art and artists

Three women of St Kilda cemetery

One of the pleasures of walking the suburbs  is making unexpected connections. Sometimes it’s a ghostsign – like the ‘Dr Morse’ sign that I first noticed in North Melbourne, which popped up again in Fitzroy and on a cafe wall in Abbotsford. Sometimes an architectural feature – the ‘barley sugar’ columns that I was unaware of until I spotted them on 1930s flats in South Yarra now keep turning up everywhere. And sometimes it’s a person whose life I find myself intersecting with as I walk. Whether we realise it or not, a passage through the city is a succession of encounters with countless individuals, celebrated, notorious or unknown.  Continue reading

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Italian films in 1950s Carlton

The film is in black and white. A ship is docking at an unknown port. Men line the rail of the vessel, looking down uncertainly at the men and women waiting along the wharf. They are smartly dressed in suits, shirts and hats redolent of the 1950s. There’s a sense of excitement, of arrival at a longed for destination.  Those on board ship call down to those on shore, who smile and wave back at them. One of the men on the ship, a tough-looking guy in a light-coloured suit, consults a piece of paper; he confers with a couple of other men, apparently unsure what to do.  Then, the camera – which has been roving democratically over the crowd on shore – picks out a neatly-dressed old man, in suit, hat and glasses. The young man has seen him too. His look of doubt changes to one of joyful recognition, and we see his lips move: “Papa!” He runs down the gangway; they embrace.

It’s a vivid and moving scene, filmed in a realist or documentary style, made even more effective by the fact that it is played out in silence. The ship, the crowds, the speech and the action are completely inaudible. The film is mute. Continue reading

Explosives on the Maribyrnong

Pushing across eastwards from the residential areas of Avondale Heights, I came to a small reserve, Canning Reserve, which leads to Steele Creek Reserve, revegetated with native species by the local friends of the creek. I walked through it on a hot day in November, with few other people around. At one point the reserve is quite elevated, and you have a good view across the Maribyrnong river to an area of abandoned, fenced off land, dotted with deserted brick buildings. To the east there’s a view of the city, some 10km distant. Nothing’s going on in the fenced off area, which is bordered by the Maribyrnong (formerly known as the Saltwater) to the north, east and west, and Cordite Street to the south.

That area of fenced-off land has been owned by the Department of Defence since 1908. Prior to that, it was known for horses – the Maribyrnong racecourse was there, and Fisher’s famous racing stables. Before that, for thousands of years it was the Wurrung country of the Woi Wurrung people. But within more recent memory it’s known as the location of an explosives factory. Continue reading