Aqueducts and a little concrete advice …

Breakwater’s historic aqueduct is about to fall on people’s heads, again, making it time to revisit concerns from a few years back …

The giant honeycombed concrete edifice on Ryrie St looks like a bomb blast aftermath just now. The Barwon Water HQ makeover is interesting on a couple of fronts, not just for its tilt to brutalist architecture, a trait shared by the Irish pyramid also boldly evident at its rear.

Concrete is a tough building material and it can look, well, less than warm and friendly. And it can deteriorate into a rather dangerous proposition as age and a peculiar condition loosely termed concrete cancer develops.

Similar thing, efflorescence, can happen with sandstone, which you’ll find in buildings such as Christ Church at Moorabool Street’s top of the town. Pored over that as a student, way back when. Remember a mate skittling a kid on his bike while we there; kid wound up under the gearbox with about an inch clearance from his head. No helmets, he was lucky to walk away.

Was reminded of this out on Marshall’s Tanner Street the other day, eyeballing Barwon Water’s old sewer bridge, a remarkable cancer-riddled concrete aqueduct. Heritage listed to its own eyeballs, the century-old, 750-metre, 14-span structure supports a sewer pipe — ovoid in shape for max hydraulic efficiency, in case you’re interested — and looks like some strangely crocheted school project.

It’s like a concrete-stringed concertina drawn out full length with a rod through its guts. Peculiar and oddly beautiful. Been some politics attached to its survival, too, ever since engineers 20 years ago suggested it could collapse at any moment. It’s still there, though.

Can’t say the same for its engineering sister, the Geelong CBD’s old Bow Truss woolstore, which experts also said was set to fall on people’s heads any second. It’s gone. Interestingly though, when the demolition lads moved in, they couldn’t knock it down with a wrecking ball. Really had to put their shoulders into it to eventually get rid of it; the TAC building came up in its place.

I can’t say if the aqueduct would offer the same resistance, or redevelopment options; the river precinct underneath looks more flood-prone than Warralily. Some people are talking up walking tracks and interpretative signs. Best put a few warnings up for tiger snakes if that gets up.

Noted recently that Cave Clan tunnel tourists are back playing teenage mutant ninja turtles in Barwon Water’s pipes beneath Geelong. If they want something really smelly, maybe they should try the sewer pipe within the McIntyre Bridge over the Barwon at Belmont. More brutalism there, by the way, seems it’s just the way with concrete.

That pipeline’s been going since about 1967, 50 odd years now, which is getting close to the 56 years the aqueduct operated from 1916 before being decommissioned in 1972. Barwon rowers might be forgiven for looking upwards every so, given what some engineers seem to think of concrete.

Yeah, I know, shouldn’t joke about things like that. Mind you, it does strike me as a little odd that the most significant landmark near Kardinia House, the residence of Geelong first’s mayor, Alexander Thomson, might be a sewer pipe. Then again, the way Geelong treats some of its mayors, but that’s another story …

Thing I do find amusing about our water utility’s matrix of sewer pipes is the need to flush them every so often with gusts of high-pressure air. I seem to recall notices to householders cautioning them not to be alarmed if any toilets seats bang open unexpectedly.

Puts a new take on the term thunderboxes, I suppose. Maybe that’s what they should call the new bomb-blasted HQ — Thunderbox House. That would be a bit brutal.

This article appeared in The Weekly Review, 13 May 2016

New home, new life, new hope

It was once the cradle of civilisation. These days, there’s little that’s very civilised about the country that hounded Milad Butrus and his family from their home.

Bakhdida, in northern Iraq, became simply too dangerous for this Christian family, a Catholic family, and they fled to Jordan in 2014.

It was a harrowing flight to safety marked by hellish traffic jams in a baking desert, feverish passport negotiations with Baghdad bureaucrats, three businesses and a handsome double-story home left behind, friends, family too …

The alternative presented by Islamic State forces, who had been rocketing Milad’s Bakhdida home town for days, with shells landing as close as 500 metres away, was impossible.

“It was just like Baghdad, where most Christians left — some were killed, some were kidnapped, other had their properties stolen,” Milad says.

“I heard the same story over and over. They came in Hummer cars, they’d say ‘You’re Christian, sign these papers signing over your home or we’ll kill your son’.

“It happened with so many families, and it wasn’t only Islamic State, it was people from the government, the Iraqi army.”

Milad reveals two photographs on his phone that point all too vividly to the fear, anguish and horror of living in the shadow of IS.

The first is of a priest, dressed in brightly coloured robes, in his coffin. It’s Milad’s cousin. He was shot by IS while at Mass, trying to close the church doors against the terrorist intruders.

“They killed between 45 and 50 people in the church that day, some of them as young as two years old,” Milad says, raising his phone to show the second photo, of the church’s appallingly bloodstained and shattered interior.

Milad’s wife, Maherah, nods in agreement as he describes the anxiety of fleeing Iraq, hunkering down in Jordan for close to two years while seeking refugee status to just about anywhere that would take them.

They had their lives, their young children Neamah and Karam, now 11 and six, and they had prayers and hopes.

