Category Archives: Coburg

Schoolhouse Studios Coburg

Tom Civil has painted many murals around Melbourne, but this was the first time he had a party thrown for one. On Saturday, 2nd April, there was a band, a DJ and a couple of hundred people at the new Civil mural in Coburg. It was like a scene in one of his paintings with people and bicycles, only it wasn’t set in a garden but in a car park.

Schoolhouse Studios occupies the old Coles supermarket near the Coburg Station is now artists’ studios. A not-for-profit creative space located in the ugly heart of Coburg, a desolate area of car parks and utilitarian concrete blocks supermarkets. Carparks, empty tarmac or full of cars don’t make any aesthetic difference to the wasteland. It is an intersection between the inner and outer suburban north, where walkable meets automotive sewer at Bell Street.

Inside, the vast space of the former supermarket has been partitioned into small frames of little houses with clear corrugated roofs. There is also a performance space and an exhibition space. Outside, the south wall has been painted by Melbourne street art veteran Civil.

I walked past on Wednesday 9th March when Civil was about to start. The whole wall had been painted emerald green. He had only made a couple of chalk marks, trying to come to grips with how his plan will work on the actual wall. Realising that the south-facing wall is always in shadow, the colours look different in the shade but will last longer.

It took ten days working with an assistant and a scissor lift to paint the wall. First, a few trees started to appear, then, along with the outlines on the trees, some of Civil’s “stick folk”. Finally, tufts of grass and dots of rocks were added to fill out the design.

From March 22 – 31, another eight days of work for three people to paint the car park tarmac. Another local street art veteran, Michael Fikaris, helped paint the car park section.

Now the car park has become a park. And it blooms, not just with the mural but also with seats and planter boxes by Urban Commons. (For more about parklets and urban design, see my previous post.) 

Amani Haydar

In the exhibition space at the front of Schoolhouse Studios was a series of paintings and a tapestry by Sydney-based writer Amani Haydar. Her paintings of women depict images from domestic to symbolic. And her use of patterns in the background and in representing clothes is effective.

Since it opened at the start of the year, I have seen a couple of other exhibitions at Schoolhouse Studios, including “It’s in our Nature,” a group exhibition by the Lucy Goosey Feminist Art Collective about environmental and feminist issues. And I’m glad that there is another art gallery close to my home; it is the kind of exhibition space the neighbourhood needs.


Coburg graffiti and street art

Street-level art criticism and being aware of what is happening in my neighbourhood. Coburg graffiti and street art continue to work their way northwards piece by piece and to use the piers along the new elevated railway. And I’m still walking (and riding my bike) around these streets, lanes and paths, photographing it.

There is a good collection of graffiti pieces around Batman Station. (When will that station get a name change from that of a genocidal killer?) Playing with letterforms like a signwriting class on acid; Digs playing with different styles in the one piece.

Further back from the railway, walls that would have sported advertising a century ago are now decorated with street art. Commissioned murals legal walls, along with random stencils and tags.

However, as usual, my eye is drawn to the smaller stuff. Many fun stickers, including some espousing anti-fascism, are always good to see. Slap-up stickers may be a small platform, but it does show that you are not alone in holding those views. I spotted a tag (and some stickers) by Psalm, reminding me that he has been painting it across Melbourne since the 1990s or maybe longer.

Then there is the aerosol activity of the local WWW crew (aka World’s Worst Writers, also known as the UBM crew of Dsel, Mudl, Smelly, Achy, Luna and Calypso). How bad are they? Enquiring minds will want to know and will be disappointed that they aren’t worse. The worst is as hard to find as the best. People with talent spend years working at being the best in their field while most of us, like the WWW crew, will settle for ordinary and unexceptional most of the time. There are many shout-outs (lots of names around the pieces) on their pieces, reminding me of the social aspect of graffiti writing.

Near Coburg Station, a series of large paste-ups appeared on the piers of the elevated railway with either single words (space, air, time) on them or arty photos. They didn’t last the long Labour Day weekend before most of them were torn down.

