Marking time

Marking time

Sunday 21 December 2014

A Christmas pudding at sea

In the late 1800s illustrated weekly news­papers published some of the best artists of the day, through the medium of the wood en­grav­ing, as I have mentioned before. Before half-tone re­pro­duc­tion of photo­graphs came in, this was the common way to publish re­al­is­tic im­ages of both ordinary and extraordinary events.

I have chosen another wood engraving for my email Christmas card for 2014​—​the fourth in a series. There is no lighthouse in this one, but there is a Christmas pudding, and a story of life at sea. The artist was Edwin Buckman (1841–1930) and he called the picture A Christmas pudding at sea.

Edwin Buckman, A Christmas Pudding at Sea, wood engraving from The Graphic, 25 December 1870.

Buckman has drawn a view of the deck of a sailing vessel healed over in a heavy sea. We see ten people, rugged up against the cold, huddled around the companionway. At the centre is the big Christmas pudding which appears to be fixed to the deck by a mar­lin­spike driven through its middle. There is a knife stuck into the pudding but no other cutlery or crockery is in sight. This is not a luxury cruise.

The picture is full of other details. We are looking for’ard. The bow is plung­ing into a rough sea. The people are hunkered down on the deck, except for one man who is hanging onto the mast​—​a mast rigged with a fore-and-aft sail with sheets eased right away, and a reef in the sail. We are running before a stiff wind, and con­di­tions are pretty lively.

Who are these boat people? Refugees? Eco­nomic migrants? Why have they put them­selves in harm’s way, with the children too? Did they pay money to some merchant of danger to make this trip?

The magazine published a poem, Ode by a Christmas Pudding at Sea, in the same issue, which adds another layer to the story:

          lat. 49° 5′ n.; long. 9° 17′ w.

To all you Puddings now on shore
    I write, to give a notion
Of what mishaps there are in store
    For Puddings born on Ocean :
It blew a gale from sou’-sou’-west,
But the skipper’s wife she did her best,
As she kneaded the dough on her own sea-chest,
          With a fal lal lal lal la.

The vessel gave a lurch, a wave
    Right down the hatchway came ;
The skipper’s wife stood stout and brave,
    I wish I’d done the same ;
For I rolled in a fright along the floor,
And the skipper, coming in at the door,
Gave me a kick, which my jacket tore,
          With a fal lal lal lal la.

His good wife gather’d up the bits,
    And put my limbs together ;
Says she, “I must have lost my wits
    To cook in such foul weather ;
But sailor-boys they love good cheer,
And Christmas comes but once a year,
So I won’t be beat, I’ll persevere.”
          With a fal lal lal lal la.

The galley fire burnt bright and clear
    As she put me into the pot ;
Thinks I, “It suits me being here,
    I feel so jolly and hot.”
But a great green sea burst over the deck,
And I fancied myself a perfect wreck,
In cold salt water up to my neck,
          With a fal lal lal lal la.

Cries cook, “The Pudding’s surely spoiled.”
    “No, no ! ” says the skipper’s wife,
“That Christmas Pudding shall be boiled,
    If I sacrifice my life.”
With her own fair hands she lit the fire,
And though the waves rose higher and higher,
At last she accomplished her desire,
          With a fal lal lal lal la.

And here they are, these Sailor boys,
    All full of mirth and glee ;
They sit in a ring, with lots of noise,
    And they’re going to eat poor Me !
When smack ! there comes a roaring squall,
A lurch- and into the scuppers fall
Sailor boys, Christmas Pudding, and all,
          With a fal lal lal lal la.


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Monday 15 December 2014

Broxburn school

I recently inspected the buildings collected in the Pioneer Village at Pittsworth on the Darling Downs, with my historian colleague Dr Thom Blake. One of the buildings is a one-teacher school from Broxburn near Pittsworth.

The school was built by the local community and opened as a pro­vi­sional school in 1898. Provisional schools were set up in places where there were few pupils, and were usually temporary structures. This building was a cut above the norm. It became a State School in 1909, and closed in 1959.

As Thom pointed out, provisional schools were ephemeral, and this is a rare and highly significant survivor. I’d be interested to hear of any others.

The Broxburn school, re-located to the Pittsworth Pioneer Village.

The Department of Education has published a short online history of Queensland provisional schools.

The single classroom is furnished with desks and other artefacts.

I was a pupil in a one-teacher-school back in the 1950s. I remember sitting on a form with five other kids at a desk like this. This room brought faded sensations back to my mind​—​the scrape of a slate pencil, the scratch of a pen nib in a copy book, the ritual of mixing ink powder and filling ink wells, the chanting of times-tables, the smell of warm school milk…

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Sunday 23 November 2014

Bad business at Mowbray Park

This morning I spoke at a rally at the East Brisbane Croquet Club lawns in Mowbray Park, opposing the appalling plan by the Bris­bane City Council to build two apartment towers in the park.

It looks like the citizens of East Brisbane will have to mobilize again, and stand up for the things they value.

