Here we explore the wonderful world of bookseller and storyteller E.W Cole, a man both ahead of his times, and of them, and his amazing Book Arcade- opened on Melbourne Cup Day in 1883. But we’ll also explore the books and creative works inspired by the arcade, its publications and its message of equality, literacy, and fun.
Podcast set up and first episode is proudly supported by the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund, provided through Regional Arts Australia, and administered in Victoria by Regional Arts Victoria.
Lisa Lang- author of E.W Cole: Chasing the Rainbow and the novel Utopian Man
Richard Broinowski- author of Under the Rainbow: the life and times of E.W Cole
Hilary Bell and Philip Johnston, creators of the yet to be staged musical Do Good and You Will be Happy, based on Coles Funny Picture Book.
Mike Brady and the 2013 Coles Funny Picture Book-
Ellen Sorensen- Minerva’s Idea original composition for Gather-
Coles Book Arcade song as published in Coles Funny Picture Book, sung by Sharon Turley with music by Ellen Sorensen
Coles Books Arcade symphonium c/o the Melbourne Museum- https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/items/288339
& music from the yet to be staged musical Do Good and You Will be Happy C/O Philip Johnston and Hilary Bell
Sound engineering: Dave Byrne, Iridium Audio
Podcast logo: Tiffany Titshall
Find @minervasbooksandideas and @amytinderbox on social media
MORE INFO & SUPPORT THE SHOW- https://minervasbooks.com/gather-podcast/
Booksellers & Storytellers Part One: E.W. Cole and Coles Book Arcade
[A delightful sound of choir leading into plucked guitar and different voices introducing the show, with guitar continuing underneath]
Woman’s voice: Ah everyone, you are listening to Gather
Child’s voice: You’re listening to Gather
Woman’s voice with dog bark in background: To Gather
Woman’s voice with American accent: Gather
[Same guitar doing a sweet little riff with the faint sound of pencil scribbling beneath. Sound of guitar continues beneath the host’s introduction]
Amy Tsilemanis (Gather host, smooth and calming): This is Amy Tsilemanis and this is Gather, with Minerva’s Books and Ideas, where we’ll explore the lives of books and the ideas they ignite and illuminate.
(Sounds of symphonion, plays beneath the voice of the narrator.)
Woman’s voice (host Amy Tsilemanis): Hello and welcome to the very first episode of Gather. I’m Amy, your humble gatherer and I’m coming at you from beautiful Wadawurrung Country in Ballarat, Australia. This episode is in two parts and will take you through the wonderful world of booksellers and storytellers.
If you were to walk into the Naarm or Melbourne Museum, you might go past the dinosaurs, the forest and marine life, the children’s museum, the First People’s Bunjilaka Cultural centre, past Phar Lap, an 80 year old champion racehorse that remains their most popular exhibit, and then the Marvellous Melbourne display. Past stories of gold, trams, technology and city life you would find yourself beneath a rainbow and maybe hearing the sounds of this symphonion. You see a mechanical box inviting you to READ, a series of small tokens promoting the ‘federation of the world’ stating that ‘all men are brothers’ and that ‘the happiness of mankind and the real salvation of the world must come about through every person in existence being taught to read and induced to think.’ (man and mankind standing in for us all, as was the way!). You might also see some copies of a rainbow covered book called Cole’s Funny Picture Book, and in it, the words to the Book Arcade song, and the mark of a master marketer.
Women singing acapella: The book you wish, the book you want, is almost sure to be found somewhere in the book arcade, if you will call and see.
Amy: In part one of this episode we’ll explore the wonderful world of bookseller and storyteller E.W. Cole, a man both ahead of his times, and of it, and his amazing Book Arcade, opened on Melbourne Cup Day in 1883. But we’ll also explore the books and creative works inspired by the arcade, its publications and its message of equality, literacy, and fun.