A yarn bomber on a fence along the train line proclaims: “I love Coburg”.


Halloween in Australia

The common denial that Halloween is not Australian is incorrect. Although there clearly was a time in the late 20th century when Halloween festivities didn’t happen for a couple of decades in some parts of Australia. However, the reality is that Halloween has been celebrated in Australia since the colonial era.

In 1858 the Mount Alexander Mail advertised a “Select Scottish Ball on the Anniversary of Halloween” at the Red Hill Hotel, Forest Creek (p.8). Colonial Australian newspapers also reported on Queen Victoria celebrating Halloween at Balmoral. Few people now remember Robert Burn poem “Halloween”, but it was often quoted in Australian newspapers in October and on Burn’s birthday in January. For about a decade in the 1860s a ballet based on Burn’s poem touring Australia. And echoing Burns in a manner that not even William McGonagall could muster, a poem titled, “An Australian Halloween” by an ‘Ossian MacPhearson’ was published in the Hamilton Spectator and Grange District Advertiser, Saturday 12 November 1864, (p. 3). So the idea that Halloween is alien to Australia is absurd.

Halloween celebrations continued to be enjoyed in Australia after federation often organised by the local Caledonian Society. But by the 1970s Halloween was not just a Scottish event. In 1970, the Australian Jewish Times wrote about plans for a “halloween party” in “Briefly on youth” p.17. Halloween in Australia was changing from parties for adults to a day for children to dress up. And in 1974, the Canberra Times reported on children in the suburb of Hughes playing trick or treat.

Australia has borrowed most of its holidays from the northern hemisphere and most of its culture that isn’t British, from America. So neither explanations of climate nor anti-Americanism feel satisfactory; otherwise, Easter, Christmas, along with Mother’s Day would also be failing in Australia. Holidays come and go; Guy Fawkes night is no longer celebrated in Australia primarily due to safety restrictions on the sale of fireworks but also because Australian culture is no longer that closely tied to England.

According to market research, Halloween is currently Australia’s least favourite festival. I can’t believe it is less popular than St. Patrick’s Day and the horse racing holiday. One contributing factor for this might be the decline in people identifying as Scottish Australian as there was a corresponding decline in membership of Caledonian Societies, and the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne ceased to operate on 21 April 2016. 

Culture is not static but constantly evolving, so claims that Halloween is not Australian are not definitive. Indeed claims that Halloween is not Australian are a recent development in the history of Halloween in Australia.

I proudly bear some responsibility for the introduction of Halloween trick or treating in Coburg. As a bit of a goth with fond memories of a Canadian childhood, Halloween is a celebration I enjoy. It has been enthusiastically taken up by a multi-cultural neighbourhood for unlike any other annual event because it is not religious and is not about the family. I am interested in Halloween because it encourages children to explore memes and their physical neighbourhood. There are problems with Halloween that I would like to change, the amount of plastic, the sugar and the commercialism.

Halloween decorations in a garden in Coburg

The Unnamable Present

I walked to Dan Murphys, my local provider of alcohol this morning, past this poster. I have plenty of lemons; everyone in Coburg has a bumper crop of lemons. If you don’t have a lemon tree, someone in the street will have a basket of lemons out the front of their house to give away. So I bought the cheapest bottle of vodka that I could find because I’m only interested the alcohol. (I am using this recipe for my limoncello.)

“When life gives you lemons make limoncello – make lots”

This post is a result of a Twitter poll that I posted on September 14 where incautiously I asked: “Given that I will be in lockdown and I can’t go to any art exhibitions for the next who knows weeks, what should be the subject of my next blog post?

20th Century Music

Drinks from Dan Murphys

Philosophy book reviews

Walking in my suburb”

I suspect it was sabotaged as the votes were evenly spread; it only received 4 votes, 1 comment and 6 total engagements. Anyway, I will accept the challenge and write about all of them: my first paragraph covers two of those subjects.

