Last updated:

November 1, 2017

Australia’s ever-green infatuation with Ned Kelly recently received new impetus through the findings of archaeological work done on burial sites at Pentridge Prison. In his article on this long-term project that has just come to fruition, Jeremy Smith from Heritage Victoria recounts the processes and investigations involved in sorting out the bones in the burial site, and the remarkable discovery that a stolen skull returned to Heritage Victoria by Tom Baxter, who thought it was Ned Kelly’s, turns out to belong to Frederick Bailey Deeming, the nineteenth-century serial killer. Among the fascinating insights into the effect of the generous reward issued for the capture of Ned Kelly on the progress of the police investigation, Brett Wright draws our attention to the ‘engineer Benjamin Dodds, of Flinders Lane, Melbourne, [who] laboured over a plan to establish a network of tethered hot‑air balloons in four country towns. Each balloon would act as a look‑out and – equipped with an officer, telegraphic operator, arms and telescopes – it would be able to rise to a height of two miles’!

Land records also feature prominently in this year’s batch of articles. Charles Fahey presents the story of John Sweeney as a case study of the transformation of farming practices on the northern plains of Victoria during the era of land selection in the 1860s and 1870s. Part of this transformation involved the clearing of woodlands and the use of the felled timber as material for fencing. As Fahey explains, ‘Fencing placed a huge burden on the northern woodlands… When he finally secured his lease … [in 1882], John Sweeney had completed over 5500 metres of fencing erected from local bush materials… In total, at a minimum estimate, they [selectors of Baulkamaugh and Katunga where Sweeney’s farm was located] constructed over 360,000 metres of fencing. When we extrapolate from these two parishes to the hundreds of parishes on the northern plains we can begin to visualise the staggering scale of timber use.’

The impact of inaccurate maps produced by the Lands Department for the Otway Ranges is examined by Barbara Minchinton. Quoting Thomas Baker MLA, 3 August 1895, Minchinton introduces her article with the observation that ‘Whenever [I s]ee a straight road on a plan in such country I [take] it as a certainty that it crosses impassable places.’ The maps showing straight roads was part of the reason many of the selectors who tried to take up land in the Otways failed in their efforts, as they encountered the reality of the impassable places on their selected allotments.

Attempts to address the problem of habitual drunkenness date back to the nineteenth. Susanne Davies looks at the transition to treatment-based approaches to this problem which recast it as a disease rather than a moral failing. Davies revisits the proceedings of a Victorian government committee established in 1901 to gain an insight into the various opinions and cures that were debated at the time, many of which find their echo in contemporary debates about substance abuse.

In 1942, a Maltese man, Giuseppe Azzopardi murdered a Dutch woman in Smyrna (now Izmir) in Turkey in 1842. Richard Pennell’s goes in search Azzopardi, one of the many people who disappeared between the cracks of the British Empire. Along the journey, Pennell discovers that in 1857, Azzopardi’s abandoned wife Concetta had already made an unsuccessful attempt along with several others to trace his location. Like the earlier search, Pennell’s search, though pushing a little further into Azzopardi’s presence on the Victorian goldfields, pursues a trail that eventually goes cold, which leads us to wonder how many other people simply disappeared at the fringes of the empire by selectively obscuring their identities.

From Sarah Mirams we learn about the Open-Air Movement and the little-known experiment that was initiated by the Victorian Education Department in 1915 in semi-rural Blackburn. The Blackburn Open Air School, which was the first of its type in Australia, adapted a model first implemented in Germany in 1908. The article traces the history of the school, and considers the extent of the adaptation of the open-air philosophy to local conditions and the evidence available in PROV records to tell us about the actual experience of the students and teachers of the school.

In Provenance issue 7, 2008, we ran an article from Dawn Peel about Colac. Her interest in Colac led Dawn to her to an unusual find: a court record from Colac turned up on the online catalogue of the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Dawn made contact with Mitchell Fraas who was working at the library at the time as an intern. Fraas developed an interest in this errant record brought to his attention by Dawn, which led to contact with PROV and contributing to a project to make these estray records available to Victorians via online technology. In his article about this instance of the local becoming global, Fraas observes that he is perhaps unique among the authors who have written for the journal in that ‘I have never been to PROV, nor have I set foot in Australia’ – a sign of things to come perhaps.

Icons feature in this year’s Forum section. Fiona Poulton digs into PROV’s public records to recover the significance of the urban streetscape of Little Latrobe Street and Andrew Kilsby tells the story of Thomas Joshua Jackson, the businessman responsible for establishing one of Melbourne’s most iconic pubs, Young & Jackson’s on the corner of Flinders and Swanston streets opposite the Flinders Street Railway Station. Other Melbourne icons, such as Robert Hoddle’s grid plan for the city and drawings of Pentridge Prison, are among the treasures from the PROV collection that feature in Kimberley Meagher and Jill Barnard’s article on their role curating the permanent exhibition at the Old Treasury Building.

And finally, Joan Hunt, who until last year was part of the Ballarat team of PROV, clears up a long-held confusion relating to the business of Campbell and Woolley, and establishes its true location on the Buninyong road.

Sebastian Gurciullo

Editor