TOWN LIFE IN AUSTRALIA.
R. E. N. TWOPENY,
OFFICER D'ACADEMIE DE FRANCE, AND LATE SECRETARY TO THE ROYAL COMMISSION FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA AT THE PARIS, SYDNEY, AND MELBOURNE EXHIBITIONS.
LONDON: ELLIOT STOCK, 62, PATERNOSTER ROW, E.C.
The following work was originally written as a series of letters; but the epistolary form has only been partially retained. As it has necessarily been carried through the press without communication with the writer, who is now in New Zealand, errors may possibly have been committed, for which the editor rather than the writer is responsible; it is hoped, however, that these will not be found numerous.
A WALK ROUND MELBOURNE SYDNEY ADELAIDE HOUSES FURNITURE SERVANTS FOOD DRESS YOUNG AUSTRALIA SOCIAL RELATIONS RELIGION AND MORALS EDUCATION POLITICS BUSINESS SHOPS AMUSEMENTS NEWSPAPERS LITERATURE, LANGUAGE, AND ART
A WALK ROUND MELBOURNE.
Although most educated people know that Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide are populous towns, I should doubt whether one Englishman, who has not been to Australia, out of a hundred realizes that fact. I well remember that, although I had taken some trouble to read up information about Melbourne, I was never more thoroughly surprised than during the first few hours after my arrival there. And I hear almost everyone who comes out from England say that his experience has been the same as my own. In one sense the visitor is disappointed with his first day in an Australian city. The novelties and the differences from the Old Country do not strike him nearly so much as the resemblances. It is only as he gets to know the place better that he begins to to notice the differences. The first prevailing impression is that a slice of Liverpool has been bodily transplanted to the Antipodes, that you must have landed in England again by mistake, and it is only by degrees that you begin to see that the resemblance is more superficial than real.
Although Sydney is the older town, Melbourne is justly entitled to be considered the metropolis of the Southern Hemisphere. The natural beauties of Sydney are worth coming all the way to Australia to see; while the situation of Melbourne is commonplace if not actually ugly; but it is in the Victorian city that the trade and capital, the business and pleasure of Australia chiefly centre. Is there a company to be got up to stock the wilds of Western Australia, or to form a railway on the land-grant system in Queensland, to introduce the electric light, or to spread education amongst the black fellows, the promoters either belong to Melbourne, or go there for their capital. The headquarters of nearly all the large commercial institutions which extend their operation beyond the limits of any one colony are to be found there. If you wish to transact business well and quickly, to organize a new enterprise—in short, to estimate and understand the trade of Australia, you must go to Melbourne and not to Sydney, and this in spite of the fact that Victoria is a small colony handicapped by heavy protectionist duties, whilst Sydney is, comparatively speaking, a free port, at the base of an enormous area. The actual production does not take place in Victoria, but it is in Melbourne that the money resulting from the productions of other colonies as well as of Victoria is turned over. It is Melbourne money chiefly that opens up new tracts of land for settlement in the interior of the continent, and Melbourne brains that find the outlets for fresh commerce in every direction. There is a bustle and life about Melbourne which you altogether miss in Sydney. The Melbourne man is always on the look-out for business, the Sydney man waits for business to come to him. The one is always in a hurry, the other takes life more easily. And as it is with business, so it is with pleasure.
If you are a man of leisure you will find more society in Melbourne, more balls and parties, a larger measure of intellectual life—i.e., more books and men of education and intellect, more and better theatrical and musical performances, more racing and cricket, football, and athletic clubs, a larger leisured class than in Sydney. The bushman who comes to town to 'knock down his cheque,' the squatter who wants a little amusement, both prefer Melbourne to spend their money in. The Melbourne races attract three or four times the number of visitors that the Sydney races do; all public amusements are far better attended in Melbourne; the people dress better, talk better, think better, are better, if we accept Herbert Spencer's definition of Progress. There is far more 'go' and far more 'life,' in every sense of these rather comprehensive words, to be found in Melbourne, and it is there that the visitor must come who wishes to see the fullest development of Australasian civilisation, whether in commerce or education, in wealth or intellect, in manners and customs—in short, in every department of life.
If you ask how this anomaly is to be explained, I can only answer that the shutting out of Sydney from the country behind it by a barrier of mountains hindered its early development; whilst the gold-diggings transformed Melbourne from a village into a city almost by magic; that the first population of Sydney was of the wrong sort, whilst that which flooded Melbourne from 1851 to 1861 was eminently adventurous and enterprising; that Melbourne having achieved the premier position, Sydney has, with all its later advantages, found the truth of the proverbs: 'A stern chase is a long chase,' and 'To him that hath shall be given.'
Passengers by ocean-going vessels to Melbourne land either at Sandridge or Williamstown, small shipping towns situated on either side of the river Yarra, which is only navigable by the smaller craft. A quarter of an hour in the train brings the visitor into the heart of the city. On getting out he can hardly fail to be impressed by the size of the buildings around him, and by the width of the streets, which are laid out in rectangular blocks, the footpaths being all well paved or asphalted. In spite of the abundance of large and fine-looking buildings, there is a rather higgledy-piggledy look about the town—the city you will by this time own it to be. There are no building laws, and every man has built as seemed best in his own eyes. The town is constantly outgrowing the majority of its buildings, and although the wise plan of allowing for the rapid growth of a young community, and building for the requirements of the future rather than of the present, is generally observed, there are still gaps in the line of the streets towards the outskirts, and houses remaining which were built by unbelievers in the future before the city. In the main thoroughfares you might fancy yourself in an improved Edgeware Road. In a few years Collins and Bourke Streets will be very like Westbourne Grove. The less frequented streets in the city are like those of London suburbs. There are a few lanes which it is wiser not to go down after ten o'clock at night. These are known as the back slums. But nowhere is there any sign of poverty or anything at all resembling Stepney or the lower parts of an European city, The Chinese quarter is the nearest approach thereto, but it is quite sui generis, and squalor is altogether absent.
The town is well lighted with gas, and the water-supply, from reservoirs on the Yarra a few miles above, is plentiful, but not good for drinking. There Is no underground drainage system. All the sewage is carried away in huge open gutters, which run all through the town, and are at their worst and widest in the most central part, where all the principal shops and business places are situated. These gutters are crossed by little wooden bridges every fifty yards. When it rains, they rise to the proportion of small torrents, and have on several occasions proved fatal to drunken men. In one heavy storm, indeed, a sober strong man was carried off his legs by the force of the stream, and ignominiously drowned in a gutter. You may imagine how unpleasant these little rivers are to carriage folk. In compensation they are as yet untroubled with tramways, although another couple of years will probably see rails laid all over the city.
It is a law in every Australian town that no visitor shall be allowed to rest until he has seen all its sights, done all its lions, and, above all, expressed his surprise and admiration at them. With regard to their public institutions, the colonists are like children with a new toy—delighted with it themselves, and not contented until everybody they meet has declared it to be delightful. There are some people who vote all sightseeing a bore, but if they come to Melbourne I would advise them at least to do the last part of their duty—express loudly and generally their admiration at everything that is mentioned to them. Whether they have seen it or not is, after all, their own affair.
In this respect a Professor at the Melbourne University, on a holiday trip to New Zealand, has just told me an amusing anecdote, for the literal truth of which he vouches. A couple of young Englishmen fresh from Oxford came to Melbourne in the course of a trip round the world to open up their minds! For fear of a libel suit I may at once say I am not alluding to the Messrs. Chamberlain. They brought letters of introduction to Professor S——, who proposed, according to the custom of the place, to 'show them round.' 'Have you seen the Public Library?' he began. 'No,' answered the Oxonian. Shall I take you over it?' continued the Professor; 'it is one of the finest in the world, well worth seeing; and we can kill two birds with one stone by seeing the Museum and National Gallery at the same time.' 'Well, no, thanks,' was the reply; 'it's awfully good of you, we know; but I say, the fact is books are books, all the world over, and pictures are pictures; and as for minerals, I can't say we understand them—not in our line, you understand.'
