I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: The Penitentiary Affect

Like all engrossing research projects, this bluestone malarkey is everywhere. Just checking the news online, and of course my attention is caught by this article on the ABC site about the Sandhurst Gaol in Bendigo being converted to a new theatre, the Ulumbarra Theatre. Hot on the heels of the concert in Parramatta Gaol, I scanned quickly to see, first, if the gaol was a  bluestone one. Alas, no: it's made of granite and brick, though bluestone is never far away, as I'll explain in a minute.

The Gaol is an odd mix of architectural styles. As one website explains, "The essential architectural character of the building is generally classical, with walls and towers resembling the embattlements of a medieval castle." So, too, as we will see on Thursday, Melbourne's Pentridge is also medievalist in style. 

But Sandhurst was also built, 1861-64, on the modern panoptical design. Bentham's Pentonville prison was built in 1842. Only two of Sandhurst's projected five wings were ever built.

The new theatre looks as if it will be fantastic. They are going to preserve some of the original features and fittings, and some of the original narrow cells.

But here's the bluestone moment:
The corridor will be carpeted at the edges, but the main walkway will be paved with bluestone; as theatre patrons enter, their footsteps will echo, creating what Mr Lloyd calls an "aural echo" of what prisoners would have heard.

I'm not sure if it's possible to get any more of the original "Harcourt granite", but the choice of bluestone is a stunning indicator of its importance as a heritage stone. Needing something to evoke the prisoner experience as your high heels click, or your rubber soles scoot along from the foyer into the performance space, carrying your glass of champagne or  icecream, you'll be able to "hear" an echo of the past. It will literally be an echo of your own feet but the bluestone will help you imagine the past. The choice of bluestone perhaps also echoes the most common experience most Melbourners have with bluestone, of actually walking on it, on our kilometres of laneways and the edges of our footpaths. Wonder if bluestone laneways are also a feature of Bendigo: is it a local reference?  And isn't there something a little odd about that phrase "aural echo"? Doesn't quite do the work Mr Lloyd wants it to do, I fear.

But even where a heritage building is not made of bluestone, bluestone is charged with affective work. 


Stephanie Trigg said...

Sorry, folks, can't get read of that annoying formatting. Blogger seems less user-friendly to me this year. But maybe i'm just out or practice.

flipsockgrrl said...

Speaking of bluestone paths and lanes... a Brunswick pal was telling me last week about how the Moreland Council went about upgrading some ROW lanes in his neighborhood in the last 2-3 years. Following residents' protests about the idea of replacing bluestone cobbles with concrete, they sent in the stonemasons who carefully lifted and numbered each cobble (with chalk), stacked them nearby, and (after draininage/etc work was completed) lovingly replaced each stone in its original spot.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Yeah, I'm definitely going to be writing about those laneways, the affection with which they're regarded, and the expense of doing this kind of work. Your comment makes me think about scale, though. I've found that quite a lot of bluestone buildings are pulled down and then reassembled. You would *need* to number them and make a plan, as unlike bricks, say, they are not standard in form. But whereas the idea of numbering bricks, say, seems mindless, the idea of numbering these larger, more individual stones, seems to make good sense. Thanks so much for this reflection, flipsockgrrl!

winkieg said...

Harcourt granite is still quarried commercially. It seems odd, given the historic nature of the project, that they would use bluestone for the paving. Unless it was already used there for that purpose?.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Aha! I smell a rat. I'm going to try and check this out at some point. If bluestone *were* the original stone, that would presumably be because it is harder wearing to walk on.Or maybe my theory is right, that bluestone has become the more evocative heritage stone of choice. If they began with the idea of creating an echo, maybe bluestone reverberates more than granite. Pretty soon I am going to have to get more knowledgeable about the physical properties of these stones...

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephanie,

Have you given any thought to the history of the old bluestone 'Yarrabend Lunatic Asylum' which was on the Yarra in Fairfield from 1848-1926. Only a single bluestone entrance column and historical marker there presently but some references to 20th century researched history as well.


Keith dekok

Stephanie Trigg said...

Thanks, Keith. Ah, no, I hadn't yet, though I have ridden past there and wondered about that asylum in the past, before I thought about this project. My approach isn't yet systematic, so it's great to have these suggestions. I'll see if I can find some pictures, too.

thanks again!

Philip said...

Wishing to recreate a sonic experience of imprisonment is half intriguing half bizarre. And you're right - if the choice of bluestone is anachronistic this becomes more fascinating again, as if we want an echo of our idea of the past rather than the (less resonant) past itself.