Last weekend was Open House Weekend 2014 which meant I was in for long trips and waiting in queues if I were to make my destinations. Armed with camera, water bottle, some fruit and a big book, I started my adventure of exploring the buildings in my city and their history. While I waited in line for an hour sometimes, I made great progress with my book while snacking on mandarins. On my third Open House journey I was prepared and succeeded in making it to 10 buildings so you can see the results of my efforts of traveling across Melbourne below.
This year, I was lucky enough to win the ballot for Victoria Barracks. It was constructed in 1856 on land regarded as unusable swamp and has a long history of defence activity. The headquarters for the Imperial Army and Victorian Military Forces were located here in colonial times. After Federation, strategic decisions took place here, for the Boer War, World War I and II and the Korean War, in the War Cabinet Room which still looks as it used to be, with seats preserved from the time of Robert Menzies until the defence administration was moved to Canberra in the 1950s. Heritage buildings here include an original bluestone soldiers barracks, a former military hospital, The Barracks Heritage Centre which used to be a guardhouse, the Staff Sergeants Quarters built in 1858 which became the first RAAF headquarters in 1921, the armoury and ordnance buildings from 1860 and the basalt ‘Keep’ which became a wine cellar. There is even a chapel which gave accommodation to married couples in the military forces.
My next port of call was Parliament House for which there was a 1 hour wait and an evacuation to the rear entrance due to a protest rally. Plans for Parliament House were drawn in November 1855. In 1856, construction first commenced for the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council Chambers. In 1861, the Parliamentary library came into existence. The Vestibule and Queen’s Hall were built later in 1879. Designed by architect Peter Kerr, the original plans have yet to come to fruition because a dome should be sitting on top of the Vestibule.
German Lutheran Trinity Church
This church pays homage to the Gothic Revival movement and designed by architect Charles Blachmann. The church is built of bluestone and was constructed by Heinrich Goedecke, a gold rush era migrant from Germany. The magnificent stained glass windows are striking and depicts biblical stories. Surprisingly, the ceiling of the Lutheran church resembles the inverted hull of a ship which is not a typical feature of German churches. The altar is in the middle of the sanctuary and forms half of a decagon.
No 1 Spring Street
In the exterior plaza, I am greeted by the sculpture Shell Mace designed by Charles O. Perry who has designed other objects of art such as a collection of jewelry and silver for Tiffany, chess sets, and puzzles. The floor plates in the shape of a shell, acknowledge the original tenants, the Australian head office of Royal Dutch Shell. The building was designed by Harry Seidler, an ambassador of European Modernist architecture in Australia. In the foyer, an enamel mural by Arthur Boyd based on the painting Bathers and Pulpit Rock occupies an awkward space close to the ceiling. Meanwhile in the office on level 15 which houses the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, the windows overlook a magnificent panorama of the city gardens, MCG and the Yarra.
St Patrick’s Cathedral
This church is considered one of the largest Gothic Revival churches and is the largest building of its style in Victoria. It looks like the ancient, medieval cathedrals in England and is perhaps due to the influence of the architect William Wardell. In the church, the altar mosaics and the eagle lectern made of brass were built in Venice. The cross on the main spire was a gift from the Irish government.
Limelight Studios and Salvation Army Heritage Centre
The Salvation Army purchased Attic Limelight Studio when the YMCA became unable to maintain the premises due to foreclosure. Afterwards Captain Joseph Perry used it for a while as a photographic studio. Under the encouragement of Herbert Booth, Perry started to produce motion picture films and gave birth to the Limelight Department. About 400 films were made here until 1909. The most well-known production made here was ‘Soldiers of the Cross’. The studio still remains preserved and now houses the Salvation Army Heritage Centre.
Built between 1928-1930 influenced by Nahum Barnet, it has a beautiful interior design with leadlight windows dating back to the 70s. The twentieth century Baroque classicism shows in the ornate exterior with its Corinthian columns in the entryway. It often is referred to as the Cathedral Synagogue. The congregation reached full membership in 1946 after some 15,000 European Jewish migrants came to Australia.
