Month: May 2015

The Drowner – South Fremantle

The Golden Pipeline which brought water to the Western Australian goldfields in 1903, is still considered to be an engineering marvel. The designer and engineer for this project was Charles Yelverton O’Connor and he is one of the historically factual characters in The Drowner.

C.Y. O’Connor was also in charge of constructing Fremantle Harbour and there is an impressive statue of him outside the Fremantle Port building. A much more poignant memorial can be seen at C.Y. O’Connor beach in South Fremantle. It was here on the morning of 10 March 1902 that O’Connor rode on his horse into the surf and drowned. The sculpture, by Tony Jones, is actually in the sea and depicts a rider on his horse.

CY OConnor Memorial


The Drowner – Kalgoorlie 2

The plot of The Drowner is a clever combination of fact and fiction. The novel ends at Mt Charlotte Reservoir when a ceremony is held for the opening of the pipeline which will bring water from the coast. Kalgoorlie had been suffering a terrible typhoid epidemic due to a lack of water and this epidemic is portrayed graphically in the novel. The pipeline was opened on 24 January 1903, in 45C heat, with speeches and a parade.

Mt Charlotte Reservoir is now a tourist attraction in Kalgoorlie, providing a view of the town and the pipeline at the end of its 600km length.

Kalgoorlie view from Mt Charlotte


The Drowner – Kalgoorlie 1

We have been rereading Robert Drewe’s novel The Drowner, which is set mostly in Western Australia. Robert Drewe grew up by the beach in Cottesloe, Perth’s most famous beach, and just a few kilometres from where we live. Several of his novels have a beach setting, and The Drowner also has a watery theme. It begins in the meadows along the Avon River in England and moves via a journey by ship to Perth in the late 19th century, and then on to the parched waterless goldfields 600km inland.

The sort of hero of the novel, Will Dance, grows up along the Avon in England learning from his father who is a drowner, the art of flooding meadows and other secrets of irrigation. He becomes an engineer and comes to WA to join the pipeline project which will pump water inland to Kalgoorlie, a booming gold mining town.

Kalgoorlie is still a gold mining centre with a huge open cut gold mine just a kilometre or so from the main street. And the main street is still lined with impressive buildings from the late 19th century gold rush era.

Kalgoorlie Main Street

West Leederville – Serendipity

Serendipity Books is opposite the West Leederville railway station and we see the shop every time we travel to Perth city centre on the train. We have been meaning to go there for ages and finally called in last week. The shop is an antiquarian and second hand bookstore. Old books line all the walls as far as the ceiling and if you want something in particular you may have to ask the sales assistant to climb a ladder to get it for you.

We settled for looking through the second hand books “on sale” at ground level and found two books by often overlooked Australian women writers – Catherine Spence and Cristina Stead.

Serendipity Books West Leederville WA


Canberra – Magna Carta

The fact that this year is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta was brought to our attention by a fellow blogger who has reviewed the Magna Carta exhibition currently on display at the British Library in London.

There is a memorial beside the Thames at Runnymede where the signing of the important document took place. Not many people know though that Australia also has a Magna Carta memorial. It was a gift from the British Government for Australia’s Centenary of Federation and can be seen in Canberra, the national capital. A self-guided walk that commences at Old Parliament House and includes the Magna Carta monument can be downloaded here.

Magna Carta Monument Canberra


London – Vita Sackville-West

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as mentioned in the previous post, lived for a short while at 180 Ebury Street in London. This section of Ebury Street is now called Mozart Terrace. 182 Ebury Street also had some famous occupants, when Vita Sackville-West lived there with her husband Harold Nicolson early in the 20th century. Both Vita Sackville-West and her husband were accomplished writers, although they now are mostly remembered for the design of the garden at Sissinghurst Castle, their home in Kent, which now belongs to the National Trust.

Sackville West Home London


London – Mozart

The Penguin Little Black Classic No 51, is titled “My Dearest Father” and is a selection of correspondence between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father. The Mozart family travelled extensively in Europe, and in 1764 spent a period in London and lived for a time in Ebury Street. It was there, when he was only eight years old, that the young Mozart is believed to have composed his first two symphonies.

In 1991 to mark the bicentenary of Mozart’s death, a statue of the young musician and composer was commissioned for Orange Square near where he lived in Ebury Street.

Mozart Statue London

London – Pepys

Another Penguin Little Black Classic that we have acquired recently is No 47 – extracts from the diary of Samuel Pepys including the section that covers the Great Fire of London.

Just a little east of the Old Operating Theatre Museum in our previous post is the Anchor Tavern, which has several literary connections. It’s claimed that in September 1666, Pepys viewed the Great Fire of London from this Thames-side pub, which in the diary is described as, “a little alehouse on the Bankside”.

Shakespeare also probably drank at the Anchor, and it was definitely often patronised by Samuel Johnson with a copy of his dictionary now on display inside the tavern.

The Anchor Southwark


London – Keats 2

The poet, John Keats, studied medicine at Guys Hospital for several years from October 1815. He became a licensed apothecary in 1816, but didn’t complete the surgical side of the course and left the hospital in 1817.

You can get some idea of the grim nature of the work of surgeons in the early 19th century, by visiting the Old Operating Theatre Museum. The museum which is just down the road from Guys Hospital, is in the garret of St Thomas church which was part of the old St Thomas Hospital. The operating theatre was built in 1822 and was literally a theatre with seats all round so that medical students could watch operations. Before anaesthetics, surgery undertaken there depended on the swift work of the surgeon, to save the patient as much pain as possible. And because the instruments and equipment were never cleaned, patients would often die from infection.

The museum has an extensive display of surgical equipment and other items including an apothecaries box that belonged to Keats.

Old Operating Theatre London