Sunday, July 31, 2011

Birrarung Marr

Birrarung Marr is a 8.3 hectare park on the north bank of Yarra River, besides Federation Square. It is named in the Woiwurrung language of the indigenous Wurundjeri people, with Birrarung meaning "river of mists" and Marr refering to the side of the river.

Ironically, this site was not on the "side of the river" known by the original inhabitants. The Yarra River flowed through what is now the Botanic Gardens and the ornamental lake there is part of the original river. In the 19th century, the European colonists altered the course of the Yarra River for flood mitigation, thereby creating a new artificial channel flanking the current Birrarung Marr.


Originally a marshy site, it was designated for park or ornamental purposes by the colonial government in 1856. However, several institutions including a morgue had already been established there. More were still developed and facilities including the old State Swimming Centre remained until the late 20th century. The first rail line crossed the area in 1859 and railways eventually occupied most of the space between Melbourne's CBD and the Yarra River. At the end of the 19th century, the Yarra River was straightened, widened and deepened, with tree-lined avenues created along the built-up banks.

In 1992, the Kennett State Government initiated a program on developing central Melbourne, the centrepiece being the building of Federation Square. The infrastructure and land near Federation Square was reorganized. This includes the clearance of the Jolimont railyards and diversion of Batman Avenue away from the river bank to connect to Exhibition Street. These works enabled land to be reclaimed from the former rail yards and roadway, thereby allowing the creation of Birrarung Marr.

The park construction began in 2000, with the City of Melbourne providing $15.6 million to design and build the park and the State Government funding the railway rationalization and site clearance. This park was formally opened to the public on Australia Day, 26 Jan 2002, a hundred years after the last major inner city park, Alexandra Gardens was completed in 1901.

Park Design

Birrarung Marr was envisaged as an active, urban space, catering for community festivals, changing sculpture exhibitions and major events such as Circus Oz and the Moomba Waterfest, while providing for passive recreation at other times. The park is a part of the Capital City Trail, providing a continuous walking and bike path along the Yarra River as well as linking the city centre to the sports precinct (MCG and Tennis Centre) in the south-east. It had received the Walter Burley Griffin Award for Urban Design in 2004.

The design team, which included then City of Melbourne landscape architects Ronald Jones and Helena Piha, and consultants Taylor Cullity Lethlean, Paul Thompson and Swaney Draper, has been disappointed, even annoyed, by the way the park has developed, such as its use as a showgrounds and an event space with the installation of permanent artworks, reducing flexibility of using the space (Ref 1).

Three Level Terraces

Map showing the 3 terraces and various features of Birrarung Marr.
Click on each placemark to view the detail.

View Larger Map
You can download a map of Birrarung Marr here.

Birrarung Marr was designed as a series of 3 levels open terraces. A large expanse of finely-ground gravel is found on the Lower or River Terrace, which follows the curve of the Yarra River in an easy, level walk from the Princes Bridge to the Swan Street Bridge. The gravel surface serves to cater for major events and to carry the large amount of foot traffic to and from the sports precinct.

 Birrarung Marr Park - Lower Terrace 03

The other two terraces have grassed surfaces, although according to the original plan, they were to be forested with trees to provide a place for city workers to visit at lunchtime in the same way they use the Flagstaff and Treasury gardens (Ref 1).

The Middle Terrace, which is on the eastern side adjacent to Batman Avenue, is a functional event space, often the site of temporary facilities for major events at the Melbourne Cricket Ground or Melbourne Park.

 Middle Terrace A

The Upper Terrace is on the northern side at the same level as Flinders Street, about 10 metres above the river bank. Various Melbourne landmarks such as Victorian Arts Centre's spires, St Paul's Cathedral and Rialto Tower stand out among the city skyscrapers when viewed from the Upper Terrace.

 Birrarung Marr Park - Federation Square

The terraces were constructed using excavated wastes and basalt boulders from the building of nearby Federation Square, Vodafone Area and rail lines. A long ramping footbridge, designed by architects Swaney Draper, links the 3 terraces and provides disabled access. It leads past the Federation Bells to the William Barak Bridge.

The 3 terraces are designed so that each can be individually fenced for gated events, leaving the other areas open to the public.

The shaping of the terraces together with the lining of the drainage channels between them with River Red Gums evoke the billabongs once found on the site. The linear paths and bridge structures also suggest the railways that dominated the site through much of Melbourne's history. The park's open spaces are largely shielded from nearby traffic, and the park is remarkably quiet and peaceful given its proximity to major roads and railways.

Federation Bells

Located in the Middle Terrace, this is a collection of 39 inverted temple-style bells, ranging in size from a small handbell to a 3.5 tonnes bell, mounted on steel poles 2 to 6 metres high. The size of each bell determines its pitch, and collectively the pitch ranges over 4 octaves. The bells are spread through an open space, allowing people to walk between them. By walking among the bells or listening to them from up to 100 metres away, visitors have different aural experiences of the music.

 Federation Bells A

The Federation Bells were commissioned by the Victorian government in 1998 to celebrate Australia’s Centenary of Federation in 2001. They were designed by Neil McLachlan, Ronald Jones and Anton Hasell in collaboration with Swaney Draper Architects.

The bells are struck by computer-controlled hammers programmed to play 7 different 5-minute compositions written by 7 local composers. This sound sculpture plays three times daily at 8-9 am, 12:30-1:30 pm and 5-6 pm. Here is the performance calendar for the past compositions (up to 22/01/2011). In 2008, the City of Melbourne launched a cool and innovative website that allows you to hear each bell virtually and compose music using an intuitive drag-and-drop timeline. You can also submit your own tune for consideration.

Eminent scientist and Australian of the Year (2000) Sir Gustav Nossal launched the Federation Bells installation on 26 Jan 2002. In 2005, the poles were structurally upgraded to ensure their longevity. In 2010, the BBC and Lonely Planet have nominated Federation Bells as one of the world's top 10 public art (Ref 2).


This sculpture of a 10 metres tall, multi-headed, three-legged llama-like creature was the work of ceramics artist Deborah Halpern who set out to make a sculpture that was “wild, whimsical and colourful”. More than 4000 individually cut and hand-painted tiles were fixed to its concrete and steel armature. It was originally installed in the moat in front of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in 1988 but was relocated to her present location in 2005.

Angel A3

William Barak Bridge

This bridge is named after William Barak, a Wurundjeri diplomat, negotiator and artist who was a powerful leader and advocate for his people. As a child, William Barak witnessed the signing of a treaty between the indigenous leaders and Melbourne’s founder John Batman.

It was officially opened in December 2005 for the Commonwealth Games in March 2006. It links the CBD to the sports precinct, offering expansive views of the city. Up to 9m wide and 525m long, the bridge also gives lift access to the ground level precinct and the Number 70 tram.

Speakers Corner

The Speakers Corner, formerly known as Yarra Bank, was located in the south-eastern corner of Birrarung Marr. It played a significant role in Victoria’s social and political history between 1890 and 1960s. This was used as a location for public lectures, protests and demonstrations - one of the few public spaces in Melbourne where large public assemblies and speeches were allowed without a prior permit. In 1916, demonstrations against conscription drew crowds of up to 50,000 people. In 2000, the National Speakers Association of Australia erected a commemorative plaque, comprising 4 low-lying, stepped pink-granite outcrops inscribed with quotations by artist Evangelos Sakaris, to honour all those who, throughout history, have informed the public on matters of interest and concern.

