Category Archives: Coburg

Melbourne’s Weather

On Thursday, taking advantage of one of the last sunny days of autumn, I bicycled along the Merri Creek to the old Kodak Bridge on Edgar’s Creek. I didn’t expect to find street art in the wilds of North Coburg but the pillars underneath this unused bridge is an excellent location. There above a couple of superb graffiti pieces with gold paint splatter highlights was a whole set of paste-ups by Phoenix.

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The graffiti writers below had carefully buffed their undercoat around Phoenix’s skull.

The remains of a camp fire under the bridge reminded me that although there are still pleasant days like this, the nights are getting colder. I’ve been resisting commenting on this for over a year now. I heard about Elmor Leonard’s rules for writing a novel – never start with the weather. Weather is dull conversation. However, Melbourne’s weather is part of its psychogeography, it influences the way that we move about the city, and it influences the writing of this blog.

Terry, the postman had a story for me about delivering mail in the city. “Looked out the back of the building it was all sunny, looked out the front of the building the city looked all sunny. Went outside and it was raining, directly above. Typical Melbourne weather.” That night we had the strongest winds in thirty years.

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Looking through my notes from January: “Street artists painting in the heat of the day. Too hot for me to attend; there is a heat health alert in the city with a maximum of 36 degrees is predicted. I feel like I have become a vampire living in perpetual twilight – the sun, it burns! It burns!)” This extreme weather does effect the culture, artists living in rural areas have to prepare their art collections for bush fires.

Melbourne’s weather influences when I choose to go out. September and October’s uncertain weather are Melbourne’s choice for arts festivals. You roll the dice, you take your chances, it could be good, it could be fantastic, it could be horrible. Melbourne’s population are tired of the bleak wet and cold winter weather (now for my Canadian cousins when I say cold I’m not talking about freezing, sub-zero Celsius temperatures that you would call cold – Melbourne’s cold is a freezing wind coming off the antartic ocean with or without rain).

Then the are the heat waves of extreme baking heat, days above 40 degrees and nights where the temperature does not get below 30. There is no humidity, the sun bakes the leaves on trees and bushes to a brown crisp. After a sever heat wave lasting for days there is a feeling like jet lag as your body deprived of adequate sleep catches up with the rhythm of the day.

Although Melbourne’s weather is a major topic of conversation there is very little contemporary art about the weather. It is not as if there isn’t modern and contemporary art about the weather; consider Duchamp’s Unhappy Readymade exposed to the Parisian elements or Joseph Beuys’s claim of artistic responsibility for any snowfall in Dussseldorf during February 1970. The artists who do comment on Melbourne’s weather are the paste-up artists, including Phoenix whose street art paste-ups warn about global warming are exposed to the elements.

Phoenix Kyoto t-shirt


Sydney Road Coburg

The psychogeography of Sydney Road part 2; continuing my tram stop survey from my survey of the Brunswick end of Sydney Road in part 1.

Moreland Road the division marks the division between Brunswick and Coburg. Coburg was once the breadbasket of colonial Melbourne with its rich fertile volcanic soil. Originally called Pentridge Coburg changed its name to disassociate itself from the prison that originally was its major landmark. Across Moreland Road and to the west is Moreland Station. The micro suburb of Moreland is no longer much of a feature.

29. Mores Street, there is a vacant patch in this area the old “Hygienic Diary” is a reminder of Coburg’s past and the 7/11 the contemporary.

30. The Avenue, Kangan Institute’s Coburg Campus. The posh area of Coburg is in the roads off to the east. This division between the wealthy eastern side and poorer western side; a typical social organisation of Melbourne by compass directions. Woodlands Hotel that used to have its own horse racing track out the back.

Post Office Hotel

31. Reynard Street corner with the Post Office Hotel, the hotel is a lot older than its art deco facade. On the east side of the road there are is a new office block with an ALP Senator’s office on the west there is an Indian grocery, framers, Italian tailors making handmade suits and fish and chip shop.