You’ll hear the voices of Lisa Lang, author of E.W Cole: Chasing the Rainbow and the novel Utopian Man, both published about ten years ago.
Woman’s voice (Lisa Lang): At that time there wasn’t a lot around on Cole. So now there is the display at the Museum and there’s also a display at the State Library. Neither of those were around when I very first started researching Coles’ story, so I was really quite surprised that there was so little recognition of his story. People knew the Funny Picture Books but they didn’t know much about the man behind it and the Book Arcade was very much forgotten.
Amy: Richard Broinowski author of Under the Rainbow: The Life and Times of E.W. Cole, published this year.
Man’s voice (Richard Broinowski): He fired the imagination and the sense of humour of… of many Victorians.
Amy:… and Hilary Bell and Phillip Johnston, creators of the yet to be staged musical, Do Good And You Will Be Happy, based on the Funny Picture Book.
Woman’s voice (Hilary Bell): I really, really loved it and it was just kind of wild and the pictures were astounding and their kind of macabre, sentimental, beautiful, politically incorrect qualities these days.
Amy: These books will be our seeds, from which the stories unfold.
So while there is now a museum display, and multiple books and projects, I think part of the mythical magic comes from it only existing in these traces. As Mike Brady of Arcade Publishing puts it, (they put out the first non-fiction book with Lisa Lang in 2009) “As a youngster in Tasmania I was convinced that this was the grandest shop in the world and that one day I would visit it.” But as he notes, “unfortunately it closed not long after Cole’s death in 1918 and only remains in stories, and a section of glass ceiling over Howey Place off Little Collins St in the Melbourne CBD.”
What are all the different ways this story can be told and what does Cole mean to us today?
Woman’s voice (Lisa Lang): It always struck me that it was kind of a perfect story to be told in lots of different ways and it actually really surprised me that it wasn’t already out there because I know lots of stories in history don’t get told and often it’s the stories of women or aboriginal people or other minority groups. But Edward Cole was a white male and kind of an establishment figure, although fairly anti-authoritarian. Umm… so in some ways it’s more surprising that his story wasn’t sort of amongst the official history of Melbourne.
Amy: We’ll hear a bit more from Lisa later about her interesting experience of writing both fiction and non-fiction about Cole but who was he before the Book Arcade?
Richard’s book from this year was a response to the Cole Foundation doing a call out for someone to write the definitive biography of Edward. Whether or not this is possible is up for question but he adds some more context to Cole’s background.
Cole was born in Kent, England, before travelling to Australia via South Africa and travels on the Murray River, then the Victorian goldfields via Melbourne.
Richard’s book covers all this, through to mixing with the literary folk of Castlemaine, to losing his mining pal to dysentery and shifting his operations to a lemonade stall, and the beginnings of his entrepreneurial flair.
Man’s voice (Richard Broinowski): One could not say definitively this is what Cole was (or) how he was raised because you’ve got the skeleton, the bare bones of when he was born, where he lived…yes. But what did he do? What was he thinking? How did he get his education? And you have to look at several alte rnatives and say to the reader, these are the possibilities, you have to make up your own minds, it’s a bit of a mystery. Even more so was his year in South Africa before he went to Australia, when he was about 19 years old. He could have gone been in the military although I think that’s basically discounted. But he was involved… he could have worked for farmers, I think that’s more likely. He was involved to some extent in the Frontier Wars against the Xhosa and the Khoi, and I think that probably instilled in him a distaste, a repugnance for violence. Towards the end of his time in about 1850/51 he realised… news came through of the gold rush in Victoria, in Australia and he decided he should go there. He got on a ship and he went and then when he came there of course there was a lot of speculation about his life but what he did in the goldfields was pretty clear cut and they finally found their way to Castlemaine and when they got there they confronted a vast open plain of human activity like on a monumental scale. With ah… rifles going off and people singing.
