Category Archives: Coburg

Sewers and the City

Capitalising on fear of the bubonic plague in 1901 the suburb of Haberfield was built in Sydney. Australia’s first planned model suburb had limited height, there were no pubs and no back lanes. The back lanes were used for the ‘night-soil cart’; you can still see the low doors in the brick fences in some of the lanes in Fitzroy. We can assume from the absence of lanes that houses in Haberfield was connected to main sewers. (For more on Haberfield read Art and Architecture for more on bubonic plague and its effects on Sydney see the digital records of NSW.)

A lane in Brunswick

                  A lane in Brunswick

In his book The Australian Ugliness, Robin Boyd was appalled at the tangle of overhead wires but he doesn’t get beneath the surface ugliness to notice that although these suburban homes that were now connected to telephone and electricity had not yet been connected to the sewers. That Melbourne had a telephone system before a sewerage system is a striking fact. In 1880 a telephone exchange opened in Collins Street and seven years later, in 1887 the first Melbourne homes to be connected to sewers. Some homes in the suburb of Frankston were only connected to the sewerage in 1991.

Bootscraper in Carlton

Bootscraper in Carlton

The architectural evidence for nineteenth century Smellbourne’s muddy, shit covered streets and open sewers is still evident, not just with network of back lanes, but in the iron boot scrapers, a necessary architectural feature, built into the entrances of its older buildings.

My own suburb of Coburg, in Melbourne’s inner north, contains many examples of nineteenth and early twentieth century suburban development, most with back lanes but a few without. Lincoln Street and the adjoining street have a single house block, instead of the usual double blocks with a laneway down the middle. In “Lascelles Park” development there only a lane between the houses on Jamieson and Lascelles streets and two very short lanes behind the four larger lots at the Reynard Gosling Road ends.

Over last century suburban planners were turning against lanes as more suburbs were connected to sewers. In the nineteen-eighties and nineties the Moreland City Council was sell off several of the lanes in Coburg as they were no longer used except for fly-tipping and discreet access for burglars. The bluestone cobbles are expensive to repair and make traversing the lanes uncomfortable, difficult or even impossible especially for people with disabilities, cyclist and even ordinary pedestrians.

In spite of all of this the inhabitants of Moreland now want to preserve the lanes. After a 2,400-signature petition was presented to Moreland City Council in September 2013 the Council resolved to maintain Moreland’s bluestone laneways and there is now a plan to preserve these lanes. The Council explains on it web page devoted to bluestone lanes that “Moreland values the network of bluestone laneways as a community asset which is an important part of Moreland’s heritage and urban character.”

Unlike the lanes in the inner city Melbourne that are famous for their street art, little bars and boutiques these back lanes are amongst the least attractive features of the suburb, generally backing onto old rusted corrugated iron fences and old sheds. Maybe someone is hoping that their historic ambience of Coburg and Brunswick before sewers will add to their property value.

Coburg lane painted

                   Coburg lane painted


Same Walls

Moreland Station

house-moreland-station

Fear of a Graff Planet - Moreland

Moreland Station Wall

The end wall of the terrace house opposite Moreland Station has been painted for as long as I can remember. It was one of the earliest walls in Coburg painted by OG23 and Askem. It was repainted in 2012  and then again this year. Thanks Arty Graffarti for the attributions.

Brunswick Station

Adnate & Slicer Brunsick Station

AWOL Brunswick Station

There are a couple of walls here that have been painted multiple times. Adnate and Slicer “Nothing Lasts Forever” in 2012 and then Adnate again along with the Dutch writer, Does in 2013. This wall became hotly contested territory and was splashed, bombed and capped into oblivion subsequently streets have been planted in front of it making the wall less visible.

