Cameron’s Melbourne

The City and Beyond
These ideological processes are marked on the topography of the narra- tive, locating its modes of interrelation and interaction. As in all the city mys- teries, the characters and events are carefully charted throughout the megalopolis. Here, where growth has been so recent, there is an unusual stress on both achievement and also incompletion: though “Collins Street was now in all its glory” (7) and its upper eastern end boasts the banks and the regional parliament, it goes all the way down towards the swamp. The presence of urban water, and mixed with it sewage, was an issue right through this period: when in the 1880s the city preened itself with the name the English visitor George Sala provided, “Marvellous Melbourne,” Sydney answered with “Mar- vellous Smellbourne.”20 As the degraded bank clerk Hugh Hanlon walks into the narrative, the text reminds us of the recent floods when “the channels had overflowed and filled the shops of too patient ratepayers” (4); Elizabeth Street had been a watercourse and its floods could be huge: a horse drowned there in the 1850s.21 But the effects were also noxious:
All the fetid and putrid liquid of the town, a noisome cocktail of urine, chemicals, blood, manure, dyes, unnameable decayed and decomposing matter, lay stagnant at the street’s edge, seeped through the foundations of adjacent buildings, and oozed and gravitated in ever greater accumulation through gutter and culvert.22
The citizens have confronted their difficult context with energy and phys- ical statement, but their project is not complete: it was still in some ways an open site as in Louis Becker’s nighttime painting of the city center (Fig. 11) Trollope noted: “Between the palaces there are mean little houses,”23 and Cameron makes the bank “a fine building” with “a massive stone front” (5), which rises “over the pigmy shops on each side like some noble nature towering over its vile, insignificant earth-grubbing compeers” (5). The description pre- dicts both the moral supremacy of the Harry-focused success story to come and also the dubious ground on which such triumphs build—as well as in the images of “pigmy” and “earth-grubbing” both suggesting and concealing the earlier Indigenous civilization that the colonial city excludes.
Marcus Clarke’s journalism had surveyed much of the ground Cameron covers in his narrative—male interaction, gambling, eating and drinking, dubious stockbroking, lower-class irruptions, bourgeois display. Clarke also speaks of the new divisions of Melbourne living. As Grant and Serle note,24 outside the center it was an agglomeration of small towns with large spaces in between, tending to cluster around some focal point—Flemington round the racecourse, Collingwood round the factories, Williamstown and Sandridge where ships made landfall, and to the south beach resorts like Brighton. These were in the 1850s all being linked up by the trains that the flat and readily purchased land made easy to develop. By the 1860s it was normal for profes- sionals and businessmen to live out of the city, which for all its liveliness was beset by problems, notably noise, traffic, larrikins and noxious floods: “Hardly any of the wealthier citizens, except the medical residents of Collins Street, live in the city.”25 The ideal for the wealthy and semi-leisured was the beautiful bayside St Kilda, named after a fine ship that moored there in the 1840s.26 What was originally the “Terminus” hotel, banally named for being a railhead, was soon royally aggrandized to the “George,” and kept developing through the period.27 This area is where both Harry and Marian live, enjoying the equally exploitative but differently evaluated riches of land taking and brothel keeping. As in the story, they are in touch with the next class down: Davison comments that “Melbourne’s infant business class settled a little nearer the city on a hill overlooking the sea at St Kilda.”28
Aspiring to the business class, but in social terms not that close, live Robert and Linda in a villa near the station and another swamp—they may have a gar- den big enough for a cow, but this is in expansive Australian terms humble white-collar territory. It is at first identified as, just, in “East St Kilda” (9), but several people, including the authoritative Harry, call it Balaclava.29 From this humble base Robert can “in the bitterness of his heart” (25) feel jealous of wealth, and Billy’s ascent from Balaclava houseboy to St Kilda protégé crosses a social gulf as substantial as the move from city larrikin to the petit bourgeoisie.
Transport is not only a means of linking the multi-focal city: it bears its own elements of evaluation. Hugh in his high but meretricious mode uses a cab to whisk Robert to his fine house for dinner. The dubious space of the cab is an idea to be developed by Fergus Hume only a few years later in The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886), a novel whose links back to Cameron’s work seem to have gone completely unnoticed. But Hugh is not only a cab traveler: his moral mobility seems marked by his modes of transportation. After the dinner gambling party, he and Robert, miming grandeur as they are, use his own carriage to hurry back to St Kilda to Marian’s—others going to the party use cabs or the train. Harry of course, with his social elevation, travels con- sistently on the highest level, by carriage, and that facilitates his charity to other classes, as when he and Billy hurry back to see the distraught Linda and when he finally races with her to save Robert from disgrace.
