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!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Friday House Day (5). Stone, water, cancer

That's the first day since I began this project that I didn't blog on a weekday. Oh well. I broke my own rule. But you know what? That's ok.  I'm on the point of completing an essay on another project altogether — what happens to glass objects when they are re-formed by intense fire — and writing time seems immensely precious. I do have a deadline for that essay (oh: it's today!) and I am also keen to get started on the next one, which is about the way Middle English texts register changing facial expressions.

But still, here's my Friday (yesterday) post about the bluestone in my garden, and it's a reflection on work and health. The gardeners were very excited about the bluestone slabs they used here, because there are so few lines and whorls in them.

You can also see the grey of the clouds and one big plop of rain that just landed: it's a still, grey and oppressive morning here. Sometimes we get out and wash the bluestone: it's a little dusty and grimy today as it hasn't rained for a while and there has been lots of summer traffic in the garden.

The builders were also excited about the fall of water over the ledge. They said it's surprisingly hard to get a good fall. It doesn't look all that regular to me now, and it's trickling rather than pouring on the right side. It's quite possible there has been some movement in the ground or the stone.

I love the sound of the water; I love to feed the goldfish; and I love to see the different things that fall in the water at different times of the year: blossom, elm seeds, gingko leaves from the neighbours' tree, little springs of the lemon-scented gum. The first big dig in this garden took place around June 2006. Six months later I was just about finished my radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer. It was a hot summer, but it was always very restful to come and sit in this garden and by this water. I always think it's where I got better.

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. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Water and Gabions

No, I didn't know what a "gabion" was either, but I took these photos along the Merri Creek, and then needed to know what I was dealing with.

A gabion (Italian for cage) is filled with rocks or other substance, used as a retaining wall, often allowing water to flow through, and designed to be flexible as the land may move. This informative Landscaping Network site says the method is both very ancient (originally made from woven willow wattle, like a giant basket) and ecologically desirable as they can use recycled concrete or other material, like this jumble of mostly bluestone. Here are some lovely ones made with glass.

The website also stressed they don't need skilled labour, unlike dry stone walls or the more precisely constructed bluestone walls used in building. I need to go back to the Creek when it is raining to see water flowing through these gabions, but the same day I took these photos, there was just water flowing down this much more formal bluestone wall. You can hear the roar of traffic on Heidelberg Rd overhead but also the sweet sounds of birds singing after rain: my emotional history will try and capture the atmospherics of bluestone. In this case, it's the rattle of storm water and the delicate glint of water against the dark stone:


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Awesome Colleagues

One of the things I love about our research centre is/are my fabulous colleagues. Grace has an office next to mine and is excellent at sending along just the right reference or picture or voicing an idea, just at the right time.

As I hoped, too, this blog is starting to generate ideas and images from other people. Anne mentioned the project to her bookclub and there was general interest and agreement about the attachment Melbourne folk have to their bluestone. This is very inspiring: the thought that one's theory might actually touch the nerve it is attempt to describe and to which it is appealing.

(Actually, Catherine has just sent me a lovely picture of Queen Victoria's Garter necklace from an exhibition she saw at Kensington Palace: even though that project's well and truly over for me, it was still so lovely to see how one's research projects act like idea ear-worms into friends' lives...)

Anyhow, Grace sent me this photo of her neighbour taking delivery of a large chunk of bluestone. 

It comes from Port Fairy down in the south west of the state, where there was a lot of volcanic activity.

Apparently the man is going to cut it up to make pavers in his back garden. The irony is that if he dug down deep enough in his garden, he could probably dig up his own bluestone, though it wouldn't be all smooth and even like this (and ok, let's revisit this question this Friday when I talk about my own garden). It makes me wonder how it is cut: looks as if it sliced like butter or pastry from a big lump of very solid, and not very porous stone, because despite quick appearances sometimes, bluestone is not at all like slate. 

I wish him joy of his big stone!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Fashionable Atmospherics

I don't know if this stylistic choice is particularly motivated, but it was hard not to be struck by David Jones's new ad for their autumn/winter collections: two women stride purposely toward one another in various sets of clothes. Bluestone features pretty heavily in the background (at .07 Jessica Gomes appears in front of a building that looks like a bluestone, and at .44 the two women run in their floaty blues and greys across a similar bluestone background). At least it looks like bluestone to me.

One of the things that strikes me here is the scale of this building. It's obviously large, to have such deep foundations and footings, but at this point (thanks to Joel for suggesting the screen shot), there is a beautiful mixture of night time, dark hair, pale skin, dark stone, dark blue dress, fluidity and movement against monumentality, with the human scale and the size and movement of body echoed with the lovely bike with basket and leather saddle.

I went looking on line and also found a clip from their runway show: fake bluestone arches, like a prison (Melbourne gaol), and fake bluestone for the runway. No cobblestones here: high heels need a stable surface to prevent falling over.

