Under the Southern Cross
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It has been said that gold made Melbourne and wool made Sydney, – a remark which is based on fact. The experiences of both these cities in the early part of their career was peculiar. Money easily gained is seldom wisely spent; sums that fall as it were into the open palm will burn in the unaccustomed pocket; the excited recipient resorts to high revels and all sorts of excesses, be he never so quiet and reasonable under ordinary circumstances. At one time skilled labor in Melbourne commanded the extraordinary wages of ten dollars per day, and mechanics thought the millennium had come; they had not the wit to see that such extremes produce in the end a sure and severe reaction, but experience taught them that lesson by and by. "The greatest flood has the soonest ebb." The lavish earnings of the masses, whether at the gold-fields or at the bench, were soon engulfed in the beer-barrel and the wine-cask; the bar-rooms were the only places where uninterrupted industry was exhibited, and where unremitting application to a given object was conspicuous. "Our streets," said a citizen of Melbourne to us, "in the early days of the gold-rush swarmed with drunken revellers; nor could we see any ready way out of the trouble which afflicted the community. Finally, however, the diggings ceased to yield so lavishly; the surface ore was exhausted, and to get gold out of the earth a man was compelled to work hard for it. The great novelty also began to wear away, and those who were making money less easily, very naturally were disposed to spend it less foolishly." The exaggerated rates of wages were consequently reduced, inflated prices for all articles of consumption fell gradually to a reasonable figure, and affairs generally returned to their normal condition. Precisely the same experience was realized in the early days of the gold discovery in California.
Personal beauty is not the prevailing characteristic of the female portion of the community of Melbourne any more than it is at Sydney; and shall we be forgiven for saying that in our opinion the ladies do not dress in very good taste? Young and middle-aged women generally cut their hair short; but why such a fashion should prevail among them we could not conjecture, the boyish aspect thus produced being anything but becoming. The bar-rooms are very generally tended here, as they are also in England, by women; and the bar-maids universally cut their hair short, in boy-fashion. One would think that this fact alone would be sufficient to induce ladies of respectability to avoid such an extreme and questionable custom.
The wide sidewalks are here covered with stationary verandas, as noticed in most of the colonial cities and towns. These coverings are sometimes made of glass or of matched boards, but most commonly of corrugated sheet-iron, supported at the edge-stones by small iron pillars. They form a shelter from both rain and sun, – recalling the Rue Rivoli of Paris, or the streets of Turin in Italy, or of Bologna in Spain.The ladies and gentlemen strolling under these covered ways, before the fine display in the shop windows, present a gay and attractive picture at the fashionable hours of the day. But in broad contrast to these bright and cheerful centres, there are in the northeastern section of the town filthy alleys and by-ways that one would think must be, owing to their filth and squalor, hot-beds of disease and pestilence, well calculated to supplement the inevitable effects of the defective drainage of this rich capital on the banks of the Yarra-Yarra.
One cannot but notice the peculiar pronunciation and mode of speech common among the people here. It is what we call cockney in America, with some added local effects. The misplacing of the letter h is almost universal. This is a habit which appears to be infectious; one individual who practises it is liable to corrupt scores of others. The drawling hesitancy of the Londoners of a certain class is also easily transmitted, being as catching as stuttering or the measles.
One who passes through foreign cities and is able to spend rarely more than a couple of weeks in each capital, is not competent to speak authoritatively of its social life, or in detail of its best society. But it is safe to say that ladies and gentlemen are the same everywhere. They form perhaps the higher element of a social centre, but they do comparatively little toward determining its outward aspect or its political status. It is the people en masse who form the general character of a large population, – such individuals as one meets in omnibuses, railroad cars, hotels, places of public amusement, and upon the fashionable promenades at the favorite hours.