The Professor now thought he would try them with something out-of-doors, and proposed a walk to the Botanical Gardens, which was met with 'Don't you think it's rather hot for a walk? Besides, to tell the truth, one garden is very much like another.' 'But these are very large,' persisted the Professor; 'not scientific gardens like Kew, but capital places to walk and sit about in. There are a number of flowers there, too, which you cannot see at home.' Oxonian No. 2, however, came to the breach: 'We bought a lot of flowers at a shop in Collins Street yesterday, and we are going to send a hamper of ferns home; so that if you won't think it uncivil of us to refuse your kindness, we won't take up your time by going so far.'
Although somewhat abashed, the Professor thought of several other 'lions' which they might like to see, but was invariably met with the same polite refusal, till at last he gave it up as a bad job, and turned the conversation to general subjects. They had taken up their hats, and were saying good-bye. The Professor, who is a kind-hearted man, and was really anxious to be of service to the two friends, felt quite vexed with himself that he could do nothing more than ask them to dine. So, just as they were parting with the usual mutual expressions of goodwill, he asked in a despondent, almost prayerful tone: 'Are you quite sure there is; nothing I can do for you? Pray make use of me if you can, and I shall be only too delighted.' The reply was in a rather nervous voice from the younger man, who blushed as he asked the favour: 'Do you know anyone who has got a lawn-tennis court? We should so awfully like to have a game.'
The Professor introduced them to the head and to some of the undergraduates of the affiliated colleges close by, and heard very little more of them till they came to dinner with him a fortnight later, the day before they were to leave Melbourne. The conversation at dinner turned of course upon what they had seen during their visit, with which they declared themselves immensely pleased. But when asked as to the things which had most impressed them, it came out that Sundays were the only days they had gone out of the town; that they had not been to see a public institution or building, except their bank and the theatres. 'Surely you can't have spent all your time at the club,' said the Professor, 'though there is a capital library there; and, by the way, did you ever play tennis at Ormond College?' And then came the reply from both at once. It turned out that they had been to Ormond College to play tennis twice a day, except when they stopped lunch there. And then followed a technical description of the college tennis-courts, the Australian play, etc., etc.
But the cream of the story is not yet reached. The young men were to leave the next day for Japan, and the Professor waxed enthusiastic over the delights in store for them in that land of the morning. He quoted anecdotes and passages from Miss Bird's book, and repeated more than once that he envied them their trip. 'Well, yes, you know,' said the eldest, 'we've got several introductions; and I hear there are lots of English in Tokio, so that we are sure to get plenty of tennis.'
There are not many people who are likely to be so frank, not to say dull, as the Professor's friends; but how many people there are who travel round the world and see nothing! There is a moral in the story which is probably applicable to at least half of my readers, more or less.
Of the public buildings, which are scattered in considerable numbers about the town, the largest are the New Law Courts, which have just been erected at a cost of L300,000. They contain 130 rooms, and provide accommodation for the Supreme Court, the County Court, the Insolvent Court, the Equity Court, and for the various offices of the Crown Law Department. The plan is that of a quadrangle, with a centre surmounted by a dome 137 feet high. Still more elaborate and magnificent are the Parliament Houses not yet completed, the front alone of which is to cost L180,000. With regard to the architecture of these buildings, there is ample room for difference of opinion, but everyone will agree to admire the classic simplicity of the Public Library, erected some twenty years ago, which is planned with a view to the subsequent erection of a National Gallery and Museum, to complete a really noble pile of buildings. And it is well worth while to go inside. The Library is absolutely free to everybody, contains over 110,000 volumes, and has accommodation for 600 readers. An interesting feature is the large newspaper-room, where scores of working-men can be seen reading papers and magazines from all parts of the world. At the back of the same building are the painting and sculpture galleries, with which is connected a school of art and design. Behind these again is a museum. In the galleries there are a few good modern paintings, and a large number of mediocre ones. The statuary consists mainly of well-executed casts and four marble statues by the late Mr. Summers. The museum is only likely to be of interest to entomologists and mineralogists, the collection in both these departments being considered very good. The foundation and the success of the whole of this institution are almost entirely due to the late Sir Redmond Barry, who did almost as much for the University, which has also been exceedingly useful and successful from every point of view. As a building it is not equal to the Sydney University, although it possesses a splendid Gothic Hall, the gift of Sir Samuel Wilson, who now lives at Hughenden. In connection with the University is an excellent Zoological Museum, which is interesting to more than specialists.
Other fine buildings are the Government Offices, the Town Hall with its enormous organ, the Post Office, the International Exhibition—all built on a truly metropolitan scale, which is even exceeded by the palatial hugeness of the Government House, the ugliness of which is proverbial throughout Australia. But, perhaps, the class of buildings, which must in every Australian city most excite the surprise of the visitor, are the hospitals and asylums. There are no less than ten splendid structures in Melbourne devoted to charitable purposes. The Roman Catholics have built a fine cathedral, but it is not yet finished. The Church of England is collecting money for a similar purpose. Meanwhile the prettiest church belongs to the Presbyterians. None of the other churches are in any way remarkable. Anyone who has not seen the London Mint will find the Melbourne Mint worth a visit. The Observatory contains one of the largest telescopes in the world; and even if there are no races going on, the Flemington Racecourse is a 'lion' of the largest dimensions. There are four theatres, only one of which is well-fitted up. The visitor will notice that drinking bars are invariable and very disagreeable accompaniments of every theatre. One bar is generally just opposite the entrance to the dress circle, an arrangement which is particularly annoying to ladies.
Altogether, the public buildings of Melbourne do the greatest credit to the public spirit of the colonists, and offer substantial testimony to the largeness of their views and the thoroughness of their belief in the future of their country. There is certainly no city in England which can boast of nearly as many fine buildings, or as large ones, proportionately to its size, as Melbourne. And this is the more remarkable, remembering, that even in the existing hard times, masons are getting 10s. 6d. a day of eight hours, and often a very dawdling eight hours too.
The Botanic Gardens, just outside the town, are well worth a visit. They have no great scientific pretensions, as their name would imply, but are merely pleasure-grounds, decked with all the variety of flowers which this land of Cockaigne produces in abundance. Besides these, there are several pretty reserves, notably the Fitzroy, Carlton, and University Gardens, and the Regent's Park, which are all well kept and refreshing to the eye after the dust and glare of the town.
The proportions of the commercial buildings and business premises are on the same large and elaborate scale. Of the architecture, as a rule, the less said the better; but everything is at least more spacious than at home. The climate and the comparative cheapness of land give the colonists an aversion to height in their buildings, and even in the busiest parts of Melbourne most of the buildings have only two stories—i.e., a ground-floor and one above—and I can hardly think of any with more than three. The sums which banking companies pay for the erection of business premises are enormous. Thirty to sixty thousand pounds is the usual cost of their headquarters. The large insurance companies have also caught the building mania, and the joint-stock companies which are now springing up in all directions emulate them. The Australian likes to have plenty of elbow-room. He cannot understand how wealthy merchants can work in the dingy dens which serve for the offices of many a London merchant prince. In this matter, contrary to his usual practice, he is apt to consider the surface rather than what is beneath it; and it is an accepted maxim in commercial circles that money spent on buildings—which is of course borrowed in England at English rates of interest—is amongst the cheapest forms of advertising a rising business and keeping an established business going. Nobody in a young country has a long memory, and nothing is so firmly established but that it may be overthrown if it does not keep up with the times.
The general run of shops are little better than in English towns of the same size, if we except those of some dozen drapers and ironmongers in Melbourne, and two or three in Sydney, which are exceptionally good. Of these it may be said that they would be creditable to London itself. Both trades are much more comprehensive than in England. A large Melbourne draper will sell you anything, from a suit of clothes to furniture, where he comes into competition with the ironmonger, whose business includes agricultural machinery, crockery and plate. The larger firms in both these trades combine wholesale and retail business, and their shops are quite amongst the sights of Australia. Nowhere out of an exhibition and Whiteley's is it possible to meet so heterogeneous a collection. A peculiarity of Melbourne is that the shop-windows there are much better set out than is customary in England. It is not so in Sydney. Indeed Melbourne has decidedly the best set of shops, not only in outward appearance, but as to the variety and quality of the articles sold in them. Next to the drapers and ironmongers, the booksellers' shops are the most creditable. The style of the smaller shops in every colonial town is as English as English can be. The only difference is in the prices, but of that more anon when we go into the shops.
