- To be realistic and practical in one’s thoughts.
- To be dull in one’s thoughts.
It was at one point a widely held piece of Melbourne folk wisdom that all bridesmaids were named Martha. The origin of this idea seems to be the biblical tale of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. How exactly people came to believe that Mary married and Martha did not (scripture is silent on the matter entirely) is a mystery, but can reasonably be attributed to the well known fact that Victorian era Christians were a cowardly and superstitious lot.
In any case, it is not the putative biblical connection of the name that matters, but rather, its attachment to the idea of bridesmaids. Almost directly across Port Phillip Bay from Mount Martha (on a north-west to south-east alignment) lies Werribee, and beyond that, Wyndham Vale, at one time considered one of the finest locations in Melbourne in which to hold one’s wedding.
However, Wyndham Vale was plagued by strong prevailing winds that blew directly to Mount Martha – winds strong enough to carry off hats, veils, bouquets and inadequately fastened watches, capes and even, infamously, bridesmaids’ dresses. These winds would sometimes have enough strength to keep these stolen items aloft all the way to the mountainside opposite – and bridesmaids’ dresses, being among the larger yet lighter items, often became impromptu kites in this fashion. The mountain (if one can dignify a hill with that term) originally known as Mount Bayview became known as Mount Martha after it became well known as the common landing place of these dresses.
The fashion for weddings in Wyndham Vale is largely gone now, along with the open plains that made it attractive. The prevailing winds in the area now blow from the south west rather than the north west, in any case. But the name remains.
Suburbs near Safety Beach:
Ellen Naomi Cohen, better known to the world as Mama Cass, was only 32 years old when she died. Mama Cass was a member of the Mamas and the Papas, best known for their 1965 hit, “California Dreamin’”. Stardom had been good to the band, most of them living among the other musicians and artists of Los Angeles, but bad for Cass in many ways.
She had an addictive personality, and being able to afford basically any drug she wanted had led her to behave like a kid in a candy store. Cass was also known for her appetite, being considered somewhat fat (even by the more generous standards of the Sixties for most of her career). At the time of her death, she was fasting four days a week – the coroner speculated that this may have stressed her heart, leading to her fatal heart attack. No food was found in her windpipe – the story that she choked on a ham sandwich is simply an urban myth.
Well, that was a week. But here we are, all finished and ready to move on.
Stay tuned for an announcement next Thursday.
Americans and Australians have always had difficulty understanding each others’ accents, but this has rarely been a great problem. Other than the odd confused tourist (or confused would-be-helper-of-tourists), there’s rarely been a huge difficulty there.
Except during World War Two. At no other time have there been so many Americans in Melbourne. American servicemen – Sailors, Soldiers, Marines and Airmen – thronged the city streets, and occasioned much confusion, especially when it came to different meanings of such words as ‘root’ and ‘barrack’. Several large encampments housed these men – at the MCG, Royal Park, and in the plains beyond Essendon Airport, which were not at that time greatly built up. There was no escaping them, or the problems that miscommunications caused. Even Douglas Macarthur himself ran into some difficulties, and he spent a few of his precious hours planning strategy pondering a solution to the problem. Macarthur realised that Americans, Australians and New Zealanders would all have to work together, and that mutually incomprehensible accents would create a communications bottleneck that would hinder coordination.
His eventual solution was to turn to that branch of the US military that most prides itself on obedience, and task them with learning the peculiarities of Australian phrases and untangling the messiness of Strine. These men were soon flat out like lizards drinking working on the task, and not too long after that, they understood what this sentence and others like it meant. (They also found it much easier to pick up local women after figuring out what ‘wanna root’ meant.) The men of the other service branches were given a single simple order to follow in the event of a communications breakdown with their Australian allies – one that, ironically, has been remembered by history modified by Strine accents: “Tell a Marine.”
Suburbs near Tullamarine:
On July 24, 2002, a team of 18 miners in the Quecreek Mine (in Somerset County, Pennsylvania) accidentally broke through into an older, poorly documented mine. The second mine, the Saxman Coal Mine, was flooded, and the water quickly spread into the Quecreek Mine as well. Half of the miners escaped easily, but nine others were cut off by the rising flood.
After several days of drilling, all nine men were safely rescued on July 28, 2002, after five days underground. The men were suffering from starvation and exposure, but all of them were airlifted to hospitals, where they all made full recoveries. Only one of the nine men still works in a mine as of this writing.
