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...