The river Yarra runs through the city, and is navigable as far as its centre by coasting steamers and all but the larger sailing craft. Above the harbour it is lined with trees and very pretty, and in spite of many windings it is wide enough for boat-races. Below it is uninteresting, and chiefly remarkable for the number and variety of the perfumes which arise from the manufactories on its banks. Next to the monotony of the Suez Canal, with which it presents many points of resemblance, I know few things more tiresome than the voyage up the Yarra in an intercolonial steamer of 600 or 700 tons, which goes aground every ten minutes, and generally, as if on purpose, just in front of a boiling-down establishment.
If the Australian cities can claim a sad eminence, if not an actual supremacy, in the number of their public houses, of which there are no less than 1,120 in Melbourne, I am sorry to say that they are as much behind London in their ideas of the comforts of an hotel as London is behind San Francisco. Melbourne is certainly better off than Sydney or Adelaide, but bad are its best hotels. Of these Menzies' and the Oriental are most to be recommended; after these try the United Club Hotel, or, if you be a bachelor, Scott's. The hotels, I think without exception, derive their chief income from the bar traffic, with which, at all but the few I have mentioned, you cannot help being brought more or less into contact. Lodgers are quite a secondary consideration. This is very disagreeable for ladies. The best hotels, moreover, have no table d'hote—only the old-fashioned coffee and commercial rooms; so that if you are travelling en famille you have no choice but to have your meals in a private sitting-room. For a bachelor, who is not particular so long as his rooms are clean, and can put up with plain fare, there need, however, be no difficulty in getting accommodation; but anyone who wishes to be comfortable had better live at the clubs, which in every one of the 'capitals' are most liberal in their hospitality, and have bedrooms on their premises. Visitors to the colony are made honorary members for a month on the introduction of any two members, and the term is extended to six months on the small subscription of a guinea a month. The Melbourne Club is the best appointed in the Colonies. The rooms are comfortable, and decently though by no means luxuriously furnished, and a very fair table is kept. The servants wear full livery. There is a small library, all the usual appurtenances of a London club, and a racquet-court. The other clubs, though less pretentious, are all comfortable.
Your colonial rarely walks a step farther than he can help, and of course laziness is well provided with cabs and omnibuses. You can take your choice between one-horse waggonettes and hansoms, though a suspicion of Bohemia still lingers about the latter. Happily Mrs. Grundy has never introduced 'growlers.' The waggonettes are light boxes on wheels, covered in with oil-cloth, which can be rolled up in a few seconds if the weather is fine or warm. It is strange that victorias like those in Paris have never been tried in this warm climate. A few years ago Irish jaunting-cars and a jolting vehicle called a 'jingle' were much used, but they have slipped out of favour of late, and are now almost obsolete. The fares are usually moderate, ranging from a shilling for a quarter of an hour to the same coin for the first mile, and sixpence for every subsequent one. Cabby is fairly civil, but, as at home, always expects more than his legal fare.
Nowhere do omnibuses drive a more thriving trade than in Melbourne, and they deserve it, for they are fast, clean, roomy, and well managed. The price of labour makes conductors too expensive a luxury, and passengers have to put their fare—in most cases threepence—into a little glass box close to the driver's seat. This unfortunate man, in addition to looking after the horses, and opening and shutting the door by means of a strap tied to his foot, which you pull when you want to get out, has to give change whenever a little bell is rung, and to see that the threepences in the glass box correspond to the number of passengers. Yet not only does he drive fast and carefully along the crowded thoroughfares, but it is difficult to escape without paying. Several times when a 'bus has been crowded I have tried the effect of omitting payment. Invariably the driver has touched his bell, and if that is not attended to, he puts his face to the chink through which change is passed, and having re-counted the number of people in the 'bus, civilly intimates that 'some gentleman has forgotten to put in his fare.' Where the omnibus companies have not penetrated, waggonettes similar to those previously described pioneer the road, and on some well-frequented lines they run in competition with the omnibuses.
I don't know that it would be true to say that the number of horses and vehicles in the streets strikes the stranger's eye as a rule. A man accustomed to the traffic of London streets passes over the traffic of Melbourne, great as it is for a town of its size, without notice. But I think he cannot but notice the novel nature of the Melbourne traffic, the prevalence of that light four-wheeled vehicle called the 'buggy,' which we have imported via America, and the extraordinary number of horsemen he meets. The horses at first sight strike the eye unpleasantly. They look rough, and are rarely properly groomed. But, as experience will soon teach the stranger, they are far less delicate than English horses. They get through a considerably greater quantity of work, and are less fatigued at the end of it.
A walk down Collins Street or Flinders Lane would astonish some of the City Croesuses. But if a visitor really wishes to form an idea of the wealth concentrated in Melbourne, he cannot do better than spend a week walking round the suburbs, and noting the thousands of large roomy houses and well-kept gardens which betoken incomes of over two thousand a year, and the tens of thousands of villas whose occupants must be spending from a thousand to fifteen hundred a year. All these suburbs are connected with the town by railway. A quarter of an hour will bring you ten miles to Brighton, and twelve minutes will take you to St. Kilda, the most fashionable watering-place. Within ten minutes by rail are the inland suburbs, Toorak, South Yarra, and Kew, all three very fashionable; Balaclava, Elsterwick, and Windsor, outgrowths of St. Kilda, also fashionable; Hawthorn, which is budding well; Richmond, adjacent to East Melbourne, and middle class; and Emerald Hill and Albert Park, with a working-class population. Adjoining the city itself are North Melbourne, Fitzroy, Carlton, Hotham, and East Melbourne, all except the last inhabited by the working-classes. Emerald Hill and Hotham have handsome town halls of their own, and the larger of these suburbs form municipalities. Nearly everybody who can lives in the suburbs, and the excellence of the railway system enables them to extend much farther away from the city than in Adelaide or Sydney. It is strange that the Australian townsman should have so thoroughly inherited the English love of living as far as possible away from the scene of his business and work during the day.
The names of the suburbs afford food for reflection. Yarra is the only native name. Sir Charles Hotham and Sir Charles Fitzroy were the governors at the time of the foundation of the municipalities which bear their names. The date of the foundation of St. Kilda is evidenced by the name of its streets—Alma, Inkerman, Redan, Malakoff, Sebastopol, Raglan, Cardigan, and Balaclava, the last of which gave its name later on to a new suburb, which grew up at one end of it. In the city proper the principal streets are named after colonial celebrities in the early days—Flinders, Bourke, Collins, Lonsdale, Spencer, Stephen, Swanston, while King, Queen, and William Streets each tell a tale. Elizabeth Street was perhaps named after the virgin queen to whose reign the accession of the Princess Victoria called attention.
As you walk round you cannot fail to notice the sunburnt faces of the people you meet. Melbourne is said to have the prettiest girls in Australia. I am no judge. On first arrival their sallow complexions strike you most disagreeably, and it is some time before you will allow that there is a pretty girl in the country. When you get accustomed to this you will recognise that as a rule they have good figures, and that though there are no beauties, a larger number of girls have pleasant features than in England. What may be called nice looking girls abound all over Australia. In dress the Melbourne ladies are too fond of bright colours, but it can never be complained against them that they are dowdy—a fault common to their Sydney, Adelaide, and English sisters—and they certainly spend a great deal of money on their dress, every article of which costs about 50 per cent. more than at home. In every town the shop girls and factory girls—in short, all the women belonging to the industrial classes—are well dressed, and look more refined than in England. Men, on the other hand, are generally very careless about their attire, and dress untidily. The business men all wear black frock-coats and top hats. They look like city men whose clothes have been cut in the country. The working-men are dressed much more expensively than at home, and there are no threadbare clothes to be seen. Everybody has a well-to-do look There is not so much bustle as in the City, but the faces of 'all sorts and conditions of men' are more cheerful, and less careworn and anxious. You can see that bread-and-butter never enters into the cares of these people; it is only the cake which is sometimes endangered. or has not sufficient plums in it.
