Category Archives: Coburg

Street Art meets Graffiti in Coburg

Coburg is on the edge of the donut ring of Melbourne’s inner city suburbs and the outer suburbs. For street art it is the high tide mark, the final piece on a midnight mission, the liminal zone where beautiful street art meets ugly graffiti. Coburg is different from it’s more inner neighbour, Brunswick where the aerosol is thick and fast. Coburg is where the inner city pieces run out and only bombing, tagging continues. It is not in the mainstream of Melbourne’s street art or graffiti scene but the occasional piece still pops up. Braddock, Psalm, Lench and others have all decorated the walls of Coburg.

Suki Art, paste-up, Coburg, 2010

There are street artists who do the occasional odd piece, leaving messages along the bike trail, Shark’s paste-ups of birds and Forever’s great Cooo-burg pigeon paste-up, the odd stencil here and there.

I have been looking at Coburg’s graffiti for decades. I remember a long gone, old Psalm blockbuster piece on the fence by Coburg railway station from back in the 1990s when there was very little graffiti on the Upfield line. I also remember an early stencil and paste-ups by Peter Bourke who went on to a great fake newspaper headline paste-up campaign, “The Pedestrian Times”.

Lench, aerosol, Coburg, 2010

The aerosol pieces along the Upfield train line run and bike path out a little way into Coburg past Moreland Station, partially due to a lack of available walls. Build a brick wall by the railway tracks in Coburg and it will be painted, as Lench did with this new wall. And beyond Coburg Railway Station the there is a lot of crap graffiti. There are few pieces due to local strange attractors, like the walls opposite Batman Station. There aren’t that many laneways in Coburg, the city council had a policy of selling them off. There are the occasional sticker and paste-up runs up Sydney Road that reach Coburg’s shopping centre. And furious political debate and simple graffiti cover the giant back walls of the supermarkets.

Coburg political graffiti 2011

This is Shit, stencil, Coburg, 2008

buffing, Coburg 2011

There is also a lot of serious buffing in Coburg creating walls that look like abstract paintings. This buffing discourages anyone to go beyond tags, throw-ups and slogans; although the occasional one can take even that to a new level. There are some really creative throw-ups in Coburg.

yarn bombing, Coburg 2011

throw-up flower, Coburg 2011

stencil, Coburg 2011

throw-up, Coburg 2011


Art Deco Coburg

According to real estate agents there are plenty of art deco houses in Coburg but real estate agents are not experts on architecture and most of these claims are based on some ceiling moulding and a few other left over features. There are some art deco buildings in Melbourne’s northern suburb of Coburg but art deco in Coburg was not prestige buildings rather it was new facades for old factories, pubs, shops, garages, houses and a community hall. Art deco architecture was a sign that the upwardly mobile working class industrial suburb was keeping up with the times.

Now that the old Union Knitting Mills has been gutted and transformed into multi-story flats I started to consider how the “modern geometric style” (as art deco was then known) was received and used in Coburg. The new building is a dramatic change but sensitive to the old streetscape and preserves the best aspects of the architecture. The renovation retains the original curving banded art deco façade and entrance. Even the original factory sign has been restored.

A block down from Union Knitting Mills the Post Office Hotel also has an art deco façade covering an older building. The façade has recently been restored – I’ve enjoying several meals at the Post Office Hotel and the pub has gained a reputation for its superb food both in its restaurant and counter menu. The iron ribbon lettering of the Post Office Hotel sign is similar to that of several pubs in North Melbourne.

There are other touches of art deco in the suburb. Richard Broome, Coburg – between two creeks, (Lothian, 1987) reports a building boom immediately after the Great Depression, people had been waiting for better economic times before starting their construction. There are modern/art deco elements in facades of a few Coburg factory facades along Sydney Road dating their construction.

Akins Auto Service on Nicholson St. is another example of the modest art deco buildings in Coburg. Akins Auto Service was established in 1932. There are also art deco elements in design of the façade on the Progress Hall and parts of the memorial opposite the Coburg Town Hall on Bell Street. The memorial is dedicated to the first Coburg resident killed in WWII: the griffons on the memorial are impressive.