Amy: While Cole wasn’t successful with gold mining he joined other canny people by providing needed services. He sold lemonade to the miners, before heading back to Melbourne and the opportunities of the population growth and culture there.
Richard: I think Australians were among… we had in the late nineteenth century… we had the highest standard of living in the world. It was in Victoria accelerated by the finding of gold. Victoria was very, very wealthy and Cole sort of became part of that and I think he realised that people needed… that there was a great cry and need for literature and he came across it really fortuitously because he was selling pies from a stall he had in the old Eastern Market, long since gone of course, on the corner of Exhibition and uh Bourke Street and uh he was selling his pies door to door in the inner suburbs of Collingwood, Fitzroy and East Melbourne. And a woman said to him ‘look I’ll buy your pies because I think they’re very good but I’ve got a whole bookshelf here of books why don’t you buy them and try to sell them instead. And so he took them and he set up a book selling stall in the Eastern Market and that set him on his progress towards developing what he arguably says, boastfully but probably truthfully, one of the largest book arcades in the world.
Amy: I love the image that you recall of someone going past his stall on horseback and Cole throwing his books up to him.
Richard: (laughs) Oh look it was a wild time, the Eastern Market was full of all sort of jousters and loungers and hooray Henrys and people testing their skills on electric machines.
The woman who allowed men to kiss her for a tuppence or a threepence. One bloke was so energised by the electric shock treatment he had before, he actually broke a jaw.
Amy: So can you describe the atmosphere of the bookshop? What would it have been like going in there? The sounds and sights in Coles Book Arcade.
Richard: There were two book stores before it, one further up Swanston Street. But another one was opened on Melbourne Cup Day, in 1883 and there he set the tone by turning it into a bit of a carnival. When you approached this enormous store, he had already knocked out the floors between the ceiling and the floor. It was like a modern ship, the interior of a modern tourist liner. You walk out of your cabin along a calestria, a gallery and downstairs you’ve got this enormous space where everything is sold. He had clear glass ceilings so that the sunlight would come in and flood the arcade. He had glass pillars outside, he had mechanical monkeys advertising what was for sale inside, mixed up with moral arguments about how if you work hard it’s virtuous and how you have to work to earn a good day’s pay and that keeps you honest and don’t drink and don’t smoke and all that stuff. And inside one of the things he developed I think and probably was a unique way of marketing, the shelves were open for people to browse, they don’t have to meet a stiff collared clerk who would get the books out for them, they could look for themselves, not only that but they could take the books out, sit down in a fern garden, in a quiet place within the arcade and read to their hearts content without having to buy. So he had a sort of a counter intuitive feeling about this, if we don’t force them to buy, they’re going to buy more and so they did. He extended the arcade with a very high quality tea salon, with bric-a-brac stores which had very wonderful china and ornaments that he would bring back from abroad. Understanding that at the time, the Melbourne standard of living, this was before the Great Depression of the 1890’s, the Melbourne standard of living was improving and women were working more and because the women were the homemakers, they were the ones who would come in and buy these attractive ornaments that he had on the third floor of his store so the sunlight would catch them and make them gleam and glisten and make them more attractive to the buyers. And he had a monkey house as you know, where kids were fascinated and coming to the monkey houses with their nanny or their mothers, who were appalled at watching these children with grave concentration watch monkeys copulate. ‘Oh mommy, what’s he doing there.’ They actually started a moral campaign against Coles’ monkeys and the Melbourne City Council eventually banned them. He had an aviary, he had birds in it, he had one bird that swore mightily at people, but they didn’t mind that, it was all part of the carnival atmosphere. He had an orchestra. He wasn’t particularly ah… refined in his taste in music, so he had light classics and hymns intermixed with hymns and his orchestra with a pianist played this music for the people. It was all very fascinating, people went there, not just to buy books but to rest. The Melbourne City Council had banned people resting on park benches and benches along the city streets. They actually put spikes on the sills of shops and windows so the people couldn’t sit down. But Coles very cannily had benches in the fern garden. He bought the furniture in the Dandenongs and he set them up so people could come in and read. It was all together very successful.
