Monthly Archives: May 2013

Banyule Homestead VCAT appeal

2011_06_04. Banyule Homestead. 1.

The VCAT hearing over the subdivision of Banyule Homestead is scheduled for Wednesday 29th, Thursday 30th and Friday 31st May at VCAT, 55 King Street Melbourne, commencing at 10.00 a.m.

VCAT hearings are open to the public.

The case has been brought by Banyule Management Pty Ltd to challenge Banyule Council’s refusal to grant a permit to subdivide the grounds surrounding the homestead in order to build three luxury townhouses.  In the photograph above, the townhouses will be built to the left of the homestead.

After the hearing, the approximate waiting time for a written decision is 4-6 weeks.

My other blog, BanyuleHomestead gives more information about Banyule Homestead, a pre-gold rush mansion that is too important to Victoria’s history to be compromised by inappropriate development.

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Heide Gallery in Autumn

The redoubtable Sarah Palin is famously and erroneously noted for announcing  that she could see Russia from her porch.  Well, it’s not quite as exotic but if I had known that it was there, I would have been able to see Heide from our front porch as a child growing up in Heidelberg.  However, I was not at all aware that John and Sunday Reed lived on the hillside across the river until they were long gone and Heide Museum of Modern Art had been opened in what had been their homes.

Autumn is a lovely time to visit Heide.  The deciduous trees stand out against the bushland setting.

Heide Gardens, Bulleen May 2013

Heide Gardens, Bulleen May 2013

We’ve been to Heide several times but it’s always seemed that one or other of the three galleries has been closed either for construction or refurbishment.  But when we went last week, all three were open and bustling.

Heide I is a weatherboard farm house that the Reeds renovated in French Provincial style after purchasing the property in 1932.

Heide I

Heide I

At various times Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, John Perceval and Danila Vassilief joined them there.   Sidney Nolan painted his Ned Kelly series in the dining room.  The study has been left much as it was and it doesn’t take much imagination to picture the conversations, the wine, the cigarettes, the laughter, the arguments.  I wish that there were other photographs of the way it looked when they all lived there.

Rear view Heide I

Rear view Heide I

Heide I features an exhibition called “The Sometimes Chaotic World of Mike Brown”.  You can see a slideshow of his work here . The first image shows him painting the dining room at Heide I.  His work referenced pop lyrics, pornography, psychedelics, tribal art, Dadaism and garbage and he was the only Australian artist to be successfully convicted of obscenity.

In 1963 the Reed commissioned architect David McGlashan to build Heide II, a grey concrete structure with huge north-facing windows, a cantilevered staircase and mezzanine and a snug conversation space with open fire.  It was designed to be a ‘gallery to be lived in’  and small pictures in each room show the ways that it was used domestically while the Reeds lived there. There’s a display ‘Collage’ in Heide II.  The Reeds lived there until 1980 when  they sold Heide to the Victorian Government, and shifted back into Heide I.  They hadn’t been living back in Heide I before they died in December 1981 just ten days apart.

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Looking out from Heide II

Heide III is a purpose-built gallery built of black titanium zinc and completed in 2006.  It is a striking building, but because it was designed as a gallery, it doesn’t have the same connotations of living-as-art that the other two buildings have.

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Heide III

Until July 21, Heide III features an exhibition ‘Big Game Hunting’ by Fiona Hall.  Like the Mike Brown exhibition in Heide I, it is a very political exhibition with repeated themes of the threats of war-mongering and abuse of the environment.

The gardens of Heide are beautiful. Sunday Reed’s kitchen garden has been rehabilitated and now supplies Cafe Vue.  Her Heart Garden is now visible.

Kitchen garden adjacent to Heide I

Kitchen garden adjacent to Heide I

Entry to the Heide Galleries (I, II and III) costs $14.00 for all three.  The gardens and sculpture park are free.

[And of course, since you’re in the neighbourhood, you could visit the Heidelberg Historical Society Museum on a Sunday afternoon between 2.00 and 5.00 pm to see the Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin exhibition ‘Against the Forces’.  Cost $5.00.  I’ll write more about it soon]

Vale Hazel Hawke

hazelhawke

This morning’s Age had eleven full pages and one editorial devoted to the Ford closure.  On page 13 there was a 9 paragraph story about the death of Hazel Hawke, barely 1/4 of a page.  Her obituary, written by Gerry Carman, was headed “A woman with homespun appeal”.

I’d like to think that The Age could do better than that.

