When I was a young girl growing up in Perth, each year at Christmas, one of the TV stations would televise the Christmas Carols in Melbourne, which were held at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. I wasn’t that keen on watching this, I was never a fan of carols, and, having on ever heard the name of the carols and not seen it in writing, I couldn’t understand why they were holding the Christmas Carols in a music bowl in Sydney if there were supposed to be hosting the show in Melbourne! Did I mention, I’m blonde?
Turns out Sidney Myer was a person.
In fact, he was a clever person. He emigrated (penniless) to Australia in 1899 and opened the first Myer store in Bendigo in 1900 at the tender age of just 22.
Upon arrival in Victoria, Sidney and his brother Elcon, briefly worked at a drapery store in Flinders Lane before opening the first Myer store in Bendigo in 1900. A second store followed in 1908 and it was their advertising and exciting promotions which drew in the crowds and earned them the loyalty of their customers.
Sidney bought a number of adjoining properties in Bourke Street by 1911 and on the site, built a department stored which he named The Myer Emporium. The Emporium was heaven for the modern woman. Myers was miles ahead of other retailers at the time, and as well as enticing customers from all walks of life, the advertising of visually appealing merchandise kept the crowds coming. This is the same store which continues to trade as the flagship store in Melbourne. Although the 1920’s saw the world facing economic depression, the Emporium remained strong and Sidney became a local hero through his acts of generosity.
In 1915, the first of the Myer factories opened. It was followed up with the first interstate store, in Adelaide, in 1928.
And in 1931, Sidney led the way with the Buy Australian Campaign to keep manufacturing jobs in Australia.
In 1939 however, Australia went to war. The new “Chief” of the Myer Emporium, Norman Myer (Sidney’s nephew), offered the facilities and resources of the business to be at the disposal of the government. Myer’s wool mills at Ballarat became a major supplier of clothing for the military. US forces occupied Myer’s dispatch facility in Carleton and their Lonsdale Street building. Team members too joined the war effort. Norman formed the Dug Out Club providing food and entertainment for more than 50,000 allied servicemen a week. Over 150 Myer volunteers acted as dance partners and hostesses staffing the club.
When things turned around in the 1950’s, Myer epitomised post-war Australia’s prosperity. In 1956 the first Myer Christmas Windows went on display in the Bourke Street store, a tradition which continues today.
The Chadstone store followed in 1960 and it continued to expand into the 70’s, with Myer branching into new opportunities. This included discount department stores, speciality fashion retailers, food outlets and ventures into land development, travel, finance and film production. Whenever the business expanded though, the profits were reinvested in the welfare of team members.
Myer acquired New South Wales department chain store Grace Brothers in 1983 which gave Myer prestigious real estate in capital cities throughout Australia. Then in 1985, Myer merged with Coles in what was known as the largest deal in Australian corporate history. The business continued to diversify and in 2009, it was floated on the Australian Stock Exchange.
There are now over 60 Myer stores across Australia. Something I bet Sidney never imaged when he first arrived in Australia.
Sidney was a violinist and he established free open-air concerts with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in the late 1920’s. During the depression years of the 1930’s Sidney also showed his philanthropic side – rather than terminating the employment of the works in his department store, he cut the wages of all staff, including himself. For the unemployed, he financed a Christmas dinner for 10,000 people at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, which included a gift for every child.
His unexpected death in 1934 shocked the people of Melbourne. More than 100,000 mourners lined the streets to pay their final prospects to the funeral procession.
A chill had started to wake me in the morning and proceed me to bed in the evening over the last week and I was really starting to worry about my first winter in Melbourne – which was still another three months away. So I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see this princess sky when I left my apartment for the day ahead, not a touch of chill in the air despite the early hour. Today, I was heading out of the city to revisit the Great Ocean Road, and the change in the weather was a good omen.
Surprisingly, the Great Ocean Road is one of the top three tourism experiences in Australia. It’s in good company with Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef – neither of which I’ve seen (yet). I have at least visited the Great Ocean Road before, but so long ago that it’s almost irrelevant. It was a great opportunity to get out of the city for the day and get re-acquainted with the road, so I joined up with a local small group tour company (Melbourne Coastal Touring), and quicker than you could say ‘Eureka’ (oops, sorry, that’s for another day), we were travelling through Melbourne’s outskirts and heading for the coast.
Our guide asks how long ago my last visit was, which I dismiss with a wave of my hand. ‘Oh, a few years’. You don’t need to know how long ago it was since I visited, but let’s just say I was in my teens and we know that wasn’t yesterday. I’m not sure how time flies so fast. Where do the years go? It’s a good reminder that time doesn’t stand still and can pass you in the blink of an eye.
