1960s Sunday School memories

Although they weren’t churchgoers, my parents – like many others at that time – wanted me to go to Sunday School. A fellow school-gate mum told my mum that the Twickenham Congregational (now United Reformed) church had a good Sunday School. So late in 1959, aged six, I was enrolled. At that time well over 100 children attended each week, most like me having been sent rather than brought.

Each Sunday morning we met in the hall and paraded into church where we sat in our designated pews. After two hymns and the children’s talk, we adjourned to our classes. After nine months in the primary class I moved up to the junior department which met in the main hall. Demountable screens split the hall into classrooms, each class having around eight children – boys’ classes one side of the hall, girls the other. In due course we graduated to the young people’s class, where boys and girls were allowed to mix!

The Sunday School had its own calendar which superimposed the following special events on the regular Sunday morning classes. Roughly speaking it looked like this:

  • Early in the year those of us who wanted to, participated in the National Sunday School Union’s Scripture exam. For six weeks we would study the year’s exam theme and had to learn a memory passage. Then on a Friday evening we all turned up to sit the exam paper. Later a district awards presentation, preceded by a tea, was held at Twickenham Baptist Church. A member of the church was an amateur printer and produced beautiful Twickenham & District-specific certificates – sadly none of mine survive but here’s an example from Norwich (ack Leo Reynolds)
  • One highlight of the year was the Sunday School festival marked by a fully costumed and staged play. Maurice Stockdale, then Sunday School superintendent, took great pride in this. Parts were found for every child who wanted to take place with, by tradition, teachers taking the parts in the last act. We went to rehearsals on six Monday evenings, followed by a Sunday afternoon dress rehearsal (followed by the obligatory tea), then the performance itself in front of church members and proud parents on the Monday evening. I just remember playing Elisha’s servant in the play ‘So Small a Thing’ – the healing of Naaman.
  • To June and the Sunday School outing. Back in the early 1960s most people still didn’t have cars so, annual holiday apart, rarely went far, making the outing a great event. Our outing destinations were Oxshott Heath with its enormous sandpit, Frensham Ponds, Box Hill, and for seaside trips, Lancing or Wittering. An elderly near-blind member of the congregation, James Rennie, would give Maurice some money to be shared out towards the end of the outing so that each child could buy some seaside rock or sweets. He would be amazed to know that his simple kindness towards children he didn’t know is still remembered fifty years after his death.
  • Holidays over, September saw promotion Sunday. Everyone who was eligible moved up on the same date, and getting a new teacher was an exciting thing. Even more so, joining the young people’s group.
  • This one I can’t date, but like many children across the world in linked churches we were given collecting boxes to collect donations in support of the London Missionary Society’s John Williams missionary ship which served scattered communities in the southern Pacific. When the John Williams VII ship was commissioned at Tower Pier in 1962 our Sunday School ran an outing to visit her but my parents wouldn’t let me go, scared that I might fall in the Thames!
  • And so to year end. The Christmas family service would invariably include a short nativity play of some sort. Then we’d have a Sunday afternoon Christmas party with games and tea. Then aged about nine I can remember my teacher telling me “as it’s the party you can call me Christine instead of Miss Kerslake”! How things have changed!

Within five or so years the practice of non-church parents sending children to Sunday School was no more and numbers sadly collapsed. I’m so grateful to have been part of the preceding generation. So many happy memories of my teachers – Margaret Day, Christine Kerslake, Pat Sparks, John Cragg and Maurice Stockdale. Thanks for all you gave me as a small child.

To Gippsland

After thirteen years I’ve still to visit much of Victoria but with travel to other states, let alone overseas, being fraught with risk, now is a good time to check out some new places nearer home.

Lakes Entrance in Gippsland, about 320km/200 miles SE of Melbourne is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit. When I mentioned this at a Men’s Shed meeting, one of the members suggested that I went to nearby Paynesville which he thought the better place. I followed his advice and wasn’t disappointed, spending two comfortable nights at the Mariners Cove motel.

To complete my travels on V/Line tracks I could have got a train to Bairnsdale and then a bus to Paynesville but decided to drive so that I wasn’t tied to one place – I wanted to take a look at Lakes Entrance (which I did) even if not staying there. After driving nowhere of consequence all year, it was a long drive, not helped by my GPS’s bizarre choice of route.