Currently I am reading Roberto Calasso The Unnamable Present. The first chapter is titled “Terrorists and Tourists”; these two contrasting figures, one demanding certainty and the other expecting a different experience. He does find one point in common.

“When describing a place, people immediately say whether it is unblemished or disfigured by tourism. They talk about tourism like a skin disease. And yet the ideal tourist would like to visit places unmarred by tourism, in the same way that ideal terrorist would like to operate in places unprotected by security measures. They both encounter certain difficulties. And to put the blame on their fellows who have gone before them.” (p.61)

The second chapter, “The Vienna Gas Company” starts in 1933 with various writers, tourists in Europe, including Samuel Beckett, Virginia and Leonard Woolfe, Celine, George Simanon … as state terrorism rises. If you have faith in anything, spiritual, intellectual, secular, or physical, this book is not for you; it is only for those prepared to be uncertain in the unnamable present.

Penguin Books classifies The Unnamable Present as Philosophy, and I’m not going to debate the point for whatever philosophy is; it is certainly a form of literature. Calasso is not an academic philosopher, and he is not presenting a thesis or argument in his books. He is a writer and who worked for Adelphi Edizioni, a publishing house in Milan.

Unfortunately for me although Calasso writes about everything, he hardly ever mention music. This absence only becomes apparent because I struggle with this segue to my final topic, 20th-century music.

So now I’m left without a segue and the limoncello sitting in a dark cupboard for the next two weeks. I could try to emulate Calasso and find a quote about music for the final paragraph. I read a couple more pages of his book and find one on p.143 from Gobbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda: “At midday the state funeral of Field Marshal von Reichenau took place. Prepared by Supreme Command, extremely poor, psychologically clumsy, with an absolutely amateurish music. After the national anthems pupils of the army music school perform the first movement of the Fifth Symphony so far as they can. I agree with General Schmundt that in future Wehrmacht state funerals be substantially entrusted to our Ministry, since only we off er the guarantee that they can be carried out in a form worthy of the State.” (A note from 24 January, 1942 in Tagebücher Aus den Jahren 1942-1943, edited by L.P. Lochner, Atlantis, Zürich, 1948, pp.52-53) Music, like all the arts, was subsumed by the nation state’s need for propaganda.


Street Art Sculpture 11

This has been a big year for unauthorised public sculptural artwork; both for little and larger works, veterans and novices.

The Little Librarian up-cycles old books into new art using books for the support for the tiny installations. Unlike Tinky, The Little Librarian doesn’t use puns. The old books used would have been thrown out but have been made into something before being placed on walls. They don’t last long outside, due to the weather and, I assume, being ripped off by a passer-by. Tinky has continued to install miniature scenes on the street. Still, she is not the only street artist in Melbourne using HO scale figures.

There is a golden young woman’s head on a slender concrete plinth on the island inhabited by ibis in Coburg’s Lake Reserve. Last year a similar golden head of a man appeared atop a similar concrete plinth in Northcote’s All Nations Park (The Age reports).

The new sculpture’s placement on the island must have been strategically tricky as there is no bridge. This location avoids the Northcote bust’s problems whose plinth was knocked over shortly after it was installed. The Darebin Council restored it, deciding that it would remain in place for a year and then be auctioned with the proceeds donated to homelessness services. 

Elsewhere in a city mainly under quarantine lockdown for much of year children created spoonvilles. These settlements of decorated wooden spoons are open contribution sculptural works that invite others to participate. 

Some graffiti writers, like Cheros, expand their techniques, creating three-dimensional tags.

And ceramic works continues to feature as one of the more surprising mediums for street art be it from Discarded or other, unknown artists.

For more about unauthorised public sculptures see my earlier posts:


Monument to Now: MoreArt 2020

Monument to Now: MoreArt 2020 is Moreland City Council’s eleventh annual exhibition of public art. This year it had several flaws, chiefly that it is not an exhibition of public art but an exhibition of contemporary art in public space. For public art should be for all the public, not only a contemporary art audience with time, mobile phones, headphones and a tertiary education.

detail from Patrick Pound’s The following

Contemporary art appropriates and colonises sites taking them over and exploit them for art. “Monument to Now” suggests a contemporary version of a triumphal arch celebrating this artistic colonisation.

