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, November 04, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: On the Street Where You Live

Poor old bluestone project has had to take a back seat for a bit, while I taught this semester, and wrote and delivered papers on other projects.

Today I walked home through Carlton, keeping an eye out for initials carved in the long bluestone edges to the pavement. We had walked this area a few weeks ago, but I wasn't feeling so well that day and had no energy to stop and take photos. Today I was already laden with a heavy backpack, and also stopped to buy bread and apples on the way, but I was determined to photograph these initials. I walked along Canning St in Carlton, and all along, from around Princes St and all the way up to Richardson, where I headed east across to St Georges Rd, there are many many carved initials and arrows. There is one, I realise, about fifty metres from my front door.

The arrows are signs of convict work; and the stones themselves were probably dug out of the bluestone quarry under what is now the park in Rathdowne St near the Kent Hotel, and the stones were probably dug by the prisoners in the "Collingwood Stockade" where the Lee St primary school currently sits.

The most common initial is a big square letter T. It's amazing to me that after a while I began to be able to distinguish T's signature cutting from other Ts made less securely and less squarely. Was T a prisoner boss who had his minions working on his team and cutting his letter? There were a few Vs. And a few E.s, perhaps. Some of the stones have both a big T and the arrow.

These long rectangular stones are expertly cut, for the most part. They are much flatter than the smaller and rounded cobblestones that fill up the gutters or the lanes: these are firm edges to the street. I had to step carefully, sometimes, between folks sipping coffee in little cafes, or parked cars, or the bikes whizzing home along the long north-south stretch of Canning St.

After twenty or so minutes, I was feeling a bit dizzy from walking along looking down, but was getting a bit mesmerised by the contrast between the straight lines of arrows, Ts and Vs, and the long lines of air bubbles in the stones, the wear and tear of the occasional smashed edge, the cuts and patches where driveways have been cut in to the path, the metal rings to hold shades and chains on shopfronts, and the leaves and dust and stones scattered across the street. Towards the end of my walk it began to rain, so the last few images are also speckled with rain.  (There may be a way to process my images a bit better than this video: but for now I just wanted to capture the sense of how many initials there are.)

So, about 150 years ago, a man with the initial T had to cut long rectangular pieces of bluestone into sharp-edged flat planes. But he took the extra time to make two more neat cuts on lots of his blocks. I wonder if anyone knows anything about T. He is all over Carlton and Fitzroy, it seems. Keep an eye out for him, you locals, and let me know if you see him, or V, or anyone, anywhere else. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: The Mighty Apollo

My sister sent me this link to a film of Paul Anderson, "The Young Apollo". One of his great feats here is to be holding large chunks of bluestone while another man breaks them with an axe. You can see him flinch and hold his arm that has sustained the blow, but then power on to the next thing: pulling cars with his teeth. But it is a very Melbourne trick.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: What Can This Mean?

Walking through Carlton, and Argyle Square. What can it mean? The "foundation" corner stone is lovely bluestone, laid by then Lord Mayor John So, but the rest of the squares are rather nondescript concrete/granite. Did they run out of money? Or did they think commemorative stones should be bluestone?

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: murder by bluestone

I'm blasting through the first draft of this first chapter. I've set myself a target of 2000 words per week while I get it started, but have a bunch of other activities lined up for the weekend, as well as a meeting at work at 9.00 tomorrow on my one day I'm often able to work at home and get more writing done. So this evening I have put 1000 words into the file, though some are longish quotes that I'm sure will have to be culled.

I need to get the right mix of overviews about the prison system with the affective emotional discourse that is my chief concern. It's easy to find gothic descriptive language to describe Pentridge architecture, for example. But harder to make sense of dark ironic facts, such as the murder at Williamstown of John Price, the Inspector-General of Prisons, formerly governor at Norfolk Island, and enjoying a grim reputation for cruelty. He had gone to Williamstown to discipline some prisoners on the point of riot, but made the mistake of turning his back on them. He was pelted first with clods of earth, and then with the stones the prisoners were breaking up: bluestones of course...  One of them hit him in the back, and he was taken away unconscious and died the next day of his injuries.

Bluestone is often described as soft in our laneways; but its sharp heavy edges would be brutal.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: My Friends' House

The weekend before I was supposed to go to Sydney to give my TEDx talk, I spent the afternoon at my friends' house two suburbs away. I remember feeling a bit queasy, and the next day I ended up in hospital with a fever and badly dehydrated.

Because of all that drama I had forgotten about these photos I took of the approach to their house. They bought it as a little cottage on a very long and skinny block, and turned it around, so the house facing the street became the studio, and the sheds at the back, looking on the bluestone lane, became the living quarters. So to enter the house you go down a long laneway that is rather elegantly framed with these cyprus trees marking the point where two laneways converge.