Raymond Island ferry

Raymond Island ferry

Paynesville is a pleasant small town, population about 3,500, with water on three sides. Best of all though, Raymond Island is just 200m away, reached by a free (to pedestrians) ferry that operates more frequently than some Melbourne trains.

The ferry service dates back to 1889. The current ferry came into service in 1997 and has a capacity of up to 21 vehicles and 150 foot passengers. It’s a chain ferry, driven by two diesel engines. Refuelling? – a tanker drives aboard and discharges its load. Past proposals to replace the ferry with a bridge have been strongly resisted by many islanders who feel that bridge access would change their way of life.

Raymond Island koala

Raymond Island koala

As for the island itself, named for W.O. Raymond, an early Gippsland grazier, it’s around 6km x 2km at its widest points. Several hundred people now live there (thus the need for such a substantial ferry) but mostly nature still prevails and it’s a haven for wildlife. I made four trips to the island and each time saw koalas In their natural setting – a consignment of 32 koalas was sent from Phillip Island to Raymond Island on 25 September 1953 and they’ve since thrived to an extent that there are now more koalas than food. An after-dark visit gave me a chance to see the kangaroos close up.

Day three arrived all too quickly. A good breakfast and one more ferry trip and short walk round the koala trail and it was time for the long drive home. A welcome break: next time I’ll probably travel by train and bus to Paynesville and just enjoy extended visits to the island.

https://goo.gl/maps/dw8hsZJGkLUzeJMJ7

On Funerals 3: Good news!

On moving into the UK, SCI’s President, Bill Heiligbrodt had declared, “we are here now for the rest of time.” No so: in 2002, failing to increase UK prices as hoped and under financial pressure back home, the Americans threw in the towel and sold their UK interests back to local management^, now trading as Dignity plc. A similar thing happened here in Australia with SCI Australia becoming Invocare.

Extract from Which?

Extract from Which?

When Which? Magazine reported on funerals in March 2002 it noted “Overall we found the quality of service bore no relation to whether the funeral director was part of a chain or was an independent. There were good and bad advisers everywhere. However funeral directors owned by Dignity were clearly the most expensive and independents the cheapest.

In most business sectors, the small man finds it impossible to compete with the larger multiples. No so with funerals. A good few staff who had worked for firms that were taken over and who now found themselves unhappy working in a corporate environment saw that they could set up on their own and undercut their former employers. Unlike the corporates they had nothing to fear from being open about their pricing and increasingly customers were starting to use the internet to investigate funeral options.
In 1997 I wrote that Age UK should be identifying those independent funeral directors who provide a high quality service at a reasonable price but they’d rather make money selling Dignity’s funeral plans. Thankfully in 2008 the Good Funeral Guide started up and maintains a register of inspected and recommended firms.

In July 2018 Dignity reported “The number of consumers starting their purchasing journey online has increased from 2% in 2012 to 45% in 2018.”, noting that “the number of deaths in the UK fell by 5.4% between 1995 and 2017. At the same time research has found that there was an 83% increase in the number of Funeral Directors between 1989 and 2017.” This is a key reason why funerals are so expensive: if (as is typical) a branch undertakes two funerals a week or less, you end paying half a week’s rent, arranger’s salary and other fixed costs. Not that the staff earn a fortune: Funeral Partners are [Jan 2022] advertising for casual funeral service operatives – duties include collecting the deceased, mortuary work, polishing hearses, acting as pallbearer etc – the princely sum of £8.91 per hour.

Dignity’s 2020 annual report and accounts for 2020 is available on the Companies House website. In his report Executive Chairman Clive Whiley (ousted May 2021) makes the following extraordinary admission:

The Transformation Plan, launched with great fanfare and at considerable expense in 2018, in my opinion introduced too narrow a focus upon one element of the Group, without considering the capacity to grow the business organically across its full bandwidth. In short, that was tantamount to admitting defeat as a Group that had elected for many years to utilise the majority of its capital investment buying its way out of deteriorating funeral market share (2001: 491 funeral locations and 11.8 per cent funeral market share: 2019: 820* funeral locations and 11.7 per cent funeral market share). At best that consolidated the heritage of strong family businesses and staff that perform well to this day, at worst business integration ceased at legal completion: leading to Dignity essentially becoming the industry retirement plan for independent funeral directors.” (*80,300 funerals, an average of 98 per branch per year)

Meanwhile government had got interested. In 2020 the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) completed its in-depth market investigation into the funerals sector which was followed up by an order requiring that, from 16 September 2021, all funeral directors must display a Standardised Price List at their premises and on their website. This list must include:

  • The headline price of a funeral.
  • The price of the individual items comprising the funeral.
  • The price of certain additional products and services.