Headline image from a page of photographs of a Patriotic Carnival held at Mowbray Park, published in The Queenslander, 6 March 1915. The croquet lawns are just out of frame on the right hand side. [State Library of Queensland]

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Wednesday 5 November 2014

Noel Pearson remembers Gough Whitlam

Thanks to the ABC for recording Noel Pearson’s powerful address at the state memorial service for Gough Whitlam in Sydney Town Hall today. The whole address is in the video below. Pearson spoke of Whitlam’s gov­ern­ment as the textbook case of reform trumping manage­ment. Here’s a taste:

In less than three years an astonishing reform agenda leapt off the policy platform and into legislation and the ma­chin­ery and programs of government. The country would change forever. The modern cosmopolitan Australia finally emerged like a technicolor butterfly from its long-dormant chrysalis.
        And thirty-eight years later we are like John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin’s Jewish insurgents, ranting against the despotic rule of Rome, defiantly demanding: And what did the Romans ever do for us anyway?​—​apart from Medibank, and the Trade Practices Act, cutting tarrif protection, and no-fault divorce, and the Family Law Act, the Australia Council, the Federal Court, the Order of Australia, federal legal aid, the Racial Discrimination Act, needs-based schools funding, the recognition of China, the abolition of conscription, the Law Reform Commission, student financial assistance, the Heritage Commission, non-discriminatory immigration rules, community health clinics, Aboriginal land rights, paid maternity leave for public servants, lowering the minimum voting age to eighteen years, and fair electoral boundaries and senate representation for the territories​—​apart from all of this, what did this Roman ever do for us?
        And the Prime Minister, with that classical Roman mien, one who would have been as naturally garbed in a toga as a safari suit, stands imperiously with twinkling eyes, and that slight self-mocking smile playing around his mouth, in turn infuriating his enemies and delighting his followers.

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Friday 24 October 2014

Etymology of a microphone

As I was reading about the technicalities of sound recording, I wondered where the lavalier micro­phone got its name​—​(a lava­lier is the little microphone you sometimes see clipped to peoples’ shirts when they are interviewed on TV). I did some digging and here’s what I found.

President Vladimir Putin wearing two lavalier mics. [eng.kremlin.ru]

The word lavalier comes from the name of a mis­tress of King Louis XIV of France, Louise de La Vallière (1644-1710). She is remembered for her style and her piety​—​after having four chil­dren with the king she left the court in 1674 and spent the rest of her life as a Carmelite nun.

Portrait painting

Portrait of Louise de La Baume Le Blanc, duchesse de La Vallière et de Vaujours, painted by Jean-Pierre Franque (1774-1860) and now in the collection of the Palace of Versailles. I like to think that this portrait shows the duchess in her boudoir for an inter­view, fitted with a lavalier microphone concealed under her bodice with the invisiLav mounting system.

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), who knew a thing or two about mistresses, fictionalised the duchess in Louise de la Val­lière, the second part of his 1847 three-part novel The Vicomte de Bra­ge­lon­ne​—​a story of action, intrigue, romance and skul­dug­gery in the court of Louis XIV. Perhaps, through the popularity of this sequel to The Three Musketeers, the name Lavallière came to signify high-class style with a dash of danger.

Untitled portrait of the Duchesse de La Vallière (front and back of a carte-de-visite published in Paris around 1865, a photographic copy of a lithograph or other print). Publication of this carte suggests that the duchess had place in the lineup of historical celebrities that made her a popular inclusion in the parlour photo albums of the French bour­geoi­sie.

The name La Vallière crossed over into English in the late nine­teenth century. The Oxford English Dictionary records these moments of adoption and transformation:

1873​—​in an English women’s magazine, about a hat​—​White chip Lavalliere Hat. The crown is mod­er­ately high, with a rather broad brim, turned up in front and down at the back.

1916​—​in a Canadian newspaper, about a necklace​—​Our stock of mod­er­ately priced Necklets, Pendants and La Valieres is most attractive.

1942​—​in an English literary journal, about a man’s neck tie​—​His collar and ready-made tie (a lavallière).

1972​—​in an American book about word origins​—​Today the small television microphone that hangs on a cord from the neck is also called a ‘lavaliere’, taking its name from the pendant necklace.

Portrait engraving

Alexandre Dumas, 1872 etching by Paul Rayon. Here is the author in his old age, reminiscing about writing Louise de la Valliere. The stories are rolling out for the camera, and I have clipped a Sennheiser MKE2-60 lavalier mi­cro­phone to his waistcoat to catch every word. [Wikimedia Commons]

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Tuesday 21 October 2014

Gough 1916-2014

I met him just once, and heard him speak several times, and feel the expected sadness at his passing. Many of his ac­com­plish­ments made a direct difference to me, to say nothing of their effect on so many other people.

I bought a copy of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate when it came out in 1974, and was impressed. Gough Whitlam com­mis­sioned Justice Hope and a terrific committee (Judith Brine, Milo Dunphy, Keith Vallance, Reg Walker, Lenard Webb, Judith Wright, David Yencken) to conduct this inquiry, and their report is still impressive forty years later. This report led to the establishment of the Australian Heri­tage Commission, the Register of the National Estate, the development of schemes for protecting important places by legislation and funding support. I think it also en­cour­aged more rigour and professsionalism in the field.

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A Christmas pudding at sea
Broxburn school
Bad business at Mowbray Park
Noel Pearson remembers Gough Whitlam
Etymology of a microphone
Gough 1916-2014

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