The National Trust has argued that the smell of Vegemite, produced at Fishermans Bend, warrants recognition as part of the heritage of the place. This has prompted a post on how many Port stories are associated with smells.
The fetid Sandridge Lagoon gave rise to virtually a whole vocabulary of smells – here are just a few examples:
The ‘stench arising from the lagoon was a nuisance and a menace to the public health’, wrote Town Clerk Crockford in his scrapbook in 1895. In representations to the Board of Health ‘The Mayor could assure the Board that when the tide was out, the effluvia arising from this little spot was something abominable’. In endless delegations, councillors argued for action to be taken on the deplorable state of the lagoon. ‘Cr Plummer was glad that Mr. Deakin was coming to have a smell for himself. He had advised that the visit should be timed to take place at low water, when the smell showed to the greatest advantage’.1
There seems to be universal agreement that the most penetrating of all the smells was that emanating from Kitchens, later Lever & Kitchen, from the boiling down of tallow for candle and soap making.
The smells associated with the factories on Fishermans Bend made a strong impression on the young Mike Brady when living in the Fishermans Bend Migrant Hostel located between Salmon and Hall Sts.
‘A blind man could describe the scene, because the inescapable odours of Port Melbourne are penetrating the tiniest chinks in the bus doors and windows. It’s an obnoxious smelling cocktail of animal, vegetable and chemical waste . . .
To the east, stretching almost to the city, is a chain of animal-holding yards and abattoirs. Here, pigs are slaughtered and put through a furnace to burn off their bristles. The stench of burning hair and flesh is compounded as it joins the stink of boiling fat from the Unilever and Cedel soap factories. To the west, a forest of factories . . . Adjacent to the hostel is the Kraft Vegemite factory. The pungent, yeasty smell drifts over constantly. Vegemite is not the spread of choice at breakfast in the hostel canteen.’
By contrast, the sweet smells of Swallows are fondly remembered, and sometimes with precision. ‘Teddy bears around 2pm from Swallows!!’
Jan MacDonald recalled
‘What is that delicious aroma? Swallow & Ariell are cooking their Christmas puddings. We are almost indifferent to the usual everyday biscuit baking aroma, but the Christmas puddings smell really great. The kids all go to the back door of Swallows for a sample.’
Sometimes smells came in combination – Jan MacDonald again
‘The tide has gone out again, leaving the beach covered in streamers, rotting onions and other food discarded by the ships that have left Station Pier. Rats are having a feast. The seaweed is starting to rot in the sun, the smell is terrible.
And of course, the smells related to the prevailing wind, so a northerly would bring the Kitchens smell while the southerly would waft biscuit smells over the Borough.
Other smells that have been mentioned
- the smell of fruit in the late summer at Tom Piper
- the smell of the Gasworks
- Dunlops tyres
- the rotten mussels which would wash up and lay in the sun!’
Has Port lost its smells and how do we, as a Society, remember and record them?
If you can add to the inventory of Port smells, or the words to describe them, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section
Acknowledging all the contributions on the Port Melbourne History and Born and Bred Port Melbourne facebook site
1 The Standard, Port Melbourne, Saturday 15 January, 1887
Delbridge, N 2004 Up there Mike Brady Port Melbourne, Vic Coulomb Communications
Crockford, Edward Scrapbook held by the PMH&PS
Macdonald, J 2002 Salt on the Windows, in PMH&PS calendar 2002