I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I am also using it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone.
Suggestions welcome!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: The Rookies

I am no great photographer, and bluestone is a bit of a challenge sometimes, because it is so dark, and often because its buildings are so big. So today I'm borrowing a photo from Facebook to juxtapose with one of my own.

This is from a bar in Brunswick St, which is getting all kinds of lovely reviews. I have not been much of a bar-goer, but over the last year or so, since Joel has been playing various gigs around town, we have started going out a bit more often, to bars in Northcote, or Collingwood or Fitzroy. I have only even been into the front bar of the Rooks Return, because that is where the piano is, for a start, but there is a courtyard; you can play chess and other games; and it certainly has the feel of a friendly local place. Bar staff extremely nice. And on Wednesday nights, the bar is graced by The Rookies....

I love this black and white pic I pinched from Facebook; partly because it shows the interior bluestone wall off to such advantage, and partly because it shows my boy having such a good time. Sometimes he has even been known to sing a tune though I haven't witnessed that here. But what is not to love about these gorgeous young men and their music??

My own photo, much less successful, shows the way bluestone chips have been used in a very irregular way here, just to build the internal wall, presumably to be painted over.
Do these posts need a moral? they're not fables... But still, the moral is you can live in a town your whole life and then with an odd research project and a new phase in parenting, your life can change. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: laneway encounters

A long day for me today, framed by two glimpses of human encounters down bluestone laneways.

On my way into work a bit before 9, I looked down a bluestone laneway off Neill St, and saw a young woman in a floral skirt about to set off on a bike. A young man with a beard, wearing t-shirt and pyjamas, in bare feet, had come out the back entrance to kiss her goodbye.

This evening, coming home, after a work dinner in Carlton, after 10, I looked down a laneway off Drummond St behind the pub and saw a young man with a beard, sitting slumped against the wall, with a young woman leaning over solicitously with a bottle of water.

If bluestone laneways frame the city and suburbs, they are also places for marginal, semi-private encounters. The lives of men and women in the city. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Redstone

A few days ago I posted about a contested graffiti site. Others are noticing too, and Alison alerted me to StreetsmART's facebook page, which is also following the saga.

This morning the flag had been radically painted over again by "Prism",

But then this afternoon, the flag had been restored. I know very little about street art, but had always assumed painting was mostly done at night. And this is a very public place, with constant heavy traffic.

But for the first time I went up close, because I was curious about how thick the paint must now be getting. I have also been noticing how the lowest curve of the sun on the Aboriginal flag sits just above the level of the bluestone. The flag is then painted on a smoother surface this way, of course, but it makes for a good close-up. Looking more closely you can also see the urgency of the painting and the layers of red and pink. I am taking pictures just with my phone, so the colours here are slightly distorted up close, but I must say I think this photo is amazing: the intensity of colour and layering; the stark contrast of red and pink and the unusual colour for bluestone. Looks a bit like a Rothko painting, or a cake or a piece of confectionary. Graffiti is probably mostly photographed for the panoramic view, of course, but I find this fragment of bluestone so heavily inscribed and re-inscribed really quite moving.

Monday, February 23, 2015

My Year With Bluestone: Melbourne Gaol on WhiteNight

Once a year for the last three years, Melbourne has paid homage to Paris's nuit blanche, and turned on 12 hours of art, music, performance, multi-coloured video projections on large buildings and so forth. This year, to avoid the crowds of over 500,000 people all pressed into the same spots, the sites were spread out over a larger area. On our way up to the Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens  -- the site of an amazing projection thematising earth, air, fire and water over its entire south wall to a grand orchestral soundtrack -- we stopped in at one of the least dramatic things we saw all night. 
The old Melbourne gaol was first built in the 1840s. It is now a prize-winning tourist site. I'll go back and visit again, later in this project, I think, especially to research this terrific photograph of some partial destruction in 1937. 