They’d left behind an IT services and internet provider business, a travel agency and a new furniture store. Their home was shelled but not obliterated. Milad’s father’s home was obliterated. Milad ponders whether he might be sell what’s left of his but he’s not sure if he can.

Fast forward five years and the Butrus family is resident in Geelong, infinitely safer than where they once called home. Geelong was their first stop after arriving at Melbourne Airport. They’re still pinching themselves about living in Australia.

Milad is working in IT at GHD, Maherah is studying English at The Gordon, the kids are lapping up school at Bell Park’s Holy Family Primary.

And they’ve just bought up at Villawood Properties’ new Wandana community between Highton and Ceres, where they’re planning to build soon and consolidate their new life in Australia.

Milad and Maherah grin shyly as they admit they’re even contemplating more kids.

Talk about turning your lives about.

Moi-yo: Magical queen of a golden age

BERLIN 1939: The storm clouds of war are hovering dark and forbidding over Europe. The German capital, long known for its libertine ways, for its raunchy cabarets, is now known as the nerve centre of a Nazi juggernaut making its way across Europe.

For the world’s foremost illusion show, the renowned Dante the Magician’s company – a troupe that’s performed in faraway China, in Stalinist Russia, amid typhoons in Japan – the season might be just one more engagement amid a dubious political regime.

It’s not. War is suddenly declared on the fatherland by England and the show’s over. It’s time to get out. Fast.

For the young Geelong woman who is the show’s star, apart from Dante himself, leaving much of the company’s gear behind is a worrying proposition.

So too is being ushered to the border by Nazi SS troops. She’s not to know Gustav V, the King of Sweden, will invite the entourage into his Scandinavian refuge, from where it’s able to marshall its resources and eventually head to safety – and Broadway – in the US.

The woman, Moi-yo Miller, is as exotic a showstopper as you’ll see sashay on to a stage anywhere in this golden age of entertainment.

At 25 years old, she’s the apogee of elegance and widely considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. Moi-Yo Miller is Dante the Magician’s leading lady, his principal illusionista, and a world-wide sensation in her own right.

A dark, brooding beauty one minute in satin, silk and turban, she’s ethereal magic. Mysterious and stunning. Crowds gasp at her entrance.

A flashing smile and seamless dancer’s glide in the spotlight the next; she’s something between Dietrich and fairy. Beguiling, whimsical, arresting.

Moi-Yo’s name is emblazoned across posters from Peking to New York and helps draw thousands upon thousands to Dante’s magic shows – her high cheekbones and piercing glances the perfect foil to his mind-boggling illusions, his casual chatter and his trademark “Sim Sala Bim’’ exhortations.

Pity she’s about to be sawn in half.

In 1939, she’s still young. Eventually, her supple contortionist’s body is going to be shot, crushed, levitated, evaporated, reconstituted, squeezed into impossibly small boxes to magically vanish and reappear before hundreds upon hundreds of rapturous audiences across Europe, Asia, America and North Africa.

Eventually, she’s going to be sawn in half 11,800 times – everywhere from Hollywood, Broadway and Las Vegas to London, Moscow, Valencia. Dante’s nothing if not brutal, professionally that is.

“Fortunately, I was very acrobatic when I was a child and that played a big part,’’ Moi-Yo recalls.

“Claudia Cassidy, a society writer in England, came to the show I don’t know how many times and in the first write-up she said, `That girl folds up like a piece of Chinese silk’. I thought it was lovely.

Now, at the impressive age of 95, Moi-Yo is even more impressively limber; buzzing and bouncing about the Armadale home where she still lives independently.

She’s tiny, thin, perfectly coiffed and made up. The best part of a century hasn’t sapped her prodigious energy and she whips about the house scouting up scrapbooks, clippings, photos, chattering loudly with an American accent and a hint of the emeritus star.

She’s a great grandmother now, returned in recent years from California after her husband Arturo’s death to be nearer her faraway family. Magic might have made Moi-Yo famous but it kept her from Australia for too many years. She remembers that distant past acutely.

She was born Loretta Miller in 1914, the start of World War 1. But even way back then, a world away, she was someone else – someone known as Miki Miller. The Moi-Yo came later, in Asia where Miller was readily mispronounced. Dante pounced on the exotic tone and she was renamed.

Miki lived in Newtown’s Skene St and later in South Geelong’s Lonsdale St. She was one of four kids: Marnie, Bobbie, brother Frank and Miki. Marnie was actually Marion, Bobbie was really Juanita and Frank was, well, he was Frank. Moi-Yo remembers him dearly.

She still conjures up images of school at St Mary’s and, like many Geelong kids of the 1920s, swimming in the sea baths at Eastern Beach, visiting Johnstone Park, exploring the Barwon River, playing on vanished wooden bridges ….

“Oh, the beach was wonderful,’’ she says of Eastern Beach, years before its art deco masterpiece was built.

“There was this beautiful part of the beach we used to go, I think it’s still there, we used to go diving, a whole bunch of us. Of course I was the ringleader.

“We used to go to Johnstone Park and everybody would be taking pictures because of the glorious, green rolling lawns. At the top was a library of some kind as I remember it.’’