I suppose that nearly everyone has heard of the beauties of Sydney Harbour—'our harbour,' as the Sydneyites fondly call it. If you want a description of them read Trollope's book. He has not exaggerated an iota on this point. Sydney Harbour is one of those few sights which, like Niagara, remain photographed on the memory of whoever has been so fortunate as to see them. With this difference, however—the impression of Niagara is instantaneous; it stamps itself upon you in a moment, and though further observation may make the details more clear, it cannot add to the depth of the impressions. But Sydney Harbour grows upon you. At the first glance I think you will be a little disappointed. It is only as you drink in each fresh beauty that its wonderful loveliness takes possession of you. The more you explore its creeks and coves—forming altogether 260 miles of shore—the more familiar you become with each particular headland or reach, the greater your enchantment. You fall in love with it, so to speak, and often I look up at the water-colour sketch of Double Bay which hangs over my dining-room mantelpiece, and hope the hope which partakes of expectation, that before long I shall see Sydney Harbour again.
And it is as admirable from a practical as from an artistic point of view. The Austral and the Orient can be moored alongside natural wharves in the very heart of the city. There are coves sufficient to hold the combined fleets of the world, mercantile and naval. The outer harbour is the paradise of yachtsmen; the inner, of oarsmen. The gardens of suburban villas run down to the water's edge along the headlands and points, and there are thousands of unoccupied building sites from which you can enjoy a view fit for the gods.
One feels quite angry with the town for being so unworthy of its site. Certainly, one of the greatest charms of the harbour must have been wanting when it was uninhabited, and the view of the city and suburbs as you come up into port is as charming and picturesque, as that of Melbourne from Port Philip is commonplace and repellent. But when you get near the wharf the charm vanishes. Never was there a more complete case of distance lending enchantment to the view. Not but that there are plenty of fine buildings, public and private; but the town is still much farther back in its chrysalis stage than Melbourne. Time alone can, and is rapidly making away with the old tumble-down buildings which spoil the appearance of their neighbours. But time cannot easily widen the streets of Sydney, nor rectify their crookedness. They were originally dug out by cart-ruts, whereas those of nearly every other town in Australia were mapped out long before they were inhabited. But if they were not so ill-kept, and the footpaths so wretchedly paved, I could forgive the narrowness and crookedness of the Sydney streets, on account of their homely appearance. They are undeniably old friends, such as you can meet in hundreds of towns in Europe. Their very unsuitableness for the practical wants of a large city becomes a pleasant contrast to the practical handsomeness of Melbourne and Adelaide. The size and handsomeness of individual buildings is lost in the Sydney streets. You look at the street from one end, and put it down in your mind as no better than a lane; you walk down it without noticing the merits of the buildings it contains; whereas in Melbourne both the general effect and each individual building are shown off to the greatest advantage; but there is a certain picturesqueness and old-fashionedness about Sydney, which brings back pleasant memories of Old England, after the monotonous perfection of Melbourne and Adelaide.
The most unpleasant feature about Sydney is, that there is a thoroughly untidy look about the place. It is in a perennial state of deshabille; whereas Melbourne nearly always has its dress-clothes on. In keeping with the wretched pavements, the muddy crossings, and the dust, are the clothes of the people you meet in the streets. Nobody seems to care much how they dress, and without being exactly countrified in their apparel, the Sydneyites succeed in looking pre-eminently dowdy.
The water-supply is not always quite as plentiful as could be wished; but on the other hand, there is an excellent system of deep drainage, and the eye is not offended by open sewers, as in Melbourne. You will notice that there are not so many private carriages here, and fewer horsemen. The traffic appears greater, but this is entirely owing to the narrowness of the streets. It is not so rapid, as you will easily perceive.
You land, as I think I mentioned, in the heart of the city, and, unless you prefer Shanks's pony, must perforce take a hansom to your hotel, or, if you have much luggage, two hansoms, for four-wheelers are almost unknown. In compensation, the Sydney hansoms are the cleanest and fastest you will ever have the good fortune to come across. Steam trams run out to the railway station, which is at the farther end of the town, and to all the suburbs. There is practically but one hotel to go to—Petty's—and that very inferior. In most matters of this kind Sydney is only a second-rate edition of Melbourne.
The beauties of Sydney are certainly rather natural than artificial, and since one can always see a big town more or less like Melbourne, whilst the scenery of Sydney Harbour is almost unique of its kind, if I were obliged to see only one of the two places, I would rather see Sydney. But although, Sydney is poorly laid out, it must not be imagined that it is poorly built. On the contrary. Its buildings are put in the shade as regards size by those of Melbourne but if you had not seen Melbourne first, you would certainly have been surprised by the number and size of the public buildings of Sydney. The rich man loses his sense of the proportionate value of moneys. But Sydney has the great advantage of possessing superior building material in a red and grey sandstone of great durability, which forms the substratum of the whole district in which it is built, while Melbourne has mainly to rely on a blue stone found at some distance, and has to import the stone for its best buildings from either Sydney or Tasmania. I must confess too, that I prefer the general style of architecture in Sydney to that most common in Melbourne. First and foremost, owing to the more limited area of the business part of the town, the Sydney buildings are much loftier. Melbourne and Adelaide always look to me as if some one had taken his seat upon the top of them and squashed them down. Sydney is taller and more irregular. It climbs up and down a whole series of hills, and protrudes at all kinds of unexpected points. The city proper has no very definite boundaries, and you hardly know where the city begins and the suburbs end.
Of the public buildings of Sydney, the handsomest are the Treasury, the Colonial Secretary's office, and the Lands Office, each four or five stories high, and close to the water's edge. The Colonial Secretary's office is only second to the Melbourne Law Courts amongst the completed buildings of Australia. It is lofty, massive, and dignified outwardly, elegant and spacious inside, although it has been fitted up in the most incongruous fashion with odds and ends of third-rate statuary, imitation bronzes, etc., until it looks like an old curiosity-shop. The University, though comparatively an old building, still holds its ground amongst the best, and may well be proud of its splendidly proportioned hall, built in fifteenth-century Gothic. The Roman Catholic Cathedral, which has just been opened, is also well proportioned. The length is 350 feet; width within transept 118 feet; width of nave and aisle 74 feet; height about ninety feet. There is to be a central tower 120 feet high, and two towers with spires which will rise to a height of 260 feet. The Anglican Cathedral, though not large, is a handsome building with two towers, in fourteenth-century Gothic. The Post Office will for many years remain a fragment of what may or may not be a handsome building. The Town Hall has evidently been built with the idea of at all hazards making it larger than the Melbourne Town Hall. So far it is a success. But architecturally it is nothing more than a splendid failure—over-decorated and ginger-bready. Curiously enough it is built upon the site of the burial-place of the early settlement—-forming a sort of Westminster Abbey for the first settlers. There are four theatres, but none well fitted or decorated. Palatial hospitals and asylums of course abound, but the Parliament House is wretchedly small.
Unfortunately Sydney has very few reserves, and those few she keeps in bad order, with the exception of the Botanical Garden, situated on an arm of the land almost entirely surrounded by water. It is the most charming public garden I have ever seen; inferior to that of Adelaide in detail, but superior in the tout ensemble. Almost equally beautiful is the situation of Government House, a comfortable Tudor mansion, but rather small for purposes of entertainment.
Amongst the commercial buildings, the new head offices of the Australian Mutual Provident Society are pre-eminent. They cost no less than L50,000. The banks are not equal to either the Melbourne or the Adelaide banks. But the insurance offices, warehouses, etc., though not nearly as numerous, are quite up to the Melbourne standard in size, although for the reasons already given they do not show to so great an advantage as their merit deserves. Of the appearance of the shops I have already written in my letter about Melbourne. They are not so fine as in Melbourne nor so well stocked, and are pretty much on a level with those in an English town of the same size.
The names of the principal streets proclaim the age of the town. George Street and Pitt Street are the two main thoroughfares, and there are Castlereagh, Liverpool, and William Streets, while King, Hunter, Bligh, Macquarie, and Philip Streets, and Darlinghurst preserve the names of the first governors. The suburbs first formed preserve the sweet-sounding native names—Wooloomooloo, Woolahra, Coogee, Bondi. Of a later date are Randwick, Newtown, Stanmore, Ashfield, Burwood, and Petersham—the last four along the railway line.
