Spring has sprung

Spring has sprung
Roses at the Cottage

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Melbourne - the UNESCO City of Literature

In August 2008 Melbourne became the second City of Literature to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. I must admit I don't think I ever thought about what UNESCO really stood for (well UN yes but the rest?!). So here it is: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Interestingly the other cities of literature are Edinburgh, Dublin, Idaho, Reykjavik and Norwich. Some of the criteria should make us proud - and yet most of us wouldn't even be aware of it! It states that 'The city must provide an urban environment in which literature, drama and/or poetry play an integral role; and have experience in hosting literary events and festivals aiming at promoting domestic and foreign literature'.

 I don't know what it is about the word 'literature' but it seems to intimidate some when it needn't. It's the same with the annual Melbourne Writer's Festival at Federation Square which is currently in full swing. It's always held in the last 2 weeks in August (so why not plan a stay at the cottage next year!). I'm always surprised by friends of mine who read more than I do but when there is an opportunity to hear visiting authors they don't go along! I suspect they have the impression that as they aren't a writer 'it's not for them' or that authors are not articulate (some are and some aren't).
Speakers looking pretty relaxed at BMW Edge, Federation Square (Flikr)

Reading was never my first joy - in many ways I wish it had been - my parents were doers not readers per se - although they did read - particularly as they aged (like me!) So I came to reading through a circuitous route by attending Writer's Festivals and 'liking' (not Facebook liking!) an author and then buying their book. Gradually over the years I've become more selective and observant of  authors attending to promote their books (their wares!). I'd encourage you to dip your toe in the water. 
Actor Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral) talking with Michael Cathcart (Radio National) about his book on Dickens (Flikr)

A first for the Festival this year was an influx of editors, writers and cartoonists from The New Yorker who came to town. Each of their sessions was a sellout. They bought a new energy to the Festival and with so much success I hope initiatives like this will continue.
Roz Chast from The New Yorker creating her famed cartoons right here in Melbourne (Flikr)

This year Radio National randomly interviewed me about my thoughts on the Festival (a little hard as it was on day one!) I'm always mindful that so many who attend are 'of a certain age' - how depressing for the authors to look into the audience at a lot of aging 'Book Group groupies' (not me!). Hopefully the ambitious schools programme which runs mid week might ensure that even a small proportion of the doers become readers. 

So don't be intimidated! Explore and expand your souls! You never know what you'll learn! And make it easy by staying at the Cottage!

Bowen Cottage client comment this week: A lovely welcoming home with everything you could ask for and more. The other rave reviews are all dead accurate.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Do you know what this building is?

Tucked away in the far corner of the MCG Carpark/Park is a rather forlorn looking building with an interesting history.
Sitting on its own with the footbridge to the Tennis Centre and mighty MCG in the background and busy Brunton Avenue traffic rushing past I was amazed to read recently that this is one of just two Grand Rank Cabman's Shelters remaining (the other is at Christ Church on Toorak Road - I can't begin to imagine why it's there?!)

Commuters from the mid 19th century until the early 20th century who could afford it - travelled by horse drawn handsome cabs - the first in Melbourne was in 1849. They were the limousines (not stretched!) of their day. In the 1890's 13 of these portable wooden Cabman Shelters were scattered around the city. This was a place where a cabman could wait for his paying customers. Their horses were tethered on the still intact railing.
Roof ventilation lantern and horse railing still intact
I can't imagine why the city fathers chose to move this cute 5.3 metre by 2.3 metre structure from the city, where it resided opposite the Windsor Hotel in Spring Street, into the depths of the MCG Park where it now houses - parking signs.

The Grand Rank Cabman's Shelter 'dumped' in the MCG Carpark!
Next time you're going to a game at the MCG (or walking over the footbridge to the tennis) stop to have a look at a little piece of history.  What an ignominious end to the once famed - and importantly named - Grand Rank Cabman's Shelter. And not a plaque or explanation in sight.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Dame Nellie Melba

The famous opera singer of the late Victorian era and early 20th century Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931) was a Richmond gal! She was born Helen 'Nellie' Porter Mitchell in Richmond, Melbourne and took the stage name Melba as a reminder of her Melbourne childhood. 
Dame Nellie Melba
There are many reminders of Dame Nellie in Richmond. The pretty Dame Nellie Melba Memorial Park is within walking distance of the Cottage in Coppin Street - between Bridge Road and Swan Street. It's a 'dog on leash' park but certainly worth a visit (with or without dog!!)
The Dame Nellie Melba Memorial Park (look closely you might see the sign!)
Dame Nellie frequently requested that she be accompanied by a Wertheim Piano which were produced at their Richmond factory between 1908 and 1935. Although Wertheim Piano's are still being made today as is the case with so much manufacturing these days - they are made in Korea and of course China!  At its height the factory employed over 400 people. Since 1935 the factory has been a Heinz food processing plant and then at the beginning of television in Australia in 1955 it became the GTV Channel 9 studios and offices. Located in Bendigo Street (near Swan Street) as with so much in the area the enormous landholding is now being converted into - yes you've guessed it - yet more apartments!
The former Wertheim Factory and GTV Channel 9 studios en route to more apartments!
While on the subject of apartments - I was saddened to see that the Melba Conservatorium of Music which was located at 45 York Street finally closed at the end of 2008. So after a little more than a century the building was sold for a cool $4 million. After an inordinate amount of time searching Google for a photo of the building I am saddened to say that it seems to have been wiped out of existence! I do recall going to a Wagner Society Soiree there (obviously before 2008!) and it was a charming building.  I think it is sad that not even the Melba name has been retained.
The Melba Conservatorium of Music today!
Heritage listed Melba Hall in Royal Parade, Parkville is part of the Victorian College of the Arts under the 'umbrella' of Melbourne University. They have a wide variety of concerts and there's not a bad seat in the house. If you're a music lover it's certainly worth a visit.
Heritage listed Melba Hall, Parkville (wikipedia)
Of course Dame Nellie also left her legacy in both the famed Peach Melba and Melba Toast! Both of them were created for her by the French Chef Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel in London. He created the Peach Melba in her honour in 1892 and to this day it is still a favourite combining summer peaches and a raspberry sauce with vanilla ice cream.
Peach Melba (wikipedia)
Escoffier (in conjunction with the hotel proprietor Cesar Ritz) also created Melba Toast - a dry, crisp, thinly sliced toast. It is thought to date from 1897 when it was created for her due to illness.