Birrarung Marr Speakers Corner
Photo uploaded to Wikipedia by Tirin

The site was most attended during periods of upheaval and struggle, such as during World War I, the Depression and the 1940s. The orators used to stand on 9 bluestone-faced granite mounds to address the crowds. Colourful characters like Chummy Flemming had their own mounds and he eventually had his ashes scattered there. You can still see the remaining mounds, of which 3 had been moved and reconstructed among the mature, heritage-listed elm trees at the western side of the site.

Barbecue facilities and public toilets can be found near the Speakers' Corner.


This is a children's art centre and gallery converted from a red brick railway building remaining from the Jolimont railyards. ArtPlay opened in 2004 and runs a range of artists-guided creative art workshops for children, which often extend into an adjacent children's playground featuring tube slides, sand pits, swinging hammocks, activity panels, rock and rope climbing features and balance beams. ArtPlay is open to the public on weekends and during school holidays and works with schools during weekdays.

Birrarung Wilam

This installation, meaning "River Camp", is an environmental art project made up of several interrelated elements that celebrate the physical and spiritual connections between indigenous people and place. This was created by indigenous artists Vicki Couzens, Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm. The philosophy underlying the work is gulpa ngawul meaning "deep listening'. It celebrates the diversity of Victoria’s indigenous culture, particularly those of the Wurundjeri and Boonwerrung, through public artworks' interpretation of local stories.

The central component of the work, the mound campsite or puulwuurn, is a contemporary recreation of a sitting place - an element central to Aboriginal cultural life. A winding, textured pathway recognizes the significance of the eel as a traditional food source for groups camped by the river. A performance space is enclosed by large rocks incised with animal drawings and closer to the river, a semi-circle of metal shields represents each of the 5 groups of the Kulin Nation.

On the outside southern wall of the ArtPlay building are silver touch panels, resembling possum skin cloaks, featuring audio recordings of indigenous people telling their personal stories.

Eel Trap

This sculpture by Fiona Clarke and Ken McKean is based on the design of a traditional indigenous eel trap. The steel sculpture is painted red and engraved with indigenous designs. A local food source, eels were once trapped close to this site, near the shallow waterfalls that used to exist downstream, separating the freshwater of the river from the salty water of the bay. Eel Trap was commissioned by the City of Melbourne in 2003.

Giant Sky Wheel

Former premier Jeff Kennett whose government was influential in the design of Birrarung Marr described the Ferris wheel as an eyesore, likened it to a ''piddly Meccano set'' and believed it should be shifted elsewhere so as not to tarnish the park (Ref 3).


In addition to the mature elms along the river bank and at Speakers Corner, about 200 new trees were planted in the park during its construction. Unlike the water-thirsty European style gardens south of the river, Birrarung Marr was planted with hardy natives that require little watering. Cyclads (Macrozamia communis), Gymea Lilies (Doryanthes excelsa) and Pineapple Zamia (Lepidozamia peroffskyana) were planted on the embankment overlooking Speakers Corner.

melbourne cricket ground

The park ecological sensibilities are reflected by the design of the gullies to catch and filter the water from the large runoffs and to return them to the aquifer. The soak and the gravel area perform a similar function.


Friday, July 29, 2011

The Performance Paradox

I am going to bust the myth of some people perceiving the Altona commuters as merely a group of whinging protesters over the inconveniences brought about by the train timetable and operational changes in May.

During the last Altona Loop community meeting that I attended a few days ago, participants had given due credit where improvements had taken place. Except for some occasional hiccups, the peak hour Laverton trains (running between City and Laverton) both in the morning and evening peaks appear to have performed pretty well, meeting punctuality expectations. The performance is sometimes so remarkable that I had missed my trains a few times due the train arriving and departing Westona 1-2 minutes earlier than scheduled.

As I am taking peak hour trains, I do not have much personal experience with the interpeak services. For those who are not aware, there is an active community group focusing on public transport issues in Altona and an associated Facebook group. Anyone can join this group which has members who are not residents of Altona. From posts made in this Facebook group, I gather that interpeak services have greatly deteriorated compared to the past. There were many instances of missed connections at Newport, late shuttle trains or late connecting trains, resulting in considerable lengthening of the journey times during interpeak hours. The journey time of commuters travelling between Altona and Werribee has also doubled compared to the old timetable.

The most logical improvement exercise in the next timetable restructuring is to discard what is not working and to adopt what has proven to be working in reality. If we follow this line of logical reasoning, Metro should extend the peak hour Laverton train services (what are working) all the way into the interpeak period to replace the shuttle services that are apparently failing. If the Laverton services are working well for a lengthy two hours between 7 and 9 a.m., there is no reason why this arrangement would not behave likewise if it is extended beyond 9 a.m. for one hour, 2 hours or all the way into the evening peak. The beauty of this solution is that it does not require additional trains and manpower since 6-carriage trains are used for the shuttle services and one driver will still operate each train.

Those who are more philosophical however may question the apparent mismatch between what they have rationalized and what have actually happened. We know there are far more train passengers during the peak hours compared to the interpeak period. VLine trains which use the same tracks as metropolitan trains also run far less frequently during the interpeak. One would expect the train system to cope much better and hence providing more reliable services during the interpeak period, which is much less busy relative to peak hours in terms of patronage and train frequency. The reality is manifested as an enigma in which the outcomes are reversed and contradict commonsense reasoning.

Why not put aside all doubts and focus on a result-oriented approach. Replace all interpeak shuttle services with Laverton trains. This arrangement will be a win-win outcome for both Metro and the Altona commuters. Not only does it remove the miseries of those Altona commuters using the interpeak shuttle services, it also helps to improve the performance targets of Metro!

Have your say and cast your votes in this poll:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mapping Ballieu Public Transport Promises

I am reproducing the following content with permission from pt4me2, which has mapped the public transport promises made during the 2010 election campaign by the Baillieu team. Promises not mapped include:
  • Feasibility studies for rail extension to Rowville from Hungtingdale ($2 million), Doncaster Line, Melbourne Airport Rail Link and Avalon Airport Rail Link.
  • High speed rail access advocacy unit ($4m).
  • Independent Public Transport Development Authority ($10m).
  • 940 fully trained Victoria Police Protective Services Officers.

Click on each placemark/icon on the map to view the detail of each promise

View DRAFT: pt4me2 map of Ballieu public transport promises in a larger map

The majority of the above mapped promises are improvements (such as grade separations) to level crossings. I do not know why this map did not include the New Street level crossing in Brighton that was recently reported in the media (Ref 1), as this was apparently made as an election promise.

Other promises include the building of two new train stations, one at Southland Shopping Centre on the Frankston Line and the other on the Hurstbridge Line between Eltham and Diamond Creek Stations on Allendale Road, and the upgradings of Frankston, Ringwood and Syndal train stations.

With information from the Australian Level Crossings Assessment Model Report produced by the Department of Transport in 2008, I have modified the pt4me2 map a bit by including the assessed priority ranking that was recommended for each level crossing. Read my post on the rankings here. The New Street level crossing in Brighton/Hampton mentioned earlier was ranked 223 in priority (Ref 2).

