This morning, we went for a drive along the Yaouk Road. We went much further than the Little River Road, which is where I turn on my morning walk. It’s a beautiful drive with quite a few contrasts in scenery.
The first photograph is of the road itself, on the Shannon Flat side of the Murrumbidgee River. The other two photographs are of the Murrumbidgee River at Yaouk.
A beautiful summer day here in the Snowy Mountains.
For those who take only an ordinary interest in politics, the drama over citizenship and eligibility to be a member of parliament has been puzzling. Surely these people looked at the rule book, the Australian Constitution, before deciding to stand for election? Why were their nominations accepted if they weren’t qualified?
Well, it’s not quite that simple. The constitution is not the rule book, but the record of a deal between the leaders of six self-governing colonies to form a federation; it covers what they wanted to cover, and it means what relevant people make it mean.
It doesn’t say that there has to be a prime minister, but it does say that “there shall be an Inter-State Commission”. That we do have a prime minister and don’t have an inter-state commission reflects the way relevant people have used the words in the constitution.
What did the constitution writers think they were doing?
The constitution was put together by many hands over ten years. The qualifications for candidature were drafted by the Tasmanian attorney-general, Andrew Inglis Clark, in a straightforward and inclusive way: at least 21 years old, resident of the electorate, and a subject of the Queen (which would have included New Zealanders, Canadians and Britons).
But Samuel Griffith, the Queensland prime minister (as they were then called), wanted a section on disqualification. This would cover felony, bankruptcy and:
any person who has taken an oath or made a declaration or affirmation of allegiance to a Foreign Power or done any act whereby he becomes a subject or citizen … of a Foreign Power.
So there were separate sections on qualifications and disqualifications, from different sources and reflecting different values, and they took this form in the successive drafts of the constitution.
In the smoke-filled room: the drafting committee
The final session of the constitutional convention was held in Melbourne early in 1898. There was no further discussion of what became the now-infamous section 44, and a drafting committee took over to prepare a final draft.
Edmund Barton – soon to become Australia’s first prime minister – was the chair and dominant figure. He insisted on working till 4 or 5am, even though the other two members of the committee had gone to bed and only Robert Garran, the secretary, was left to maintain the illusion of a committee.
After four days of drafting, Barton presented the convention, on its second-last day, with 400 amendments. He proposed a three-hour break for the delegates to study them, after which they could be put to the vote en bloc.
Barton assured the convention that there was only one amendment of substance – to section 44(ii). What he did not say was that section 44(i) had been completely rewritten, changing it from an active voice (“done any act whereby”) to a passive voice (“is a subject or citizen … or is entitled to”).
No attention was drawn to this change, there was no explanation of it, and there was no time for debate on any clause unless someone objected to it. The constitutional text that proved so significant more than a century later was a last-minute change, drafted in private and accepted out of weariness.
it may one day interest a curious lawyer to inquire whether judicial review has lingered with significant consequences on new words approved on trust and intended … merely ‘to put the wishes of the convention in more complete and concise form’.
As it turned out, it interested more than the curious lawyer, and created a problem which has yet to be adequately managed.
Appealing to the umpire?
The constitution was rather unclear about how these provisions would be enforced. It said both that questions about qualification could be settled by each house, but also that “any person” who believed that an elected representative was disqualified by section 44 could sue them in “any court of competent jurisdiction”.
Even then it refused to hear a case calling for Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard to produce evidence they had renounced their UK citizenship, on the basis that they had declared that they were qualified, and so the court should presume that they were. To do otherwise would be a vexation and an abuse of the court’s time.
But when the court did deign to interest itself in the matter, it took the traditional High Court view that it was not interested in the problem, or what the writers of the constitution were trying to do, but only with the possible meaning that a black-letter lawyer could squeeze from these words, irrespective of its impact on the governing of Australia.
Where does this leave us?
The situation now is that the qualifications for candidature for the Australian parliament are set by the parliament, but the disqualifications are largely set by foreign governments via the High Court. This diminishes the ability of electorates to choose the representative they want (though, when given the chance, electorates show what they think of the High Court’s action by returning the ousted members in the ensuing byelection).
And the High Court’s escapade in the china shop is not yet over, for it has yet to rule on the disqualification of those who are “entitled to” foreign citizenship, even if they have not applied for it. If the court applied the same logic that it has used in the cases already decided, this would disqualify not only any Jew, but also anyone with a Jewish parent, grandparent or spouse, all of whom are entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Israeli Law of Return.
