Canterbury was, of course, named after the famous place of pilgrimage and seat of the archbishop in the mother country. It was intended to be a beacon of holiness and inspiration to all Australians, and to be a place of welcome to poor benighted savages and uneducated foreigners alike.

That’s how the official history of the Anglican church of Australia tells it. To be fair, that’s how it was told to them, when they set out to name the model suburb they planned to create out of the large tracts of land north of Camberwell that they owned.

But they should have looked more closely at who was doing the telling.

Self-proclaimed “larrikin historian” Al Stimson was not above creating a little bit of history himself when the opportunity presented itself. (Had their paths ever crossed, he might have recognised Hunter Thompson as holding a similar relationship to journalism to the one Stimson held to history.) And he was a much greater fan of the Tales of Canterbury than he was of the Archbishop of Canterbury. (Any of the Archbishiops.) But he was also a respected historian (at that point), and his word had weight. It didn’t hurt a bit that they fit with the prejudices of his audience, either.

But the last laugh was on Stimson: although he was quick to ridicule the church for the associations of the name, they had little hesitation in revealing his part in the naming process. The revelation destroyed Stimson’s credibility with the establishment, and possibly led to his being defrocked from his Masonic Lodge (possibly, because no Masonic Lodge has ever admitted to having him as a member, and we have only Stimson’s word that he was. To be fair, it’s not like the Freemasons have a sterling reputation for not altering historical records.) In the short term, Stimson was devastated. In the long term, he came to see it as the single most liberating event of his life, freeing him from the shackles of respectability and propriety, although also from the shackles of accountability and fact.

Suburbs near Canterbury:

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