Thursday, December 16, 2010

Really good event @ St Kilda library last night - about 20 people came along, which is a perfect number for everyone getting to have a say. Quite a few people who'd come to Melbourne from elsewhere; they had a different pov about the city to those who'd grown up here, perhaps a little less averse to change?

And thanks to Gwen from a volunteer group at the SLV. They read and index the old Argus papers - a valuable job - and she brought a cool little editorial (or letter, I'm not sure) from the 1899 edition, waxing lyrical about the brave new city of Melbourne, its extent, its importance to the colony and its beauty - and bemoaning change, in this case the incipient addition of ugly plumbing with the coming of a universal sewerage scheme. classic stuff.

very grateful to Nick and Alistair from the library too, who set me up and stayed after closing to finish things off. :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

so Oprah has seen our city and will take back to the US a series of images...probably, yes, predictable, but also iconic, like the view of Flinders Street seen from Fed Square.

funnily and unlike some, I don't mind us spending squillions ($3 million) to get her and her acolytes over here. I figure it's likely to pay off in to be better and more positive than Tiger Woods. and no, I don't watch Oprah. or Tiger.

want to argue with me? well get on down to the St Kilda Library, Carlisle Street, at 6.30 this Thursday the 16th: I'll be there, talking about the book, Melbourne and, I hope, your favourite images/books/films/shows about Melbourne.

Monday, November 29, 2010

another review:

"If you are looking for a quirky gift for the ultimate Melbournian this Christmas, pick up a copy of When We Think About Melbourne: The imagination of a city. Jenny Sinclair’s book explores what makes Melbourne unique, why we are such an ‘it’ city and what our collective imagination can create.....

The chapter on Melbourne’s souvenirs also managed to bring a smile to my face – who amongst us doesn’t have a Melbourne tea towel lingering at the bottom of a drawer somewhere?"
The Only Melbourne website has reviewed the book...I feel like I should be sending them a bottle of wine, it's so kind...

so we will have a new government. and with it, a whole new set of policies about everything from roads to the arts. fingers crossed for the city...

have just booked in to speak at the St Kilda Library in Carlisle Street on Thursday 16 December from 6.30 pm. Quite close to Christmas, but an easy to get to location for the St Kilda types; I'll be focussing on the St Kilda-related elements of the book, particularly photography, and talking about the cultural landscape of the suburb generally.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

a little You Tube-assisted time travel: Melbourne trams in the 1960s, complete with plummy-toned voiceover and comments on "typical weather". Flinders Street trams....

there are lots more old tram vids under the history heading.

I was on 3CR's Published...or not program yesterday (to which I drove after starting out on my bike and being assailed by some "typical weather"). Had a good chat with the presenter, Jan Goldsmith, about the Melways, tourist cliches and why the book is such a personal perspective. There was also the pleasure of meeting my co-guest, Lloyd Jones.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

if you happen to be near a radio at 10.45 am, get onto Radio National 621 and you'll hear me reading part of the chapter on Melbourne and music..or if you miss it, there's a downpoddy thing here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I thought I might go to the Johnston Collection, a lovely old house where Akira Isogawa has rearranged the furniture on quirky themes.

but getting there is a matter of booking in and then catching a minibus from a nearby hotel for a 90 minute tour. all too much hassle. I'm sure it's very good. it's on until Friday if you can be bothered.

only in East Melbourne could the neighbours cause such onerous restraints to be put on a museum. I think of similar places in New York, where you just walk up and pay your entry. I mean, how much trouble can a few middle-aged museum-goers make for even the most peace-loving rich East Melburnians?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

the West Gate Bridge

...I had an article in A2 last Saturday (the 9th) about the Public Records Office exhibition on the 40th anniversary of the West Gate's collapse. the article's it's not online so I can't link to it.

but I can post this, which I wrote to pitch to another section of the paper, which was unable to take it. it's a day early because I won't have a chance to post it tomorrow.

there is an online exhibition here, but the actual show is at Old Treasury in Spring Street from Friday. it's free.

Forty years ago today, at 11.51 am, two huge slabs of roadway collapsed on the site of the West Gate Bridge, killing 35 men.
In a new exhibition drawn from the archives of the Public Records Office of Victoria, archival material – evidence from the Royal Commission into the collapse, plus photographs – is set beside newspaper clippings and new video interviews with eight survivors and family members of men who died in the collapse.
Many were young at the time, but after 40 years, the Public Records Office saw a need to collect their stories. Two brothers are interviewed about their father: one was eight years old and heard the news from a teacher in the school yard; the other was three months old and never knew his father at all.
One survivor was working on the eastern side of the bridge; his brother was on the western side and died.
Exhibition curator Kate Luciano says the disaster was full of such near-miss stories. And even for those who were not connected to the bridge, the event is burned in their memories.
“People remember the conversations they were having, the weather, what they were doing, who they were with when they heard.”
The collapse was all the more tragic because of the pride the workers had in what they were doing – bringing together the two halves of the city. “Kids would point at it and say ‘My dad’s building the bridge’,” Luciano says. Special viewing platforms were set up nearby, and the worksite was a popular weekend destination for Melburnians.
When the bridge collapsed, it was the last in a series of collapses of similar box-girder bridges around the world. Emeritus Professor Paul Grundy, of Monash University’s engineering faculty still gives lectures on the disaster and its causes. Forty years ago he had the job of testing the wreckage in Monash’s labs, and several large pieces of the bridge are still kept in the gardens at the faculty’s Clayton Campus.
“We usually take our visiting professors down there (for) a sobering thought of what can happen,” Professor Grundy says. The pieces, some up to three by four metres of structural steel, “are all distorted and twisted and tattered and torn”.
Luciano says that bridge building sites around the world were shut down after the Westgate collapse, and the Royal Commission report sold out in minutes as engineers internationally tried to understand what went wrong.
“People didn’t understand what was going on (structurally),” Grundy says. “The West Gate was probably the most notorious of all the collapses.”
The only good to come out of the collapse, Luciano says, was the better understanding and the dramatic improvements in workplace safety and post-incident procedures. At the time, the workers themselves spent all day and night digging for their mates in the mud and rubble. Then, as one survivor told the interviewers, “The bridge collapsed on the Thursday, we got sacked on the Tuesday and then we started going to funerals.” Because the site was shut down, the workers lost their jobs with no compensation or counselling; it took a public outcry for that to happen, and a proper memorial park was not opened until 2004.
“Workplace safety came to the forefront because of the West Gate tragedy,” Luciano says. That wouldn’t have been difficult to improve; not only were repeated warnings of shaking and faults in the construction not acted on, simple mistakes like placing the lunch rooms underneath the bridge span cost lives.
“It was kind of a ‘what not to do’,” Luciano says.
When the (redesigned) bridge was completed in 1978, a parade of vintage cars was joined by army tanks, perhaps in an effort to show the public how strong the structure was – footage of the opening is also included in the exhibition.
After 40 years, many survivors and their families still refuse to travel on the West Gate Bridge – a kind of irony in that their sacrifices opened up new parts of Melbourne, but they cannot bring themselves to benefit from the bridge.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