Cyclist and Graffiti

Brunswick Station House

The end wall of the small row house was one of the first legal walls that sported a big piece. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the first time it was painted depicting Alice’s encounter with the caterpillar. The first photo is from 2009 by Grace (‘gerd’) and Rags. The second from 2012 times by Lapse and Gers/d. Again, thanks to Arty Graffarti and dannym for all the attribution, they made me aware of how much ‘ownership’ and maintenance of these walls exists by the particular writers.


Colours of Coburg

I was in Coburg going from the library to the deli to do my shopping when I encountered Ria Green and Aliça Bryson-Haynes applying gold leaf to a telephone junction tube. Green and Bryson-Haynes were wearing matching tops in a gold fabric. As well as applying gold leaf to the normally grey utilitarian telephone junction they were also applying gold leaf to other functional and non-functional items along Sydney Road in Coburg. Green and Bryson-Haynes were also conducting a survey about the colours and styles that we wanted to see more of in Coburg.

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson-Haynes, Colours of Coburg

Encountering the object covered in gold leaf made me question if I could remember it before this transformation. I must have walked passed it thousands of times but this was the first time that I actually saw it. The gold leaf was a continuation of Ria Green and Aliça Bryson-Haynes earlier work, Everyday Monument in MoreArts 2014. That time a nineteenth century iron lamp post outside the Brunswick Town Hall is covered in gold leaf.

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument, 2014

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument, 2014

The gold leaf application reminded me of Bianca Faye and Tim Spicer’s Welcome to Cocker Alley. Welcome to Cocker Alley part of the City of Melbourne’s Laneways Commissions 2008 where gold leaf was applied to the external pipes of the Nicholas Building in Cocker Alley. In both urban interventions the gold leaf was applied to remind Melbourne that it was the gateway to the Victorian gold fields. Likewise the shops along Sydney Road grew with the gold rush.

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It was part of Colours of Coburg, “an initiative by”/“collaboration” (?) with the Coburg Traders Association. There was some idea to identify ‘what colour or colours are Coburg?’ but really to create some atmosphere for the trading strip. It appears, from their Facebook page, that the choir that was singing softly in the Victoria Street Mall was also part of Colours of Coburg.

Coburg traders have been trying to create some atmosphere for the shopping strip over fifty years. At least this interactive urban intervention is more tasteful than being the location for Victoria’s first go-go dance marathon, won by 15 year old Sue Grewar in November 1966.


A Hipster Conversion

I love the way that real estate agents describe the city. “In the heart of Brunswick bridal district.” There is a poetry to their succinct phrases flavoured with slight exaggerations. “For Lease, A Hipster Conversion” sign on the factory in Albert Street that previous was the studio of 3 Phase Design. “Ideally suited for cafe/restaurant/brewery” the sign continues, describing the range of larger hipster businesses. Hipster fashion boutiques, coffee shops and barbers would be looking for smaller premises.

DSC00202

This is not a sign of the apocalypse. I don’t object to the gentrification of a suburb, but I prefer the hipsterfication because it improves cycling and other things. It is interesting that ‘hipster’ has entered real estate agent’s vocabulary. (See my post on Hipsters.) The long term industrial decline in Brunswick and Coburg, two suburbs in the north of Melbourne, left vacant many shops and factory spaces that were used as art galleries and studios.

I thought that the sign would be a good a way of introducing a list of art galleries in the area that no longer exist; I couldn’t list all the artist’s studios in the area, like 3 Phase Design, as that would be a very long list. For the all the local art historians; this is probably not an exhaustive list and corrections and additions are welcome. It does not include all the pop up gallery spaces that had one or two exhibitions nor business, such as cafes or bookshops that exhibit art.

696

696

696, 696 Sydney Road, from 2008 to 2009 street art shop and alternative commercial art gallery that stocked one off artist creations along with spray paints and magazines. It had a small back room exhibition space with bi-weekly exhibitions and events. 696 also had one-night only exhibitions in “the Yard” in the backyard. Toby and Melika went on to establish “Just Another Agency” representing illustrators and organising exhibitions. 696 then became 696 Ink, a tattoo parlour with exhibitions of pop surrealism. Some of the street art the 696 commission can still be seen in the alley way along one side of the shop.