In addition, from 17 June 2021, funeral directors may not make payments to incentivise hospitals, palliative care services, hospices, care homes or similar institutions to refer customers to a particular funeral director or solicit for business through coroner and police contracts.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cma-requires-clearer-prices-and-information-from-funeral-providers

It’s taken 30 years but at last the funeral customer is in a good place. Hopefully you won’t find yourself having to arrange a funeral for a long long time, but when you do make good use of the resources now available to you. Giving someone you loved a fitting send off is important and the right funeral director or celebrant can help you do this.

On funerals 2: The Americans

I finished part 1 with the American SCI moving in on the UK funeral industry. Corporate acquisition of funeral businesses had three key aims:

1. Where possible acquire businesses that would complement ones already owned with the aim of stripping out duplicated back office facilities and maximising the use of vehicles. So when the Richmond-based T.H.Sanders was acquired, its hub at Preston Place, Richmond, was sold, its functions being transferred to F.W.Paine’s Kingston hub. To a degree efficiency is a good thing but … My father died on a Sunday and his funeral was the following Friday. Now, even pre-Covid, a delay of two weeks or even more was not unusual. Of course, this might be what the family wanted. I do wonder though if it’s a question of a local branch trying to back-to-back several funerals whilst the vehicles are with them?

2. Acquired businesses would keep their existing names, with no corporate identification (now not the case). In Kingston the once deadly rivals Farebrother and Paine faced one another off across London Road for many years, likewise in my native Twickenham, Sanders & Higgs and Wake & Paine ‘compete’ with each other 25+ years after falling under the same ownership.

3. Aim to increase prices. The claim at the time was that people were being offered a wider choice. When I arranged my father’s funeral in 1988 I went to Sanders & Higgs^, then family-owned. In response to my enquiry about price the duty manager replied “we’ve got various options but rest assured you will receive the same quality of service regardless of what you choose and you’re not to feel under any pressure to spend any more than you want”. Not long after they were taken over by Great Southern, then SCI. A TV documentary sent an undercover reporter to another Sanders branch. The arranger denied any knowledge of cheapest option – one which he knew existed.

In the mid-1990s the corporate ownership of funeral homes came under increasing scrutiny from the media. The one thing that I took from these exposes was that decent caring people at the sharp end were being pushed into a place they didn’t want to be. Stories came out of funeral arrangers being placed on a sales league table with those failing to sell up being humiliated. They were told to offer sweeteners in the form of a laying out payment to old people’s homes: one arranger interviewed on TV said that she felt so bad the first time she made the offer, she never did it again. A home owner said that it was something they always did as a last service to their client and this was an insult.

This coverage culminated in SCI placing full-page ads in the mainstream press apologising for past misdeeds and promising to do better in the future, which by all accounts they have done. Perhaps on reflection SCI UK’s then bosses were being leant on by their American masters to maximise sales at any cost and were as much victims as villains?

While all this was going on Age Concern continued to sell SCI funeral plans, with not a word about the misdeeds being reported elsewhere. In 1997 I sent them an open letter ““… Chosen Heritage [SCI’s then branding for its prepaid funerals] (and to a lesser extent, some other schemes) represents a threat to independent undertakers, many of whom provide a high quality service at a reasonable price. Within each local area Age Concern should be working to identify and support such firms …. Instead Age Concern/Age UK has worked hard to weaken such firms by ensuring that at a time of death they will not be engaged no matter how good they are”.

It wasn’t all bad news. Several London independents – John Nodes, Gillman and Albin – were the subject of fly-on-the-wall TV documentary series, each firm coming across in a very positive light. The first two are now owned by Funeral Partners. Gillman was one of the first firms to put funeral prices on their website; on being taken over the price list disappeared but thanks to the wayback machine we know that in 2002 they charged £1,085+coffin+disbursements for a traditional funeral = £1,810 in 2021 pounds. Their current charge for a similar funeral is £3,425, nearly double.