Every year the curator and the participating artists in MoreArt put on a set of blinkers so that they seldom see the street art, graffiti and guerrilla gardens that are going on along the bike path. And there is great, long guerrilla garden along the bike path featuring seating areas, free libraries, children’s play area and lots of junk used for pot plants. Coburg Urban Forest is very active in this area.

Officially MoreArt 2020 goes along the Upfield Bike Path from Coburg Station to Gowrie Station but actually only from O’Hea Street to Forest Road. This northern location is not one of the problems with the exhibition. It is a good ride through some interesting areas with plenty to see including an old mortuary train carriage in the Fawkner Cemetery, yellow ribbons dedicated to free Julian Assange and pieces by Discarded.

This is in contrast to MoreArt 2020, where there was often nothing to see. The title of Liquid Architecture’s work Songs you can’t hear summed up much of the exhibition. Invisible public art doesn’t work like invisible art in an art gallery. To expect that the audience is going to have brought headphones and be willing to spend over an hour walking and listening is a bit much. I came on my bicycle, and the dark clouds threatened rain. So no to the work of Catherine Clover’s Lament, Sarah Walker’s Legs Like Pistons, or Emma Gibson’s A walk from station to station.

I simply couldn’t find Adam John Cullen or Mira Oosterweghel’s work and consequently I only saw two of the works in MoreArts. Patrick Pound’s The following, a series of posters stuck to the bike path; found photographs of women seen from behind and almost predictably, there was a woman with her shopping walking up the hill ahead of me. And, Michael Prior’s trio of simple kinetic sculpture Flos Movens enhancing the space next to the Renown Street Community Orchard. They were engaging even though only one was working fully due to limitations of the photovoltaic cells and the gunmetal grey sky.

Michael Prior Flos Movens

MoreArt 2020 was a contactless, COVID-safe way to see an exhibition just not an exhibition that I would recommend to many people.


Lockdown Psychogeography in Coburg

Reports of various psychogeographical walks around my neighbourhood in Coburg. I don’t know how many times I’ve been around these streets during this lockdown or even what day it is. Of course, I saw some fresh street art, some other stuff and cogitated on the conundrums of Coburg’s street design. I don’t know if it is valid psychogeographical if you aren’t drunk or stoned, but I could write a book about what I don’t know.

The streets of Coburg, laid out in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are a grab bag of experiments in suburban road design. Wide nature-strips, no nature strips, broad central road division with a park area dividing a street. There is a single road with the backs of houses on one side and the fronts of houses on another. There is no uniformity to even the width of the streets, one even suddenly narrowing by about half a metre at one point.

Spotted the first COVID-19 street art, a sticker, a virus grenade, I’ve seen. And more of the work of the UBM Crew; the UBM crew includes Luna who alternates between graffiti and street art. (I should write a blog post about the artists who do both street art and graffiti because there are a few; Stanley is another example. I like artists who change style because it shows that they are developing.)

In case anyone was wondering graffiti artists do paint their own fences when they can.  One aspect that is worth mentioning about street art is that it is incredibly satisfying for the amateur part-time participants. Unlike other art forms where amateurs and professionals have different venues, audiences and public awareness, they meet on the street like masked pedestrians. There are many successful, amateur, part-time artists in street art; no doubt more than any other area of visual arts. Perhaps a subject for another post.

I could write a blog post about all ideas I’ve had to write blog posts. You will know that I am getting desperate when I write one about the murals of Coburg. There is this terrible painting of Marilyn Monroe, with her skirt blowing up of course, on the side of some restaurant that I never want to see again.

Aside from street art and graffiti, what else have I seen on the suburban streets of Coburg? A few pleasant front gardens, a strange sculpture and a lot of tasteless, late-capitalist stuff. (Who was that masked man?)


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