Under the Rainbow: The Life and Times of EW Cole

Under-the-Rainbow-The-Life-and-Times-of-EW-ColeRemembering the life and genius one of Australia’s earliest entrepreneurs and marketing marvels, Under the Rainbow by Richard Broinowski is the life story of EW Cole, a colourful and much-loved figure of 19th century Melbourne.

Best remembered for his Funny Picture Books, his sense of the absurd and his marketing genius, his wonderful arcade was the first ‘department store’ in Melbourne, replete with a live orchestra, an aviary and monkeys alongside books, ornaments, art, curios and tearooms.

Amidst a circus-like atmosphere in the Bourke Street arcade, readers could sit in comfortable chairs, encouraged by a sign: “Read for as Long as You Like – Nobody Asked to Buy”. Cole scattered gold coins around Melbourne’s pavements advertising his books and bearing morally uplifting slogans.

But there was more to Cole than his marketing and merchandising prowess: he scandalised the clergy with his sacrilegious views about Christianity, campaigned passionately against the White Australia policy, and advocated education for all.

Under the Rainbow also traces Cole’s early years through a poverty-stricken young life in rural Britain, an adventurous year in South Africa during the Frontier Wars, and his immigration to Australia and the Victorian gold fields in the early 1850s. The book is a fascinating insight into the life and times of a rambunctious and materialistic Melbourne in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Cole’s journey from an impoverished street vendor in London to owner of one of the most memorable establishments of early Melbourne is remarkable. His passion for learning, insatiable curiosity and enduring faith in the essential goodness of humanity make him a figure worth celebrating. More than 100 years after his death, Cole’s story is a timely reminder that a little bit of goodness can go a long way.

Richard Broinowski was born and raised in Melbourne. He gained a law degree from the University of Adelaide and a Master in Public Administration from Harvard. During a long career as a diplomat, he became Ambassador to Vietnam, the Republic of Korea and to Mexico, the Central American Republics and Cuba.

He is a past general manager of Radio Australia and was president of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs. In 2019 he was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia for his advancement of Australia’s diplomatic, trade and cultural relations. He lives in Sydney with his wife Alison. This is his fifth book.


Under the Rainbow: The Life and Times of EW Cole is published by Melbourne University Publishing (The Miegunyah Press) and available from all leading book retailers including Dymocks.

Image: Under the Rainbow: The Life and Times of EW Cole – courtesy of Melbourne University Publishing

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