Amy: What a feast for creativity and imagination, both then and now. Here’s Lisa Lang reading from her novel Utopian Man.
[Piano music plays underneath Lisa’s voice initially and then fades out]
Woman’s voice (Lisa Lang): Edward stands on Little Collins waiting for the delivery cart. It is a dirty street backing onto factories and Edward hears the clank and thud of nearby industry. A breeze blows, through acrid and chemical, whipping up rubbish. It is the kind of street so devoid of life, even the rats ignore it. As he reaches for his fob watch the sound of hooves break into his awareness. The horses come into view, the heads lowered, behind them at more than twice their height are the tree ferns, wavering fragile intensely green. Gliding past the factories, the dream of the forest in the city’s heart. Edward is spellbound, as though some other agency has planned all this, he watches the horses, stout and spotted and rough of coat but with the dignity of thoroughbreds. He watches the ferns, a trembling mirage, barely credible in the grey landscape. Apart from the drivers he is alone on the street. The whole event coloured by the rare singular quality of his boyhood adventures.
“You Mr Cole?” calls one of the drivers. Skinny and freckled he looks no older than fourteen. Beside him the second driver appears a little meatier. Still Edward wonders how they will manage to shift their large and awkward cargo. They jump from the cart and Edward points them to the walkway where the ferns are to be placed. The boys move swiftly. They carry the plants between them, grunting, cursing but careful not to damage the tender fronds. When they are finished Edward tips them generously thinking all the while of his own two boys.
“Thanks mister, have yourself a champion day,” calls the freckled one, climbing up into the cart.
Edward basks in this rough blessing. You’ll have a champion day.
[Music rises up under Lisa’s voice]
Lisa: So I had actually started researching and writing the novel first and I was friends with Dale and Mike from Arcade Publishing and I was talking to them about Edward Cole’s story and they kept saying this would make a great little non-fiction book. Are you sure you wouldn’t be interested in writing some non-fiction. So I actually put I think the first draft of the novel aside and wrote the non-fiction and it was such a different process. The research side of it was similar but I guess what I was trying to do with the novel was really capture the human side,
the sort of quieter moments as well as the colour and excitement of 1880’s Melbourne. And you have such great flexibility in fiction to kind of make things big and colourful, make things small and intimate and quiet and you can kind of imagine the textures and the smells and the colours. In a way that if you don’t have the research material you can’t make up those moments. And so for me it sort of clarified what I was wanting to do with the fiction. The story itself is so interesting it doesn’t need any embellishment or colour but I guess I wanted to really bring that time in Melbourne into kind of full colour life. And at the same time show Cole as being human, flawed with good and bad qualities and not just sort of turn him into this exceptional, historical figure that nobody could relate to as a human being.
Amy: I was interested to hear how Lisa used the archives in her work.
Lisa Lang: The State Library has got some… a couple of boxes in the manuscripts collection that belong to Edward Cole and that’s actually got… some really interesting bits and pieces in there. Little sort of diaries and notebooks that he kept, letters that he wrote to Eliza and the children when he was overseas. I found things like the ticket stub to the Turkish Baths in the Royal Arcade. Yeah, little bits of ephemera and yeah just the smallest things could be really evocative. So, in a letter to Eliza there would be a little section put aside for the children with a few little diagrams that he had drawn and you could just feel through those little gestures a real sort of tenderness and involvement towards his children and it struck me as a bit unusual for a patriarch in the Victoria era, so little things like that were little clues or insights into the type of person that he might have been. And they help you sort of colour certain scenes in the novel where he’s interacting with the children, the importance of the children in his life. Yeah I guess you just pick up those little bits from the archive and you sort of transform them into a human personality.