I found a write-up that suggested the show was evocative of New York street style. Maybe. Maybe it's just the preoccupations of the researcher with their own research, but this sure looks like penal bluestone to me.

Monday, February 09, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: What does the Museum Say?

I've visited the Melbourne Museum a couple of times, but this year in a number of different contexts am starting to realise what a brilliant place it is. Although it is a mere ten minutes walk from my office, I don't get that there that often and on Thursday I didn't actually get there till after two, and had not had my lunch. As I was buying my ticket I found myself signing up for a year's membership, and instantly began to relax, as I knew I wouldn't have to rush to see everything. (And would also have time for museum/gallery lunch: one of my favourite recreations while doing research or tourism in foreign cities -- or the museum down the road.)

I had a few things I wanted to see for my other project, but I also wanted to see what the museum "said" about bluestone as a Melbourne stone. I only visited the Melbourne section, and found a beautiful block of the stuff, cheek by jowel with other Melbourne stones: marble from Lilydale and Gippsland (Buchan); sandstone from the Grampian; limestone from Waurn Ponds (also from Portland and Warrnambool); granite (the most common local stone); and another whole display about bricks, made from the dense clay around Brunswick (in the 1880s they were producing 80 million bricks a 

And confirmation that my "discovery" of changing fashions in bluestone design is nothing new at all: 
By the 1880s bluestone was considered "gloomy" and was out of fashion as new Victorian quarries opened, and imported stone appeared in quantity.
The caption noted that the lighted coloured limestone and sandstone were used in combination "for visual effect in new buildings of grand scale", like Parliament House, for example (see future blog post).

But here is something I had no idea about:
A ledge of basalt rock across the Yarra's bed prevented salt water flowing up the river flowing up the river past that point. This ensure a supply of fresh water and it determined the site for the settlement.
Fabulous!  the basalt flow that gave us the bluestone gave us the city itself. But also a reminder that the flow of fresh water is even more crucial. 

Friday, February 06, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Friday House Day (2). My "passionate history"?

Last Friday I looked at some "classic" bluestone pitchers that had been lined up in a row in the chookyard. Today it's a different form of uncut stone not far away in the garden.

Some of these Paul picked up from the side of the road; some he paid for; and some he dug out of the ground. So some of the sharp edges he made with the jackhammer when he dug out the cellar. At first I couldn't quite see the point — or comprehend his deep love — of big stones and rocks, but the rocks are an essential part of his landscaping style: to build up the soil with compost and use the stones to hold the higher level together. Because our house sits on the typical Merri Creek terrain (big round boulders held together with sticky black clay), the soil is extremely heavy, and it has taken years of composting to break up our soil so things can grow in it. So these garden beds, always with rounded edges and never in straight lines, I now realise, are testimony to decades of household composting and mulching: the endless recycling of food scraps and garden refuse, always being turned over into the garden soil.

These photos were just taken in all the wrong dappled morning light, but you can see the magic compost bin against the brick wall (by the way, those windows were salvaged from the Old Arts building at the University of Melbourne over twenty years ago), and the weirdly shaped kale plants (I pull the bottom leaves off for the chickens). Also the new apricot tree.

One of the questions these stones raise for me is quite a big one. Is my subject the bluestone used for building and recycled into a thousand uses? Or is it all the Victorian volcanic stone? Some of the stones, I gather, take a different appearance (colour/texture) depending on how long they have been under the ground, and under what pressure. The Organ Pipes, for example, out near Tullamarine and sometimes under the flight path as you fly in, are volcanic Victorian stones. Very gorgeous.  But are they bluestone? Or basalt? Do I have to write about everything? Or just what I want to?

There's a part of my scholarly training that says I have to be really clear from the very beginning about what my topic is; that I should make logically consistent decisions about what it is and isn't about. But there's a part of me, I must confess, that is seeing this project with some rather fuzzy and pleasant edges: it's an emotional history, so I may be able to write rather more fluidly, following streams of thought rather than laying everything out geologically, so to speak. Iain McCalman subtitles his book on the great barrier reef "A Passionate History" though it's rather a careful and scholarly, and well-written history of passions, than obviously driven or structured by desire. I like the idea of writing a passionate history that is a little freer, a little more channelled by desires. There are going to be lots of things I leave out, though, as I have already started to see; and the things on the margins of this project are also quite intriguing (Sydney bluestone, Melbourne sandstone, for example). But simply to say "It's my book and I'll write what I want to" does not quite answer to my sense of this project either.

I am also going to have to get out of Melbourne quite often over the course of this year, and perhaps sooner rather than later, so my sense of the project doesn't get too skewed by my urban and domestic daily encounters.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: "cheap" but "utilitarian"

I am researching on a number of very different topics this month, but the thrill of finding what you are looking for in the archive NEVER diminishes.

