Sunset, 2nd May 2019. No further words necessary.
When I emigrated from UK to Melbourne in 2008, I came with a suitcase of clothes, followed soon after by two PCs sent by airfreight and then in due course 16 cartons of books, DVDs and souvenirs. Otherwise it was a case of starting from scratch.
For furniture I went to IKEA, not far from home though a tedious half-hour drive fighting Melbourne’s traffic lights and congestion. During my first two weeks here I went there nearly every day, buying another piece or two and then returning home to assemble it. In due course my apartment could have passed as an mini IKEA showroom – I’ve just had a tally up and I’ve got 31 pieces of IKEA furniture; the only items from elsewhere are my office desk and chair.
Initially to reduce clutter I bought just four Ingolf dining chairs to go with my (extendable) circular dining table, then one more as a bedroom chair. On the rare occasions when I needed to seat six I borrowed the bedroom chair and pressed my office chair into service.
Then last year I decided that it would be good to have six matching chairs when required. Thankfully when I checked the IKEA website the same chair was still on sale – one of the ways in which IKEA make money is by amortising their design costs over vast numbers of units: Poäng armchairs go back to 1978, Billy bookcases to 1979 – so off to buy one.
When I set to work assembling it, what was interesting was to see that in the intervening ten years the cost engineers had been to work. The picture shows old and new, superficially the same. What has changed is the weight – down from 6.7kg to 4.0kg (for bulk freight 160/ton now 250/ton) – and the way the chair is assembled. The older one comes with a ready made back/legs and front rail/legs and assembly involved linking these with two front/back rails. The new one came in an h-shaped box (which interlocks with another) containing two assembled sides, cross rails and X-rails. An interesting bit of cost engineering.
Ten days ago I had the pleasure of attending the official launch of David Sornig’s new book, Blue Lake. The lake, also known less flatteringly as the West Melbourne Swamp, was situated just north of where I live in Melbourne’s Docklands. In pre-settlement times it was a meeting place and rich hunting ground for Aboriginals, but over time it became a dumping ground and a place to situate noxious trades, then between the wars it then became the home of the notorious Dudley Flats, a shanty town where the lowest of the the low lived. It’s now been taken over by the dockland and urban freeways.
David Sornig tells the story through three residents: Elsie Williams, a singer of Afro-Caribbean descent, once billed as “the Coloured Nightingale”; Lauder Rogge, a German-born sailor who, though a naturalised Australian, was interned during World War I; and Jack Peacock, a stunt rider, horse trader and scrap dealer who made a good living on Dudley Flats.
I’m currently about one third through the book and it’s proving an interesting read.
The theme of my 60th birthday speech a few years back was ‘Life’s not fair’. I noted that I had enjoyed far more of life’s good things than most people, including good health and the extraordinary ‘achievement’ of having reached 60 without a single night in hospital (before you ask, I wasn’t born in one). But I’ve made up for this since, starting with a stay in the public Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2014.
Last month I spent two weeks in hospital, a week in Melbourne Private Hospital, then a week in rehab at Epworth Camberwell. How did this compare to my limited experience (as a visitor only) of English hospitals?
Firstly the UK and Australia have different attitudes to private health insurance. In UK private health insurance is generally offered as a perk by employers; few individuals buy it. Around 10% of the population are covered according to the Telegraph web site. Premiums are subject to 12% insurance premium tax and if your employer pays the premium, this is taxable as a fringe benefit .
Here in Australia it’s the opposite – roughly half the population have private health insurance^ even though they’re covered by our NHS-like Medicare. The private system is seen as taking load off the public system so if you don’t have private health insurance you may have to pay additional income tax (Medicare Levy Surcharge 1-1.5%). In addition the government pays part (33% in my case) of your premium as a rebate. Interestingly insurance companies are not allowed to cherry pick – e.g. All 63 year olds taking out the same policy with a particular insurer must be charged the same premium regardless of their medical history.
So staying in a private hospital is nothing exceptional in Australia. My rooms in each hospital, twin occupancy, weren’t that special, though TV and wifi were free. I could not fault the treatment I received. Without exception, the staff were excellent. As in UK hospitals, a good few of them were from overseas, working on contract.
But, unlike UK hospitals which in my limited experience are overheated during the winter, my rooms were cold and I had to ask for an extra blanket!
The food was good too (not a comment often heard from UK hospital patients), excellent at MPH, though surprisingly I struggled to find low-fat options on the menu. Useful hint for anyone under orders to lie flat on their back (for 48 hours in my case): pick toast for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch and dinner – you can eat them lying down without help!
But of course the best thing that happens in hospital is being told that you’re now ready to be discharged. In my case this was on my birthday, a great birthday present!
Today I went on our Railway History Society‘s June 2018 outing, taking in the Craigieburn and Upfield lines. After a good lunch we finished up at Fawkner Cemetery where a restored hearse car is on display.
From the early 1890s new cemeteries were needed in Melbourne. A Northern Suburbs Cemetery Conference, held in 1902, suggested a 284 acre site which included Fawkner Railway Station, and this was adopted. The first funeral, that of four year old Dorothy Knapp, was held on 10th December 1906.
From the outset the new cemetery was linked to the city by a dedicated rail service. One service per day ran from Flinders Street Station platform 10 east, the mortuary platform, and this ran as an ordinary passenger service with additional hearse cars attached. Each hearse car could take twenty coffins.
The regular funeral train service was discontinued in 1939 though occasional trains would be run until 1952. The hearse cars were sold for scrap and assumed to be lost, before three were found on a farm in 1990. After restoration this one is now on display next to Fawkner station.
Since 2008 I’ve lived in Melbourne Docklands, moving in July 2017 to an apartment looking over Victoria Harbour, formerly Victoria Dock. Just my sort of place.
It wasn’t always like this. Where I now live was once a marshy area to the north of a meandering Yarra river, then passable only by the smallest ships. The native Aboriginal occupants viewed this as a rich hunting ground, but not the colonists.
After the 1850s Gold Rush it was obvious to all that something must be done to facilitate maritime traffic. As often now, good intentions didn’t translate into early action. Finally in 1877 the Melbourne Harbor [sic] Trust was formed. One of its first actions was to appoint Sir John Coode, the leading harbour engineer of his day, to advise them. He came up with a twofold plan: widening and straightening the river, then constructing docks to the immediate west of the city centre and next to the railway.
Work on the Coode Canal, as it was named, began in 1880 and it finally opened in 1886. Work on the dock (redesigned as one large basin) began in 1889 and in 1892 the massive excavation (three million cubic yards) was filled with water.
Then on 20th February 1893 – 125 years ago – the West Melbourne Dock, as it was initially known, received its first visitor, the SS Hubbuck, newly arrived from London.
By 1908, Victoria Dock, as it was now named, was handling ninety per cent of Victoria’s imports. To increase the dock’s capacity, Central Pier was added in 1916-17. By the 1950s Melbourne was able to boast that its port was the most mechanised in the Commonwealth. But containerisation was on its way and the new down-river Swanson Dock with its massive container cranes opened in the late 1960s.
By the 1990s Victoria Dock was all but disused and the whole area in decay. The building of Etihad Stadium (opened 2000) kickstarted the redevelopment of the area and Docklands is now home to thousands of people and the workplace of thousands more.
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