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!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wednesday Melbourne musical medievalism blogging

Thoroughly recommended...

Royals and ribbons: public and private

There is an article in today's Age about the young princes signing the condolence book for the victims of the Victorian bushfires at the Australian Commission in London. They are wearing yellow ribbons*:

Showing their support ... Prince William, left, and Prince Harry sign the official book of condolence for the victims of the Australian bushfires.

*Photo is attributed to Getty Images: I'm never sure about rights and issues of reproduction here. I wrote to associated press before Christmas for permission to use an image of the Queen in her garter robes and haven't heard back yet, so I'm assuming these big companies don't care when their images are so widely available. Will take this down if anyone objects....

The article goes on to report that the princes "promised privately not to remove them before the Ashes series is over". Fantastic! Just like the Garter, really. The Ashes? cricket test series between Australia and England. So named after the first occasion Australia beat England, and the stumps were burned and preserved in a tiny, now exceedingly fragile urn as a trophy for England, to remind them of the day they were subdued by their colony.

What part of this promise is "private", then? And will we truly see them wearing yellow ribbons throughout the cricket season? And how do we read royal emotion? The report says the princes "expressed deep shock and sadness" about the fires, but then goes on to talk about Harry, "jovial and relaxed" making the "quip" about the summer cricket.

This little report encapsulates much of the fascination with the Order of the Garter, and the much-discussed story of its origins (woman drops garter; courtiers laugh at her; king puts garter on own leg and promises to found a chivalric order all those now laughing will want to join): the way it teases us with the possibility of access to the private emotion of public figures; the playfulness of royalty and its love of making symbols. It's also a reminder of how ribbons and garters (or green girdles [Gawain]) function, too.

And can I just say, for the record., that it started raining at 8.30 this morning, and it's still going, though it's very light. I think this is only the second time this year we've had any rain. The roof tiles are so dry it's taking a while for there to be any run-off, but I'm hoping the tanks might start to fill. It's great as we gear up for another horror day of heat and wind on Friday. Hope it won't be as bad as Black Saturday. Best description of the weather that day? The emergency services co-ordinator who said he was out at midday, as the temperature climbed to 47C, before the fires had really got doing, and knew we were in for horror when the wind was hotter than the sun.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What It Feels Like for a Girl

Today, over at In the Middle, is a discussion initiated by Eileen Joy on an essay in New Medieval Literatures. So far, nothing surprising, except that it's an essay by me and my friend and collaborator, Tom Prendergast, with an afterword by Carolyn Dinshaw.

It's always terrifying to read a discussion of your own work. When you write, you imagine people being completely blown away and utterly convinced by your compelling arguments; and so it's always an awful shock when they start talking about the things you got wrong, or didn't understand, or the book you should have written instead. I know we are supposed to be interested in debate and dialogue, but it's also true that most of us have so much of our personhood invested in our work that we find it hard to put the ego aside when we read such discussions.

My own response is to scan quickly, looking for the worst-case scenario, and to breathe a sigh of relief if it doesn't come: "Oh good," I think, "I've come through ok." That's the old academic fraud syndrome, whereby we all think, at heart, we really don't know enough to be doing our jobs. Having got through that first step (and I haven't, always: but that's another story), I then re-read looking for the brilliant Oscar-winning praise. Such moments of unadulterated ego-boosting don't come along very often, of course, and so I then settle back into the middle way, back struggling with ideas, doing the best I can, and hoping it'll be enough next time.

At the moment I am engaged in a gargantuan struggle with Chapter Two of my book on the Order of the Garter, which, hydra-like, will not stay put in whatever sequence or disposition of ideas and arguments I try and impose on it. Being on sabbatical leave is lovely in terms of how the day pans out (working from home; eating lunch in the garden; starting to play piano again), but brings immense pressure, too. I really do have to finish this book this year, but am struggling to organise the material.