The good people of Sydney do not spend their money so much upon outward show as the Victorians. Hence the number of large houses in the suburbs is very much smaller. But whereas the country around Melbourne for miles is mostly flat as a pancake, the suburbs of Sydney literally revel in beautiful building sites. For choice, there are the water frontages below the town or up the Parramatta river, which is lined with pretty houses, whose inhabitants come up to Sydney every morning in small river steamers. The principal suburbs, however, are much closer to the city than in Melbourne, being connected by steam tramways instead of railways. New suburbs are also springing up along the railway lines, but until the railway station is brought into the centre of the town, they can never be nearly so populous as the Melbourne suburbs.
I began with a comparison between Melbourne and Sydney, towns of 280,000 and 220,000 inhabitants respectively. The capital of South Australia, Adelaide, with its 70,000, stands, of course, upon an entirely different level; but it possesses, to an even greater degree than Sydney, all the peculiar characteristics of a capital city. If any comparison can be made between Adelaide and its sister capitals, it is with Melbourne rather than with Sydney. Adelaide is a thoroughly modern town, with all the merits and all the defects attaching to novelty. It does not possess the spirit of enterprise to so adventurous a degree as Melbourne, but neither does it approach to the languor of Sydney. In this respect it has discovered a very happy middle course. There is certainly something very provincial about the attitude of the town towards the rest of the world, but this helps to make it the more distinctive, and conduces largely to its progress. It 'goes without saying' that there cannot be the same number of large buildings as in the larger cities, that their proportions cannot be so large, that there cannot be the same facilities for business or for pleasure. But the emulation produced by the achievements of its big neighbours has resulted in making Adelaide a far more advanced town for its size than either of them. Proportionately to population, everything in Adelaide ought theoretically to be on a fourth scale of its like in Melbourne. As a matter of fact, most things are on more than half-scale, many on a two-thirds, and a few things, such as the Botanic Garden, the Exchange, the Banks of South Australia and Adelaide, are unsurpassed.
For its size, I consider Adelaide the beet-built town I know, and certainly it is the best laid out and one of the prettiest and most conveniently situated. It nestles, so to speak, at the foot of a range of high hills on a plain, which extends seven miles in length to the seashore. The approach by rail from either Port Adelaide or Glenelg is uninteresting, but directly you get out at the station the first impression is pleasing. The streets are broad and laid out in rectangular blocks as in Melbourne, and the white stone used for most of the buildings makes the town look particularly bright and lively, showing off the bustle and traffic to advantage. In the background are the hills, while on one side is the suburb of North Adelaide, on an incline divided from the city by a broad sheet of artificial water, running in the bed of the river Torrens through a half-mile deep belt of 'park-lands,' which encircle the square mile forming the city proper, and separate it from the suburbs.
The conception of this belt of verdure, on which none but public buildings may be erected, dividing the working part of the town from the residential part, has always seemed to me a masterpiece of wisdom in city planning, and hardly less admirable are the five open reserves inside the city which serve as its lungs. Ultimately the city proper will probably be almost entirely reserved for business purposes. Already very few people live within the belts who can help it, although high prices are given for sites for residences on each of the four terraces fronting the belts. Except that Adelaide is perfectly flat, while Melbourne is built on two sides of a valley, Adelaide may not inaptly be described in the words of a visitor who was returning to England by the Peninsular and Oriental route, as 'a smaller but better Melbourne.' The style of architecture is not quite so florid, but the extreme squatness of the buildings is far more noticeable here. It is no merely that the buildings are actually lower, but the look lower from being built on the flat.
Of the public buildings, the finest is the Post Office, which, though it wants an extra story to make it dignified, is, in my opinion, preferable to either the Melbourne or Sydney Post Offices. The new Institute, the Anglican Cathedral, which is lofty, the Town Hall, the Supreme Court, the Banks of South Australia, of Adelaide, and the English and Scottish Bank, and the new vice-regal residence on the hills, are all fine buildings, which would attract favourable notice in Melbourne or Sydney. Nominally there are three theatres, practically only one, but that is undoubtedly the prettiest and best in Australia. But the pride of Adelaide is its Botanic Garden, which, though unpromisingly situated on a perfectly level spot, with no water at hand, has been transformed, by means of artificial water and artificial hillocks, into the prettiest garden in the world The area is only forty acres, but every inch has been turned to the utmost advantage, and this is really a garden, while the Sydney Gardens—mark the plural—are more park-like, and those of Melbourne can hardly be called gardens, in the strict sense of the word.
The drainage is defective, but the water-supply good. There is still a great deal to be done to the footpaths, and until quite recently the municipal arrangements were in every respect almost as bad as those of Sydney. But an able, energetic, and liberal mayor, Mr. E. T. Smith, in the course of two years so stirred up the citizens that pavements have been laid down, additional gas-lights provided, the Torrens artificial lake constructed, the squares and park-lands transformed from untidy wildernesses into handsome oases, and the general aspect of the city entirely transformed. I do not know that I ever saw so much done entirely at the initiative and by the energy and persistence of a single man.
Of the shops there is not much to be said. They are not at all up to the average of most of the institutions of the town, with the one exception of those of the jewellers and silversmiths, the work in which is original and artistic, throwing altogether into the shade similar shops in Melbourne and Sydney. The cabs are all waggonettes, similar to those used in Melbourne, but drawn by two horses instead of one. Adelaide abhors hansoms. They exist, but are never used by respectable people, who have come to look upon them as unholy in themselves. The tramway system is the most complete in Australia. All the trams are drawn by horses; to such of the suburbs as are too thinly populated to have trams large waggonettes for the most part run in lieu of omnibuses. Adelaide is the only Australian town in which the American system of buying land, and making a railway to bring population to it, has been carried out. The idea was first tried with tramways, the writer having taken some part in originating and promoting it. Of the hotels of Adelaide, the best is the York. It is better than the best, in Sydney, but inferior to the best two in Melbourne.
Owing to the excellent plan on which the city is laid out, it is surrounded on every side by suburbs at the short distance of half a mile, connected by horse-tramways. Beyond these, however, there is the flourishing watering-place of Glenelg at a distance of only seven miles by train; and now that the railway has been carried into the hills, it will not be long before large suburbs grow up in them. Wealth in South Australia is more equally divided than in the sister Colonies. Hence there are only a few large mansions, but comfortable six to ten-roomed cottages abound.
The inevitable 'newness' of everything cannot but strike the eye disagreeably. This is especially noticeable in the buildings and houses, few of which date back more than ten years. In the growth of towns, as well as in the progress of individuals and institutions, there are three periods to be gone through. Here the first stage is that of the log-hut. This is succeeded by the weather-board cottage, which in turn gives place to brick and stucco. Finally comes the stone building with its two or three stories. The log-hut stage is of course far past. The weather-board cottage still lingers in the poorer outskirts of Melbourne, but is extinct in Adelaide, and fast becoming extinct in Melbourne. The choice now is between brick and stone. In Sydney the abundance of stone on the spot, gives it the preference; Adelaide, with less stone, builds chiefly in brick; Melbourne, which has to get its stone from a distance, uses hardly anything else but brick. This, of course, for private houses. There are plenty of admirable stone buildings in Melbourne, as I have already mentioned.
Now that the brick and stone age is firmly established the style of your house becomes a mere matter of pounds, shillings, and pence. With wages at from nine to twelve shillings a day, and with money so much dearer than at home, the Australian has necessarily to pay a much higher rent for his house. Excluding, of course, ground-rents, which make London houses so expensive, I think one may fairly say that rents here are about double the rate they are at home, and yet, except for the rise in the value of land in the cities and their suburbs, house-property is by no means a remunerative investment. Nevertheless, there is always a great demand for it. The colonist is very fond of living in his own house and on his own bit of ground, and building societies and the extensive mortgage system which prevails enable him easily to gratify this desire. I believe that at least ninety out of every hundred house-properties in Australia are mortgaged up to at least two-thirds of their value. Out in the suburbs ground-rents are still low—very low indeed in comparison with the selling value. The reason of this is, that it pays to buy a house with a large piece of land attached, and to cut the land up and sell it in building allotments a few years afterwards. If you can get a fair rent for the house, the land will pay its own way.