I was not particularly impressed by the writing style in the book Hazel’s Journey: A Personal Experience of Alzheimers.  But I deeply admired the woman it described: her resilience, her warmth and her sheer courage in agreeing to become the public face of Alzheimers.

When I heard that she had died, I felt so sad for her family because I know what such a death would have meant.  Vale Hazel.

 

‘The Burial’ by Courtney Collins

theburial

2012,  288

One of the fundamental and potentially riskiest decisions that an author makes is the narrative voice that s/he adopts to tell the story.  It doesn’t come much riskier than this:

Morning of my birth, my mother buried me in a hole that was two feet deep. Strong though she was,  she was weak from my birth, and as she dug the wind filled the hole with leaves and the rain collapsed it with mud so that all was left was a wet and spindly bed… I opened my mouth wide to make a sound, but instead of air there was only fluid and as I gasped I felt my lungs fold in.  In that first light of morning my body contorted and I saw my own fingers reaching up to her, desperate things.  She held them and I felt them still and I felt them collapse.  And then she said Shhh, shhh, my darling. And then she slit my throat.

I should not have seen the sky turn pink or the day seep in.  I should not have seen my mother’s pale arms sweep out and heap wet earth upon me or the white birds fan out over he head.

But I did.  (p. 9)

A newborn baby as narrator rather does your head in if you think about it too much.  In Courtney Collins’ hands, though, the baby-narrator can see all things, know all things, and be as one with the sky, the earth, the universe.  It also frees the author for some beautiful, lyrical writing that would perhaps be too baroque and overwrought otherwise.

The Burial is based on the true-life story of Elizabeth Jessie Hickman, a bushranger who ranged around the Wollemi area in the 1920s.  A ‘wanted’ poster (which I assume is authentic??) for here can be seen here  and a brief account of her life by her granddaughter can be found here.  Both in fact and in this novel, Hickman was a circus performer, cattle rustler and rider.

This post about the real life Jessie Hickman here mentions her marriage to the brutal Fitz, thus opening up the space for Collins’ story as Jessie escapes Fitz into the bush.  She is pursued by many men, chasing her for many different reasons: her Aboriginal lover Jack Brown, the opium-addicted Sergeant Barlow, and the violent gun-happy posse of local farmers bent on revenge and punishment for the theft of their cattle.  The feeling of them closing in on her drives the narrative, and it comes almost as a shock when the baby-voice narrator interposes itself again.

Collins has many balls in the air here: the dead but all-seeing baby, the circus back-story, a somewhat superfluous story of a cattle-rustling gang that she joins with in the folds of the mountains, an encounter with a Chinese prostitute and a love story.  While they were perhaps necessary to the knitting together of the plot, just the escape and the flight would have been enough for me.

This book has been likened to Cormac McCarthy’s work (indeed, the  frontcover is rather McCarthy-esque) and was eagerly anticipated after acclaim in its manuscript form.  I can see the parallels with McCarthy, but what I liked in this book was the theme of thwarted maternity- both Jessie’s own and that of the few women she meets- and that’s something you don’t get in McCarthy, whose books explore masculinity so well.

A rather petty quibble: I was irked by the author’s name on the top of each left-hand page.  Whose decision was that, I wonder? Possibly not the author’s. It made me feel as if I were reading someone’s homework.

This book was shortlisted for the Stella and the NSW Premier’s Award under the UTS Glenda Adams category for new writers.  It has been optioned for a film, and I can certainly see how easily it would translate to the screen as it is already composed of a series of ‘shots’- a technique that I’m not particularly fond of and which betrays, I think, an author’s difficulty in wrangling the disparate elements of a  story  into a flowing narrative.

And what about that baby as narrator?  Well, I think that the gamble paid off. It liberates her to write lyrically and, given that I often only take a broad-sweep memory of a book with me, I think that it makes the book stand out.  I’m not sure that she sustained it throughout- or even if I would have wanted her to have done so- but it was a brave move and one that this new author handled well.

My rating: 8.5 /10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Read because: it was short-listed for the Stella and I want to use it as one of my Australian Women Writers Challenge reviews.

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‘Biography and history’ by Barbara Caine

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2010,  124p & notes

This is only a small book and would have fitted well into that ” Very Short Introduction to ….” series put out by Oxford University Press.  As it is, it is part of Palgrave Macmillan’s series on ‘Theory and History’ which aims at introducing undergraduate students to themes like transnationalism, gender, narrative, postmodernism etc. and history.   It is very clearly written, and while the experience of reading it is enhanced if you are familiar with some of the biographies that she describes (as I am) , it stands in its own right as a review of the methodological and narrative questions raised by the relationship between history and biography.

