Tag Archives: Moreland City Council

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


MoreArt 2013

This is the fourth year of MoreArt 2013 Moreland City Council’s annual public art show. I enjoy the transformation of my regular bike path along the Upfield line. There are installations in Jewell, Brunswick, Anstey, Moreland and Gowrie. The unused ticket booths of these formally manned train stations have been turned into spaces. Phil Soliman uses a locked seating area at Moreland for his The Great Pyramid; a model of the three pyramids at Giza made of fava beans on a commercial prayer mat along with some stones (stone throwing is optional).

Phil Soliman, The Great Pyramind, Moreland Station

Phil Soliman, The Great Pyramind, Moreland Station

The best locations in this exhibition are in some neglected urban spaces between Moreland Road and Tinning Street as they are completely desolate and already surrounded by chain link fences. I talked with artist Liz Walker about the attraction of these vacant spaces at the opening. “You see things in the ordinary that you wouldn’t notice before.” Liz Walker told me.

Liz Walker, Estate, Moreland

Liz Walker, Estate, Moreland

Lots of people were appreciating and using Bush Projects Soft Infrastructure at the Mechanics Institute. The large purple tubes (100% recycled P.E.T. felt, stuffed with straw) surrounded the garden and trees and made comfortable and warm seating for the large crowd of people at the official opening. The idea of soft infrastructure of recycled material for events like the MoreArt show opening.

Bush Projects, Soft Infrastructure, Mechanics Institute, Brunswick

Bush Projects, Soft Infrastructure, Mechanics Institute, Brunswick

It was a typical Moreland Council opening with Red Brigade Band marching in followed by some folk music and a cue at the bar. I was keeping a weather eye open, the grey clouds had been threatening all day and the wind was freezing my ears. Right on cue as the speeches started there was a light drizzle but it didn’t last long.

Red Brigade at the Mechanics Institute

Red Brigade at the Mechanics Institute

Then there was the usual round of speeches from a Wurundjeri elder, the Mayor, curator and judges.

Michael Carolan Hey You Try Me a sound and video installation that really used its location of the old ticket booth won Indoor Award. Phil Soliman received a honourable mention for his installation.

Michael Carolan Hey You Try Me, Jewell Station

Michael Carolan Hey You Try Me, Jewell Station

The Outdoor Award was won by Alica Bryson Haynes The Shape of Things to Come at Coburg Mall for its multi-cultural community engagement.

Alica Bryson Haynes The Shape of Things to Come

Alica Bryson Haynes The Shape of Things to Come

Riza Manalo won the Brunswick Station Gallery Award for an artist to curate a program of art at the stations along the Upfield Line for her work The Visitor.  (No photo available as it is a projection on the Mechanic’s Institute.)

Riza Manalo, The Visitor

Aaron James McGarry, I adopted a Koala, called: third draw down


In the Public Interest

“Benway’s first act was to abolish concentration camps, mass arrest and, except under limited and special circumstances, the use of torture. ‘I deplore brutality,’ he said. “It’s not efficient. On the other hand, prolonged mistreatment, short of physical violence gives rise, when skilfully applied, to anxiety and a feeling of special guilt.” (Wm. Burroughs, Naked Lunch p. 31).

The Counihan Gallery had some excellent exhibitions this year with pertinent political themes like the intervention in the Northern Territory (see my review) and the people smuggling (see my review) but “In the Public Interest” is not one of them. “In the Public Interest” is too vague and stupid; in “celebrating activism, public protest and free speech” the exhibition is pandering to political delusions that Australia is a liberal democracy with free speech and that the government tolerates political dissent and protest.

At the entrance to the Counihan Gallery there is a banner stating that the Moreland City Council welcomes “refugees and asylum seekers”. What is the word for people who want to distract attention from the malefactions through rhetoric and tokenism rather than disassociate themselves from the criminal organization abusing the human rights of refugees? Hypocrites, charlatans and frauds are too weak a collection of words to describe such despicable behaviour.