As you can see from the map above, the spread of the promises is eastern-centric. Only one promise was made for the western/northern suburbs - the grade separation of Main Road at St Albans. This is despite 11 out of the top 20 level crossings requiring upgradings being located in the western and northern suburbs (refer to Table 1 in this post).

It is not surprising that in an interview with ABC 730 on 18th Mar 2011, demographer Bernalt Salt and Melton Council Mayor, Councillor Justin Mammarella expressed their concerns over the insufficient attention placed on rail developments in the western suburbs. The Transport Minister Terry Mulder had also given his response in this interview.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Melbourne Level Crossings Priority Ranking

The Department of Transport had published a Level Crossings Assessment Report in 2008, based on the Australian Level Crossing Assessment Model (ALCAM) which identifies risks at railway crossings and provides the basis for prioritizing crossings for upgrade.

Table 1 below shows the Top 50 level crossings assessed for priority upgrading. You can click here to view the rankings for all the 1872 level crossings assessed for Victoria.

Table 1: Top 50 Ranked Level Crossings for Upgrade

RankStreetSuburbRisk Score
1Springvale RdNunawading14648
2Springvale RdSpringvale9783
3Mitcham RdMitcham8140
4Main RdSt Albans6280
5Furlong RdSt Albans5020
6Bell StCoburg4646
7Werribee StWerribee4540
8Clayton RdClayton4183
9Macaulay RdKensington3687
10Bell StPreston3686
11Glenroy RdGlenroy3617
12Grange RdCarnegie3578
13Cherry StWerribee3574
14Union RdSurrey Hills3448
15North RdOrmond3349
16Aviation RdLaverton3249
17Blackburn RdBlackburn3019
18Buckley StEssendon2948
19Old Geelong RdHoppers Crossing2948
20Mc Gregor RdPakenham2886
21Riversdale RdCamberwell2882
22Ferguson StWilliamstown2870
23Lower Plenty RdRosanna2783
24Station StFairfield2681
25Murray RdPreston2590
26Station StCarrum2502
27Centre RdClayton2480
28Seaford RdSeaford2446
29Moreland RdBrunswick2394
30Heatherton RdNoble Park2376
31Charman RdCheltenham2369
32Clyde Rd (Berwick-Cranbourne Rd)Berwick2314
33Toorak RdKooyong2257
34Hallam RdHallam2140
35Swanpool AvChelsea2137
36Racecourse RdPakenham2130
37Koornang RdCarnegie2117
38Webster StDandenong2069
39Tooronga RdMalvern2042
40Chandler RdNoble Park2022
41Station StBonbeach1994
42Skye Rd (Overton Rd)Frankston1913
43Keon PdeKeon Park1895
44Gaffney StCoburg North1870
45Sth Gippsland HwyDandenong1869
46Kororoit Creek RdAltona1854
47Maidstone StAltona1840
48Scoresby RdBayswater1839
49Anderson RdSunshine1760
50Webb StNarre Warren1741

Table 2 shows the number of metropolitan Melbourne suburbs with at least 3 level crossings that are ranked in the top 300 crossings for priority treatment. Altona and Brunswick top the list, each with 8 level crossings in the top 300.

Table 2: Suburbs with 3 or more level crossings in Top 300 ranking

SuburbNo. of Level Crossings
Port Melbourne4
Dandenong South3
Noble Park3

Table 3 shows the 8 Altona level crossings that were assessed, their priority ranking, locations and respective risk scores.

Table 3 - Details of the Altona Level Crossings

RankStreetLocation on Train LineRisk Score
46Kororoit Creek RdNewport-Laverton Track1854
47Maidstone StNewport-Laverton Track1840
109Maidstone StAltona Loop660
151Kororoit Creek RdAltona Loop251
199Millers RdAltona Loop100
216Pier StAltona Loop68
235Grieve PdeAltona Loop43
238Civic PdeAltona Loop42

Monday, July 25, 2011

Metropolitan Transport Forum

The Metropolitan Transport Forum (MTF) is a local government interest group for transport in metropolitan Melbourne. Established for 18 years, MTF now comprises 22 city councils or LGAs from metropolitan Melbourne and 25 associate members from the transport sector, environment groups and the State Government.

Most of Melbourne's metropolitan city councils are members, including our western neighbours of Wyndham, Maribyrnong, Brimbank and Moonee Valley. Those councils that are not members include Hobsons Bay, Maroondah, Monash, Melton, Greater Dandenong, Cardinia, Knox, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Ranges. Interestingly, Hobsons Bay is the only inner/middle Melbourne LGA not in the group. There may be good reasons (such as cost-effectiveness considerations and goal complementarity) behind the decisions of these city councils to stay outside the group, for which I will not have known.

The associate members include the Department of Transport, Metro Trains, Yarra Trams, Bus Association of Victoria, Metlink, the PTUA (Public Transport User Association), etc. The full list of members can be viewed here.

The objectives of MTF, as described on its website: "The MTF endeavours to promote effective, efficient and equitable transport in metropolitan Melbourne by providing a forum for debate, research and policy development, and by disseminating information to improve transport choices." From the "About MTF" page, what interests me the most among the various Membership Benefits is the "Opportunity to influence decision making at state level".

MTC had launched in early 2007, a Public Transport Research and Advocacy Project, pt4me2, whose objective is to give the community a channel to have a say about public transport in Melbourne. It has a website, mobile site, blog, Facebook group, YouTube channel, twitter feed and email list. pt4me2 is funded by local councils while PTUA (Public Transport User Association) is a community group but both have common aims, often working together to advocate for public transport.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

World's 50 Most Delicious Foods

CNN Go had recently conducted a Facebook poll on the World's 50 most delicious foods. The result is tabulated below. You can view the original listing here.

To be honest, this is the first time that I have heard of some dishes' name from this list. The United States has the most number of dishes in this list (5), followed by Thailand (4). Britain, Canada, Mexico, Italy and Japan each has 3 dishes. Germany, India, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Singapore each has 2 dishes. China only has 1 dish, Peking duck ranked at No. 5. It may have gained its international reputation by being a favorite food of President George Bush Senior. According to my wife, not many people in China are fans of this dish. It is something people will eat occasionally but not craved for frequently.

I believe taste preferences are culturally biased and there is no universally agreed list of most delicious dishes. Hence, this list is mainly for entertainment purpose and do not be too upset if your favourite food does not appear in this list.

1Massaman curryThailand
2Neapolitan pizzaItaly
5Peking duckChina
7Penang assam laksaMalaysia
8Tom yum goongThailand
9Ice creamUnited States
10Chicken muambaGabon
12Shepherd’s pieBritain
13Corn on the cobGlobal
14DonutsUnited States
15Kalua pigUnited States
16Egg tartHong Kong
19Nam tok mooThailand
22Brownie and vanilla ice creamGlobal
25Butter garlic crabIndia
27Montreal-style smoked meatCanada
29Ohmi-gyu beef steakJapan
30Goi cuon (summer roll)Vietnam
31Parma hamItaly
33Fish ‘n’ chipsBritain
34Maple syrupCanada
35Chili crabSingapore
36Texas barbecue porkUnited States
37Chicken parmAustralia
38French toastHong Kong
39KetchupUnited States
41Stinky tofuSoutheast Asia
42Buttered toast with MarmiteBritain
45Chicken riceSingapore
46Som tamThailand
47Seafood paellaSpain
48Potato chipsUnited States
49Masala dosaIndia
50Buttered popcornUnited States

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Newport Disconnectivity

There are a few times that I need to take an inter-peak Altona Loop shuttle train and change at Newport for a connecting train to the City.

