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!

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.