She remembers pies after church on Moorabool St, the hedonism of eating pure butter, and dancing, always dancing.

“Scotch dancing, Irish jigs and strathspey and reels … I can’t remember when I wasn’t dancing.

“We’d go to all the competitions. Mum would sit with the other mothers and they’d all be gossiping until they’d see us come and they’d be, ‘Here come those Miller kids!’ because we were all dancing in the competition and either I’d get first place and Marnie would get second or Marnie would get first prize and I’d get second. It never failed.’’

That dancing became a full-time occupation and Moi Yo was performing in Melbourne in 1933 when she met Dante’s son Bill, when the magic show came to town.

Dante senior pronounced himself smitten by the beauty of Melbourne’s females. He staged a revue looking for the most beautiful woman in Australia. Moi-Yo took out the honours and spent the next year studying the illusions.

She was known thereafter as the Most Beautiful Woman in Australia. She was also advertised for two decades – around the globe – as one of the most beautiful women in the world. She thinks it was an exaggeration but look at the pictures for yourself.

Young Moi-yo took to Dante’s show with a passion – and an eye for smartening up what she still refers to as an “awful’’ staging. She redesigned costumes, sets and music, vetted staff and in quick time become co-star of the largest touring show in the world at the time – the Dante Mystery Revue.

And there was magic. Magic behind China’s closed borders, in Stalin’s tyrannical empire, in Japan, Spain and Europe, Canada, America…

“Oh yes, we travelled all over China, we loved it,’’ Moi-yo smiles.

“Everywhere we went, of course, we had entree into the best of places. But we were not meeting people on the streets, so to speak, unless we met friends in the group and they had friends – then we’d get to meet someone that way.’’

Winning entry to different countries was not always a straightforward affair and often drew on Dante’s formidable renown and his extensive worldwide connections.

“First of all, we had to get the paperwork done, visas with all those countries, and we had to get entree by some very well-known people – the Strasbourgs or someone like that – and then we had a toe in and we had to work our way through.’’

Today, half a century later, the changing nature of touring shows have all consigned Moi-Yo’s star to the past. Yet, even 50 years after retirement forced by Dante’s death, Moi-Yo is still recognised by the magic world’s cognoscenti.

Last year she was subject of a special homage in the movie Women in Boxes – a tribute to magicians assistants cut into pieces, stabbed incessantly, set on fire, crushed, dismembered …

Says director Harry Pallenberg: “Moi-Yo Miller has an interesting position the pantheon of assistants. Every single person we interviewed – both man and woman, magician or assistant, historian or magic fan – saw Moi-Yo as the pinnacle of the art.”

In 1993, she and husband Arturo were presented with a Dragon Award by the J. Marberger Stuart Foundation.

For a woman whose study is wallpapered with photos of her with such luminaries down the ages as a young David Copperfield and George Sanders, not to mention movie posters of Abbott and Costello, it’s perhaps not so remarkable that in the town where she was born, Moi-yo Miller might be largely a forgotten star to all but family and the closest of friends.

We shouldn’t forget. Luckily, the Nazis didn’t.

— Moi-yo Miller died September 18, 2018. She was 104 years old.



Freeride world champ Huber retires

Torquay’s Freeride world champion skier Lorraine Huber has announced her retirement  from the Freeride World Tour
after eight seasons. The Freeride World Tour is an annually toured series of events in which the best freeride skiers and snowboarders
compete for individual event wins, as well as the overall title of World
Champion in their respective genders and disciplines.

“I’ve had eight intense and unforgettable years on the FWT and I am
very happy to end my competition career on such a high note,” Huber said.

During the past 2018 season, Huber dominated the fourth tour stop in
Fieberbrunn in Austria with a win, followed by a second place at the
Xtreme Verbier in Switzerland, the finals of the Freeride World Tour,
putting her in third place overall.

In 2017, Huber achieved her big dream of winning the World Champion title. She also became runner-up
champion in 2014. She was awarded Vorarlberg Sportswoman of the Year
2017 and received the Golden Medal of Achievement in Sport from her home
state of Vorarlberg, Austria.

“Lorraine Huber is one of the best female skiers we’ve seen on the
Tour, winning a World Title and demonstrating one of the strongest
characters and commitment to her sport,” said Nicolas Hale-Woods, CEO of the
Freeride World Tour.

“Lorraine has been a major actor in the sport’s progression, she has shared her passion, and
is now willing to pass on her experience to future generations, which is
fantastic. Thank you Lorraine!”

Although Huber is retiring from freeride competition, by no means does
this suggest retirement from professional skiing.

“I want to put all my energy into new projects now,” she said.

“It’s especially important to me to pass on my knowledge and experience in the sport of freeriding to future generations –
particularly to female skiers.

“To this end, I plan on expanding my women’s freeride camps in Lech am Arlberg. I will also be busy with
the production of ski film projects. My next big goal is to complete my master’s degree in mental strength coaching at the University of
Salzburg. This will enable me to coach athletes professionally in
reaching their full potential.”


DAREDEVILS are a funny breed. Some are clearly adrenalin junkies bent on scaring the daylights out of themselves for the rush it brings. Others are more methodical, analytical, driven for the thrill but exercising more care.

