Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Lost in the archives again.

I'm turning yellowed papers in an upstairs boardroom. The yellowed papers are 1910 originals and the quality of reporting is very good. Yet the writers do not call themselves journalists. They are 'correspondents'. There are no typos and no mangled language. There are words - good words - that have since fallen into disuse. And this is a sporting newspaper, the Australian Cyclist.

Someone had stared a cycling club in the 1890s. Electric power and the car were yet to arrive, a long-gone power-stationless green dream. Solar power dried the washing. You hung it on a line strung up in the back yard. Then a crash followed a speculative boom and a third of Melbourne's breadwinners were thrown out of work. There was no welfare payment. When things got back to late-nineteenth-century normal, people bought bicycles. The safety cycle had replaced the dangerous penny farthing, on which you could die standing still, simply by falling off. The safety cycle let you put your feet on the ground. Hit a pothole or a stone on a penny farthing and you were thrown off. Worse than a runaway horse.

So everyone wanted bikes. They replaced the horse for small business deliveries, and you didn't have to feed them or call the vet. They were ridden to work and school. They were used for recreation and sport. They broadened your social reach. You could ride home from the pub.

The cycling club's carefully-kept archives describe its rides around Melbourne during the first decade of the twentieth century in fine detail. Sometimes, members cycled by night, when a full moon rode high in the sky: no street lamps.

On these night rides, the cyclists leave after a good dinner, pedal to Kew or Templestowe (countryside) or some other destination, visit a hotel; and return by eleven or midnight, puncture repairs permitting. It is a golden era for the fit young cyclist. He had freedom of the road. The horse was on the way out; and the car was yet to arrive. Depression was over, Australia was a new nation, and Melbourne was the national capital. The future looked bright in 1910. The optimism would last four years.


Melbourne Girl said...

yes, just four short years.

I used to have a bike. It was my Mum's old bike, a 28 inch. I used to ride it to the milk bar to get a "bottle" of milk and also pick mint on the way to go with our lamb roast. Those were the days KH

paul kennedy said...

Oddly enough, my first bike was a girl's one I bought from a mate's sister for next to nothing, for a paper round at 4am so nobody had to see it. I carried papers in hessian sacks on the pack rack and the portable radio in the front basket. (Never went without in-car entertainment!)

Dr. Alice said...

I'm loving these stories. Melbourne at the turn of the 20th century sounds like a great place.