergeant in the Victoria Police Force, a third generation police officer and a research officer for the Victoria Police Historical Society, (V.P.H.S.).  The aims of the V.P.H.S. are to promote and encourage the study of police history, particularly within Victoria and to assist in the preservation of artefacts and records of police history in Victoria. The PMI is a wonderful resource of fact and context, perspective and accounts on Victoria’s past.

There have been a significant number of books and other documents written about or referencing  Victoria Police and its history.  Most, if not all are housed in one form or another in the PMI.  On a practical level, this has allowed the V.P.H.S. to invest our limited funds in items other than hard copies of books.

Victoria Police maintains an honour role of members killed on duty.  Victoria Police, for a number of reasons, has lost contact with some of the families of our fallen members.  It is very important that contact is maintained, even if the member was one of the first to fall, back in the 1840’s. The PMI gives me the opportunity to work at one location, using both the genealogical resources and staff expertise to locate and strengthen ties to these missing families.  I have had some success with this and Chief Commissioner Graham ASHTON presented medals to the families of 11 fallen members last year at the Police Academy.

As with any organisation the size of Victoria Police, there is always oversights when it comes to ensuring members are recognised for their important work and sacrifices made to the community.  It is imperative to recognise bravery of members passed, even if it is many years later.  Researching through the resources of the PMI, I have noted important examples of unrecognised bravery.  As a result, these oversights have been rectified and bravery awards for incidents as far back as 1921 have been issued. The PMI has become my one stop shop.  It offers easy access to everything I need; from a book on the history of that small country town where a member died in 1880, to access to the vast records in the Victoria Police Gazette.

Working at the Prahran Police Station, the PMI has become my ‘local.’  A lot of my time is spent ‘loitering with intent’ around shelf number 363.2.  A vast resource of all things history, the PMI allows a small organisation such as the V.P.H.S. access to these resources and the expertise that goes with it to fulfill our charter.


Photos:  Left:  former Chief Commissioner Mick Miller who is the patron of the Victoria Police Historical Society and life member. Right: Tim’s Great Uncle Frank who was a member for 40 years, taken in 1943.


For more information on the V.P.H.S see their website:




Collection Spotlight: Theatre history at the PMI

Collection Spotlight: Theatre history at the PMI

By Riannon

theatre history

Theatre has been an important part of the Melbourne cultural landscape since its inception. Community theatres have become meeting places for artists and audiences to converge, study, challenge and share creativity and ideas and often experiment with the Avant Guard. Professional theatres have generally provided more ‘mainstream entertainment’ and an important part of the artistic economy and creative support structures for Melbourne. The first ‘official’ theatre in Melbourne was Queen’s on the west side of Queen Street between Bourke and Little Bourke Streets and opened in 1843. This was after much conjecture when the other ‘penal’ colonies had already began theatrical presentations. Queen’s was well built, but small, it’s packed house only earned 91 pounds/11/-. Royal, the Alexandra (in 1928 referred to as His Majesty’s and currently Her Majesty’s) was built in 1886.

Did you know that the PMI has the original Opening Souvenir of the Melbourne Comedy Theatre from 1928? A beautiful book with original ribbon intact detailing the opening night of “Australia’s Latest and Most Artistic Playhouse – The Comedy”. In fact, not just this building, but this historic site, holds much interest for theatre goers. The opening of The Comedy was a part of the longstanding plans of J.C. Williamson Ltd (The Firm) to provide “an intimate” theatre for Comedy. Prior to 1855 this was the site of the Hippodrome where “circuses and horse-and-tank drama’s flourished”. The stage was a solid dirt embankment and had a tank for “water sensations”. The stage had a roof, but the stalls and pit “were open to the skies” so when it rained and audience took shelter in the covered gallery the performers would shout out across to them. The Kelly Gang was played “and when in doubt as to his lines, Ned Kelly on his steed would fire a few rounds of revolver shots and yell, “To the bush, boys, to the bush!” and gallop off. Nobody seemed to mind.”

George Coppin and his wife often starred in the earlier mentioned Queen’s and are integral to the history at the site of the Comedy Theatre. Coppin built 6 theatres in Australia. He make his fortune in 2 years when he took a weatherboard theatre in Geelong with a capacity of 500 and extended to catch all the passing gold diggers from Ballarat flocking through Geelong and to Melbourne. At 35 he returned to England. He knew how difficult it would be to get a theatre in Melbourne, so had an iron theatre constructed and prepared into sections in England. Coppin brought this portable theatre to Melbourne and had it erected on the corner of Lonsdale and Stephen (now Exhibition) streets. In 1855 The Olympic, 88ft. by 40ft, fondly known as The Iron Pot, was opened by George Coppin who “has it on record that he saw diggers in the ‘roaring days’ wrap nuggets of gold in banknotes and throw them onstage. ”

Jump through the years of vaudeville and travelling tents and we land in the 1960’s where I’m going to highlight some amazing resources from our collection that celebrate one of our most integral and persistent theatres in Melbourne: La Mama.

