Tag Archives: Melbourne City Council

Melbourne’s Street Names

When I was at university there was a student, I won’t mention any names because he now works as a lawyer, who stole street signs with the name of the person for 21st birthday present. There were a lot of 21st birthday presents to collect and he became very experienced at removing street signs. It eventually backfired when he stole the street named after the birthday boy’s grandfather.

Street signs are the collective consciousness of the city written up as addresses. Melbourne often does have that much imagination when it comes to naming streets, lots of old signs of loyalty to the British Empire or pathetic memorials to old city councillors. How streets got their names is one of the boring subjects that urban historians engage in (for that kind of thing see eMelbourne Lanes and Alleys). I could comment on the recent addition of green historical note signs underneath some of the street signs.

In the late 19th Century Melbourne City Council was often petitioned to change the name of lanes that had acquired a bad reputation, for example Romeo Lane became Crossley Street. In the late 20th Century Melbourne City Council took to renaming lanes as tourist attractions and to celebrate local international stars: Dame Edna Everage (surrounded by bulbs like a make-up mirror) and AC/DC Lane (with lightning stroke). There are some streets still need to be renamed; Coco Jackson Lane in Brunswick needs to be renamed to remove the racist nickname “coco” from the street named after the boxer.

But there are also some amusing street names in Melbourne.

To Punch Lane – doesn’t Melbourne have enough problems with violence?

While I’m on this subject of the history of Melbourne’s street names – locals refer to ‘the Paris End’ of Collins Street without remembering why. It was the presence of the artist’s studios and not the later addition of street planting of trees that lead to the eastern end of Collins Street being called “the Paris end”. Melbourne’s first sculptor Charles Summers started the trend. He had a studio and foundry in Collins Street where he cast the Burke and Wills Memorial in 1865. The sculptor Margaret Baskerville (1861-1930) had her studio in Collins Street. She married the painter and sculptor C.D. Richardson in 1914 and Richardson also had his studios conveniently located in Collins Street. Grosvenor Chambers, a custom built complex of artist’s studios at 9 Collins Street housed many famous Australian artists including Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Clara Southern, Charles Conder, E. Phillips Fox, John Longstaff, Max Meldrum, Mirka Mora, Albert Tucker and Wolfgang Sievers. It was established in 1888 and held artists studios until the mid 1970’s when all but the facade of the building was demolished. Artists still have studios in the city but the Paris End of Collins Street has become too expensive.


CCTV or not CCTV (Act 2)

The issue of proposed CCTV in Melbourne’s heart of street art, Hosier and Rutledge Lanes has been resolved. After deferring the decision to install CCTV cameras in Rutledge Lane and Hosier Lane the Melbourne City Council has decided not to install them. (See the Melbourne Leader 26/9/12 and Act 1 of CCTV or not CCTV)

Through out these two acts, there has not been a lot of drama because there has been a lot of respect shown. I hope that nothing I have said or written has shown any disrespect because nothing but respect has been shown to me. Even the Melbourne Leader had to try to dramatise events using the words “back down” as if there was some primitive dominance struggle. Life don’t need to be a soap opera when no-one is watching.

The residents of the lanes and the street artists, Fletch of Invurt especially, have been working hard, liasing with all the stakeholders, going to meetings, writing emails and trying to create a neighbourhood based on respect in these laneways. Everyone has acted reasonably and rationally. I am pleasantly surprised, almost shocked, at how reasonably and rational the process has been. The most telling example of this is that the city engineer, Gordon Harrison recommended to the council not to proceed with the installation of CCTV cameras.

Andy Mac’s cowboy hat will be filled by a committee of residents and artists. There is need for a contact person for the art in the lane and it is hoped/expected that person will be Adrian Doyle, who has an interest in the quality of the art from Pia and his street art tour business.  If anyone can keep his finger on the pulse of the lane then Doyle can. It would be good to have a committee, of residents and artists, to back up this position so that the same situation following Andy Mac’s egress doesn’t develop again.

