Book Review: Speed Limit 20 Plus : The story of the narrow gauge railways of the Victorian Railways by Edward A. Downs

Book Review: Speed Limit 20 Plus : The story of the narrow gauge railways of the Victorian Railways by Edward A. Downs

One of the seminal works on the history of the Victorian Railways’ is Speed limit 20 written by noted railway enthusiast and historian Edward A. Downs.

First published in 1963 the book chronicles the rise and fall and rise again of the narrow gauge railway network in Victoria which cumulated in the rebirth of the famous ‘Puffing Billy’.

This 2017 edition has been updated to include information on the current Belgrave to Gembrook and Thompson River to Walhalla railway lines. Restored locomotives such as the ‘Climax’ geared steam locomotive and former Queensland Railways’ ‘DH’ class diesels regauged to 2’ 6” are documented as are several Mt Lyell Mining & Railway Co carriages that were beautifully refurbished.

Richly illustrated and detailed, this book should be required reading by anyone interested in the history of the Victorian  Railways and would be a worthy addition to your library

Review by Secretary/Librarian Steven Haby

Speed Limit 20 Plus is available in the library and you can view the catalogue entry at

Plotting History: Amanda Witt

Plotting History: Amanda Witt


I use the PMI collection for research and information for the historical walks that I do with my friend Simon along closed train lines, both in Melbourne and in the countryside.

Many books about the suburb/town show maps of the original line and alignment. These are essential because most lines have now been closed and have houses or factories built on it, or are walking/riding trails.

Simon also downloads the 1880-90’s era parish maps from the State Library, and we compare the landscape and alignment with the present environment.

I have been interested in trains most of my life, thanks to my late father who came out here from Germany in 1952, with a job secured on the Victorian Railways. A portion of his wage was deducted to pay for his ship fare.

As a child in school holidays we would ride the different lines, I’d ridden on the entire suburban network by age 12, and we would also go to the old Spencer Street station, standing on the bridge, watching the trains in the yard.

Victoria has one of the biggest network of former lines converted to bike/walking trails. Some of these that I’ve walked, and used materials from PMI to research over the last two years include:

Port Melbourne and St Kilda – now tram lines


Lilydale to Warburton

Trentham – we discovered the former racecourse here


Red Hill- Merricks

Wonthaggi and the former coal mines

Inner circle – Fitzroy/Carlton

Outer circle – the Alamein line is the remnant of this, that originated at Oakleigh

Rosstown  – went from Elsternwick to Oakleigh

Ballarat- Buninyong



Williamstown pier station – closed in the 1980’s

Sometimes it’s educated guess work as to where the railway did run. Simon looks for ‘industrial archaeology’, such as remnants of wooden sleepers and/or metal, now rusted, dog spikes in the ground. Or where the alignment might have gone, if no other traces remain and grass/trees now grow over the area.

Many of these outer suburban and country lines were used primarily for transporting coal and/or wood for freight, with a single passenger car added onto the train almost as an afterthought. Many of the books on all these areas have photos of trains ‘in the day’, loaded with wood, fruit, coal, etc.

We have also noticed two main groups of years when lines were closed.

  1. The 1890’s bust, when land in East Malvern/Waverley areas was not built on because people couldn’t afford it, so the Outer Circle line was not used.
  2. The 1950-60’s, when cars became more common, goods were beginning to be transported by truck,  and items like logs/wood and coal were slowly going out of fashion.

Some sections of the lines have since reopened as tourist railways, which is great. These include: Puffing Billy at Belgrave, Mornington, Daylesford, Healesville and Queenscliff.

Ursula and Steven know that this is what I borrow the books for, and I am always asked where my next walk will be, based on what I am getting each time. Then I am also asked about the previous walk, what was seen and learned.

Steven shares an interest in trains which can be a dangerous thing – I think I’ll pop into PMI to get my books, and sometimes end up talking for half an hour about train related things.


Book Review: Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill

Book Review: Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill



Their Brilliant Careers is sixteen biographies of fictional Australian writers.

This fascinating, enigmatic book, shortlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin, is quite hard to pin down. It is both excoriating and hilarious. In pretending to be non-fiction, and with some of the best jokes in the index, it manages to be both an insight into and a critique of Australian culture (literary and otherwise). This is a book of layers (I’m sure I didn’t catch them all) and they are beautifully interwoven, with each story about the fictional writers referring forward and back and inter-working real writers with their fictional contemporaries. The real world parallels also abound, and each offers subtle and not so subtle commentary of both current and past events and ideals.