Architecturally speaking, there is little to admire. If the public buildings fail in this respect, the private houses have at least the advantage over them, that for the most part they do not pretend to any architecture at all. Many of the architects are self-taught, and have served little or no apprenticeship to the profession. Indeed, it should rather be called a trade, since they often are merely successful builders, who have taken to planning and superintending the erection of buildings, instead of erecting them themselves. This is one reason why private houses incline rather to the practical than to the beautiful. Another cause is the practical spirit of the colonists, which looks upon expenditure for mere ornamental purposes as wasteful and extravagant. Unless a man is really rich, he cannot afford the imputation of extravagance which any architectural expenditure will bring upon him. With his business premises it is different. Everyone understands that a merchant spends money in ornamenting his business premises, just as a tradesman dresses his shop-window. But the tradesman does not dress the drawing-room window of his private house. Neither, therefore, the merchant. Besides this, it cannot be too thoroughly understood that Australia is before everything a money-making place, and that anything like unremunerative expenditure with no possible chance of profit is considered foolish in all but a man who has made his fortune. With money so dear, and the chances of turning it over rapidly so frequent and so remunerative, such expenditure becomes little less than a sin. Everything ornamental not only costs twice as dear in actual money, but the money itself is worth at least twice as much as in England.
Really large houses of the size of the manor-houses and halls which are scattered over England in tens of thousands, can be counted in Australia in scores. Of these but few have any architectural pretensions. Houses of this class cannot be built under L10,000 here, whereas in England they would cost from L4,000 to L5,000 and can be bought still cheaper. If there is any style which colonists particularly affect, it is the castellar. Both in the large houses I have just been speaking of, and in the ordinary wealthy man's house which has cost him from L3,000 to L5,000, turrets and flagstaffs abound. The passion for flagstaffs must, I think, be derived from the fact that most of the people who build these houses have had a long sea-journey from England, and retain a little ozone in their composition. There is also something assertive about a flag. A man who has a flag floating on his house is almost sure to have some character about him. Not unfrequently, when the builder of a house intends to live in it himself, he wishes to imitate his old home in England, or if he has risen in the world, some particular house of the village or town he was brought up in, which he admired in his boyhood. The man who builds for himself at least takes care to build soundly, and to have his rooms large and lofty.
By far the majority of houses are built by speculators; which means that they are very badly built, run up in a tremendous hurry, constructed of the cheapest and nastiest materials, with thin walls—in short, built for show, and not for use. Everything looks very nice in them when you walk round just after they are built, and it is only after you have lived in them eighteen months that you begin to understand why the owner was in such a hurry to sell, and would not hear of letting the house to you, even at a good rent. You know something of this in London, but not nearly to the same extent as here. In these speculative houses there is often some little attempt at ornamentation—a bow-window thrown out, or the veranda lifted to form a Gothic porch, or the drawing-room brought out beyond the rest of the house, so as to form what is known as a T cottage, though it should rather be a P, with a protrusion of the drawing-room representing the straight line, and the body of the house the loop of the P.
But the favourite type of Australian house is laid, out in an oblong block bisected by a three to eight foot passage. The first door on one side as you go in is the drawing-room, on the other the dining-room. Then follow the bedrooms, etc., with the kitchen and scullery at the end of the passage, or sometimes in a lean-to at right angles to the hinder part of the house proper. This kind of cottage is almost universal in Adelaide amongst the middle and upper middle classes, and invariable in the working-class throughout Australia. In the other colonies the upper middle classes often live in two-storied houses; i.e., ground-floor and one floor above. Their construction is almost as simple as the cottage, the only difference being that the bedrooms are on the upper story, and that a pair of narrow stairs face the front-door and take up half the passage-way, directly you get past the drawing and dining-room doom doors. The cottage is not high enough to strike the eye, but the squareness, or more properly the cubeness, of these two-storied houses is appalling. They look for all the world like houses built of cards, except that the cards are uncommonly solid. For my own part, I should never care to live in a two-storied house again, after experiencing the comfort of never having to go upstairs, and having all the rooms on the same floor. At first one is prejudiced against it. I was so, until during my second year in Australia I had to live on the third floor in Sydney. It was only then that I realized the advantages of the simpler plan.
The strong light and heat of the sun has the effect of a window-tax in limiting the size and number of the windows. A few French windows are to be found in Adelaide, but the old sashes are almost universal. Of, late a fashion has sprung up for bow-windows, which, however pretty, have here the great disadvantage of attracting the sun unpleasantly. Shutters are not much used. Venetian blinds are more common. On a hot summer day it is absolutely necessary to shut all windows and draw down the blinds if you wish to keep at all cool. About five o'clock, if there is no hot wind, the house may be opened out.
Nearly every house that can afford the space has a veranda, which sometimes stretches the whole way round. The rooms are usually lofty for their size, in winter horribly cold and draughty, in summer unbearably stuffy in small houses, the science of ventilation being of recent introduction. Even in large establishments all the living-rooms are almost always on the ground-floor, both on account of the fatigue of going up and down stairs, and owing to the paucity of servants. As a rule, the kitchens are terribly small, and in summer filled with flies. How the poor servants manage to exist in them is more than I can understand. It is no wonder they ask such high wages. In a few larger houses a merciful fashion has been adopted of making the kitchen a mere cooking galley, the cook preparing the dishes and doing all that does not require the presence of fire in a large back-kitchen. Happily every house has a bath-room, though it is often only a mere shed of wood or galvanized iron put up in the back-yard. In many of the poorer households this shed does double duty as bath-house and wash-house, or the wash-house consists of a couple of boards, with a post to keep them up, and a piece of netting overhead to keep the sun off. In larger houses, both bath-rooms and wash-houses are much the same as in England. Nearly all families do their washing, and often their ironing also, at home. Of the sanitary arrangements, it is almost impossible to speak too strongly; they are almost invariably objectionable and disgusting.
There are very few establishments large enough to indulge in the luxury of a servants'-hall, and sculleries and pantries are much smaller than in England. Even the ordinary entrance-hall of an English house has to shrink into a mere enlargement of the passage. All over the house, in fact, the accommodation is on a much more limited scale, unless it be with regard to stables, which, owing to the low price of horses, are more numerous, if less luxuriously appointed.
If the upper and middle classes suffer from want of room in their houses, and are wont to huddle much more than people in the same position would at home, the working-man is not much better off, although his four or five-roomed cottage at twelve shillings to fifteen shillings a week is more easily within his means than the five shillings a week that he paid in England. I do not of course mean that the working-man here knows anything of model cottages, such as are seen on large estates in England. I should even say that during the first year or two after his arrival there is little improvement in his habitation; but before long he acquires a small freehold, and with the aid of a building society becomes his own landlord. Directly he has reached this stage, an improvement is visible in his condition. It is difficult to over-estimate the social value of the work that has been done by building societies. In the suburbs of the large towns you see whole townships built entirely by these societies; every inhabitant of these townships in the course of a few years becomes a proprietor, and the society further aids him by making loans to him on mortgage of his property. It is the defect of these townships that the houses are all as like one another as peas in a pod—four-roomed squares or six-roomed oblongs built of red brick, and with every detail exactly the same; but their plainness and similarity does not detract from their manifest virtues.
Terraces and attached houses are universally disliked, and almost every class of suburban house is detached and stands in its own garden. These gardens are laid out much in the English fashion; but there is little need of greenhouses, and unless you have water laid on to your lawn, it is difficult to keep it green in summer. In Adelaide but few people try to keep lawns; the summer sun is too scorching, and towards February and March the gardens look dreadfully dried up. But on the other hand, flowers of all kinds grow in abundance, and to a size which they rarely attain in colder climates. The garden needs little attention beyond the summer watering and you can get flowers all the year round. Fruit-trees grow with wonderful rapidity and bear most abundantly.
With the aid of the hills you get several climates within a small area, and in Adelaide especially the abundance of flowers and fruit is all that can be desired. There is naturally some tendency to coarseness, especially in the fruit. The price of labour makes it difficult to keep large gardens in good order. For this reason few people keep large gardens. Another thing that accounts for the smallness of the gardens attached to middle and working-class houses, which are often no more than patches, is the speculation in land. The smaller the portions into which the speculator cuts up his building sections, the more he gets for them. I myself on one occasion bought an eight-acre section of land in one block for L1,100, cut it up into blocks of an eighth of an acre each, and resold it within six weeks for a little over L2,000. This land-speculation is quite a feature of Australian life, and at certain periods it is difficult to lose money by it. Large gardens are generally long leaseholds or freeholds belonging to rich people, who will not sell during their lifetime. At their death their gardens are cut up into small blocks and yield large profits. Nor do I think that the love of gardening is at all common here; it is not a sufficiently exciting occupation.