There is such a sense of community about these lanes. Creating an inner neighbourhood is hard in Melbourne and Hosier Lane is not easy, you have to admire the effort that people are putting in here. For more information about Hosier Lane and to take part in online discussions about the future of the area (for anyone who works, lives or plays in the lanes) see Hosier Rutledge Neighbourhood Online.

Hosier Lane stands in contrast to what happened with Centre Place. Six years ago I used to enjoy going there now I can hardly look at Centre Place anymore. It has been going down hill for years. Now it is just a mess and it is getting worse, there is no respect shown for any of the art.

Now that the CCTV or not CCTV has been resolved we can get back to enjoying the art in those great laneways – respects to all everyone using the laneways.

Various artists, Hosier Lane

Shida in Hosier Lane

Will Coles mask in Rutledge Lane


CCTV or not CCTV (Act 1)

Melbourne City Council’s plans to spend $60,000 on installing two CCTV cameras in Hosier Lane and Rutledge Lane could destroy a world-class cultural asset. The street art in Hosier Lane is Melbourne’s 3rd most popular tourist attraction. You can read in The Age about the council meeting where Fletch (of Invurt) spoke to Melbourne City Council and got them to defer the decision.

Rutledge Lane, September, 2012

There are so many levels to this issue that need to be discussed from the philosophical, the political, the aesthetic, criminological and the practical, empirical evidence. After so many meetings, emails, phone-calls and other communications… I don’t know where to start.

Concerns for the future direction of Hosier Lane emerged after the departure of Andy Mac, who lived above the lane for over a decade and established Until Never Gallery in the same building. Andy Mac acted as an unofficial curator for the laneway, a moderating influence on the madness of this graffiti tolerance zone. It is a beautiful and dynamic place. There is often someone painting in Rutledge Lane when I visit. Earlier this year I was showing my parents the lane and my mother started talking to a guy spraying the wall. The guy, Wons proved to be an excellent cultural ambassador for graffiti, explaining that: “the work underneath had been ruined with tags…‘capped’ is the correct term”. (Cheers Wons – see Arty Graffarti for the piece that Wons was doing at the time.)

Looking up Hosier Lane with wedding party arriving. Hosier Lane is a popular site for wedding photos.

On Friday the 7th I was listening to a paper by Prof. Saul Newman, Reader, Dept. of politics, Goldsmiths, University of London at the Victorian College of the Arts. Prof. Newman argued that there is a need for anonymity in the coming politics, considering Giorgio Agamben’s state of exception, and the desire for governments to have a monopoly on appearance. Issues including Foucault’s interpretation of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon were being discussed. Philosophy is not isolated from the world and current events; it is, in away scouting out new territory, way ahead of the frontline. This time philosophy proved prescient and on the weekend I plunged into this current issue of trying to stop the installation of CCTV cameras in Hosier Lane.

What are the problems that the CCTV hopes to solve? The most important issue on the mind of Mayor Robert Doyle was assaults – there have been several assaults in the two lanes and reducing assaults should be a high priority.

Will CCTV cameras do this? I’ve been looking at systematic reviews of the effectiveness of CCTV cameras; a systematic review is an independent assessment of all the evidence gathered from multiple studies. According Skinns to “the introduction of CCTV had no effect on the personal crime offences such as assault.” (Skinns, D (1998) ‘Crime Reduction, Diffusion and Displacement: Evaluating the Effectiveness of CCTV’ in Norris, Moran and Armstrong (eds.) (1998) Surveillance, Closed Circuit Television and Social Control, Ashgate) The only strong evidence for crime reduction due to CCTV cameras is when they are used in car parks to stop vehicle crimes.

There are a range of other problems with installing CCTV cameras include the targeting of minority groups by police and the supply of data to US intelligence via TrapWire (see Darker Net). Trapwire has prompted Anonymous to call for the destruction of all CCTV cameras (see their video) adding another problem to this mix – the likely destruction of these expensive cameras. This is not the ravings of a conspiracy theory blogger; the residents of Hosier Lane are concerned about damage to their property as a resident’s window was broken when the mirrors installed in the lane were broken.