I have also been struggling immensely, I am now willing to confess, with my concentration and attention. I'm blaming the hormonal roller-coaster of drug-induced menopause. Levels of anxiety are higher than they used to be, but at the same time I also care much less than I used to about a whole lot of things (that's one of the lovely things about getting older). But finally, over the last couple of days, I've been working better, so I am optimistic I might be starting to come out of the fog.

Single opera ticket available for Melbourne student

Because I panicked when I was booking tickets to the opera online a few weeks ago, I had three tickets to the Victorian Opera's production of Don Giovanni at the National Theatre in St Kilda, on the wrong date for us. I've found someone to take the two full-price tickets, but I have a single student concession ticket for the night of Thursday 5th March., at 7.30. Face value is $70.00, so it's quite a good seat which I am happy to give away to the first student to contact me by email at sjtriggatunimelbdotedudotau

Update: ticket has gone...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Why I love the ABC

Lunchtime radio today:

Richard Stubbs is talking to his counterpart in New South Wales. They agree the states have felt quite close over the last two weeks, with the movement of money, firefighters and sympathy coming southwards, and they start talking about football and the various non-Victorian teams. The NSW guy says he sees it as a sign that the fires have eased a little, that Stubbs is interested in football, and Richard says, "oh well, you know, as soon as you've got the water coming through the hose, someone'll say, 'so, how do you think the Pies* will go this year?'"

I love it when the radio makes me laugh out loud, even though I'm in the house on my own.

But generally, I do love the ABC. It is also the emergency broadcaster, and even last night, nearly two weeks after that horrendous Saturday, they were still interrupting the evening show with updates, though they were generally downgrading reports from "urgent" to "alert". A good quarter of Wilson's Promontory national park remains alight; and Derek Guille, at Narbethon, was interviewing a woman who had four times in the last two weeks packed up her kids, best possessions, and the fifteen animals she was caring for, ready to evacuate. She'd got the routine down to half an hour. It is gruesome, though, to hear the warnings for residents in Marysville still coming through.

For nearly ten days, the Melbourne branch of the ABC broadcast almost nothing but updates, interviews and emergency broadcasts. I was listening when someone phoned in from Kinglake saying they were about to evacuate from the main street of the town...

Radio is such a brilliant medium. The internet and television have played their part, too, but there is something about radio that you know is immediate. An internet call for assistance isn't tied so tightly to a particular time, for example. I heard, one evening, a callout for baby-sitters and childcare workers. The next evening, I heard the same woman say she'd had to put two extra people on, just to answer the telephone inquiries. And the ABC folk I've heard have all been brilliant: sympathetic and patient. They ditched most of the weekend sport, for example, and brought in their best weekday hosts (Faine, Guille, Stubbs, Gorr), who still came in for their regular gigs the next week.

Marieke Hardy had a column saying it was time for the media to withdraw from the disaster zones, and let people get on with repairs and grieving and rebuilding. I'm the first to excoriate myself for my fascination with the disaster, but I think there is also a role for the media to play in healing. After the disaster, after trauma, we as bloggers know what people want. To tell their story, to rehearse the trauma to a sympathetic audience, to help make sense, to put a narrative shape around that trauma. Every evening this week, Guille has been broadcasting from a different town, and is clearly trying to juggle invitations from a number of communities.

I'm trying to think about comparisons with the Katrina disaster. It's a bit like comparing apples with oranges, really. But the immediacy of the radio coverage, and its direct engagement with affected communities has played an important part, I think, in keeping the communication going, in both directions.

* Magpies. Collingwood. Old inner-Melbourne team. Huge fan base. Much loathed by other old inner-urban Melbourne teams.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Where should we stay in NYC?

Here's a question for anyone who knows NYC. Where should we stay for our month, over April-May.

I have quotes for several furnished apartments (all facilities sound ok, with doorman, etc.). What would be nicer? safer? more fun?

West 77th, near central park, opposite museum of natural history?
East 44th, between 1st and 3rd (two options here).
East 32nd, between Madison and Park (more expensive, but might be the nature of that particular agency)

I quite like the thought of being close to the New York public library. Wherever we go will be small, so I plan to work in the library in the mornings. I'm hoping also to have visiting library rights at NYU.

