Tag Archives: Melbourne public transport

Tram Conductor Performance

At the anti-EastWest Tunnel rally in Brunswick on Sunday there was a man in a Melbourne tram conductors uniform giving living-history performances with a political edge. The dream of better public transport in Melbourne was the positive agenda for the rally.

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Melbourne tram drivers no longer ride the trams selling tickets and helping passengers. They have been replaced by machines that are of little assistance to passengers, especially if they are tourists, the elderly, parents with small children, people unfamiliar with the route… grumble, grumble…

The tram conductor’s political street theatre engaged people in conversation about local history and politics. He even was of interest to small children. The tram conductor was from a performance group called The Connies, that is made up of former tram conductors. They advocate, amongst other environmental causes, the reintroduction of tram conductors.

Dressed up in the old uniform of a tram conductor complete with the leather ticket bag with its brass fittings, ticket punch and tickets (remember when a purple city section ticket was only 30c?). The ticket bag was complete with collectable cards of famous tram conductors: Joyce Barry, the first women tram driver in 1975 and Armand “Frenchie” Lefebvre, the performing tram conductor. Hole punched for authentication.

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The tangible element of the street theatre; the cards about the famous tram conductors and the old tickets made it a very genuine and engaging performance. Really attractive playing-card sized cards.

I walk home from the rally, thinking/dreaming about better public transport. On the subject of transport I find an automatic email that about my blog being quoted in Free Walks of Melbourne using our Trams.  Apparently my post provides a “The following link is a balanced overview of the village” (Pentridge Rehabilitated).


Unliveable Melbourne

This is not a review of Metro Gallery’s exhibition of Mrs Bennett’s (Nyurapayia Nampitjinpa) paintings because I couldn’t get to see it due to Melbourne’s public transport. From one of the world’s most liveable cities (but that was only if you were a senior executive) Melbourne is fast becoming unliveable due to a serious neglect in infrastructure. Melbourne has a lack of drinking water, public transport and other basic items needed for a metropolis of approximately 4 million people. Infrastructure problems have also led to power brownouts and blackouts especially in hot weather. Many of Melbourne’s suburbs like Coburg, are built without adequate public toilets, purpose built libraries and other amenities.

There has been decades of neglect and I mean decades. I frequently review exhibitions at Platform in the Degraves St. subway at Flinders Street; the subway was completed in time for the Melbourne Olympics and hasn’t been renovated since.

The 19th Century colonial vision of Melbourne was for a European city with wide boulevards of trees with trams running up the middle and suburbs connected by a network of trains. However, post-war Melbourne grew to a vast size as a huge suburban sprawl encircled the city. Flying over Melbourne you realize how flat the architecture is; there are very few buildings over two stories high and the suburbs spread out to the horizon.

The lack of a functional public transport system (actually it is not a “system” and the operators use the term “network” to describe the mess), bicycle paths, pedestrian areas and a sprawling car-based post-war metropolitan geography has created other problems for Melbourne. The cars, along with a primary reliance on coal fired power stations to provide electricity, contribute to the greenhouse effect and more extreme weather, as if Melbourne didn’t have enough variety of weather conditions.

This is might appear beyond the scope of this blog’s culture focus (‘get back to writing about art exhibitions’). But the culture of Melbourne includes its infrastructure and the political culture that has allowed the decades of neglect. It is the reason why you aren’t reading a review of an exhibition. If you would have preferred to read an art review instead of this entry then this is yet another reason for you to stop voting for the ALP and Liberal Party that have and will continue to neglect the city’s infrastructure and ruin its environment.

 


Street Art Railway Notes

Pranksters struck at one of Melbourne’s train stations again. This time they altered a ticket machine’s instructions to dispense university degrees. The alterations used stickers of the same color and typeface, cut to fit over the existing information, it was so subtle that staff at the station didn’t notice them until informed by a confused customer. (Thanks to Jane for the photos.)

Lench's blockbuster since buffed

Being an appreciative observer of street art along the Upfield train line I have to comment on Lench KSA (Kickin Some Arse). His revival of the blockbuster style advertises his name clearly – what more can I say about a trademark and instant fame apart from technically analyzing the fonts that he uses. Actually there is more Lench is an active aerosol writer with other styles than his visible blockbuster pieces.