What would be the likely outcome of installing CCTV in Hosier or Rutledge Lanes? Even though there are street art permits for some part of the lanes the artists that worked in there will not feel anonymous and worry that they will be tracked through the network of CCTV cameras in the city. The consequence of this will be to drive the better artists away leading to a reduction in quality of the art in the lane and ultimately the loss of this unique cultural location without any reduction of assaults.

Various artists, Hosier Lane

Wisely Melbourne City Council has already installed lockers for bins to prevent fires being lite in them and budgeted for increased street lighting in Hosier Lane (a parallel systematic review about street lighting found a reduction in crime by 20%). This is a complex the political, the aesthetic, criminological and social issue and there must be a better way to spend $60,000 (plus maintenance and the cost of staff to monitor the cameras) to reduce assaults in Hosier and Rutledge Lane. The story continues in CCTV or not CCTV (Act 2).

Security camera (artist’s impression)


Crazy City Comforts

The way that the city is used had changed fundamentally along with the way that people moved around in it. In the 1890s the Melbourne City Council did not provide any public seating in order to discourage loitering. A century later, in the 1990s the city council was adding even more flamboyant seating not just for tired pedestrians but also as decoration to the street.

There are sculptures that are intended to be used as seats like Edward Ginger’s “Echo” or the plinth of “The Children’s Tree” by Tom Bass. And there is seating as sculpture like he polished steel blobs like solidified solder on Collins Street, Matthew Harding’s Mercury Rising, 2008.

In 1992 the City of Yarra installed 3 mosaic benches by Giuseppe Roneri along Brunswick Street. There are two on the corner of Victoria Street and one on the corner of Westgarth Street. They also installed another bench near Leicester St. made of wood and iron cut in a floral pattern with the words “Shine On Me” in the centre of the back; the bench was made by M. Bronwyn Snow. These sculptural benches contributed to the street life.

In 1994, the City of Melbourne, followed the example of the City of Yarra, and added what was described in the design brief as “unique and distinctive forms of street seating” in the streets. They added Simon Perry’s “The Public Purse” to the Bourke Street Mall and another bench by M. Bronwyn Snow, “Resting Place” located near the corner of Swanston Walk and Little Lonsdale Street. Snow’s “Resting Place” is more elaborate than her earlier bench in Fitzroy. It is a double-sided bench of steel and jarrah with decorative iron supports featuring giant steel sunflowers and vines. Another piece of whimsy added to Swantson Street.

It could be worse, there is tiled red lips seat on Southbank – a kitsch copy of Dali’s May West sofa (which is actually the work of Barcelona architect and designer, Oscar Tusquets) – and another photo opportunities for tourists.

These seats confuse distinctions between public sculpture and architectural urban design. They raise the question of what is the use of sculpture? As a drinking fountain, a seat or a rubbish bin. The unofficial use of crevices in public sculpture as places to stuff rubbish. The hall through the middle of the Jason Waterhouse “Dwelling” in front of the Coburg Public Library is an official rubbish bin.

Walking around the city you might somewhere to sit. You might need a drink of water but drinking fountains are a whole other story. You might also need a toilet but as far as I know there isn’t an artist designed public toilet in Melbourne yet. There are plenty of unofficial artist, or architect designed rubbish bins, maybe future design briefs for public sculpture should include rubbish bins or ashtrays? The philistine inclusion of a practical use for a sculpture goes against the aesthete idea of art for arts sake. The political moderation of these two extreme positions creates these unique Melbourne seats.

(For more about this see my earlier blog post Moving & Sitting in the City.)


And it was all Yellow

Ron Robertson-Swann’s sculpture, “Vault” (aka the Yellow Peril) was only in the Melbourne City Square for a year but it haunts Melbourne like Banquo’s ghost at the banquet. The sculpture certainly haunts the architects DCM who choose it. It was only in the City Square for a year but it left a permanent psychic mark on Melbourne. The sculpture has been the subject of endless discussion when it was completed and Wallis wonders why Melbourne became so obsessed with this sculpture. Wasn’t there anything more important to talk about in Melbourne?