As I have noted elsewhere, the laneways sometimes get dug up and replaced, and are quite expensive to maintain. 

Here is the classic view, familiar from so many kilometres of back laneways in our suburbs. It lookas as if there has been a bit of a landgrab on the right, here, making for an unusually asymmetric laneway.

 And here is my friends' front door. When they built, some careful work had to be done to meet council expectations for the bluestones at the front, though the resulting pattern with the slope upward is quite unusual.

On this occasion, I had gone to watch a DVD of Simeon Ten Holt's Canto Ostinato: here you may view it on youtube: settle in...

Monday, September 07, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: The Collingwood Stockade and writing.

I've just come from giving a short talk to PhD students approaching the confirmation hurdle after about 9 months candidature. I spoke about how important social media was to my writing life. For all that, I am taking a break from Facebook for a month while I establish a writing pattern for this book. I'm setting myself an ambitious target of about 2000 words a week this month. So far so good, though I reached the target last week by writing 1000 words on Saturday; many of which, I will admit, were transcriptions from texts I'll use, but probably cut down later. 

I also mentioned this book: How We Write  — http://punctumbooks.com/tag/writing/ — which is not yet out, but which draws on the inspiring posts at In the Medieval Middle. "How Do We Write: Academic Dysfunctional Writings," by Suzanne Conklin Akbari and Alex Gillespie. http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2015/05/how-do-we-write-dysfunctional-academic.html  The basic message here is: there is no single way to write, but let's embrace the way we do.

For me, this blog is part of that process; it's also a way of testing out, as I do with family and friends, the emotional and affective resonances of the things I am finding out about bluestone. 

On Saturday I was reading about the Collingwood Stockade, in what we now call Carlton, on the site of what became the Lee St Primary School in 1873. As this article by Peter Barrett explains, the prisoners quarried bluestone on the site that is now Curtain Square. There are only a few traces of the bluestone that remains: the footings of the school, and a stone table from the former Governor's house fixed to the wall of the school. I will go and check this out. 

Several decades ago, excavations discovered the traces of ten bluestone solitary confinement cells, completed in mid 1859. They were built underground, so there was no light. A former warder described the experience as like being 'buried alive'. It would have cold and dark in these solitary cells, even in summer: very different to the cheerfully lit bluestone wine cellars with which I am more familiar.

I am thinking of subtitling this chapter "the penitentiary affect" as I am looking at the discourse around the establishment and perpetual reform of the prison system, especially in the second half of the nineteenth century. These cells are the scariest thing I have come across so far.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: breaking out with Winifred Johnson

I'm slowly finding my feet and my way into the writing of this book. My fabulous research assistants Helen and Anne have located a terrific mass of materials, and the evidence is often irresistible: the voices of the past are crowding in thick and fast.

At the moment I'm working through a report to the Legislative Assembly and a series of interviews dating from 1857. There are two accounts of a woman breaking out, and I am guessing it is the same woman.

The first report comes from Claud Farie, the sheriff in charge of the Melbourne gaol: 
There is one most unruly woman there now [i.e. the Eastern Hill gaol]: I cannot keep her in the western gaol from which she broke away; I have had her in the main gaol ever since she got her last sentence. She tried to break through the cell into one of the other prisoner’s cells, by means of a spoon; she got out the whole of the lime and mortar round one of the large stones; she took an immense stone out of one side of the cell…. Last Sunday afternoon her language during Divine service was most horrible; the clergyman was obliged to stop; and without gagging her, it is almost impossible to keep her quiet.

The second longer interview is with John Price, a settler who became Inspector of Penal Establishments, after working at Norfolk Island and Van Dieman's land. He was eventually murdered  [more to come later on him, I hope].

It is not long ago that Winifred Johnson broke out of the female gaol. At the time they were putting up a portion of that building I said any woman who know how to go about it will break out of it. [ ... ] That woman was removed up to the western gaol, which I look upon as a strong building, and she made a hole there the size of this fire-place, through those heavy stone walls.
I'm presuming this is the same woman. Winifred Johnson was unruly in every sense; breaking out of the prison both physically and verbally.

I have come across several stories about prisoners removing a single large bluestone block, which would have given enough space for a person to climb through. I like the comparison with the fire-place, though it's not all that helpful in this context: how big was the fireplace?

There is a great deal of discussion about the quality of workmanship; Price also describes some walls for another building that looked great till the roof was put on, and the walls collapsed.

So bluestone looks strong and hard, but there are human skills involved in assembling walls, and also in disassembling them, with a humble spoon.