32. With Harding Street going east and Munro Street going west. This is the start of the main Coburg shopping, transport and local government hub. The corner also sums up the whole of the Sydney Road shopping experience with bridal, Indian clothing stores, Islamic fashion and a few good places to eat.

Victoria Street Mall Coburg

33. Victoria Street mall and the Coburg Market. Coburg Station is through the mall and across multiple car parks. The facades in the shopping strip date from the 1960s and the modern style is now looking old fashioned. The very thin silk fabric shop that has been there forever is closing down. Lots of banks and take-away food shops.

34. Bell Street is the division between Coburg and Coburg North, another psychogeographical division in the rings around inner Melbourne. Bell Street is now a transport hub with bus stops and an entrance to the train station. On the opposite corner is a park with the Federation bicentenary pond in front of the church. Following the park there is line of churches next to the prison is a remanent of local council compromises with the multi-sectarian population that could not sustain all of them.This area creates a psychic barrier for the North of Coburg’s shopping centre. This area has schizophrenic relationship between sides of the road; the western side looks like a slum with demolition work, whereas the eastern side looks more like Parkville however over the following tram stops this process alternates back and forth. There is a lot of guerrilla gardening on the side streets to the west, the bike path is lined with flower gardens.

35.Champ Street is a city only stop; the entrance of Pentridge Prison is down Champ Street. (See my post on the rehabilitation of Pentridge Prison). This is the historic heart of Coburg is on the eastern side whereas the western side now looks like a typical main road in a light industrial suburb.

36. Rogers Street and the Drum Hotel, after this suburban houses start to appear along Sydney Road.

37. Gaffney Street; to the west is Batman Station and to the east the Coburg Lake Reserve. On the east side are shops selling blinds, catering equipment and on the west side there is an empty lot with flashing signs, tyre shop, the old Coburg Fire Station now sells auto parts.

38. Carr Street and Renown Street; on the east side is Lake Park Kindergarten, Budget Motel and Car rental and on there are west side substantial two story brick houses.

39. Mercy College on the east side and the brick houses continue on the west side. Next there is pedestrian overpass followed by a Funneral Services next to the Aged Care home.

40. Bakers Road where the tramline ends with a new centre road, terminus stop. On the east side is a business selling blinds and the Salvation Army Divisional HQ. On the west side there is a vacant lot being turned into a garden, a bench has been installed and trees planted. The houses are weatherboard now. North of this the road continues with a motel and other auto related businesses a clear indication that you are now entering car territory.

End of tram line Coburg


Buffing & Christianity

Recently I saw some Christian buffing in Coburg. What is “Christian buffing”?

Christian buffing Coburg cross

The painter had painted the whole wall except for a stencilled crucifix that had neatly been painted around; you can see the white paint splatters on top of the black spray paint. Buffing the crucifix was refused on religious grounds. It would be an act sacrilege for a Christian to erase a crucifix by painting over. It didn’t matter for the Christian buffer that the original stencil included the blasphemous remark “LOL”; that was removed in the buffing.Lol cruxifition

The issue of buffing is more complex that even I had thought; with this example raising the complex issue of iconoclasm. Iconoclasm is the religious or anti-religious destruction of religious images. The complexities and paradoxes of iconoclasm were explored at a symposium at Newman College that I attended in September last year. It covered iconoclasm from the Biblical to the Renaissance idea that early Christians had an antipathy to the visual arts and to the destruction of petroglyphs on the Burrup Peninsula. I’m sure that the political realities of buffing are more complex in a more religious place than Coburg. I should be writing an academic paper about this and not just a blog post – “iconoclasm and graffiti”, or “urban street iconoclasm”.

Christian buffing coburg whole wall

Meanwhile on the streets of Coburg, after the wall had been buffed someone else had added more graffiti and so the cycle goes on.

Other interesting piece of buffing, that I seen on Melbourne’s streets:

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In a city lane there was buffing around an early Baby Guerrilla paste-up.

Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011

Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011

 


Piano Piano

There are pianos everywhere in Melbourne from the City Square to the Palm Plaza in Dandenong. There are 24 pianos on Melbourne’s streets this January, most of them are in the CBD especially around the Arts Centre. All the pianos have been donated and then decorated by various artists and arts groups. They are part of Play Me, I’m Yours by British artist Luke Jerram. You can play on them any time that the small boys have stopped making big noises on them.