But here are my photos from Saturday night. We had to queue in the courtyard off Russell St. The courtyard itself had fake grass and a large marquee, and a few food stalls, with red lights shining up the three stories of cell windows. I realised how rare three storey bluestone buildings are (though I think of the gorgeous terrace in Nicholson St opposite the gardens.

Inside, though, there was an exhibition of the Seven Deadly Sins: paintings down one corridor of the main wing of the gaol. I can see why this might have been seen as appropriate for a prison context. But for good or ill, in contrast to the spectacular lights and sounds on display elsewhere (e.g. the domed reading room of the State Library transformed into the rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland, or a fire-breathing dragon, or giant lotus flowers floating along the river), it was easy to be distracted by the gaol itself, and more people were walking into the cells and admiring the displays that are there all the time, than looking at the paintings themselves. The red lights were spectacular, but I was struck by the ways the old bluestone gaol still exerted more affective pull than the colourful paintings. 

This was also one of the highlights of White Night for me: that so many buildings -- churches, galleries, museums -- were open all night to wander through. 

For more carnal appetites, perhaps fitting to Gluttony, one of the food stands you waited by was a deep charcoal grill, offering skewers of barbequed meat. The courtyard was filled with delicious flavoured, aromatic smoke, and we promised ourselves we would get a snack on the way out. 

We are eating meat only once a week at the moment, so this was a big concession, but in terms of affective memory this was a pretty good combination: the smell and taste of tender pork belly marinated in a banana and mango glaze (I think) and some other equally delicious fruity chicken thing; the cloud of thick smoke; and the shadow of high bluestone walls illuminated by fiery bursts of red light.... Memories are made of this!

Friday, February 20, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Friday House Day (4)

As I said last week, our garden was a bit of an extravaganza, built for the long term future. By nature I am cautious with money, but had the foresight to fall in love with a man of vision: a world-builder. Where I deal with text; he deals with concepts. I am good at the trees; he is good at the forest.

But in this garden I did indulge my desire at one extravagant point. Our first plan for the garden was a bushland creek, but because we also love the ornate and the decorative, the garden did become more structured, and even a little gothic in form. So that when it came to a feature piece for the central fishpond, I had a vision of including some version of Viollet le Duc's nineteenth-century chimaeras from Notre Dame in Paris. Were any available on line? Yes, but they were dinky and cute and too small, and I remember thinking their fingers were too short...

David, our designer, got on the case, and found a company that would make a figure to order: I dug out photos, and several weeks later, we were able to install our beloved creature. Of course we call him Quasimodo.  He's had various adventures already. Sometimes his fountain tube gets blocked, and we have to poke his throat to clear out sticks and things; or wade into the pond to adjust the flow of water. He also lost his horns when a big tree fell on him. Paul replaced them just a few months ago. He's still wearing a lei from a party in the summer.

What has this to do with bluestone? Look at the base, where he is surrounded by bluestone chips. David described him as sitting on his "gothic pile", surveying the beauty of the garden from his gothic wreckage.

But the phrase "gothic pile" also works to describe David's sense of our old house. In the book he wrote later, The Heart of the Garden, David describes us both as "literature academics who live in a rambling weatherboard house, jam-packed with much-loved books", a statement that is only partly true.  But here is his part of his description of the bluestone and sandstone in the garden. I love the last paragraph.

Bluestone, here, is gothic, but risks being "foreboding"; it is handcrafted, evocative of preindustrial church construction, and is also, like us, "in a constant state of flux — falling apart and coming together again."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Contested Site

I sometimes think there might be a chapter or section in this book about bluestone and graffiti. It would include the many and fabled prisoner's initials, as well as the stretches of modern urban graffiti.

Bluestone's an unlikely surface, you would think, being so uneven, but this doesn't seem to be a problem for street artists. There's one image I'll photograph next week if it's still there, though: a series of train carriages painted on the smooth wall above, leaving the bluestone untouched below.