From the earliest days, Lygon street had its fair share of artists, but in the late 1960’s the artists started to define Carlton. The establishment of La Mama theatre by Betty Burstall was the most significant factor in Carlton becoming, at this time, the home of alternative theatre in Australia. Bustall had just returned from New York where coffee houses put on theatrical performances that punters could watch for the price of a coffee. She wanted to create “cheap, accessible theatre that was immediate, exciting and challenging” reflecting Australian voices and experiences.  She thought Carlton, with its flair and nearby students, was the place to try.

Behind the Del Monaco tailor shop on the corner of Lygon and Drummond Streets there was a small, two storey building that had been around since 1883. It had been used as a printers’ workshop, a boot and shoe factory, an electrical engineering workshop and a silk underwear factory.  Burstall opened La Mama as a coffee house staging poetry and play readings with the first play staged being Jack Hibberd’s Three Old Friends. La Mama continues to thrive under the direction of Liz Jones, despite the building being reduced by flames last year, with patrons and government funding pledged to a rebuild; it is acknowledged as one of the most important small theatres in Australia. “La Mama is virtually unique in Australia as a place that nurtures new theatrical talent at a grassroots level and it continues to provide a vital stepping stone for emerging artists…to get a first show.” With a second theatre, The Carlton Courthouse Theatre in Drummond Street, La Mama’s influence continues. La Mama spawned many offshoots and breakaway groups, two of the most well known being the Australian Performing Group operating out of the Pram Factory in Drummond Street and the Melbourne Filmmakers Co-Operative based in the Holdsworth Building. Our very own Judith Buckrich created two shows at La Mama in the 1980s, Uncultured Pearls and Reflections in Water and Glass and it seems that the building and the ethos of the place have remained much the same since I also worked there too in 2014 with A Pocketful of Joy (except that the  family of stray cats who used to live at the top of the La Mama stairs had moved out).

Whether it be stray cats that frequent stairs, Gold Prospectors throwing nuggets onto the stage or the actual pistols and water tanks of the Hippodrome; one can never say that the stories held in the PMI’s collection are not also performative or theatrical. Perhaps this will spark your interest to investigate and enjoy the theatrical and performative corners of our collection which house many interesting Australian Drama, Theatre and performance resources.

Used in this article:

La Mama / Adam Cass and the La Mama community.

Lygon Street : stories and recipes from Melbourne’s melting pot / Michael Harden.

Comedy Theatre: opening souvenir Saturday April 28th, 1928 / compiled by Phil Finkelstein

Theatre buildings in Australia to 1905: from the time of the first settlement to arrival of cinema : volume 1: text and illustrations / Ross Thorne.

Curtain call / as told by Nancye Bridges to Frank Crook.


Just some of the many resources that might interest you:

The dictionary of performing arts in Australia. Vol. 1, Theatre, film, radio, television / Ann Atkinson, Linsay Knight and Margaret McPhee.

La Mama, the story of a theatre / Liz Jones with Betty Burstall and Helen Garner.

The Pram Factory : the Australian Performing Group recollected / Tim Robertson.

Community theatre in Australia / edited by Richard Fotheringham.

Summer of the seventeenth doll / Ray Lawler.

The Drover’s Wife / Leah Purcell

Minefields and Miniskirts: Australian women and the Vietnam War / Siobhan McHugh

Theatre Heritage Australia: Onstage 2009-2012

CATHS’s databases are available on our public computers for members to search and they work out of the building and are always up for a chat. The Cinema and Theatre Historical Society are a wealth of knowledge to tap into.

Book Review: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

Book Review: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

Review by Ellen Coates

Lost flowers of Alice Hart


A haunting book without being bleak, a feat in and of itself. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart draws deeply on the Australian landscape and is intensely evocative in its depiction of the natural environment. It also has one of the best lines about libraries that I’ve ever read “a quiet garden of books, where stories grew like flowers”. This is a story that draws you in to inhabit a lush world along with the characters. From a design perspective as well, with its continuing flower motifs throughout the book, it is a truly lovely reading experience.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is first and foremost a compelling story, that makes you want to keep reading. It’s the story of Alice Hart as her life unfolds; set between sugar cane fields, a flower farm and the desert heart of Australia. It spans twenty plus years, beginning with Alice as a child living with her mother and father in the sugar cane fields of the coast. Alice’s life is isolated (a violent controlling father and a mother who is heart-breakingly fragile but gentle and loving) she lives in a world of stories. When her life is ripped apart by tragedy, she is sent to live with June, her paternal grandmother, on a flower farm that serves as a refuge for abused and lost women and has been in the family for generations. June teaches Alice the language of flowers and she begins to find her place and her family. Ultimately betrayal forces her to flee, and she finds solace, peace and purpose in the heart of the Australian desert, until a new relationship begins to change the control of her own story.