Their Brilliant Careers is one of the most original books I’ve read and, while at times it can be a little too obtuse in its meaning, there are levels for everyone. In the end the book manages real pathos at the same time as being actually very funny. It is worth reading just to discover these immensely well realised fictional writers who have lives that will alternately, move, amuse and disgust. It isn’t what you think it’s going to be and I suspect that everyone who reads it will get something different out of it.

Review by Ellen Coates (Collections Librarian)

Their Brilliant Careers is available from the library. You can see the catalog entry at:


Plotting History: Judith Buckrich

Plotting History: Judith Buckrich

JudithEach month in a segment called Plotting History we will share a story behind a PMI Victorian History Library member’s use of the library. This month award winning local historian, and PMI Vice President, Judith Buckrich tells her story.

In this truly quiet space, I have now researched and written half of my published histories and biographies. I began using the library during the 1990s when my career as a historian began with Melbourne’s Grand Boulevard: the Story of St Kilda Road. It was the PMI commissioning  Design for Living: a History of Prahran Tech, that brought me to the library (then in High Street) on an almost daily basis. The Prahran Tech archive had been brought there from Deakin University and I was assigned a table ‘out the back’ to get on with the work. After that I found that it was, by far, the most comfortable and useful place for my work.

My books are all about Melbourne people and places, so apart from the necessity to look at material in other collections such as the State Library, Public Record Office or the University of Melbourne, there was no need to go elsewhere. The PMI already held almost all of the references I was using and by the 2000s so much material that I would once have had to see in ‘hard copy’ in other collections was available digitally.

It was not just the books, journals, newsletters and online resources such as the Sands & McDougal Directories that made the PMI so comfortable and stimulating as a workspace, but the well-informed staff and their willingness to discuss whatever I was working on and to help me seek further source material. I felt it was important for me ‘to give back’ so I joined the Committee of Management and became a judge of the annual Short History Prize as well as part of the PMI Publishing committee.

The move to the new library at St Edmonds Road in 2015 facilitated an increase in the number of books and journals on Victorian history, Australian art and Australian biography, all of which are useful to me in my work. An auditorium for book launches and talks has enabled me to give talks about Australian art and its use to historians, as well as a much expanded program of talks for me to attend.

I have just begun work on a history of nearby Greville Street and of-course the PMIs relationship with the Stonnington History Centre has already been invaluable. I cannot imagine what it would be like to spend so much time in any other library, or that any other library could give me the support I have received for my work.

Finally my latest work, Acland Street: The grand lady of St Kilda,  is currently at the printer. It includes the kaleidoscope of the street’s life since before European settlement to the present day. Unique in the cultural variety and social and economic extremes of Melbourne’s history, it has provided a home and place of business for everyone from millionaires to the poorest, migrants, artists, sex workers, the LGBTI community, and for a while, the most powerful men in government and business. The PMI was the key base for my research on this fascinating street.

Dr Judith Buckrich was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1950 and emigrated to Melbourne in 1958. She has edited and published extensively. She has several entries in the Encyclopedia of Melbourne and was an image researcher for the project. She has curated exhibitions for the Royal Historical Society of Victoria and the Museum of the Port of Melbourne. Her penultimate book, The Village of Ripponlea won a 2016 Victorian Community History Award. Judith has written her own one woman shows, short stories, feature articles and essays and worked as an editor and translator. She has taught writing at Deakin University, the Victorian Writers’ Centre and Melbourne University Union. She regularly speaks about her work.

Judith is the author of:

  • Melbourne’s Grand Boulevard: The Story of St Kilda Road  State Library of Victoria 1996
  • The Montefiore Homes:150 Years of Care Melbourne University Press 1998
  • George Turner: A Life (the subject of her doctoral dissertation) Melbourne University Press 1999
  • The Long and Perilous Journey: A History of the Port of Melbourne Melbourne Books 2002
  • Lighthouse on the Boulevard: A History of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind Australian Scholarly Publishing 2004
  • Collins: Australia’s Premier Street Australian Scholarly Publishing 2005
  • Design for Living: A History of Prahran Tech Prahran Mechanics Institute Press 2007
  • Well Rowed University: Melbourne University Boat Club The First 150 Years MUBC 2009
  • The Making of Us: Rusden Drama, Media and Dance 1966-2002 Lauranton Books 2015
  • The Village of Ripponlea Lauranton Books 2015 – Winner of the 2016 Victorian History Prize for a small run publication.
  • The Political is Personal: A Twentieth Century Memoir Lauranton Books 2016
  • Acland Street: the Grand Lady of St Kilda ATOM 2017 (to be launched in November)

You can visit Dr. Judith Buckrich’s website at