Barbara Caine was Professor of History at Monash University and is now at the University of Sydney.  Many academics working in biography come from the literary studies area, rather than history.  Her projects and publications testify to her long and deep experience with biography, autobiography and history, and the ways to approach an individual life as an exercise in historical methodology. Continue reading

‘Ancient Light’ by John Banville

ancientlight

2012, 245 p.

To be honest, I wonder if I’m clever enough to read John Banville.  I’ve read other books of his and admire his smoothness, his archness, his reflexivity and most of all, the control he has over his writing.  It seems that recently I’ve been reading books which, though enjoyable, are a bit flabby and undisciplined.  Banville’s neither of these things.   I’m increasingly feeling that transitions are the litmus test of good writing, and Banville can shape up a long chapter and switch between time periods and plot lines almost without you noticing. He’s good.

There are two main narrative lines in this book.  The narrator is Alexander Cleave, in the autumn of his acting career who has unexpectedly been called up to make a film “The Invention of the Past” about Alex Vander, based on a script written by J. B.  He is rather flattered and surprised to be approached for the part, but his mind is really not on the film.  His adult daughter has committed suicide some time earlier and he can hardly bear to think about it, so his mind skitters off to other thoughts.

Instead, he reminisces about the affair he conducted as a teenaged boy in a small town in 1950s Ireland with his best friend’s mother.  He calls her Mrs. Gray throughout the book, as they indulge in furtive couplings in the laundry and in the midst of the fug of domesticity, and in a rundown cottage in the woods.  You know that they are going to be caught eventually: he tells you as much, and so each time he goes back to describing the illicit gropings and the fervent pumpings, you feel quite nervous for them both.

Banville switches between the two narratives quite effortlessly, while undercutting your faith in the fidelity of the narrator’s memories.  Alexander himself admits that the memories are probably wrong: he has the impression that it was raining during a particular event when he knows that it was a hot and dusty day instead; the details are somehow skewed in his memories and he can’t quite work out what’s wrong with them.  Banville has been leaving hints throughout the book that Alexander can’t be trusted, and finally when Alexander mentions Gary Fonda in The Grapes of Noon I eventually acknowledged that, despite his urbane demeanour and smooth narration, Alexander is a very unreliable narrator.

But that’s not the only thing that made me feel rather stupid in reading this book.  His daughter’s suicide was obviously fundamental to the story, and yet it seemed such an underdeveloped plot line.  In the back of my mind I had something about Cass and a suicide into the ocean below a castle…and Alex Vander, he sounded familiar…  Was there something that I should know that I didn’t?

Well, yes.  This book is actually part of a trilogy and I’ve even read the other two books without realizing that they were all related!!! In fact, I didn’t realize it at all: I had to read it in reviews of the book by people who are obviously more astute than I am. The allusions to the other books and the reflexivity on Banville’s own performance as a writer and puppet master were being piled up higher and higher at the end of the book- and because he is the brilliant writer that he is, they didn’t  sink the whole endeavour as they would in less skilled hands.

Then there’s the vocabulary! I’m no slouch vocabulary-wise but I’d never heard of ‘brumous air’ ‘caducous leaves’ etc. etc. I started writing them down to look up later, but there were too many.  Doesn’t matter- it’s good for me to realize that someone has a vocabulary that far, far outstrips mine.  I wonder if Banville actually has those words in his consciousness all the time, or whether he’s playing a game of word one-upmanship here.

So, while this book made me feel rather abashed and stupid when I finally realized what was going on, I did enjoy it.  The story of the obsession and selfishness of young love stands on its own two feet and doesn’t even really need the other Alexander/Alex Vander  thread at all. Ah, but then it wouldn’t be a Banville, would it?

My rating: 9/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Read because: I wanted to read a book with chops.

An interesting little slideshow Port Phillip early days

I found this slideshow of images of Port Phillip and its early settlers.  It seems that it was prepared by members of the Port Phillip Pioneers group for their annual Pioneers Church Service held at St James Old Cathedral in Melbourne a few years back.

There’s some here that I haven’t seen before.

http://www.slideshare.net/PortPhillipPioneersGroup/glimpses-of-the-past-presentation