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Monday musings on Australian literature: The Bread and Cheese Club, again

February 24, 2014

I promise that this, my third post on Melbourne’s now defunct Bread and Cheese Club will also be my last, but it was such an interesting club that I can’t resist one more post. Just to remind you, it was formed in 1938, with the following goals:

To promote mateship and fellowship among persons of mutual interests, to foster a knowledge of Australian Literature, Art and Music and to cultivate an Australian sentiment … (from H.W. Malloch’s Fellows all, p. 17)

My first post introduced the club, and particularly one of its founders, John Kinmont Moir (1893-1958), who was clearly the Club’s leading light, while my second post focused on some of the ways in which the Club supported indigenous Australian culture. In this post I want to give a flavour of how widely their activities and, probably, influence extended. To keep it simple, I’m just going to list a few of the activities I came across while researching the Club in the National Library of Australia’s Trove database for newspapers. Here goes:

  • Children’s Poetry Competition. Reported in The Argus, 1939
  • Exhibition of art and literature at the Velazquez Gallery. The writer in The Argus, 1940, saw it as a “mixed bag” (I love the language here!):

If the club had a selection committee to deal with the art side of the show, it was doubtless a committee more anxious to obtain a wide representation than a particularly high standard. It is doubtful whether a more mixed lot of pictures has ever been hung on the walls of any gallery in Melbourne. They range from admirable examples of the work of some of Australia’s most capable artists to hopeful (or despairing) efforts by the veriest tyros.

  • Publication of Frank Clune’s book, Chinese Morrison, about George E Morrison who, as many Australians will know, became an influential political adviser to the Chinese Republic in the early 20th century. Reported in The Argus, 1941
  • Short story competition, judged by Mrs Vance (aka Nettie) Palmer. Reported by the Courier Mail, 1942
  • First art exhibition by members of the Bread and Cheese Club Art Group. Reported in The Argus, 1946
  • Publication of naturalist David Fleay’s book, Gliders of the gum trees. Reported in the Queensland Times, 1947
  • Junior Art Competition. Reported in the Cairns Post, 1948
  • Surprising Dame Mary Gilmore with a bouquet of flowers on her 84th birthday. Dame Mary apparently said that “I had forgotten it was my birthday, but I’m so happy that my friends all over Australia remembered”. Reported in The Daily News (Perth), 1949
  • Organising significant people to address its meetings, such as Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir John Latham. (I liked this one because Latham is a mentor of the fictional Edith in Frank Moorhouse’s Edith trilogy). Reported in Barrier Miner (Broken Hill), 1951
  • Awarding annually the Australian Natural History Medallion. According a report in The Argus, 1956, the award was instituted by J.K. Moir in 1938 and was the most coveted natural history award in Australia. The 1956 award was given to Stanely Mitchell “for work on the artefacts of the Australian aborigines”.
  • Erecting a memorial in Darwin to commemorate Northern Territory pioneer Jessie Litchfield who, when she died in 1956, left “most of her estate for the encouragement of Australian literature”. Reported in The Canberra Times, 1964

Besides the variety of the Club’s activities evidenced in this (pretty) random selection, one of the most interesting things about these newspaper reports is where they are from. While the Club was Melbourne-based, albeit with some interstate members, its activities were clearly national, and were reported nationally. Sir John Latham’s talk in Melbourne, for example, was reported in a Broken Hill newspaper, and the Jessie Litchfield monument in a Canberra one. Is it just that these papers were desperate for copy or was the Club widely influential?

I will end my mini-series on the Bread and Cheese Club with a report on one more activity, because the report made me laugh. In The Argus of 14 September, 1951, Christina Mawdesley wrote an article titled “Nothing is new about prefab. houses”. She shares information from a reader who advised that Governor Latrobe’s cottage was an early prefab home, dating to 1839, and therefore earlier than the 1853 home that the paper had written about. She then goes on to quote Sir Thomas Mitchell writing from London, in 1830s-40s, about one “Manning of Holbourn” who was building wooden houses in sections for use in Australia. Mawdesley concludes her article with:

Could we discover the remains of one such pioneer prefab?

I am sure the Bread and Cheese Club would mark the spot with an engraved plaque, commemorating the good old days and “Manning of Holbourn”.

Is there anything, I wonder, that the Bread and Cheese Club didn’t do?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim KABLE permalink
    February 24, 2014 11:51 pm

    Arthur PHILLIP’s Government House was a prefab structure brought out with the “First Eleven (ships)”! WG I really enjoy all these interesting things you bring to light. How quickly a half-century or so buries what was once widely known and appreciated!

    • February 25, 2014 8:13 am

      Thanks Jim … That makes sense.

      I enjoy finding these things to share or talk about.

  2. February 25, 2014 5:48 am

    What a wonderful group they were! It’s too bad they no longer exist!

  3. February 25, 2014 9:46 am

    Well I’m sure I’m not the only one who is sad this is to be your last post on this group. I have loved reading about Melbourne’s Bread and Cheese Club. Thanks.

    • February 25, 2014 10:22 am

      Oh thanks Karen Lee. I wasn’t sure whether I was pushing it with a third one but I so wanted to share the comment regarding “plaques”. I thought that was great. And it does seem that they ran a lot of competitions.

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