Monday, August 24, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Interdisciplinary Anxiety

I was very happy to start writing my book last Thursday. I have drafted the first thousand words of a chapter which will mostly be about prisons. I have lots of ideas and lots of materials. So far so good.

And then I had a momentary anxiety as I was thinking about structuring the next section/paragraph. It was an anxiety that took me back to my work on the Order of the Garter, when I would sometimes ask myself, "where's the text?" Trained as a literary critic, I am always most comfortable when I have a text to organise myself around. But as with the previous book, I am happy to think about the emotive language used about these bluestone buildings and natural formations; and indeed, that is the main concern of this book. I'm also getting better at reading images, and applying my discursive analytic skills to texts (journalism, reports, histories) that aren't obviously "literary." So I'm pretty confident of my general approach in this book.

But I recall one particularly aggressive review of the Garter book that chastised me for calling that book "a vulgar history". The gist of this review was that non-historians like me should stop using that word "history" so loosely (and also stop writing studies that weren't proper historical ones).

Undaunted, I am thinking of a comparable subtitle for this bluestone book. Bluestone: An Affective History is my working title. So I will be treading into same disciplinary hot water. Similarly, although I have some training in historical method, I won't be writing a "straight" history in the sense of a sequential, comprehensive narrative.

I've also just been reading readers' reports on an essay going into a book collection where most of the other authors are historians. Apparently my essay sticks out a bit because it is based on a single text. Nor does my essay deal with broader social movements like the others do. (That's because it's based on a single text.)

So here are my questions.

  • How does interdisciplinarity really work in practice between Literature and History? There are some brilliant examples in medieval literary, cultural and historical studies, but what about in other, later fields?
  • Do we police our respective territories with equal vigilance?
  • Should we be trying harder to respect each other's starting-points and assumptions? 
  • Should I use "history" in my subtitle?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: a question

Something that has been on my mind a little as I think about bluestone. Is it soft or hard? It's often described as forbidding, gothic, dark and awe-inducing, but I've also read a few things about its attractiveness as a walking and tactile surface because it is soft. Think of all those rounded edges in all those laneways, and our (Melbourney) familiarity with its rippled edges on the foundations of so many buildings, or on the edges of our kerbs as we cross the road.

It's a stone that's hard to carve -- though I need to find out more about this from a sculptor. But what do we mean when we say a stone is soft?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Kickstarting this project

So my plan of blogging daily about bluestone kind of slipped away as the year reached an intense peak around May, June and July. Two trips to the UK; many new papers to write on non-bluestone projects; quite a few conferences and events to either convene or attend. And now I am teaching two subjects this semester. Not a *huge* load, but a few lectures in other subjects in the first few weeks.

But I had a very productive hour or so with the fabulous Anne and Helen, the research assistants on this project, as I started to think about what the next stages of research would be. And even more excitingly, to think about how I am going to shape the book. All a bit provisional so far, but I've just come on here to say the bluestone book is alive and well. I'm going to start drafting my first sample chapter on the weekend!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: brief ROOBAIX bookmark

So, I have just two more utterly new conference papers to finish and deliver in the next two weeks. One is on representations of burning cities in medieval poetry; the second on the discourse of hte speaking face in Sidney's poetry. Then when I come home, I will be settling into a routine of teaching and writing the bluestone book, with only one other paper, on the Magna Carta, to write for a conference in October. And a couple of new lectures. But still.

Partly because I am finishing other projects, and partly because I can feel the "girls in the back room" of my brain starting to move things around in the kitchen as they prepare to cook that project, I find I'm not doing much conscious thinking about bluestone at the moment. Though I am also starting to plan a few weekend trips north west and south of here over the next few months.

In the meantime, a quick note about the Melbourne ROOBAIX, which was held last week. A kind of cycling non-competitive scavenger hunt around lanes and streets and parks of Melbourne. It takes its origins from a similar event in Paris, but instead of jumping around on cobbled stones, our Roos set off down bluestone laneways. Check out this website for information:

But mostly, check out this great video of bikes and bluestone lanes, and bikes along the Merri Creek paths and bridges I ride. This was the 2014 roobaix.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Guest Post

I'm delighted to give the floor to Geoff Winkler, who's building a bluestone house in southern Victoria. He has direct experience with the various properties of stone at first hand... This is a very different kind of knowledge/obsession: very practical and intimate knowledge. Click through to the photos of his house.

Thanks to Geoff, and best wishes for his building project.


Most Melbournians’ perception of bluestone has been gleaned from seeing it in its most common use as paving and building stone. Rock for this purpose was usually quarried from one of the many deep deposits over the western and northern parts of the greater metropolitan area.