Talk to, say, base jumpers and you’ll note a supreme kind of confidence but also a deadly serious attention to detail. One slip and the game’s over. No second chances there. Same goes for highwire artists, F1 drivers, stuntmen and pilots, divers, speleologists, rock climbers, commandoes … blink and you might find yourself dead.

Torquay ski superstar Lorraine Huber talks about an ‘avalanche moment’ that very nearly persuaded her to walk away from extreme skiing — better known these days as freeriding — where she last month ranked number one in the world.

That’s number one in the world at throwing yourself over a precipitous cliff — a breathtaking sport many consider the scariest in the world. Forget bungee jumping and parachuting, this is a white-knuckler without a net and every chance of exiting this world at any point on the course between go and whoa.   

When that sport, your career, is all about jumping off a mountain, it pays to know everything you can possibly know about what’s underneath you; the type of snow, where rocks are, the angle of the slope, what line you need to take. Judges agree and detract rather than add points for reckless manoeuvres.

But avalanches, for all the planning, awareness and calculated risk, are just plain terrifying. It’s not you throwing yourself at the mountain, it’s the mountain throwing itself at you. Lorraine is well aware of the threat and at times it’s nearly prompted her to walk away from the sport she helped pioneer in the Austrian alps and where she has dominated international competitions for more than a decade.

Raised on the snowfields of Austria, in Lech am Arlberg, the nearest ski lift was 100 metres from her front door, Lorraine Huber went to ski school instead of kindergarten. Then at age eight, she moved to Australia, and Torquay. She studied at Newtown’s Sacred Heart College and grew up by the sea, but managed to get in six or so weeks skiing back in Austria.

She’s been living in the mountain village she grew up in, Lech am Arlberg, since the end of 1998 after graduating from Sacred Heart. It’s her dad’s home town and her family goes back there 400 and more years. The house her ancestors used to live is now the heritage museum.

Proud as she is of that, her mother is from Torquay, where Lorraine lived from age eight  to 18, and it still feels more like home to her than anywhere else, she says. She’s maintained friendships with girlfriends from primary and secondary school alike.

But in Lech, back in 1998, her world was about to change again. As she phrases it:

“My skiing world was all about making perfect, rhythmical turns straight down the fall line in all types of snow conditions, scooping tracks and creating symmetrical patterns in the snow in the true, traditional Arlberg style. Then, in February 1998, something remarkable happened …”

Avalanche warnings had locked entry in and out of Lech and Lorraine found herself, with her ski instructor buddies, skiing fast, long turns and dropped cliffs for the first time.

“Of course I bailed every time, but in the heavy snow fall, it didn’t matter,” she says. “On the fourth day, the sun came out, and I was tearing it up with my mates, headed straight for the cliff we sessioned, launched it, stomped it, and then arced four long and fast turns down to the bottom of the slope.”

And that was it. She was hooked on freeskiing.

A few years later, urged on by her instructor mates, she entered her first big mountain freeride contest — the Red Bull Snowthrill in Slovenia — and took out first prize. She’s been a professional ever since. And last season, 2014, saw her pipped for the Freeride World Tour’s top spot, running second to fellow Arlberg skier Nadine Wallner  — a prodigious achievement in anyone’s book.

She’s also a coach for prestigious KJUS World  events and Kastle Adventure Tours, a fully-certified ski guide and a director of freeride camps. Her sponsors include KJUS and Kästle, together with Scott, Garmont and ABS Avalanche Airbag. Just to drop a few names.

In fact, tap Lorraine Huber into Google and you’ll find a tidy 130,000-plus pages detailing her career as a professional freeride skier. Videos, articles, photographs … there are mountains of maneouvres and airborne escapades she throws herself through that will raise the hair on the back of your neck.

But as you might expect with a dangerous sport, it hasn’t been smooth sailing all the way. In 2007, she received a nasty reminder when she ruptured her ACL and MCL in a bad crash.

She underwent a ligament graft transplant — using a part of her hamstring to replace the ruptured ACL, which turns into a ligament-like tissue. The MCL was able to be sewn back together.

“I did eight months of rehab in Australia before getting back on snow,” she recalls. “My rehab didn’t go so well because I always had pain behind my kneecap, which consequently prevented my wasted muscles in my right leg from redeveloping. Due to this, I developed tendinitis in my right patella which, unfortunately, has become chronic.”

Did she find a strength she didn’t know she had?

“Yes, absolutely. I don’t think it is anything unusual though and I believe most people would have done the same. If life deals you some hardships then you just get through it because you have to, one day at a time. What other alternative do you have, anyway? The natural thing for me was to focus on my rehab and getting better.”

More recently, Lorraine struck further injury problem but tenacity and resilience saw her through.

“The season before, I came closer than ever before to achieving my goal of becoming Freeride World Tour champion. After a crash at the finals in Verbier (Switzerland), I placed second overall behind Arlberg local Nadine Wallner, who showed nerves of steel with a solid run that placed her in second on the day, and first overall.

