Tag Archives: Victoria

Gold Rush Victoria was as wasteful as we are today

The Conversation

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Gold Rush garbage. S.Hayes. Artefact is part of Heritage Victoria’s collection.

Sarah Hayes, La Trobe University

Australians are some of the biggest producers of waste in the world. Our wasteful ways and “throw away” culture are firmly entrenched. We have a hard time curbing our habits.

To understand why, we might turn our attention to the great social and economic transformation that occurred after the discovery of gold (by Europeans) in Victoria in 1851. Archaeological excavations across Melbourne have uncovered masses of rubbish dating back to the Gold Rush era of the 1850s and 1860s.

Artefacts recovered from sites within Melbourne show that the city’s Gold Rush era occupants were incredibly wasteful. You might think that 150 years ago, Victorians would have been thrifty and mended their belongings or sold them on secondhand. But the evidence suggests otherwise.

Working-class people living in Melbourne’s CBD were throwing out so much stuff that the weekly rubbish collections couldn’t manage all their trash. Residents were stockpiling rubbish under floorboards, in hidden corners of the backyard or digging holes specifically for it.

Cesspits (old-fashioned long drop toilets) were closed across the city in the early 1870s, leaving large empty holes in the ground. Residents took the opportunity to fill them with their surplus rubbish. Many of these rubbish dumps remain under current city buildings and have been found and recorded in cultural heritage management excavations.

Excavation of a cesspit in Little Lonsdale Street. Green Heritage Compliance and Research

There were also larger rubbish dumps. At Viewbank homestead, on the outskirts of Melbourne, the tip was so big that archaeologists ran out of time to excavate it. Excavations at the Carlton Gardens have also uncovered a substantial amount of household rubbish dumped in the area by opportunistic city residents and night cart men.

Analysing the contents of all these rubbish dumps, it’s clear that people were discarding dinner sets and replacing them with more fashionable designs, buying and chucking out junk jewellery, and throwing out glass bottles in vast numbers in spite of industrial-scale local recycling operations. Sound familiar? They were even using “disposable” clay pipes, a Gold Rush era equivalent of our disposable coffee cups.

This plate was part of a large set discarded in the tip at Viewbank Homestead, likely because it was no longer in fashion.
S.Hayes. Artefact is part of Heritage Victoria’s collection.

Another surprising find was a rubbish pit dug in the backyard of a draper shop and filled with piles of seemingly perfectly good clothes and shoes. Perhaps they had gone out of fashion? Excess, it seems, is in Melbourne’s bones.

You are what you own

The discovery of gold brought a massive increase in population, new wealth, unprecedented access to a global network of consumer goods and great opportunities for social mobility. No one could be sure of your social background in the chaos of this rapid change. The old working, middle and upper class hierarchy became less relevant and it was possible to move up the social ladder.

How, then, did people communicate their status? Through stuff. Cultural capital refers to how people play the “culture game”: their accent, their clothes, their possessions, their manners, their interests. The argument goes that status is determined by the expression of cultural values and particular behaviours rather than wealth alone.

Dress Circle boxes Queens Theatre. Lucky Diggers in Melbourne 1853. S.T.Gill. State Library of Victoria.

Everyday choices of consumer goods became powerful in carving out a new position and a better life in the new city. Your home, your furniture, your tableware, your drinking glasses, your clothes, all became vital markers of your place in society. You were no longer constrained by your situation of birth.

Melbourne society was reinvented and a new, much larger and more diverse middle class emerged. One that had a new system for determining status based largely on what they bought.

Why do we buy and why can’t we stop?

As a globalised world grapples with the problem of fast fashion, fast consumerism and a throw away culture, with massive landfills and climate change, the question of why we consume is more important than ever.

You might want to consume and waste less. But old habits die hard and it’s important to understand why we consume before we are able to make significant changes to our wasteful habits.

Social mobility might not have the currency that it did in the gold rush era, but we are still purchasing to communicate something. What we buy announces our position in the world and our values. Our possessions place us within one group and distance us from another just as they did in the Gold Rush era.

The ConversationAs the slow movement, anti-consumerism and concerns over sustainability gather pace, a new brand of cultural capital may emerge. A cheap polyester jumper and a disposable coffee cup may become a sign of inappropriate excess. A minimal wardrobe of ethically produced clothes and a reusable coffee cup could become the ultimate marker of status.