Simon Perry, 1994, Brunswick

Simon Perry, 1994, Brunswick

Across the road from the Counihan Gallery outside of the Mechanics Institute on the corner of Sydney Road and Glenlyon is a 1994 sculpture by Simon Perry. A plaque provides a strange explanation for the sculpture that appears to be a cage being veiled by a dove. The plaque reads (in part): “…to commemorate the free speech campaign of the 1930s…” Consider the definition of the verb commemorate:

1.            to honor the memory of somebody or something in a ceremony

2.            to serve as a memorial to something

Noel Counihan’s free speech campaign did not accomplished or changed anything – he didn’t have free speech, he was in a fucking cage! The sculpture honours the memory of his failed campaign for the fundamental human right of free speech. For the pedants out there who might point to a High Court decision recognizing freedom of political speech in Australia, I would reply: how has this protected the speech of Albert Langer, the editors of Rabelais (La Trobe student newspaper), Bill Henson, Paul Yore or anyone else? For freedom of speech to be effective in Australia it would have to protect the rights of people other than those in the major political parties who form government.

I want to make it clear that I regard the so-called Australian government as a criminal organization without any moral, political or legal legitimacy what so ever.

Australia is full of bigots with no regard for the human rights of the indigenous population, refugees…. basically any minority that these popularist politicians want to attack. When confronted with these facts Australian bigots will scream that others have committed more crimes than they have. They will point to China, Russia, France and the Spanish Inquisition and say: “look at them, don’t accuse us”; as if someone else committing crimes makes these shit-heads less guilty of the horrendous crimes that they are committing. In this exhibition, this exceedingly stupid attitude is represented in works by Wendy Black, Penny Byrne, Nick Devilin and William Kelly (and the curators Leon Van De Graaff and Victor Griss who choose to include those works).

The worst work in the exhibition goes to George Matoulas who has created a shallow and unpoetic painting, the visually vacuous equivalent of a poem by Rick from the Young Ones – BOMB.

There is some good art in this exhibition, both aesthetically and conceptually but given the confused and stupid politics of the exhibition’s theme I preferred seeing that art when it was in other exhibitions.


Of Mall & Place

There are two little pedestrian spaces off the long straight length of the Sydney Road shopping strip. These two urban hubs are Sparta Place in Brunswick and Victoria Street Mall in Coburg. Sparta Place has some great aerosol walls, yarn bombing, sculpture and fashion boutiques and a cafe. Victoria Street Mall has yarn bombing, sculpture, cafes, post-office and public library. In both malls the public art, in both cases sculpture and street art, has accreted rather than incorporated into the design. These two malls were first designed and created by the Moreland City Council but then the public and surrounding businesses have added to this design. Just as the trees planted in them have grown these malls have changed over time.

Sparta Place

Three different groups are struggling for control of Sparta Place. There is the Moreland City Council urban design team who did the initial change to a pedestrian space in 1998. Maria Hardwick as a business owner invested heavily in renovating the old building gentrifying it to opening fashion boutiques. The five metal columns full of post and pans, “New Order” by Louise Lavarack have a post-modern approach to classical references. But some of the residents of Brunswick and their council member wanted a memorial to Sparta to celebrate the relationship between Moreland and its sister city in Greece (one of Moreland’s many sister cities) with the statue to King Leonidas and they got in 2009.

Petros Georgariou , King Leonidas

Petros Georgariou , King Leonidas

New Order,  Louise Lavarack

New Order, Louise Lavarack

Sparta Place has the architectural attractions of the Hardwick building and the Spanish revival building at the end of Sparta Place. The dappled shade of the trees, benches with yarn bombing, the shop signs unfolded on the pavement that emphasize the middle path through the mall. At the carpark end of the mall quality street art on the large walls adds to the sense of place.

Local people do use Sparta Place to sit and talk, although it is not as successful an urban space as Victoria Street Mall in Coburg. The old men who come regularly to Victoria Street Mall to sit on the long bench by along the glass wall of the library make it an institution. But there is a social balance in the ages of people using the mall from the very young to the very old and this is important in this time of age segregation.

