It still feels like summer. Temperatures still easily reach into the thirties, there’s no rain, and the lawn looks the driest I’ve seen it since we moved here two and a half years ago. Here is Mentone, close to the bay and the beach. I’m not a beachgoer, but I love that the afternoon sea breeze and the smell of salty seaweed reaches our garden and, when the weather cools down, I enjoy a brisk walk along the bay. Since we’ve moved here, I haven’t wanted to go away — living here feels like enough of a holiday.
Charles Conder’s painting A holiday in Mentone is said to be ‘the first to capture the intensity and brilliance of Australian light’. It is this light and — in summer — the accompanying heat that keeps me indoors on a day like today.
When Conder was painting here, Mentone had not long become more accessible from Melbourne — the railway had opened in December 1881. And in 1884, to encourage more visitors and residents, the sea baths had opened (visible on the right in the painting).
The lady in the foreground of the painting is reading a magazine with a pink cover (and so was the gentleman who is having a nap below the footbridge), apparently a copy of The Bulletin. This was a controversial (to say the least) weekly publication that had been in existence since 31 January 1880 and that, by the time Conder was busy painting on Mentone beach, was taking contributions from its readership. More and more, it published early work of people who would become Australia’s literary and artistic figures of their time — people like Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Miles Franklin and Norman Lindsay. In October 1887, The Bulletin published Henry Lawson’s first published poem, ‘A Song of the Republic’, and in December 1888, it would publish his first story, ‘His Father’s Mate’. In December 1889, it would publish Banjo Patterson’s ‘Clancy of the Overflow’, followed in 1890 by ‘The Man from Snowy River’.
Apart from poems, short stories and cartoons, The Bulletin ran political and business news and a page of literary gossip and opinion. Because of its romantic portrayal of outback life, it attracted a strong readership in the outback and became known as the ‘Bushman’s Bible’. From 1908 onwards, the magazine became gradually more conservative and less popular. It lingered on until 2008.