a long and thoughtful review of the book at The Melbourne Urbanist - and if you don't want to read the review, go over anyway and read through their many other insightful Melbourne-themed posts...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

the picture in the Yarra Leader is truly hilarious. it had just better sell some books...

I've just booked in to give a talk at Westgarth Books, on High Street Northcote, on November 6 at 11.30 am, if you're around and want to pop in to talk about Melbourne with me...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

...this image is being used to promote the comedy debate this Thursday 7/10, linked to the exhibition, on whether Melbourne is a city of shoppers....
I can recommend The State Library's "til you drop shopping" exhibition. not sure that it's a major step forward in scholarship on the city, or even that revealing, but delightful all the same for the ephemera - ration cards, old shopping bags, the plans of a Bourke Street retail palace now-demolished - and for the pictures of old shops and lots of cool 1950s and 60s era dresses.

I took my Dad, who used to work at Myer (in the offices, not on the floor) and got a few memories from him as well; take an older relative to this show and the stories will flow....

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The bad news, when I turned up at 774, was that Chopper had read page 176 of the book, where I call the character based on him in the film Chopper a "bullshit artist", and wanted to know where I got that from, to which I had to admit it was all my own words...

The good news is that I survived the interview. Can't ask for more than that. Podcast and photographic evidence will be here shortly. Also look out in Sunday's M magazine and next week's Melbourne Leader for more of me and the book....

and what has someone got against Melbourne's historic trees? First the Separation Tree in the Botanic Gardens was attacked, and now this ringbarking of old trees out in the hills.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

774 Melbourne. Conversation Hour, Friday.

Me and Chopper Read. How Melbourne is that?


Friday, September 24, 2010

a little bird tells me there will be a review of my reading of bits of the book in M magazine soon...keep an eye out.

and meanwhile, here's some funky Melways lamps.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

There's an extract from the book in the Herald Sun's Books section today...from the Melways chapter. Sometimes I feel like that chapter is the musician's equivalent of a hit song: everyone seems to like it and that's great, but I can only hope it leads them to the rest of the "album". Anyway the Herald Sun is also making the book available through its ordering service.

I'm working on a presentation for libraries etc...of course there will be reading from the book and a few images, but I'm also keen to find out what other people love about the city, so audience participation will be mandatory...surely everyone has at least one favourite Melbourne song/book/film/image they can share?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

ooh darling!

the wonderful new magazine Kill Your Darlings has posted an extract from the book on their Website:


now I know why they call them notices...because after all the work it's kind of nice to be noticed, no matter what is said. One is apparently not supposed to care about one's reviews. but one has got one's first book out and does kind of care. one can't help it.

The Ballarat Courier got in first, with a short and sweet review earlier this week. Today The Age's books section reviewed it - they did twig to the fact that I kind of focussed on the inner city, but there's not much I can do about that - that's what I know - and overall I think the reviewer liked it: "A Carlton conversation: noisy and passionate and wise" and "Sinclair knows her town and people."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

the Dog's Tails are a lovely little event...a small room, no real need for the microphone (though there is one) and a comfy chair. a side table for one's glass of wine and pile of books...I enjoyed the reading last night more than the other events I've done, just from a not-stressing-out point of view. why, there was even a little banter! I'll be back to see the other readers on future Tuesday nights.

a bit disappointed today that The Slap didn't get onto the Booker shortlist. I know Carey is wonderful (and practically from Melbourne), but wouldn't it have been great if such a Melbourne book got a global prize like that?

and this is where I'll be on on Monday, 8 November at 6.30 pm. note the use of "Melways" with an S in their web site listing:

Altona North Community Library
Corner Millers and McArthurs Roads
Altona North, 3025
Telephone: 9932 2303
Fax: 9932 2316

Monday to Thursday, 9.30am – 8.00pm
Friday, 9.30am - 6.00pm
Saturday, 10.00am – 4.00pm
Sunday, 2.00pm - 5.00pm

Melways: Map 55 A2

Sunday, September 5, 2010

nice things said about the book in the latest Reader's Feast newsletter, to wit:

"Jenny Sinclair has created a window into a very personal Melbourne - hers and ours. She metaphorically turns our city on its head and, with it, any preconceptions we might have about 'our Melbourne'. Her approach is refreshing. She is not telling us what Melbourne is or was; she is not regurgitating known history of our town. In an exuberant and passionate way, she is challenging us to look at our city; shake up the snow-dome that is our entrenched view of what Melbourne is; and still come away absolutely besotted by the place."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

rick amor

went to check out the Rick Amor show I Cover the Waterfront at the SLV yesterday.

the works were all done outdoors, in one session; they show a dark city, the dirty golden light behind the clouds, a neglected bay and waterfront hovering halfway between natural and manufactured, water and land.

at the same time, the Cowen Gallery has a special set of works up to celebrate the city's 175th birthday. I found the canvas view of the city from 1836 by Hofmann fascinating: the way the little huts and tents were set in amongst trees, and the fact that every structure could be listed on a key of 25 notes.

the hills of the city loomed behind the buildings more than they probably really did. something in there about the unknown, the smallness and fragility of the nascent village. and as in many such early works, the south bank of the Yarra was the site of an idyllic-looking Aboriginal camp....

