Australia. Awesome place to go backpacking. Kangaroos. Kind of cut off. Beer, BBQs, outback and beaches. Surf bums and cowboys living in one big dusty country somewhere at the bottom end of the globe. Sydney has a ring to it, and the Great Barrier Reef is cool after you learned all about it watching ‘Finding Nemo’, but Melbourne? Hmm I don’t know. The weather is a bit grey, and even the name sounds a bit muted. What does Melbourne have to do with you?
Apart from taking our word that it’s a pretty awesome place, without having been here you may wonder what difference this city on the southern coast of a southern island has done for the world. Even if you’ve never been to Paris, you still see its croissants and fashion influence on your high streets. You see LA and New York in your movies. You know about Moscow and Beijing from history books; Tokyo and Singapore from futuristic computer games. All around the world, places we’ve never been to influence our daily lives, our view of the world. If London suddenly disappeared, you’d miss it. But Melbourne?
Well, you’re in for a surprise. For people who are actually here, the fact that Melbourne has been voted the world’s most liveable city 5 years in a row is important, but here are 10 things from Melbourne you may not have known that influence YOUR life, wherever you are.
1) The Black Box Flight Recorder – 1958
Get on any commercial airliner and it will be equipped with the thing that makes the news in the highly unlikely event of the plane crashing. The Black Box Flight Recorder was invented right here in Melbourne in 1958 by Dr David Warren at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories. Three guesses what colour the Black Box is… (comment below!)
2) Dim Sims
Not to be confused with a style of cooking small dishes for the Emperor to touch his heart (Dim Sum means ‘touch the heart’), one of the staples of Fish & Chip shops worldwide was actually invented in Melbourne in 1945. Just like chop suey is American and ketchup is Chinese, the humble Dim Sim was developed by Chinese chef William Wing Young for his restaurant “Wing Lee”. Willy was a clever dude developing the first automated production line for dumplings and ended up very rich. Nothing to do with the fact his address is 88 China Town Lane.
3) Eight Hour Day
You know that time you get to ‘clock off’ every single day? That whole 8 hours sleep, 8 hours work, 8 hours scratch-your-balls-&-Netflix routine you get thanks to international labour laws? The 18th century didn’t work that way as people were in factories from whenever to whenever the owners said they were, often clocking 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, kids above nine included. The French may have pushed for a 12 hour day in 1848 and the Brits a 10 hour day in 1847, but it was Australian stonemasons of Melbourne that on the 21st of April 1856 hammered through their demands, paving the way for generations and nations to come. Thanks for that first piece of labour rights, where would we be without you? (Answer: probably in the office)
4) First Feature Length Film
Ever heard of Ned Kelly? Well, if you haven’t, look him up. You’ll see where steampunk gets its armour. In 1906, a team of filmmakers decided to shoot “The Story of the Kelly Gang” the world’s first feature length film about the notorious gangster right here in sunny Melbourne. Clocking in at 70 minutes and with a budget of $2250, it’s inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Now, where’s our film fund so we can make the next one, Victoria?!
5) Latex Gloves
Every first aid kit, every hospital, every dentist, every self-respecting serial killer has them. But it was the Ansell company of Melbourne that developed and has been making disposable latex gloves alongside its household gloves since 1964. Whilst Caroline Hampton, chief nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore may have had the bright idea to hand-make & use thin rubber gloves, it was a Melbourne branch of the Goodyear Rubber Company that developed the industrial scale product we use every day. Handily, Ansell also mass produce condoms. Fun!
6) The ‘Call Girl’
You may or may not frequent brothels on a regular basis, but chances are very high you’ll have heard or even used the expression ‘call girl’ when referring to a prostitute. Thanks to Melbourne brothel owners’ entrepreneurial spirit in the 1800s, a telephone rendezvous system was invented and widely practices from 1891. Who said the innovation boom is yet to come?
7) Reading Machine for the Blind
In 1990, Milan Hudecek of Melbourne invented reading machines and the world’s first computer for the blind. In Melbourne. Here’s a pic of Stevie Wonder with his.
8) Famous people
Granted, Melbourne didn’t exactly invent them, but this now no-longer-unassuming city has produced quite a few well-known faces. Portia de Rossi, the hot chick married to Ellen DeGeneres? Geelong girl. Geoffrey Rush? Lives in Camberwell. Steve Irwin? Was born on his own mum’s birthday in Essendon. Eric Bana? Actually called Eric Banadinovic. Cate Blanchet, Guy Pierce, Thor (aka Chris Hemsworth) and even Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers – all Melbourne kids!
Oh, and that giant butthole that is Rupert Murdoch. From Melbourne. But to balance that one out: Kylie!!! (who, unlike lil’ Rupert had to move around Melbourne as a kid to be able to sustain the family’s living costs. Glad she’s doing well now.)
9) Ice (Not the Walter White kind)
If you’re fortunate enough to live in a country that has awesome weather, you’ll probably need to either eat very fresh food or have a fridge. Cue 1854 and James Harrison of Geelong who invented the mechanical refrigeration process creating ice and keeping your steak nice and edible for months. Refrigeration meant huge human development as suddenly people were able to eat well a lot more often, transport food far and live in places previously scarcely populated. Where’s my gin & tonic?
How best to sum up the impact this beautiful city has had on the world with something that is so quintessentially Australian, the Brits and Aussies fight over it nearly as much as the cricket. In 1919, following disruption of UK favourite Marmite’s delivery stream due to WW1, Fred Walker and Cyril Callister had an idea. They salvaged waste from the nearby Carlton & United brewery (if you’ve ever had a gloriously bogan VB in Oz, that’s where it’s from – plus we had the perfect view of the brewery from the RaD Penhouse balcony’s urban hipster setting) and developed a spread from one of the richest known natural sources of the vitamin B group – brewers yeast.
Initially a bit of a flop with the kids, by the late 1940s, Vegemite was included in Australian Army rations and marketed in conjunction with Kraft Cheese, which made it a staple in nine out of ten Australian homes. The name “Vegemite” was selected out of a hat by Fred Walker’s daughter, Shelagh. The winners were local sisters Hilda and Laurel Armstrong, who were known as “The Vegemite Girls” for the rest of their long lives. Now owned by multinational Kraft, but still virtually unchanged from its original recipe, Vegemite is produced at Modelez’s Port Melbourne at a rate of more than 22 million jars a year.
Who would have thought it? Surprised at how much our lovely city has already infiltrated your life without even knowing it? We know you’re a little bit jealous. Let us know what your city is famous for below. Oh, and come visit whilst the weather is ace!