“I actually think Melbourne is better off than Sydney, because of the experience of Vault. Vault was a public issue, and I think Melbourne is a lot more sophisticated as a result of these arguments being aired, over a long period of time.” Ron Robertson-Swann, Oct. 2002 (Carolyn Webb, “Melbourne’s mellow peril” The Age 3/10/02)

Vault has no meaning besides being art; it is simply an arrangement of yellow steel planes. The significance of it to Melbourne is the subject of the book.

The cast of characters spans Melbourne and clearly describes the conflict’s political dimensions.

For the sculpture: DCM (architects), Cr Ivin Rockman, Cr McAlpine, The Age, Eric Rawlison (director of the NGV), Professor Patrick McCaughey, Contemporary Art Society, Norm Gallagher (BLF)

Against the sculpture: Cr Don Osborne, Cr Jack Woodruff, The Sun, Premier Ruper Hamer, Bert Newton, Australian Guild of Realist Artists, Peter Thorley (chief commissioner of Melbourne)

Wallis does note that the conflict was as much aged-based as it was one between the left and right. It was Cr Osborne who popularised its derogatory nickname – “the yellow peril”. As well as, covering the controversy, Wallis comprehensively examination of the whole process from the competition for the commission, the commission and construction, the Melbourne City Council politics and the public reaction, the dismantling, removal and exile to Batman Park.

It is interesting to note that BHP contributed to the cost of the steel for Vault. That with a larger budget for the sculpture the City Square might have had a Henry Moore or Hans Arp sculpture. And that if the budget had been smaller friends of Montsalvat sculptor Matcham Skipper might have been able to pay for a place for him in the City Square.

Wallis looks closely at the reactions of the public to the sculpture, not in just the newspaper’s letters to the editor page. He looks at people climbing it, graffiti, homeless sleeping under it. The way that people moved around the sculpture was part of the commission and part of the concern of its critics.

The controversy over “Vault” extended the conservative position on Melbourne’s public sculpture. Long after their experience with “Vault” Melbourne City Council shunned any public sculpture commissions, paralyzed by fear of another controversy. The little good that came out of the whole incident was that it started the push that eventually the federal government introduced legislation protecting the moral rights of artists.

The book is well written and attractively laid out – I like the side texts that expanded the history through sidetracks. The book also features lots of great photographs, cartoon clippings from newspapers and other evidence of sculpture’s significance in Melbourne. And there is sort of a happy ending to look forward to as the sculptor and the people of Melbourne finally accept “Vault” in its new location outside of the ACAG.

Geoffrey Joseph Wallis, Peril in the square: the sculpture that challenged a city, (Indra Publishing, 2004) ISBN 1920787003, 9781920787004

Penny Webb reviewed Peril in the Square (The Age 14/5/04)


Scrase for Mayor

“My early sculptural work was about connecting ‘objects’ so they form beautiful structures. My current interest is making connecting ‘people’ so they form beautiful communities.” Carl Scrase

Carl Scrase is an emerging Melbourne sculptor, who inspired by Melbourne’s Occupy movement has announced his candidacy for Mayor.

I first encountered Carl Scrase work at Seventh Gallery years ago where I was amused by his sculpture made of super-balls and toothpicks. He moved on to working with bull nose paperclips and won the $5000 2010 Archangel Prize. Recently I saw his paper sculpture with a plinth made of tall stack of A4 paper at Dianne Tanzer Gallery.  Connecting ordinary objects as the small units into larger structures is the essence of Scrase’s sculptures. They made post-minimalism appear fun.

Is our empathy on the rise, image courtesy of Carl Scrase

I’ve also seen his “is our empathy on the rise?” paste-ups around the streets of Melbourne and Fitzroy. The blank space underneath the question and the arm high level of the paste-up invites responses and responses to responses. This is the kind of street dialogue that graffiti has always engaged in but Scrase has given it a paste-up forum.