The landscapes evolve with Alice as her life is thrown into upheaval and she flees trauma. It’s the story of a woman looking for her place and her own narrative, independent of those forced upon her by others. It isn’t always a happy story, there are some very dark parts, but it is ultimately a story of hope, resilience, survival and the language of flowers.

Book Review: Return to Rosstown: railways, land sales and sugar beet ventures in Caulfield

Book Review: Return to Rosstown: railways, land sales and sugar beet ventures in Caulfield



Review by Michael Canavan

Why doesn’t Hawthorn Rd go to Hawthorn? And why is there a Junction Hotel at Oakleigh?

The first remains a puzzle but the second makes sense. By 1895 Oakleigh was the junction of three railways: the Outer Circle, the Gippsland and the Rosstown.

The 1870s-1880s saw a sustained attempt to profitably combine land speculation and railway building: all you had to do, it seemed, was to ask a well-disposed politician and bingo! the relevant legislation was passed, often to both parties mutual satisfaction.

Of all the railways built in the era of Marvelous Melbourne, the Rosstown Line was the most enigmatic. Young Mr Ross, a well-connected Alpha personality, concocted a grand scheme to enrich himself, and selected friends, and ensure his place in history. All he needed was the grease of any successful entrepreneur: a ready supply of other people’s money.

Sugar beet: the path to fame and fortune! Locals around Caulfield and Murrumbeena would grow it and all was to be centred on a self-named township. As no self-respecting entrepreneur of Marvelous Melbourne would be seen dead without a railway, one was duly built between Oakleigh and Elsternwick…sort of.

Dodgy finances, a very poorly laid track, protracted fights with Victorian Railways: all conspired to delay firstly construction then improvements. Debate still occurs: did a train travel the line? Depends who you ask. Whatever: it was never used for its intended purpose.

A Marvelous Melbourne scale mill would handle the beet. Plans were drawn up and sent to newspapers-even now they look very impressive. A busy railway would convey the produce to receptive markets. A de rigueur mansion on an expansive estate was built nearby. Alas, the Fates conspired.

The giant mill was built (it dominated the local landscape) but rusted away: local farmers weren’t interested in, and actively resisted, growing beet. As Ross was launching the scheme, history was moving against him: Maffra was becoming sugar beet central. Suburbia was creeping outwards and soon Caulfield, Murrumbeena and Rosstown would be given over to housing.

This book is a valuable reference, the Official History as it were, of the Rosstown frolics. It is an entertaining, in depth look at a droll piece of railway history. Given the enigmatic nature of the Rosstown saga, the author has done an excellent job piecing together its history: the accompanying photos show the difference between dreams and reality. The never ending troubles of Ross, and his allies, sympathetically presented, make you disappointed that he couldn’t put his all his dreams into effect. He even had plans to link Rosstown to St Kilda by rail, but failed to get approval. However, I also got the distinct impression that Ross was a man whose dreams would always remain just that. The fact that the mill was built and a railway [of sorts] built for it came as a bit of a surprise. The outcome didn’t.

A series of magazine photos from 1909 show a very dilapidated scene of railway effects and mill. From what is written, it was ever thus.

He eventually had the indignity of having his self-named township renamed. Such was the lot of Mr Ross.

The line lingered until 1916. There were numerous calls for it to be reopened as suburbia came marching in, to no avail. It was simply too poorly built and didn’t serve a large enough market to warrant any expenditure. Cuttings were filled in, houses built over the right of way and the railway faded away.

This book describes the time when Marvelous Melbourne ruled supreme, when nothing was too grand, unachievable, inconceivable. Money flowed freely, backed by the seemingly endless supply of land. Ross, like so many, became enamoured by visions: like so many, the 1890s were disastrous for him.

A rail trail sort of follows the alignment through suburbia, a nice walk but, for a railway buff, very dull.

At least this can’t be said of the book.

Return to Rosstown can be found in the PMI collection here


Meet the Volunteers: Donna

Meet the Volunteers: Donna


Hello everyone, my name is Donna Mead and I have been a volunteer at the PMI since August 2018. I am studying to be a librarian whilst working in the joyous world of car claims. I spend most of my day dealing with people who do dumb things in cars. Hence the move.

I am originally from Wollongong, have lived in various parts of NSW including Tamworth before my family moved to Liverpool in the UK. I did finish school there, but I honestly spent more time going to see bands, travelling around Europe and having a great time rather than being sensible trying to build a career.