The best course would be to start with recognising the problem, rather than searching for a preferred solution. In contemporary Australia, identities are often complex, and citizenship entitlements may be multiple and overlapping. How these are to be recognised in the qualifications for candidature demands a period of public discussion culminating in political action.
The only way we could get this is to take the matter out of the hands of the High Court and foreign governments and return the task of defining qualifications and disqualifications for candidature to parliament. This could be done by adding to section 44 the phrase “until the parliament otherwise provides”, which is used in section 30 on qualifications, and at a number of other points in the constitution.
This would be a logical and constitutional response to the political problem that has landed on us. If the five main parties in the parliament (all of which have had their parliamentary representation threatened by the High Court’s actions) supported a referendum to achieve this change, it would probably be carried.
The voters, too, as they showed in New England and Bennelong, have had enough. They want the political leaders to lead.
Sex work was one of the major ways poor women could earn a reasonable income in the 19th century. Especially unmarried women with babies. But we don’t hear people say “my great-great-grandmother was a sex worker”. Nor do we often meet these women in our history books. Social stigma belies the importance of prostitution in providing an independent living, and even property ownership, for numerous women in this period.
Prostitution is often lumped together with crime and slums in the historical imagination, but it wasn’t illegal in gold rush Victoria. Nevertheless neighbours in the “respectable” suburbs complained if women danced in the streets or appeared without a bonnet or showed their petticoats, so the police tried to confine sex workers to particular areas.
“These women must live somewhere”, the police said in the superintendent’s 1874 report, and that “somewhere” was the Little Lon district in Melbourne CBD’s north east corner, where the “dressed girls” were kitted out and lived in the “flash brothels” under the supervision of madams, and the less expensive street-walkers took their customers to the “short-time houses” and timber cottages in the back lanes.
Clientele came from everywhere and every class, but proximity to the all-male enclave of parliament and treasury was a distinct advantage for these fancy brothels. Despite being legal, though, women had to keep quiet or risk arrest and imprisonment under laws against “disorderly behaviour” and “vagrancy”.
The area has been extensively excavated by a series of archaeological projects over the last 30 years, and our recent intensive research on the artefacts recovered (held at Museum Victoria and Heritage Victoria) is revealing much more about the brothels and the women who owned them that had disappeared from memory.
Mrs Bond’s flash brothel
The brothel owned by one Mrs Bond on Lonsdale Street was so quiet that no-one knew it was there until archaeologists dug up her back yard in 1988. The excavators speculated that the site had been a brothel and our work on the artefacts has confirmed it.
Alicia Bond arrived in Little Lon from Ireland as a widow but with a de facto husband suffering from tuberculosis. In 1862 she had three young children to support, and when her son attacked her de facto husband she reported at the trial that “she could not see her children starve”.
She “had at first taken in washing”, she said to the court, “and then had to keep a brothel to support the family”. She started by renting a back lane cottage for a brothel, and eventually bought her own house on the main street and opened a grocery shop. She then poured her earnings into buying cottages which she rented out to other sex workers.
This cover was very effective and the only reason we know about her brothel is because the artefacts recovered included an uncommonly large number of bottles (champagne (77), imported spirits (4) and absinthe (10)) amongst the rubbish in her back yard, together with over 300 oyster shells. Archaeological evidence shows Melburnians often ate oysters at this time, but they seemed particularly popular at brothels.
Such luxury items were typical of the higher class brothels, where the selection of dinner services and drinking glasses projected middle class status in order to create a familiar environment and attracted a wealthier clientele than the back lane cottages. Mrs Bond’s brothel was not in the class of Madame Brussels’, but it had at least eight rooms and a prominent Lonsdale Street frontage.
Mary Williams’s disorderly house
Around the corner and down a side street, Mary Williams rented two very basic, detached two-room cottages from Mrs Bond. Rubbish discarded in her cesspit indicates a very different class of brothel. There were no imported champagne or absinthe bottles here, only beer/wine bottles (90), two gin/schnapps bottles, one cognac bottle and 165 oyster shells.
Mary came from Ireland via a brief marriage in Adelaide, but in 1870, when she was still in her twenties, she left South Australia with George Williams and found herself in Little Lon. Within months George was in prison for theft and in 1872 Mary was described by a policeman as a “drunkard” running one of the most disorderly houses in the lane. She had two babies while she was there, but both died in infancy.
