Melbourne was a Bog Hole
29th of October, 2019
I love living in Adelaide however, Melbourne never ceases to amaze me. I have spent considerable time skipping back and forth across the border for a number of years now. The transformation it is undergoing is simply amazing.
Every time I arrive the city changes. The hordes of people on the street, the shops, the restaurants and even the pace at which the city pumps.
I love the trams, especially now they are free in the city, enabling me to travel at ease, laptop in bag, across the undulating terrain.
But the construction, like Sydney is just insatiable!
Our biggest cities are awash with MASSIVE road, rail and other infrastructure projects
Sometimes it seems as though history is occurring right in front of me at a rapid pace. So much so that it is easy to lose perspective and forget to look back at the history of this vibrant city.
Photo by Weyne Yew on Unsplash
But history is there for anyone who spends the time to investigate and remember.
I was reading the other day about a Melbourne city excavation. The old building had been demolished and they were digging the foundations for the new structure when they hit a little piece of history.
A hardwood picket fence
Those involved in the excavation discovered a perfectly preserved hardwood picket fence. Locked in clay – Melbourne’s own little Pompei.
Further digging revealed a chimney and foundations – not what the construction crew were expecting.
As with all such finds, a stop work was ordered and an investigation was commenced to understand a little more about the who, what and when of their discovery and its significance.
It was certainly a shock and there was no ready explanation as to why there was a picket fence hidden a metre or so under the surface as the recently demolished building had stood true in its location for the last 55 years or so…
Now this story you might say is not that uncommon and I would normally agree.
But what if I told you that the discovery of the picket fence took place in the early 1920’s when they were excavating in readiness for the construction of the new Swanston Street Capitol Theatre!
Melbourne was only settled in 1835.
Photo by duong chung on Unsplash
How did a perfect picket fence come to be buried in the 30 years between 1835 and 1865?
How quickly we forget! Or in this case forgot…
This is a classic example of how we quickly forget, especially at times of rapid change.
Believe it or not but in 1853 a law was passed by the City Fathers requiring those people living in low-lying areas to bury their homes!
Bury them quick or the council will do it for you and charge you for the privilege of doing so…..
Melbourne was a Bog hole
WHAT? Melbourne buried itself?!…
It sure did, as Melbourne in the 1850’s was a terrible place of squalor and filth, much of it owed to its natural landscape.
The original site for Melbourne (1836) was a bog hole and built over land that was part of the normal run off for the many streams.
The rain for which the city is famous coupled with its undulating terrain created watercourses everywhere emptying into vast swamps and marshes creating landmarks like the “Lonsdale Swamp”. The streets were putrid and dangerously littered with sinkholes.
Edmund Finn a writer at the time described Flinders Street as a swamp, and Swanston and Elizabeth streets as shallow gullies with “deep and dangerous ruts”.
Heavy loads were generally moved around Melbourne’s streets via bullock dray. So poor was the condition of the city’s early streets, churned up by the wagons, carts and horses they would regularly become bogged.
“We remember on (one) occasion a dray of bullocks were so hopelessly imbedded in a hole in Elizabeth Street, that the animals were allowed to stifle in the mud, and it being nobody’s duty to remove the nuisance, their remains with that of the dray, lie buried in that extemporary graveyard to the present day.” 1868 Thomas Strode, one of the town’s early newspaper men
The rippling topography caused endless water and erosion problems for everyday life and the councils’ brilliant solution was to simply raise the level of any low-lying land.
The Great Melbourne Excavation was on!
Knolls were flattened and the sunken areas of the city literally rose from the ground as the landowners were forced to put Melbourne on more of an even keel.
This of course created great demand for fill, clean or otherwise, as people literally buried their homes under the dirt and hence this is how our perfectly preserved picket fence came to be.
As always, we need to view this in the sequence of time.
See this was an era when the population was swelling, and the city had just begun its transformation into the “Marvellous Melbourne” of the 1880s
The Eureka Stockade gold strikes had ensured that banks were bulging with the precious metal. Everyone had gold fever as the gold rush was in full swing.
Image by Csaba Nagy from Pixabay
Such an ambitious project of raising, or flattening the city, depending on where you lived, would NEVER have been possible without the exponential growth in wealth and manpower brought about by the gold strikes. All the drivers are there; population increase, new technology for the mining industry, land grabs and new land required for agriculture, easy available credit all leading to an inevitable boom then bust cycle.
These were tumultuous times and monumental changes were occurring as Melbourne was growing up.
Then we forgot
And this is how we came to forget the Great City Infill.
How is it that after only some 60 years Melbourne had forgotten that it literally buried its city houses? Many still lay undisturbed, just meters under the surface. Sealed in time, forgotten by history.
I find it really interesting that it is not an example of a significant event that was lost to history because the records were destroyed, or a people conquered. Yet the dramatic event of burying a city was so quickly “lost from memory”.
Those who can’t remember history will have little chance of seeing the future.
So the next time you see a chart of property price growth over the last 3 years or the 5 year “Long Term” performance of the stock market, just remember the story of how Melbourne forgot it buried itself.
Image by Adrian Malec from Pixabay
It is what we can learn studying all 5 Drivers over the really “Long Term” say since 1875 that really excites the team at Calnan Flack.
Remembering our history via our cycle theory we can look back over the years to see how markets have performed. Looking for the economic and social patterns that repeat. It will never be a carbon copy, but it will be Same, Same but different.
Picture by Tony Whelan and Robyn Annear