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!

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.