Cocoroc town, photo courtesy Melbourne Water
It’s been so long since I’ve posted any thoughts here. But contracts are now signed and time’s ticking to lift-off. Gestation has been long; 10 years from the initial idea to now, with the last few months being the most intense.
Just days away from beginning, I’m like a cub salivating and frisky for the ostrich egg gleaming in the sun, champing to sniff at it and bat it, to push it and roll it until it cracks open to reveal riches yet unseen, with Mum watching and grinning as the proud lioness and all in the pride purring whispers of, ‘you go girl!’
I’ve signed on for a three-year research project. A PhD within the Faculty of Arts and Education at Deakin University, with a book and theoretical exegesis as end products.
Many writers seek to write the story that’s not been written. And I’ve found one of those.
British journalists in the 1800s dubbed Melbourne as Marvellous ‘Smellbourne’ because of the raw sewage being disposed in the city streets. By 1891, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) formed to treat Melbourne’s sewage, 30 kilometres away from the city at Werribee.
As Melbourne grew, so did the volume of sewage and the workforce needed to manage it. Workers rented a house in one of four towns on site for their families and single, migrant men lived in tents with a communal kitchen at the camp’s centre. Communities grew and connected through schools teaching children, football and cricket teams playing in local leagues and other social activities. The place was one of the largest and most important public works undertaken in Australia in the nineteenth century. It provided job security for many farmers during the 1890s economic crash and 1930s depression.
Little oral history has been recorded of the generations that made up the MMBW community. My project will seek to capture that social history and document previously untold stories of MMBW community life from 1900 – 1975, as a creative nonfiction book. It will explore social and political values of the period, the conditions the community as a company town endured, and not, and the social fabric and values that bound people to live on site while managing Melbourne’s sewage. I hope to give some insight into the people that made that community and the role they played in helping Melbourne grow into the metropolis it is today.
Perceptions (and illusion) have always interested me, the unseen story behind every face. This project is loaded in both: a story unseen and untold, and negative perceptions about sewage that can be seen as far back as 1899 with the Yea Chronicle reporting on the appointment of new teacher, Miss Schwiige, to the Cocoroc School on site. It referred to the town as, “a small but rapidly rising township between Little River and Werribee … chiefly noted as a health resort, guaranteed to contain a more varied collection of germs to the square inch than even Footscray … Miss S. is fortunate.”
Interest in the project so far has been incredible. So many are attracted to it and want to be part of it. I’m absolutely looking forward to it. It’s such an opportunity (and indulgence) to be able to focus on it for three years.
The need to tell the story well and with the merit and respect it deserves will keep me on my toes though, to make sure that egg cracks in just the right spot so all inside can bask in full glory. I’m sure that responsibility will weigh heavy on me at different times over the next few years. Thankfully, I have a most fantastic team to work with and couldn’t do the work without them. Thankfully too, I have people around me who believe in me. That counts for more than I can define.
My penguins are almost lined up in a row. Just waiting for one last scallywag to fall into line. Then I’ll be more set than Antarctic ice.
Go to https://www.facebook.com/MMBWFarm/ to follow the project or hear more about it.