I closed my last letter with an account of the way in which houses are built here. I am now going to try to describe their contents. And perhaps the best way to do this will be to describe a type of each class of house, omitting all exceptions, which are necessarily numerous where so large a field has to be covered.
We will begin at the top of the tree. Whilst the ambition of the wealthy colonist not unfrequently finds vent in building a large house, he has generally been brought up in too rough a school to care to furnish it even decently. His notion of furniture begins and ends with upholstery, and I doubt whether he ever comes to look upon this as more than things to sit on, stand on, lie on, eat off and drink off The idea of deriving any pleasure from the beauty of his surroundings rarely enters into his head, and it is not uncommon to find a man who is making L5,000 a year amply satisfied with what an Englishman with one-tenth of his income would deem the barest necessaries. The Australian Croesus is generally very little of a snob, though often his 'lady' has a taste for display. When this desire for grandeur has led them to furnish expensively, they are unable to furnish prettily, and usually feel much less comfortable in their drawing-room, in which they never set foot except when there is company—than when their chairs and tables were made by a working carpenter or with their own hands out of a few deal boards.
One or two millionaires have had upholsterers out from Gillow's and Jackson and Graham's to furnish their houses in the latest and most correct fashion, and many colonists who go on a trip to England bring back with them drawing and dining room suites; but even then there is an entire want of individuality about the Australian's house—which is the more remarkable seeing how much his individuality has been brought out by his career, and shows itself in his general actions and opinions. He may know how to dogmatize on theology and politics, but when he gets down to furniture he confesses that his eye is out of focus. The furniture imported or (in Melbourne) made by the large upholsterers is, with few exceptions, more gorgeous than pretty; whence one may reasonably infer that the taste of their customers—when they have any—is better suited by the grandiose than the artistic. But most of the expensively furnished houses show plainly that the upholsterer has been given carte blanche to do what he will. Look at his shop-window, and you may make a shrewd guess at his customer's drawing-room.
Nor is the furniture universal in Australia, as one would naturally suppose, after the style of that in Italy and the South of France. The frowsy carpets and heavy solid chairs of England's cold and foggy climate reign supreme beneath the Austral sun. The Exhibitions have done something towards reforming our domestic interiors, but it will be a long time before the renaissance of art as applied to households, which appears to be taking place in England, makes its way here in any considerable force.
But instead of generalizing, it is time we should go through Muttonwool's house room by room. On entering the drawing-room the first thing that strikes the eye is the carpet, with a stiff set pattern large enough to knock you down, and of a rich gaudy colour. You raise your eyes—find opposite them the regulation white marble mantelpiece, more or less carved, and a gilt mirror, which we will hope is not protected from the flies by green netting. Having made a grimace, you sit down upon one of the chairs. There are nine in the room besides the sofa—perhaps an ottoman—and you can take your choice between the 'gent's' armchair, the lady's low-chair, and the six high ones. If they are not in their night-shirts you can examine the covering—usually satin or perhaps cretonne. The pattern is unique, being, I should think, specially manufactured for the colonial market. Bright hues prevail. Occasional chairs have only lately been introduced, and the whole suite is in unison, though harmony with the carpet has been overlooked, or rather never thought of, the two things having been chosen separately, and without any idea that it would be an improvement if they were to match.
As for the make of the chairs, they are to be found in plenty of English middle-class drawing-rooms even now. The shape may be named the 'deformed.' The back is carved out into various contortions of a horse-shoe, with a bar across the middle which just catches you in the small of the back, and is a continual reproach if you venture to lean against it. The wood of which the chairs are made is mahogany, walnut, or cedar. The large round or oval table which stands in the middle of the room is of the same wood, and so are the card-table, the Davenport, the chiffonier, and that Jacob's-ladder-like what-not in the corner. In some houses the upholsterer has stuffed the room with useless tables. Of course there is a fender and fire-irons, and probably a black doleful-looking grate, which during two-thirds of the year is stuffed with paper shavings of all the colours of the rainbow and several others which good Mother Nature forgot to put into it. On the chimney-piece is a Louis XVI. clock and a pair of ornaments to match. A piano, tune immaterial, is a sine qua non even in a middle-class house, but when Muttonwool has got all these things—in short, paid his upholsterer's bill—he thinks a ten-pound note should cover the rest of his drawing-room furniture. Household gods are terribly deficient, and it would not be difficult to fancy yourself in a lodging-house. There may be a few odds and ends picked up on the overland route, and a set of stereotyped ornaments bought at an auction sale or sent out as 'sundries' in a general cargo; but of bric-a-brac, in the usual acceptation of the term, there is little or none.
As for the pictures, they are altogether abominable. Can you imagine a man with L5,000 a year (or L500, for that matter) covering his walls with chromos? The inferior kinds of these 'popularizers of art,' as the papers call them, have an immense sale here. Even when a wealthy man has been told that it is his duty to buy pictures, the chances are that he will attend an auction and pick up rubbish at low prices, rubbing his hands over what he considers a good bargain; or if he wants to tell his visitors how much he gave for his pictures he gets mediocre work with a name on it. A recent number of the Adelaide Punch has a caricature entitled ''Igh Art in Adelaide,' which though of course a caricature, is worth quoting as showing how the wind blows: 'Tallowfat, pointing to a picture in a dealer's shop, loq.: "What's the price of that there thing with the trees and the 'ut in the distance?" Dealer: "That, sir! that's a gem by Johnstone" (a local artist of some merit)—"twenty guineas, sir." Tallowfat: "Twenty tomfools!" "What d'ye take me for? Why, I bought a picture twice that size, with much more colour in it, and a frame half as thick again, and I only paid ten for it! Show us something with more style."' A few men have good pictures, but I hardly know anyone who has any good engravings. Muttonwool can see no difference between a proof before letters and the illustrations from the newspapers, which may be seen pasted on the walls of every small shop and working-man's cottage. That there is a taste for pictures here is undeniable. But that is common to every child till it knows how to read, and will want a deal of educating before it can be called 'art.'
We will now go into the dining-room, which is probably the best furnished room in the house. It is not easy to make a dining-room look out of joint provided you are not particular about the cost, though there is a very wide margin between the decent and the handsome. The upholstery is much the same as in an ordinary upper middle-class house in England—sofa, sideboard, chiffonier, two easy and eight or ten upright chairs in cedar frames and covered with leather, marble mantelpiece and clock, Louis XVI. glass, and a carpet which is at any rate better than the drawing-room one. If there is a breakfast-room it is a smaller edition of the dining-room. The study is chiefly remarkable for the absence of books, or for an inappropriateness to the owner's tastes which smacks of a job-lot. The bedrooms are disappointing. Pictures and knick-knacks rarely extend beyond the 'company' precincts. Muttonwool would think it a waste of good bawbees to put pretty things in the bedrooms, where no one but the family will see them. In these rooms he is au naturel, and with all his good-nature and genuineness he is rather a rough fellow. The brute is expelled from the drawing-room, but he jumps in again at the bedroom window. As for the servants' rooms, anything is good enough for them. Probably the master himself was contented with still less in his younger days. The kitchen is ordinarily very poorly provided with utensils. Ranges and stoves are only found in the wealthier houses, the usual cooking apparatus being a colonial oven—a sort of box with fire above and below, which is very convenient for burning wood, the usual fuel throughout Australia.
I think this is about as much as need be said about an average wealthy Australian's house; but before going on to describe middle-class homes, I must ask you to remember that all large colonial houses are not furnished on this wise. There are a large number of people in Australia, and especially in Victoria, who have as good an idea of how to furnish as other middle-class Englishmen—though perhaps that is not saying much. But in articles of this kind I am obliged to strike an average. The type of house I have described is the most common. You must leave a marain on either side of it according to the education and tastes of the owner. And here let me note that in Melbourne houses are certainly more expensively, and perhaps better furnished than in any of the other towns. The Victorians have a much greater love of show than any of their fellow-Australians. Where a Sydney man spends L400 on his furniture you may safely predict that a Melbourner will spend L600. Consequently the furniture establishments in the latter city are much superior to those in the former, and that although, owing to the enormous duty-25 per cent.—but little English furniture is imported into Victoria.
