Open Buildings This Weekend in Melbourne

Open House Melbourne is on this weekend and I nearly missed out. Fortunately I am in Melbourne at the moment and I sat down at lunchtime today (Saturday) to read my emails. I opened the ‘Weekend Reads’ email from Readings bookshop which opened with information about the program for Open House Melbourne which is for sale at Readings bookshops. After a hasty look at the list of open buildings, I rushed to the train to at least visit something.

As I was on the train I realised that I was trying to squash way too much into the less than three hours available to me. So I missed visiting the Melbourne City Baths (the building that looks like a layered cake with cream in between and built in 1860) and the Albanian mosque (built in 1969). In fact I only saw one building on my original list in the end.

Street facade of the building

Victorian Artists’ Society in East Melbourne.

Continue reading

Review: The Riddle of Father Hackett by Brenda Niall

The Riddle of Father Hackett: A Life in Ireland and Australia by Brenda Niall (NLA Publishing: 2009)

The Riddle of Father Hackett: A Life in Ireland and Australia by Brenda Niall (NLA Publishing: 2009)

Brenda Niall’s biography of Irish-Australian Jesuit priest, Father Hackett, is absorbing from the start. Niall starts by sharing her musings as she walks through Kew cemetery in Melbourne where Father Hackett is buried. She shares some memories of the cleric who often visited her home when she was a child and her thoughts as she sifts through that third cemetery in which the lives of a chosen few are interred – the archive. Father Hackett springs out from the pages as a vibrant, warm person but with deep sorrows in his heart. The Riddle of Father Hackett lies in Ireland in the sad and violent early twentieth century.

Like Melbourne’s Archbishop Mannix, Father Hackett lived a significant part of his life in Ireland, arriving in Australia when he was in his early forties, but he was far more enmeshed in the dangerous politics of Ireland than the senior cleric. The first third of The Riddle of Father Hackett is an engrossing introduction to early twentieth-century Irish politics. As a priest Father Hackett was close to men of the Easter Uprising and the civil war of the early 1920s such as Robert Barton, Eamon de Valera, Padraig Pearse, Robert Barton and Erskine Childers. He used his influence to shine light on Ireland’s plight by inviting English Quakers and Americans to tour the scenes of atrocities. His clerical garb protected him from unwanted British attention. Then in the midst of this dark turmoil Father Hackett was sent by the Jesuits to Australia. Continue reading

The Corkman Hotel and the Problem of Illegal Demolition of Historic Buildings

The pub as viewed from the diagonally opposite corner with blue sky in the background

The Corkman Irish Pub at 160 Leicester St, Carlton in Melbourne as it appears on the hotel’s website

Last week Melbourne residents were appalled at the news that an historic pub in inner-suburban Carlton had been illegally demolished. The Corkman Irish Pub was opened in 1857 as the Carlton Inn and was one of the few surviving buildings of that era. It was demolished a week after a fire damaged it. The Guardian reports that the developer claimed that damage from the fire made the building unsafe but a Melbourne Council building surveyor and other experts had inspected the building and found that the damage had not caused significant structural damage.

Sadly, this is not the first time that a historically valuable building has been illegally demolished in Melbourne. When I heard the news I was immediately reminded of the illegally demolished Toorak church that we passed by each day on the way home from work in the late 1980s. It stood half destroyed for years.

Toorak Wesleyan Church on the corner of Toorak and Williams roads, was illegally demolished in the 1980s.

Toorak Wesleyan Church on the corner of Toorak and Williams roads, was illegally demolished in the 1980s.

The problem is not confined to Victoria. Just this month in Brisbane two historically significant houses were demolished after a demolition application had been refused. Last year the New South Wales Land and Environment Court fined a developer for illegally destroying the facades of a row of shop fronts on Parramatta Road in Sydney. (You can read the full judgement from the New South Wales Land and Environment Court.)  Continue reading

A Jewel in the Australian City of Literature

read description below.

The stunning La Trobe Reading Room at the State Library of Victoria. In the centre is a raised platform where librarians in bygone days used to sit and police the silence.

I have had the pleasure of doing some research at the State Library of Victoria while in Melbourne for the birth of our granddaughter.  Melbourne was the second city in the world to be designated a ‘City of Literature‘ by UNESCO. Melbourne has had a long love of books. The State Library of Victoria was one of the first public libraries in Australia (officially opened in 1856), but it continues to be loved and heavily used by the public. Increasingly tourists are visiting this Library to view the magnificent building.

