I recently submitted to my publisher, Australian Scholarly Publishing, the manuscript of my forthcoming book Melbourne Circle: Walking, Memory and Loss. The book originated in posts on this blog – it is an account of a journey on foot around Melbourne in the years 2014-16 which I made with my wife, Lynne. On the way we observed the kind of things you’ll find in these posts – ghost signs, derelict buildings and lost places – and we uncovered countless forgotten stories and characters from the past.
In 2018, after I’d finished writing this blog, I experienced another kind of loss when Lynne died of cancer. Writing the book about our walks became a way not just of exploring the history of Melbourne but of coping with my grief by telling our story. The book Melbourne Circle is a personal memoir as much as it is travelogue or social history. In addition to some sections which originated as blog posts, the book reflects on how our lives unfolded in the Melbourne suburbs, and how we built meanings together through our relationships with these places.
As the title suggests, the themes of the book are loss, memory, connection to place, and regeneration. All of this adds up to what I understand as ‘psychogeography’, meaning a recognition of our connection with place as a key to the meanings of our lives.
The book will be published in late 2020 – for more updates, check in again here or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.
I had a great chat with arts reporter Fiona Gruber about some of my favourite Melbourne ghostsigns on Radio National’s Blueprint for Living program on 23 May. We talked about medical clairvoyants, signwriting, and the way intriguing stories are hidden behind public typography. You can check out the audio here.
After two and a half years of circumnavigating the city, and more than 60 walks through more than 40 suburbs, we have reached the final walk, and today we are completing the circle. Beginning at Westgate Park, just below the West Gate Bridge, we are going for one final stroll around Port Melbourne and Fishermans Bend before jumping on the Punt back to the western side of the bay and returning to the point where the circle began in 2014. Continue reading
This blog isn’t just about ghostsigns, architecture, and quirky tales of local history. It’s about an experience of the whole city – including the areas that might not be thought of as attractive for a recreational walk. The most unprepossessing parts of town can be as intriguing as any other. With this in mind we walked through the Port Melbourne industrial zone and headed towards the Westgate Bridge. Continue reading
Leaving St Vincent Place we headed north along Montague Street, then turned right into Bank Street towards South Melbourne, a suburb in which much of the history has been carefully and consciously preserved. If you’re looking for ghostsigns, this part of town is rich in them. You also pass a kaleidoscope of architectural styles in the space of a few blocks. Continue reading
On 27 August I took a group of keen psychogeographers on a tour around Footscray as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. The walk took in a number of my favourite locations – including ghost signs, street art, evidence of past lives and lost histories. The tour was an attempt to explore some of the many layers of this fascinating suburb, and to suggest ways that suburban locations can be the starting point for writing. Continue reading
Something that strikes me often about the Melbourne suburbs is their quietness. Walk through most suburbs on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and you won’t hear much at all, except traffic (on the busier roads), the occasional lawn mower or leaf blower, perhaps the remote sound of a TV, or the bark of a dog behind a gate. More than once I’ve asked myself: where is everybody? I encounter few other walkers as I make my way around, and occasionally feel oddly conspicuous as a solo pedestrian. Sometimes parks are busy, and certain shopping/cafe strips, but many places seem eerily deserted.
The suburbs are not totally silent, though. On the wall of the Collingwood Neighbourhood House in Perry Street I came across evidence of an intriguing psychogeography project: a list of sounds heard by Lauren Brown, ‘listener in residence’. Continue reading
What is Royal Park?
This hefty chunk of parkland, north of North Melbourne, west of Carlton, has an identity crisis. It’s been set aside for public use since the 1840s. But the public has never known what to do with it.
The great parks and gardens of London, Paris and New York have a clear place in their city’s psyche; everyone knows them, and if they don’t go there, at least they know what they are for. Not so Royal Park. It’s the poor cousin of the Botanical Gardens, a place we think we value (if we think of it at all) but we are unsure why.
Over the years it’s been a place for grazing, a wilderness, a car park, a military base, a zoo, emergency housing, the site of sports complexes and hospitals. It’s housed murderers, it’s been called a ‘slum’ and a ‘plague spot’, it’s been the scene of angry protests. Continue reading
Throughout the Melbourne suburbs you can see old signs and buildings that refer back to one of the most powerful social movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries: the temperance advocates. They regarded alcohol as a social evil and sought to have it banned entirely, or at least the consumption drastically reduced. This crossed my mind as I walked south from Moonee Ponds into Ascot Vale, entering ‘The Temperance Triangle’. Continue reading
A few weeks ago I walked past the exterior of the old Grand Theatre in Paisley Street and wondered what it looked like inside. Thanks to a reader, Cr Nam Quach, I was introduced to the owner, Footscray businessman Peter Ki, who kindly allowed me inside for a look around and to take some photographs. Continue reading
Leaving Gasworks Arts Park, we headed south down Pickles Street into Port Melbourne. Like South Melbourne – the suburb formerly known as Emerald Hill – Port Melbourne once had a different name, and in the 19th century was known as Sandridge. There used to be a lagoon here too, though it has long been filled in. But there’s plenty of evidence of other transformations in this once working class, now gentrified neighbourhood. Continue reading