Sunday, August 29, 2010


went to the MWF session on writing about indigenous issues yesterday...not as focussed on the questions as it should have been, I thought, particularly questions of ownership of stories and ways of addressing the inevitable prejudices and cross-cultural losses/perspective shifts when those stories are told in Western ways (as they must be to some extent to reach a Western/non-indigenous audience). Two interesting comments from Gary Presland, who has a new book out on pre-European Melbourne: first, that very early on the Kulin people of Melbourne and surrounds were treated as "just there", to be observed, not listened to, with the consequence that very little of their real voice was recorded (I think this also goes for art and so on; there's a bit and what there is is fascinating, like the sketches of Europeans held in the SLV's collection) and second, that the Western view of the past 400 years is very much "parcelled up" or divided into categories, whereas the indigenous view was very holistic.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

sounds of Melbourne

the National Film and Sound Archive is honouring some of Australia's significant moments in sound - Keating's speech on reconciliation, and Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody's "from little things, big things grow"...the NFSA has a huge collection of images and sounds that are not online yet, but they are happy to digitise them if you want to look at them...a lot of the film and TV images in the book came from the collection. What I found interesting is that they don't just collect the films themselves, but also posters, press images, stills and other incidental stuff...great for seeing how these things were really put together as cultural products, not stand-alone bits of footage.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

architecture and laneways

for fans of the architect Robin Boyd (whose family have had a finger in almost every artistic pie in Melbourne: fiction, art, even pottery)...the Robin Boyd Foundation is a bit of a find. they organise open days at Boyd houses, and events like the talk tomorrow night by Rob Adams, who has driven the City of Melbourne's urban planning concepts for 25 years. I'm so going to that...full report on Tuesday!

(the talk will be in Walsh Street, which will always be remembered as the site of the Walsh Street's also very close to the Botanic Gardens. I may go and pay my respects to the poor tree while I'm there...and to a house I used to live in on Domain Road when it was rough around the edges, before it was renovated into a million-dollar mansion.
two Melbourne-y things, one good, one bad.

the good is the Nicholas Building, which has just had its annual open studios. The talent, quirkiness and sheer intestingness of the Melbourne artists hidden behind those timber doors off 30's hallways that look like they belong in a noir movie is endless...

the bad is this: the ringbarking of the Separation Tree. A 400-year-old gum that has stood in Melbourne since before Europeans landed in Sydney, let alone Melbourne. Since Shakespeare was writing. The site of celebrations of the establishment of Victoria. and someone, for some reason, which utterly escapes and bewilders me, cut a one-metre ring into its bark...just thinking about it really makes me want to weep. I loved that tree when I lived near the gardens. it was precious for so many reasons. there can be no "why"....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

officially launched

Trades Hall last night was fantastic...a mix of people from publishing, bookshops, the council, the SLV my friends of course, and the team that put the book together...drinks, a couple of speeches (the lovely Alan Brough was funny and very Melbourne) and lots of talk about the book and Melbourne. One thing that came out in the speeches and the many people I talked to and signed books for was that this book serves to spark memories and reflections on the reader's own personal Melbourne - what they've seen and done here, what art, books and movies have captured their city best - which is exactly what I wanted it to do.

The State Library - who are co-publishers - are talking about the book on their Facebook page and will have a couple of signed copies to give away....

if you were there last night, thanks! and if you weren't, well get thee to a bookshop and have a look at the book!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

brunswick bits

so there I am in my masters-by-coursework class with the rather postmodern name "text time and space"...and the tutor says something like "OK, now we're going to do a little writing exercise" and hands out photocopies of Melway(s) pages, instructing us to write about them.

and despite having written 5,000 words on the Melway(s) in The Age and for the book, I found a little more to say...

This is a map that shows nothing at all. It shows – it claims – a couple of square kilometres of land along and around Sydney Road, Brunswick.
I was there this morning. I parked my bike on the left-hand – west – side of the dotted line that one the map is marked “Sydney Road.” So where am I on this paper? I’m not the little walking figure shown heading south along the path beside the railway line. I’m not, eight, the bike shown going north along the same path, hilariously riderless.
This map, therefore, is lying to me. It says it’s Sydney Road. Where’s the Egyptian cake shop, the secondhand clothes stores? where the rain that fell on me this morning?
And there, at the corner of Sydney Road and Glenlyon – at least where the lines so labelled meet on this map – is the “Town Hall.” But it’s not. It has no grand council chamber; no press desk with my name and others scratched in it; no Doric columns; no old-fashioned gilt-edged paintings. It omits the past entirely. I stare and stare at this bit of paper and I can’t see the Sydney Road festival last year and the year before; the crowds; the drunks, the music. I can’t see 1994, when the skinheads faced off against the anti-Nazis outside the town hall, armed with eggs. What a fraud.
This map says it’s Brunswick. It’s a surface, a cipher and when I die it will be no more my Brunswick than my body will be me.

one day, 14 bookstores...

