Sleeping with Strangers-Hospitality in Colonial Victoria

Article excerpt

The purpose of this article is to describe and document the nascent state of hospitality in colonial Victoria from the 1830s until the gold rushes of the 1850s. The primary source of such an account is the personal journal of a public servant, George Augustus Robinson, the Chief Protector of the Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate Department, perhaps the European with the most experience of travelling throughout the Port Phillip District. Accounts from other contemporary sources are used to complement Robinson's observations. Where accommodation houses were available, they were often crude establishments offering poor fare for travellers. The most comfortable accommodation was to be had on squatting runs, some of which had purpose-built huts for travellers. In some cases, hospitality meant sleeping with strangers, sharing beds with one other occupant or sleeping on shakedowns or mattresses on floors with numerous people. However, beyond the limits of settlement, travellers had to make their own arrangements, utilising abandoned Aboriginal shelters or shepherd huts, pitching their own tents, or simply sleeping on the ground wrapped in a blanket using a saddle or a log for a pillow.

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The purpose of this article is to describe and document the nascent state of hospitality in colonial Victoria. Richardson's (1999) History of Australian Travel and Tourism, which has a brief discussion on the first inns and hotels in Australia, is one of the few Australian tourism histories to discuss this topic, and this article will extend his work by focussing more narrowly on the emergence of hospitality in Victoria, when it was the Port Phillip district of New South Wales. Victoria, in this context, meets John Towner's classification of a 'tourism era of discovery'. Towner (1996, p. 140) has noted that, 'Discovery eras are often passed over rapidly in studies of tourism where there is a preference for moving on to periods where visitor numbers can be quantified more clearly'. For example, in their historical study of tourism in Australia, Davidson and Spearritt (2000) began from the baseline of the commencement of international tourism to Australia in 1870. They devote very little space to the evolution of domestic tourism prior to the inclusion of Australia in a round-the-world tour by Thomas Cook.

In studying Victoria's 'tourism era of discovery', the primary source for this reconstruction of the state of hospitality during this time is the personal journal of a public servant, George Augustus Robinson (1788-1866). Robinson was the Chief Protector of the Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate Department from 1839 until early 1850, and was perhaps the European with the most experience of travelling throughout the Port Phillip District (Clark, 2000). (1) Accounts from other contemporary sources are used to complement his observations. The methodology employed in this article is that of 'interpretive biography', in that it is the study of individuals and their experiences of nascent hospitality as recounted in first-hand documents (Cresswell, 1998; Denzin, 1989). These documents are used to narrate stories of the hardship of early travel in colonial Victoria, the early development of a commercial hospitality industry, and the ethic of hospitality that existed on squatting stations. The focus is the collection of experiences, the gathering of stories from these primary documents organised around important themes, and their historical explanation. This is an explicit recognition that the 'past is the theatre of human experience' (Davison, 2000, p. 14), and in attempting to consider the early history of hospitality in colonial Victoria we must depend upon our imaginative capacity to look at this world through the eyes of others, primarily through the eyes of the Chief Protector, George Augustus Robinson.

Between 1839 and 1852, Robinson made approximately 30 excursions away from Melbourne, where his department was based. …