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I stop to look at the painted piano in the City Square and Yarn Corner’s yarn-bombing. The now annual yarn-bombing of the City Square looks great this year. A great deal of thought, knitting and crocheting has gone into it with the patterns and the co-ordinated colours are a real step up from last year.

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Luke Jerram has an very impressive CV with many diverse projects from his glass microbiology models to his interactive waterfall in Bristol. His Play Me, I’m Yours project has been installed in many cities around the world. (Have a look at his website.)

Play Me, I’m Yours, was made possible by the Betty Amsden Participation Program, a four year program of large scale “art for all” participation events. Betty Amsdem OAM is a major sponsor of the arts in Melbourne (as well as,  3MBS, the RSPCA and Guide Dogs Victoria) and a vocal advocate for philanthropy.

Ultimately both the pianos and the yarn-bombing are radical gestures that empower the community to create for themselves rather than simply being spectators in this event and festival driven city. It is something that the Revolutionary Dadaist Council of Berlin would have approved.

There has always been a piano for people to play on the mezzanine floor of the City Library where their exhibition space is located. I was looking at “A Celebration of Co-Mix: an exhibition of past entrants from the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Award Graphic Short Stories. (Comics have come along way in my life from the subject of moral panic to the Lord Mayor’s award.) As I was looking and reading the exhibition an old woman slowly moved her walker towards the piano. At first I thought that she was just looking for a place to sit down but then she started to play. I could hear why she had made the effort; for a woman who was barely able to walk she played with a smooth ageless grace.

I had less grace when I played some 8 bar blues on the piano in the Victoria Mall in Coburg. The upright piano sounds soft when played outdoors.


Walls in the ‘Hood

Looking around the streets of Brunswick and Coburg and glad to back in the neighborhood after all my recent travels. I try to see some exhibitions and do see some new street art. That’s the thing about street art, it makes the city more dynamic, it is constantly changing and so the familiar bike ride into Brunswick is always changing.

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The car park wall at Sparta Place now has more local indigenous heroes commemorated on it in the “Brunswick Kind” series. Turbo Brown and Florence ‘Dot’ Cheers join Peter “Cocoa” Jackson on the wall.

I could feel the artistic vibe coming off Victoria Street. Comic drawing classes were being held at Squashface Comic Studio and there were life-drawing classes at Art Health Australia. The now old-fashioned looking stencil covered front of Han’s Café.

There is an install at Brunswick Arts Space, White Elephant was empty but Tinning Street Presents.. was open. “Future Clean Up” is a group exhibition by artists involved in a rocking zine scene, hence the art on exhibition graphic and often over-the-top style. Leagues, one of the artists was drawing and gallery sitting. I could tell it was Leagues because of his recognizable style of using drips and eyes.

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Quality fresh aerosol paint now covers the upper part of the lane that Tinning Street Presents is on. Previously the street art had stopped at Tinning Street but now it continues for the whole lane. Is there any where in Melbourne that Lush hasn’t been? I’m in the taxi going home from the airport and the first piece of graffiti that I see is by Lush and here he is again in Coburg.

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After that I spotted some recent HaHa stencils on a Coburg wall. Although some of his stencils are from work in his recent exhibition at Dark Horse Experiment they aren’t attempting to reproduce the multiple layers and multiple images of HaHa recent gallery work. They are old-fashioned stencil like he used to do a decade ago.

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Of Mall & Place

There are two little pedestrian spaces off the long straight length of the Sydney Road shopping strip. These two urban hubs are Sparta Place in Brunswick and Victoria Street Mall in Coburg. Sparta Place has some great aerosol walls, yarn bombing, sculpture and fashion boutiques and a cafe. Victoria Street Mall has yarn bombing, sculpture, cafes, post-office and public library. In both malls the public art, in both cases sculpture and street art, has accreted rather than incorporated into the design. These two malls were first designed and created by the Moreland City Council but then the public and surrounding businesses have added to this design. Just as the trees planted in them have grown these malls have changed over time.