...and that's not counting the quick visit to the launch venue and sundry other tasks...what a day! I started in Camberwell with Borders, Angus and Robertson and Dymocks; checked out a store that turned out to be secondhand only....moved on to Books In Print, Jeffrey's and Readings Malvern. Went around the corner to Berkelouw Books. On to Albert Park and The Avenue Bookstore. South Melbourne: Coventry Street bookstore and Melbourne Style (full of cute little Melbourne-ey things). Readings Port Melbourne. Borders Carlton. and finally, possibly my favourite store of all, Readings Carlton, for the launch of Leanne Hall's young adult masterpiece, set in a re-imagined Melbourne-like city, This is Shyness. . at which store I was so pleased to see When We Think About Melbourne in the window that I took a photo of it with my phone.

all beautiful stores, full of stuff I really wanted to buy (and sometimes did; door prizes for the launch!) All staffed by amazing, interesting people who had the Melbourne-book scene practically memorized; lots of chats about Arcade Books' great little series, Kristin Otto's Yarra (turns out she works at one of those stores; I love the way Melbourne bookshops employ writers as well as selling their work. I thought the spruiking might be a bit of a chore, but with the exception of one place that responded to my pleasure at seeing it on their shelf with a general air of being bothered by me, it was great fun and so encouraging to see it out least two stores said "there aren't enough books about Melbourne" true. the more the better.

and the only reason I haven't hyperlinked them all is, well, I'm about to drop with exhaustion - available, as they say, at all good bookstores.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

the view from the tram

from The Age this morning: Rohan Storey talking about the W-class trams and giving his reasons why people love trams in general: "it's the psychological certainty of having those tracks in the road". Which, I think, is an example of why transport was worth including in a book about representation...the way we set up our infrastructure affects the way we then go on to live in the place, and the infrastructure doesn't just happen - it starts as an idea, a plan, a map in someone's head.

Monday, August 9, 2010

mejia...and a particularly complimentary review...

ah, a rainy Tuesday morning. just as it should be in Melbourne in August...though I admit I snuck out of town for a night to go skiing...does Melbourne being close to really good stuff like surf and ski slopes count as a reason to love it?

and before I had even unpacked I found myself on RRR's Breakfasters program. Now, I confess I am not a big RRR listener - only because I am locked on to PBS and their blues and soul - but being in the Nicholson St studios seemed to bring back memories. The couches were of course velour, brown, with ugly racing stripes - a bit like a Datsun 120Y tricked up to rally - and the noticeboards were full of clippings, schedules and general RRR community stuff. The memories were not of radio, but of the very first days of Channel 31, when it was RMITV...when we worked in studios until midnight because we wanted to, when we lugged massive TV cameras down Swanston Street because we did not have any vehicles, when we photocopied news scripts ten minutes before news time and sprinted at full tilt across the RMIT campus, just making it on time. And it reminded me why we did all that - because we believed that media - TV, radio, whatever - should be available to real people, not just those with the megabucks for equipment and TV licences. Because we wanted media that reflected the city back to itself, not some McDonald's pap that fed us what a producer in LA thought someone in Middle America might like to watch, and some cheapskate TV exec in Sydney then picked up for a song to fill space between ads on Melbourne TV.

And although the Internet has certainly made having a voice a hell of a lot easier, radio and TV are still the arteries of the media. Long live RRR, PBS, 3CR and public TV and their quirky little Melbourne-ish tropes.

ps: the review of the title of this post? well, I left a copy of the book - signed, mind - at my local coffee shop, Small Block, last Friday. Swung by this morning for a pre-interview soy latte and was told by Michael, King of Small Block: "They stole it!"

Now, I'm not sure who "they" were - if I knew, I'd pop round with the boys for a little chat, but in a weird way, I'm pleased. At least I know one person really likes it....and if your friend has a copy of the book that reads "to Small Block and their excellent soy lattes", well, don't leave them to take care of your new iPad...they might "lose" it....

Saturday, August 7, 2010

the art fair

oh, the art fair...the Exhibition Buildings full of artistically dressed people, sipping champagne...

trends this year appear to include blobs - silvery blobs, blobs made of fibreglass and covered with shiny car enamel, roughhewn silvery blobs, and my favourite, long blobby things, vaguely biological,improbably carved out of marble. Butterflies and moths are big too - real, painted and video, to name just three manifestations I saw.

and yes, Melbourne-themed art. Aboriginal carvings, brightly painted, representing AFL footballers, sharing a space with more traditional painted emu figures...a large, $88,000 painting showing Melbourne as fields and the city gathered around the south of the bay, in Geelong, complete with Westgate across the Heads (that's a slightly different one by the same artist, Jan Senbergs, above).

there was Marc de Jong, with pixillated paintings of ordinary Melbourne scenes - my son said "Bunnings!" with great delight.

and lots of great stuff that was not specifically Melbourne, but from some glass thingies that I adore but cannot afford and are not relevant to Melbourne in any way at all.

and as this is my blog and I can do, like whatever, I reproduce here the text of a mini-zine I wrote for the art fair four years ago, and left on the staircase banisters for artlovers to find and ponder...

You came to see the art show. You were thinking of paintings, etchings, photographs and the like, something largish to hang in that blank space in the hall; you hadn’t thought of sculpture.

But when you walked in, out of the cold drizzle into the warm bright space vibrating with voices, there it was, facing you across the length of the old high-ceilinged building. You skip the free wine at the door and walk past the too-many pictures, to see what it is.

It’s like a giant drum on its side. Where the skin should be, colours swirl. It’s hard to tell if they are coloured gases or some kind of light projection, lasers maybe, or something done with mirrors.

Did you ever play with glass marbles? This is the most beautiful, desirable coloured circle you could have imagined then, when you were eight.

Listen. It’s sighing, singing to itself, trying out high notes and harmonies, but softly, so softly.

Is it alive? The sides are polished steel, marked with unfamiliar hieroglyphics. It rests in a kind of fine white ceramic cradle, cast to fit its curve exactly.

It’s like a ball held in the hand.

There are no clues at the back; the sheet steel extends across its rear face. A single thick cable runs from the machine to a socket in the wall.

Is it a machine? If it is, what does it do? What’s it for? Machines are supposed to be useful, after all.

A hand held a centimeter from the shining metal detects warmth, vibration, almost a pulse.

But no one touches it. Now there are five or six people gathered before it, admiring the moving colours, seeing patterns in the clouds. They don’t seem to be afraid.