“I had tasted blood, however, and was super-motivated to keep training and improving. During my off-snow training, my main motivator was the overall title. My thoughts returned to that title often.

“Come December, I was at the top of my game, feeling physically and mentally stronger than ever and also excited about skiing on the new Kästle BMX skis I had helped to develop. Then, on 26 December, disaster struck.

“All day we had been skiing low angle, grassy slopes and were having a ball. Suddenly, while skiing in the Seekopf area in Zürs, I hit a rock hidden under 30cm of snow and came to a complete stop. I broke my ankle on impact.

“I can tell you, it bloody hurt. When I heard my doctor give me his diagnosis of five to six weeks rest, my world started crumbling around me.”

Lorraine went through a learning curve, realising she’d focussed too much on the overall title the previous season, instead of directing her focus from one event to the next, aiming to just ski her best at each competition.

But within five weeks, almost miraculously, she was back skiing the Freerider World Tour, free in her mind, and finishing seventh overall and qualifying for the FWT 2016 and finishing fourth.

This year, Lorraine’s drive, determination and steely resolve saw her at last grasp the Freerider World Tour number one mantle.

“What drives me to be a freerider?” she says.

“I want to live a passionate life. I want to live a life that’s full of passion and a strong life and freeriding allows me to do that.”

A Sand Archive

Engineering a sand blast from the past

Last time I saw him was a little startling. Wes Anderson’s quirky The Grand Budapest Hotel had just finished, in the Village cinema, and his steady mellifluous voice came floating out of the blackness behind me.

“So, what did you think of that, Murphy?” he asked. Of course, there’s only ever one answer for Anderson movies. “Peculiar but terrific,” I muttered, or something to that effect.

The voice belonged to a one-time Country Road Boards engineer with a liking for tweed coats, English cars from the 1950s, pushbikes and just about everything about Geelong’s past.

He was a regular commentator/supporter on all sorts of articles I’d written about old stuff around Geelong.

One time he admonished me, gently, for writing a yarn about Geelong founding father Foster Fyans’ reputation as a sadistic flogging commandant at the Norfolk Island convict colony.

Another time he presented me with a print by colonial artist Wilbraham Liardet of Geelong’s waterfront and fledgling township in 1848. “Keep up the good work,” he told me. It’s on a wall in my living room.

Peter Alsop had a great love — and encyclopaedic knowledge — of engineering history, of bridges and tunnels, of hydraulics and floods and breakwaters, of architecture, heritage and music. He was a violinist with the Geelong Symphony and Geelong String orchestras, and several other ensembles.

Clever bloke all round. And a polite, engaging and encouraging bloke.

But I kind of lost track of Peter Alsop. For years, I’d simply run into him on the street. He was always about, and always up for a chat.

Then, one day, I realised he wasn’t around. He’d exited this world, quietly, without any great fanfare, a few months earlier, in late 2014. I’d missed it altogether.

I felt ashamed of myself. But Peter Alsop’s departure was the far greater shame.

Before he died, he was awarded a Master of Engineering degree by Deakin Uni. He didn’t last to its actual conferring, and there was a deep sadness to the extensive, and well-deserved, tribute later extended him by the uni’s former architecture head and deputy VC Daryl LeGrew.

More recently, I got wind that another friend of Peter Alsop was working on a novel inspired by this remarkable quiet achiever.

Like me, author Gregory Day tripped to Peter’s extraordinary knowledge in a casual kind of fashion. Peter was a regular visitor to the Barwon Booksellers store in the city’s James Street, where Greg works, and the pair connected on numerous streams of cerebral consciousness.

Day elaborates on these in the book, A Sand Archive, his latest in a series of award-winning novels in which he regularly draws on all manner of curious Otways coastal and hinterland life and nature – even a little of the paranormal.

Author Gregory Day. Picture: Simon O’Dwyer

The chief character, FB Herschell, is unmistakably Alsop. He’s working on the Great Ocean Road with the CRB and battling to find a fix for regular but unpredictable subsidence caused by the fact parts of the road are built on shifting sand dunes.

The young FB, anxious to study sand dunes and their properties, heads for France where he finds himself in the middle of the fevered 1968 Paris social demonstrations and riots, and falling in love. It’s a complex, magical, poetic and elegiac story.

Day’s sense of place is anchored in Geelong, the Great Ocean Road but especially in Aireys Inlet, or more traditionally Mangowak. He’s as remarkable, in his way, as Herschell or Alsop.

A poet, a musician, writer and environmentalist, his Patron Saint of Eels, The Grand Hotel, Archipelago of Souls, Ron McCoy’s Sea of Diamonds  and other works have won him a string of literary awards.

His great mate, Lorne’s Greek fisherman-poet, the late Christos Raskatos, once told me with great affection that he was mad. Day’s own poetry is downright wicked.

It’s a terrible pity he’s not about to read it but I’m not quite sure what Peter Alsop would think, being held up to such attention, in Day’s latest novel. Given his self-effacing manner, I suspect he’d have been kind of mortified.

If it was me, I’d be bloody delighted.

— A SAND ARCHIVE, by Gregory Day, is published by Pan Macmillan/Picador.

