Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Shrine, Demons, Harts, Houdini & a Library

I've been busy with a number of projects recently (and what's news about that?) so missed the updates. However, sometimes these projects coincide.

One project is editing my colleague Alex Crawford's book on the Hawker Hart family of aircraft. It's nearly there, and it's going to be an excellent book, packed with lots of great nuggets of information. (Yes, you can buy it, and if you buy enough (that is several billion) you'll make Alex and me very rich. In the meantime, it's an interesting read, that you might like. See the MMP website, and it'll be 'out soon'.)

One shot I got was from the RAAF Museum archive (top, click to enlarge) and shows a RAAF Demon over Melbourne in the late 1930s. Interestingly, the main building that is still recognisable from the air today is the State Library, which is the rotunda on the middle left edge of the pic. You'll have to look hard to see it. On the top right, is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, MCG or just 'the G' which is where Australia thrash England in the Ashes whenever they dare turn up. The last series was a five nil 'whitewash', and restored honour from a (very deserved) England victory in the series before, held in the UK.

But back to the State library. Like Bev (click the link to see her story) I've been working hard on an application for a Fellowship at the library (I just want people to say "Hello, fellow"!) and we got both our applications in this week after the usual mad rush these things take. Bev was better prepared and planned, and mine was done the night before the deadline, so fitting our normal styles then.

Mine is on the coming centenary of successful flight in Australia in 2010. The first flight was by a chap who just wanted to practice away from the world's prying eyes, and as he was probably the most famous man in the world then, he chose a remote spot in rural Victoria called Digger's Rest.

His name was Harry Houdini - you may have heard of him, and if you haven't I understand there's a film out now about him. I doubt his (successful) flying exploits will feature heavily! In typical Aussie fashion, having been beaten to the post by an Austrian American, flying a French aircraft, John Duigan got the finger out and flew his Australian designed and built aircraft from a place called Mia Mia, ironically not far from Houdini's spot. Thankfully these were both in Victoria, and one in the eye for the backward New South Welsh.

A replica of Duigan's aircraft is suspended in the entrance to the Melbourne museum, and they have the real thing in store. I hope to see it someday. This photo (right) shows the skeletal frameworth of the aircraft against the skelital framework of the museum, looking out to the Royal Exhibition Building, which will be a blog topic in due course, I'm sure.

Whether or not my application is successful, I've gathered lots of good material for an article (which is usually the way) so the work won't be wasted.

Another RAAF Museum photo I have of a Demon over Melbourne has the aircraft obscuring the city completely. But below it is the Shrine, built as a memorial to the dead of the Great War, and a major Melbourne landmark. This photo is taken looking north.
The Domain gardens (where Government House is) can be seen to the top right, and it hasn't change a huge amount, although there's loads of tower blocks on St Kilda Road now. Here's a photo I took looking east of the same area, thanks to flying over in my friend and magazine editor Rob's Birddog. You can see the observatory near the top left, which backs onto the Botanical gardens. Can you see all the changes to the Shrine since the 1930s picture?

I do hope you've enjoyed this odd ramble as much as I did putting it together, and I certainly hope the title was completely misleading. Like Houdini, there was quite a bit of misdirection, a couple of tricks and not what was expected, I'm sure. Magic's where you look for it.


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