For more of Melbourne’s art deco buildings see Art Deco Buildings blog by David Thompson. Although he has not written about Coburg, Thompson does look Art Deco in many of Melbourne’s suburbs.


Pentridge Rehabilitated

Pentridge Prison has been rehabilitated. Pentridge Prison was built in 1850 to cope with the over crowded Melbourne Gaol and the prison hulks in Port Phillip Bay. The prison closed on the 1st May 1997; wreaking historian Richard Broome’s 1987 prediction that the “it is likely to last another 136 years.” Richard Broome, Coburg – between two creeks, (Lothian, 1987)

Penal history is a major feature of Australian colonial history and Pentridge Prison is the gravesite of Australia’s most famous folk hero/outlaw, Ned Kelly. Although some Australians take pride in a convict past the residents of Coburg didn’t and repeatedly called for the removal of the prison. Pentridge Prison haunted the upwardly mobile aspirations of the homeowners and residents of Coburg for generations. The city changed its name attempting to disassociate the city from the prison. Now Coburg won’t be forgetting Pentridge with parts of the prison now being classified for its heritage value and other parts being replaced by a slowing growing housing estate. The rehabilitation of the former Pentridge Prison into Pentridge Village has slowly progressing for several years.

I am not interested in spruiking the real estate; I am interested in the cultural issues of this urban redevelopment. I am interested in the mix of historic, residential and retail that the transformation includes. At least Pentridge Village is not another anonymous housing estate or apartment block; there is plenty of the prison’s character preserved and the new residents won’t forget the history of the place. This is not to suggest that the architecture of a 19th Century prison does not have its charm or that the new flats and apartments look like a prison. The better bluestone construction has been preserved; the granite “bluestone” was mostly quarried, cut and built by prison labour (except for the external walls for obvious reasons). Barred windows, old signs and other features are being preserved as the prison is being rehabilitated. Some streets have been named after part of the prison like “Warden’s Walk” but others are just bizarre property development words.

Pentridge Village does feature some new innovations; Warden’s Walk utilizes permeable paving to capture of storm-water runoff.  The storm-water harvesting and reuse (I saw some enormous water tanks) is used, in part, to water the extensive rose bush planting as a symbolic reference to the past (the prisoners maintained a rose garden within the prison as well as poetic reference). Some of Pentridge is still a building site and wasteland and in other parts residents have been living there for years. The spaces for shops and businesses are still vacant except for one restaurant. Although the heritage space has been used for fashion shows and old cells transformed in to boutique wine cellars according to Style Melbourne.

Having lived in Coburg for decades I can remember the prison in operation, closed the location being slowly rehabilitated. I can still remember hearing the howls that came from Pentridge at midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1991 when I was living very close to the prison walls. I also saw and photographed parts of the prison shortly after it closed. The escape proof Jika Jika Unit that looked like Space Station Despair has been demolished; although the architects could build on the nostalgic ambiance of the 19th Century parts of the prison, the modern penal architecture of the Jika Jika Unit could never be reformed.

Pentridge Prison, Coburg

The historic entrance and other parts of the historic precinct of the old Pentridge Prison are yet to be rehabilitated. The front of the prison still stands looking abandoned with heritage issues yet to be resolved. There are no statues yet in this redevelopment and the front of the prison definitely needs a suitable statue that is sensitive to the history without being mawkish. (For information on the art of prisoners see my post about Prison Art @ Pentridge)

Perhaps saying that Pentridge Prison has been rehabilitated is going too far; it scrubs up well and has taken significant steps to reform its character but it is still a work in progress.


Coo-burg

To the west of Jewell Station looks like a scene from the Hitchcock movie “The Birds”; there are hundreds of feral pigeons along with a dozen seagulls. Coburg’s intersection of Victoria Street and Waterfield Road presents a similar scene; some parts of the Victoria Street mall are completely unusable due to pigeon droppings. And now there are pigeon paste-ups in the Victoria Street Mall renaming the suburb: “Coo-burg”. These paste-ups rats of the sky make street art references to Banksy’s rats and Blek le Rat.