I am always appalled at how low Platform 1 of Newport is compared to the train's floor. I could not help holding back a while every time I make that steep step from the platform to the train. My heart goes to those not physically agile who may find crossing between the platform and the train an arduous activity.

I had come across some train stations where a "chasm" exists between the platform and the train so wide that a misstep could land your leg in the gap. In fact, my wife had a frightening experience of the pram wheels caught in the gap at Footscray station. If not for the help from fellow passengers, the consequence could be disastrous. She is so traumatized that she no longer wishes to risk bringing a pram to Footscray station. I could not imagine how my wife could negotiate the sharply unequal level between Newport's Platform 1 and the train's floor on her own if she would to travel with a pram on board an interpeak shuttle train.

If such a structural rail hazard exists in Singapore (where I originally came from), it would have caused much public disquiet and immediate attention from the authorities. Here, it seems to depend all on the responsibilities, carefulness and alertness of individuals to ensure that their physical safety are not being compromised. It is not surprising that we often hear of rail accidents from the newspapers (Ref 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12). In Singapore, the casualties are more a case of suicide rather than the result of an accident.

I do not know about Platform 2. But I believe raising Platform 1 at Newport to a safe level will be beneficial to all passengers, whether they are using Newport for connections or as a destination.

Anyone requiring assistance on and off the train can call Metro on 1800 69 63876.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Last Train from Mobiltown

Related article: Altona Rail History

While writing the post on Altona Rail History, I discovered a song called "Last Train from Mobiltown" composed by Broderick Smith, an Australian singer-songwriter, harmonica, guitar and banjo player. I searched for the lyrics online to no avail. But I did manage to find the website and email address of Broderick Smith. He kindly provided me the lyrics. I wish I could provide a link to this song but it appears this song is not hosted anywhere online. I myself would be curious to listen how it sounds like. Here is a video clip of another song by him.

Update: When I searched for this song on 22/4/2014, I found out it is now on YouTube.

Here is a little background about Broderick. He was born in Hertfordshire, England and migrated with his family to Australia in 1959, initially settling in St Albans. Apart from his music career, he has various jobs, as a clerk, storeman, soldier, advertising copywriter, graphic artist and actor.

The song came about due to a brief work stint that Broderick was engaged in. His friend was seeking workers for his wooden toy factory located in an industrial complex near the Mobiltown train station. Hence, Broderick went to work there for a few weeks, making toys.

The station was a raised gravel embankment. The train did not actually stop at the station so the passenger had to half run next to it and jump on or jump off. This would have been great training for hobos (migratory workers) hopping freight trains during the depression.

Here is the lyrics:

Listen to the train go rolling free
Breaking the chain between this town and me
Gasoline rainbow in the sky
Over the fields where the dead cars lie

Last train from Mobiltown
Last chance to go
Last train goes rolling down
Through Refinery Row

The way I feel I’m covered in rust
In these pillars of steel
You do what you must
So dream on dreamers I’m slipping away
If you don’t understand
I’ve got nothing to say

chorus 4 bars drums

Racing the whistle as the train pulls in
Jumping the thistles where the fields begin
Chasin the laughter as the train rolls by
A figure in blue against a burnin’ sky

Last train
Last train from Mobiltown
Last train
Last train from Mobiltown

The song invoked Broderick's memories of Altona in the early sixties. Reproducing his impromptu artistic creation (please note this is not a song) from the email:

Ah Altona !
Seaweed and oil mixed together in one pungent blast.

Ah Altona!
Lying in bed as a teenager in St Albans on a summer night and smelling Altona wafting through the bedroom window like the smell of hell.

Ah Altona!
Where us folk from St Albans would swim among the flotsam and jetsam in the hottest summer days.
And the Altona sea water would cut through the industrial grime on our bodies like draino.

Ah Altona!!
Dim sims, soy sauce and beach sand mixed together still reverberates in my soul.

Broderick Smith's website:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Altona Rail History

This post covers the rail development in Altona between Newport and Laverton in a chronological order. The stations (current or demolished) in this stretch include Hatherley, Williamstown Racecourse, Mobiltown (Standard Oil Platform), Paisley, Galvin, Altona, Altona Beach, Seaholme and Westona.

In 1854, the first steam train in Australia ran from Melbourne to Sandridge (Port Melbourne). Three years later in 1857, the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company built the Geelong Line, the first Victorian country line between Geelong and Greenwich (now Newport). As the company lost money on this line, it was taken over by the Victorian Government in 1860 and it became part of Victorian Railways.

Map showing the locations of existing and former train stations.
Click on each train icon to view the detail of the train station.

View Altona Train Stations in a larger map

  • Train services were brought to Altona to service the Williamstown Racecourse (now Altona Coastal Park).
  • The first Williamstown Racecourse Station opened on 26 Dec 1860 on the main Newport - Geelong Line.
  • As with Flemington Racecourse trains, special services ran from Spencer Street (now Southern Cross) to Williamstown Racecourse Station during races until 1935 when they were altered to run from Flinders Street.

  • The racecourse station was relocated south, much closer to the racecourse with the opening of the Altona Line as a 1.1 km branch from Geelong Line on 6 Apr 1885.
  • The Altona Line was described as "the shortest railway line in the Colony, maybe in the world" (Ref 1).

  • The Altona and Laverton Bay Freehold and Investment Company was subdividing land southwest of the racecourse.
  • To attract buyers, the company built a private railway from Williamstown Racecourse station to Altona Station at Pier Street, which started carrying passengers on 8 Sep 1888 (Ref 1).
  • On 9 Nov 1888, the line was extended to a station Altona Beach, 1 km west of the current Altona station and just east of Lilly Street (now Grieve Parade). The line possibly continued to rejoin the Geelong Line between Galvin and Laverton stations where the formation and bridgework were prepared for constructing a station called "Edinborough" (Ref 1).
  • The company provided a twice-daily six days a week passenger service via a self-propelled steam railcar which connected with a Government-operated train at the Racecourse station that ran to Spencer Street (Ref 1).

  • Passenger services ceased on 14 Aug 1890 due to poor property sales.
  • A station called Hatherley near to where the Altona Line branches off (3.2 km from Newport and 0.4 km from the later Paisley) was built in 1890. It opened on 14 Feb 1890 but closed a few years later on 30 Jun 1897.


  • In 1895, the Hosie's syndicate opened a mine just past the "Altona Beach" platform near the present Wren Street. The Company hired a steam locomotive from Victorian Railways for hauling coal between July 1895 and March 1896.

  • In 1906, Victorian Railways reached an agreement with the then owner of the line, Mr. W.H. Croker, to stable trains on the line during race meetings.

  • A loop siding existed beside the Altona platform for a number of years, and in 1909, a siding was extended west towards the site of Westona station, serving the Altona Coal Mine (now Harrington Square), which was operated by the Melbourne and Altona Colliery Company. Trains ran as required from Newport to bring in supplies and take out coal.


  • Trains were used to bring in Army personnel to the camp at Altona.