Amy: Beautiful. So you were sitting in the library holding things that he’d actually created.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It does really sort of spark the imagination. There is something special about seeing something in someone’s own handwriting and you know holding… even business documents that he had written. You just get a sense of the person… sort of just behind those documents and I guess it’s that little space that allows the writers imagination to create something and build something in that gap. Which you can’t always do with non-fiction. I guess with the fiction I felt… I didn’t mind making things up but I wanted to remain true to that feeling that those archival materials was giving me. So if I was getting a certain impression I would make things up if it helped to recreate that impression rather than just invent things purely out of thin air.
Amy: How would you describe umm… yeah that spirit (laughs) of what you found of him coming through as you were researching.
Lisa: That’s a good question. He’s pretty unusual in some ways in that he was such a good businessman, really entrepreneurial, really understood what was popular and what was going to strike a chord with a large group of people. And at the same time he didn’t care about personal popularity or being seen to be going against the grain or ruffling a few feathers and politically he was happy to stand up against things that were popular at the time. Like the White Australia Policy and argue against them. And so he was an interesting mix of someone who knows what the public wants but won’t necessarily always give it to them if it clashes with his principles or ideals. And so, yeah I found that aspect interesting. It didn’t stop him making money, he made quite a lot of money in his day. But at the same time he took a few positions that were unpopular and that could have potentially cost him business.
Amy: So yeah, the context that the book arcade was operating in that era of Australian life and Melbourne culture, what was that like being immersed in that world?
Lisa: It was really fun. I guess prior to really doing that research I thought of history as being a little bit conservative and you know the present and the future was all about the progress and the past was a bit dusty and sepia coloured and when I started doing the research I realised that that conception is quite inaccurate and history goes through cycles and you know the 1880s was actually a time of incredible excitement, change, rapid change in Melbourne, extreme colour and movement and new ideas and booming population, lots of immigration and just you know quite a sort of golden period literally in Melbourne's life. And then you know things really changed after the 1890’s depression and then it was the start of Federation and you know things changed again so I guess I learnt to look at history a little bit more differently and you to realize that people in those times experienced what we think of history as richly and intensely as we experience our lives. That everything was fresh and new for them at the time that they experienced everything and this sort of dusty sort of embalmed notion of history.
I guess wanting to get beyond that to the sort of richly imagined human understanding of history.
Amy: You've talked about it a bit and I guess touched on it there, what do you think, yeah, literature or fiction can do yeah in bringing these things to life?
Lisa: I think when we do write about history we're always doing it through the lens of the present so it's always just another way to examine what's going on now. But at the same time we can draw parallels and we can sort of re-examine the past in light of what we know. What fiction can do is give us a bit more of a personal involvement a bit more something more like a personal exchange with history. Something that kind of really resonates and makes a deep impression on people rather than reading a series of facts or events or you know things that took place.
[Piano music fades up and Amy’s voice runs over it.]
Amy: One of the things that jumped out for these storytellers was Cole’s inventive and unorthodox advertising that also extended to finding a wife…
Lisa: Look I’ve always loved Edward advertising for a wife in the newspaper. I think that one's pretty hard to beat, you couldn't make it up. It's just one of those examples where he really doesn't care what anybody thinks of him. It draws so much attention to him and his personal life to be advertising for a wife on the front page of the paper. At a time in a long before the classifieds, long before Tinder, long before any of these modern ways we had of trying to meet a partner and it's just that mix of his real pragmatism and practicality and sort of knowing what he wants and his sort of disregard for convention.
Man’s voice (Richard Broinowski): Cole was not a chauvinist in the sense of the day. He realised women were of consequence. But yet there was that conditioning that they’re not as good as men. And he’d be thrown out of court now.. And he would feel really hurt about that because he was actually a man who had equanimity and who had a sense of justice about people. I think in his heart of hearts he said no, women were the same as men but when he advertised for a wife she had to be moderately well educated, she had to be cleanly in her habits, she had to be a good cook. All the stereotypes of women being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen were there at that time. In fact he did marry a Taswegian and she proved to be very strong minded and had a wonderful strong character. She was so tough on his staff when he was hiring… at the height of his arcade when he was hiring over a hundred employees at a time, when he went on buying trips to England his wife took over and she sacked a few people who Cole in his soft hearted way couldn’t bear to fire but she did when he came back all of them breathed a sigh of relief that the master was back.