But here are three photographs of a site in Carlton. I took the first photo about a week ago, with a heavy white tag over the bottom half of the Aboriginal flag, including the bluestone foundations at the bottom. This is the side of a house on Nicholson St, near the corner of Alexandra Parade. The house on the corner has been demolished, leaving this vacant grass corner.

Here's the second photo, from two days ago,with the yellow sun and red deser  painted back in:

And here's the third, from yesterday, with a tag across the sun...

There's clearly some kind of struggle going on here. Would it be actively, politically, against the Aboriginal flag? Or just the temptation of that gorgeous yellow sphere?  Either way, the layers of paint must be getting thicker and thicker. Eventually the uneven stone surface will become smooth.

I'll post further updates if this wall changes again.

[UPDATE}: Well, that was quick. The site was repainted and the lower parts finished,

Monday, Feb 23:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: The Guerrilla Gardeners of North Carlton

Today's blog post practically writes itself. There was an article on the ABC website yesterday about a group of Carlton residents who have made a community garden in a bluestone laneway between their houses. It's controversial because at least one resident wants vehicle access to the laneway.  But just look at these gorgeous photos by Simon Leo Brown.

Carlton North laneway garden

Flowers in Carlton North laneway garden

Fruit and flowers in Carlton North laneway garden

And here's the sound bite for my project:
"I think anyone who sees it loves the laneway," Mr Gaylard told 774 ABC Melbourne's Red Symons.  
Even though they don't actually mention the bluestone in the article, I think it's clear that this love for Melbourne's bluestone laneways is apparent here. Even though the stone is hard, in these laneways the cobblestones are soft and easy on the eye, and certainly photographed lovingly here too.

See also this interview with the objecter in The Age here:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Human Scale

Just as my friends now sometimes tell me about their own bluestone encounters  — send pictures! send paragraphs! send blogposts! — I am now also noticing different stones, and different dimensions of stones. As this very mild summer comes to an end here, shadows were long as I walked home last night and it was around 6.30 when I came to the roundabout where three streets in Fitzroy intersect. The central plantation is an irregular oval shape, but its bluestone edges give it aesthetic unity. But really, the central focus today is on these beautiful trees: eucalyptus citriodora, or lemon-scented gum trees. Their scent is best experienced after rain, but you can crush the leaves and get a whiff of the lemony oil.

I deliberately took a photo with my own shadow extending before me, wanting to catch a sense of the early evening light, and the light and shade of these trees: their white bark (the ones in our own garden also peel off their outer bark in early summer); and their lush growth (the summer has been so mild that the eucalypts have stayed bright green and the deciduous trees have only just now started to curl and dry). The cyclist is also a nice Fitzroy touch. In the background you can see the edge of the Edinburgh gardens (bowls club, tennis club, cricket/footy ground).

It's a lovely quiet spot and the atmospherics of early evening were just gorgeous. There's not much traffic at this point, even though it was peak hour. A few people having quiet drinks outside the pub, which I include here because its first level is made of sandstone, much better for reflecting light than bluestone. The scene is made of very familiar, but very beautiful things: local stone, local trees, local streets. I was going home.

Monday, February 16, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Carlton cottage

Now that I am often walking to and from work, I'm getting to know lots of the streets in Carlton and North Carlton again. This is a house in Palmerston Place, just off Swanston St, and opposite Newman College. It's unusual for its street frontage. Even in this little pocket of quite small cottages, it has not even a narrow verandah. But most remarkable is the layer of red brick on top of the bluestone.

If you go to Google Maps, you can see the house in its context, with its bluestone lane to the right.

It's hard to know when the brick layer was added, without looking into paper records at the library (and thanks to John Ganim for bringing my attention to the State Library's archive) but clearly the bricks are an attempt to raise the very low roofline.

From the right, you can see the original roofline and how it has been raised.

