Melbourne Circle is an account of a series of walks around the suburbs of Melbourne which I took in 2014-2016. Taken together, the walks form a circle around the city. Beginning in Williamstown in the south west, I walked in a clockwise direction, with very occasional brief detours into the city centre. The walk ended with a trip across the bay back to Williamstown, completing the circle.
Here’s a map of Melbourne Circle.
The walks are an experiment in psychogeography – which I define as an attempt to understand a place by experiencing it at close range, and seeking to make a connection with the lives and the stories embedded in the place. A few years ago I became interested in lost histories associated with old buildings, faded names painted on walls, derelict factories, bits of graffiti and street art. The Californian writer Rebecca Solnit has described these phenomena as “the unconscious of a city” – they are like memories, or dreams, which survive even when they are forgotten and ignored. Their meaning can be recovered if we take the trouble to stop, observe, and think.
This isn’t a tourist’s guide to Melbourne, of which there are many already. Nor is it an exercise in nostalgia – although I am interested in recovering the past, it’s just as important to understand the present and think about the future. The past has its charm but it was no golden age, as is obvious from the large amounts of toxic waste still buried around the city.
I’m not an expert on history, geography, art, town planning or architecture, though you’ll find a bit of all of those in these posts. I’m a creative writer, rather than a historian or a critic, and I’m driven by curiosity about what I don’t know. The places I explore are what the American poet Richard Hugo called ‘triggers’ – they stimulate a response within the writer, often for reasons he or she doesn’t understand.
Finally, it’s a very personal tour, and that’s part of the point. Every suburb, every street, has millions of stories worth telling, of which I’ve only mentioned a handful. Anyone who took a walk like this would easily find many others. It doesn’t take much – just a bit of observation, curiosity and imagination. They are out there, waiting to be uncovered.
For more detail on the project, check out my article ‘Circling the city’ published by Griffith Review.
I’m Nick Gadd, a Melbourne writer. I write essays about Melbourne, history, literature, music and suburban life. My work has appeared in publications including Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, The Guardian, Griffith Review, Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, and various anthologies.
In 2015 I was the winner of the Nature Conservancy Australia Nature Writing Prize for an essay about place, and was one of five writers shortlisted for the Writers’ Prize in the Melbourne Prize for Literature, which supports literary work in and about Melbourne.
I’m the author of the novel Ghostlines (Scribe, 2008) which won a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and a Ned Kelly Award.
My new novel, Death of a Typographer, was published in September 2019 by Australian Scholarly Publishing.
Melbourne Circle in the media
‘Ghost signs’ – I took a walk around central Melbourne and Richmond with arts reporter Fiona Gruber. ‘Blueprint for Living’, Radio National, 23 May 2020
‘Psychogeography tour points out Mildura’s hidden past‘ ABC online, 19 July 2016.
‘Melbourne’s hidden past revealed by psychogeographer’ Domain.com on 14 June 2016.
Melbourne Circle featured in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on 24 October 2015: ‘Ghost tour traces Melbourne’s mysteries via signs of another time’
Melbourne Circle was the city blogger of the week in The Guardian, September 2014.
I was a guest on Radio National on 21 February 2015, chatting with Michael Williams and Stephen Banham about ghostsigns. Article here, with link to audio: ‘Melbourne’s ghost sign hunters open windows to the past’.
I was a guest on the afternoon program with Sheridan Stewart on 774 ABC Melbourne on 10 July 2015. ‘Ghostsigns and derelict buildings reveal clues about Melbourne’s quirky past’
Email me at nickgadd [@] optusnet.com.au with suggestions for places to visit and write about, requests, invitations, comments, stories, or just to say hi.
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