Circus Gallery in North Coburg (2004-2008), a single room shop front gallery that has to be the most northern art gallery ever in Melbourne. It was up the hill from the old Kodak factory in North Coburg amongst a culture of old shops. The shopfront room alternates as a studio space for Andrew May and an exhibition space; a heavy curtain is drawn across the front window to make it a studio. The gallery had the Starving Artist Prize; the cost of entry for the prize was a can of food and the winners received the cans of food.

Eisenberg Gallery – The Victorian Museum of Experimental Art was at 126A Nicholson St. in East Brunswick on the intersection of Nicholson and Harrison streets. It was an artist run initiative that ran for a few years in a former shop space. The small space was not open but visible from the street through the large shop windows. Exhibitions changed regularly but mostly they were seen by the passing drivers stopped at the lights.

Dudespace was an ordinary private suburban house at 22 Cassels Road, Brunswick. Run by Geoff Newton who went on to open Neon Parc in the city. The house would become an art gallery when a t-shirt bearing the word “Dudespace” hung out the front. The exhibitions in a room in the house would only last a day and featured some notable artists including Juan Ford in 2006.

Pan Gallery was a small commercial gallery in the corner of a pottery supply shop specialising in ceramics that closed in 2011. (See my blog post.)

Ocular Lab, 2003-2010 an artist run initiative, meaning “a site for experimental and alternative models of artistic representation and activity that encouraged the development of professional practice” in a converted shop space in Brunswick with an external ‘billboard’ space.

OM Gallery, was well located opposite the Brunswick Town Hall and ran for many years. It was both a photographic studio and rental exhibition space in a converted factory.

Rinaldi Gallery on Victoria St., Brunswick was an attractive single shop front white room gallery with some one-off designer furniture and objet d’art also for sale. It was run by a very tasteful Italian woman for several years and exhibited serious emerging and mid-career artists.


James Voller’s Urban Interventions

I was disappointed when Voller’s giant colour paste-ups on the public toilets came down but then MoreArts is only a temporary urban art exhibition. Voller’s paste-up on the industrial rubbish bin at the station carpark, although slightly damaged, is still clearly visible and creating a wonderful illusion. Now there is a new image of another house by Voller on the public toilets, appropriately for Melbourne’s summer, it has a stripped awning.

James Voller, Coburg

James Voller is a photographer from New Zealand who is now based in Melbourne furthering his studies. His urban interventions with paste-ups the cover the whole surface make powerful works of art.

In 2011 I saw James Voller’s exhibition “Constructing Site” at Beam Contemporary. Voller’s photographs his urban interventions that used architectural paste-ups the play with the size and meaning of urban objects. I didn’t get around to writing the exhibition at the time, it was just some interesting photographs and I’d seen big paste-ups before.

Now that I’ve seen Voller’s work on site regularly in Coburg, very regularly, just about any time I go anywhere, as I pass by the public toilets opposite the mall or see the bin on the way to the train station, I think they are fantastic.

James Voller

What I find fantastic about Voller’s urban installations is that suburbia is often used as a metaphor for dull and unattractive and Voller is one of the few artists who can make impressive art about the subject. Public toilets are rarely seen as the site for art, although see my post on the Russell Street Sculptures, but we all need public toilets and rubbish bins.

Voller’s two installations improve this with flare. They have done so much to improve the ugly heart of Coburg, the massive stretch of tarmac supermarket parking lots around the railway station on the second block west of Sydney Road.

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns


Free Books

The little Free Library in Coburg is along the Upfield bike track between Reynard Street and Moreland Station. It is a very well done; a neat little red school house style with a pitched roof and glass doors

.Little Free Library

The setting is completed with a matching red seat, a sign and a small garden, wedged in between a fence and the bicycle track. Guerrilla street architecture is practical way to help the whole community; public seating may be a useful as free books.