Australian Tapestry Workshop
The Australian Tapestry Workshop was established in 1976 and uses the same techniques employed in Europe since the 14th century in the creation of contemporary, hand-woven tapestries. It employs weavers who are trained artists so works of art that are unique can be created instead of a reproduced design which is weaved. More than 400 tapestries have created here including in collaboration with international artists. Tapestries are woven using fine Australian wool which is dyed onsite to a palette of 366 colours.
Portable Iron Houses
These portable iron houses are pre-fabricated homes migrants brought with them when gold was discovered in Victoria in 1851. There are three preserved houses: Patterson, Bellhouse and Abercrombie. Patterson is still located on its original site, Bellhouse was saved from demolition in Fitzroy and Abercrombie was rescued from North Melbourne. These houses were a common sight during the 19th century but now they are quite rare.
South Melbourne Town Hall
When it opened in 1880, this splendid building, designed by Charles Webb, housed a courthouse, a firehouse, a post office, a library and a council office. It is located in Emerald Hill which was a site of significance for indigenous communities ahead of European settlement. Currently the Town Hall facilities are mainly used by the Australian National Academy of Music but the rooms I got to view included the Council Chambers, the Mayor’s room, the auditorium and the Ballantyne Room which was gifted a beautiful chandelier.
On Friday night, I attended the lavish and opulent production of Rodger’s and Hammersteins The King and I at the iconic Princess Theatre, home of the friendly ghost Federici. My dress circle seat in the middle of the third row gave me a magnificent view of the set. The King and I has been revived in Australia by Opera Australia and the Melbourne season stars Lisa McCune as Anna Leonowens, tutor to the children of the King, and internationally acclaimed actor Lou Diamond Phillips as the King of Siam (which is now Thailand).
The King and I is based on the Anna and the King, a novel by Margaret Langdon and is loosely based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, an English governess hired to tutor the favoured children of King Mongkut of Siam, including Prince Chulalangkorn. As he was a king that embraced Western culture and style of thought, The King and I showcases how the people of Siam, with some help from Anna, try to emulate Western customs when foreign dignitaries from the West visit so the King is able to suppress circulating rumours suggesting Siam is barbaric. Despite their cultural clashes, Anna and the King ultimately become very close. Meanwhile there is a side story about two young lovers, Tuptim and Lun Tha, but I found their interaction dull.
Before the curtains rose, the scene was set to depict Siam using four actors wearing the robes of monks meditating on stage as incense permeated the atmosphere. When the curtains open, we see Anna and her son arriving by boat as she has been promised a house if she were to teach the King’s children but he only decides to honour his promise much later. The costumes are sumptuous and extravagant, to create an authentic Thai experience as envisioned by British director Christopher Renshaw, with so many sequins and diamantes that they are almost blinding! Despite the misunderstanding of Western concepts at first and their initial shock at her lack of obeisance, the people at court grow to like and love and understand Anna, including the King. In the end, we see Anna’s teaching had a positive influence on the young prince as he changes the way his people show deference.
The highlight of the show is the ballet The Small House of Uncle Thomas which had a strong Eastern influence. It is loosely based on the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The emotion displayed by Tup Tim in her narration of this play stood out way more than her chemistry with her lover. My favourite part was however when Anna and the King dances the polka during Shall We Dance. Others scores I enjoyed included I Whistle A Happy Tune when Anna’s son is scared and she shows him how to “make believe to be brave”, Getting to Know You when Anna is in the classroom introducing herself to the King’s children and the powerful delivery of Something Wonderful by the King’s head wife Lu Thiang, played by Shu-Cheen Yu.
Despite being a luxurious extravaganza and the spectacle of paying homage to a time-honoured classic, the production is paced well and accurately rendered. The set for The King and I looks authentic and uses authentic language including Thai phrases, imagery including Buddha, religious references to Thailand and faithful depiction of Thai dance movements. It definitely can take you back a few eras to the Siam of the past!
This is a book about a centenarian named Allan Karlsson who escapes the old folks home on his birthday, while awaiting a visit from the mayor, and his ensuing escapade. While the turn of present events stretch credulity as the police search for the man, who accidentally comes into possession of a suitcase containing fifty million crowns belonging to a criminal gang, the escapee’s past reveals his hapless contributions to pivotal moments in political history on a global scale. Some of the funniest moments in the book include interactions with Harry Truman, General Franco, Mao Tse Tsung, De Gaulle, Stalin and Tage Erlander. The politics in The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is narrated in the most entertaining way so even those apathetic to politics and history can find humour in it.