In the thicker beds, where the lava flows cooled very slowly and uniformly, the contained gasses rose to the surface. This led to the texture of the basalt becoming very even and fine grained. Generally, this is regarded as the best quality stuff for the building industry, however, the range of variations in bluestone is actually quite diverse.

I have always had a great fondness of bluestone myself, so much so that in 1994 I embarked on the biggest undertaking of my life, building my own stone house at Bellbrae, in southern Victoria. I greatly underestimated the logistics involved and subsequently also set about building a saw to assist with the project. I have sourced the raw stone from many nearby localities and from as far afield as Stoneyford, near Camperdown.

When I’m sawing the raw stone into usable blocks, many different textures and features are brought to prominence. Some of these examples I share with you here. The muddy water produced in the process is also quite interesting and varies quite considerably. The spectrum runs from a “clean” deep blue/grey colour from the Warrion Hill stone, through rusty reds from high iron content stone sourced from Lovely Banks, to “dirty” browns from Mount Duneed and Winchelsea. By “clean”, I mean that the sediments tend settle very quickly, whereas with the “dirty” the water stays cloudy and mucky for quite a considerable time.

Pic 1 
A Common feature in the finer grained bluestone is “Veining”. This is where bands of gas bubbles, or “Vesicles”, have become entrapped as successive layers of lava have been overlain.

Pic 2 
Also quite common is what’s commonly known as “cat’s paw”. It can occur in a similar fashion to veining, where rounded groups of vesicles are entrapped, or when fragments of already solidified lava are melded into the mass, as in this case.

Pic 3
When the lava cools more rapidly, generally in the thinner and more erratic flows, or nearer to the surfaces on the thicker deposits, the entrapped gasses are unable to escape and remain in situ. In this state, the basalt is termed “Vesicular”, or as it’s known to more common people like myself, “Honeycombed”. This is the most abundant form of readily accessible bluestone in Victoria and is found right across the Western district and at least as far north as Bridgewater (on Loddon). The composition and textures vary quite considerably though. Despite it being not generally highly regarded, historically in the building industry, its appeal grew on me and I now much prefer it for a rock faced surface finish. I feel it has a much more “natural” look about it. This sample, from near Beeac and typical of the flows from Warrion hill, has a very even texture and little in the way of “impurities” and “fracturing”. This stone was used in a number of local buildings there and its only downfall, in the one case that I’m aware of, resulted from inadequate footings.

Pic 4
From a little further west at Mt Pollock, near Gnarwarre, this piece has small amounts of other minerals crystallizing inside the vesicles and forming small nodules. These commonly include quartz, calcite (calcium carbonate) or other minerals called zeolites. It is a similar phenomenon to that which occurs in the formation of “Geodes” found in sedimentary rock, where the crystallisation tends to occur evenly all around the void. In all the examples from within basalt that I have seen however, it tends to form from the bottom. This makes it easy to determine the original orientation of any basalt containing it.

Pic 5
This “Vein”, contained in a piece from a small outcrop near Winchelsea, was exposed when splitting the rock along the same plane. Most of the vesicles were nearly filled entirely with Quartz. When this occurs and the rock assumes a more solid mass, it is referred to as being ‘Amygdaloidal’.

Pic 6
Mt Porndon near Stoneyford produced this interesting example, the nicest I have yet come across. Where a wide, but shallow, fully enclosed “Vug” (void), was formed within the flow, the crystallizing Quartz formed within it has the appearance of a coral garden.

Pic 7
Other rocks can also found in Basalt as inclusions, these are formally termed “Xenolith(s)”. This is where pre-existing fragments have been incorporated into the molten lava. This sample contains, what appears to be, a lump of quartz.

Pic 8
The correct term used to describe the small white flecks in this sample, from the earlier flows surrounding Mount Porndon, is that it contains “plagioclase phenocrysts”. It sounds a bit brain numbing, but the word “plagioclase” refers to a form of ‘feldspar’, which is part of a group of minerals that make up as much as 60% of the Earth's crust. “Phenocryst” refers to their conspicuous crystal size, being distinctly larger than the grains of the host rock.

pic 9
Basalt found on the flanks of Mount Duneed, south of Geelong is about the crankiest stone I have worked with. It is a paler grey colour and the vesicles, generally flattened, show no consistent orientation. They swirl in all directions and vary considerably in size up to some quite large voids. Foreign inclusions (Xenoliths) are many, the stone is more brittle and stress fracturing is common.

