Melbourne Flâneurs

“If someone had one day in Melbourne they should wander the streets.” – Wonderlust

(Everfresh: Blackbook – The Studio & Streets: 2004-2010, The Miegunyah Press, 2010 p.36)

I am one of the wanders, the flâneurs, the urban explorers, the ghost-sign hunters, the psycho-geographical explorers of Melbourne walk its streets. I love to explore Melbourne. The city is an endless mystery, a muse that inspires me, a great cybernetic organism that reorganising, regenerating, growing and dying and constantly moving.

We who are also constantly moving no longer desire a walk in park, we don’t want designer urban environments with organized space. What we want is the disorganisation, the contrasts, the contradictions of the city and humanity. We want the sense of discovery. The designer environments shopping malls of Docklands or Southbank are too sterile compared to the culture along the long shopping strips of Sydney Road, Chapel Street or Brunswick Street or the network of lanes through the inner city.

Melbourne has long had a street life worthy of exploration. George Sala, the special correspondent for the Daily Telegraphy in 1880s, the man who coined the term “Marvelous Melbourne” imagined Parisians flâneurs would feel at home on Bourke Street.

The antique hand painted signs saying  “Post No Bills” are all over Melbourne. The signs in the laneways of Melbourne’s Chinatown reads: “Commit No Nuisance”. Fly posting, fly tipping, littering, expectorating, urinating, pigeons, stray dogs, stray goats, stray pigs, bell ringing, loitering, the hoists over the laneways – of all the problems that Melbourne’s streets have faced graffiti appears to be the least of the problems.

Graffiti and street art becomes an excuse to explore the city, to go for long walks with a camera. It guides the flâneur through the seldom-used paths. You can tell when you are walking with a street art fans by the way they look down each alley and lane to see if there is anything on its walls. There are ghost signs haunting buildings, the fading images of old advertising from the days of hand-painted signs suggesting previous lives and times. There are new things to see everyday.

Underneath these streets the Cave Clan have been exploring Melbourne’s system of storm water drains for decades. The Cave Clan also has created stickers and zines. Incidentally, all of these storm water drains empty into the bay instead of being treated, purified and re-used in a city with a water shortage.

I’m looking for street art, for guerrilla gardening, art galleries, vertical gardens, unusual signs, urban wildlife and just the city. I enjoy walking; it is a healthy exercise for both the body and mind. What do you look for when you are walking Melbourne’s streets?

La Pok – guerilla garden Somerset Lane

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

11 responses to “Melbourne Flâneurs

  • Bill Halliwell

    Another good post, Mark. On one of the gates that separated the Members’ Enclosure at Flemington race course there used to be an old, enamelled sign that read: NO DOGS OR WOMEN PAST THIS POINT
    The sign was there until the 1982 Melbourne Cup it being quietly removed and replaced with MEMBERS ONLY.
    Bill Halliwell

    • Mark Holsworth

      Thanks Bill, Old sexist Melbourne can still be see, in a slightly gentler light than “NO DOGS OR WOMEN”, in the old signs of “LADIES ONLY” in the paving in front of the benches next to the cathedral. Cheers, Mark

  • Rhoufi

    Being a photographer who loves Melbourne for exactly the places you write about, and having spent a lot of time in Paris, I find the same atmosphere in both cities – not in the grand boulevards and the iconic sites, but the side streets and the shadows, and the found evidence of the passage of it’s people. Really nice write, thank you.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Thanks Rhoufi. Now that you put it that way I think that we like the wabi sabi aspect of the city, the signs of human wear on it. There is an imperial inhuman quality to perfectly designed and controlled environment.

  • Rhoufi

    Yes that’s it. Every time I walk up the stairs of the Trades Hall building in Carlton and stumble on the uneven, worn-out, bluestone treads of those steps, all I can think about is the countless boots that wore those contours into hard stone. The passage of people and time are the things that build the feel of a city, making a unique fingerprint. We don’t have to keep all of it, but we do have to keep the best of it.

  • Stefan

    Hi Mark. Nice post, as always. In case you’re curious, Mammoth Mammoth is a band…we’ve had contact with them online. Also, I used to explore a bit with the Cave Clan in their heyday in the early 90s. I attended their Clannie Awards, which took place in a chamber off the Yarra and directly under Melbourne Grammar School. It was very well organized…guys on scooters would do beer runs, and they managed to snaffle a row of bench sears from Melbourne Grammar. Nice guys too. That sticker looks new though…looks like the Clan is being revived.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Hi Stef, I’m not surprised that Mammoth Mammoth is a band as their sticker was on the Tote. I like the Melbourne Bitter parody aspect. From their regular sticker activity that I’ve seen I think that the Cave Clan has been active for the whole of this decade too, again no surprise, as spelunking (in natural or artificial caves) is great fun. There must be a whole new generation of Clan members, a real achievement for an underground organization.

  • Stefan

    Yes indeed – looks like original CC founder Dougo (with whom I was friendly back then) is still involved, or was recently:

    They still have the same postbox too.

    Also, your thoughts on the Melbourne flâneurial experience resonated closely with my experience, eg: :)

    • doug

      Hi Stefan.
      I hope you’re doing well mate.
      I live in Gippsland. Married with a couple of kids now. Still do a bit of the Cave Clan stuff, but it’s ran by young punks now ;)
      They were good days around Fitzroy and Collingwood back in the early 90s.

  • Melbourne's Ghostsigns with Finding the Radio Book | Ghostsigns

    […] Another Melbourne Ghostsigns enthusiast, Mark Holsworth, has posted this to the Black Mark blog. It seems that more than one person is taking an interest in this city’s hand painted […]

  • Melbourne's Ghostsigns with Finding the Radio Book | Ghost Signs

    […] Another Melbourne Ghostsigns enthusiast, Mark Holsworth, has posted this to the Black Mark blog. It seems that more than one person is taking an interest in this city’s hand painted […]

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