Bioplanters and new ways with waterways

DEALING with the water run-off from a 200-lot hillside residential estate at Wandana is an engineering challenge.

Melbourne environmental engineering company Biofilta, whose Geelong projects have included Leopold’s Gateway Plaza and several indoor feature gardens at GMHBA Stadium, has taken the challenge by designing an integrated system involving water harvest, storage and treatment.

Biofilta has been involved in innovative stormwater harvesting and wetland projects across Melbourne, but the Wandana project, the Villawood Properties estate above Highton overlooking the Geelong Ring Road, presented a new level of complexity.

“There’s nothing as compact and as highly engineered as this one,” Biofilta chief executive Marc Noyce said.

“Our system works really well where there are tricky sites, steep slopes, areas where you can’t get a wetland in.”

He said the integrated system that has been installed includes 200 cubic metres of underground flood detention storage, gross pollutant capture, and a 50sq m bio-planter to biologically treat all the low flows from its steep upstream catchment.

“It also includes a separate tank holding 20,000 litres of filtered water to recirculate in hot weather to keep the plants alive without the need to use potable water,” he said.

The system provides flood protection, stormwater treatment and sustainable natural treatment in a compact footprint.

The bio-planter is a lush affair, featuring local coastal plants and sand dune plants adapted to wet and dry conditions. Two lots of microbes in the planter effectively treat the water.

“Water goes in at the top, it looks like dirty dishwater and it has the heavy metal nasties,” Mr Noyce said.

“It stops on top, soluble pollutants soak through one set of aerobic bacteria, and they really transform the pollutants. That flows to the bottom, where there’s no oxygen — that promotes anaerobic bacteria that does another polishing job of the pollutants.”

By pollutants, think everyday materials such as metal dust from roads, oil from cars, rooftop sediments, brake dust and the like — things that would eventually pose problems elsewhere.

Villawood was the first Victorian developer to receive UDIA EnviroDevelopment accreditation and is recognised for its high level of conservation and ecosystems and dedication to saving water and energy.

Chief executive Rory Costelloe said Villawood was always striving to investigate and implement any means of saving water and energy.


Cricket: Aborigines, elephants and barbecued chickens

Just spotted a great collection of stamps just released by Australia Post to mark 150 years since the first Oz cricket team toured England. All Aboriginals, neatly enough, and they fairly scared the socks off the Poms.

Great stamps of the team; mainly mono images, one with the lads resplendent in red, white and blue. If you’re into things philatelic, you’ll love them.

All reminded me of a kids book I picked up a while back called Boomerang and Bat. It was put together in memory of one of the team, a bloke called Bripumyarrimin. Mighty cricketer in his day. One of Australia’s best. Buried in England, after succumbing to tuberculosis while on that famous Aboriginal cricket tour in 1868.

Also known as King Cole, he was one of that extraordinary team initially coached and captained by Geelong’s Tom Wills, same man came up with Australian rules football. The team surprised the life out of England’s toffee-nosed cricketing aristocrats.

Smacked them all over the shop then put on corroborees, whipcracking tricks, close-up stunts belting away cricket balls thrown en masse, somersaults, tumbled backflips and threw demos with their spears and boomerangs. Johnny Mullagh, Unaarrimin, was the star of the team, carting the Poms all over the place.

Wills’ role is remarkable for the fact his father was slaughtered in the largest massacre of whites by Aborigines, five years earlier. But Wills had grown up with Aborigines and his 1866 job leading the team around Victoria and New South Wales, while a natural exercise for him, was often controversial to many colonials who saw Aborigines as savages.   

Wills was widely considered the best cricketer of his time but he’s not Geelong’s only claim to fame from the era. When Australia’s first Test team played England at the MCG in 1877, it included batsman Bransby Beauchamp Cooper, a cousin of the great W.G. Grace. He’d migrated to The Antipodes in 1869.

Cooper, a gentleman, eschewed anything resembling hard work. He refused to practise, deeming it a form of slavery, and demanded professional cricketers do the hard work of bowling and fielding. Oddly enough, he didn’t mind wicketkeeping.

Well-credentialled after playing with Grace’s teams in the 1860s in England, he later beat Grace’s team while playing for Victoria, with a personal knock of 84. Playing at South Melbourne in the 1870s, he drew such a large crowd that visiting tightrope sensation Blondin said Melbourne “had gone mad with cricket”.

Cooper worked at Queenscliff as a customs officer, dying in 1914. He is buried at Eastern Cemetery in plot CEO/6/48 if you’re curious.

I’ve had my orbs running over another book, too; Parachutist at Fine Leg, by Geelong scion and cricket encyclopedia Gideon Haigh. Veritable treasure chest of weird cricket tales. Like Sid Barnes’ 1948 jab at an umpire when a dog ran onto the field after an unsuccessful appeal: “Now all you want is a white stick.”

And South Africa’s exit from the field in Sydney 1995 after player Symcox was pelted with golf balls, fruit and a stuffed barbecue chicken. Then there was the sparrow killed by Indian bowler Jahangir Khan at Lord’s in 1936 which landed against the wicket, without dislodging the bails.  And in 1982, British customs found a consignment of bats from India  that had been hollowed out and filled with cannabis.

