Tag Archives: #Melbourne

Melbung smellee welly high


It’s hard to imagine that almost 130 years ago, Melbourne in Australia was considered the smelliest city in the world when today, year after year, it’s voted the world’s most liveable city.

The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was established in 1891 to manage Melbourne’s sewage. Its crest bears the motto ‘salas mea publica merces’, meaning ‘public health is my reward’.

I think they call that transformation.


How fine this grand Dame of cities is, my Melbourne town. Yet such a past has she, before the first sewage flows from the All England Eleven Hotel in Port Melbourne traversed pastures of graded green at the Metropolitan Farm in 1897.

Ten years earlier, mortality rates from diphtheria and typhoid in our fair Melbourne town numbered 86.3 for every 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 16 in London and 66 in Paris. The idea to establish a Royal Commission to inquire and report on Melbourne’s sanitary condition was indeed, a splendid one. It came at the eleventh-hour when our fair city was gripped by demonic disease.

Very soon after, in 1891, the authoritative and very official Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was formed. Their business was to provide water supply, sewerage and sewage treatment for our fair city.

Until that time, this admired Queen City of the South had a rather unsavoury means for disposing sewage.

All liquid waste, one day to become known as liquid gold, was thrown into the streets to mix as free as those on the recline of debauchery at Madame Brussels in Bourke Street. My Melbourne town had ‘borne testimony to her evil reputation among travellers as one of the unhealthiest cities in the world,’ according to a journalist of the time.

We all saw it, couldn’t hide from it. Slums in Melbourne town as far back as the 1850s spored faster than mushrooms in an asexual orgy steeped in high humidity and moist damp. People lived in squalor, with no bathrooms or sewerage and in homes held together on scant thread. Rooves leaked and drafts blew through holes in walls. People crammed in close and often shared beds. There was little room to hang laundered washing out to dry and keeping it clean was nigh impossible.

slumsStrolling through streets and children playing outdoors meant an Irish jig within a cesspool of urine, night soil, kitchen and bath water, soap suds from washing clothes, drainage from stables and cow sheds, liquids from trades and manufacturers, and water running off rooves and overland. All would meet in open street channels made from stone, often running into earthen ditches as sluggish glob or collecting in pools that would flood and overflow in rain, giving it free reign to meander into waterways.

‘Tis no wonder typhoid and diphtheria proliferated. No adult or child was safe, even when many claimed it was purely in the slums.

‘Twas an inclement falsity. From mine church cometh my dark demise.


Riverine Grazier, Friday 15 February 1889


[by an original in the Adelaide Observer]

“Those who know say that Port Said is the champion filthy city of the universe. If we are to believe Mr Cosmo Newbury, Melbourne, which claims to be ‘the Queen City of the South,’ is in a fair way to thrust Port Said from that eminence” – Register.

“Bill,’ said I to my erratic Friend, who’s travelled just a bit,

“Name the strongest aromatic City you have ever hit.”

Then he bowed his head in silence, And a study that was brown,

And – when out of reach of violence – Said “I name your Melbourne town!”

“William,” said I, “thou art witty with the music of thy mouth!

Knowest thou that glorious city is the Queen of all the South?”

“Yes,” he answered; “well I know it! Heard it till mine ears do ache;

And, believe me, gentle poet Still in this she takes the cake!”

Then I asked a chewing Yankee, Lantern-jawed and most uncouth,

One of that cadaverous lanky Sort who always tells the truth.

Wal, Siree, he kinder reckoned Melbourne’s people like to blow,

So he’d mark her down as second, Just to give Port Said a show.

Then I asked a dark Egyptian, Who had sojourned in the East,

Answering the true description Swathed in linen like a priest;

Rarer far, he said, and rankers than others Melbourne’s ware

Ah, she had a lot to thank her stars for in the way of air!

Then a frugal child of China for an answer I cajole –

One of those who can combine a head and tail upon one poll;

One who’d found a way of making both ends meet.

To him I cry –

And he says, with laughter shaking –

“Melbung smellee welly high!”

Then said I, the fates are in it! When will Melbourne’s honours stop?

Others have no chance to win it, For she always comes out top!

Energy? She’d do without it! And ascribes it not to pluck!

This it is, and do not doubt it – Melbourne’s wonderful for luck!


Ferocity in Victoria

koala drinking

It’s Sunday in Melbourne, normally mild Melbourne. But not today, not mild at all for this summer in fact.

We were told in spring last year that we were in for a hot summer. Many didn’t believe the forecaster as summer came and with it, cool temperatures. That’s Melbourne. Cool and unpredictable in its weather.

A month into the summer season and the heat has come with a vengeance. Record temperatures of above 40°C (104°F) have been recorded on consecutive days. This morning, we reached 40°C before midday and 32°C (90°F) at 3 a.m.. That’s extreme heat for Melbourne and Victoria where bush, forests and native vegetations are dry and brittle. Fire kindling waiting to be lit.

Fires everywhere are burning out of control. Intense and fast moving, fires bursting out of paddocks as explosions erupt with sudden, gusty winds. Especially so when the winds change from hot northerlies to cooler southerlies, changes that feed fires to rupture into unpredictable behaviour, to rage out of control in new directions and cause even more havoc.

Sirens sound all around me today, sirens of fire trucks whizzing by to help comrades fight fires in other areas and sirens of ‘watch and act’ alerts on radio that flash warnings to give updates of the fire emergencies occurring across the state – details of what fires are where, how intense the fires are, road closures and which areas are under threat. In these threatened areas, emergency procedures are outlined in detail.

People are being asked to enact their fire plans or leave their area and homes for safety and refuge if they’re under threat and if they aren’t able to leave, if the fires are preventing them from leaving, they’re asked to head for relief shelters that have been set up in towns.

Regional trains are suspended and replaced coaches are unable to get through or across roads and highways due to burning fires jumping them. We wait in torment to hear where Mother Nature is taking us next.

Today, seventy fires in total burn across Victoria. It’s our biggest fire risk day in five years, since February 2009 when Victoria had the worst bushfires in Australia’s recorded history. Black Saturday as the day came to be known, claimed 173 human lives and destroyed 2029 homes.

Stories from then are still raw for many, of families running from fires, of driving through flames to escape for survival. Stories of bodies being discovered in homes as families huddled for shelter. Back then, fires raged and escaping their ferocity was difficult. Sometimes, it was too late to leave.

I hope we survive the day and coming days without loss of lives.

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