When looking for material on St Luke's Anglican church (now the Hungarian reformed church in Fitzroy), I came across an Architecture thesis by Deborah C. McColl from 1967, deposited in the University of Melbourne's library: a history of St Luke's and St Mark's Anglican churches, both in Fitzroy. I'll blog about St Mark's another day: I've been to several music concerts there...

The thesis is fantastic: an immensely detailed account of the social and physical history of both churches. It's scanned from a typescript that's been corrected by hand; the page numbers and captions to the many illustrations are hand written too.

The text isn't searchable, so it took me a while just now to find the right sections, and here they are. Curiously incomplete, but this section suggests that bluestone was not always perceived as the most appropriate stone for all kinds of grand buildings. "Though [previously] bluestone had [generally] been considered as a utilitarian material [in Melbourne] not suitable for a House of God, St. Mark's was not the first bluestone church in Melbourne."   And from the second  page here, a note about St Enoch's in Collins St, "also a bluestone Blackburn design". "Due to criticism against the bluestone, portion of its facade was stuccoed."

I can't find much yet about St Enoch's (it's after midday and I *have* to get back to my other essay, though here is a blog about colonial stained glass that feature St Enoch's), and here is a link to a sketch from 1864: http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/pictoria/gid/slv-pic-aab38503/1/b28381,
but I did find this note about St Stephen's in Richmond from the Heritage Victoria website:

St Stephen's Anglican Church is of architectural significance as one of Melbourne’s earliest bluestone churches. St Stephen’s is remarkable as a very early example of the use of bluestone, which was until this time not considered acceptable for face work – virtually at the same time as St Stephens was being built, the bluestone facade of St Enoch’s United Presbyterian Church in Collins Street Melbourne was being stuccoed to make it more acceptable to the parishioners. The colour of the stone was initially not favoured by local tastes, but with the disappointing weathering properties of local sandstone, bluestone was beginning to be used on important buildings from around 1850. The highly durable but comparatively cheap bluestone also began to win favour at the time of the gold rushes when building costs were escalating rapidly. 
I suspect this is one of those things that will become a given in my work. I knew there was a debate about Victorian versus New South Wales sandstone, but I hadn't understood about the cultural associations of bluestone. "Cheap", but "utilitarian" and therefore not always the first choice for a church. I also predict this will be one of those things I come to read about in many different contexts, but for the record, this is the first day this has become a "thing" for me, and a really useful point of orientation. 

Archival work is a huge time-suck, and the world of architectural history is just opening up to me. Lots more to do!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Hungarians and heritage

The spire of this church is a familiar landmark around these parts. It's new and shiny, and visible from the city as you walk towards Fitzroy. It's also positioned where Brunswick St and St Georges Rd meet, and opposite the Edinburgh gardens, so it's a great landmark.

The church was originally St Luke's Anglican, built in 1879 - 91 and designed by architects Crouch and Wilson, whose work I feel sure we will meet again.

A document on the Victorian Heritage Database remarks: "constructed of bluestone with cream brickwork and pressed cement mouldings." But a less neutral document on the same site quotes The Australasian Sketcher of April 12, 1879, who writes: "The material used in the building is bluestone, relieved with white pressed bricks and pressed cement."

I have a hunch there will be more of this kind of language, too: the heaviness of the bluestone is lightened, or "relieved" with the bricks and pressed, curved cement.

The National Estate Register is somewhat dismissive of the interior: "The exterior is intact however the interior has been painted and remodelled inappropriately." This may have something to do with the fact that it's no longer an Anglican church but a "reformed Hungarian" church. Most commentators make the point that this reflects the changing ethnic demographic of Fitzroy.

It does seem to me that bluestone struggles a bit with the gothic style here. At first glance the shapes of these arches and roundels are lovely, but there is something about the relentless blockiness of the rectangular bluestones that somewhat inhibits any possibility of soaring:

But what on earth is this totem pole doing in the front? 

The Church's website doesn't explain, though naturally it's in Hungarian and Chrome's translation may have missed a few things. 

Because I am using this blog in part as a place holder, I'm not delving deeply into every scholarly archive for each day's entry, while I work out how I will organise and write my book, but I have been struck, last night and this morning, about how little information there is online about the Hungarian church. Not even a date has leapt up at me, though I've read several times about the church being "sold" by the Anglicans to the Hungarians. It's a reminder lesson, perhaps, about how anglo/English- centred the internet is.* 

Look at this lovely image that heads up the Hungarian Church's website, though: 
Here, with the roundels featured, and without the tallest spire, the church looks less "early English", and rather more European in style, I think.

*  Just zoomed in on my photograph above. The second marble foundation stone gives the date 1949.