A child – waist-high, hair combed straight and cut just below his ears – steps forward and reaches into the coloured mist. So it’s hollow. There is no sheet of glass or perspex between its interior and its audience.

The boy moves his hand about, disturbing the drifting patterns. A soft ululation begins, deep inside the drum: ay-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-ay, repeating itself on shifting notes. The boy laughs, and immediately the machine replies, adding a hearty “whumphf” at the end of each utterance.

A little sister – one of two, copper-haired, pink-dressed – runs to her brother’s side and peers into the drum. A quick tapping rhythm is added to the music. She claps her hands and a triple clap, set to a faster beat, joins the songline.

“It’s a music machine,” their mother says to their father, keeping her hands on her remaining child’s shoulders.

“Clever,” he says, walking where you’ve just been, looking for buttons to press or levers to pull. There are none.

“Give someone else a turn,” the mother says, mindful of the gathering crowd. The children return to her, but the music continues as the five of them walk away, the parents tall on either side of the three little creatures.

Two elderly ladies, occupying the same body at different stages of decrepitude, walk forward out of the group.

“Are you sure you want to get close to it, Mum?” asks the younger.

“And why not?” says the older. This record’s been played before.

The hand-clapping, thumping, nonsense-singing music drifts away as they approach. The daughter takes the mother’s arm, and a violin begins to keen. Each phrase starts low and finishes high and drawn out. Three short steps bring the older woman right to the brink of the drum, where the colours seem to have darkened, taken on a sunset hue. In the distance, as far back in the machine as possible, a gentle ragtime tune is playing on an upright piano, probably one of those automatic players operated by a roll of yellowed paper pierced with notes.

“Those tunes don’t go together,” the younger woman complains; but her mother is nodding softly and swinging her free hand a little, like a conductor in her dreams. Her hand is still keeping time as her daughter takes her off towards the coffee franchise stand in the corner of the hall for tea and muffins.

While the crowd makes up its mind whether or not to try this thing out, a young man – a youth, you’d call him, if he loomed behind you on an abandoned railway station platform – steps into the horseshoe space now walled with spectators. Once he’s stepped in, he has to keep going, swinging his shoulders in his boiled-wool, vinyl-sleeved jacket, a football club’s logo printed on his back. His mates’ voices jeer from the back of the crowd, and he executes a clumsy kung fu kick, aiming a grey and fraying sneaker into the glowing pit before turning his back on the stupid thing. A few of the watchers suck in their breath, with disapproval or apprehension, but the machine doesn’t seem to mind: it responds with a cacophony of bells, the voices of the gang transformed into a ringing set of clear harmonies in conversation with each other. The gang moves off, but the boy – a youth, you’d call him if he was sneaking down your back lane with a can of spraypaint hidden under his jacket – hangs back, looking over his shoulder at the faint colourful glow showing over the top of the crowd.

A woman in red-framed glasses, matching lipstick and a boxy jacket has been watching from the edge of the crowd. Before anyone else can move, she slips to the face of the machine and plunges her hands in, fingers moving like a pianist’s, whispering instructions. You wait for the piano music to begin; but the machine is silent. She shakes her blunt-cut black bob and turns away; as she pushes an exit through the crowd, a crisp drumbeat starts up: dum-diddle, dum-diddle, dum-diddle, dum. She turns her sharp blue eyes back on the cloudy interior, which seems to have gathered itself into the centre of the circle; there’s silence again. Eventually she turns away again and there’s a single dum! as she disappears amongst the black-suited artlovers.

Now there’s a queue, and people with video recorders and cameras; the bunch of humans has reached that critical mass where those at the back can’t see or hear what’s going on at the front, adding to the attraction of whatever it is that’s happening. But still the space just in front of the drum stays clear, as people step forward one by one to hear their music.

After everyone else has had a turn, done with their marvelling and theorising about how it works, when the workers are stacking the chairs up at the coffee zone and the lights at the back of the hall are being switched off, dying in banks of six, you come out of the shadows, feeling like you’re entering a spotlight.

Little shots of white light dart across the face of the drum, like lightning on a multicoloured storm front. There’s a beating sound, but perhaps that’s your heart. There’s a kind of sighing, but that could be your breath. Something that could be the chiming of a triangle, or a shiver down your back, trills through your mind. You stand and wait as the hall falls away into darkness.

The gentle hand of a uniformed security guard on your shoulder brings you back; she’s asking: “Sir? The exhibition’s closing.” And you shake your head quickly, say thank you, I’m sorry, and let her walk you out through the oversized doors into the night; the night where the dew on the grass is singing to you, the streetlights are refracting in the fountain, from diamond to ruby to emerald to sapphire, and the stars overhead are raining music onto your upturned, tear-wet face.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

birthday confusion the market today I picked up a snazzy little booklet full of Melbourne's "175th Birthday" events....and I got very confused...according to the booklet, the city dates from August 30, 1835.

but John Batman landed in May of that year, and signed his famous "treaty" on June 6 ...not that one would wish to contradict the lovely City of Melbourne, but I'd bet you the Yellow Peril to a brick that most Melburnians would say the city began with Batman and his "place for a village".

(having looked at my references, I'm told there is "some doubt" whether Batman made it to the site of the city as it is now...but it still seems odd to be crediting a group that arrived later with being the "first").

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review #1

I heard someone say the other day (on Radio National, I think) that if you pay attention to the good reviews, you must also pay attention to the bad.

so I offer without much comment, this link to the Readings Newsletter for August in which you can read what Emily Laidlaw thought of the book...I am, though, pleased that some of what what I hoped to get across in the book seems to have worked- "Sinclair’s interest lies in the way people make sense of their surroundings and come to call a particular area home"....

now, I'm going back to the newsletter to read what Cate Kennedy says about Jon Bauer.

oh, and for RRR listeners: I'll be on Breakfasters next Tuesday, the 10th, from about 8.15...102.7 on yer FM dial...non-subscribers, I suppose you can listen too. Just this once.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

getting away from the desk....

