SUE JACKSON Therapist/Writer/Photographer/Activist

Last year, as the unofficial blogger/photographer to the anti-East-West Link campaign, our battles were my blog's entire focus. But by Christmas, with the electoral win for people power and the dumping of the dud Tunnel, I was suddenly at a loss. What to write about now? Not sure yet. But there will be ongoing musings and images from this Australian life. So please leave a message. (No need to sign into an account. Simply comment as ‘anonymous’; then leave your name within the comment itself.)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Until next year - Happy Birthday House!

Happy 136th Birthday, Frances!

The party might be over for this year's Happy Birthday House!, but bear with me because I haven't yet finished the story of our own home.
I explained how the first owners, the Hawkins, were a coach painter (him) and a professor of music (her). It is lovely to imagine live music filling this house since its very beginnings. But try as I might - and I checked the newspapers, local music schools and even nearby Melbourne University's archives (where there were no women professors at all listed for that era) - I could find no trace of a Mrs J Hawkins.
I suspect that the couple lived a respectable, low-key life.
I had a momentary thrill when I discovered a Mr John Hawkins who twice took the stand in the local Court. The first time he appeared as the plaintiff, assaulted by 'a perfect stranger', one 'Mr Charles Lacy, a middle-aged man, apparently in comfortable circumstances', who paid his debt to society, if not to Mr Hawkins, with 'five bright sovereigns'. Then I saw another side to Mr Hawkins, when he turned vigilante, chasing a robber running out of a boot shop down Johnston street before making a citizen's arrest.
It was only much later that I learned that this John Hawkins was not our coach painter, but rather a shoemaker. Come to think of it, that might explain why he put himself at risk chasing the villain who stole the boots. He knew first hand just how much effort had gone into making them.
Neither 'my' John Hawkins nor his wife ever appeared in Court, which is why I surmise they were respectable. And the coach painter was only once reported in the press, when in 1886 at an event that sounded like a big yawn, he presented an essay  'historically and descriptively' to a roads improvement society.
Perhaps sick of the 'obnoxious vapour' emanating from the 'stagnating pools' in the nearby Edinburgh Gardens, in 1900 the Hawkins made their sea change. They moved to Meek Street Brighton, within walking distance of the pier, the municipal baths and the yacht club. I can easily imagine John G on a sunny morning, whistling as he meandered through the marina, unobtrusively inspecting and tut-tutting to himself about the shoddy paint work on some of the yachts.
The Hawkins retained their house in Fitzroy as an investment property. It was occupied by a succession of single tradesmen, until in 1912 a Miss N.E Balchin, 'teacher of pianoforte' arrived. Miss Balchin is the heroine of my story.  And below is the crime scene of Obscene Demands of Docile Young Woman.

Yes - all roads do lead to the Fitzroy Town Hall

With the arrival in 1917 of her brother, Henry George, and her musical sister to share her home, Miss N.E was instantly demoted. From a self-described 'teacher of pianoforte' she became a mere 'music teacher'. I wonder if her brother, who was a bricklayer, thought she was getting above her station and pressured her to make the change. If so, that was not the first time she had been put in her place by a man.
The Fitzroy City Press in February 1906 featured a lengthy article on the Napier Street School concert held, you might not be surprised to hear, at the nearby Fitzroy Town Hall. The male journalist rhapsodised about the packed programme, all of which was supported by Miss N.E Balchin on piano.
We heard how '"It's no joke to be a baby" was recited by the infants with a very good conception of action and humour. The Bell exercises were musical and pretty, and the floral dances by senior pupils were decidedly picturesque and graceful. Hoop drill by the little ones, and an Irish jig by little Miss Williams were the chief attractions.' The programme went on and on.
Yet all the reporter, clearly no stranger to hyperbole, had to say of our heroine was 'Miss Balchin accompanied satisfactorily on the piano'. 'Satisfactorily'! - I think she deserved a medal for stamina. And even at such a distance, I can still feel her smarting.

As you can probably tell, I haven't quite finished the story of our house. Next time look out for the tale of Torn Apart Kiwi Lovers Reunited in Paradise  


Blogger Tom Keel said...

Sue, Wonderful prose.
Maybe you should re-name your house Miss Balchin and let her have the final victory!

4:18 PM  
Blogger Sue Jackson said...

What a fabulous suggestion, Tom. Her brother, Henry, ended up owning it, and that doesn't seem quite fair to me. After all, N.E got there first!

6:20 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home