There are also transport absences: nobody travels by omnibus, nor yet by steamer, common enough though they were in greater Melbourne. But then the city Cameron depicts is surprisingly restricted — to the banking and business world, also the world of a journalist and writer. Quite absent are the national gallery and the state public library, among the public grandeurs strongly pres- ent in the slightly later accounts by Henry Cornish and R. E. N. Twopeny,30 and equally invisible is the well-established Melbourne University, principally training those professionals in law and medicine who operated as a social elite in a world managing to survive without aristocrats. Geography is equally restricted. Though Fitzroy and Collingwood are briefly mentioned, the nar- rative never goes north of the city into those artisan and lower-middle-class areas. More surprisingly, and unlike most Australian fiction of the nineteenth century, it never goes into the country, which Cameron knew well and had previously written about. Through its provision of food, employment and wealth the rural domain was still of major importance, and it was to be the site of most of Mary Fortune’s fascinating and very long-lasting series of crime stories in The Australian Journal. To emphasize the city in this book seems to be for Cameron an urgent and exclusive activity.
Apart from the romance-vengeance plot that oscillates between the east- ern city and St Kilda, the focal action takes place in the banking and para- financial world where Hugh thrives, among “that great body that preys successfully on that booby the public” (24)—it can do that, he claims, “because all men are at heart cheats” (25). Hugh once buys some gold shares, but little else is even sketchily linked to actual productivity. The personnel of this parasitic fiscal world meet “Under the Verandah,” outside the Theater Royal on Bourke Street. There they exchange tips, contacts, bets, and hopefully profit: Clarke wrote about this exotic but all too real scene and Trollope called it “a morsel of pavement … on which men congregate under a balcony and there buy and sell gold shares”31 (Fig. 12). The scene and the name are intrigu- ingly opposite to the traditional “verandah” sequences in early Australian fiction, where the squatter and his family, sitting in shelter from the rigors of the climate, gaze over their productive acres—and occasionally disruptions arrive, to be explored and resolved in the narrative.32 The urban and solely fiscal Verandah reverses that pattern, but any emergent structural anxiety about Australian society is sidelined: where Reynolds showed the threatening character of dubious financing, Cameron’s anti–Semitism enables this bizarre arrangement to be both criticized and side lined. Less easily avoided in the text is the central issue of gambling, emphasized as much here as in Judson and both historically and to the present a major and potentially threatening force in Australian society. Apart from the financial dealings of “the ring,” risking huge sums at the simple and rapid card game Loo, and mutual suspicion of each other, the major activity in the novel is the projected Melbourne Cup fix. Huge sums are involved and so is almost everybody, including Hugh, Robert and Marian.
As Clarke had in the “Colonial City” series,33 Cameron celebrates Cup Day as a great urban early summer festival (in November), and all Melburnians have this graven on their hearts—even the morally named Scrupell holds to honesty only for the sake of vengeance, albeit against those who have previ- ously caused him huge losses. Patsy, the lower-level disruptive agent, is arrested for petty theft, and others are also taken up: it is a day of retribution all round for the dark side of the city. This implicit social self-criticism goes so far as the police. The figure of Detective Meddle has loomed through the story. He faces both ways, being involved in ring activities, but also eyes Hugh Hanlon with speculative law-enforcing interest. One of the constables who failed to take Billy said in his disappointment, “‘I’ll set Detective Meddle on your track, I will, and he’d catch the divil himself.’ ‘Yis,’ replied his companion, ‘an’ let him go agin if he gave him a sovereign’”(20).
Police have only in recent decades become positive figures in Australian crime fiction,34 and Meddle’s mix of cunning and corruption as well as his mostly negative name bespeak that anti-authoritarian attitude. He has a “mean, treacherous face” (54) and he has been “[r]aised from the very lowest grade of the police force by his subserviency and Paul Pry activities” (25). Throughout the story he maintains both functions: Hugh asks him to look into Marian’s family, and he does initiate Robert’s arrest but is at the same time himself arrested by “the highest police functionary in Victoria” (79). The comment indicates Cameron had some faith that the famously corrupt days of Police Chief Robert Standish were over.35
Policing, Cup Day, financial business, even the physical city itself are all realized by Cameron as disturbingly double, both thriving, communal and valuable, and corrupted, negative and alarming. He does not perceive the same kinds of doubleness and exploitation around issues of race and gen- der—though he does represent those forces well enough for us to read into his detail the patterns of exploitation that are effectively silenced in his rep- resentation of Indigenes, Jews, women and, it may be, homosexuals.