The General Post-Office of Melbourne is situated at the junction of Elizabeth and Burke streets, presenting a striking architectural aspect, with its tall tower, bold reliefs, illumined clock, and chime of bells. It is admirably designed for the purposes of this department of the Government, and covers an entire block by itself, with a pillared colonnade about it similar to that already described as forming the outer portion of the Post-Office at Sydney. It affords room not only for the several divisions of the Post-Office proper, but also for the savings bank, the money-order department, and that of the telegraph, all which are under the control of the Government. Spacious as the original design of the structure was, the business transacted in it has already outgrown its capacity, so that more room is now imperatively demanded. Additions are consequently making by extending the rear of the building, while at the same time the tower is being raised and a story added to the whole edifice.
The author does not pretend to describe the many public buildings of Melbourne, but briefly to mention such as most impressed him. Among these were the Town Hall, on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins streets, – a very large and solid building in the Renaissance style, erected in 1867, containing among numerous other rooms designed for municipal use the Executive Chamber, and one remarkable apartment capable of seating over five thousand persons. In this hall is a grand organ which is acknowledged to be the fifth largest in the world, – a noble and costly instrument of exquisite harmony and great power, a full description of which was given to us with much patient courtesy. The Town Hall is four stories high, and has office room for all the various branches of the city business, with ample accommodations for civic ceremonies.
Collins Street is the fashionable boulevard of the city, though Burke Street nearly rivals it in gay promenaders and elegant shops. To make a familiar comparison, the latter is the Broadway, the former the Fifth Avenue, of Melbourne. On the upper part of Burke Street there is a covered market consisting of two spacious floors occupying an acre and more of ground, which we visited in the early morning. The confused variety of articles and lines of goods here offered for sale was really ludicrous, recalling a similar display witnessed at Warsaw, in Poland, near the Saxony Gardens, though it lacked entirely the element of picturesqueness there so prominent. Here were displayed side by side dry-goods and green fruit, crockery ware and millinery, flowers and meats, clothing and jewelry, boots, shoes, and poultry, singing-birds and underwear. Indeed, what was there not to be had here for a price? A mile and more away from this, up Elizabeth Street, the regular vegetable and meat market was found. Here several acres were covered by sheds open at the sides, where country produce was offered at wholesale and retail. It is more than probable that "nice" people do not go to market in Melbourne, judging from the character of the noisy, jostling, and rather rudely-behaved masses who were encountered in these two markets, especially the last named. Here neatness and cleanliness in the surroundings were completely ignored. The garbage over which one was compelled to pass in order to get about the market was not only extremely difficult to encounter, but also disgusting. In European and American cities one meets representatives of all classes in such resorts at early morning, but it does not seem to be so in Melbourne. In Philadelphia and Havana the household mistress, followed by a servant with a basket, goes regularly to early market, – or if not daily, certainly on Saturday mornings. 'T is not so here.
There are four large arcades in the city all opening from Burke Street, and forming pleasant popular resorts for strollers, who are here sheltered from the weather and the noise of the public thoroughfares. They are respectively the Royal Arcade, nearly opposite the Post-Office, containing elegantly furnished shops; the Victoria Arcade, opposite the Theatre Royal; the Eastern Arcade, next to the market; and the Book Arcade, in the eastern part of Burke Street, – this last, as its name indicates, being devoted mostly to the sale of books. Free evening concerts are given also in these retreats, which always attract fair audiences. The Book Arcade is a very popular resort for students and the better class of evening idlers. The proprietor told us that he had two hundred thousand volumes upon his shelves, – a number which we judged from appearances not to be over stated. These books were so systematically arranged by subjects, that the inquirer for any special work could have it in hand in a moment; or if it was not in stock, the proprietor could ascertain that fact almost as quickly. The character of the books in this establishment was of a singular mixture, running from the higher classics down to a dime novel, and from the Encyclop?dia Britannica to Mother Goose's Melodies.