Any advice welcome!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Donating blood. And an owl. And other things.

Just had a lovely conversation with a Red Cross blood bank nurse. No, I can't give blood for another two and a half years until my treatment finishes, but those who can are encouraged to contact the Red Cross after about March 9 to make an appointment. They have good supplies at the moment, and are fully booked (last week they had 2,700 donations more than their usual target), but they will run out in a couple of weeks.

Last night we were with friends in Fitzroy. I looked out the open back door and saw an owl sitting on the fence, looking in at us. I guess it's possible it's a resident of the nearby Edinburgh gardens, but it's also just as likely it's one of the thousands of critters that have lost their homes. My friend's father is very ill, though, on the other side of the country, so we all had a thought for Don. I could see why an owl might be thought to be a harbinger.

One estimate says as many as one million animals might have died; that some species will now have moved higher up the list of endangered species. And one report said the fires produced as much carbon emission as the whole state of Victoria does in a year. And another that we may never know exactly how many people died: the fires were so devastatingly hot that sometimes all that's left is a person's wedding ring. And that a number of people lived in those hills precisely because they didn't want to be identified and known.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Son of Humanities Researcher ...

... hath a New Blog: Jive for Java, complete with an initially rather sweet but quickly rather disturbing opening comic for Valentine's Day.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Matthew Lloyd drops by...

No, seriously...

Matthew Lloyd, captain of the Essendon football club, dropped by the blog (this blog) to leave a comment here. How cool is that?

Also very cool is the dedication of all proceeds from last night's pre-season match between the Bombers and the Western Bulldogs to the victorian bushfire appeal: they have made at least $1.2 million. And the Bombers won by a point! Yay!!!

This morning I heard that $91,000,000 had been donated to the Red Cross. Which is fantastic. And probably not enough. Thinking about making a donation? there are various calls, at various time, from various places, for specific things, ranging from new underwear to garden/fencing tools, but if in doubt, cash can never go astray. So go here to make a donation. Every little bit will help.

Sad, yesterday, to read of the several staff and students of my University who lost their lives in the fires.

And gruesome, last night, to fly in from Perth and smell the smoke that's hung around the city all day. At 11.00 am. this morning, the light in the garden looked like the golden light of dawn. This — and our garden, ruined by hot wind and heat a week ago — represent a tiny fraction of the trauma. Here's another tiny fraction of it, from Marysville. Again, as everyone keeps saying, at one minute there was no fire; the next there were sheets of fire in the sky above. No chance for anything, in those conditions.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A little break

Off to Perth for a few days. And have finally decided not to take the laptop. I won't really need it; and I won't really have time to use it. And I think it might be good to have a break from it, and the ghastly news sites I keep checking.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Beautiful Picture

From the Herald Sun, my friend's sister being reunited with her dog.


The family had to leave in a desperate hurry, and the kids have ember burns, but they heard the next day the dog "was sitting by the pile of photos Drew had pitched onto the front lawn, waiting for them on the only green patch that survived! And there are a few geese and chooks left too."

The house was destroyed, and the other dog, sadly, but here is one happy reunion, at least.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Monday Melbourne Medievalism Blogging (6) Montsalvat

Not sure when The Age started reporting on weddings (not long after it started putting Paris and Britney on the front page of its website, I guess), but my attention was certainly caught by this medieval/gothic wedding at Montsalvat.

I like the way medieval and the gothic run into each other here (tattoos; guests all wearing black; bride wearing big black boots and mauve corseted gown). Whatever their original significations, these terms are both used together here to signal "non-conventional", even though this is completely contradictory, like "breaking with tradition" to use an old truck, or proposing in the Northland (the outer suburban, very unchic shopping mall we quite like hanging out at) carpark, but espousing conventional values like family dinners and insisting on marriage before children. And the very idea of a themed wedding to begin with.