I didn’t set out to be too technical with the terms used when writing this, but as the subject is investigated further, I am finding it increasingly difficult not to do so. An almost unlimited number of variations exist that I have not seen myself as yet. One that I would particularly like to witness is the relatively large Olivine inclusions, apparently quite common in the lava flows from Mt. Shadwell, in the Mortlake area. I intend to continue documenting my observations and will hopefully be able to provide further updates.

Monday, June 15, 2015

My Year with Bluestone -- Almost

Well after a month's hiatus, this blog has lost all claim to a respectably or reliably regular daily event. Such interruptions are the nature of scholarly work. I have not been idle over the last month, but working on a bunch of other projects:

  • finished a short essay on emotion and affect for a collection on early modern studies
  • finished revisions to an essay on "temporalities" for a Cambridge companion to Medievalism
  • run a three-day conference on Reading the Face
  • finished and given a paper at that conference
  • gave a short but high pressure talk on Thomas Hoccleve at the TEDx festival in Sydney (yes, at the Opera House to a mere 2300 people, livestreamed to 150 sites: official video available soon)
  • gave the previous talk a mere two days after being hospitalised with a fever and dehydration after picking up a gastric bug my doctor thought might have been appendicitis
  • had my first colonoscopy (all clear!!) as a result of previous episode
  • gave a public lecture on Virginia Woolf
  • sprained my ankle
  • wrote a million emails
  • plus a number of other small things (writing references, managing changing staffing plans at work, planning for heaps of visitors to our centre -- talks, dinners, events)
  • plus all the domestic stuff
  • plus trying to get a writing and reading plan for the rest of the year.
Upcoming events are a paper on the representation of fire in Middle English Literature and then one on the face and emotion in Philip Sidney's poetry. Both these are due in July; and both are completely new. I have an unaccountable desire to work on the first by re-reading The Aeneid.

And then, just as teaching is about to start, I'll be settling down to start drafting the bluestone book.

I still haven't got much further than my own suburbs. Here's a symbolic photo: bluestone on the edges of the building, much as it's been on the edge of my working radar over the last month. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Smoothing Things Out

In which ten thousand bluestone pitchers in Melbourne's city laneways are being dug up, smoothed out, and re-laid so that people don't trip up on them. 

I can see that the re-laid paths are smoother, but it's easy to think sentimentally about the rough and cobbled original laneways. In contrast, the new lanes look rather bland to me. Also, I never wear tall pointy heels so walking isn't really a problem for me....

Friday, May 15, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Friday House Blogging (10) and a Dirty Story

No pictures today: for some reason my phone isn't working, but a sad tale of mud.

They are replacing the gas pipes in our street and I came out today to find most of the strip of garden between pavement and gutter all dug up and piled on the pavement and front driveway. I'd call it a "nature strip" but it's a bit narrow and isn't planted with grass, but little shrubs we have put in and mulched around, including a mini lillypilly and a lovely white hardenbergia.

There was a woman wearing rather a lot of make-up and an orange fluro vest guarding the path (there is lots of pedestrian traffic, as we are on a main road near two schools) and a man waist deep in black mud,  with a pile of ragged pieces of bluestone that had already been dug up.

I was dashing to the dentist but had to seize the bluestone moment, and asked him what it was like digging into the sticky black mud/clay around the bluestones. He looked a bit nonplussed and then started slowly shaking his heads, without words. Very eloquent!

I said I was interested in them and he offered to leave them for us, rather than carting them away. Win-win!

So when I came home, all the plants had been put back in, though in a different order along the strip, so they look weird; all the mud had been carefully scraped off the pavement; and there is a neat little pile of uneven bluestones with heavy scrapes along the side of each piece, that we can use for landscaping around the garden.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Mortality Following Me Around

As I parked my bike outside the oncologist's today (routine check: eight and a half years out: all good), I noticed the fabulous high bluestone wall opposite. This is swanky and beautiful East Melbourne and I have a vague recollection of going to dinner in a big house there once years ago when a friend of a friend was staying in what I *think* was a bishop's residence???  Too vague, sorry. I was determined to photograph the wall when I came out this morning but hadn't reckoned on the always-slightly-discombobulating experience of re-entering the cancer world....

I remembered about the wall only when I came to another bluestone site: St Peter's Eastern Hill Anglican church. It's quite old, dating from the mid 1840s, so pre-gold rush.

You can see the spire of St Patrick's behind the church here.

It's hard to get a good photo of the church, which is positioned awkwardly on the corner block, and which has another section added on anyway.

I specially like this photo of the red door.