I thinking giving away more plot would spoil this book written by Swedish author, Jonas Jonasson. It has since sold more than eight million copies worldwide, been made into a movie in the European cinematic world and Hollywood is negotiating remake rights. While the caricature of the characters tend to border on the absurd, I suggest giving this a go as it can be fairly informative regarding key moments in the twentieth century. However I would suggest that the information is taken with a grain of salt. Imagine it as if it were a picaresque adventure story interrupted in its narrative thread by appearances from influential world leaders and defining world moments such as the creation of the Atom Bomb, the attempted assassination of Winston Churchill and the lead up to the Watergate scandal. This is the kind of book which can make you laugh out loud while reading. I’m no stranger to crying while reading but laughing is new for me.
In terms of books similar to this, I don’t think I’ve read many. However reviews on Amazon and Goodreads compare The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared to novels written by serialist Tom Sharpe, a British satirist. What makes this novel stand out is the age of the protagonist, how he does not fit the stereotype of an elderly citizen and the charming humour.
Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, about the murder of the farming Clutter family in Kansas, is thought to be the pioneer of the true crime genre and is the result of six years of work. Even before Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith were arrested for the crime, Truman Capote had gone to Kansas with fellow author Harper Lee to interview investigators and local residents in the area about it. The book delves deep into the relationship between the two parolees who commit this murder and the effect the crime had on the local community.
I am not a big fan of non-fiction unless it is travel writing or memoir but this novel challenges my view of non-fiction being less interesting to read than fiction. The author has a mesmerising ability to weave factual content into suspenseful narrative prose without creating bias. I think the fact psychoanalysis was applied to the crime raised my interest bar. Nowadays true crime takes the mystery story approach with a revealing denouement but the objective style used in In Cold Blood separates it from current sensationalist fare. It talks to the rationality of the reader instead of imposing shock value. The motive for the crime is revealed when Perry Smith confesses to the police. It is also interesting to note the temporal shift from past to present tense indicating the chase is over.
The final part of the book, as the trial progresses, raises questions about the moral quandaries of the imposed sentence without providing any reasoned inferences. It was interesting to see the debate between rehabilitation as opposed to retribution using the nature vs nurture argument. While Capote does not allow a reader to condone the behaviour of the murderers, he goes a long way to showcase their characters in a sympathetic light.
On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta is a young adult novel about Taylor Markham, who is elected as the leader of the boarders at Jellicoe School. Although not a popular choice, the fact she lived at the school for most of her life gives her an edge over the competition. While the departing leaders were concerned with protecting their established boundaries in the annual territory wars from the Cadets and Townies, Taylor is preoccupied with a hermit who whispered in her ear, a prayer tree which means a lot to her sincere friend Raffaela and the Brigadier who brought her back when as a junior she ran away with Jonah Griggs, new leader of the Cadets. For Taylor, the answers to the mystery of her past lies in the disappearance of Helen, the person who found her. The only clue is an unfinished manuscript about five people who had their lives collide on the Jellicoe road twenty years ago.
Soon as I turn the initial pages, I am introduced to something called territory wars between the Boarders, Townies and Cadets. This becomes confusing. Student wars in boarding school over land use? I am an adult and I am confused. Luckily I kept on persevering and was rewarded for my tenacity. The disjointed threads of narrative become interconnected to resolve why Taylor’s mother abandoned her on the Jellicoe road when she was 11 years old, the point of the territory wars, the significance of the hermit, the relevance of the prayer tree, the story of the Brigadier and Taylor’s history with Jonah Griggs in evocative prose. To be honest, I can’t say more about what happens without giving major plot details away but suffice it to say Taylor finds answers. To get through the first part, I recommend a dose of patience but I can promise it gets better rather than worse.
So the author on her blog has revealed On the Jellicoe Road is going to be adapted into a film. Not too surprising for a novel that won the Michael L Printz award. It is being directed by Kate Woods, who did the same Melina Marchetta’s novel Looking for Alibrandi.