[Piano music rises in volume beneath woman’s voice]
Amy narration: Cole was a fascinating character who wove his own story, and we now hear about some of the qualities that sat behind the inspiration to turn his Coles Funny Picture Book into a musical, and another kind of storytelling.
Woman’s voice (Lisa Lang): You know I think he was certainly a utopian and he had an incredible faith in humankind. The fact that he, you know, yes of course he was a sort of Victorian gentleman who was a product of his times. But he had an incredible sense of progress and of what human beings were capable of.
For example he was one of the few vocal opponents of the White Australia policy in the 19th century where even, you know, the Labor party back then was very pro White Australia policy it was a threat to what they saw as Australian worker’s jobs. Cole took a stand, he put ads in the paper, he made it a very sort of central part of what his book shop was promulgating. So he went to Japan and interviewed the Japanese on their world views and brought them back to show white Australians how civilised they were.
So that was kind of not only extraordinary to be able to see above what was the sea that you were swimming in back then. But also to brave enough to come out and say it.
He had very kind of progressive views on gender and on education and on the way children should be brought up.
He was certainly a believer in hard work and that he had a huge amount of tenderness and compassion. He loved animals.
These are some of the things that I think really struck me.
Man’s voice (Philip Johnston): While we did not try to do a biopic into the musical we did bring many of the elements of Cole's life but rather than doing them in a narrative biographical way they’re just elements of the fantasia on Cole.
So the book shop, including some of the aspects of it that were so fantastical.
Woman’s voice (Hilary Bell): Hello my name is Hilary Bell and I am primarily a playwright but I also write for the screen and I do a lot of work with music theatre. So I write opera libretti and I write book and lyrics for musicals.
And in the last 5 to 10 years I've also started working on picture books.
I’ve worked with an illustrator called Antonio Pizonti and Matthew Martin, another illustrator and we have a number of books out including one called Alphabetical Sydney.
Man’s voice (Phillip Johnston): And I'm Phillip Johnston, I'm a composer and musician. I’m a jazz musician. I play the saxophone and I also write music for films and silent films and in the case we're talking about here, theatre.
Woman’s voice (Hilary Bell): So I’m a child of the 70s and that was when this book called Funny Picture Book had a sort of a revival. It had never actually gone out of print since it first appeared in 1879 but by the 80s it was kind of, you know, no longer appearing on bookshelves. But my parents introduced it to me when I was very small and it was sort of a fixture. I read it all the time. I skipped over the boring, you know, the oneness of man and those sort of philosophical tracts back then. And I just went to the whipping machine (laughing) and the man turning into a screw and cats dressed up in pinafores. I was with Phillip, so we're a married couple and we met in New York, got married over there, lived there for a long time and we were back in Australia in a second hand book shop one visit and I found a book on the shelf I think and showed it to Phillip and told him about my connection with it and he said ‘wow, this would make an amazing musical.’ And so that would've been probably more than 10 years ago.
Phillip: Closer to 20 years now.
Hilary: Probably 20 so yes we started kind of going, how do you turn a book with no story and no main characters into a musical and that was the beginning of a very long dramaturgical experiment that's gone in many, many different directions. Musically I’ll let Phillip talk about that, but we were very kind of keen to find a way that we were paying tribute to the music of the style of the book. So kind of Music Hall is what we were interested in and then Phillips own inimitable jazz style.
