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!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: When Bluestone Isn't

The Melbourne general cemetery is a good place to think about the specific cultural associations of bluestone. I need to know more about when and why granite and marble became the default stone for tombstones, for example. Its re-modelled gatehouse told me bluestone remained an appropriate stone for building, after the first mid-nineteenth-century flush of enthusiasm.

And this building (I haven't yet dated it but I'm almost sure it was put up in the last ten-fifteen years) is another lesson: 

It's a service building of some kind, over on the far west side, backing on to Princes Park Drive that curves between the cemetery and the green fields of Princes Park. I rode past it every day in the good old days before my cycling accident in October. I used to love riding home as dusk turned to dark, as the sporting fields were lit up all velvety green on one side, and the low rise tombstones on my right would catch the light; and as soft lights dotted the dark spaces of the crematorium.

At first glance, its shape, colour and texture suggest it is made of bluestone like the old chapel, not far away. But the little portico, like a suburban driveway, the rollerdoor, and the proliferation of "hazchem" signs signalled that here was something else.

In fact it is made of two different kinds of composite concrete, made to look like two different kinds of bluestone (smooth and rough). 

This was a lovely simulacrum of both "bluestone" and also "bluestone building". It's easy to understand how this form of association works: it's designed to look as much like the adjacent chapel as possible, but because it's not really a heritage building, it can be plastered with all the signage; and that was the first thing that made me think, as we walked towards it, that it was not ... I was going to say "real".  Of course it is real, and as a new building, made me think about what was inside. Is it just gardening and maintenance equipment? Or does it contain traces of the mysterious undertaker's business? What work on behalf of the dead goes on behind its doors? And was it really built out of fake stone, in that shape, all at the same time? It's not an obvious heritage site, so may need some more detailed archival research to probe its mysteries?

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