Let us now hie us to humbler abodes, and visit an eight-roomed cottage, inhabited by a young solicitor whose income is from L500 to L1000 a year. Here the whole drawing-room suite is in cretonne or rep, and comprises the couch, six chairs, and lady's and gent's easy-chairs, which we saw before at Muttonwool's. The carpet is also ditto. The glass, ornaments, etc., are similar, but on a smaller scale; and if there are any pictures on the wall they are almost bound to be chromos, for whilst Croesus sometimes invests in expensive paintings, the middle-class, who cannot afford to give from L100 upwards for a picture, will make no effort to obtain something moderately good, such as can be easily obtained in England for a very small outlay. The gasalier is bronze instead of glass. The real living-room of the house is the dining-room, which is therefore the best furnished, and on a tapestry carpet are a leather couch, six balloon-back carved chairs, two easy-chairs, a chiffonier, a side-table, and a cheap chimney-glass. In the best bedroom the bedstead is a tubular half-tester, the toilet-ware gold and white, the carpet again tapestry. Throughout the house the furniture is made of cedar. The kitchen is summarily disposed of; Biddy has to content herself with d table, dresser, safe, pasteboard and rolling-pin, and a couple of chairs. Her bedroom furniture is even more scanty—a paillasse on trestles, a chair, a half-crown looking-glass, an old jug and a basin on a wooden table. Even in the houses of the wealthy poor Biddy is very badly treated in this respect. In Muttonwool's house, if he keeps two servants, they both sleep in one room, and not improbably share the same basin. Servants are undoubtedly troublesome to a degree in Australia, but it is not altogether a satisfactory feature in colonial life that the provision made for their comfort is literally nil.
Having seen the L600 a year cottage it is almost needless to visit the L300 and L400, belonging to clerks and the smaller shopkeepers. The style is the same, but the quantity and quality inferior. For instance, the drawing-room carpet is tapestry instead of Brussels; the dining-room furniture is covered with horse-hair instead of leather, and so on. We will go into the next cottage—less pretentious-looking and a little smaller. The rent is twelve shillings a week, and it belongs to a carpenter in good employ. Here there is no drawing-room, but the parlour aspires to comfort quite undreamt of by an English tradesman. Our old friends the horse-hair cedar couch, the gent's and lady's chairs together with four balloon high chairs, turn up again. There is a four-foot chiffonier, a tapestry carpet, a gilt chimney-glass, a hearthrug, a bronze fender and fire-irons, and a round table with turned pillar and carved claws. In the parents' bedroom are a half-tester bedstead with coir-fibre or woollen flock mattress, two cane chairs, washstand, toilet-table, glass and ware, towel-horse, chest of drawers, and a couple of yards of bedside carpet. The two youngest children sleep in this room, and three or four others in the second bedroom, where the bedsteads are less showy and the ware very inferior. The carpet is replaced by china matting. The chest of drawers does duty as a toilet-table, and there are of course no such luxuries as towel-horses. Yet, take it all in all, Chips has much to be thankful for.
With labour so dear as it is here, it is wonderful to think that a working-man can furnish, and furnish comfortably, a four-roomed cottage for L27; and yet this is what has recently been done in Melbourne by my friend Hornyhand, who is a common labourer, earning only eight to nine shillings a day, and paying about as much a week for rent. He is really uncommonly well off, everything in his house being brand-new; and yet, as he tells me, he is absolutely at the root of the honest social tree—the worst paid of the working-classes. I think it worth while to subjoin his bill. He certainly has not gone in for luxuries, but then he is of a frugal mind. If he wanted it, his house could be as well furnished as Chips'; but he doesn't see any object in wasting money on that kind of thing, and is content with little:
Parlour. L s. d.
Cedar polished couch, covered with horse-hair 2 10 0 Four cane-seat chairs, each 7s. 6d. 1 10 0 Cedar polished table, 3 ft. 6 in., on claws 1 10 0 Maple rocking-chair, with elbows 0 17 6 Carpet 1 5 0 Hearthrug, 8s. 6d. fender, 9s. irons, 6s. 6d. 1 4 0
French bedstead, 4 ft. 6 in. by 6 ft. 6 in. 1 15 0 Pair paillasses 12 6 Woollen flock mattrass 1 0 0 Woollen flock bolster and 2 pillows 8 0 Washstand, and rail attached 10 6 Toilet table, to match 10 6 Toilet glass, 14 in. by 10 in. 8 6 2 cane-scat chairs (Albert), 6s. each 12 0 4 yards matting at 9d. 3 0 Toilet-ware, six pieces 12 6
2 French bedsteads, 3 ft. by 6 ft. 6 in. at 30s. 3 0 0 4 paillasses, at 10s. per pair 1 0 0 2 woollen flock mattrasses, at 16. 3d. each 1 12 6 2 bolsters, flock, at 4s. 6d. each 9 0 2 pillows, flock, at 3s. each 6 0 Toilet chest of drawers (to serve for toilet table), cedar 2 5 0 Toilet glass, 14 in. by 10 in. 7 0 Washstand, 2 ft. 6 in. 12 0 Wash, etc., 6 pieces 12 6
Deal table, turned legs, varnished 10 6 2 wood chairs, each 4s. 6d. 9 0 Safe in Kauri pine 10 6 Pasteboard and rolling-pin 4 0
L27 7 0
Note.—That if he had not had two children to provide for in a second bedroom, nor indulged in the luxury of a chest of drawers, the whole of his furnishing would only have cost him L17 3s.
Before closing this letter, a word as to what may be called the accessories of the household. But few families have any large quantity of plate, and electro has almost entirely superseded silver; metal is not common for dishes, and is quite unknown for plates. Nor is the crockery at all a strong point even in the wealthiest houses. In the shops it is almost impossible to get anything satisfactory in this line; and until the exhibitions, nine Australians out of ten had no idea what was meant by hand-painted china. The difference between china and earthenware is, it goes almost without saying, little if at all appreciated, much less that between hand-painted and stamped ware. The display of cut-glass at the exhibitions was almost as great a revelation to colonists as that of porcelain; hitherto all middle-class and most wealthy households have been contented with the commonest stuff. Table-cloths and napkins are also very second-rate, and sheets are almost invariably of calico.
That servants are the plague of life seems to be an accepted axiom amongst English ladies of the upper middle class. When I hear them discussing their grievances over their afternoon tea, I wish them no worse fate than to have the management of an Australian household for a week. It is not every Englishwoman whose peace of mind would survive the trial. Many a young English wife have I seen unhappy in her married life in the colonies, mainly on account of her domestics. And yet I doubt whether the colonial mistress makes as much fuss about her real wrongs as the English one about her imaginary grievances. Of course she can, if drawn out, tell you enough ridiculous stories about her servants to fill a number of Punch; but if they are only fools she is well content, and it is only when she is left servantless for two or three days that she waxes wroth.
Where mistresses are many and servants are few, it goes almost without saying that large establishments are out of the question. Given equal incomes, and the English mistress has twice as many servants as the Australian, and what is more, twice as competent ones. Even our friend Muttonwool only has six coachman, boy, cook, housemaid, nurse, and parlourmaid. I don't suppose there are a hundred households in all Australia which keep a butler pure and simple, though there must be several thousand with what is generically known as a man-servant, who gets twenty-five shillings a week, all found. A coachman's wages are on the average about the same. The 'boy' gets ten shillings. Man-cooks are rare. A decent female cook, who ranks out here as first-class, earns from fifteen shillings to a pound a week. For this sum she is supposed to know something about cooking; yet I have known one in receipt of a weekly guinea look with astonishment at a hare which had been sent to her master as a present, and declare that it was 'impossible to make soup out of that thing.' After a little persuasion she was induced to try to make hare-soup after Mrs. Beeton's recipe, but the result was such as to try the politeness of her master's visitors. This lack of decent cooks is principally due to the lack of establishments large enough to keep kitchenmaids. Would-be cooks have no opportunity of acquiring their art by training from their superiors; they gain their knowledge by experiments on their employers' digestions; never staying long in one place, they learn to make some new dishes at each house they go to, and gradually rise in the wages-scale.