Anonymous pranks and instant fame are two extremes in street art. What is more important the idea or the identity? Or is it to make the neglected urban areas more beautiful? Graffiti is part of the urban system; like the fungi that live on rotting wood and have brightly colored fruiting bodies, orange shelf fungus, small blue parasols and others, aerosol graffiti converts neglected areas into works of art.  And on the subject of neglected areas, a major area of neglect in Melbourne is the public transport system.

Graffiti writers have mixed feelings about the transport network, they love the lines and rolling stock like train-spotters, the writers see train carriages and nearby walls as their canvases. The railways also bring the public to their art, or the other way around. Yet attacking the train system is a major motivation in Melbourne graffiti, as it is in other cities. The rail operators see the graffiti writers as their natural enemy. And, consequently, as in many cities the train operators and their thugs (also known as “authorized officers”) are seen as the enemy by graffiti writers – but in Melbourne the general public sympathize with this view.

All of Melbourne, especially the graffiti crews have been relieved not to have Connex running the train system even though the new train operators, Metro haven’t improved things. Hatred of Melbourne’s train system is so popular that it has its own Facebook page. I hate Connex/Metro, with 16,947 members when I looked. There are more examples of culture jamming the Connex system in the photo section of this Facebook group.

Cue some hobo railroad music:

“Oh, I don’t like a railroad man/ for a railroad man will kill you if he can/ and drink up your blood like wine.” Bascam Lamar Lunsford, “I wish I was a Mole In the Ground” (1929)


Flinders Street Station Centennial

Today is the centennial of Flinders Street Station. The centennial of Flinders Street Station has been largely ignored amidst the debacle and neglect endemic in Melbourne’s public transport, there is nothing to celebrate. This iconic Melbourne building is a popular and convenient meeting place. The original Melbourne Terminus railways station was completed in 1854 but was soon outgrown but the city. In 1900 construction of the current Flinders Street Station building began and it was completed in 1910.

Jenny Davies is author of the new book, Beyond The Façade, about Flinders Street Station http://www.flindersstreetstation100.com/ and has curated the current exhibition at Platform. It is very relevant exhibition to the Platform exhibition space, the public and the time. There are artifacts, photographs and didactic panels in a very professional museum display presenting a decade-by-decade view of the railway station.

Major central railway stations are cities within cities and this was the idea of the original design for Flinders Street Station. The station had everything: a gym, a public library, meeting rooms, a ballroom and a children’s nursery. In the 1960s there was even a bowling alley under the station. Nothing has replaced these facilities; they lie empty and abandoned in the building. It is tragic that it has been neglected for so many decades by State governments more interested in building roads and hosting major sporting events.

Along with this didactic historicy exhibition at Platform there is there are two cabinets of art about Flinders Street Station. Artist, John Bates has very flat paintings of the station displayed in the “Vitrine” cabinet. And in the “Sampler” cabinet are stylish images of Flinders Street Station by industrial design student, Tristan Tait,

There are the microenvironments of the city centre that can be changed by the existence of art galleries. For example, the revitalisation of the Degraves St. Subway, also known as Campbell’s Arcade, that goes under Flinders St. to the station from Degraves St. The subway was completed in time for the 1956 Olympics and it has not been refurbished since. It has many of its original features like the long row of telephone booths (no longer functional). Campbell’s Arcade has its own dynamic, given that it is one of the entrances to Melbourne’s main metropolitan railway station. And since the Platform art space the Degraves St. subway became an interesting place to walk through and even sit and eat your lunch on the benches in during Melbourne’s winters.

The revitalization of Campbell’s Arcade started with Platform 2. There already was a Platform artist space in vitrines in a subway at the old Spencer Street Station. And buskers have always found the space at the end of the stairs attractive for its position and acoustics. Platform 2, now simply called Platform after the closure of the Spencer Street location. Platform utilized built in display cases that were originally intended for commercial displays but were no longer used.