  • From 17 Nov 1917, the new landowner Altona Beach Estates operated a limited service over the Altona Line on behalf of Victorian Railways, with the line terminus altered to the current Altona station, which is also the location of the first Altona station. This station adopted the name "Altona Beach".

  • Seahome station opened on 26 Jan 1920, between Williamstown Racecourse and Altona Beach. The name came from a winning entry in a competition held by Altona Beach Estates (Ref 1)
  • Electrification of the Altona Line was commissioned on 27 Aug 1920.

  • Altona Beach Estates incurred losses on the Altona Line every year, so by the 1920s sought to dispose of the railway. It handed the line free of charge to Victorian Railways on 1 Oct 1924, in return for waiving of its debts and for the line remaining as part of the suburban system.

Photo from the 4 Oct 1926 issue of The Argus

  • Electrification of the Altona Line was completed on 2 Oct 1926.
  • Galvin station opened on 17 Aug 1927 on the main Geelong Line near the Maidstone Street level crossing to service the residential areas in Altona to its south.
  • Paisley station opened on 14 Oct 1929 on the Geelong Line, besides the Millers Road level crossing.

  • Altona Beach station was renamed to its former name "Altona".

  • The Williamstown Racecourse was closed after World War II but it was not until 22 May 1950 that Williamstown Racecourse station ceased operating with its overhead equipment and sidings removed. Today the remains of a few stanchion bases can be seen beside the current line to Altona.

  • “Standard Oil Platform” opened on 9 Nov 1953 to serve the workers at the adjacent Vacuum Oil Company and the Broun Trans-World Construction company.
  • It was renamed to Mobiltown on 1 Jun 1954 after the Vacuum Oil Company adopted “Mobil' as its trading name.
  • It was made a public platform on 7 Sep 1958 with most trains timetabled to stop there.

  • With the duplication of the Geelong Line, Galvin station was rebuilt in 1965 as an island platform located between 2 tracks, southwest of the Maidstone Street level crossing.
  • Paisley platforms were rebuilt in 1967.

  • An overpass over Millers Road adjacent to Paisley station was built in 1973, with a new pedestrian subway to access the station.
  • A bus interchange and a park and ride car park was built sometime between 1973 and 1983, on the other side of Millers Road.

  • In 1980, the Victorian Transport Study recommended the closure of the Altona branch.
  • In October 1981, all off-peak and weekend services were replaced by buses and some morning peak services were cut.
  • By July 1982, the weekday off-peak services were restored.
  • In December 1982, the Ministry of Transport produced the report "Public Transport Study, Altona/Williamstown", which considered 5 options for the line (no change, reintroduce weekend and evening services, abandon line, extend line to Westona, extend line to Laverton).

  • The last two options were implemented, with the Altona Line extended to a new station named Westona on 21 Jan 1985 and then to Laverton on 11 April 1985.
  • Westona was opened by then Minister for Transport Steve Crabb. Like Seaholme, the name "Westona" came from the winning entry in a council-run naming competition and was suggested by Alan and Betty Angus to mean "West of Altona".
  • The extension was 4.4 km long and provision was made for future duplication. Three routes were considered. The shortest route was chosen over the other two routes which required additional embankments over the retarding basins. Five roads were closed and two new level crossings were constructed at Maidstone Street and Grieve Parade.
  • The under-patronized Mobiltown, Paisley and Galvin stations were closed when all Werribee trains were re-routed along the Altona loop line.
  • Mobiltown station was closed on 18 Jan 1985 and its platform was removed with no remains visible today. Australian singer-songwriter, Broderick Smith sang about the "Last Train From Mobiltown" on his group's 1981 album Broderick Smith's Big Combo.
  • Both Paisley and Galvin stations were closed on 14 Apr 1985.
  • The island platform of Paisley remains today, though overgrown. The subway was filled in at an unknown date, with the remains of the northern ramp being demolished in 1994 when the adjacent Standard Gauge line was built. The bus interchange and car park remain today, though seeing very little use by passengers.
  • The Galvin platform was removed and tracks through the station were realigned for 130km/h running in the early 1990s with the introduction of the Sprinter railcars. Today only a wide gap between the tracks remains of the station.


  • In February 2011, Hobsons Bay City Council lodged an application with Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder to request Altona Station be renamed to Altona Beach Station, in a bid to rebrand Altona as a premier bayside suburb, to attract visitors from outside the western suburbs and to more closely align the station with its beachside location (Ref 2, 3). History has come full circle.
  • In May 2011, Hobsons Bay City Council wrote to Transport Minister Terry Mulder asking him to consider reopening Paisley and Galvin stations to relieve parking pressures at Laverton (read this) and Newport, to reduce local road congestion and to encourage more people, particularly from Altona North near Paisley, to use public transport. This plea was rejected by the State Government in July (Ref 4).


Monday, July 18, 2011

Our Food Thief

We cook separate unsalted meals for our one and a half year old son. It is a relief that he is easy to feed - he has a big appetite and does not refuse any type of food. I learn that many parents are not that fortunate and are having great headaches trying to make their kids consume food or take balanced meals.

One day, my wife discovered that he sneaked to the kitchen, climbed up a chair and was helping himself to the leftover "adult" food on the dining table. My wife caught him munching broccoli and the sight was hilarious.

Another time, we visited a friend's church and had joined the afternoon tea gathering after the service. We were busy engaging in conversations and did not realize that my son had made his way to the food table and was busy squeezing cakes into his mouth.

Now, we have to place our food higher so that it is not within reach of our son!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

DIY 2.0

When my microwave oven first broke down more than a year ago, I got a shock when I was quoted the price for the repair. It would cost $100 just for an initial inspection to find out what is wrong. If the repair shop determines that the oven is beyond repair, the $100 will be gone down the drain and I could possibly pay a lot more for a complete repair. Plus the trip taken, petrol and time consumed, it is actually more worthwhile to get a brand-new oven. However, I just could not accept this as the microwave oven is just a little more than a year old and it is a popular brand.

My wife began researching on the internet and found a Youtube video clip teaching viewers how to repair a microwave oven. She managed to fix the oven, which was working fine for more than a year before it relapsed recently. Of course, she got the oven working again with her acquired repair skills.

Microwave Oven Repair

I am thankful that we have now video sharing sites such as YouTube, where you can find tutorials on everything conceivable under the sun, ranging on how to set up a mice trap, how to cultivate ranunculus to how to eat vegemite (video link).

Recently, there is even a video in which an enterprising Chinese man demonstrates how to assemble an iPad look-a-like using computer parts, a touch screen and a case with a keypad - a gospel to those who desperately want the gadget but cannot afford it (Ref 1).

The creation of this video reflected the current craze that China has with iPad. Earlier on, a teenager had sold one of his kidneys for 20,000 yuan (A$3170) so he could buy an iPad 2 (Ref 2). There are fake Apple stores that look so like the real that even their employees are duped into believing they are working for Steve Jobs (Ref 3).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Fourth Estate

The fourth estate refers to the profession of journalism, specifically the Press. It is derived from the old English idea that there are 3 estates: the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and the House of Commons. A modern democracy is based on the separation of power between 3 branches: the legislative (elected parliament), the executive (the government) and the judicial (the courts), which serve to check and balance each other.