Sarah Hayes, Research Fellow in Archaeology and History, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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The Long Haul, Lessons from Public Life, by John Brumby

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

The Long HaulPeople often tell me that I should have gone into politics, and sometimes I think I might have made a good politician, but reading John Brumby’s book The Long Haul reminds me why I never made that choice.  Teaching, especially in disadvantaged schools where you can really make a difference, is enormously satisfying work: it is a privilege to be in a position where the work you do can change a child’s life, and if you are a good teacher, you can feel a sense of achievement many times over in a day.  But politics – as the title of Brumby’s book warns us – is a long haul.  It’s an enormously complex business, inextricably dependent on dealing with people with whom you must find common ground.  For good people who want to make a difference, it looks like a very frustrating job, even when in government instead of Opposition…

The Long…

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Melbourne’s desalination plant is just one part of drought-proofing water supply

The Conversation

Stephen Gray, Victoria University

Water has now been ordered from the Victorian desalination plant. The plant was built at the end of the millennium drought to provide security against drought. But once built, it then rained and rained.

Since then many have seen the desalination plant as a white elephant – an unnecessary expense that has burdened Victoria with debt. Indeed, it seems to have been demonised as something evil.

However, with dry weather over the past two years, water storages have begun to decline, both in Melbourne and particularly in regional Victoria. The desalination plant was built to be used in times of water shortages, and the Victorian government has now deemed it time to order water.

The order is being made to reduce the possibility of water restrictions in Melbourne and to negate the need for Melbourne to take water from the Goulburn system and so allow more water to be made available to localities such as Bendigo and Ballarat.

The cost of drought

Desalination membranes at Melbourne’s desalination plant.
Stephen Gray

It has now been six years since the millennium drought ended and it can be hard for city residents to remember the impact of drought on their lives.

To give one example, we conducted a study on the social impact of water restrictions on sportsgrounds during the drought. This study found that 70% of people used sports grounds, either for organised sport or informal relaxation, and that all users were adversely affected by the drought.

The most severely affected were those at women’s, disabled and junior sporting clubs, which were of low priority for irrigation. These groups were forced either to cancel their activities because of the hard playing surfaces or to reschedule their events and find other locations to play their sport. This became a major disruption to the lives of many people during the 13-year drought.

This was just one way that water restrictions and drought affected our lives. When water storage levels were etched in our minds through public billboards and television weather reports, neighbours were asked to report people who used water contrary to the restrictions, car washes became a growth industry, and communities were parched and brown. I am now enjoying my garden, which has sprung to life in recent years, and will be happy if we can avoid such water restrictions again.

For regional Victorians the impact of drought was greater. For them, the reminders of drought are already to the fore following several dry seasons. Parts of Victoria have received less than 50% of average annual rainfall for the past two years. Farmers are reducing the number of cattle on the land.

Water from the desalination plant will be delivered to regional Victoria via the state’s rivers and pipe networks that make up the water grid.


Some may argue that other sources of water such as dams, storm water harvesting and water recycling would have been better alternatives. However, all require significant investment and none are likely to be fully utilised during wetter periods. This has been one criticism of desalination, but is simply an outcome of reducing risk in a variable climate.

Storm water harvesting is often promoted as being a cheaper alternative to desalination, but a recent water industry article on the cost of such harvesting has estimated costs of A$10-25 per kilolitre (1,000 litres) when used as a substitute for drinking water. This compares to costs of A$2-3 per kL for desalinated water. Turning the desalination plant on adds up to an extra A$12 a year on Victorian water bills.

Perhaps one alternative that is worth considering is recycling waste water for drinking water supplies. This is currently against Victorian government policy, which the two major parties support.

Victoria uses recycled water for irrigation, in toilets and clothes washing, but such schemes require homes to receive water through a second pipe. These second-pipe systems are more costly to build and manage.

Recycling water for drinking avoids these costs, as you simply use the same pipe that supplies water from dams. The technology to recycle water for drinking is also well established and can be delivered to existing homes.

Given Melbourne has access to desalinated water that we are only just starting to use, it is unlikely Melbourne will need to consider recycling water for drinking in the near future. However, regional communities may like to have this option, and I believe this option should be allowed.