Next: Customer power at work

On funerals 1: The past

It might seem weird, but the funeral industry has always been of interest to me. This interest dates back to my teenage days: one year our English teacher had to take extended leave and in his place we had a young supply teacher who made no secret of his anti-American views – in fairness, this was at the height of the Vietnam war. The class readers he provided included Jessica Mitford’s ‘The American Way of Death’ and Evelyn Waugh’s satire, ‘The Loved One

Several decades ago I read a book (title forgotten) which observed, “no one loves undertakers, except, we hope, their wives and children. But when we need them, we’re glad they’re there.” Indeed, and a shout-out to all the good decent caring people in the funeral industry who provide the guidance and reassurance needed when called on. As part of the same church community for 49 years I attended dozens of funerals as older members passed away and saw what ‘good’ funerals can be like.

Funeral directing has changed significantly over time. Pre-Covid I went to a talk by a local FD who said he defined his job as being an event manager. 100+ years ago it was all about making coffins, and particularly in smaller communities the local carpenter or builder would also be the local undertaker. A local woman, very often the midwife, would do the laying out and the hearse and carriages, where required, would be hired from a carriage master (they still exist), with suitably attired labourers seconded for ‘lifting in’ and as pallbearers. Robert Tressell’s Edwardian novel ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists‘ gives us this picture: “Crass took a lively interest in the undertaking department of Rushton & Co.’s business. He always had the job of polishing or varnishing the coffin and assisting to take it home and to ‘lift in’ the corpse, besides acting as one of the bearers at the funeral. This work was more highly paid for than painting.

In larger communities undertaking became a standalone business. Many firms operated from one or two sites, others grew their businesses to a significant size.  In SW London and Surrey Frederick Paine took over the family business at 24 and by the time he died aged 75 his Kingston HQ serviced 14 branches. Jessica Mitford’s book is generally seen as an attack on the funeral industry, but her early 1960s visit to Mr Ashton whose family firm operated in South London left her with a very positive picture of UK funeral practice. When she visited him their typical funeral cost £50, about £1,100 at 2021 prices – today’s actual price is £1,995. Later the firm fell into corporate ownership.

From the second half of the 20C the funeral industry began to consolidate. The Great Southern Group took over numerous firms, Paine included. Then there was ‘yuppie undertaker’ Howard Hodgson. In 1988 the Spectator reported^: “In 1976 Howard Hodgson, aged 26, bought his father’s funeral business for £14,000. It was undertaking 400 funerals a year …  Since then Hodgson’s has acquired over 40 other funeral directors… [and] now undertakes 35,000 funerals a year … The company is now worth £70 million“. After more consolidation it became the PFG Hodgson Kenyon group – J.H.Kenyon had been the royal undertakers, an appointment they lost once no longer independent. Then in 1994 the American Service Corporation International swept in, taking over both groups. Their strategy was clear: they would continue the policy of acquired businesses trading under their old names, whilst looking to jack up prices substantially. You might go to ‘Josiah Smith and Sons’ because you’d used them ten years earlier and not be aware that everything behind the shopfront had changed. It was licence to print money. What could go wrong?


For a detailed account of UK funeral industry practice check out Brian Parsons’ excellent books.

How not to invest in shares

One of my late mother’s pastimes, inherited from her father, was investing in shares – not so much to make money but for to add interest to life. Going to company AGMs was for her – and many others of pension age – a social thing rather than an opportunity to grill the board with incisive questions. In early times some companies – RHM and Young’s Brewery to name but two –  followed their AGMs with a really good lunch (the real reason many went!) but these ended when the host’s hospitality was abused – what sort of person goes to an AGM and fills their briefcase with bottles of spirits or food from the buffet? As for me I’ve not followed in her footsteps. My three incursions into the world of shares have been conspicuous failures!

Firstly, in the 1990s, came Pathfinder Repossessions. After the UK’s Conservative government (correctly) removed double tax relief on mortgages but (mistakenly) deferred bringing this change in , there was an almighty housing boom, followed by a rise in interest rates and a crash, with many people having their houses repossessed. At the same time the government introduced the BES (Business Expansion Scheme): all profits made from investing in such companies were tax free.