And on a final Melba note (!) her international fame ensured that even today she is represented on our currency - the $100 bill. Have you ever noticed this before? I must admit I hadn't!

$100 for Dame Nellie Melba!
Bowen Cottage client comment this week: We'll definitely be returning - and for a longer stay!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Our history on a wall

I do wonder what will happen to the 50 metre mural wall in Richmond (on the eastern side of the soon to be re-developed Dimmeys building - covered in our post of 26 May 2012). The wall has the history of Australia on it and is worth a stop en route along Swan Street - it's on the corner of Green Street. 
The wall that covers our history
It tells the story not only of Richmond but of Australia - whether it be rock star Nick Cave or Cathy Freeman winning Gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games or Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everidge (and Sir Les Patterson) currently on 'their' farewell show in Melbourne - there's something for everyone!
The Arts Centre Spire, Cathy celebrating Gold, Sir Les in a typical 'position' with Nick Cave 'horrified'!
Sporting heroes, war heroes, artists, writers, actors, famed Richmond icons (including the Pelaco sign covered in our post of 26 June) it's all 'there'.
Football, Cricket, Unions, Radio Stations - it's all there!

Artist Hayden Dewar took 3-4 years to create this fascinating melange of Australia - with particular reference to Melbourne and Richmond. It was commissioned for Dimmeys 150th anniversary. I think it's a masterpiece. I was interested - and pleased - to see that it is obviously respected by the random graffiti 'artists' who are busy defacing many of the walls in Richmond - it appears not to have been touched.
Esky's, Redheads, Trams, Skippy, Graham Kennedy, Rolf Harris - the list goes on!

I encourage you to stop by and see how many of the faces, stories and Aussie icons you recognise. You'll have fun trying to pinpoint such a diverse range of our 'cultya'. It's an extraordinary feat to have squeezed so much into one wall - albeit a long one! 

And on a final note as the Olympics rage in London it was at the 'friendly games' in Melbourne (the first in the Southern Hemisphere) that a young Melburnian, John Ian Wing, came up with the idea for the Closing Ceremony. Previously the athletes had marched as teams as they do at the Opening Ceremony. He suggested that they mingle together for their final appearance. Thus began an Olympic tradition that continues to this day. 
The Friendly Games - Melbourne 1956 with the (MCG) Olympic Stadium
Have fun, take your time and see if you can think of something that the artist should have included!

Bowen Cottage client comment this week: We love this place. It is one of our favourite weekends of the year coming here!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The newly refurbished Hamer Hall

Melbourne enjoys being the Cultural Capital of Australia. And now we have good reason to celebrate. Crossing the Yarra River from the city along the tree-lined St Kilda Road boulevard one first comes upon Hamer Hall, then its next door neighbour the Arts Centre (with the famed spire) and then the National Gallery of Victoria and finally the Victorian College of the Arts. To have envisioned this wonderful precinct was - dare I say - visionary.
The 'round' Hamer Hall with the Arts Centre spire in the distance

The Arts Centre was meant to cost $24 million and open in 1977. Suffice to say that didn't happen (what is it about public works that are always over budget and never completed on time). Its eventual cost was - wait for it - $225 million - of our taxpayers money.

Designed by local architect Roy Grounds, who also designed the National Gallery of Victoria, the Arts Centre precinct which is so familiar to us all today was first mooted in 1942 by Sir Keith Murdoch (father of the infamous Rupert and more importantly the husband of the much loved and quite remarkable philanthropist Dame Elisabeth Murdoch - born 8 February 1909 and still going strong).
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch (The Age)

Part of the problem with the original build was the nightmare that the builders encountered along the way - it was built on top of an old river bed on acidic silt which comprised the first 40 metres before bedrock was reached - and that was before the militant unions saw it as an opportunity to increase the degree of difficulty off the stratosphere.

Fortunately the then Premier of Victoria - Rupert Hamer (later Sir) held the dream. He was rewarded with a finished building in 1982 and then finally - sadly after his death - it was renamed Hamer Hall in 2004.

But what a site and what a Concert Hall it was when it finally opened to a firework display which is still remembered. The interior was designed by our very own dual Oscar winner John Truscott (Camelot).

Although right next to the 'mighty' Yarra River it had always turned its back on it. Closed for the last 2 years for a huge renovation costing a mere $138.5 million, Hamer Hall has re-opened its doors with some fanfare but no fireworks. It now 'welcomes' the river with a promenade, restaurants and vibrant public spaces open from breakfast till late... it has enlivened the precinct. Today it is light and bright - a huge change to an underground concert hall with no natural light in the public areas. John Truscott's design has been upgraded and the acoustics (always a problem) have improved dramatically. And I was thrilled to learn that the women's toilets have increased from 35 to 67!
Digital image of the inside of the new Hamer Hall

I encourage you to visit, see a concert, take a tour and enjoy the precinct. Learn why we Melburnians are thrilled with the result.

Bowen Cottage client comment: We've fallen in love with the cottage