Saturday, 15 October 2011

Pig-iron Bob


Sir Robert Menzies was the Prime Minister of Australia from 1949 (after Ben Chifley) until he retired in 1966 (followed by Harold Holt). Now Ming was not a particularly sporty cove, although he had a penchant for cricket which saw him sitting in the stands at Lords cheering on his antipodean flannelled fools. He was barrel-chested, and barrel-waisted, with a bit of a basso-profundo. And yet, in Canberra, THE main walking track is named after him. Bit of a contradiction in terms, I thinks to meself. But there is a charming story to it.


The main walking track in question is from bridge to bridge around Lake Burley Griffin. Canberra is an engineered city, plonked in the middle of nowhere so that the nation's capital was in neither Sydney nor Melbourne. To complete the air of artifice, a man-made lake was cultivated at its centre. When I lived in Canberra, during the tumultuous period of 1974-1977, I 'learnt to exercise' around the lake. During any given lunch-hour, it felt that half the bloody city was doing likewise. I would jog 100 steps, then walk 100 steps, thereby making it around.


And so to the charming story. Menzies had a daughter who had a daughter. Hah! I know that phrase well. In 1956, said daughter the elder (Heather) would take her baby for a walk in the pram (you know, that big wicker thing that required Arnie-sized biceps to push!) The paths around their home - and Canberra more widely - were terrible and they would come home and whinge, and the old man felt compelled to put things to right. At the same time, he was getting money through the Financial Estimates Committee for the lake itself. All items coallesced, and today there is a wonderful series of walking paths around the lake, from which these photographs were taken.


Photo 1 - From Kings Bridge looking West, with The High Court on the left and Black Mountain communications tower straight ahead. You can just see Commonwealth Bridge in the distance, below the tower. The High Court is the court of last appeal.

Photo 2 - From the northern bank of the lake, looking South. With the National Art Gallery on the left, the High Court in the centre, and Parliament House on the right.

Photo 3 - Still on the northern shore, looking south-east toward the Carillon. There can be nothing nicer and more soothing than to sit on these benches and listen to the bells being played, like I did on Wednesday.

Photo 4 - Also taken from Kings Bridge. With the reflection of the Carillon, which was a gift from Britain in 1970.

7 comments:

Julie said...

I feel compelled to leave the first comment to explain the title to this post. As well as being known as Ming (because in some circles, Menzies is pronounced 'Mingus'), Sir Robert was also known, quite disparagingly, as 'Pig-iron Bob'. In 1938 he had a heated battle with water-side workers who refused to load iron for Japan (Japan then running amok through China). Somehow, I thought that after the war, during the 50s sometime, he was obliged to buy iron (or steel) back from Japan due to a shortage of it here at home. But I cannot find support for this second part of my recollection. Help me if you can, but I will keep looking, too.

Kay L. Davies said...

The water in that first photo is so beautiful, I could lose myself just staring at it, Julie. I don't really know why, although I suspect it is the reflection.
Interesting Australian history. Isn't pronunciation a strange thing? I think I like Pig-iron Bob better than Ming.
A purpose-built capital city is such a good idea. The capital of my home province, British Columbia, was changed from Fort Langley to New Westminster and then to Victoria, always with bad feeling attached. I was born in New Westminster and plenty of people, when I was young, still felt the capital should never have been moved to Vancouver Island. Fort Langley, meanwhile, never amounted to much except a moderately-successful tourist attraction due to, yes, the old fort.

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

Mark said...

Great post Julie. Yes agree that it is a lovely moment(s) to sit and listen to the Carillon play.
The Clarence Valley connection to this tale is when they built the Clarence River mouth Breakwall they built a rail line from Angourie to Yamba to move the rock. In the 30's the engines were sold to Japan to be smelted down.
I am not sure about your second idea, Australia had a large number of smelters in the 50's but possibly in the post war construction boom maybe we couldn't keep up with internal demand. You would also need to know when Japan rebuilt its smelters to the capacity to export considering the amount of steel they needed in their own reconstruction effort. If I ever find out anymore about this very interesting topic I will pass it on. You've piqued my interest.

Julie said...

Mark - I thought you may be the one to help. I suspect the yarn might be one propagated by urban myth and told to me by my father. I had never examined its veracity until last night when I had to write it down when all its internal contradictions loomed large. I agree that Japan had little post WW2 capacity and from memory exported steel only in a value-added form, radios, cars etc. i will hunt down more today, and comment when I am satisfied one way ir t'other.

J Bar said...

Some really beautiful blue reflections captured there.

Joan Elizabeth said...

I think the lake is the jewel of Canberra. I never worked anywhere near the like - I worked in Woden, Kingston, Belconnen and Campbell - so interestingly enough have not done that walk or certainly not with a camera. I used to run breakfast seminars at the National Museum (or whatever it is called, the one where the hospital used to be). Anyway, in the early mornings the lake is always beautiful with low light and mist.

The Carillon has always appealed to me - I like its position by the lake and its clean lines (very Canberra but much more interesting than the buildings).

freefalling said...

Pays to whinge, hey?