Tag Archives: #Sewerage

Melbung smellee welly high

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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.

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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

MARVELLOUS SMELLBOURNE.

[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!

 

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Farm Reflections: A land faraway

Mavis & Keith Warfe with Shep the dog

One year and one day to the day, I began this PhD research of the community once living at the Metro Farm, also known as the MMBW Farm, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works at Werribee and fondly, as the Farm.

One year and one day to the day has seen many recollections shared and some intimate memories provoked to prompt nostalgia and expose emotion that has been locked away for many years. A few tears have been shed too. It’s been an honour to be privy to those.

I never expected to know what I know today about the Farm or have met the people I have met, encountered such warmth or be affected in the way that I have, both professionally and personally. But that’s the beauty of life – full of life-changing surprises. It’s to the credit to all that support this work that knowledge is emerging of what it was like to live on the Farm and that it is being recorded today.

One year and one day to the day and I never expected to encounter a very living Farm community.

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A land faraway

A living town in a life at honey speed, a calm and peace unwavering in the howl of withering leaves. Crested cockatoos cascade between trees of bare, shrilling whistles of a time unmoved, of a life once was in a land faraway.

Cannon balls in the swimming pool and escaping a wrath after hiding knickers … playing cards into the morning and women scuffling for the football on the MCG …

Ghosts of yesterday dance to a squeeze box on the thread of glistening webs. They guard over full-as-bulls battles that spike in the dark near homes trimmed in baubles of roses and hydrangea, and stems of gladioli rivalling to be the best.

Families play and explore in a back yard of a vast faraway.

Today is little of the physical, of faded plum trees and pumpkins entwining along drains, of cream lilies and milk coffee and the horse and jinker tearing its sleeping traveller home as the epitome of the driverless car.

No. It’s not gone, not this life in a land bewitched on an elixir of memories, not within the dusty veil of isolation and cone of connection, where children mushroom and play hyekio and stockman call to their dogs.

Ghosts rejoice from sleeping ruins at the telling of their tales, from the tops of date palms and cypress trees and while watching football and sipping beer behind the goals, from under the water tank in a bass of riff, within a place oozing smiles more spirited and permanent than the Mona Lisa.

Cheers to a life in a living ghost town, a life at honey speed, wistful of lands faraway.

To some, it’s an honouring that’s grounding in subliminal bliss and stark in harsh reality, of little boys and girls scattering and fleeing, some in the clan ducking and weaving … a devastation that can coil as molten lead in sludge fused in hues of rotting seaweed.

All box tight in an infinity of recollections more fertile than the most precious, a box that holds the pause to remember a life that pulses through the veins of the salt bush, in the cooling dip in the bay under a biting sun where friendly flies line tent walls as a film of black or in the darkness of a waning moon with only a fire on the sand. Sea birds call on bellies plump and ripe … pretty and pristine in smashings of greens and tints of blue.

Through the feathery tufts of yellow as a roadside guard of honour is a house and two cows …

A life in a living ghost town, a life at honey speed in a land faraway.

Hinged in a haunting of melancholy is a place that once thrived. Listen carefully and you’ll hear it, the deep gloating of lifelong love, of wood being chopped for the stove and to heat the copper, feeding the pigs and milking the cows, churning the cream and butter to a one, two waltz in the Farm hall, a chasse to the Pride of Erin.

Amid this place of serenity are the giggles of mirth from boys peering behind bushes at men searching for their bottled stash, and scallywags scramming after pulling handbags tied to strings from the grasp of the inquisitive unsuspecting … the freedom to be without fear.

Bachelors living together, women and their cottage industries, ice boxes and kerosene fridges, tilly lamps and picking peas … the rose-gold worn as a cherished adornment of never-ending love that connects souls over lifetimes.

The sun prods for its always opening above foaming curls of white, rhythmic in their crashing and laced in the emotion of Antarctica. This space of breath, expanse of clarity of sight reveals the full beauty of perfect imperfection.

Cheers to a life in a living ghost town, in a life at honey speed, of a house and two cows in a land faraway.

 

NOTES

These reflections come from a PhD research project investigating a community that grew soon after the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was founded in 1891 to treat Melbourne’s sewage at Werribee. As Melbourne grew, so did the work force to manage the treatment of the sewage, and a community of workers and their families that lived on site. The population peaked to over 500 in the 1950s. All but one family left the township in 1973; the last family moved off site in 1980.

The plant continues to treat Melbourne’s sewage and is now known as Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant. The plant is about the size of the island of Santorini in Greece.

For more information on the project, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MMBWFarm/

The Farm is a colloquial term for the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) at Werribee and now Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant, currently treating nearly 60 percent of Melbourne’s sewage.

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