Coburg does not have a lot of street art or graffiti compared to Brunswick, just the occasional paste-up or sticker run and the odd tag. These paste-ups raise the question: are pigeons more serious urban problem than graffiti? In a word: yes. Pigeons make more than just a mess they make an unhygienic mess; pigeon dropping can spread diseases to humans. There are expenses incurred by local councils and traders to prevent pigeons roosting and to clean up pigeon droppings: anti-roosting devices and netting ruin the look of architecture. For more on the problem of pigeons in an urban environment see Pigeon Pest Control For Beginners.

There is legislation to prevent feeding pigeons but it goes on – some people dump bread by the loaf to feed them. But unlike graffiti the people who feed pigeons are not regarded as socially disruptive and the laws regarding feeding pigeons are not enforced nor are they a focus of public concern. Maybe Coo-burg needs a pigeon trap/roost like the one at Batman Park, Melbourne or other forms of population control. Expecting politicians to prioritise their response to problems based on evidence rather than prejudices would be too much.

Jail bird at the former Pentridge prison


Prison Art @ Pentridge

Pentridge Prison operated in Coburg between 1850 and 1997 and as in all prisons some prisoners were also artists (not just escape artists and bareknuckle bash artists). In 1886 professional photographer, Joseph H. Soden was convicted of forging pound notes and served time in Pentridge in the same year his photographs were exhibited at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition.

In 1960 (or 1962 or1964) aboriginal artist Elliot Ronald Bull (1942-1979) painted the mural in “F” Division. Painted with ordinary house paint the mural depicts an aboriginal camp scene. Part of the stolen generation Elliot Ronald Bull had already studied painting with Melbourne painter, Ernest Buckmaster. After his release Elliot Ronald Bull participated in a number of solo and group exhibitions. His mural at Pentridge has been restored and preserved.

Having lived in Coburg for decades I can remember the prison in operation, closed the location being slowly rehabilitated. I can still remember hearing the howls that came from Pentridge at midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1991 when I was living a block from the prison walls. I also saw and photographed parts of the prison shortly after it closed.

Carving from officers club rooms Pentridge Prison.

There was some prisoner art on the site in the maximum security Jika Jika Unit and in the officers’ club rooms. On a wall in the officers’ club rooms were a series of folk art style carved and painted round base reliefs. I’m don’t know what has happened to them.

The escape proof Jika Jika Unit has been demolished along with the art on its walls. Prisoners had painted some of the yard walls of the Jika Jika unit. On the ceiling and walls of one cell an unknown, probably aboriginal artist had painted goanna with tracks leading up the wall and onto the ceiling. The simple elegance of this design helped humanized a dehumanising cell.

Towards the end of its long life Pentridge Prison did have various art programs for prisoners run by art educator, Dr Max Darby and painter, Margaret Miles. (See Dr Max Darby’s “My Days In Prison”.)There was also at least one prisoner art exhibition in a CBD bank – so if anyone knows anymore details about prisoner art in Pentridge Prison please comment before the details are lost to history and redevelopment.


Sculpture @ Coburg Lake Reserve

Coburg Lake Reserve is a large park built along the Merri Creek and in the old granite bluestone quarry where prisoners cut the stones for the walls of Pentridge Prison. A dam on the Merri creek has made part of the former quarry into an ornamental lake. It is the most attractive place in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg.

In the last decade the park has acquired some sculptures; there is a winner of previous sculpture shows, a donation from sister cities and even an abandoned sculpture. However the scale of the park with its the tall eucalypts tends to dwarf even large sculptures. (I have written blog entries about the sculpture “Man of the Valley” and about other sculptures in the City of Moreland in Sculptures in Brunswick and the Moreland Sculpture Show).

The Moreland Sculpture Show was shown in the park for several years and this has contributed two permanent sculptures to the park by Melbourne-based artists. The sculpture show was moved out the Coburg Lake Reserve due to persistent vandalism to the sculptures (and the annual sculpture show was last year replaced with an installation show).