One such company was Pathfinder Repossessions. The story was a good one. As the New York Times explained (Feb 1992): “Their aim is to snap up homes at auction, quickly refurbish and rent them, and then sell them off in four or five years”. Five years later, with property prices having gone up by around 17% and all the profits from renting there should have been a useful return. But in contravention of the statement in the original prospectus ‘that the Directors will endeavour to facilitate the realisation by Investors of their investment at the end of five years‘ the company’s money, supplemented by significant borrowings, had been invested in a speculative new-build scheme in Wimbledon. I made my opinions clear at the AGM, noting “The Profit and Loss account for 1996-97 show sales of £387,000, which I presume is rental income from properties still owned by the company. By some sleight of hand all but £3,000 of this has been spent on management and administrative expenses”. The chairman responded with some very sarcastic comments.

A few months later Pathfinder Repossessions was taken over by Pathfinder Properties. At least I didn’t lose my money. I invested £2500 and got back £1,882 in cash and shares in Pathfinder Properties worth around £871, net total £2,753, for £2,500 invested in 1992 – a five year period when savings interest rates were around 5-6%. Some people made a lot of money out of Pathfinder, just not the shareholders.

Skip a few years to the excesses of the dotcom boom. All sorts of companies were being set up from scratch and were soon to make millionaires of their founders even though they weren’t making money. The key to this was to get a share floatation, a not inexpensive process. Step forward Durlacher, a long established stockbrokers. The deal was simple – payment in kind: Durlacher would float your company in exchange for a small proportion of the share capital. The attraction for people like me was that by investing in Durlacher you were buying into a parcel of dotcom companies, knowing that the due diligence had been done by supposedly very clever people. So I put some money into Durlacher shares. They went up. Repeat two or three times.

And then …. Reality caught up. As the Telegraph reported: “Durlacher, a star in the dotcom boom when it was valued at £2.3 billion and was on the brink of joining the FTSE 100 index, is now worth less than £5m after seeing its shares plummet from a peak of 441p nearly three years ago. Yesterday, the shares fell a further 0.11p to a new low of 0.82p after it said a review by KPMG had revealed its net assets are now less than half its called-up share capital”. Of course I should have set a stop loss and bailed at an early stage but didn’t. I’m not sure now how much I’d invested – probably a few thousand pounds – but the final insult was that my holding was now worth less than Charles Schwab’s minimum £15 deal. Fortunately one of their staff took pity on me and let me get my last few pounds out.

And so to Australia. Through a friend I heard about a small company called Ironclad Mining. Another great story: they had the rights to mine iron ore at Wilcherry Hill, South Australia. The pitch: “The project has forecast high rates of return from development due to the quality of the product likely to be produced from Wilcherry…. Stage 1 will aim to produce a high quality, low contaminant Direct Shipping Ore (DSO) 62% Fe product which, can be produced by simple low cost, dry methods such as crushing, screening and dry magnetic separation. It is expected that Stage 1(a), which is being fast-tracked into production by the end of this year, is likely to deliver up to two million tonnes a year of DSO ore for at least three years”. Millions of dollars later lots of exploratory drilling had been done, a never-used miners compound built and a shipping barge procured. But with a fall in iron ore prices the shareholders weren’t up for any more rights issues. The company was folded into Tyranna Resources. ASX:TYX, price: 0.007 AUD, Market Cap: $8.98 m (as at 18.09.21). As for myself, I turned $7272 into $306!

TL;DR: Never take investment advice from me!

A unique holiday souvenir

After he retired in 1966 my dad took up family history as a hobby. Things were different then: no internet, no ancestry.com. Rather every scrap of information was the result of hours of work, mainly visiting the register of births, deaths and marriages housed at Somerset House, then St Catherine’s House – though living in SW London made this fairly easy. These records, though, only go back to 1837.

Cannington parish church

Cannington parish church

To take the search further back, in June 1975 I accompanied dad for a week’s holiday in Somerset. On his father’s side, the Bryer family could be traced back to Combe Florey, then Cannington near Bridgewater. Whilst staying there we met several distant relatives – I wish I’d kept a journal as 46 years on my memories are very hazy.