Like Sue, Reynolds, Lippard, and Judson, Cameron’s view of his world is not essentially positive: on the first page he envisages the moon that has shone on all peoples from “the grand Chaldeans” to “our British forefathers,” but her unchanging beauty only shines here on “the great city with its sin and shame, the country with its toil and wretchedness” (3). The first action is a brutal murder of a beautiful and guiltless woman among the once idyllic Yarra wattle bushes; the city is first seen as the setting for a desperate middle-class human failure; at the end the wonderfully handsome hero wants to disappear and kill himself.
Within its urban setting the novel re-creates the common Australian drama of deep misery among great natural beauty. The almost overwhelming mix of physical challenge and limitless possibility in the new continent is a basic response of early Australian literature—“her beauty and her terror” as Dorothea Mackellar put it in her poem “My Country.” As Linda confronts Robert’s infidelities, Cameron restates this contextual melodrama:
The sun rose in glory in the eastern sky, dissipating the shadows of night, waking the world into life and activity, brightening the face of nature, warming the earth and dispelling the mists and the shadows, and making everything clear. Man arose to pursue his daily tasks, the human of the great city filled the air, ships sailed to and fro on the azure Bay, life was once more begun. But in the great city there was many a wearied soul that had watched the dawn irradiating nature, the sun growing into morning strength, and yet knew no comfort, felt none of the cheerful spirit infused not nature by the luminary … [34].
Against these dramatic negatives and this sense of shortcomings, the novel can only offer as value not aristocratic leadership like Rodolphe’s, nor aspirational grandeur like Richard Markham’s, nor the mix of chance and multi-class resistance that Lippard recommends, nor yet the personal moral intervention that Judson depicts as coming from a few people who are good, or mostly good. Rather, the text espouses a determinedly middle-class ethic. The bank accountant recommended to Robert “[t]ime, industry and perse- verance” (30) and the major practitioner of this position, and recipient of its rewards, is Harry himself. He inherited because his distant relative had noted that “instead of foolishly depending upon expectation, he has set to work with a will to build his own fortune” (9). Land taking and racial displacement are written out of the success story as, for Australia in this period, they appar- ently urgently have to be. And there are resources for validation beyond mere secular profit: as in middle-class ideology at large, the accumulative approach to success is heavily buttressed by Christian ethics, and the text recurrently deploys a fairly austere regime of spiritual validation.
The title page prints a sentimental, hymn-singing Heaven and Hell image—“Here’s a power whose sway / Angel souls adore, / And the lost obey, / Weeping evermore”—alongside the more austere personal acceptance of that system in Latin “Justo judicio Dei judicatus sum; justo judicio Dei condem- natus sum” (“I am judged by the just judgment of God; I am condemned by the just judgment of God”).36 This is later quoted by Harry, noting that Robert “has brought this judgment on himself” (51), and when Billy (now Willy) looks at Hugh’s train-mangled corpse he hears the same words as “a voice not of this world, seemed to whisper in his ear” (80). It is not discordant with this that Robert is actually redeemed from the austerity of this justice and judgment through the self-sacrifice of the saintly Harry and Linda, and indeed by the fidelity of the sinner Marian.
The text repeatedly offers a religious viewpoint. Hugh’s situation is seen as one of sin in terms of the last judgment (4), and his rejection from the bank is likened to a sinner “watching afar off the happiness of heaven” (7). Harry in his generosity to Linda exercizes “the beautiful doctrines” of Christ himself (35); in an emphasized sequence Slabang’s death is prefaced by remarks about “the wearied soul trembling on the edge of an Awful Eternity” (64), and that chapter is prefaced by and named for a somber hymn, “Into the Silent Land.” Marian herself is buried, after her life of passionate excess and suicide, under the legend “Implora Pace” (“Pray for Peace”), and—positively opposite to the Justice tagline—“The mercy of God is infinite.”
The novel ends with the emphatic assertion of a moderate middle-class Christian message in all its sentimental self-assurance:
The end has come. Dear Reader, let not the lessons we have endeavoured to inculcate be lost. Believe that society, regularity and conscientiousness carry their full rewards in this life; that dissoluteness, gaming, betting and the following of strange women result in dishonour, ruin and death. And know that, of all blessings in this world, pure disinterested love is supreme.
“There’s a power whose sway Angel souls adore,
And the lost obey,
Weeping evermore” [82].

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