....for me, it's bike riding. nothing like a bike ride along Melbourne's exciting main roads (look out! a taxi!) or beside the Yarra to get thoughts that were all tangled up loosened enough to see the individual threads. Of course, one needs to stop for water breaks and the jotting down of thoughts.

For Tony Birch, it's jogging. His biggest writing tip to a first-year creative writing class at Melbourne Uni (all 400 of them!) was to "run five kilometres a day" (or maybe ten, I can't recall exactly). It was tongue in cheek of course, but his point was that you have to find what works for you, and often it is not sitting at the desk, but moving about in the world. For Chris Wallace-Crabbe, walking is the key to poetry - he was quoted in The Age last month as saying "walking often gives me the first few lines, the shape and preoccupation of the poem"

And in her lecture on "writing around Melbourne" last month, Sonya Hartnett talked about tramping up and down the banks of the Merri Creek between writing stints while she lived in the inner north.

So the landscape of books set in Melbourne is likely to have come from the writer's personal excursions...a nice combination of an inspirational routine and a research trip...and sometimes, getting away from the page/screen is the best way to find something to say, it seems.

Monday, August 2, 2010


...freshly back from reading at the Wheeler Centre's Debut Mondays event...mostly I have to say how impressed I was with my co-readers: Jon Bauer, whose Rocks in the Belly isn't specifically about Melbourne, but who is now a Melbourne writer (thanks to a grand-sounding Distinguished Talent Visa)...I've bought his book to find out if the cat in the washing machine goes through the delicate cycle or not; Joel Deane, a former political speechwriter who has a fine way with the Aussie vernacular and rainy nights outside Crown Casino in The Norseman's Song...I've bought that onto find out whose head is in the box...and finally, Kent MacCarter, who writes poetry about trams and city streets, in IIn the Hungry Middle of goodness me, they were all fabulous and really you should rush out and buy their books now. and mine, of course!

I do like the Wheeler Centre; there were publishers, other writers and even a Premier's Literay Award winner milling about with glasses of wine afterward. but I think they should put in armchairs and a smoking room and we could really make a proper clubhouse out of it...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

the site!

in an interestingly recursive move, if you follow this link will take you to the new web site, where you will find this blog, with this post, and this link, framed in it.

it's not at the proper URL yet...that is happening later today...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

on the trail...

...Melbourne is supposed to have a very high number of cinemas per capita...but how about bookshops? as I start dropping in to shops to let them know about the book, I am discovering there are more than I thought...94 according to, but I'm sure there are even more.

It's not exactly a hardship posting, being sent off to visit as many bookshops as possible, and from the few I've been to so far, I am pleasantly surprised at how open they are to being ear-bashed by an author. they positively seem to like it. so expect to see the Book all over the place.

and on something completely different: July 24 was
Life in a Day
day, in which people all around the word videoed their days and uploaded the results to be edited into a video. I like projects like this: random recording of information that somehow reveals what's really going on around us. My vids included my kid playing at the breakfast table, a few seconds of the Yarra bike trail (yes, while riding along), the Eastern Freeway traffic at Doncaster Road and the pet guinea pigs. All seemingly banal, but who knows how odd it might appear to a viewer in 200 years. and with digital technology, it's actually possible that all those recordings from around the world will be there to look at in 2210... they might be pointing and laughing at all those carbon-burning cars, for instance...or looking wistfully at the animals that had become extinct...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

judge this book... its cover...this little composite person is me, playing with the images and art of Melbourne. or so I like to think.


Melbourne movies

In the A2 of Saturday, July 17 - which I can't find online, or at least not the contents, but is well worth chasing up - Suzy Freeman-Greene has written a lovely piece about the Melbourne of movies - covering of course many of the same films as I've written about in the book - she talks about "that inward jolt of recognition", and the way Melbourne is, sometimes, more of a mood than a place and "unspool your own buried feelings." She writes about how films show up the class divide - and the divide between east and west - going right back to The Story of the Kelly Gang, "where Kelly and his cohorts drink a toast in mugs after robbing a carriage-load of toffs".

It's cold and wet out there: it's film festival time in Melbourne.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Launch fun...after some tiny hitches we have a great venue - the Bella Union Bar at Trades Hall - and a date - Tuesday August 17 from 6.30-8.30 pm. and the highly amusing Alan Brough, comedian and radio arts host, is coming along to help launch the book.

Put it in your diary now!

Monday, July 19, 2010

the Deb

Went along to the Wheeler Centre's Debut Mondays last night (I'll be reading there on August 2).

Three novelists - not particularly Melbourne-specific - and one poet were on. The poet was Andy Jackson, and I had come across his work before. Having just walked through the crowded, modern Pan-Asian street scene that is the north end of Swanston Street on a Monday night at 6pm, I particularly liked the title poem of his new book Among the Regulars - about being on the margins of things, being the outsider, being, in effect, the person who makes everything else "normal". (Jackson is sometimes described as "physically unusual")...sometimes it's the people at the edges of things who have the best grip on feelings the rest of us can't quite get at. And yes it was a Melbourne poem, set in the city streets, with the towers casting angled shadows.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sonya Hartnett's suburbs

@ the State Library tonight, Sonya Hartnett gave the 2010 Redmond Barry lecture on the topic of Melbourne suburbs and writing.

the talk ranged across the houses she's lived in and what books she wrote there; a childhood in Box Hill, rentals in Kew, Hawthorn, an ugly brick first-homebuyers' unit in Northcote.

"But I write, often, of the suburbs, and it's the suburbs, that most maligned and mocked of environments, that have sheltered me, and taught me almost all of what the books needed to know about the ways of nature and people. Specifically, it is the eastern and northern suburbs that have been my roof and walls and floor as well as the launching-place of my imagination," she said. "Melbourne's my own personal city of literature."