Australia’s rainfall patterns are among the most variable in the world, and prolonged periods of dry weather are normal. However, climate change predictions indicate longer, more severe periods of dry weather.

Indeed, one of my climate change colleague has suggested that climate change does not occur in a constant, slow progression, but rather through step changes. If this is the case, then the next drought will be more severe and the need for climate-independent water supplies more pressing.

Faced with this scenario, the desalination plant is a good investment and we should use it when it is needed.

The ConversationStephen Gray, Director of the Institute for Sustainability and Innovation , Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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How to make Australia’s upper houses truly democratic

The Conversation

By Stephen Morey, La Trobe University

The final count for Victoria’s Legislative Council is still some days away, but it appears members elected from micro-parties will hold the balance of power in the upper house. This will be a challenge for the new Andrews government, but is it undemocratic?

Counting is continuing, but as of December 1, the prediction of the result on the ABC website, based on above-the-line votes counted so far was as follows:

The percentages of votes for the parties, compared with the number of seats predicted, were as follows:

 This result appears to be entirely fair, representing the breadth of opinion in the community at approximately the level that those opinions are held. As just under 18% of people voted for non-major parties (including the Greens and the Nationals as “major parties”), in a rather similar result to the Senate in September 2013, it looks like the voters of Victoria have chosen to have a Legislative Council operating in a similar fashion to the Senate.

There is concern that parties with a very small first preference vote can be elected. This does not necessarily indicate the voting system is undemocratic. In an extreme case, the candidate may be the second preference of all voters.

The problem with the upper house voting system in Victoria is that candidates can be elected by “preferences” that are not the deliberate choice of voters. The preferences are being decided by parties and are not known to most of the voters.

These preferences, the Group Voting Tickets, were available online before the election, and some voters may have looked at them. But most people voted above the line and by doing so handed control of their preferences to whichever party they voted for.

Consider the Western Victoria Region. James Purcell, of the Vote 1 Local Jobs Party, received 1.3% of the primary vote and yet he may be elected as one of five members in that region. The quota – the percentage of the vote needed to be elected – is 16.67% (just over one-sixth of the vote). So Purcell has received most of his support from second, third, fourth and subsequent preferences.

That is also true for the ALP ticket’s number two candidate in the Western Victoria Region, Gayle Tierney, who will be elected. Her first preference support was much lower than Purcell’s. She is picking up a higher proportion of her quota from preferences than he is – most of them from ballots for the ALP’s number one candidate, Jaala Pulford.

Both candidates received a small first preference vote and both get elected as a result of other than first preferences. On the face of it, it seems to be equal. The difference, however, is that whereas we can expect most of the people who voted “1” for Labor above the line were aware that their preference would go to the next Labor candidate, most of Purcell’s preferences come from other parties.

Did the voters for Rise Up Australia, No Smart Meters and Australian Christians – all of whose preferences were first delivered to the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and only later to Purcell – really expect Purcell to be the beneficiary of their vote?

Purcell’s election – if it happens – will be entirely in accord with the current law. And it would be entirely proper and democratic if the people who preferenced him had themselves explicitly decided those preferences. So, let’s reform the upper house so that voters do control their own preferences.

This has already been examined for the Senate by the Federal Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. In its interim report, the committee recommended the retention of above-the-line voting but the abolition of Group Voting Tickets.

That means that if you voted just “1” above the line, your vote would go only to the candidates of the party whose box you had numbered. If you wanted to express more preferences above the line, you would have to number from “2”, “3”, “4” – as few or as many as you like – party by party. Voters would explicitly decide the preferences among the parties.

The micro-parties could still recommend to their supporters a certain order of preferences, but they would have to communicate that message by handing out how-to-vote cards or by some other means. And if you didn’t like the order your party was recommending – if for example you were a Greens voter in South-East Metropolitan Region who didn’t agree with putting Palmer United Party ahead of Labor – then you would change the order to match your view.

Those who want to order individual candidates would continue to do so below the line – where currently you only have to number one to five.

These reforms, already suggested for the federal Senate by a cross-party committee, would end the backroom deals and preference harvesting and gaming. The only party preferences that would count would be those expressed explicitly by individual voters. And that’s democracy.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Republished with permission). Read the original article.

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