One, cousin Nancy, lived in a rather fine house in the town centre. We also met an elderly couple, George and Elsie who produced a picture of the village carpenter’s shop with wagon wheel and part finished coffin amongst the contents. Dad’s grandfather was the village carpenter; his father moved to Bristol and read gas meters for a living; my dad moved to London and became a civil servant, and here I am living in Melbourne.

But back to the main task. We did spend an afternoon at the County Record Office in Bridgewater, but the real interest was in searching through the Cannington parish church baptismal, marriage and death records. There were no shortcuts, rather it was a question of reading through page after page of often barely legible handwriting. Slowly we filled in some gaps in dad’s research but others remained unresolved.

The Holy One front cover

The Holy One front cover

The vicar, Arthur Moss, was very helpful and as a keepsake I bought a copy of his book, ‘The Holy One’. It’s an interesting piece of work: he takes the four Gospels and rearranges them to make one narrative of the life of Jesus.

This was not an original idea: according to Wikipedia the earliest known gospel harmony is the Diatessaron by compiled by one Tatian of Adiabene in the 2nd century which Moss acknowledges as one of his inspirations, the other being William Newcome, Bishop of Ossory who compiled his Greek Diatessaron in 1778. Moss’s work is a translation of this text. It starts with St Luke’s preface and finishes with Jesus’ ascension and John’s epilogue.

Now I look through it for the first time in many years, it’s an beautifully crafted work and I will take time to read it through. My bookshelf apart it has seemingly disappeared without trace. A Google search on “The Holy One” “Arthur Moss” produced nothing of consequence, something that this piece will rectify!


The Holy One, Arthur R. Moss, pub. Citadel Press, Derby 1971, ISBN 0 85468 512 X

Where goes Africa?

Inside Africa frontispiece

Inside Africa frontispiece

In recent months I’ve been re-reading a chunk of John Gunther’s Inside Africa, mainly the chapters relating to what were British colonies. It runs to 960 pages (the index takes up 40) and recounts the author’s experience of travelling the continent with his wife during 1952-53. They visited 105 towns and cities and he took notes on conversations with1,503 people.

It was a time when nearly two hundred million Africans were ruled, for the most part, by five million white Europeans. But, as Macmillan would note in 1960, “the wind of change is blowing through [Africa]. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.

Gunther saw this this desire to shake off colonialism, talking to many emerging leaders, but on page 10 notes: “Many Europeans think that Africans, if they become free, will make a botch of freedom. But this remains to be seen. They also say that African exploitation of Africans could be worse than European …”.

But the desire for freedom could not be supressed. I just remember from my 1960s childhood seeing every few months on TV news another independence ceremony when a Union Jack was lowered, a new national flag taking its place, raised in a spirit of hope and optimism. As far as Africa is concerned the last sixty years, sadly, have proved otherwise.

At church we are currently studying the book of Exodus dating back more than three thousand years. Even if you’re not Jewish or Christian you almost certainly know the plot. The Israelites find themselves enslaved by the Egyptians, the ever-increasing oppression leading God through Moses to cry: “Let my people go.” And finally the moment arrives when they make their miraculous escape through the Red Sea on to a life of paradise in a land of milk of honey.

Save that it didn’t work out that way. No sooner were they free than the complaints started. People were telling one another that they’d be better off in Egypt [Ex.16:3]. Moses was worn out settling disputes between people [18:13-26] and when they were given a set of laws – the Ten Commandments [20:1-17] – for the better regulation of society they forgot them in no time. It would be decades before they (or rather their descendants) were able to enjoy a settled society. The 40 years spent wandering in the wilderness was for many a lifetime.

What of Africa? We’ve seen terrible things happen in so many African countries: thousands dead in the Matabele massacres, vast numbers dying as a result of the Biafran civil war, Rwandan genocide and other conflicts. Up to the 1970s South Korea  and Zimbabwe enjoyed much the same per-capita GDP. Now the ratio is something like 24:1. And that’s not because Zimbabwe has nothing going for it: it used to be called the bread bowl of Africa, has massive mineral resources, at independence was left with pretty good infrastructure (rail the legacy of Rhodes) and has one of the greatest sights in the world in the Victoria Falls. What has it lacked? There’s a good summary here.