Victoria Street Mall Coburg

There have been recent improvements to Victoria Street Mall with new water permeable cover around the base of the trees, replacing the area that was covered with heavy sand that quickly spread across the paving. The seats have been covered with an artificial turf giving the Mall a quirky and fun design feature. The style has become funkier along with the yarn bombing and other community art projects.

Board-games have been added to the large public table that is now located at the library end of the mall – not that I’ve seen anyone playing them yet although this public table (in a mall full of private café tables) is still well used.

At the corner of Victoria Street and Waterfield Road there is a small bronze house with a corridor with a corridor going straight through it. It is simplified but typical of Australian houses in Coburg. It is “Dwelling” by Jason Waterhouse, the winner of the 2005 Moreland Sculpture Show. Waterhouse has been making sculptures of this basic house form for a number of years in various media. At other end, the Sydney Road end chuggers and buskers compete for the passing trade.

ason Waterhouse, Dwelling

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling

These two malls are urban nodes. Nodes are those points of interaction in urban environment that link various paths. The public perceives and navigates the urban space, in a graduated scale from a path, edge, node, to a district. Public art and sculpture is used to mark the edge of a path or as part of the design of a node.

Apart from these two malls poor urban design of nodes in far more typical in Coburg. Coburg’s historic railway station is still not working as a node even after the recent renovations to the station’s forecourt. All of the hubs around any of the railway stations in Coburg and Brunswick are badly designed; the local councils and the railways department don’t appear to be able to communicate.

(I’ve written blog entries about both of these malls in 2009: Leonidas @ Sparta Place and Victoria Street Mall Coburg.)


Managing Popularism

I picked up a pamphlet on “Managing Graffiti in Moreland” by Moreland City Council when I was at the council offices paying Dignity’s cat registration. The pamphlet is a strange little publication with a lot of very vague statements about: “What is graffiti and why is it a crime” and “Who does it and why?”  There is information on reporting graffiti, graffiti prevention and removal.

“It (graffiti) can include tags, stencils, pieces and even colourful murals, which have been done without the permission of the person who owns the wall and without Council’s prior permission.” This implies that you need Council permission to paint your own wall and if so who do you contact? There is no information in pamphlet. It is odd considering that the Council is also recommending, in “tips to prevent graffiti” to “consider painting a mural on a targeted wall.” But this is the kind of incoherent nonsense that I’ve come to expect when government’s write about graffiti. However this was not the worst part of the pamphlet.

“Tips to prevent graffiti” includes: “Avoid providing blank or bare walls by planting creepers or vines”. Of course planting creepers or vines are only useful in preventing graffiti as creepers and vines can cause substantial damage to brick walls with old mortar but they will prevent graffiti. The pamphlet promotes other solutions that are potentially worse than the problem: for example, anti-graffiti coatings can be toxic. Fortunately, Moreland Council has an extensive disclaimer that “expressly disclaim any liability, for any loss or damage, whether direct or consequential suffered by any person as a result of or arising from reliance on any information contained in the publication.” Basically, Moreland Council is saying that they are just saying some stuff because they have to say something about graffiti because it is politically popular to say things about it.

There were no council pamphlets available on managing feral pigeons, managing illegal rubbish dumping or managing rats. These are all more serious problems than graffiti that are the responsibility of local councils; graffiti won’t damage your health. Local councils need base their responses to perceived problems on evidence rather than popularism. It is very popular to write about graffiti, whatever opinion you might have about it, and the story can be illustrated with an exciting image. <insert image here>

Illegal graffiti in Coburg - don't worry it's only paint...


Graffiti & Censorship II

Are chalk drawings illegal under local laws? Moreland Council city infrastructure director, Nerina Di Lorenzo said that chalk drawings were illegal under Moreland Council laws. (Tessa Hoffman, “A message for all” Moreland Leader 27/9/10 p.1) I have tried but have been unable to get a comment from Nerina Di Lorenzo but it does appear that Moreland Council has made it illegal for a child to draw a hopscotch pattern on a Coburg sidewalk.

