Ten days down and six to go of our short trip to Melbourne. Ignoring the vagaries of the weather, we have packed in quite a lot, in between catching up with family and friends. Highlights so far:
Cafe culture. It would be easy to believe all Melbournians spend at least a third of their time sitting in or outside trendy local cafes, chewing the cud and sipping specialist coffees. Best latte I’ve had so far (and all have been streets ahead of a London latte) was at Penny Farthing, accompanying a plate of Smash – not instant mashed potato, but a mouthwatering mix of avocado and Persian feta on sourdough toast. Bliss.
Collected Works bookshop. To my shame, I’d never visited this bookshop before. The focus is ‘Poetry and Ideas’, and the shelves are packed with an impressive range of poetry volumes, pamphlets and magazines – new, obscure, cannon, avant-garde, antipodean, UK, translations, anthologies, lit crit – complemented by philosophy, politics and quite a bit more. There’s room to browse; the walls are covered in posters and leaflets for readings and events, chronicling Melbourne’s literary past and present; and often a photocopied review, obituary or photo stuck to the shelf above the work of an individual poet. What makes a visit to this shop an even more pleasurable experience is the friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgable bookseller, Kris Hemensley.
Grainger Museum. This is a fascinating museum, showing just a fraction of the composer and pianist Percy Grainger’s extensive collections and archive. Housed in a modernist, semi-circular building designed in close consultation with Grainger himself, the museum displays memorabilia from Grainger’s years as a feted concert pianist, travelling from Australia to Europe, London and the United States; his pioneering work documenting and recording folk music on wax cylinders; his broad and eclectic interests ranging from vegetarianism to decorative arts and textiles across cultures and eras. As well as Grainger’s first practice piano, the museum showcases experimental instruments developed by Grainger and others. He emerges as a complex man, endlessly curious about the world and its people, and modest about his own (actually very substantial) achievements.
Heide Museum of Modern Art. Home of John and Sunday Reed from the 1930s to their deaths in 1981. The current exhibition celebrates 30 years of the gallery’s existence, and features key works from the Heide collection including early Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester and many more. As well as the artwork, it was fascinating to see the original farmhouse where the Reeds lived, entertained and encouraged many budding Australian artists. Sidney Nolan painted his Ned Kelly series in the dining room, and on the floor there is still a small section decorated by Mike Brown in the 1970s. Black and white photos by Albert Tucker on display in the kitchen capture breakfast gatherings and arvo teas en plein air. In the modernist house built in the late 1960s, progressively more abstract works from the ‘6os by the likes of Fred Williams are on display on the ground floor, while the lower floor shows varied and vibrant work from the ’70s generation of artists, exploring the new synthetic paints and exploding the conventional boundaries of art. I particularly loved the junk constructions of the Annandale Imitation Realists, which are playful and iconoclastic. Great, also, to see some of Sweeney Reed’s concrete poetry.
Such a rich cultural history springing out of a few hectares of bushland on the outskirts of Melbourne.