The Public Library of Melbourne is a large and impressive building, standing by itself back from the street on rising ground, and would be creditable to any European or American city. It already contains a hundred and twenty-six thousand volumes, and is being constantly added to by public and private bequests. The collection of manuscripts and unbound pamphlets is large and comprehensive, especially in the latter department. The interior arrangements of the Library struck us as being particularly excellent, affording ample and accessible room for the books, besides all needed table accommodations for the use of the public. In this respect the Library was far in advance of our Boston institution, and is hardly surpassed by the Astor Library in New York. As to the Melbourne building, inside and out, it is superior to both of the libraries we have named in architectural effect. Under the same roof is a Technological Museum containing an extensive collection, especially of geological specimens, mainly comprised of those found in Australia. For entomologists and mineralogists the collection here exhibited will present also special interest. An entire wing upon the lower floor of the building – the library proper being up one flight of stairs – is devoted to statuary and to a public school of art. A third department is appropriated to a permanent exhibition of paintings. Here may be seen many choice modern pictures and some admirable copies from the old masters. All these departments come under the direction of the managers of the Library, and all are free to the public. Over one hundred persons were counted at the reading-tables of the Library during our brief visit. There were representatives among them of all classes of citizens, from the professional student in search of special information, to the laboring man seeking to improve himself by acquiring general knowledge. Many of these readers were clearly from a station in life that would furnish them no access to such books except for this public provision. What an admirable arrangement it is that here affords to the humblest well-behaved person books, shelter, warmth, and light, from ten in the morning until ten at night, free of all charge or onerous conditions! It is the multiplication of such facilities for culture and self-improvement which so emphasizes the real meaning of the words civilization and progress. This is a grand missionary work in the right direction. Now let the managers of the Melbourne Public Library open the doors of their institution on Sundays, and thus add to the usefulness of this noble benefaction.
Melbourne has its Chinese Quarter, like Sydney and San Francisco; it is situated in Little Burke Street, just back of the Theatre Royal, and forms a veritable China-Town with its joss-house, opium-dens, lottery cellars, "fantan" caf?s, low hovels, and other kindred establishments. Here one requires a guide to make his way understandingly and safely. The unintelligible notices posted upon the buildings in Chinese characters are a curious puzzle to the uninitiated. The signs over the shops are especially peculiar; they do not denote the name of the owner, or particularize the business which is done within, but are assumed titles of flowery character. Thus, – Kong, Meng & Co. means "Bright Light Firm;" Sun Kum Lee & Co. is in English "New Golden Firm;" Kwong Hop signifies "New Agreement Company;" Hi Cheong, "Peace and Prosperity Firm;" Kwong Tu Tye, "Flourishing and Peaceful Company," – and so on. John is an inveterate smuggler, and manages to get a large amount of his precious opium landed without paying any portion of the high rate of duty imposed by the Government. The Chinese are very impulsive, and will follow one another sometimes, like a flock of sheep after a leader. Not long since there burst out in their Melbourne quarter an epidemic of suicide, and many of them resorted to it. The mode they adopted was that of strangulation, which they effectually accomplished by knotting their pigtails about their throats.
There is a Chinese Doctor of Medicine in this Asiatic section of Melbourne who was educated in Pekin, and who is said to have been once attached to the family of the Emperor of China, but for some irregularity was banished from that country. We were told that he had performed some remarkable cures among the better class of citizens, in cases which had been given up by European physicians. It was said that he might command a large professional practice if he would remove from the locality where his countrymen lived and which is held in such bad odor.
John is nowhere a favorite, as we have already clearly demonstrated, however advantageous may be his frugal and industrious habits in the formation of new States. That he possesses at least this recommendation has been fully proved in the instances of California and Australia. In the official report of the completion of the first Atlantic and Pacific railroad, the following paragraph appears: "Labor was difficult to get, and when obtained, more difficult to control, until the Chinese arrived; and to them is due the real credit of the construction of the road." This paragraph of course refers to the Pacific end of the route. It is as a rule the worst type of the Chinese who leave their native land to make a new home elsewhere, and it is not to be expected that they will be much improved by intercourse with the Australian "larrikins," who are composed of the lowest and most criminal orders. These refuse of humanity are largely composed of the rabble of London and Liverpool, many of whom have had their passage paid by their relatives at home solely to get rid of them, while others have worked their passage hither to avoid punishment for crimes committed in England. Murders are by no means infrequent in the Chinese Quarter of Melbourne, or as some call it the "Hell of Little Burke Street." These crimes, however, are oftenest committed by the larrikins, sometimes undoubtedly by the Chinese. It is altogether a sheltering refuge for criminals of various nationalities, being a source of constant anxiety to the authorities and a puzzle to the police officials.