She's more or less my age and has lived in many of the suburbs I've lived in, so there was a lot of resonance for me. Walking the Merri Creek in particular is exactly my territory (except that I ride it).

Some samples:

On West Preston: "Anyone who wanted to visit had to make an effort, almost pack a bag."

On Burke Road: it was like an unwanted but financially necessary flatmate "In the dead of night, its dull snoring presence was companionable."

On South Yarra: that it was too nice, that it confirmed for her that "rough around the edges suits me... I've favoured a down-at-heel-ness in every suburb I've lived in since."

On the streets of Balwyn: "Those streets appear over and over in my work." She said the suburbs of Melbourne gave her a kind freedom as a child: horses in paddocks, exploring the drains, riding along safe streets on a red bike.
She seemed to think that movement and new places were necessary to her, and to her writing; that each house (except one mistake) had a certain number of books "in it"

I liked a segment near the end, where she was musing on having moved around so much and said she'd dreamed she found the perfect house - but then forgot to write down the address and could never find it again...

(I think the talk will be up online somewhere soon; there were cameras; if I find it, I'll post a link to it. )

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Everywhere there are people talking about the things I find interesting: even, gasp, in student magazines.

In Farrago 4, 2010, a student called David Threlfall has written a rant about things he hates. Beards, music wankers, yes, yes, but mostly: Cars. I particularly like this sentence: "I have yet to hear anything that gives cars a higher moral status than bikes." He goes on to explain how bikes don't kill people, basically. This is an extreme and more succint version of some of my arguments in the book about bikes being more than just transport: of them being a different way of negotiating the world.

Do like an opinionated uni student...

Monday, June 28, 2010

this exhibition of bushfire art features an amazing painting which I had on the list for the book but didn't make it in:

(William Strutt, Black Thursday February 6th 1851)

as Christopher Allen says in The Australian, it's not necessarily the best historical painting, but it captures the terror of the animals and humans perfectly.

usually it lives at the State Library of Victoria. what struck me most about it was the rendering of the sky; the depth of the glow behind the dark smoke. and it's big; the sort of art you can sink into

the exhibition is on in Healesville until July 25, with lots of other photos and paintings of Victorian fires and their aftermath. but if you can't get out there, it's worth wandering into the Cowan Gallery at the SLV later in the year and standing in front of this. see if you don't feel a bit warmer, or wonder if you smell smoke...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reading The Midnight Disease by Alice W. Flaherty. Have just started it, but I was struck by this line: "Beauty drives copies of itself, whether in art, or when we want to make children with someone we love."

She's a writer and medical doctor who has suffered - if that's the word - from hypergraphia and writers' block, and the book is about the biological mechanisms behind both. There are so many ways to come at the question of creativity; this looks like a particularly interesting and analytical essay on the subject ("essay" in the sense of attempt; it's a full length book; and while I'm qualifying, the link above is to Amazon, but they do have the book at the lovely Readings bookshops right here in Melbourne...)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

proof of concept

well, the proofs are all done. I believe the actual file is yet to go to the printer's, but as my editor said to me, the time to speak or forever hold your peace is gone.

the design looks great; all those images and the work on getting permission to use them has paid off. it'll be in actual bookshops before know it. (for those who want facts not flowery prose, that means early August!)

now looking for a good place to launch it in August (within the City of Melbourne, for various reasons)...any ideas anyone?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

allow me a geeky author moment: I am quite excited to see the book now has an ISBN. I was also, of course, excited to get the design/layout pages - it looks amazing, which is more a credit to the designers than to me - but the ISBN thing makes it seem real.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Guerilla tram choir

no sure how this is a representation of Melbourne, but it's very Melbourne: the Guerrilla Tram Choir sings on the Number 19 tram...(aka Spontaneous Tram Choir...and what I find really freaky is that this post appeared as a Google result for "Guerilla Tram Choir" after FOUR minutes.)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

coming soon...

...looks like the book might actually be's on the publisher's web site and all...and I am supposed to provide a photo for a proper page for the book...quick, where's that make-up girl?

oh, and there's now a RRP: $29.95, which is good as at one point it looked like being more. and even though I get a % of the price, I'd rather more people bought it for less...

Monday, May 31, 2010

another interesting thing...

as I said in response to a "what's next" question Angela put to all the panellists on Sunday: That's what the Internet is for.

in my case, it's for not only bits that didn't make the book for reasons of space rather than quality (pending: some stuff about weather and extra references), but also for the endless stream of space-and-place-and-map/representation material about Melbourne.

eg: App My State, a shameless bid by the Vic Government to get cool ideas for location-specific applications for free. a typical idea (not actual application)

Submitted By:Peter Macpherson
Date of original idea: 9th March 2010
Imagine a website that has stylised fence, where each paling represents a calendar day. On that fence there are little icons attached that expand to display a pdf, jpeg, avi, doc or other file type. Members of the public email their "graffitti" and it gets stored in this fashion (by the date and time of their email). I think this would appeal to many sections of the community - from poets to artists to youth who may see it as a better way to "make their mark". Add a few competitions for fun, and a good search engine and it could form the basis of a wonderful cultural archive.

almost makes me want to get an iPhone...

and in a not unrelated way, the new Australian Tourism campaign uses photos taken by the public on a map of the country, so you can zoom in and out, Google-style. I liked the use of the term "your fellow Australians"...the whole thing is so tongue in check, particularly as it's really aimed at non-Australians, generally known as tourists (unless they are in a small boat coming from Indonesia).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

ewf @ mth

EWF report: the session was chaired by the lovely Angela Meyer, who said nice things about us all to the 100 or so people who attended...I was on first, which was both nerve-racking and good, because it freed me up to listen to what the others had to say: there was Patrick Cullen, who talked about how his characters' inner journeys correspond to landscape in his book What Came Between, set around the time of the Newcastle earthquake; there was playwright Sean Reilly, who was very funny and yet horrifying with his descriptions of growing up as a sensitive child in the remains of the Tasmanian convict/massacre landscapes - and said that playwrights in Australia these days don't bother with setting because directors cut it out, which I find quite mindboggling - and Leanne Hall, who read from her very clever book This is Shyness, and made me feel clever because I recognised one of her streets, Grey Street, which is the border of her imaginary suburb Shyness, as Smith St, which is the border between Fitzroy and Collingwood.

