Nicole D


Nicole D

Nic is based in the Discovery Centres. Once a historian of urban life in Ancient Rome, she is now researching urban life in 19th & 20th century Australia. She's also a photographer, traveller and student of Shaolin kung fu.

A golden morning

by Nicole D
Publish date
29 January 2011
Comments (8)

Have you ever looked down at the footpath in Melbourne's CBD and wondered about those 20cm round bronze plaques that seem to lead a trail through the city? Well, they are the path of the Golden Mile Heritage Trail. This walking tour explores Melbourne's buildings, laneways, streets, characters and history from its beginnings through to modern times. And, on a beautiful sunny Melbourne morning last week, I went to discover what it was all about!

The tour started at Federation Square, on the intersection of Swanston and Flinders Streets, one of Melbourne's liveliest spots for over 150 years. Our tour guide set the scene for the rest of the walk, describing the history of the buildings around us. From the 1852 gold rush era St Paul's Cathedral on one corner to the famous Young & Jackson's pub of 1861 opposite; from the Federation era opulence of Flinders Street Station of 1910, to the ultra contemporary public spaces of Federation Square, this intersection provides a physical snapshot of the city's history.

Sandridge Bridge Sandridge Bridge
Image: Nicole Davis
Source: Museum Victoria

We next walked along the Yarra talking about how Melbourne was built up around this spot from its beginnings as an Aboriginal meeting place to the coming of Europeans to today. We chatted about some of the characters in the city's early history, such as John Batman, John Pascoe Fawkner and Robert Hoddle, and how they shaped the city. Our guide also pointed out interesting sites like the outlet for the creek that runs under Elizabeth Street and the Sandridge Bridge. This Bridge was originally a railway bridge and was the line that took immigrant passengers from Port Melbourne to Flinders Street Station before embarking on a new life in Australia. Now a pedestrian bridge, its sculptures and text panels explore the waves of people,from Melbourne's Indigenous inhabitants onward who have crossed the river on this spot.

Immigration Museum was next, where the tour officially starts. I turned tour guide for a few minutes, guiding our guide through the Immigration Discovery Centre and explaining what we do here.

We then meandered through some of my favourite sites in Melbourne - its laneways! I got to pop my head inside the Mitre Tavern and found out the fascinating history of the Savage Club, plus discovered a new spot I hadn't previously known about and will definitely be popping back to. Rutherglen House is an 1850s bluestone residence/warehouse located on Highlander Lane. Today it's still a private residence!

After our little laneway exploration, we wandered up Collins Street discussing the progress of Marvellous Melbourne and the boom and bust of the 1880s to 1890s. Despite the many modern office blocks that I always feel characterise Collins Street, there are actually a surprising number of buildings from the 1870s to 1900 period that survive. There are some fabulous opulent buildings like the Gothic ANZ bank building on the corner of Elizabeth Street and the adjoining Stock Exchange. I also really enjoyed seeing the way the 1890s Rialto and Winfield buildings have been incorporated into the Intercontinental Hotel and Rialto Towers.

Rialto Building from Collins Street Rialto Building from Collins Street
Image: Nicole Davis
Source: Museum Victoria

The tour ended another hour later with some of Melbourne's famous arcades: the Block Arcade from the 1890s; Howey Place, next to which the famous Cole's Book Arcade was once located; and the controversial Capitol Arcade, developed in the 1960s.

As you can see the tour was densely packed and I could write reams on more of the great stories that our guide had to impart. He was amazingly knowledgeable, gave fabulous detailed accounts, and brought to life Melbourne's history for me. Most of all, he answered my constant questions with good grace and love of his subject. As a student of urban history, it was a fascinating insight and a great opportunity to talk with someone who had an in-depth knowledge of these places. If you want to get to know Melbourne, whether you're a visitor or a local, I highly recommend going on one of these walking tours.


A song for Phar Lap

by Nicole D
Publish date
23 November 2010
Comments (6)

At Discovery Centres we don't just receive enquiries that seek information from the museum. We also have intriguing information passed onto us by members of the public that helps with our research and further fills out the background stories surrounding our collections.

This is one such gem, a poem about Phar Lap entitled Phar Lap comes home, which we received from a lovely lady in Bendigo whose brother sent it to her over 50 years ago. She was hoping it would be of interest to us and that we might be able to use it:

Where the thoroughbred immortals
Graze in pastures evergreen,
And the steeds of song and story
Feel the touch of hands unseen.
There’s a whining [whinny] in the distance
and a pawing at the gate
As the big stout hearted Phar Lap
Joins the legion of the great.

Where the horses famed are ranging
Over acres rich and fine
And the coats of turfdom’s monarchs
In the brilliant sunlight shine
There’s a snorting in the shadows
And a pricking up of ears
Another racing stalwart
On the borderline appears.

In the thoroughbred Valhalla
Where the bravest hearted go
And there aren’t any seasons
When the blue grass doesn’t grow
Where’s there no fierce grind of training
And no further stakes to win
There’s a stirring in the paddock
As another canters in.

In the paradise of horse flesh
Where the gamest of the game
Frolic through an endless summer
Done with glory and with fame
Where no barriers spring upwards
And no turmoil fills the air
Carbine, Redleap and Brovo
Turn and see the “Red Flash” there.

Up beyond the eyes of mortals
Where there is no muddy track
Where there are no gruelling stretch runs
And no added weight to pack
Where the kings of far flung ovals
Play and scamper as they will
There’s a neighing as the great hearted
Phar Lap gallops on the hill.

Where there are no culls or “cast offs”
And no spineless “also rans”
Where the horses have a record
Treasured by the racing fans
There’s a pawing and a neighing
Where the lion hearted roam
And a whining [whinnying] of welcome
Phar Lap “big Red” has come home.

'The Record Breaker, Phar Lap, Greatest of all Race Horses', New Century Press, 1932, by Jack Spinty
'The Record Breaker, Phar Lap, Greatest of all Race Horses', New Century Press, 1932, by Jack Spinty
Source: Museum Victoria

Many poems were written about Big Red after his death, including a number in the Museum Victoria Phar Lap Collection. But a quick internet search revealed only a couple examples of this particular poem online, which have slightly different details. One person commented on the Cyberhorse Forum that it was published in the New York Sun after Phar Lap's death but, even after searching historic Australian newspapers online via Trove, I still didn't come up with any further information. As more resources are digitised we might find out more about this and perhaps even who wrote it. Can anyone out there shed any further light on the poem?

About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.