The sign reads: Little Free Library – Borrow, donate or exchange – Have fun – In memory of David J. Cumming – “Uncle Dicky”

I’ve no idea who David J. Cumming was but the little library is fun tribute to his memory.

little free Library

The collective noun for books is a ‘library’ and, although the Little Free Library is not a circulating library that circulates its collection by lending books, nor a research library that holds a collection, it is still a library. It is a street distribution/exchange library, that informally distributes books between people privately without records. Imagine encountering a free library a couple hundred of years ago, or in a totalitarian regime, an anarchic intellectual paradise.

It is an interesting cultural note that books are becoming increasingly difficult to sell new or old. New forms of book swapping are emerging: Book Crossing, Book Mooch and Little Free Libraries. http://www.bookcrossing.com http://bookmooch.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_swapping

According to Little Free Library Map there are also ones in Seddon, Kingsville and Hawthorn, and Thornbury. I didn’t find the one that was, according to the map, on Kendall Street in Thornbury near the Merri Creek. I wasn’t surprised, I’m sure that some come and go without being recorded, like many things on the street. http://littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap/


Pentridge – more on prison art

At the bottom of a box of old books, mostly about Africa that my parents brought over to my house I found Denton Prout and Fred Feely, 50 Years Hard, the story of Pentridge Gaol from 1850 to 1900 (Rigby Limited,1967, Adelaide).

It was an enjoyable read although not entirely focused on Pentridge Prison, there is a lot of other details about the Melbourne colony. Sometimes the book lost focus but I wasn’t bored, there is a dramatic short story about a night ride from Geelong to Melbourne that was indirectly connected to Pentridge. Towards the end there is a bit of an examination of nineteenth century penal theory and practice but the book is more about historical story telling than any overall thesis.

There were also a few more anecdotal details about William Stanford, the convict who carved the granite fountain in Gordon Reserve (above Parliament Station) including speculations on who was the model for the boy. However, amongst all these details the authors fail to mention, the crucial detail that Stanford had been an apprentice stonemason before immigrating to Australia.

Stanford Fountain, Melbourne

Stanford Fountain, Melbourne

“Stanford was allowed the use of a shed for his work. The magistrate also supplied him with a kit of tools, and when the artist wanted a model for the eagles which were to ornament the rim of the fountain , he arranged for a stuffed eagle hawk to be sent to Pentridge from Bendigo. Mr Paton also came to Stanford’s aid when he wanted a child to act as model for the nude figure forming the finial of the work – a youth holding up a basket of flowers. Stanford, it is said, made many request to the warders to allow one of their children to pose for the nude, although the warders were willing their womenfolk had other views.” (p.139-40)

The vast site of the old Pentridge prison continues to be rehabilitated and redeveloped into a housing estate. However, apart from the residential development and a few eateries there is little going on in the area. I notice that people keep on searching for ghosts in the grounds of Pentridge prison but it appears rather soulless in the daylight. The old carved granite bluestones retain character but the development appears lifeless. Stone work was a major feature of Pentridge’s prison regime in the early years of the prison, some of it perhaps carved with William Stanford himself.

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 1

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 2

Walking around Pentridge Village, as it is now called, I finally found the preserved mural by the aboriginal artist, Elliot Ronald Bull (1942-1979) in a yet unnamed lane, between Pentridge Blvd and Sentry Lane. Like Stanford, Bull already had already studied painting before being sent to prison. In 1960 (or 1962 or 1964) Elliot Bull painted the mural with ordinary house paint in “F” Division. (See my post on Prison Art @ Pentridge.) Although Bull’s mural at Pentridge is his most important surviving artwork (S. Kleinert, ‘‘‘Blood from a Stone”: Ronald Bull’s Mural in Pentridge Prison’, Australian Journal of Art, 14, no 2, 1999, p 93) There was nothing about its history and it probably adds less to the lane than it did to the prison yard.

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 3Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 4


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