But perhaps it doesn’t have to be like this. Check out this 2008 paper by Icelandic Economics professor Thorvaldur Gylfason:

Believe it or not: in 1901, Iceland’s per capita national output was about the same as that of Ghana today. Today, Iceland occupies first place in the United Nations’ ranking of material success according to the Human Development Index that reflects longevity, adult literacy, and schooling as well as the purchasing power of peoples’ incomes. Can Iceland’s rags-to-riches story be replicated in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world? If so, what would it take?

The author’s answer can be found here. The now 1.3 billion Africans were ‘freed’ from colonialism in the 1960s by the winds of change observed by Macmillan. They now deserve to be freed from poverty and bad government. “Formerly one of the world’s poorest countries—with a GDP per capita of about US$70 per year in the late 1960s—Botswana has since transformed itself into an upper middle income country, with one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.” shows us what can be done.

Twickenham Ferry

Last week a Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network meeting discussed Melbourne’s Ferries – Past, Present and Future. Upstream of the city all the ferries across the Yarra – one of which I will return to – have been replaced by bridges. Downstream, the river is subject to a fairly low speed limit, reflecting the use of the river by small leisure craft, container ships accessing the docks as well as the need to protect of the river banks. Geography means that for most destinations, unlike Sydney, other forms of transport are quicker or cheaper.

Bellarine Express and Geelong Flyer ferries passing in Victoria Harbour

Bellarine Express and Geelong Flyer ferries passing in Victoria Harbour

Apart from the tourist ferries from the CBD to Williamstown, we do have two ferries running from here in Docklands to Portarlington and Geelong, both services starting in the last few years. Portarlington  in particular lends itself to a ferry service – it’s not served by rail and the ferry is probably quicker than driving. Will we see more ferries? Not without suitable mooring facilities, the meeting was told.

But back to Ferries past. When the first settlers came here they brought a lot of their former place names with them. So as a one-time resident of Twickenham, now living in Docklands, I can easily visit Richmond, Hampton, Sunbury but no Twickenham. We do though have a Twickenham Crescent in Burnley. Why? Let the Australasian, 4 June 1904 explain:

TWICKENHAM FERRY

Extract from 1889 David Syme woodcut: Twickenham Ferry on the Yarra

Extract from 1889 David Syme woodcut: Twickenham Ferry on the Yarra

One of the prettiest reaches on the Yarra, within easy distance from Melbourne, is that portion lying between Burnley and Toorak, about 4 1/2 miles up from Prince’s bridge. Here a ferry conveys passengers across the river, starting at the bottom of Grange-road, Toorak, across to Burnley. The ferry dates back to 1880, when Jesse Harrow, a veteran waterman, founded it.Unlike its English namesake on the River Thames, where the ferryboat is manned by a “jolly young waterman,” Twickenham Ferry on the Yarra is worked by means of a suspended rope, stretched across the river*, with a sheave wheel and regulating lines at each end, so that it can be raised or lowered, according to the height of the water.

Twickenham Ferry postcard c.1907

Twickenham Ferry postcard c.1907

On the Burnley side of the river, partly hewn out of the bank, is constructed a most picturesque old dwelling, containing four rooms and a shop. Here the widow of the late Jesse Barrow, together with her son and daughter reside, and retail refreshments, ranging from soft drinks and kola beer to apples, pears, and lollies, to the thirsty oarsmen. The ferry hours during the weekdays are from 7 in the morning till 10 at night, and on Sundays from 8 till 9, the fare being one penny each way.

“There are a good many ‘dead heads,’ though,” added the ferryman; “you see sometimes, men looking for work, want to cross the river, and, of course, promise to pay when they return, and again sometimes a lady finds she has left her purse at home, or has no change; then we have to trust to their honesty. So it’s not all profit, in addition, we have to pay £5 a year for a license.”

Thirty years later the ferry service was no more:

FAREWELL TO TWICKENHAM FERRY

Not least perhaps among the many functions which his Grace the Duke of Gloucester will perform will be the official opening of the Centenary Bridge at Grange Road, well on the way to completion. Another step in the path of progress no doubt; but progress, no matter how desirable in practical ways, is not always a source of unalloyed gratification. At least, so thinks Mr. Barrow, the picturesque boatman of Twickenham Ferry, who, with the opening of the bridge, will find his occupation, like Othello’s, gone. Incidentally another, perhaps one of the last of those links that bind us to Melbourne’s pioneer days, will be broken.