The notion that the Press is the fourth estate rests on the idea that the media's function is to act as a guardian of public interest and as a watchdog on government activities (Ref 1). It is seen as having a central role in ensuring accountability in the democracy by revealing the detail of debate in the political process and investigating the interests various positions in that debate serve (Ref 2). Thus, it is an important component of the checks and balances that form part of a modern democracy (Ref 1).

The fourth estate concept confers on journalists soft power, that is, it places them inside the political process yet outside the institutions of governance (Ref 2). Herein lies the danger of this power. Can we fully trust the media to play the important role as envisaged for the fourth estate, without it being subjected to some sort of regulation?

There is no doubt that the media wield great influence in shaping the opinions of the general public, to the extent some people take what are being reported in the media as gospel truths. Few people will go to validate the accuracies of the reports. The lack of accessibility to the sources further compounds the difficulty of verification.

It is imperative that media should be accountable, responsible, ethical, free from bias and prejudices, in view of its increasing stature and influence. Media moguls have become so powerful that Prime Ministers and PM wannabies sought them instead of the other way round (Ref 3). According to this New York Times article, the News Corporation has historically used its newspapers to shape and quash public debate, routinely helping to elect prime ministers with timely endorsements while punishing enemies at every turn.

The profit-driven business model of private media enterprises and the consumer nature of news reporting has made it difficult for media to remain as independent, neutral commentators, free of self-interest and political agenda. The increasingly blurring of line between mainstream and tabloid journalistic practice is in particular a worrying trend.

The current phone hacking scandal leading to the closing of News of the World, the 168-year bestselling British tabloid,has brought the media under public scrutiny. Up to 4000 people in the U.K. had been targeted for hacking (Ref 4), including Prince William (Ref 5) and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who alleged the Sunday Times had employed "known criminals" to impersonate him and illegally access his financial, phone and legal records as well as his son's medical records (Ref 6). Media watchers and former journalists say the practices used by the News of The World were common across the industry (Ref 7). Hence, this could be a widespread problem rather than confined to isolated cases.

The crisis had spread across the Atlantic to the United States where the FBI opened a case on 14th July to investigate claims that the News of the World hacked into voicemails of victims of the 9/11 attacks (Ref 8).

The repercussion appears to be heading down under, where the Australian government is considering supporting a Greens proposal for an independent inquiry that would include media ownership laws, newspaper self-regulation, journalist ethics and opinion masquerading as news (Ref 9).

This inquiry would have come at a handy time for the government which is frustrated by the manner News Ltd covered a series of issues, including climate change and the national broadband network. Government adviser Professor Ross Garnaut had lambasted media reporting of climate change. He said "The science is good, the media bad, the situation worse." (Ref 10) He said much of the reporting had been "about the crudest and most distorted discussion of a major public policy issue in my long experience of Australian public policy". "I could give you dozens of examples,'' he said. ''Facts are ignored, the rules of logic violated and it is rare for people professing strong opinions to go back and look at the documents on which they have commented." (Ref 11) Cate Blanchett was attacked by News Ltd for appearing in an advertisement that supports carbon tax just because she would have no problem paying the tax due to her wealth (Ref 12, 13, 14).

However, the notion of the fourth estate still has its appeals. The New York Times' columnist, David Carr credited the unique function of newspapers themselves for bringing out the story. He said, "how did we find out that a British tabloid was hacking thousands of voice mails of private citizens? Not from the British government, with its wan, inconclusive investigations, but from other newspapers." (Ref 15)


Friday, July 15, 2011

The Stromatolites of Shark Bay

I was watching a Chinese TV documentary on the evolutionary history of the Earth's atmosphere a few days ago. The highlighting of the significance of Shark Bay in Australia in the show caught my attention. I told my wife I did not know such an extraordinary place exists in Australia and I guessed that it may be located in Western Australia. My intuition turned out to be correct after checking Wikipedia.

Shark Bay is a World Heritage Site in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia, located about 800 km north of Perth, on the westernmost point of Australia. In the south of the bay at Hamelin Pool, you can find unique structures called stromatolites that resemble a cross between a cauliflower and a rock. However, unlike rocks they are alive. Each stromatolite has a top surface layer teeming with colonies of single-celled microbes called cyanobacteria. Each square metre of surface can pack at least 3,000 million cyanobacteria. The cyanobacteria produces sticky mucus which traps sediment and reacts with calcium carbonate in the water to form thin laminations of limestone. These laminations accrete over time, resulting in the banded pattern common to stromatolites.

The stromatolites at Shark bay are significant because they represent a major stage in the Earth’s evolutionary history. Though they are just 2,000 to 3,000 years old, the cyanobacteria that build them are similiar to life forms found on Earth more than 3.5 billion years ago during the Precambrian period when life was created. In fact, cyanobacteria was the predominant form of life on early earth for more than 2 billion years, spanning the first 7/8th of the history of life.

The atmosphere of the early Earth had a different composition, comprising primarily of methane, ammonia, water, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide, and phosphate, with molecular oxygen and ozone either rare or absent (Ref 1).

Cyanobacteria were the first organisms with photosynthetic abilities. By releasing oxygen through photosynthesis, they were instrumental in creating the Earth's atmospheric oxygen. The released oxygen first combined with soluble ferric iron that was present in vast quantities in the Archean oceans. Ferric iron was oxidized to ferrous iron and became precipitated out as a solid (rust), forming Banded Iron Formations (BIFs) which are another form of stromatolites. The banding is assumed to result from cyclic peaks in oxygen production. Excess oxygen was only released into the atmosphere after the supply of oxidizable surfaces ran out.

The rising oxygen levels may have wiped out a huge portion of the Earth's anaerobic inhabitants at the time, in what is termed the Oxygen Catastrophe. Cyanobacteria, by producing oxygen, were essentially responsible for what was likely the largest extinction event in Earth's history. Additionally, the locking away of carbon dioxide in stromatolite limestone reefs and the combination of free oxygen with atmospheric methane triggered the Huronian glaciation, possibly the longest snowball Earth episode ever. The entire or almost the entire Earth's surface became frozen in ice (view video), with the equator as cold as modern day's Antarctica. The Earth seemed destined to be locked in this cold state perpetually as the ice surface would have reflected sunlight back to the atmosphere, preventing any chance of warming.

The saviour came in the form of volcanic eruptions, which emitted large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thereby leading to global warming. The eventual melting of the snow and ice covering most of the Earth's surface took place fairly quickly, as short as a 1,000 years.

The thawing and creation of a modern atmosphere powered the Cambrian explosion, characterized by the relatively rapid appearance of most major phyla and evolution of the aerobic forms of life.

Click here to watch a video on stromatolites.

Stromatolites in Shark Bay
Photo of stromatolites by Paul Harrison and uploaded to Wikipedia

At Hamelin Pool, there is an interpretive boardwalk for tourists to venture out and examine the stromatolite structures. I hope I can visit the place one day.


  1. Stromatolites of Shark Bay
  2. Stromatolite Fossils - The Oldest Fossils encoding the mysteries of Deep Time
  3. Wikipedia article on Stromatolites

Monday, July 11, 2011

4 Degrees or More?

The U.K. organized a 4 Degrees & Beyond Internatonal Climate Conference in 2009. A 4 Degrees or More? Conference, featuring a who’s who of climate scientists including chief government climate change adviser Professor Ross Garnaut, will be held in Melbourne from 12-14 July 2011. Drawing on the best available science, the conference will explore what a warming of 4 degrees or more means socially, ecologically, economically and politically for Australia and its region.

