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, 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.