And I am coming to love the various textures chipped into stone: 

But of course, you know, mortality follows us around like anything. I had sped away from the garden wall opposite my oncologist's, only to pause by a church where I attended a funeral of a dear friend, Chasely, who died of cancer nearly twenty years ago. Chasely attended our wedding, and Joel was a wee babe in arms when she died, on New Year's Day or New Year's Eve. I'm thinking of her, and Greg and Emily today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Water Levels

It's becoming a familiar feature of this project that I'm now seeing familiar things differently: like observing the way bluestones are laid in streets and buildings. Today's post is about my beloved Merri Creek, the tributary of the Yarra River that practically runs past my front door. There are a number of bluestone features along this Creek, and in the first days of this blog in January, I wrote about the river downstream from my house.

Today we're going upstream, towards another bluestone quarry. Along the way there's a dear little arched bridge that crosses the creek and takes you into a rather liminal zone. You're not really very far from houses, a playground, a high school, and yet there is a little wetlands reserve where you can go and hear frogs. You can walk along an unpaved track that is muddy in winter and baked hard in summer. There are little hidden tracks between the creek and the paths. So, frankly, you can hide there. A wonderful and small suburban secret.

But to the bridge. It's slippery when wet so wire has been nailed across it... The water levels in the Creek rise and fall a lot, because the storm water from the streets runs directly into the stream.

Some days the water level is very high, and the creek floods and becomes impassable at certain points. Other days the water levels are low and you can see these courses of bluestones running along at various points -- presumably these were made when the creek was being used as a bluestone quarry.

So these are secret bluestones, I think: observable only when the water is low, and when you are thinking about bluestone and seeing it everywhere.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Second Wesleyan Methodist Chapel

We regularly drive past this chapel on the way to the airport or the Coburg aquarium. Today I drove past again and on the day I notice its distinctive disposition of stones I don't have my trusty phone with me.

This is the Second Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on the corner of Bell St and Sydney Rd, just a block or so south of Pentridge Prison. Designed by Thomas Crouch (who with Ralph Wilson designed up to 40 Wesleyan churches in Victoria, Tasmania and New Zealand [according to Goad and Willis' Encyclopedia of Australian Architecture]) and built in 1849, it is "one of the earliest extant bluestone buildings in Victoria."

What struck me for the first time today was the very usual pattern of the bluestone. Instead of square or rectangular blocks laid in horizontal rows, this features what I think of as the Easter egg pattern or what the "on my doorstep" heritage site describes as "unusual random rubble stonework" and what the Heritage Council Victorian government site describes more formally as "a rare example of uncoursed irregular bluestone construction" or "rare randomly laid bluestone". The mortar has been "repointed in a grey-blue colour" which makes the pattern hard to see on this photograph: the first of the conservation guidelines on this site suggests removing this paint from the rendered dressings.

If this coloured mortar were removed, I wonder if this unusual random patterning would be more or less evident?

I see on some websites it is listed as a Fijian chapel now. 

I will have to get up there again with my phone to take a more detailed photo, but it's interesting that this very old church has the more "randomly laid" pattern. I would have thought this would be technically quite demanding to build. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Teeny Tiny House

The smallest possible house, sitting on bluestone foundations, and with paved bluestone back yard. You are going to transform this teeny tiny house in Carlton and make it liveable and modern, but you can't do it without essential, foundational bluestone.

http://news.domain.com.au/domain/real-estate-news/making-a-tiny-carlton-house-habitable-20150501-13hy1p.html?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=socialThe 4.2 metre wide facade had to stay.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: St Patrick's Cathedral

I expect I will come back to re-visit St Patrick's Cathedral later in the year, but for now: a kind of place-holder, for what its website says "is regarded internationally as the finest ecclesiastical building in Australia and a pre-eminent example of the Gothic Revival style. The austere facade gives little hint of the glorious interior with its ethereal golden light of mesmerising beauty."

By contrast, the Lonely Planet guide says "The imposing bluestone exterior and grounds are but a preview of its contents: inside are several tonnes of bells, an organ with 4500 pipes, ornate stained-glass windows and the remains of former archbishops."

I think it's fascinating that William Wardell's design both does and does not prefigure the interior...

For now, let's just mark the adjectives "austere" and "imposing" for a bluestone wordcloud.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Random Stones in a tricky week

I'm still struggling a bit getting my post-trip routines going. In fact, to strike a more personal note, I'm struggling with a number of anxieties at the moment. Hey ho. That's the nature of work and life, and you mostly just have to press on... Worse things happen at sea, etc. etc.

Yesterday I recorded a video interview about this bluestone project for our Centre. I'll notify when it's posted. I didn't think I would have anything to say, and we nearly canceled (still not sleeping particularly well after returning from London last weekend) but found I was able to rabbit on at some length about it. It reminded me of how good it felt when I was blogging daily and could feel the project gathering momentum. It's just that I seem to have rather too many projects on the point of gathering momentum at the moment, so it's easy to feel overwhelmed by everything.