Montsalvat (it is three-quarters of the way from here into the heart of the worst of the fires) was founded in the 1930s as an artists' colony, and is still the base for a dozen or so artists. Concerts are held there too, though it is principally known as a wedding venue.

Sarah Randles writes about the ideology of medievalist architecture in Montsalvat in Medievalism and the Gothic in Australian Culture. But as a setting for a wedding, it reminds me of the heterosexual romance of the medieval: that sense that people are comfortable in invoking its ethos to give meaning and shape to their relationship. It isn't always coded, then, as historical.


Best thing to do for fire victims is to donate money. The Red Cross site says be patient, but I got through first time.

You can also donate blood. Burns victims need lots of transfusions. But there is a series of exclusion rules for cancer patients. They're going to get back to me.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


The cool change hit Melbourne with a rush last night. The temperature dropped to the low twenties over the course of an hour; and by the time we went round to our neighbours' for dinner, it was perfectly pleasant. Four families, five boys; each family bringing a course (me? summer pudding; citrus fruit salad with candied peel; home-frozen Greek yoghurt with honey) Sitting outside, though, we could see one of the big water-bearing helicopters flying overhead, and thought the pink clouds might well have been reflecting smoke. But it wasn't till Margot heard from her daughter, who was helping serve dinner to firefighters in Kilmore, reporting that 40 people were feared dead, that we had any idea of how serious the fires were.

We've woken this morning — a cool, grey day — to reports that 26* are now confirmed dead across the state, with every expectation that number will rise over 40, and that the numbers will include children. Many of these died in their cars, leaving fire areas too late. Six in one car in Kinglake, where Gordon and I went hiking a few months ago. Fires around Beechworth and Myrtelford, where we cycled last year on our Ned Kelly tour.

I can't turn off the radio. The ABC turns itself into an emergency broadcaster at times like this, and I'm mesmerised by the reiteration of tiny townships and roads affected by the fires which are still burning, far worse than the most dramatic predictions. The Churchill fire that "got up and ran to the coast"; the dreadful realisation that lots of these fires were deliberately lit (sometimes by volunteer firefighters); the idea of "spotting", where the fire sends embers up to four kilometres or more ahead of itself. The new knowledge that there is a town called "Robin Hood". The man who was herding cattle wearing thongs and a t-shirt, now in the Alfred with burns to 50% of his body. The fact that people are still driving into the fire areas to have a look, amidst endless warnings to stay off the roads.

I think it's hard not to be fascinated by fire on this scale. I'm not proud of it, but there it is. And if you share my fascination, here's a link to The Age.

[Update: Sunday night. 76 dead, and numbers still expected to rise. Appalling tales emerging of trees exploding, the fire suddenly changing direction, people being trapped, running from house to house for shelter, hiding in cellars, in creek beds with children and lyrebirds, of husbands, wives, children losing each other. The landscape will regenerate, but lives and communities are shattered, and whole towns destroyed. Here's a map].

[Goodness. 108.]

[Was going to keep updating, but it's too heartbreaking. Monday afternoon: 126 confirmed dead, but they are now saying to prepare for a total of around 230. Oh, the great pity of it all.]

Saturday, February 07, 2009

It's the end of the world as we know it

I'd get us all to sing along, but it's too hot. At 45.3 we are only .3 of a degree away from our all-time record heat for Melbourne. (I see it's 47 at Avalon, 50 ks south west of here.) What makes it particularly apocalyptic is the dreadful north-westerly wind blowing at gale-force. The garden has been struggling for two weeks, and there has been no rain for a month. So many of the plants today look as if they are just giving up, and I've just been outside to bring in anything in a pot, and put it in the bath.

All over Melbourne the deciduous trees are just dropping their leaves, so it looks weirdly autumnal or wintry, except for that constant checking, just to make sure you haven't accidentally switched on a heater or an oven. How else could you account for that movement of hot air inside the house?

The perch we had to move a week or so ago have all died: they are really cold water fish, and couldn't withstand the shallower levels of a pond with a leak.

