Monday, February 23, 2015

The Melbourne Cable Trams 1885 – 1940 by Jack Cranston.

The Melbourne Cable Trams 1885 – 1940 by Jack Cranston. Hardcover book published by Craftsman Publishing 1988, 132 pages with black and white photographs and illustrations as well as a few coloured photographs.

It's hard to imagine a public transport world without Trams. Unlike a lot of other cities here in Australia, and around the world, Melbourne was one of those places where Trams were hung on to as a viable means of shifting people around. For as long as I can remember Trams were usually the best way of getting from A to B, particularly the closer you got to the city centre. Sure, trains were and are often quicker, but there is the whole waiting time aspect... that is unless you live in a marginal electorate and have trains every 9 minutes!!!

Here in Clunes we have a train...that is, one train a day. There are a few buses that arrive and depart sporadically enough for me not to get my head around their timetables and of course there is the phone a neighbor scenario, which involves calling a neighbour/friend and asking kindly if they could pick you up from the nearest metropolis (Ballarat). There are no trams here in Clunes.

The first time I encountered a cable tram was in a museum. Yes, the Melbourne Museum (… it's in Melbourne...) has a cable tram in it's collection. On first view it seemed to me to be an olde worlde tram of a vintage design which is not that unusual a thing to find in a museum. Reading the word 'cable' I didn't at first get the gist of what 'cable' meant. Trams have cables, I knew that. It was only on reading the display a little more closely that I realised the cables weren't cables as I know them (aerial power cables) but rather mechanical cables under the road. Yep, these cables moved large and long distances with the trams grabbing the cables when they wanted to go forth. I found this to be quite shocking and for some reason, very Fred Flintstone. I guess this is why the tram was in the museum as it is something that was once the norm but is now a little unusual.

Since finding out about this method of tram propulsion, I have started to notice vintage ex tramways buildings at various locations around Melbourne which were obviously where they had the machinery pulling the cables. It's an interesting part of the history of transport here in Australia and one that could easily be forgotten... which is why this is such a great book.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Turf and Heath: Australian racing reminiscences by Samuel Griffiths.

Turf and Heath: Australian racing reminiscences by Samuel Griffiths. Hardcover book (no dust jacket) published by A.H. Massina & Co. 1906, 262 pages with some black and white photographs and illustrations.

A few years ago I was in the midst of negotiating the purchase of a large collection of mainly railway magazines from a rural historical society (… it's a long story) when for some long forgotten reason one of the historical society members recounted a rather interesting anecdote regarding the original local horse racing track ledger (1880s?) which was in the historical society's possession. It was an item that they were reluctant to part with, but one which they believed would be of minimal use to their mostly genealogical research. That is until one of the local horse racing aficionados discovered that the ledger existed. The historical society has a library which as you can imagine is full of irreplaceable items of all sorts... including the racing ledger... and is therefore not a lending library. I can't remember exactly why, but it was decided that just this once they would let the book out of their collection and into public hands for a short period only. The book was returned intact a few days later by the very appreciative borrower.

In itself this is not that exciting a story, but it is a story that left an impression on me. The ledger was something that most people would find incredibly boring... myself included. It's a list of names of long forgotten horses racing on a country race track in the middle of what would then have been nowhere. The historical society couldn't really see how it would be of interest, but due to it's historical nature had decided to preserve it. It was only when it was discovered by that one very interested local person, that they realised the historical value of what they had.

It was with this anecdote in mind that lead me to not hesitate in picking up this history/reminiscence of the early days of Australian horse racing. Sure many horse racing fans would find more use in a more recent form guide, but there are those who are interested in a more in depth history of what is a rich tradition here in Australia. Maybe it is just the one guy, but somehow I think there may be more around.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A History of Bunyips: Australia's Great Mystery Water Beasts by Josie Flett.

A History of Bunyips: Australia's Great Mystery Water Beasts by Josie Flett. Paperback book published by Free Spirit Press 1999, 84 pages with black and white photographs and a few black and white maps.

An authentic history of the terrifying and mysterious creature which once haunted the creeks and billabongs of Australia. Accounted for in Aboriginal legend, described by the early settlers and then dismissed by scientists unable to ascribe a suitable theory, the Bunyip remains today as a colourful and intriguing character out of Australia’s past.”