One of the things that is preoccupying me at the moment is the TEDx talk I'm giving in Sydney in a few weeks time, on another topic altogether. I have to strike just the right note and then memorise the talk: quite alien to the way I would normally prepare.

So here's just a snap of a very uneven bluestone laneway. You can see why councils sometimes want to smooth over these laneways with concrete. I am allegorising this photograph to speak for my life at the moment: taking the rough with the smooth...

Monday, May 04, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Returning home

After two weeks in the UK, and then a week back in Melbourne, battling jetlag and a few other trials, I return to the blog, wondering how I ever managed to blog daily about bluestone for so long, and wondering if I'll be able to pick it up again.

I gave a paper (actually, it had a formal title: "The Brook Lecture in Middle English") from some of my work on a completely different project, on emotions and the face. I did some work in the British Library that helped me refine and re-write an abstract for an essay from another unrelated project, and received a note from an editor of a book in which I have another essay on another topic about some revisions I have to do.

I have also had to think about my teaching plans for second semester and next year.

But if I don't keep this blog going the bluestone project will slip away, so I am determined to keep going if I can. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Friday House Blogging (9)

Another short post today (I'm leaving tomorrow; have not finished paper, etc. etc.). A year ago my parents moved to Melbourne. It's taken them a good year to feel settled, I think. But we've just had the delight of being able to walk up to visit them for afternoon tea towards the end of a working-at-home day. My mother had made a cake; we chatted; and then came back to our desks. I'm so glad they live so close now.

Moving was tough, because of leaving good friends behind (about an 80 minute drive away), and because it meant downsizing. But they have done very well. My dad enclosed one end of the garage, too, so he has a study that looks out onto the little landscaped garden; and my mum has her sewing room as before.

In the garden there has been a massive job of landscaping, bringing up huge bluestone boulders from the Merri Creek (we are so close that one day I ran into my father on the creek path: that was a good day!).

Here are the enormous boulders, and the ubiquitous spider plants. The garden is easy to care for (that's another reason why they moved). But I mostly like this garden because the bluestone links our houses, at two points along the Merri Creek.

I'm not sure I'll blog while I'm away. But will definitely be back in two weeks time. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Gothic, not Bluestone Ormond

I was chatting about my bluestone project last night with a friend visiting from Adelaide. "Ormond College is bluestone, isn't it?" she said.

Alas, no, Ormond College (shown here in a rather lovely, but rather old photograph) is a sandstone building. It was designed by Joseph Reed, and built between 1878 and 1881.

So why did she think it was bluestone? We thought it was something about the gothic associations of its style, but I think it might also have something to do with the unhappy associations of this College with a nasty sexual harassment case that was current at one point during her sojourn in Melbourne (of about thirteen years). The affective associations of university architecture, residential colleges and institutional darkness are powerful indeed: no wonder they produced an image of dark bluestone.

Our discussion also made me realise that although bluestone features extensively around the campus — in fountains, ponds, foundations, walkways, etc. — there are no bluestone buildings here. And if not in Melbourne, then probably not in any Australian university (unless I have gone blank and am missing something here). The main stone for universities here mimics the honey-coloured buildings of Oxford and Cambridge. Even Melbourne's old Wilson Hall, destroyed by fire in 1879, and also designed by Joseph Reed, was a sandstone gothic building.

If bluestone is appropriate for houses of worship, why not for houses of learning?

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: A Little Accommodation

Again, a little post, as it's the week before travelling, and it's always hectic.  On my way to work, I sometimes ride on little informal mounds like these, put down by local residents or commuters to ease the way for a bike from pathway to street. Here are two of the humblest little piles of concrete slurry you could hope to see, easing the way for a car to traverse the bluestone kerb, which has itself been paved over right to the edge, as if someone were icing a cake, rather than allowing the bluestone to be seen as you walk along. But no one was going to disrupt this bluestone kerbing by making a proper driveway. Gorgeous!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Little Gulley

After a rather dry few weeks, it is bucketing down heavily in Melbourne this afternoon. I'm at home on the last day of our Easter break, trying to lock up a paper I'm giving next week, so some shorter bluestone posts over the next little while, I think, as I work on one of my other more medieval projects. I have several loads of washing drying in front of the heater; two cats making a cubby under the sheets; and am still digesting a rare toasty cheesy lunch. On a day like this, water will be rushing down all the bluestone laneways in the city and suburbs and especially down this unusually narrow and deep bluestone waterway between two houses, just down my street.  