Old book, computer plugged into one of the desks and an old chair to sit on.

My little place in the La Trobe Reading Room. It is a lovely mix of new and old. There are many power points in the old desks and wi-fi is available throughout the Library.

The stunning La Trobe Reading Room is a joy to work in. The room is flooded with daylight from the glass dome which soars thirty-five metres above. Even on one of Melbourne’s many dismal grey cloudy days, the dome and the white walls lift my spirits while I am working.

The La Trobe Reading Room was designed on panopticon principles, with a central raised platform in the middle of the room where in days gone by, a librarian would be perched to police the silence. Today no-one sits there. Apparently noise can be a problem in the room, but it has never bothered me. I find it difficult to concentrate in silence.

I have always wanted to do more photography at the Library so in breaks from reading World War I diaries I have been roaming around taking photos. Continue reading

A Gleam of Hope

2015-09-09 10.24.36 Hand and FingerI am in Melbourne for a few weeks for someone very special.

Our first grandchild was born a couple of weeks ago.

It was not only the first grandchild on both sides of the family, but the first great-grandchild for all great-grandparents.

She is so calm and quiet when we are around although the parents have had some sleepless nights. She squawks a bit on the change table but then sees something on the wall and stops crying even though she has no clothes on. She has not inherited her grandmother’s loud voice!

Last weekend Hubble and I were on grandparent duty looking after her in the hospital waiting room while her mother was sleeping. I have nothing much to report as the baby just slept and woke every four hours for a feed, then slept. What an ideal first baby!

Many things have not changed since our children were born in the 1990s. The hoo-ha around birth is the same as ever. Parents and grandparents still think their baby is the most gorgeous baby they have seen. The plastic cribs new-born babies are kept in are the same, as are the flannel gowns with ties on the back that hospitals provide for newborns. The nappy fold for newborn babies still seems to be the ideal fold. While my brain could not quite remember it, my hands automatically did it when I relied on muscle memory.

Mothers still have ultrasounds – albeit better resolution and at different stages of pregnancy. There has been progress on finding the causes of sudden infant death syndrome. They seem to have settled on placing babies on their backs when in the cot.

Some things are deteriorating. Sadly, hospitals are now contributing to our ever-expanding landfill because they no longer provide a cloth nappy and laundry service for new-born babies so parents end up using disposable nappies. Food for breast-feeding mothers in public hospitals is ridiculously meagre. My daughter counted five pieces of penne pasta in her ‘dinner’. Rice and cous cous are regarded by the hospital as vegetables – and only one ‘vegetable’ is allowed in a meal. So much for the dietary guidance of the National Health and Medical Research Council. Even hospitals don’t follow it.

Menu C

At any rate we stepped in and ensured she had enough to eat.

Other aspects of life have changed profoundly. Now, parents need to develop a social media policy ready for the birth. How much do you want disclosed on Facebook? What should you do to protect the baby’s privacy?

When our children were born I kept the newspaper of the day as a memento, but hard copy newspapers are such a minor thing nowadays I didn’t bother. Now grandparents like us get their news off social media and websites. We blog, tweet and use Facebook (although I use Facebook reluctantly).

A blog can be many things including a personally curated news summary. So this post was intended as a twenty-first century version of recording the news in brief for the first week of our grand-daughter’s life. However, as I started writing it became a litany of the world’s woes. Those newspapers we kept when our children were born would have been similar.

I have found it quite confronting writing this with the image of our grand-daughter as a baby in my mind. One day she will be grown up and mature enough to read about the history of the times she was born in, but I can’t bring myself to write about it for someone who I see as a baby now.

I have drawn up this compendium in part by referring back to my tweets of the last couple of weeks. I find that Twitter is great for helping me hear about things that might not be publicised in Australia, as well as an opportunity to contribute news that my network may not be aware of. My tweeting policy is to focus on those news items which will alert people to injustices and that by sharing will raise awareness and therefore help all of us to treat people more fairly. I also tweet news that contributes knowledge that will help improve the world. I avoid the daily grind of political barbs. Life is too short to be weighed down by that.

So while the following news briefs discuss some of the dreadful things that are occurring in the world, each item also includes a gleam of hope. Continue reading