The earliest known settler in the area now known as Laverton gave it his name: Bruce Laverton was an engineer and visionary who had moved to the antipodes in search of a less scientifically conservative society than the one he had left behind in England. In the Melbourne of 1882 – the second largest city of the British Empire, the second richest of that empire, and the most populous in the southern hemisphere – he thought he had found it. He should have moved to Prussia or New York instead.
Laverton was a great devotee of the works of Leonardo da Vinci, and sought to recreate and improve upon many of the master’s devices. Two were of particular interest to him: a device for turning lead into gold, and the various devices that promised artificial flight. The former interest was relatively short-lived – after his lab exploded for the fourth time in 19 months, Laverton abandoned those researches to concentrate on the mysteries of flight.
Like the Wright Brothers who came after him, he was intrigued by the thought of powered flight, but his power source was very different – Laverton never named it himself, but Wilhelm Reich, who would follow in his footsteps, gave it the name of orgone. It was an energy field that existed within and between living things, not unlike the Force of the Star Wars films (only sans midichlorians, of course). Laverton built several devices, of increasing size and complexity, some of which even got off the ground (if he tested them in a high enough wind). He sustained numerous injuries in the course of these flights, from which he healed unusually quickly (which he attributed this to orgone treatments), and threw himself back into his work with a devotion that bordered on mania.
Bruce Laverton was last seen alive on August 14, 1897. He was testing his most recent device that day, attempting to take off with the aid of a strong northerly wind. Witnesses agree that he got aloft in particularly strong gust, but the day was rainy, and he was lost to vision shortly thereafter.
No wreckage or other evidence of his passage was ever discovered.
Suburbs near Laverton:
Henry Ford, famously the founder of the Ford Motor Company, was also something of an anti-Semite. The kind of something where he was the first person to publish the fraudulent and racist “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in America, serialising it in The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper he owned. They also serialised “The International Jew”, an anti-semitic work penned by Ford himself. The Independent was infamous for its anti-semitism, and in 1927, it was shut down for good after a civil lawsuit for libel.
A boycott organised by the Anti-Defamation League proved so damaging to Ford’s business interests that he actually apologised for the racism so frequently displayed in The Dearborn Independent, writing an open letter to Sigmund Livingston, the president of the ADL. Most people accepted the apology and let the matter rest there, although it has been claimed that the apology was faked by Ford’s employees, with even the signature a forgery. Privately, Ford spoke of his intention to republish some day, and at Nuremberg, some of the Nazis spoke of being inspired to their hideous genocide by reading “The International Jew”.
Originally known as Irishtown due to the high number of Irish immigrants who settled there, Preston is a testament to how much money stimulates the imaginations of property developers. It owes its name to a need to class up a notorious worker’s slum in order to attract higher sales prices. (Further testimony to the lack of imagination of early Melbourne settlers can be found a few miles to the north, where an area with a high number of Germans living in it was called Germantown.)
The money in question was gold rush money, of course. Successful miners had it, and property developers wanted it. It was just exactly that simple. But given the poor repute of the Irish in the Melbourne of the 1860s, no one was going to buy in a place called Irishtown except for a wealthy Irishman – and that phrase was widely considered an oxymoron at the time. A new name was needed, and so the search for the right name began.
Preston was a name taken from Preston Hargreaves, often considered to be Queen Victoria’s favourite poet at the time (he excelled in creating new remembrances of Prince Albert without repeating himself too obviously). It seemed that such a name was suitably classy for what the property developers intended, suggesting a connection to royalty without trespassing against the prideful aristocrats by using one of their own names.
There was one small problem, although it was not discovered until 1879, when the Queen’s grandsons, Princes Albert Victor and George, visited Melbourne, and when asked about Preston Hargeaves, honestly replied that there was no such person. (Upon leaving Melbourne by ship, their tutor and guardian recorded an encounter with The Flying Dutchman, and some historians record Preston Hargreaves as a member of its crew from that point onwards). For the Irish of Preston, to learn that their suburb had been renamed after a British lie was little surprise, although it did help to fan the flames of republican sentiment among them.
Suburbs near Preston:
Wilhelm Reich was a respected psychologist in the 1930s, a contemporary of Jung whose book “The Mass Psychology of Facism” is still considered a foundational text today. But after fleeing the Nazis and moving to America, he began to experience difficulties. His research into human sexuality led him to discover a bio-energetic force that he named orgone, and attracted the attention of a notably censorious and puritanical government.
It remains unclear whether Reich’s later researches were scientifically valid, as the US government came down hard on Reich, arresting him and later convicting him of contempt of court. Reich, a 58 year old man at the time of his arrest, died in prison two years later. His books were burned and his equipment destroyed; his persecutors accused him of delusions of persecution.