I recently finished reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. The diary was a birthday present given to Anne. She decides to make the diary her trusted confidant to whom she spills her innermost thoughts and addresses it as ‘Dear Kitty’. Her diary is full of lively, imaginative prose and brings the personalities of the residents of the Secret Annexe to life. It is miracle her diary survived confiscation by the Gestapo.
When the Nazis occupied Holland in 1942, Anne was a 13-year-old girl of Jewish descent who was persecuted into fleeing her home and going into hiding along with her family and another family. For two years until their location was betrayed, her family resided in the secret annexe compartment of Anne’s father’s office building. In her diary, Anne writes about this experience and her daily conflicts with the imposed living conditions in tight quarters, the fear of discovery and the penalty of death. Despite this, she also talks about typical problems faced by teenagers – waging battles of will with her parents, having romances with boys and the struggle of keeping up with her clever, intelligent older sister Margot. In the grand scheme of life, it is sad to learn this budding writer’s demise was a result of the Holocaust. While her mention of her family is sparse in the early entries, this changes after her confinement. Through her diary, Anne Frank portrays a compelling, evocative and poignant story on bravery and resourcefulness in the face of danger.
Unfortunately the only family member to survive the Nazi occupation was Otto Frank, Anne’s father. Luckily he was able to rescue her diary and bring it worldwide attention. Anne says in her diary “I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”. In a sad roundabout way, her wish was fulfilled. I think the simple and plain language will make this an easy text for the majority of readers as long as they are able to keep in mind this was a personal diary and not a work of imagination.
I just finished reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent for my book club at work. It is a historical novel set in 1830s Iceland based on the factual story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman who was publicly executed there. She was accused of murdering two men, including Natan Ketilsson for whom she worked as a servant. Björn Blöndal, the district commissioner, clearly the villain, is unsympathetic toward Agnes Magnúsdóttir, because she is clever, intelligent and literate but he does indulge in her request for a new spiritual advisor of her choosing. This is in spite of the chosen reverend’s lack of experience in providing spiritual nourishment for criminals. With a year left to live, Agnes is sent to reside at the farm of Margrét and Jón and their two daughters in Kornsa. From then on, details of her life prior to the murder of Natan is narrated through discussions with her priest. The people who mistrust her when they are forced to take her in find it difficult to let her go when they finally hear her side of the story.
The Icelandic naming system can be confusing on introduction and while tempting to give up, it is not as bad as the Russian names in Anna Karenina. If you understand Agnes Magnúsdóttir stands for Agnes, Magnus’s daughter and Natan Ketilsson stands for Natan, Ketil’s son and decipher in that manner, you will manage okay. Although the first two chapters were slow going, the pace suddenly picked up and I finished the book in about three days by reading during my commute to work. For myself, it started to become interesting when Agnes first met Margrét. The evocative prose is simple enough without being verbose for all readers to engage with it but I felt something in it was a bit too contrived. This may be due to the author trying to conform her novel with plausibility as lots of attention is given to snippets of actual historical details. The book is very typical of the type of novel to win a literary award and so it has – it won the Writing Australia prize for best unpublished manuscript which led to obtaining an agent and mentorship of Geraldine Brooks. So as a reader, I only recommend this if you like historical novels in the vein of literary fiction.
For those not interested in reading, Picador Press stated in their blog, Jennifer Lawrence signed up to star in a film adaptation of Hannah Kent’s novel. This is her first novel completed towards her PhD and a phenomenal achievement as she is only 28 years old. In the Sydney Review of Books, Ben Etherington claims Nielsen Company’s BookScan has revealed Burial Rites sold over 50,000 copies in Australia since May 2013, at a RRP of $32.99.
Does anybody remember this show? Small Wonder had a ridiculous plot. A robotics engineer named Ted Lawson creates a humanoid robot with child-like features, names her VICI (pronounced as Vicki) and pretends it is his adopted daughter. Most of the show revolves around the robot daughter adapting to human life and his family’s attempts to keep her identity a secret from his nosy, pesky neighbours, the Brindles. To add insult to injury, Mr Brindle ends up being his incompetent boss who takes credit for all of Ted’s ideas. Meanwhile Ted’s son, Jamie, is constantly pestered by Harriet Brindle who has a huge crush on him. However keeping Vicki’s true nature a secret turns out to be difficult as her literal interpretation of human speech has interesting ramifications.