[jazz music starts playing]
Phillip: Well I think one important thing to mention is that the show that we worked on was always meant to be a biography of the book more than a biography of Cole. So a lot of the artistic directions that we went in were aimed at evoking the book so that's one of the reasons why we looked to English Music Hall and Vaudeville and the music isn't really pastiche per se. Some of it verges on pastiche I would say but it's modern music which references older musical styles but it's not faithful naturalistic interpretation of the music of that time it's more of a fantasia on older styles of music which we both happen to love anyway and kind of penetrates a lot of what we do.
[piano music starts]
Come out you creatures where ever you are.
Put down your soup spoons, put out your cigar.
From comic and ??? the quip and the pun.
Come out of the shadows, there’s work to be done.
You all seem bewildered.
You’re asking what for?
We’re making a book to prevent a world war.
Hilary: Lots of different theatres companies have been involved in it and every time we've kind of struggled with how do you tell? How do you impose a story on something that doesn't… essentially doesn't have a story and as Phillip said we weren't really interested in doing a biopic of E.W. Cole, although he did have an extraordinary life. What we were really excited about was the book itself. And you go through all these different lands in the book, so Baby Land, Santa Claus Land, Smoking Land. It's this kind of amazing picaresque journey really and I think we've kind of come full circle now. We tried imposing a list of rules of dramaturgy onto the material but ultimately where we are at with it right now is letting it be a kind of a variety concert. So rather than try to force the square peg into a round hole, just celebrating the messiness and the kind of unique loopy world view that was E.W. Cole’s and letting that kind of shine rather than trying to trim the edges and making it into a well made musical.
[accordion music plays]
Hilary: We had wild ambitions. We actually had in the stage directions the Coles Funny Picture Book kind of being constructed on stage and we were very inspired by oh the kind of parlour games and board games and artwork of the time. So you know, pop up books and musical postcards and even cigar boxes that turned into little stages. So we had a very lavish vision to begin with.
Phillip: An English theatre company that did a show called Shock Headed Peter. It was kind of a touchstone for us and our vision of how it could look. Was very homemade and very sort of fantastically dark. We imagined in our wildest dreams, constructing the spanking machine, the whipping machine rather, and some of the fantastic machines from the book and also including the element, one of the most widely distributed throughout is these very Victorian looking anthropomorphized animals. The stork and the cats and dogs wearing evening clothes and frogs and toads as characters. A nap is also a big part of the show.
[piano music and singing begins]
It must be the funniest ever produced.
Man and woman singing together:
What will you call it? What’s it about?
Welllllllll…If you want people to read and to think.
You must use the very best paper and ink.
The spine must be sturdy.
The type not too big.
And see you devote a whole page to the….
…stork is by far the most dignified bird.
Give him a whole chapter, give him the last…
What the children want is a doggie who…
Stop you’re all making a terrible din.
Next one who quarrels…
[music and singing fades out]
Phillip: We wanted to refer to a lot of older styles of music but twisting them a little bit. The same way that we were in the story.
Hilary: Spiking, rubbing up against, the sort of… almost sentimental mawkishness of that kind of Victorian view of children or mothers or babies or animals. And then the kind of glee that you can see in pages like the whipping machine. Or the sort of stuff Phillip was just describing in Straw Peter. There was something quite sort of uncomfortable in the marriage of those two perspectives.
Amy: What do you think music and song and theatre would have brought to telling the Cole’s story?
Phillip: Another of the projects I worked on recently was a collaboration with Art Spiegelman, the graphic artist. And we presented a piece called Wordless at the Sydney Opera House. Which also brought graphic images and books from the last hundred to a hundred and fifty years to life. And it just, you know, provided insight to people who had never heard of these things, to that work and made a new thing out of it. And we performed live music with these projections of images. We could potentially do the same thing with Cole’s Funny Picture Book. People love it, they get great pleasure out of it.