The revolving of discussions around 4 degrees celsius is due to scientists' prediction that global temperature will rise by 4 degrees or more by the turn of the century. This is based on the assumption that every country does as it has promised, including Australia's achieving its soft target of 5% annual greenhouse gas reduction by 2020 (Ref 1, 2).

Climate sensitivity is a measure of how much the mean global surface air temperature will increase with a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide over its pre-industrial level. This value is estimated, by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report, to be in the range 2 to 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C. It is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C and values substantially higher than 4.5°C cannot be ruled out.

Figure 1 - Roe and Baker, Science 2007

The above figure by Roe and Baker shows that the probability distributions of climate sensitivity based on various models are all very similiar, with a long tail to the high side. In other words, there is considerable probability of reaching a higher global temperature, in which 6 degrees celsius or higher is possible.

 Carbon dioxide emissions scenarios
Figure 2 - Image created by Robert A. Rohde / Global Warming Art

IPCC has come up with 6 emission scenarios (A1FI, A1B, A1T, A2, B1 and B2) for projecting possible future climate change. The A1 scenarios are of a more integrated world, characterized by:
  • Rapid economic growth.
  • A global population that reaches 9 billion in 2050 and then gradually declines.
  • The quick spread of new and efficient technologies.
  • A convergent world - income and way of life converge between regions. Extensive social and cultural interactions worldwide.

There are subsets to the A1 family based on their technological emphasis:
  • A1FI - An emphasis on fossil-fuels (fossil intensive).
  • A1B - A balanced emphasis on all energy sources.
  • A1T - Emphasis on non-fossil energy sources.

With our reliance on fossil fuels, we currently fall within the worst case scenario A1F1, represented by the red curve in Fig 2 above and whereby 2 doublings of carbon dioxide emissions will occur by 2100. Under the worst-case scenario of 6 degrees Celsius rise per doubling (Fig 1), a 12 degrees warming is not inconceivable.

In fact, a 12 degrees warming is a scenario painted by Steven Sherwood of the University of New South Wales, and Matthew Huber of Purdue University in a 2010 paper published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

Purdue University graphic/Matthew Huber

Map B above shows the current maximum wet-bulb temperatures for various regions on Earth. Wet-bulb temperature is equivalent to what is felt when wet skin is exposed to moving air. It includes temperature and atmospheric humidity and is measured by covering a standard thermometer bulb with a wetted cloth and fully ventilating it.

The researchers calculated that humans with an internal body temperature of 37 degrees Celsius, will experience a potentially lethal level of heat stress at wet-bulb temperature above 35 degrees Celsius sustained for 6 hours or more. Although temperatures above 38 degrees Celsius are common, they are normally associated with low humidity, which allow perspiration and cooling. Really high wet-bulb temperatures are rare and are now only recorded in places such as the coastal areas of Saudia Arabia where winds occasionally bring extremely hot, humid ocean air over hot lands, which fortunately are short-lived today.

Purdue University graphic/Matthew Huber

Map F above shows the maximum wet-bulb temperatures reached in a climate model from a high carbon dioxide emissions future climate scenario with a global-mean temperature 12 degrees Celsius warmer than 2007.

A 12 degrees Celsius rise would put half of the world's population in an uninhabitable environment indicated by purple/pink/white colours on the map (with above 35 degrees Celsius wet-bulb temperature). It includes most of Australia, India, eastern USA, inland Brazil and Latin America, tropical Africa and portions of northern China.

A Wikileaks cable revealed that Australia's top intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments, believes south-east Asia will be the region worst affected by climate change by 2030, with decreased water flows from the Himalayan glaciers triggering a ''cascade of economic, social and political consequences'' (Ref 3). ''South-east Asia faces wild monsoons variations, with effects on littoral infrastructure, agriculture, marine currents and fish stocks. Coastal cities to be hit by subsidence and rising sea levels.''

The agency assessed China as potentially the biggest loser in the melting of the Arctic ice which reduces river flows, leading to international confrontations among states sharing the Mekong system.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Altona's Place in Australian Aviation History

Hobsons Bay and the Altona Laverton Historical Society celebrated the 100th year of aviation history in Altona this year.

Altona has been claimed as the birthplace of Australian aviation (Ref 1). Apart from hosting many successful public demonstration flights, Australia's first cross-country flight, first passenger and first chartered flight all took off from Altona.

The successful powered flight of the Wright brothers on 17 Dec 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, United States marked a new era for mankind. Within a few years, aviators were travelling around the world, showing the general public the wonders of their new flying machines. However, most arrived in Australia as showmen, arriving and leaving a place within a day or so and therefore did not leave behind lasting impact. The famous escapologist Harry Houdini was one such visitor who made Australia's first successful powered flight in his Voisin biplane on 18 Mar 1910 at Diggers Rest. It was left to those who made Altona the base of their early flights to make a dramatic and significant impression on Victorian history and society.

Gaston Cugnet – Blériot Flights

In November 1910, Gaston Cugnet, a French aviator, brought his Blériot Monoplane to Australia and made Altona his base. With a single set of wings, a long slender body and a tail, the 28-feet long, 550-pound Blériot resembled a mammoth dragonfly. It was powered by a 25 horse-power Anzani engine and had 2 running wheels and a third wheel out towards the back.

Video of Blériot Monoplane by audlm

At this time, Altona's population was not more than 50 people living in 15 houses spread between Seaholme and Rose Street. The wide open spaces made Altona a most suitable location for experimental flights.

On 15 Nov 1910, Cugnet made his first successful flight from Altona Estate (probably from a flat grassed area between the rail line and Queen Street and west of Pier Street), reaching a height of almost 200 feet and travelling a distance of about 6 miles in 7 minutes. However, on landing, he bumped into a cow with more damage to the plane than the cow.

The Most Thrilling Sight of Modern Times

Cugnet decided to hold a public flight demonstration on 26 Nov 1910 at Altona. He advertised the event as the “Most Thrilling Sight of Modern Times" which attracted about 3ooo visitors. Trains ran from Flinders Street to Williamstown Racecourse Station (near the present Altona Coastal Park) and a steamer service from Port Melbourne. The return train fare including admission was 45 cents and by steamer 35 cents. Cabs charged 20 cents to drive visitors from the train station to the aerodrome, which was 2 miles away. A wide reserved space between Altona House and a row of trees, was named the ViceRegal Reserve. Admission to this was charged at one guinea per person, limited to 100 persons. But as there was no one to prevent it, the crowd climbed through the barriers.

The event was attended by Federal and State MPs and the then Acting Prime Minister Billy Hughes (Australia 7th PM) who christened the monoplane "The Australia" . He said that France had led the way in aviation, as it had in motoring. Cugnet and other Frenchmen beamed. Mr. Hughes then smashed a bottle of champagne, poured over himself and splashed the monoplane with a few drops. The crowd cheered enthusiastically.

At 5.40 p.m., the monoplane was wheeled out to the paddock. Cugnet appeared amidst the cheers and climbed onto the plane. There were cries of "He's off?" But he was not. He sat quietly in his seat, while the members of the committee stood around the machine discussing the wind. It had been slight all afternoon but was now growing into upsetting gusts. "Let her go" suggested the crowd. It was expected that the wind would lull in the early evening so both Cugnet and the committee were prepared to wait. The crowd became impatient and began to talk about getting their money back and missing their train or steamer.

