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....