It’s not just the game, the old cricket. So I discovered some years back, at Barwon Heads, when a visiting circus elephant grabbed a cricket ball with its trunk after a batsman belted a four.

You’d think it happens all the time in India. You’d think maybe the pachyderm was trained and could throw it back. Nope, he just scoffed it, quick as look at you. Burp.

But my favourite cricketing yarn has to be Tarpot from that Aboriginal team toured England way back when. He could run 100 yards backwards in 14 seconds.

Like Lillee in reverse.


While my charango gently weeps …

Charango: It looks like a wooden armadillo. You know, those critters always getting skittled on South American back roads. Anteater-like, shell-dwelling rodents that musicians like to behead, gut, slap a fretboard on and then a poultice of nylon or gut strings.

Well, no animals were hurt in this musical experiment, if that’s any consolation. Perhaps an endangered timber or two — I can’t vouch otherwise. What happens in Bolivia, where this was made, is all mystery to me.

Not that that’s where I found this charango — the 10-string fake armadillo. I brought it for $US300 on the streets of neighbouring Cusco, high up in Peruvian Andes. Pig of an instrument, too.

I’ve fooled around with guitars, mandolins, bouzoukis, banjos, citterns, fiddles, mando-cellos, ch’ins, bandurias, balalaikas, instruments I couldn’t even name.

I’ve re-tuned them, de-tuned them, battered them with brass, glass and chrome slides, distortion pedals, wah-wahs, tube-screamers, samples and patches . . . all sorts of nonsense. Tortured the neighbours a good bit too, I confess. But this charango’s a tricky proposition.

I’ve watched all manner of Andean pan flute band and thrash-strumming charangeur, I’ve seen some remarkable jazz and tango extracted from the instrument. It gets me dabbling about with the creature. Confused as all get-out, mind you.

The instrument has 10 strings in sets of two, four of them in unison, one an octave apart _ in the middle of the sets. The two sets either side are roughly in the same high-pitched settings.

Rather than climbing from low to high in pitch, this thing starts high, descends and then rises up again. Basically, two sets are tuned like a mandolin, or tenor banjo, or violin _ in fifths, reconciling on the seventh fret. Four sets, one of them overlapping, are like the highest four strings of a guitar. Go figure.

I show this box of mystery to a mate who’s handy with all manner of musical critters. His eyes light up: “Murph, what a gem!” Yeah sure, I think.

“I can’t scratch a tune out of the swine. It rolls about, jumps octaves, tricks you every second note. Sounds great until you play three notes in a row,” I reply.

My mate smiles back, inscrutably. He then proceeds, gently — you don’t rush these things — to work his way through  Rondo á la Turk  on the charango.

I slide back into my seat for the ride. I don’t know what I was expecting.  Duelling Banjos, The Devil Goes Down to Georgia , some O’Carolan . . . anything but Mozart’s impossible  Rondo á la bloody Turk.  Last time I saw anyone playing that on strings it was Phil Emmanuel, Tommy’s brother.

But, nope, this was a Tuesday night, at Geelong’s Irish Murphy’s pub — barely anyone around — and a bloke sitting in the corner.

Take a bow, Geoff Sinbeck.

Singapore House, image and photo, above Eastern Beach.

Eastern Beach’s Singapore House … on the record

SINGAPORE, 1862: It’s grainy, indistinct and blurry – about what you’d expect from a photo of a structure snapped off in 1862. But it’s startling nonetheless.

What you see, from a distance, is a long, double-storeyed structure, its ground floor well shaded by a deep verandah, overlooking a precipitous cliff with a rude goat-track path leading down its sharp face.

A rough pencil sketch from the same era shows in greater detail, if not greater accuracy, the same building, presumably a few years earlier for it lacks the distinctive verandah.

But the twin jetties reaching out into Corio Bay at the base of the cliff in front of the building leave no doubt it’s the same structure. A short-lived condominium which for a while was clearly among the best property Geelong hosted.

Singapore House, or Singapore Terrace, on what is today Eastern Beach Road, near the corner of Swanston Street, was a complex of nine adjoining buildings inhabited by more than 70 residents in what was described as “a respectable sphere of life”.

It’s fair to assume they were people of means and that developer Alexander Fyfe’s housing project, built in 1855 of timber imported from the Far East, turned him a reasonable profit.

Looking out to the water, the You Yangs and on a clear day to Mount Macedon and the Dandenongs, the building had the best view in town. This was long before peppercorns, cypresses or any other trees blocked the vista.

In fact, it wasn’t far removed from when Aboriginal humpies adorned what is now the entry to neighbouring Eastern Park at the end of Corio Street, then a roughhouse waterfront thoroughfare of stores, pubs and brothels.

In at least one of those pubs, the public bar counter doubled up as a coroner’s autopsy slab when the need arose. Bottoms up, as they say.

For many years, but now long forgotten, Singapore House was remembered as scene of the greatest and worst fire Geelong ever saw. A little like Black Friday of 1939 if you like: wicked but consigned to a history largely beyond living memory.