Poor, abandoned white women are mingled with the other habitu?s of this Mongolian district, and they too learn the subtle fascination of the opium pipe. An intelligent man, long engaged in missionary work in Melbourne, and particularly in this special region of the town, told us that the girls and women who had become fixed inhabitants of the Little Burke Street quarter were irredeemable. To break the once contracted habit of opium indulgence was next to impossible. He declared that in all his experience he had known but two veritable reformations among these women, and one of them finally ended her wretched career in a mad-house.
Saturday afternoon is made a weekly carnival in Melbourne, though it does not by any means assume so picturesque an aspect as in Honolulu. Here the shops are all closed soon after mid-day, work of every sort ceases, and amusements promptly begin, being kept up vigorously until after midnight. The parks and pleasure-grounds are crowded with foot-ball, baseball, and cricket players, as well as by groups devoted to other games. In the evening the theatres and public exhibitions are all insufficient to accommodate the throngs that attend them, though there are five regular places in the city where dramatic entertainments are given. The bar-rooms reap a golden harvest, and are especially patronized, while a general spirit of license prevails among all classes. The streets are crowded by a careless, not to say reckless, throng of men, women, and boys, very many of whom were observed to be decidedly the worse for liquor. Burke Street, Elizabeth Street, and even Collins Street, which represent the best portion of the town, are tinctured for the time being with a spirit of rowdyism. Indeed, a general latitude of behavior appears to be condoned on this Saturday half-holiday, as it is with us to a certain extent on the Fourth of July. The workmen of Melbourne who have received ten hours' pay for eight hours' work also claim this gratuity of time on the sixth day, and by their use of it not only cheapen their labor, but impair both their health and their fortune. We could not but conclude on the whole that the Saturday half-holiday as employed by the masses of Melbourne was a weekly error, and that the class which most imperiously demand this release from occupation is unfortunately composed of those who most grossly abuse the privilege.
On Sunday few people were to be seen in the streets and fewer still in the churches, leading one to divine that the day was generally devoted to necessary recuperation after the gross excesses of Saturday. It was noticed that the bar-rooms were ostensibly closed on the Sabbath. This the local law requires, but there are always ways and means whereby the thirsty tippler gets his fill.
The laborers who place themselves under the control of some organized Union are in fact its slaves, the victims of designing theorists and cunning managers, who are themselves drones in the human hive. The ordinary workman does not think for himself; he does not realize that the less he gives for his day's wages the dearer must become those articles that are dependent upon labor. If the abbreviated time of eight hours per day for five days of the week, and four hours on Saturday, constitute a week's work, the laborer has more to pay for all of the necessities of life than he would have were full hours and a fair equivalent given for the wages he receives. It costs more to build houses in the former instance; therefore his rent must be increased. He must pay more for his food and clothing. An honest day's work is the true criterion of value; and so far as that is curtailed just so much more must it cost for family support, and just so much poorer shall we all be, both capitalist and laborer.
One sees no special signs of poverty in the streets of Melbourne, as we have already intimated; but there may be, and to a certain extent we know that there is, squalor existing, though it does not make itself visible in the public thoroughfares. There are "back slums" that do not by their appearance invite one to penetrate them, and which would best be avoided at night; but these are the concomitants of all large and promiscuous gatherings of humanity. Though the city is well situated for drainage, there seems to be at present only a very defective mode adopted, mostly dependent upon surface flow to clear the daily accumulation of d?bris. We were told, however, that this objection was fast being remedied, and that there already exists a partial system of drainage which has been applied to the most important sections of the town.
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