The Great Ocean Road is Australia’s most famous stretch of road and traverses approximately 250km from Torquay (spiritual home of Rip Curl) to Warrnambool. Along the way you amble through the beachside towns of Anglesea, Lorne and Apollo Bay. Lorne plays host to the annual pier to pub swimming race, an extremely popular 1200m swim.
The Great Ocean Road is a permanent memorial to those who died in World War I. A massive engineering feat – being carved out of rock, it was built by returned servicemen and was a way of creating much needed employment after the long war years. Survey work commenced in 1918 with the road being officially opened in 1932. During the early years, drivers paid a toll to use the road, however this was removed in 1936 and the road was handed over to the State Government.
We have a short stop at Kennett River for some koala spotting. Our guide tells us there has been recent culling of koalas in the region, and before he’s overtaken by sympathetic ‘oh no, how cruel’, he explains its seen as being for their own good. You see, koalas rely on the eucalypt forests for survival. If they breed to an unsustainable level, they will breed themselves out of existence with nowhere to go once the trees have been eaten bare. Attempts have been made to relocate them, but they have been unsuccessful to date.
It’s an ongoing problem and over 700 koalas were culled in 2013 and 2014 in the Port Campbell Cape Otway region.
There are several koalas lounging about the trees when we arrive, including one of the fastest moving koalas I’ve ever seen:
So cute. We all stood around, faces pointed upwards waiting for any further glimpses of these cute little creatures.
After driving through the forests, which were reminiscent of Boranup forest in the south west of Western Australia, we reach Melba Gully for a quick stop. Breathtaking views out over the trees towards the ocean await us, as sheep gently nibble on the wet grass. And I mean wet. In fact, Melba Gully is one of the wettest places in the state. I’m guessing it received its name after the great Dame, however I can’t find any reference to this. Its also reputedly a great place to see glow-worms, but we are obviously here at the wrong time of day.
Lunch is a short stop at Port Campbell at the door to the Port Campbell National Park. The Park, which is part of the Shipwreck Coast, is home to many of the region’s tourist attractions including the Twelve Apostles, the London Arch (London Bridge), Loch Ard Gorge and Gibsons Steps.
The Shipwreck Coast was a treacherous stretch of water, where more than 200 wrecks occurred, most during the mid-19th century. Captains encountered uncharted reefs and difficult sailing conditions due to strong winds and storms and these took their toll. Some ships ran aground allowing the crew and passengers to reach land safely, however many ships weren’t so lucky.
One such wreck was that of Loch Ard, from which there was only two survivors. But I’ll tell you a bit about that in a minute.
We all know them now as the Twelve Apostles (even though that’s now a little misleading), but they weren’t always known by this name. They were initially called the Sow and Piglets, the Sow being Mutton Bird Island and the piglets being the formations to the east of that. The name was changed in 1846, though no-one knows why as twelve formations have never been visible from the current viewpoint.
These limestone stacks were created by erosion which was caused by the harsh weather conditions in the Southern Ocean. The erosion, which has occurred over the last 6,000 years, caused soft limestone caves to become arches, which in turn collapsed, leaving the remaining six stacks you see today.
It’s a little overcast today down this way, but when the sun shines intermittently from the clouds, it’s easy to see why the area is so famed for its stunning beauty. The pictures speak for themselves.
Along from the apostles, is Loch Ard Gorge, site of the wreck of the Loch Ard, where 52 lives were lost in 1878. The Loch Ard was a rigged iron sailing ship which left England for Melbourne in March 1878. The Captain was expecting to see land on the 1st of June, but fog obscured his view and when it lifted, he was surprised to see it much closer than expected. Despite his efforts the ship struck a reef at the base of Mutton Bird Island and the ship was wrecked. There were only two survivors – Tom Pearce who was an apprentice crewman and a female passenger Eva Carmichael. Eva lost her family in the tragedy and was only saved by Tom when he found her clinging to a reef in the gorge.
Tom was lucky enough to happen upon two men from a nearby homestead, who rode off to get help. Rescued and taken to the homestead to recover, eventually Eva returned to Ireland and Tom went to Melbourne, where he was presented with a medal for his heroics and a cheque from the Victorian Government.
Loch Ard Gorge has several walking trails around it’s perimeter, all of which show you stunning views of the coastline, so you should be sure to leave enough time to wander and soak up the majesty of it all.
The day ends overlooking the ocean by Gibson’s Steps, all 86 of them. The steps, named after pioneer Hugh Gibson who created them to access his favourite fishing spots, were originally carved out of the cliffs by Gibson. Later replaced by concrete, they were an easy way for him to access the ocean and transport goods to his nearby Glenample Homestead.
Glenample so happens to be the very homestead to where Tom and Eva were sent to recover after the Loch Ard wreck.
It’s been a long day, the drive back to Melbourne (mostly in the dark) making it even longer. I think I can leave it another twenty years before I return.