Lisa Jane Miller, “Fish Out of Water”, 2002, ceramic tiles on ferro cement

“Fish Out of Water” by Lisa Jane Miller was Moreland Sculpture Award Winner and Public Choice Award Winner at the Moreland Sculpture Show 2002. Decorated with a mosaic of ceramic tiles on ferro cement, with a large fish rising out of a dry basin. This sculpture is a plea for Australia to treat refugees more humanly, written in the glaze of the ceramic tiles. Another “Fish out of Water – Inhumanity 1” won the Northcote Pottery Award at the 2005 Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show; it was, again, in Miller’s preferred media is ceramic tiles and ferro cement. When the sculpture was first installed the area of the park was largely undeveloped and it really looked like a fish out of water. Now it looks at home as there is a children’s playground next to it with a giant game of Twister, swings, a flying fox, seating and some colourful play-sculptural elements.

Liz Hewitt, “Ship to Warf”, 2003, painted cement

Liz Hewitt’s “Ship to Warf” is a series of three red knots of cast concrete. The sculpture was abandoned by the sculptor at the end of the Moreland Sculpture Show, donating it to Moreland City in 2003 (a donation that the council has foolishly yet to officially accept). “Ship to Warf” works well as public sculpture in that it is elegant, provokes the imagination and you can be stand or sit on it.

Coburg Lake Reserve is a popular park and a great place for a picnic. The park is well equipped with a hall/meeting room, a stage, several children’s playgrounds, picnic and BBQ areas. When I was photographing “Ship to Warf” there were a couple of galahs walking around on the grass (for more about the birds at Coburg Lake Reserve see Eremaea Birds).

Gahlah @ Coburg Lake Reserve


Coburg 2010

“Coburg – it’s beautiful. Look around. It’s a great place to live.” The young man said leaning out of his black car as he drove slowly past me.

This is Coburg, not the city in Germany, but it’s namesake, Coburg, a suburb in the north of Melbourne, Australia. The sky was blue, the bottlebrush trees were in flower, covering the sidewalk in drifts of yellow stamin, but it is just a suburban street. He must be high on something but he is right.

“It great place” I replied and he drove on.

Coburg is a friendly area; people still talk to each other on the street. The northern suburbs have a great street culture because people use the street, people walk, people shop on the Sydney Rd., rather than the hyper-reality of shopping malls. The 19th century architecture of the longest shopping strip in Melbourne is part of the reason why Brunswick and Coburg has a good street culture.

When my Lebanese neighbour’s son got married I knew about it. Part of the festivities took place in the small front garden of their house. There was drumming, dancing, bride and groom held on people’s shoulders, ululation, car horns, rice thrown… a real wedding, not a hyper-real wedding at a wedding reception place where everything is perfectly contrived. Certainly the autumn weather wasn’t perfect but it didn’t rain on the festivities.

And the street culture is improving; in recent years there has been a marked increase in cafes on Sydney Rd., a greater variety of restaurants than the Turkish restaurants that Sydney Rd is famous.

Pentridge Prison, Coburg

Along with the prison a large amount of 19th and turn of the century buildings were constructed in Coburg. There is the oldest school building in Melbourne along with other old buildings around the old Pentridge Prison. There are also magnificent turn of the century mansions on The Grove and The Avenue. And there are pieces of heritage listed architecture scattered around Coburg’s streets one of my favourites is the American Cottage on the west side of Moreland station at 21 Station Street.

19th century school building on Sydney Rd. Coburg

The Moreland City council has a bold ambitious $1 billion plan, the Coburg Initiative, to remodel heart of the suburb. Lorna Edwards reported on Coburg’s “Extreme Makeover” in The Age (18/3/10). So far the only materialization of this plan has been the redevelopment of the front of the Coburg’s railway station, the redevelopment of the former Pentridge Prison and the construction of more medium and high-density housing. Every possible old building in the suburb is being converted into flats.

The new entrance and surround to the city bound entrance to Coburg’s 19th century, gothic revival train-station. It isn’t much just a few steps, paving stones and landscaping but the bicycle path is now safely separate from the train-station entrance. The new entrance replaces the bodged railings, paths, the over-grown shrubs and scraggly trees that formerly surrounded the station. However, the other side of the station is still a neglected gravel parking lot with a large open drain and no lighting.

I had a dream that I was returning home to my street in Coburg from a long journey. I found that my street has been grassed over and that my neighbours were playing cricket and having BBQs where there once was tarmac. The biggest problems in Coburg are the cars, the vast expanse of ugly parking lots that accommodates them and Melbourne’s poor public transport.


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