The committee decided to set the engine going to show the machine at work. The crowd misunderstood that the plane was about to take off. When it was realized that no flight was intended, the anger broke forth afresh. For the safety of the machine, the committee formed a cordon while the police on horseback drove the people back.

At 7 p.m., when it was clear that the wind would not moderate, the machine was wheeled back amidst jeering to its canvas hangar. Cugnet said in a letter to the Melbourne press: "It was almost regrettable that the wind was so strong that any attempt to fly would have been to risk serious injury to the only machine - it is important to note we have in Australia. My Blériot machine carried only a 25 h.p. Anzini engine, which is not strong enough to fight against squally winds such as prevailed at Altona on Saturday. Had I gone on Saturday, the motor, which must be slowed down when landing, would have left me at the mercy of the wind, and a smash would have been inevitable. I am not a showman. I have come to Australia with three confreres to establish a school of aviation. It may be some consolation to Saturday's visitors to know that at exhibition flights in Europe, visitors frequently wait right through a day in the expectation of a flight, which even then is not always certain."

The disappointment of the crowd was summed up in a report in the Advertiser: "Well if this wind can stop a flying machine, nobody but a Frenchman would get excited about such an invention”.

J. J. Hammond - Bristol Boxkite Flights

Word must have spread through aviation circles that Altona was a most suitable location for experimental flights because just 3 months later, another aviator Joseph J. Hammond arrived who was destined to make history.

He was sent on a mission by his employer, the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company (Bristol) and arrived in Perth on 13 Dec 1910 with 2 Bristol Boxkites each fitted with a 50 horsepower Gnome engine. He made a successful flight over Perth on 6 Jan 1911, after several postponements due to windy weather. Later flight failures also due to the wind, led to hostile demonstrations. The mission moved to Melbourne in January 1911, hoping to interest the Commonwealth Government in purchasing planes for military reconnaissance. If successful, the company would establish a factory in Melbourne to build the planes.

Video of Bristol Boxkite by audlm

The party selected the site at the rear of Altona House as their flight headquarters. At 6.42 a.m. on 18 Feb 1911, Hammond undertook his first Victorian flight before a small crowd which included Major H. C. Foot of the Royal Australian Engineers, sent by the Australian Chief of the General Staff, Brigadier-General Gordon. Hammond flew over Williamstown and then to the joy of train commuters, followed the Geelong Express Train. Turning north, he flew over Sunshine before returning to Altona where he glided down and made a perfect landing only 20 yards from the spectators. Hammond was in the air for 31 minutes up to a height of 3000 feet and had travelled over 20 miles.

Major Foot was very impressed and advised that the Minister of Defence would come and watch a flight. He also suggested purchasing 4 planes and employing 8 trained aviators and 10 mechanics. It was not until 2 years later in 1913, after the visit of the Defence Minister to England, that the Commonwealth Government ordered 2 Bristol Aeroplanes to start the first flying school at Point Cook.

First Cross Country Flight

Hammond announced that he would attempt a flight from Altona to Geelong on 20 Feb 1911, taking his wife along as passenger. At 5.59 a.m., he took off for a test flight and his wife waited on the ground, ready to accompany him. Hammond flew to 4000 feet and finding conditions good for flying, decided to fly straight off to Geelong leaving his wife behind at Altona. She went to Geelong by car.

JJ Hammond
Photo of J.J. Hammond from Flight Magazine scanned by Flightglobal Archive

Hammond followed the railway line to Geelong and landed on the Geelong Racecourse, taking 55 minutes to cover 42 miles. On the following day at 6.15 a.m., he headed back for Altona. Soaring over the City of Geelong at great height, he crossed Corio Bay in a direct line to Altona where he landed 50 minutes later, after covering 39 miles. He changed the engine overnight and next morning at 7 a.m., he flew to Sunshine and back to Altona over a distance of 25 miles.

First Passenger

Another "first" accolade was achieved when Hammond flew around Altona for 12.4 miles with his wife as a passenger on 23 Feb 1911.

JJ Hammond Flight at Altona 01
Hammond taking his wife as the first passenger, source: Flightglobal Archive

One of his mechanics, Frank Coles, was his passenger on the next short flight. They ventured further, flying over Williamstown, Port Melbourne, St. Kilda, Albert Park, Government House, the Exhibition Buildings, Bourke Street and Spencer Street for 28 minutes.

First Australian Passenger

This achievement had generated widespread publicity and it was inevitable that other interested parties would seek to experience the thrill of being taken aloft in a powered machine.

On 2 Mar 1911, two new records were established. A Melbourne businessman, M. H. Baillieu, paid to be taken for a flight. This was the first paid charter flight and the first carrying an Australian citizen as a passenger. Hammond took another businessman, W.J. Knox, as a passenger on a flight later in the morning.

Hammond Public Flying Demonstrations

Hammond held public demonstrations on March 3 and 4. On 3 Mar 1911, a special train carrying 60 passengers left Central Station at 5.50 a.m. and another 60 came from Port Melbourne by the steamer Williamstown. The steamer passengers saw the plane rise above a clump of pine trees, fly south, then turn back at low altitude and land as they arrived at the flying field. By this time, there were 400 spectators. Wasting no time, Hammond restarted the engine and again took to the air. The machine rose but began circling at a low altitude and was seen to sink into a field near the mine. The plane chugged again, went over a hedge and half flying and half running along the ground came to a standstill. An examination showed that the engine had a broken inlet valve. So as not to disappoint the crowd, the engine was removed and replaced with another which was being cleaned. This engine "sulked" but after being lubricated with oil, Hammond was able to set off on a fourth flight and for 6 minutes engaged in the most intricate manoeuvres, never above 200 feet. An even larger crowd, estimated at more than 500, came to watch the demonstrations the next morning.

Both Hammond and his manager, Mr. Smith, were disgusted by the many wealthy people present who refused to pay the small charge asked. The poorer people paid and expressed their satisfaction with the display.

On 8 Mar 1911, a staff member from "The Age" was taken aloft and his enthusiastic impressions were recorded in a whole column of the paper. After this flight, the party moved to a 640 acres paddock near the Albion railway siding. Public demonstrations followed as well as numerous other flights before Hammond moved on to New South Wales where Hammond first flew on 2 May 1911.

Commemorative Ceremony

A small boy named Harry Rigby cycled all the way from the other side of Melbourne to visit the flights in 1911. He returned as a well known artist in September 1969 and presented the Altona Historical Society with a painting of the historic flights in 1911 as he remembered it. The gift was made during the ceremony to unveil a historic plaque on a shop front in Pier Street by the then Air Minister, Sir Donald Anderson. The plaque erected by the Altona Historical Society commemorated the flights and Altona's unique place in aviation history.

It is a well known fact that it was largely as a result of the publicity surrounding these pioneer flights from Altona that the Government became intensely interested in both the establishment of an air base and its location in the same general area. It was from a combination of these factors and the deteriorating international scene that it purchased two Bristol aeroplanes and selected Point Cook as a base which became operational in 1914.

Acknowledgement - I wish to thank the Altona Laverton Historical Society for providing materials from which this post is based on.