It's not been too bad (relatively speaking, of course) over the last few days, which means half the house — the downstairs, brick part — is tolerable; but the upstairs and the back half, made of timber, are both unbearable. It's quite schizophrenic, moving into the kitchen and out again. But I'm only just now, in the early afternoon, switching on the fan in my study.

And of course it's worse further north and east of here; and worse again if you are old; or sick; or fighting a fire; or losing your power.

It also feels apocalyptic because of all the warnings that this is increasingly what our climate will look like (I just looked out the window and the sky has suddenly gone a dirty white: is that smoke? dust? topsoil?).

So it's surreal, but slightly calming, too, to be reading about Bacelli, the mistress of the Duke of Dorset who was reputed to have worn his Garter across her forehead while dancing in Paris...

Friday, February 06, 2009

Discipline and Silk Stockings (but not what you might think)

This is the first week of my six month sabbatical. That sabbatical will be followed by long service leave and annual leave, taking me up to Christmas this year. Some of that time will be spent on holidays and taking a break, but much of it will be spent working, of course. Two books to finish; and a couple of other projects clamouring for attention, too.

This week I've taken delivery of a new sofa for my study at home; re-arranged the furniture to make room for the sofa; and nearly got to the bottom of the piles of papers and files, sorting and putting them away: a job at which I am truly dreadful.

There are lots of little things to do still, like booking my ticket to the US, and writing a new subject to teach in 2010. But I'm now ready to start going through all my files on the Garter project, and making sure anything that needs to go in goes in in the right place in the right chapter. I want to get this done in the five weeks before I leave for Philadelphia, so I don't have to take the files with me, and so I can just concentrate on starting to write the last chapter and revise the whole ms. while I'm away.

It's sometimes hard, doing it this way, not least because this material is so fantastic, that everything clamours to go in. But I've learnt from past experience how easy it is to clog up a book with detail that isn't strictly necessary. Often, in the kind of long-range projects I like to grapple with, such detail is wonderfully new to me, but quite familiar to historians of the sixteenth or eighteenth century, for example.

But that's why I'm glad I have this blog! So, for example, there is no room in my chapter on fashion, but there is room on the blog, for the information, from Stow, that in 1560 Mistress Mountague gave Queen Elizabeth a pair of black knit silk stockings, which she had made herself. The Queen liked them so much, their 'pleasant, fine, and delicate' appearance, that she never wore cloth hose again.

On the other hand, the import of the fashion for knitted silk hose from Spain does go into the chapter because Henry VIII really liked them too; and they would have made the Garter look fantastic. So all those portraits of long white legs and garters are probably indebted in part to this fashion and the use of silk instead of wool for knitted stockings. All part of the popularity of the Garter in its belegged form in the early sixteenth century, because you'd be much more likely to show off your leg in its new silk than its old woven cloth hose (cut on the cross and with a seam up the back).

Later on in this article, by Joan Thirsk, "'The Fantastical Folly of Fashion': The English Stocking Knitting Industry, 1500-1700," in Textile History and Economic History: Essays in Honour of Miss Julia de Lacy Mann, edited by N. B. Harte and K. G. Ponting (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1973), there's another fantastic reference to a debate from textile history.

William Lee, a curate of Sherwood, had invented a frame to make knitting easier, and applied to the Queen for a royal patent to knit wool stockings on it. She refused, and the story persisted in oral memory till it was written down in 1831 that this was a merciful resistance to technology that would have impoverished her poor subjects. But Elizabeth had urged Lee, instead, to perfect a method of knitting silk stockings that the wealthy would have purchased.

This is the kind of textual and historical knot (get it?) I just love untangling. But just because I love it doesn't mean it can be fitted into the book.

Discipline, Stephanie! Discipline!

Pepys' Diary

Thanks to Hannah at mony wylsum way, I've found a wonderful website based on The Diary of Samuel Pepys. It's updated daily to correspond to what Pepys was doing on that day — they are now up to 1665/66. I haven't explored the site comprehensively, but its annotations and resources look excellent.