In the not so distant past (2 days ago) at around dusk one evening, I was adventuring in a remote area of Victoria's central goldfields (100 metres from where I now sit) when I stumbled across an isolated body of water (… actually the creek that runs through the middle of town). Not really a large lake, but more like a big damn and sort of big enough for a small row boat... but too small for a small sailing boat... you can't water ski on it. So there I was when out of the water jumped a massive beast that for want of a better term I would describe as being a Bunyip... or maybe it was a big dog having a swim... Now that I think about it, it did look more like a Wallaby... and it wasn't in the water... but at the time and in the half light it was Bunyip like... even though I have no idea what a Bunyip should look like... it was next to the water which is where Bunyips are supposed to live.

So what is a Bunyip?

The bunyip, or kianpraty, is a large mythical creature from Aboriginal mythology, said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks,riverbeds, and waterholes. The origin of the word bunyip has been traced to the Wemba-Wemba or Wergaia language of Aboriginal people of South-Eastern Australia. However, the bunyip appears to have formed part of traditional Aboriginal beliefs and stories throughout Australia, although its name varied according to tribal nomenclature. Wikipedia

Yes it is difficult to see a myth and I guess that is why I personally haven't seen a Bunyip or any another mythical beasts and also why the Wallaby that I saw was actually a wallaby and not a Bunyip. I do like the idea that there are those who can comfortably assert that they have seen myths. It's a brave path to travel and this book is a collection of those paths regarding the elusive* Australian Bunyip. The information is mainly historical and I think that what brought this book to my attention is that it is not that often that I find stand alone books about Australian Great Mystery Water Beasts / Myths.

… and you never know, maybe I'm wrong about that Wallaby. Children beware.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Stockhausen: Life and Work by Karl H. Worner

Stockhausen: Life and Work by Karl H. Worner. Paperback book published by Faber & Faber 1973, 270 pages with some black and white photographs.

The aim of this book is to present the non-technical ‘background’ to Stockhausen. Background it must remain, for there can be no foreground but the music—a music whose understanding and enjoyment presupposes nothing that can be learnt through words. Yet this is by no means a monochrome or indistinct background. For one thing, the characteristic ideas expressed by the composer encompass many areas of thought, both concrete and abstract. For another thing, Stockhausen never for long remains unconscious of the need to find outlets for his creative will, and it is with such a will that he wields his words; rarely content merely to describe or merely to argue, his verbal style becomes a direct form of expression, often seeking out and exploring regions quite its own. And finally, there emerges from this ‘background’ a kind of spiritual biography, revealing the most striking contours in the mentality of an artist whose energetic pioneering has never blighted his musical sensitivity.” From the introduction.

Yep, Stockhausen was a real barrel of laughs. ...but then again, I don't think that he ever passed himself off as a being a funny sort of guy and if you've ever listened to any of his work I think most of you will agree that it is fairly intense stuff and not really a barrel of laughs... The introduction above comments that Stockhausens music is “a music whose understanding and enjoyment presupposes nothing that can be learnt through words”. I think this means that if you read this book you will learn nothing and that only a listen will give you an idea of what this bloke was all about. So have a listen...

I've listened and enjoyed Karlheinz's work for many years now and I've even attended a live performance of his tape music* here in Australia. I guess you could say that I have an appreciation of his work, or at least some of his work. A friend passed on a CD of his Helicopter String Quartet a number of years ago and I can honestly say I have only ever listened to it the once. I found the concept whilst intriguing just that little bit too absurd for my appreciation... and I didn't think it sounded that great either.

So when I found a book about “one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries”, I couldn't resist picking it up. Not that I thought it would initiate a buying frenzy amongst my customers, particularly considering the large rips to the front cover which look like someone has removed a large price sticker or some such adhesive. No, this was more of a cultural purchase. Often I buy this sort of stuff on a misguided hunch that there is some interest, somewhere. The truth is I have no idea if a slightly dated and worn book about Mr Stockhausen is of interest to the wider book buyer public... but it should be.

* A live concert mix of multichannel sounds, originally recorded by the man himself