In the past, the whole house was painted: I found this photo on a generic real estate site. It looks as if it was taken in the eighties, when peach and apricot were the colours of domestic architecture, inside and out, and when any heritage interest in bluestone was subordinate to the aesthetic unity of having the house all the one colour and capitalising on the higher roof level.

The house was possibly white washed or painted quite early on, given that the patterning of the bluestone is pretty irregular. There are lots of tiny little stones filling up the spaces between the larger bricks. Perhaps the cottage was made of left over stones, which would have been much cheaper.

I like my photo of the corner: I took it because I like the geometry of bluestone meeting bluestone, but I see that it shows the larger blocks have been used to stabilise the corners, and also to determine the horizontal lines: the lines of little blocks have been used to maintain those horizontal lines.

Childhood memory: I was about eight, I guess, or perhaps a little younger. My parents were driving us around Carlton, probably driving past Queen's College where my father had been a student, and we drove past the similar small houses in Swanston St, opposite the university, and we all marvelled at how tiny they were, and where "the poor people" lived. At this time we were living in all the suburban grandeur of a manse in Strathmore, with a front garden with grass, a brick fence and a nature strip, the essentials of domestic life to my childish eyes:

Now, of course, house prices have soared, and the little bluestone cottage would command a very hefty price, probably much more than the old manse.

Friday, February 13, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Friday House Day (3)

Several years ago, we undertook a big remodelling of our garden. When Paul bought the house over twenty years ago, there was a big cement section and a big grass section and that was about it. He planted lots and lots of trees, then later dug up the cement section (after keeping a big sandpit there several years for Joel and friends — I well remember the "volcanic panic" he built with his cousin Imogen there), and grew vegetables, but it was time to introduce some kind of water feature, and get rid of the grass. Yes, the house still has lots of unfinished parts and there are always more things in an old house that require attention, but a garden takes longer to get established. It's all about the priorities. We love our home and plan to stay here forever, so while it was a "grand design," we were building for the future. The very first things Paul planted when he moved in were a couple of lemon-scented gumtrees and a little copse of silver birches down the side of the house and they now tower up, and frame the garden. The big manchurian pear has come and gone and the maple now shades the back door. The trees had given the house its own history already, and this design would give the garden a new frame to grow into for the next couple of decades.

Anyway, back to bluestone. I'm not going to post big pictures of the garden but today I'm focussing on the bluestone retaining walls. We worked with a garden consultant who used to have a regular TV spot, and later wrote about our garden in a book, and a brilliant team of builders (and a rather bigger budget than we had planned), but now we have a mini-system of fishponds and retaining walls that control the slope of the land. I was also very keen to have ledges to sit on for parties (note also the little light)...

We're not sure where this bluestone came from, but it came in big chunks that often had to be re-cut and shaped, and then chipped again into rough shapes if they had been sliced into a smooth edge. It took a few weeks of the team cutting and laying the stone to size. To cut it they used a diamond-tip bench saw that ran water across the stone and screamed with a high-pitched intense whirr. There was dust and noise and water for weeks as they cut the stone for the pond and the walls. (We bought several cases of wine and went to visit and apologise to some of the neighbours later.)

The garden plan became a bit gothic in appearance (more on that next week), and we broke up the darkness of the bluestone walls with sandstone paths, which are lovely to walk on. (The sandstone is another story: it came in large slabs in wooden crates, imported from India, we realised to our horror, but with lots of plant fossils embedded in it.) We also wanted little nooks and crannies for plants to grow, so these spaces were part of the construction, while the walls themselves were supported by concrete.

From the front, then, they look like drystone construction (without mortar), but David saw the first version of the walls without reinforcement and said they would only last five to ten years, and made the builders re-do them.

The ledges came as smooth rectangular slabs, but David also got the masons to chip along the edges. They are smooth and comfortable to sit on at parties, though not immune to stains from melting candle wax... Looking at them again in the light of this project, I observe the fineness of their construction, and the way the masons have been able to make lovely round curves from this very blocky stone.

Its "affect" here is domestic, home-bound, built for us.