What a clever idea! I know there are a thousand differences between an online blog and a diary, but there is something about the daily updating of this old diary that captures the immediacy, and what I will call the provisionality, of a blog. Provisionality? the sense that the blog is never the last word on anything. This is what makes it such an attractive medium for academics, perhaps. And do we think Pepys might have had a sense of a reading public? Or anticipated future publication?

Anyway, I'm going to be checking it daily, I can tell. I'm going to see if the experience of readingthis diary is at all similar to the experience of reading other familiar blogs.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Monday Melbourne Medievalism Blogging (5) Postera Crescam Laude

Well, yes, again, it's Tuesday. But better late than never.

I'm thinking of writing something this year on the various coats of arms of Australian universities, as a kind of medievalism through form and structure, if not imagery as such. Heraldry is alive and well in the life of institutions; and students and staff at Melbourne and other such places work daily under its signs and symbols but it's not often considered as a version of medievalism. There are some great examples of Australian universities using heraldry to signal their allegiances or affiliations. Sydney, for example, combines the arms of Oxford and Cambridge in its coat of arms, while Macquarie University cites Chaucer's clerk in its motto: "and gladly teche".

The University of Melbourne's coat of arms is a blue field with a figure of Victory (presumably for Victoria, the state; and Victoria the queen [the university started teaching in 1854], surrounded by the four stars of the Southern Cross, with the motto postera crescam laude. This used to be translated as "later I shall grow by praise", but in recent years the standard translation has become "We shall grow in the esteem of future generations."

I used to know a bit about how to blazon, but this one defeated me. However, I found it in A.C. Fox-Davies' A Complete Guide to Heraldry, and it's fantastically elaborate, given that the shield shape is not divided or quartered:
Azure, a figure intended to represent Victory, robed and attired proper, the dexter hand extended holding a wreath of laurel or, between four stars of eight points, two in pale and two in fess argent
The azure is of course the blue background or field; the or and argent name the gold and silver of heraldic colours. In pale and in fess refer to the vertical and horizontal axes across the shield where the stars of the Southern Cross appear.

Here are two images: the first, a sculpture on the east side of the Union building (note the gothic arch made of cream brick):

Second, a rather lurid painting in the Council Chamber (click to enlarge):

The previous vice-chancellor's growth strategy was called "Earning Esteem", and when the new VC appeared at Melbourne, he gave a lovely disquisition to Academic Board in this very chamber on the Horatian ode from which the motto comes, and eventually launched the current strategy, "Growing Esteem", from which the very controversial "Melbourne model" emerged.

I'm actually in favour of the intellectual and academic program of the model (broader undergraduate degrees; deferring specialisation into law and medicine, for example, into graduate programs), though the process of change and reform has been immensely difficult.

Recently, I had occasion (ahem) to give my card to Somerset Herald, who was in Australia on a lecture tour; and then in the second lecture he gave, he held up my card and observed that the University had now altered its shield substantially, by repositioning the stars to the left side of the shield, and actually adding a fifth star, for a more naturalist image of the Southern Cross. Of course, as he said, the University can do what it likes, but this new shield, shown below, is not the coat of arms as it was granted to the University by the College of Arms, and as it is registered there.

Such radical change (to curriculum, as well as coat of arms) naturally needs an advertising campaign. There have been a series of expensive television and media advertisements. Here's a link to a news item produced by the university, which features a tiny grab from the "dreamlarge" campaign. "Dreamlarge", as an advertising logo, has displaced the coat of arms, to some degree, while the university also wants to hold on to its traditional appeal.

You'll see in this video an awful banner, saying "The Evolution Starts Here", which for two years I could see out my office windows (just above the right ear of the man speaking). It's now been replaced, I'm glad to say, with the much less problematic "Welcome"; but this very insistent signage is everywhere.

It's easy to tell the difference between a coat of arms, a Latin motto, and an advertising slogan. But when a (medievalist) coat of arms is modernised, at what point does it become a logo?