Tag Archives: Melbourne Town Hall

We Protest!

Benny Zable’s Greedozer costume, the full face gas-mask with the red radioactive sign on the end of the filter canister, was a regular feature at many demonstrations in the 1980s. He was a living sculpture with a message.


Zable’s gas-mask along with other the ephemera of mass protest demonstrations has been curated at the City Gallery in the Melbourne Town Hall in an exhibition curated by Malcolm McKinnon. The small exhibition traces the history of protests in Melbourne from 1962 Women’s Day marches through to recent anti-fascist protests. There is a “wreck the draft poster” from the Students for a Democratic Society printed on National Service Registration forms. And an improvised cardboard sign from the taxi driver protests that block Flinders Street in 2008.

John Ellis, Challenging Captain Cook, 1976

There is no denying the cultural importance of these events and images; protests are part of the spectacle of a democratic society. A photograph of a young Aboriginal protester from the 1976 in front of the Captain Cook Cottage still resonates with the current statue wars. Along with photographs and posters, there are protest signs in the exhibition but no banners; there wasn’t enough space in the small gallery and, maybe all the good old trade union banners are at the Potter Museum of Art’s exhibition State of the Union (I don’t know I haven’t seen it yet). The photographs of banners makes me wonder if protest marches are reconfigured religious processions, mass displays of passionate faith.

The exhibition attempts to give a balance between the government/police and other views. But can there ever be a balanced when the police using batons against peaceful protestors or driving over them with a police car at the S11 protests? The pretence that there is a tolerance of protests is one of the foundations of the illusion of a liberal democracy.


Melbourne’s Footpath Decorations

I’ve been doing a lot more walking recently, as if I didn’t do enough walking already. When I’ve been walking I’ve been looking down at the footpath decorations. There are so many of them in Melbourne’s footpaths marking trails – Melbourne’s golden mile or something or how far out pavement dinning can extend. But I’ll concentrate on the ones with artist intentions.

In the 1990s the Melbourne City Council (MCC) has installed pavement markers that are part of various walks around the city, for example, “Another View Walking Trail”. Created in 1995 by Ray Thomas (Gunnai tribe Gippsland Victoria), and Megan Evans, in collaboration with Aboriginal researcher/ writer Robert Mate (Woorabinda/ Berigaba tribe Queensland). The trail includes red granite and brass pavement inlays by Ray Thomas and Megan Evans.

Ray Thomas and Megan Evans, “Another View Walking Trail”, 1995

Ray Thomas and Megan Evans, “Another View Walking Trail”, 1995

There is “People’s Path”, 1978-1979, in the Fitzroy Gardens, created by co-ordinating artist, Ian Sprague and participants from the public. The “People’s Path” is made of terra-cotta bricks designed individually by community participants, including myself when I was on a school excursion. Not that this gives me any kind of sentimental attachment to any of the bricks, as I have no memory of the impersonal decorative design that I created that day. Do these community projects, especially in a city like Melbourne with a large population create any sense of identity? As a path, the “People’s Path” goes nowhere, round in a big circle.

There are brass pavement inlays outside of the front of the Melbourne Town Hall and a little bit further up Swanston is Robert Jacks graffiti inspired “Personal Islands”, 1992, in brass and bluestone.

Brass ticket outside Brunswick Town Hall

Brass ticket outside Brunswick Town Hall

Footpath decorations can also be found in the suburbs, there are brass pavement inlays outside the front of the Brunswick Town Hall. The brass inlays survive much better than pavement mosaics, the ones along Brunswick St in Fitzroy have deteriorated; I don’t know how the Hotham Hill Pavement Inlay by Bernice McPherson from1995 has faired (it is located on the corner of Buncle St and Catyre Cr in North Melbourne).

Deteriorated mosaic in Fitzroy

Deteriorated mosaic in Fitzroy

Although Melbourne has many footpath decorations and a great street art scene writing/tagging in wet cement has not become a street art form. I have never seen anything in sidewalk concrete that could be called art, no matter how broadly you want to apply the term. It is the most basic of text and slogans. Scratching into wet cement is a largely an opportunistic act. (The character of Wanda from the Canadian sit-com Corner Gas is a serial wet concrete graffiti writer, see Season 5, Episode 16 “Coming Distractions”.) See also my post Maps &  Trails about trails of street art.

Exploring Melbourne – Open House

There were many reasons to go into the city on Sunday: the Melbourne Open House 2011, yarn bombing in the Bourke St. mall, yum cha, shopping and the first sunny day in many weeks. I didn’t get to see all the 75 buildings open in the city. Some, like the Block Arcade, were booked out; others, like the Royal Melbourne Hospital Tunnels, had an hour wait until the next tour. I did see Origin’s Balcony Garden, the Athenaeum, the Plaza Ballroom and Melbourne Town Hall.

Origin’s Balcony Garden on Level 7, 271 Collins Street, is a contemporary roof top garden for the staff with a BBQ area as one of the main features. Designed by Jamie Durie and completed in 2009 it is elegant and informal with a lot of artificial turf over not only the balcony but also seats and the circular seating “cocoon”.

The Athenaeum Theatre and Library is an old cultural institution from the era of marvelous Melbourne. It was a time when people would know that Athena was the goddess of wisdom and civilization. The first feature film and the first ‘talkie’ in Melbourne were shown in the Athenaeum Theatre. In its long history has also been used as an art gallery mostly between 1943 and 1962. I remember it from the Melbourne Theatre Company’s productions in both the main theatre and studio space on the top floor. Between the theatre spaces there is private subscription library – in my imagination this had always been antique relic preserved from the 1900s but actually the library has kept up to date and full of popular titles and has 4 computers with internet access for the patrons.

Plaza Ballroom with visitors on Melbourne's Open House

Across the road from the Athenaeum, the Plaza Ballroom built by Frank Thring Snr. (father of Frank Thring, the actor). It is a rococo extravaganza of faux medieval with a tiled fountain and fake balconies. Overhead there is a huge hand-painted coffered reinforced concrete ceiling. It reminded me of the décor of the Forum Theatre and an old cinema in Brisbane but on a far larger scale.

After the theatrical aesthetic of the ballroom the classical styling and eclectic collection of the Melbourne Town Hall appeared more dubious. It has all the qualities of a wedding reception centre which it is used for. The council chambers are also used for the Melbourne comedy festival. Amongst the collection of portraits of former mayors and official gifts from other cities there is a Rick Amor painting of Melbourne laneways complete with graffiti and paste-ups (odd considering the City Council’s antipathy towards street art).

Twilight Taggers in the Bourke St. Mall

A visit to Melbourne’s CBD would not be complete without looking at some street art. There was a yarn-bombing project by Bali (see her blog the Twilight Taggers) and Yarn Corner going on in the Bourke St. Mall. A long colorful knitted and crocheted cover for a rail and its supports adorned with crocheted flowers. Yarn bombing is turning into a community art form, the family-friendly, council-friendly aspect of street art. And while in Chinatown for yum cha I walked up Croft Alley to see the current aerosol street art on its walls. Croft Alley was repainted in February 2011. (See my post about the earlier Croft Alley Project.)

Due to Sunday’s fine weather and the Melbourne Open House there were hundreds (maybe thousands) of people of all ages (kids getting their open house maps stamped at various locations) exploring the rarely seen Melbourne, the old Melbourne and the present Melbourne.

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