I'm often amazed, after quickly snapping pictures like this on my phone, at the amazing patterns that cluster around bluestone. Vertical green corrugated iron: red bricks giving the depth of field here, the new wooden fence and the surprisingly tropical-looking disorder of that plant: is that a monstera deliciosa? (I grew them as a kid and a teenager: perhaps it's time to start with them again?)

Monday, April 06, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: The Real

Sometimes I flatter myself I can tell the difference between "real" bluestone, prised out of the earth, and the fake stuff used for public and private walls and walkways. Sometimes it's more difficult.

This time it's easy. This is a garage of a house not far from my home. The blocks here have the little margin you sometimes see on bluestone blocks...

... but if you were in any doubt about the originality of stone, a quick comparison with the "sandstone" (?) would make it clear: it's the uniformity of the pattern that confirms we are looking at some kind of concrete fabrication. Still, I respect the way the architect has gone for the bluestone at the back, overlooking the bluestone lane. Bluestone in its proper place, in the "service" area of the house!

Friday, April 03, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Friday House Day (8)

I started Friday House day blogging in the back corner of garden, in the chook shed, and have gradually been moving forward towards the front of the house (though I have sometimes skipped the Friday blog).

But today we go even further backwards, to the bluestone laneway behind the house. It's a gorgeous Melbourne autumn day, and it's very quiet, even close to our main road, because it's Good Friday.  I went round to the laneway to take photos of Joel for an upcoming gig in June (first outing of his new piano trio: a big milestone for a jazz pianist). Like countless other bluestone lanes, this one is used more as a thoroughfare between streets than for access to back gardens. It also has blocks of flats at either end, one with the obligatory "tenants ears only" sign.

So here's the musician in the family, blessedly choosing a bluestone laneway for his promo stills...

Thursday, April 02, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Research and Collaboration and Tom

On various fronts this week I've been thinking about research collaboration. It's one of my roles for my School this year, to think about how to strengthen and develop research groups, networks and partnerships, so I am starting to map the various forms of collaboration we are involved with, in our School, the Faculty, the University and elsewhere in Australia and internationally.

Our research centre for the history of emotions is all about collaboration (you can download our annual report for last year online here). No longer does the typical humanities scholar work in splendid isolation, though this perhaps still persists as a dream. "If only I could just stay at home and write", we sometimes say.

Today we had a meeting with half our centre and an interlocutor helping us think about possibilities for disseminating our work more broadly, and making connections beyond the usual humanities circles, and it was frankly inspiring to hear about everyone's work. Being part of this Centre keeps me very busy — it's not about having quiet writing time at all — but having this other context to work in and speak to produces a different kind of inspiration, or incentive to work.

And then yesterday I sat with Helen and we nutted out various possibilities for the paper I'm writing for Manchester. Having funded research assistance makes all the difference to my work for the Centre. It makes it possible to work across as many projects as I do. There is a white board in the room where Helen and Anne work with all my deadlines written up there: we regularly meet and update and cross things out as they're done and write up more things to do, and they go off and follow various leads for me. It is superb. But they are also collaborators, in that they are brilliant interlocutors for trying out ideas and following trails down rabbit holes, and reading drafts and telling me when things aren't holding together. Yesterday I sat with Helen  and we spent an hour or so following down some threads that took us from Chaucer to Boethius and Machaut to Petrarch, scrambling across Middle English, Old French, Latin and Old English; and together we made a little map of a tiny nugget of an idea that I will develop over the Easter weekend as I write my talk. So all praise for different forms of collaboration. Helen and Anne are also both doing huge amounts of background work for this bluestone project, which will make it possible to start writing this book in second semester, even though I will be teaching two subjects.

One of my other lovely collaborators is my friend Tom. We had some lovely dinners and outings in the course of our previous collaboration, and we are cooking up another project (and heard some good news about it today). But in the meantime, he boldly took up my invitation to investigate the Bluestone Cafe chain when he was last in New York.  He reports:
So we went to one of the outposts (not the flagship location in the Village—it’s way down at the end of Manhattan and we were in Midtown). There were no pics of Bluestone Lanes, but when I asked why it was called Bluestone Lane, the young woman at the register said she didn’t know (but then asked if I knew—I must have had a knowing smile. To be fair, it was her first day). But the Aussie barista said it was to celebrate all the great coffee that was available on the Bluestone Lanes in Melbourne. Flat White—verdict? Really quite good. There were some promo material. I’ll send it via post.
If you click on the second photo, you can see what an Australian-style café menu looks like in New York. The only thing you wouldn't get here in Melbourne is "hot brew"...  And do we use the word "smashed" for avocadoes if we're not talking about Australian breakfasts taking over the world?

 And here is Tom, suffering in the name of my research...