The main love of my life has been books and reading. There have been times in my life when I would have read the telephone directory if it had a decent plot! Last week I worked out that I have spent more than $20,000 on books, many of which I still own.

One of the things that I have seen as I have travelled is that travellers will always exchange books, leave them behind or will actively pass them on. I love this. Especially as I am someone who plans my reading before I have packed or even booked my flights! I will be honest, I have booked international flights the morning of an afternoon flight. I also love seeing free libraries pop up in various places, like in the various train stations in Kuala Lumpur or Brunswick.

I must tell you, my favourite library I have seen was in Sapporo, Japan in 2018. The local council has a library branch in the main subway station, so patrons can order a book and pick it up on the way home. Also, did you know that in Taipei they have a bookstore that is the size of a department store?

I will be honest – I didn’t know that the PMI existed until I met Ellen at a Cardi Party and she invited me in to chat about becoming a volunteer. This was a very happy discovery as I have been able to learn more about the PMI’s grand history, hear the salacious gossip about ousting squatters at the Chapel St location in the 1800s and the history of Mechanics Institutes.

Coming to volunteer at the PMI has almost felt like joining a secret society. The public don’t know about us and I have not heard anything about either subscription libraries or Mechanics Institutes as part of my course.

I help out with book sorting, event staffing, shelving and wearing fabulous coats and earrings.

So, thank you for giving me the opportunity to volunteer at this wonderful organisation and to be able to start my library career here by being able to implement what I have been learning.


Meet The Committee: Cr John Chandler

Meet The Committee: Cr John Chandler

As part of an ongoing series,  we will be introducing our committee members.  This month we have Cr John Chandler. Our longest serving committee member. 

John Chandler


John Chandler was first elected to Prahran Council and appointed as a committee member of the PMI in 1982 and continued to serve on the committee until 1996 (including one term as President).

John was subsequently re-elected to Stonnington Council in 1996, becoming Stonnington’s first Mayor, and continues to serve as a Stonnington Councillor.  He re-joined the PMI committee in 2006 and served as President from 2011 until 2016.

During this time as President John oversaw the inauguration of a new era for the PMI, being the sale of the High Street building and the purchase and subsequent refurbishment of our current home at St Edmonds Road, thereby (as John likes to say) increasing our relevance to the community, expanding and redefining the services we offer and redefining who we are.

In private life, John is an architect in private practice and is married to Suzy. They have two grown up children – Nicholas and Ursula, and one baby granddaughter – Coco.

Collection Spotlight: Ephemera

Collection Spotlight: Ephemera


The PMI ephemera collection began its life as a vertical file collection (we’re in fact still in the process of changing the name on the Library Management System). A vertical file is clippings of articles (mainly from newspapers) and the PMI’s is about Victoria and especially towns in Victoria. Over the years it has also accumulated brochures and other programs and pamphlets. Then in 2017 the decision was reached to transition it away from a newspaper clipping focus to a pure ephemera collection. This has resulted in an immensely varied collection of everything from programs, to brochures, to maps, to cookbooks. It also makes any travel PMI staff do interesting, because we collect all the surrounding ephemera. It is not unusual for us to walk out of a tourist information centre with half the contents (you can see an example below), or have people photocopying information that you aren’t allowed to take with you.


We have also been actively seeking ephemera, we’ve been writing to councils and historical societies to have them send us their brochures. It is both an organised and serendipitous collection. All new material is sorted into folders for indexing. It is currently indexed by Sonya, one of our dedicated volunteers. All material in the ephemera collection is key word searchable on the PMI catalogue.

The material is called ephemera because it is ephemeral- that is lasting for a short time- and this is what makes it invaluable. It is often the sort of information that doesn’t make it into history books, it can be very local and small scale. Additionally, it is also fascinating social history, especially with some of the more social items such as little cookbooks, household guides and theatre programs. The advertising, clothing and what is considered important can give an unexpected insight into an era or a place.

The ephemera collection contains nearly 11 000 individual items covering over 1000 places and subjects. You can find folders for Victorian towns and suburbs from Abbotsford to Zumsteins and a wide range of subjects from Alcohol to Writers. While there are many old brochures and pamphlets etc in the ephemera collection, the modern material will become increasingly valuable and useful over time as it isn’t preserved anywhere else and becomes unique. Even though the modern material may not seem remarkable, the ephemera collection brings together a geographically disparate collection that isn’t accessible anywhere else.

Ephemera resources make a fascinating adjunct to all research. You can see some examples at the start of this post and you can explore the indexed material using or delve into an area or subject you might be interested in by searching the subject with the words vertical file.

There are all sorts of gems in the ephemera collection, just waiting to be discovered.