Looking over old pictures at The Geelong Club a while back, I tripped to the pencil sketch of the Corio Bay waterfront from Eastern Beach to Moorabool. It’s undated but I’m guessing it’s somewhere around the original club’s inception in 1859.

The sketch features names for the various buildings it depicts. Not unlike another famous picture of early Geelong’s waterfront, painted by Wilbraham Liardet from the Western Beach aspect.

It points out Corio Villa, Dr Day’s house, police quarters, pilot houses, Fyfe House, a stone wall, Bayview House — now the derelict Ritz Flats — the Volum Brewery and Macks Hotel.

Front and centre of this simple tableau, however, near the corner of Swanston and The Esplanade, is the extraordinary structure of double-story timber terrace houses.

Now I’ve tracked down a photograph. The only photograph as far as I can ascertain.

It was commissioned in 1862 by the Geelong council and features, hard and high left, in a scene of waterfront Geelong snapped from Eastern Beach. It must have been taken just weeks, perhaps days, before it went up in flames on March 18.

Welcome to Singapore Terrace.

Hope your insurance is paid up, though. For within just seven years, in March 1862, “the greatest ornament of the Esplanade overlooking the Eastern Beach” was burned to the ground.

It was a waterfront inferno to match any New Year’s Eve fireworks since, maybe even the clipper Lightning’s conflagration on the bay a few years later in 1869.

The fire started between floors and, fanned by a strong, hot north-north-westerly, proceeded to demolish the buildings, leaving all its occupants homeless.

Reports said the saddest sight was the “throng of bewildered and terrified women and children rushing from the houses”. Some were appalled at the enormity of the threat facing them, one was overjoyed at evacuating her “little ones scatheless”.

Residents and bystanders watched on, gobsmacked at the furious afternoon spectacle and the firefighting industry battling to contain the blaze. Fire brigades from Geelong, Newtown and Chilwell and their engines, buckets, hoses 60 metres up from the beach couldn’t stop the blaze from turning the resinous timber the terraces were built of from turning white hot and collapsing.

Lucky thing was no-one died in the fire. No so lucky were domestic pets — presumably dogs, cats and budgies — and chickens. Oh, and evidently, someone’s pet monkey expired as well.

Oddly enough, however, rodents that had been plaguing the area cleared out a day or two before the fire. A case, as the Irish firebrand Flann O’Brien might have noted, of rats leaving a sinking chimp.

train wreck

Train wreck: the old ’73 comes to grief

North Geelong, August, 1873: TALK about bursting your boiler. This is what happens when a train’s  means of power and propulsion, the boiler, breaches its pressure co-efficient.

A goods train bound for Ballarat was passing the Telegraph Bridge at what was then called Kildare at 11 in the morning when a ‘terrific explosion’, viz, the bursting of the boiler, pitched the locomotive on its side, presently a spectacular image of mangled engineering.

Drinkers, staff and residents in the nearby Telegraph Hotel, pictured at the rear of this scene, would no doubt have emerged startled by the noise and anxious about the fate of the train’s operators.

While the engine was lumped on its side, the tender was thrown across the rails, and six trucks and vans were heavily damaged – one of the trucks ended upside down against the embankment.

The derailed train presented a picture of destruction and confusion. Not so much confusion, however, that the bloke pictured here front and centre of the wreck wasn’t happy to pose proudly for the camera. His serious-looking colleagues appear more anxious about the damage effected and how the track might be cleared.

The explosion threw the engine driver, owner of the impressive moniker Auguste de Pazanan, and fireman Thomas Macnamara from the engine. They landed on the embankment and were lucky not to sustain serious injury.

The trucks and their contents, including rod iron, timber and cases of oranges, presented a scene of ruin and industrial/agricultural chaos.

Workmen were engaged all day and night repairing the track and crowds of spectators watched proceedings. Twenty of the workmen came from Williamston and at night some of the timber from the smashed trucks was piled up for bonfires – providing the necessary light for work to continue.

It’s hardly the only disaster to hit the Geelong line. In fact, the line was christened with a disaster.

The official maiden voyage, on June 25, 1857, with the governor Sir Henry Barkly and entourage (his suite, as it were) in the first carriage of the train, journeyed went from Geelong to Williamston and back.

Five hundred guests packed into 10 carriages – government department bosses, train company execs, industry captains, shareholders, the press and other hangers-on. It was a monster occasion, one with some 2000 people at the official dinner that evening in a makeshift dining hall – the railway station’s passenger shed.

But not before tragedy struck. The train pulled out of Geelong 10.30am, all parties laughing and carrying on, and made its way to Cowie’s Creek where the railway company’s superintendent of locomotives, Henry Walters, was standing on the engine holding on to an iron upright. The train was nearing the bridge opposite the Ocean Child as Walters turned about to check the rear of the train.

His head belted a timber beam on the bridge and he fell off the train. Doctors tried what they could but Walters was dead inside four hours.

But the show had to go on, and on it did, reaching Willy by 12.10pm and returning to Geelong by 2.20pm.

Not bad time considering what some present-day football trains can achieve. Mind you, it did stop for water and coal at Werribee.

Portfolio Items