Sparta Place

Three different groups are struggling for control of Sparta Place. There is the Moreland City Council urban design team who did the initial change to a pedestrian space in 1998. Maria Hardwick as a business owner invested heavily in renovating the old building gentrifying it to opening fashion boutiques. The five metal columns full of post and pans, “New Order” by Louise Lavarack have a post-modern approach to classical references. But some of the residents of Brunswick and their council member wanted a memorial to Sparta to celebrate the relationship between Moreland and its sister city in Greece (one of Moreland’s many sister cities) with the statue to King Leonidas and they got in 2009.

Petros Georgariou , King Leonidas

Petros Georgariou , King Leonidas

New Order,  Louise Lavarack

New Order, Louise Lavarack

Sparta Place has the architectural attractions of the Hardwick building and the Spanish revival building at the end of Sparta Place. The dappled shade of the trees, benches with yarn bombing, the shop signs unfolded on the pavement that emphasize the middle path through the mall. At the carpark end of the mall quality street art on the large walls adds to the sense of place.

Local people do use Sparta Place to sit and talk, although it is not as successful an urban space as Victoria Street Mall in Coburg. The old men who come regularly to Victoria Street Mall to sit on the long bench by along the glass wall of the library make it an institution. But there is a social balance in the ages of people using the mall from the very young to the very old and this is important in this time of age segregation.

Victoria Street Mall Coburg

There have been recent improvements to Victoria Street Mall with new water permeable cover around the base of the trees, replacing the area that was covered with heavy sand that quickly spread across the paving. The seats have been covered with an artificial turf giving the Mall a quirky and fun design feature. The style has become funkier along with the yarn bombing and other community art projects.

Board-games have been added to the large public table that is now located at the library end of the mall – not that I’ve seen anyone playing them yet although this public table (in a mall full of private café tables) is still well used.

At the corner of Victoria Street and Waterfield Road there is a small bronze house with a corridor with a corridor going straight through it. It is simplified but typical of Australian houses in Coburg. It is “Dwelling” by Jason Waterhouse, the winner of the 2005 Moreland Sculpture Show. Waterhouse has been making sculptures of this basic house form for a number of years in various media. At other end, the Sydney Road end chuggers and buskers compete for the passing trade.

ason Waterhouse, Dwelling

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling

These two malls are urban nodes. Nods are those points of interaction in urban environment that link various paths. The public perceives and navigates the urban space, in a graduated scale from a path, edge, node, to a district. Public art and sculpture is used to mark the edge of a path or as part of the design of a node.

Apart from these two malls poor urban design of nods in far more typical in Coburg. Coburg’s historic railway station is still not working as a nod even after the recent renovations to the station’s forecourt. All of the hubs around any of the railway stations in Coburg and Brunswick are badly designed; the local councils and the railways department don’t appear to be able to communicate.

(I’ve written blog entries about both of these malls in 2009: Leonidas @ Sparta Place and Victoria Street Mall Coburg.)


Coburg Mix

Coburg is changing – I’ve had this conversation many times, one of the most memorable was with another resident in the Victoria Street Mall. I liked the changes and he didn’t, was this simply a matter of different tastes? He didn’t like the café culture although he couldn’t explain what was wrong with people talking and enjoying life. I enjoy having more good cafes and restaurants within walking distance of my home. I wanted to understand why he didn’t like the changes but he kept on talking about the way things used to be. In the end I could only conclude that he just didn’t like change.

Victoria St. Mall, Coburg

Victoria St. Mall, Coburg

Coburg cannot simply be seen simply as a working class suburb in the north of Melbourne. Coburg is a mix of the old and new, people from around the world, a mix that creates a friendly atmosphere on the liminal zone.  Coburg is now in the liminal zone the inner and outer suburbs but it was once a rural village just to the north of Melbourne. The basic structure of Coburg was laid out in the late 19th century when it was still a rural village aspiring to be a city. The row of churches, the grid of major streets, the pubs, the cemetery, and the civic and recreational spaces had been created before the population boomed.