I have taken an interest in the underpass after exhibiting at Platform 2 in 1995. A year later when a group of friends and I opened Subterranean Arts, an artist run space. There was, already, a millenaries and a shop selling PVA clothes leading the way on the alternate direction for the arcade. At the time there were still the traditional type of shops: the newsagent, second-hand book window and old-fashioned barbershop. Subterranean Arts closed down after six months when energy, finance and direction ran out; the fate of many an artist-run space. Other shops have opened and closed but the trend has been towards boutique alternative fashion and other interests like vinyl records and skateboards. Sticky, a shop specializing in zines, and other limited edition publication opened a few years later and has been growing stronger ever since. It is incredible to think that in the age of the internet people are still producing handmade publications. And Sticky helps them do it with an extra long stapler, badge machines and typewriters for public use. The second-hand book window has been converted into another exhibition space – Vitrine. And Platform continued to expand into more used display cases.

I have written about the exhibitions at Platform many times in this blog – including when it was flooded when road works above collapsed the roof – Is the Art Alright? When I was there on Thursday afternoon I meet the author, Jenny Davis and enjoyed a jazz busker duo playing.

Aside from Platform and Sticky there isn’t much art in Flinders Street Station, even compared to other major railway stations. The only officially commissioned work is the Mirka Mora mosaic mural was installed in 1986.


Anti-graffiti

A white car with “Graffiti Management” on its door driving in the dirt beside McCauly Station with a wall of solid graffiti behind it. The derelict switchbox near Coburg Station where the graffiti is assiduously painted over but the building has been allowed to stand derelict for decades. Managing graffiti and allowing a hundred-year old brick buildings to slowly crumble is like the proverbial dog in a manger. Melbourne’s railways are being covered in anti-graffiti grey paint. The preference for grey graffiti proof paint over the multi-colour calligraphy of graffiti is a strange preference. The grey monotone symbolizes control that is considered good and therefore aesthetically preferable to graffiti, even if in an industrial wasteland like McCauly Station. On the other hand graffiti is a symbol of loss of control that is considered bad and therefore ugly, despite being superficially appealing to the uninformed.

Know your enemy.  And the hardcore extreme enemy of graffiti everywhere is Steve Beardon, Councillor for the City of Casey (2003, 2005 – present) and the president of a community group called “Residents Against Graffiti Everywhere”. Cr Steve Beardon associates graffiti with gang membership and chroming without citing any evidence. His rhetoric is full of phrases like “blight, “wage war” and “zero tolerance”. He believes that he can speak for the community, as if ‘the community’ was a genuinely coherent group. I presume that I am not part of Beardon’s community and nor are the little children who enjoy the cartoon character graffiti that they see from the train.

“Residents Against Graffiti Everywhere” is an extreme position and they are either potential vandals themselves or not really against graffiti everywhere. For if they advocate the removal of Roman graffiti or other graffiti of historic value then they would be potential vandals. I asked Steve Beardon some questions via email and within a day he had responded with five lengthy emails, from which I have found the answers to my questions amidst his electronic diarrhoea. It is clear these emails that Beardon is both obsessed and extreme in his anti-graffiti views.

I asked about the ‘tolerance zones’ established by Melbourne City Council? Beardon replied: “Its my belief that Melbourne council is wasting money and denying all of us a clean city free of graffiti. Tolerance zones send a mixed message that graffiti is acceptable and clearly has failed to stop the blight.”

I asked about the use of aerosol art for decoration of shop fronts etc. or, galleries that specialize in aerosol art? Beardon replied: “I advocate street art not be the standard used for murals. It needs to be remembered that the majority of graffiti is perfected illegally on residents front fences, walls etc.” And Beardon sent me an email with images of the kind of kitsch; tromp l’oeil and historicized murals that he advocates.

Laws and other forces can influence the quality and type of graffiti but it is extremely unlikely, given the millennia of graffiti history, that anyone could eliminate it. A realistic response to graffiti problems has to acknowledge that graffiti is an ancient human behaviour. A realist response also has to acknowledge that the current street art style is an attractive and successful graphic style. Beardon and his ignorant, unimaginative, extremist views will not eliminate graffiti, as he is part of the problem and not the solution.

(This blog entry is an edited version of two entries published in my old blog, Culture Critic @ Melbourne. My old blog has since been taken down for reasons beyond my control but I thought that this entry was worth republishing.)


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