Mary Williams’ brothel doubtless attracted less well-to-do clients than Mrs Bond’s and Madame Brussels’, but sex work provided her with a better standard of living than domestic service or factory work could have done.
A working community
Sex work in the Little Lon district was fraught with dangers, but it also had its upside. Women worked on their own, with friends, or in brothels run by madams (not by men). There was a community of support around the women, often including relatives and the publicans, pawn brokers, grocers and dressmakers they patronised.
Both sides of the coin are evident in the story of Mary Murray, who rented one of Mrs Bond’s cottages. She died after being badly beaten by a client, but it was a friend who took her to hospital. The women relied on each other and there are many other stories of support. For example, when Mary Williams went into labour, she was attended by a neighbour.
For some women in this era, sex work was about survival, but for others it was a way of life that offered a rare measure of income and independence. Wages for the kind of domestic work available to women with children (like Mrs Bond) were extremely low, and even lower for girls. In 1878 two young women earning 12 shillings a week as domestic servants told a policeman their wages “wouldn’t keep them in boots”, and they earned more from street work on their nights off.
After her de facto husband’s death, Mrs Bond raised her three sons on the proceeds of her brothel. At the same time, she poured her earnings into property, living and running her grocery/brothel in one house, and renting others to sex workers like Mary Williams and Mary Murray. When Mrs Bond died her property portfolio would have been the envy of many.
This era of relative independence for female sex workers was not to last. The idea of “respectability” was growing and groups like the Salvation Army and the church missions saw prostitution as primarily a moral issue rather than an economic one.
Soliciting in the streets was criminalised in 1891, and the Police Offences Act 1907 made it illegal for landlords and madams to profit from prostitution. This effectively put the flash brothels out of business and sent Victoria into an era of protection rackets and women working under the surveillance and control of men.
Are you an academic with an idea for our sexual histories series? Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if so.
‘Edie had a plan. She’d written it in her notebook and once something was written in her notebook, Edie knew it would happen.’
This novel opens in Ballarat, on Sunday 5 November 1905. Edie Cottingham is 19 years old, living with her parents. While some of the local gossips consider Edie too outspoken, too modern and too stubborn to get a husband, Edie’s plan is to marry Theo Hooley. Theo plays the organ at the church Edie and her family attend. He’s a quiet man, a veteran of the Boer War. Edie and Theo form an understanding, and Theo will visit the Cottingham home to ask Paul Cottingham for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Theo’s mother, Lilly, is delighted.
But Edie’s mother dies, leaving Paul with a new daughter, Gracie, and Edie with a new set of responsibilities. How can Edie marry Theo, and leave?
Theo is patient. He’s prepared to wait for Edie. Every Sunday at three, he calls on Edie, with a rose. Every Sunday, Edie refuse to walk around the lake with him. Every Sunday, Theo decides to wait longer. Many in the town are fascinated. How long will Theo wait? Will Edie change her mind as Gracie becomes older? It seems like Theo is prepared to wait for ever. But Theo and Edie are not the only characters in this novel and theirs are not the only stories to be told. Lives are about to be changed, first by an unexpected event and then by the onset of the Great War.
This novel spans the period from 1905 to 1924, and the story will take some unexpected turns. Beth, the Cottingham’s maidservant will make several critical decisions, and Gracie will continue to charm everyone with her delightful smile. Theo will leave Australia to fight in the Great War, other characters will enter the story.
This is not a typical romance, although there are certainly romantic elements. Patience is a central theme, as is a sense of duty and family obligation. The world changes in many ways during and after the Great War and people change as well.
‘A week could be a very long time. It could take from one Sunday afternoon to the following Saturday and a whole life could be lived in the middle.’
There are so many components to this story, so many pieces that fit together. I’m finding it difficult to assemble the right words to do the novel justice. At times I was frustrated by decisions made, by inaction (so often followed by dutiful reaction) that I thought I’d stop reading. Then an image would take and hold my attention, or there’d be a reminder of life in regional centres when two of my grandparents were of a similar age to Edie. And once again I’d be swept up in the novel. Just when I thought I’d worked it out, there’s be another twist to negotiate.
This is by no means a straightforward romance, but it is an interesting (if at times frustrating) and ultimately rewarding read.