The Moreland Council is highly unlikely to prosecute a child drawing in chalk on the sidewalk. The legal threats were the council’s response to the political demands of the chalk marks as that were part of the campaign for a high school in Coburg. Letters to the Moreland Leader the following week were all in favour of the chalkboard hoarding. The campaign for high school in Coburg doesn’t care they have also been using a sticker campaign to get their message out.

One un-stated reason for the state to enact draconian anti-graffiti legislation has been to censor and control the public space. And anti-graffiti legislation goes further in providing an excuse to censor computer games, films and magazines about graffiti because they promote illegal activity. For example, in 2007 70K, a local film about graffitists, including Renks who was a member of the 70K graffiti crew, has been censored by the OFLC (Office of Film and Literature Classification) and cannot be shown in MUFF (Melbourne Underground Film Festival). “The Classification Board also refused classification for the film, 70K, because it deals with crime (the defacement of public property) in such a way that it offends against the standards of propriety generally acceptable to reasonable adults. The film features documentary footage of people, with masks, disguises or their faces blurred out, vandalizing passenger trains and applying graffiti to walls in Australian cities, including Brisbane and Melbourne. The film is edited to rock music and does not feature commentary, interpretation, justification or explanation. In the Board’s majority view, the film glamorises and attempts to legitimise what are criminal acts committed in Australia and which have a negative impact on Australia and the Australian people.” (OFLC Report p.57) The filmmaker’s obvious mistake, as far as the OFLC is concerned, was not to have a pompous pedantic narrator and a soundtrack by Hildegard Von Bingen.

For more about graffiti and censorship see my blog entry from 2009: Graffiti & censorship. Trying to control and censoring the messages on the street is a reason for enacting anti-graffiti legislation. Anti-graffiti legislation is about censoring the young and poor. People passionately quote Heinrich Hein about burning books but anywhere that they destroy and censor they will also destroy people.


Leonidas @ Sparta Place

Now Brunswick has a statue of King Leonidas of Sparta in Sparta Place off Sydney Road. The statue has been the subject of local controversy,  it is disliked by the local traders, and created as part of the junket politics of sister cities.

Petros Georgariou – King Leonidas 2009

Greek artist Petros Georgariou sculpted the bust of King Leonidas, in a retrograde and conservative nationalist-realist style. The modeling of the bust is crude and stiff. The statute’s black marble plinth, a material alien to the local area, makes it look like a tomb. Not content to leave the 2005 remodelling of Sparta Place alone, the statue has been erected right in the middle of the mall. The placement of the plinth and style of the statue clashes with the existing contemporary style statue in the mall, New Order by Louise Lavarack. There are a lot of things wrong with the statue but not as many as the things wrong with the politicians who commission it.

Roberto Calasso in The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony argues that Sparta could not be understood before Stalin. “Lycurgus was the first to compose a world that excluded the world: Spartan society. He was the first person to conduct experiments on the body social, the true fore-father all modern rulers, even if they don’t have the impact of a Lenin or a Hitler, try to imitate.” Sparta always acted in their “national interest” and would kill and enslave to achieve this end.

Mayor Lambros Tapinos said the statue symbolized “the contribution of the Greek community and its vibrant history within our municipality”. Other local politicians, like Cr Ange Kenos, have also praised King Leonidas for his defense “of human rights.”  To dismiss these politicians as stupid and ignorant is to be generous or sympathetic to them, these are the kind of people who would help another Hitler and Stalin to power. I’m sure that as a politician Mayor Tapinos has learnt the highest rule of Sparta society: you can do anything; steal, rape and kill, just don’t get caught. Laconophilia may be popular but it is also amoral and delusional.

I have written about Coburg’s multiple sister city junket politics before in regards to the use of the arts: see Man of the Valley and Cross Currents @ Moreland Civic Centre.  I have been unimpressed with the artistic standard of these exchanges and I have seen no other evidence of any value to the City of Moreland’s three sister city relationships.


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