I used to watch this in Sri Lanka. Nostalgia led me to research the name of this show as anyone I mentioned it to in Australia was unaware of it. Turns out this sitcom never aired in Australia. Meanwhile guess what I stumbled on? episodes on Youtube.
Here are my favourite episodes from each season:
In this episode from Season 1 of Small Wonder, Ted Lawson programs Vicky to read content and memorise data. Meanwhile Jamie is more interested in soccer than finishing his history report for school. Jamie, who is not a brilliant student, cunningly employs Vicky’s new ability to complete his homework. It has interesting consequences when Jamie gets placed on the honour roll at school and his teachers begin to look at him in a new light.
In this episode from season 2 of Small Wonder, Joan Lawson enters Vicky into the local shopping mall’s beauty pageant. Ted Lawson is initially against the idea but when he learns Brandon Brindle’s daughter, Harriet, is entering the contest, he has a change of heart. Both girls become finalists in the pageant but Vicky’s demonstration of her talent makes it obvious that she is competition. However the final ruling reveals an unexpected surprise.
In this episode from season 3 of Small Wonder, Joan is substitute teaching for Jamie’s class and requires everyone to submit a book report for a reading challenge and tells them they can deliver it any format. She promises to reward the class if everyone submits the report. Jamie is distracted and spends time filming videos of Vicky instead of reading. So when the due date for the report arrives, his attempt to pretend he completed it gets thwarted. Ted describes the detective story he is reading to Jamie to inspire him. This gets Jamie’s creative juices flowing and he submits an ingenious book report.
In this episode from season 4 of Small Wonder, Ted programs Vicky to understand foreign languages and translate them into English. The family sits down to watch the Spanish channel and a pet show comes up. It turns out Vicky not only understands humans but also animals! Jamie’s entrepreneurial spirit sees a potential for making pocket money and has Vicky diagnose the feelings of the pets of the kids at school. Meanwhile Ted’s timid company manager and his snooty, authoritative wife, who looks down on Ted and Joan, are coming to dinner as Ted has volunteered Joan to be on the committee for the company ball. When they arrive with their pet dog, the Lawson’s discover with Vicky’s help, despite her put on airs, the wife’s background isn’t all that different theirs leading to her discomfiture.
It has been so long since I posted here. I feel like I’ve renewed a friendship with someone who had drifted away. Now the cold winter months are approaching and the sky is pitch dark by 6 PM, blogging seems like less of a geeky, couch potato activity to do on a Friday night. It also distracts me from food in the fridge because while many are increasing their waistline in winter by eating carb-piled comfort food, I’m doing the opposite by depriving myself.
In terms of reading exploits, my latest read was A Room with a View by author E. M. Forster, who also wrote A Passage to India. While the book is meant to be a comedy of manners with its cast of medieval and renaissance characters and employment of witty, humorous dialogue, I didn’t find it as entertaining as expected.
It narrates the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a free-spirited but sheltered young middle-class lady, who has her rigid, ordered life thrown off balance after visiting Florence with her chaperone and older uptight cousin Charlotte leads to a meeting with the Emersons. Other unconventional characters residing in the Pension Bertolini opens Lucy’s eyes to differences between ingrained archaic, repressed Edwardian morals and emerging liberal social values through the author’s cleverly contrasting England’s staidness with Italy’s vitality. She ultimately learns propriety can mask the truth and beauty can be found by not conforming to etiquette. This new knowledge affects Lucy’s structured plans as she has discovered that social boundaries are arbitrary. In the end with a fitting dramatic conclusion, Lucy decides to follow her own heart in regards to love and chooses her own destiny and defies convention. The most interesting thing is that while we are allowed into the minds of all the characters, save the two Emersons who remain an enigma.
I have not watched the movie adaptation of A Room with a View starring Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch so I cannot personally comment but here’s a film review by Roger Ebert to present some perspective on the film.