Hilary Bell: I would also say there’s something about the book that’s just begging to be made into something three dimensional. It’s mostly in black and white if you look at the book itself and it’s just bursting at the seams to be filled with personality, filled with colour. To pop off the page with the aid of music and magic, visual slight of hand. So it just kind of helps pop the whole thing into a whole other dimension. That’s what’s exciting to me about it. And to appeal to an audience on an emotional level in a way that you know, it certainly does to some degree but to be able to take one character or one of the ‘lands’ in the book or one little piece of verse and dig deeper with that and turn it into a whole package. A living, breathing musical package.
[Piano music and choral singing]
Hilary: I think what kids love is stuff that is a bit dark. That’s what I loved about the book as a child myself. With this show though I think that it’s got some dark and profound scenes. So whatever the kids get out of it may not be the same as what the adults get out of it.
Amy narration: Bell and Johnston’s work really brings out the complexity of Cole’s world, that wasn’t all rainbows and lollypops, and through these different ways of exploring the story there’s a richness of character and spirit that resonates today.
Who was Edward really and what does it mean for us? The reality is he was many things… both shy, and bold. Of his time, and ahead of it. Magical, and human. He had hope and the will, to build a better world, a more equal, more loving, more weird, and funny world, and we can all learn something from that.
Man’s voice (Richard Broinowski): He was a futurist, he was fond of and used, embraced modern technology, electric light and the telephone. He had an electric pneumatic lift. One of the first elevators in Melbourne. To take people up to the third floor. He had an energetic sense of the absurd. He was good at self-promotion. He encouraged reading, literature and Melbourne literacy. And that’s a good thing about this book. Which the Foundation, the Cole Foundation is going to give every high school in Victoria, about three thousand of them, a free copy of my book. I hope that that stimulates kids to think about their past. If we don’t then we are bound to repeat it.
As part of Richard’s book, Under The Rainbow, coming out this year, there was also going to be memorial created at the remaining bit of the arcade in Melbourne city but the pandemic had other plans, look out for it next year. Maybe we can draw chalk rainbows on the ground together?
For now, thanks so much for listening, in the words of Lisa Lang’s freckly delivery boy, have yourselves a champion day, and after the credits, enjoy our recording of the Coles Book Arcade song, in its entirety.
[Coles Book Arcade song sung by Sharon Turley with piano music by Ellen Sorensen]
Amy narration: Gather, with Minerva’s Books & Ideas, is produced by me, Amy Tsilemanis with sound engineering and general audio mastery by the amazing Dave Byrne and this first episode is proudly supported by The Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund, provided through Regional Arts
Australia and administered in Victoria by Regional Arts Victoria. Thank you.
Produced on Wadarrung Country in Ballarat, Australia. We pay our deep respects to Elders past, present and emerging as we live and work on this ancient and inspiring land.
Music by Ellen Sorensen has been specially created for the show and the Coles Book Arcade song is sung by Sharon Turley
Songs from the musical Do Good And You’ll Be Happy are courtesy of Hilary Bell and Phillip Johnston. And the Coles Arcade symphonium is with thanks to the Melbourne Museum.
Logo and episode design is by Tiffany Titshall.
Books we’ve discussed are Under the Rainbow: The Life and Times of E.W. Cole by Richard Broinowski, published through Melbourne University Press.
Utopian Man by Lisa Lang published through Allen & Unwin.
E.W. Cole Chasing the Rainbow by Lisa Lang from Arcade Publishing. And you can also get a copy of the 2013 Coles Funny Picture Book. A ‘best of’ that Mike Brady worked on with Hardie Grant Publishing, which is described as a curated collection from the infamous and much-loved Cole's Funny Picture Book first published in 1879.
Thanks so much for listening and we look forward to bringing you more. We are committed to high quality and diverse storytelling and creativity but can only do this with your support. Check out minervasbooks.com/gather for more, including how you can pick up my collage for this episode. With love and bookishness, see you in Part 2 of Booksellers and Storytellers soon. Adios.
[Coles Book Arcade song plays out]