all in all it was a session I'd quite like to have attended myself. and I hope I got away with my trick of some general chat about the nature of place in writing, followed by readings from some of the better books set in Melbourne: Peter Carey, Helen Garner, that kind of thing - plus a little of my book. and it was in the amazing Yarra Room at the Town Hall, with lots of curlicles on the walls, a lovely high decorative skylight and big oil paintings of dead white males in gilt frames all around us.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

appropriating the real

...finishing my notes for my talk this afternoon at the EWF, I came across some quotes I'd jotted down.

Jonathon Lethem, speaking on The Book Show on Feb 10 this year said something like - to use a city for your writing requires a lot of ego. it's like scribbling your name all over it - a very rough paraphrase.

and James Wood, in How Fiction Works, said simply: "Art selects and shapes."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

words about Melbourne

so I'm on at the emerging writers festival on Sunday. talking about place with a coupla other writers. 3pm, Melbourne town hall.

also, there's this, from some Melbourne uni students: Open Book Melbourne; bookshop review and other Melbourne bookish stuff.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Melbourne cliche alert: I love this time of year. Autumn, when the mornings turn crisp and the nights warrant a really comfy doona pulled up around the ears. When the mornings are pale blue, streaked with white, and the dark green of the trees around the Brunswick Street Oval take on a reddish tone.
In the mornings, the Yarra and even the Merri Creek steam gently. Falling leaves start to pile up in the gardens along the streets near my house and the air has a rich, faint tone of organic decomposition. I can imagine the flowering bulbs settling in under the layer of natural compost, dreaming of spring already. there's something about the closing of the summer season that lets the city look inwards again, to its warm fireplaces and sunny corners of the room; and something about the fierce brevity of the midday warmth that makes it all the more precious. we let go of the summer; we know when enough is enough, and we lean into the rising, biting wind with a kind of determined relish; it's familiar and exhilarating and exactly what we expect from our place this time of year.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

in the change room at the pool today, a woman who I see from time to time said to me: "Don't you love Melbourne. It's snowing about 1700 metres."

well yes I do. I love: the cold when it blasts in so suddenly from the south. and I love that half-naked half-strangers feel strongly enough about it to bring it up in unexpected conversation.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

the art show we - my husband, the kid, and a couple of friends - wandered along to the Affordable Art Fair on Saturday afternoon. There was an extraordinary photographer, some on-the-verge-of-kitsch pieces made with swirling crystalline effects in coloured perspex "canvases" that I don't have a site for, and a surprising number of sketches and paintings of fanciful and/or hybrid animals.

but the photograph I actually bought was of the Esplanade Hotel. the fact that the photograph - about 60 by 45 centimetres - really was affordable at $150 instead of $1500 or $15,000 - helped. (I can't find the image online: the photographer is here.) I liked its combination of washed out buildings and hyper-coloured sky, I guess. but most of all, I liked it because it was the Esplanade Hotel on a sunny afternoon, packed with happy drinking Melbourne people; because it was yet another photo of possibly Melbourne's most photographed hotel; because it wasn't a photo from the days of parasols and horsedrawn carriages, but from my time, the time of branded market umbrellas and blokes in singlets milling around the crowded tables. I bought it because it was a photography of something I knew to be real. In the days when I worked on the local paper down there, I must have covered two or three "battles for the Espy", from dodgy licensees to attempts to gut the building. the locals always rallied and the Espy always won.

in the upper right corner, the massive apartment block that sits behind the Espy is just visible, and strangely, I like that too, because it forms a kind of modern background that adds a layer to the scene, that underlines the survival of the Espy; it dates the scene to now, and yet the big white Victorian Esplanade Hotel yields nothing. it just sits there, looking out across the bay in a pleasant haze of beer and distant music.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

thinking aloud...

...hallow there. Where a book is coming out, so inevitably a blog does here I am, thinking aloud about thinking about Melbourne.

The contract is (nearly) signed, the image permissions are flying in seventeen directions at once and I am getting snippy over semicolons. It must be book-production time.

My book, When we think about Melbourne: the imagination of a city is, barring volcanos and what the Australian Society of Authors' standard contract charmingly calls "marine peril", due to come out through Affirm Press in about August this year.

You'll notice that there is no link to a page for the actual book yet. This is because the title took a while to get right; that was because the book is a bit of a strange beast; part memoir, part social history, part art-film-literary criticism and part guidebook. But there will, in due course, be an official Book page; this blog is more of a what-happens-along-the-way-random-posts affair.

Of course, most of it has already happened: reading the three foot high stack of novels set in Melbourne; the square-eyed movie marathon reviewing the Melbourne movies of my youth; the scribbling of notes at the halfway point of some early-morning bike ride; the hours online and in libraries and op shops marvelling at the many ways one place can be depicted, and how things have changed/stayed the same over the past 170 years.

And really, the best of the thinking, I hope, is in the book. But as the process of putting it together comes to a close, I can see another process - to be frank, selling it, in the sense of getting people to be interested in it - starting up. For instance, I'm on the bill at the Emerging Writers' Festival on May 30, on a panel of writers talking about place. To me, "selling" the book is about doing what I can to get people thinking about the city - this book is unashamedly parochial - and also thinking about representation, of this and any other place. I'm endlessly fascinated by the funhouse mirrors we make for ourselves, the ways we choose to inhabit and interpret the world and looking forward to talking about it to anyone I can buttonhole.

(btw, don't tell my editor I'm here. I'm supposed to be checking commas and finding pictures of the West Gate Bridge...)