Mr. Barrow, who has lived in or near his present habitation, Twickenham Ferry, just by Burnley, throughout his life, is the son of Jesse Barrow, who came to Australia from England in 1861….

None of the many regular or casual voyagers carried in his little craft during nearly half a century ever made an un-interesting trip with Mr. Barrow. Short though the transit might be, there was always time for some interesting reminiscence that gave additional interest or charm to an already charming spot. The strong structure that makes his service “no longer necessary” will be stolidly silent where he was eloquent, retaining its frigid parvenu dignity somewhat in-appropriately in the midst of rustic beauty. But though Mr. Barrow’s services will be no longer required, we in Melbourne know, they will not be forgotten

Argus 15 Sept 1934

Two nights at Swan Hill

Map (source Echuca Discovery Centre)

Map (source Echuca Discovery Centre)

With memories of my March Echuca mini-break fading, I decided it was time for another short break travelling by train. This trip was to Swan Hill, about 155km NW of Echuca and, like Echuca, on the south bank of the River Murray which separates Victoria and New South Wales.

The Echuca and Swan Hill lines share the same track as far as Bendigo (164km/100mi from Melbourne), after which the line to Swan Hill branches off for the 183km/114mi run to Swan Hill.

Swan Hill lift bridge

Swan Hill lift bridge

The railway reached Swan Hill in 1890, subsequently being extended for a further 42km, now freight-only, to Piangil. No prizes for speed – the journey takes 4:42, an average speed of 74kph/46mph – but the leisurely pace is made up for by the affordable comfort of travelling first class – the return fare was just A$108/£60. I stayed at the Jane Eliza motel across from the station and was very comfortable there.

PS Pyap

PS Pyap

What to do? There are a number of attractions in the area if you have a car, but if on foot there’s really just one, the Pioneer Settlement. It claims to be Australia’s first open-air museum and opened in 1963.

The train arrived at 1227 giving me time to check in at the motel and then get down to the Settlement for the river cruise.

Swan Hill Settlement village by night

Village by night

It’s a good job that the tickets cover admission for two days since I spent the rest of the afternoon and the whole of the next day there, and I’m still not sure whether I saw everything. You can find lots of information on the Settlement’s history, buildings and contents in Heritage Victoria’s report recommending that it be added to the state register. Not everyone wants this.

Highlights for me:

The PS Pyap cruise: In contrast to Echuca, there’s just this one paddle steamer offering a one-hour cruise each afternoon. Shades of George Washington’s axe, she was built in 1896 but has been re-hulled, re-decked and her engine replaced with a Gardiner diesel.

PS Gem at Swan Hill

PS Gem

Wandering round the now-static PS Gem, the largest paddle steamer to trade on the Murray. She was built in 1876. In 1882 she was sawn in half by hand, and the two parts were pulled apart by bullocks to allow an extra one third to be built in between the two parts. In more recent times several cruise ships have been cut and stretched, though without the use of bullocks!

Swan Hill D3 locomotive and 1924 Dodge Tourer

D3 locomotive and 1924 Dodge Tourer

A ride in the Settlement’s 1924 Dodge Tourer (included in ticket price, as is the carriage ride)

Seeing the Castlemaine-built D3 locomotive – like many of our exhibits at the Newport Railway Museum in need of some TLC.
Victorian Railways Dd fleet ran to 261 locos from nine builders including Baldwin in the USA and Beyer Peacock, Manchester

Swan Hill blacksmith at work

Blacksmith at work

More than a few exhibits, especially the traction engines, were a reminder of Britain being the workshop of the world.

Watching a blacksmith at work is always compelling

Visiting all the Settlement buildings – I went to the laser light show so was also able to see them after dark.


Swan Hill Giant Murray Cod

Giant Murray Cod

I did say that the Settlement was Swan Hill’s one real attraction but I’ll end with mentioning Swan Hill’s contribution to Australia’s fixation with giant things, the Giant Murray Cod.

With this trip done, I’ve just one more Victorian rail line to ride: the line to Bairnsdale. Watch this space!