Coburg remains a mix, a muddled merger, a blend that hasn’t been homogenized into one substance. All there are many elements in this mix from the rural and urban, the mix of prison and industry, the mix of nationalities and a mix of classes. The mansions along the Avenue and the Grove are an indication the wealth of some people who lived in Coburg in the late 19th century.

Mansion in Coburg

Mansion in Coburg

Richard Broome often comments in his book, Coburg – between two creeks, on this mix even when Coburg became a largely working class suburb in the 1920 – 70s. (p.215) Broome comments on the aspirations of Coburg’s blue-collar employees, reflected in the higher than average home ownership in the suburb. Coburg as suburb with high home ownership; even in the Great Depression there were only a handful of repossession in Coburg. Home ownership makes people, in a classic Marxist sense, not working class as they have capital. Although Coburg did have a large number of factory workers during the 1920 – 70s as the factories closed down the population mix changed yet again and Coburg became a dormitory suburb.

The micro-suburbs like Connan’s Hill on the border of Coburg. Or “the Toorak of the north” as the original publicity claimed for the new suburb of Merlynston. Both of these mico-suburbs were urbanized post WWI before they were all farmland.

Coburg’s Chinese population arrived along with the European settlement of the area and specialized in market gardening. Chinese market gardens opposite the Coburg Town Hall; the land was acquired by the city, although there were still Chinese working market gardens along the Merri Creek into the 1970s. The presence of the Chinese market gardens was marked by a piece of pavement art in the park. Kitty Owens and Mary Zbierski pavement painting ‘Magic Carpet’ (Ghost Chinese Market Garden) first exhibited as part of the Moreland Sculpture Show (it was in chalk then and was on a different piece of pavement), now the painting has gone too.

Kitty Owens and Mary Zbierski ‘Magic Carpet’ (Ghost Chinese Market Garden) pavement painting Coburg

Kitty Owens and Mary Zbierski ‘Magic Carpet’ (Ghost Chinese Market Garden) pavement painting Coburg

The mix of Coburg is one of its many attractions; it makes for great people watching. I love walking or cycling around the suburb, I can do almost all my shopping locally and dine out locally. I do have to leave the suburb for art galleries and most of my live entertainment.

Coburg is an area of land bounded by the Merri and Moonee Valley creeks. The Moonee Valley creek is now just a large concrete drain but the Merri Creek is now an attractive place, recovering from its badly polluted state in the late 20th century. Coburg has changed from a village to a city, to a dormitory suburb, to a shopping and business hub. Coburg has changed since Europeans stole the land from the aborigines but it is now being done with greater taste. There is a greater sensitivity to preserving the local character. There are a surprising number of heritage listed buildings and heritage overlays in Coburg. Developers are preserving art deco facades of factories (see my post on Art Deco Coburg) and homeowners are restoring Federation era houses, renovating the interiors for the 21st century. There was plenty of insensitive development in Coburg in the 1960-80. Now there are many new construction sites along Sydney Road many of the old shops, garages and warehouses are coming down. The “Hygenic Building” still stands but the dairy behind it has long gone.

I didn’t realize the passions raised by these changes in Coburg until I wrote my first blog Coburg 2010. But it is still out there, last week I got of pamphlet from the Save Coburg campaign. This is often the parochial politics of the current gentrification of a suburb, the financial and emotional attachment to the home, the financial pressures to move, the loss of rental spaces for students and other low-income groups. If you want to make really intelligent comments on this aspect of redevelopment then I suggest that you first read Michael Thompson’s Rubbish Theory, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979); far too few people have read this brilliant book. Thompson describes the chaos mathematics of the forces operating to depopulated former inner city slums and makes them attractive places to gentrify.

For more on the history of Coburg you can read Richard Broome, Coburg – between two creeks, (Lothian, 1987) but I must warn you that it is a boring local history with too much focus on details and not enough narrative. Broome had made full use of the archives but struggles to make a history out the material collected and his frequent contemporary asides are not an alternative to analysis.


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