Following the script from the propaganda model for attacks on the Occupy movement, the current Mayor Robert Doyle has attacked Carl Scrase for receiving art award (that he richly deserves) and arts grants from the city of Melbourne. These attacks were amplified by the Herald Sun newspaper who ran the story: “Occupy Melbourne protester Carl Scrase takes the cash” by Anne Wright and Stephen Drill, December 06, 2011 (see my post: Newspaper Wreaks City). I don’t think that Mayor Doyle’s attack is motivated by any fear that Carl Scrase and his team will damage his re-election chances rather just another attacks on the Occupy movement, even if it is a ridiculous argument. Mayor Doyle’s argument exposes his idea that the reason for artist’s grants and prizes is to buy the loyalty of artists.

It is interesting to know that Occupy movement has inspired people, like Scrase and the people on the Council election ticket with him, to engage with the political process. Scrase believes in democracy and that “the age of professional politicians is over”. In contrast the main political parties have encourage popular disengagement and the political machine that have kept them in power.

The banker, Max Rothschild, wrote (regarding the Italian Futurists but consider it in the response to the Occupy movement) – “When there bursts froth from one mansion a song of youth and originality, even though harsh and discordant, it should be received not with howls of fury but with reasonable attention and criticism.”


Fear & Loathing & Melbourne’s Public Sculpture

Melbourne’s public sculpture collection has been assembled without much thought and without much expense. Although I write blog posts about Melbourne’s sculpture it is not because I am particularly impressed with Melbourne public sculpture collection. Melbourne sculptures strike me as a cheap collection by a city that was desperate to install some public art.

As a collection of art the city’s public sculptures are not world class. Melbourne does not have many famous sculptors; the William de Kooning bronze out the front of the Arts Centre is an anomaly both for Melbourne and for de Kooning, who is better known as a painter. In contrast, Adelaide has sculptures by Henry Moore, Andy Goldsworthy, Barbara Hepworth and Donald Judd all of which are well known for their sculpture.

Although Australian Aboriginal art is popular with Melbourne’s international visitors there are no major public work of Aboriginal art. The City of Melbourne has also chosen to ignore the local street art movement in public street art – rather they choose to attempt to preserve a piece by Banksy. (Although both Aboriginal art and street art are primarily based painting a sculptural work would not be inappropriate or impossible.)

Edward Ginger “The Echo” 1997

Melbourne City Council’s choice of emerging sculptors rather than established sculptors has saved the city money and given new sculptures a break but very few have become established sculptors. Near the corner of Lt. Bourke St. and Swanston St. is Edward Ginger’s “The Echo” 1997. “The Echo” is a big red funky geometric sculpture that attempts to be an urban totem. “The Echo” is representative of Ginger’s other, usually smaller mixed media works; the intense colours, especially red, and funky geometric forms. Edward Ginger. Unfortunately Ginger has not exhibited since 1998

There is an element of what the late great Hunter S. Thompson would call “fear and loathing” in Melbourne’s sculpture collection. Melbourne’s population has a tradition of opposition to public sculptures, expressed in opposition to Ron Robertson Swan’s “Vault” and Paul Juraszek “The Sun & the Moon”. Melbourne’s conservative past is the reason most often cited for this rejection but there might other factors in the mix. One might be an imported tradition of opposition to public sculpture from Melbourne’s significant Irish immigrant population. Paula Murphy in her article “Rejecting public sculpture: monuments in Dublin” (Apollo v. 154 no.475 Sept. 2001 p. 38-43) discusses the rejection of public sculpture in Dublin in the 19th and 20th centuries. “The extent of the opposition to the public sculpture in place and the numbers of works that are now lost to the city suggest that this attitude apparently verged on a national pastime at the time.” Murphy suggest several reasons for this attitude, including the style of the work or the subject portrayed in it, but it is political reasons that account for the rejection of many imperial statues.

In Melbourne sculpture has been installed in the city as a token gesture. “Sculpture plays a vital part in public investment with regard to urban regeneration. Art is seen as a crucial component in improving safety, restricting crime, and encouraging a prosperous local economy.” (John Finlay,  “Christchurch: Sculpture as Urban Design Strategy” Sculpture 27 no9 N 2008) And Melbourne is squandering its investment in public sculpture.


%d bloggers like this: