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22 February 2016 @ 10:16 am
My Other Bowie Story (reprinted from 2010)

There was a hot dog van that used to sit in the gas station behind the Flinders Hotel just near Oxford Street. Somehow those of us that were underage and shouldn't have even been in the bars ended the night at this hot dog van, sitting out in the warm breeze on the footpath watching the various tribes of gays, goths and skinheads, punks and prostitutes, come and go. I spent long Summer nights in this new found land of Oxford Street that I had discovered, a ramshackle neighbourhood which was losing it's slum like run-down quality as the gays moved in and gave it a quick repaint. Back then the Mardi Gras never even made it on the evening news, as if the media were keen to ignore the obvious fact that 20,000 people had just marched down a major city thouroughfare in drag screaming their tits off.

I would take the train in from bible-belt Hurstville where I was staying and roam the streets with a handful of friends and acquaintances, we would go dancing in one place, then another, watch a drag show, avoid the skinheads, laugh our asses off at the clones. In one particular bar every man there had a pastel shirt, a small moustache, a perm, frizzy curls atop an insipid sneer. The sidewalk outside the bar looked like a box of different coloured Kleenex as the pastel shirts preened and twisted and turned in the wind. Eventually a great plague came and they blew away like laundry in a storm.

There was a hotel in the city called the People's Palace, a budget hotel on Castlereagh Street where anyone down from the country would stay on their way to the Easter Show or visiting a sick aunt. It was also often full of out-of-town gays who escaped to Sydney for the weekend. It was cheap and the linoleum floors reeked of disinfectant, and it is here that I recall being with Stephanie and we were going back to her room so she could change her clothes for a night out on the town.

Stephanie was about six feet tall, in navy blue stretch jeans that accentuated her bony boy's ass, a pair of cheap high heels, a t-shirt and her hair piled high on top of her head so that she looked like the tallest mushroom in creation. Bright red lisptick and too much eyeliner added to the ensemble and high eyebrowws gave her a look of permanent surprise, as if everything she was seeing in her new life as a girl filled her with a sense of awe and wonder. I don't often now see in the street those boys that are transitioning through an ever awkward phase of gangly girlishness, but back then it was a common sight.

Stephanie was drop dead funny, and we spun around the streets on her high heels, in front of taxis, below waves of bats migrating under a full moon. She might disappear to turn a trick and I would meet her later but I was so naive I really did think she'd gone to her friends to borrow a twenty. Somehow one night we went for a long walk and ended up in Chinatown at the same time as an enormous crowd of people were emerging from a David Bowie concert. People would do a double-take on the tall girl by my side, a sneer, a whisper to their friends, pointing.

"Pretend we've been at the concert too", she whispered in my ear. She started to talk animatedly about the concert as I tried to contain my giggles and wasn't Bowie just amazing on stage and how we would definitely be going back to see him the next night.

I will never forget her suddenly booming camp voice as we merged with the black-clad crowd and Stephanie exclaimed, "I don't know about you, but MY favourite song was the one about David Bowie having two different coloured EYES!"

The throngs of Bowie devotees meandered their way up the street on this warm summer's night when everything really did happen in Sydney, and after that, I never saw Stephanie again.
18 February 2016 @ 06:30 pm
There's an apocryphal story that goes like this: in 1762, Mozart's father Leopold took Mozart, aged five, to the royal Austrian palace to play for the royal family. The young Mozart spun around on the highly polished palace floor and fell down at the feet of Marie Antoinette. As she helped him up, Mozart exclaimed, "You are nice, I will marry you one day!". (Marie Antoinette was only seven). I was reminded of this story as I sat in the audience watching Prince last night. As I sat there being charmed and enchanted by this petulant boy genius, a whirling swirling once in a lifetime experience, seeing Prince with just a piano and a microphone. Funny and charming, irreverent and kind, soulful and commanding, sexual and sad. The way he walks, gliding across the stage with his cane and his light up shoes! And when he pretends to be hurt that we forgot the words! I have witnessed that marriage between human flesh channeling completely intangible, ethereal musical genius that comes from places we can never know about. He didn't mention the loss of his old love Vanity as he had the night before, and I wondered if this one lyric was for her:

"I remember meeting you here in the good old days
I would never pick the flower of my favorite protege
Maybe if I would have
Then you would not treat me this way"

Moments of joy and sadness. To be honest I was more upset about Vanity's death than the recent death of Bowie, I am that much of a fan of Prince's ouevre. This music has been part of my life since childhood. He admitted this way of performing was totally new to him and thanked us for going on the journey with him. I've always thought of him as in the same league as Mozart. he left me wondering, "Where does art come from?". Prince is the finest human musical instrument you'll see or hear in your lifetime. The truest artist I've seen. Nobody else can do this! Nobody.
Marie Antoinette lost her head, so did I.
03 February 2016 @ 09:57 pm
Fler "Fleromp" modular sofa

When I first moved to St Kilda East, where I don't live now, I took a two bedroom apartment in a 1960s block which got lovely morning sun into the living room. The only thing blocking the sun was a huge pine tree, well over 100 years old, and beyond that, was an older block of flats, a big square dark box of a building with a faded Waitara Flats on it's front on noisy Hotham Street. Between that ugly box and myself was a small decrepit looking wooden cottage that looked like an out building but was rented out as very very cheap accommodation. My living room looked right at the front door of the cottage, and a young bleached-blonde girl lived there and her name was Bridget.

shack behind Waitara Flats , flat 11


When I first moved into the apartment I became aware that there were sometimes sounds and shadows going bump in the night. I wasn't the only person to experience them, as friends who stayed over often vowed they had seen a figure in the hall moving about late at night. and over the time I lived there, I became convinced that the little gully that my block of flats entered into was a kind of well of sadness. Everyone who entered into it seemed to come off second best. Nobody stayed long in the block.

Standing, as I did in those days, outside to have a cigarette on my balcony, I would see Bridget coming and gong with her little jack Russell dog, Gus, and she would wave and we always said hello. I felt better knowing someone could see the side entrance to my apartment and that might deter any attempted break ins. Over time, I began to realizee that although Bridget didn't seem to be going to work, there were often men coming and going at odd hours of the day. This little shack at the back of this ugly brown box of a building was the perfect venue for a lady of the night, even if she worked all day. It didn't bother me and it was all part of inner city life.

Over time, Bridget became more unstable. She got herself a violent, abusive boyfriend, and when he wasn't pimping her out he was beating her up. She gave as good as she got it would seem and I frequently heard him fleeing the premises with this blonde banshee chasing him with whatever sharp object was available. From time to time she would pull herself together a bit, then fall to the wayside. This went on for a while.

One Autumn day as I stood on that balcony I heard music coming from Bridget's apartment and recognized the voice of David Bowie. When bridget appeared I called over and asked what this brilliant song was. It was called "Slip away", a dark, moody ballad that Bridget played over and over that afternoon as she drank herself into a state. Crying and yelling was heard but I know she was alone, as she frequently was when she was unravelling. This wasn't so unusual and we would eventually just turn up the tv to drown her out, and close the window. Since then I always think of her when I hear David Bowie, and his recent death reminded me of this time.

There were police visits, and after one particular period when the boyfriend returned, even a psychiatric team, men in white coats, and Bridget was taken away. I didnt see her again. I was worried about her, she was a genuinely nice girl with a terrible addiction and I hoped she would be okay. About six months later I left that apartment under spurious circumstances myself, I remained convinced that the place was just bad luck. Walking down Chapel Street one morning, I ran smack bang into Bridget and her dog, Gus. She was very pleased to see me. "Lets have a coffee!" I said. The waiter came and I ordered a latte. Bridget ordered champagne, so what if it was nine in the morning. "I'm better", she said, "Ive got things pretty under control, and I'm getting help, I got rid of that guy."

I was very pleased.

As we sat in the sun she looked me directly in the eye.

"You've never judged me," she said, and I knew she was grateful. We parted ways. Never saw her again.

When I heard that Bowie was dead, the first person I thought of was Bridget and I remembered living in the well of sadness. I wondered if she was somewhere having a toast to Mr Bowie, even if it was nine in the morning. I hoped she had survived.

A long time after when I was living close by I began to research some of the Vicotrian mansions in the area, and discovered that the strange ugly box of a building that I had lvied behind had been, when it was built in 1854, a fine Georgian mansion called Waitara, hence its current name of Waitara flats. In the 1920s these buildings were bastardized or bulldozed. It had been built by a Prussian born architect named Christian Hermann Ohlfssen Bagge, for a lawyer turned politician named Archibald Michie. Michie lived there and altered the house over the course of the next few decades, before building another more modern mansion beside it in the 1880s. That house, called Tregarie, fronting Alma Road was directly behind my building and is fully restored today. I was a stones throw from each. Michie died in the newer home in 1899, and I wondered, did his ghost roam the grounds if what had been his old homes? Did I not mention we were also opposite St Kilda cemetery?

The architect was Prussian born, and this intrigued me. My great great great grandfather listed his birthplace as Prussia, and he had journeyed to Melbourne under circumstances unknown and worked as a builder. Was there some community of Prussians involved in building in the early days of Melbourne? I like to think that my distant ancestor had maybe worked on some of these buildings that I have grown to love in Melbourne since I have lived here, and that I have walked in places he walked. I arrived having no idea I had a family connection to the place.

Christian Ohlssen Bagge, the architect of Waitara, produced a daughter, Dora, and he may have lost all the family money which precipitated her taking off for Europe. She was an eminent sculptor and painter who lived and worked throughout Europe from the 1880s. She re-visited Australia several times to exhibit her medallions but lived out her life in Italy where she counted Mussolini as a patron, producing a large medallion sculpture of him, the only such work to be produced by a woman and a foreigner. Her most important commission was probably a war memorial for Formia in 1924-26. In 1948, she and her lesbian lover, the Russian Baroness Hélène de Kuegelgen, were found gassed in her studio in Rome.

Did the well of sadness extend all the way to Rome? So many sad connections to the same place, so many artists and stories, and now, a well of sadness around the world with the void left by David Bowie. On that same block there were so many people living metres from one another but in circumstances miles apart.

Waitara today:


Waitara Flats

Waitara Flats

Tragarie today:

08 March 2015 @ 12:25 am
The sun hangs very low on the horizon, a red orb like an egg yolk in a dark grey sky. It will not rain, only promise to. Behind me at a distance there is a clatter from the kitchen of a small wooden shack as the lid of a jar falls to the floor. A chimney pains itself to give up thin whisps of smoke. At first I don't know if it is morning or evening, but then I realize where I am and that it is the late afternoon.

I am standing in a field. I am wearing a pair of dark blue overalls, one of the straps is torn where it attaches to the base at the back and I am constantly hitching it up. I will have it mended. I have on gnarled black boots, the sole of one has come loose very slightly. Underneath the overalls I have on a very soft cotton shirt the colour of cornflowers. It feels soft and familiar against my back. Familiar because it is my only shirt. The sleeves are rolled halfway up my forearms which are thick and muscular. The skin is dark, dark brown. I hold my forearms up as if seeing them for the first time and take a closer look at them. I look down at my heavily veined hands. They are veined from hard physical work. When I turn my hands over, the skin of my palms is lighter, yellowy white in the crevices and creases between the joints of my fingers. My nails glow white like ten crescent moons at the tips of my fingers. I have no ten galaxies at my fingertips, but a rope, and tied to a rope, this mule.

It is only young. It stands upright, leaning stubbornly and slightly back away from me. I need this mule to plow this field, but this mule has other ideas. It's eyes downcast, in slow motion it's eyelashes flutter, and I realize that this mule is toying with me. It blinks slowly at me, black unknowable eyes. It does not intend to stop for good, but is having a joke with me. I move alongside the mule and put my arm gently around it's neck. I stroke it, I whisper into it's ear cajolingly, long bristly hairs brushing my cheek. I do not know how long I stand there sweet-talking this mule, trying to make it understand. No-one has ever shown kindness to this animal. It relaxes under me, it smells the scent of the pit of my arm. I stand a good foot taller than the ear of this mule. It feels safe, and worthwhile. I tell it I am grateful. It snorts and moves forward, the plow wrenches into the dirt behind it, and I move back around and take the rusty handles into my hands.

All that there is in the world is this plow, this mule, this field, the cracks and crevices of my hands, and the deep red oblong that is the slowly setting sun. All progress depends on this mule. If it works, I can live. A low rumble of thunder in the distance. We move forward.

*My dream of last night.
24 February 2015 @ 08:39 am
I answered an ad on Seek placed by an outfit called Job Outcomes. the ad was for retail staff for "a number of retailers in the CBD."

I was asked to attend an interview in Yarraville so on a 40 degree day I got dressed up and went all the way there.

I was interviewed by a very young man who said that they were offering a one week training session that would result in me obtaining a Retail Certificate, and that if I consented to do the one week training, I MAY be considered for being sent for an interview with these retailers, who were now magically transported to the western suburbs, one a shoe store the other a homewares retailer. No names were offered.

It was made very clear that even if I did do the course, I may not get an interview because by then the jobs may be gone

If I declined to do the training certificate, then I would not be sent for an interview, since I was informed that no retailer was going to want to hire me without this magical retail certificate. Ive been in retail on and off since I was 14, no certificate required.

Now I realized that given that I thought I was already at an interview, and no mention of a training course had been mentioned on the phone, I was being conned. I made it clear to the young man that I was aware that I had definitely been lured there under false pretenses. He said, well you're free to go if the training course doesn't interest you. I felt sorry for him really, young and inexperienced and engaged in enacting this scheme, he probably got the job the same way that I was lured there.

To be honest as I sat in the waiting room watching people go to and fro and big piles of paper everywhere, it looked very dodgy, I could tell there was something disingenuous going on.

This week these places have been in the news as the rorting is being exposed and the government tries to get back millions of dollars in false claims. Everyone knows its been going on for twenty years, if youre unemployed you have to sign up to a job centre and then you rarely hear from them again.
23 February 2015 @ 06:02 am
Ive been unemployed for six months now. Ive had a few interviews, but with no luck.

Friday before last I had an interview with St Vincent de Paul to manage a store in Dandenong. Now Dandenong is hardly the area I want to be working in, but it's doable on public transport. I went out on the train to scope out how long the commute would be and what the store was like. I knew going into the interview I wanted the job. I want any job. Things are grim.

The interview was Friday morning and they called me Friday afternoon to say I had the job, "pending final checks". HR called seperately to say I would likely start Wednesday week. I had to do a police check, a medical was scheduled. I ran around doing photocopies of ID, and the medical included a urine test, results of which were not shared with me. I had to go to the police station to get the police to fill out the forms to allow a police check. I had to complete an online "psychometrics" test which had very ambiguous questions and seemed to time out very quickly. I was told to call my referees and let them know St Vincent de Paul would be in touch.

This Friday afternoon just gone they called to say they were not offering me the job. I asked them why, they said we are not really supposed to tell you. I pressed them and they said they didn't like one of my references (he assures me he gave me a positive review), and I didn't pass the online quiz! Then they said they may let me take the quiz again. They would be in touch.

I am dumbfounded.
03 February 2015 @ 01:22 pm
So, it appears legendary lyricist Oscar Hammerstein (The Sound of Music, The King and I, Showboat, South Pacific) once stood in my front yard. I've been doing a bit more research on my current obsession, the mansions that once lined my street, and discovered that the mansion next door, built as Maudlands and then briefly known as Sandhurst, was actually one of a pair, and my apartment block now sits where the second one was demolished in the late 60s. There are no photos of the pair of houses that I can find, but I did find this photograph of the previous residents of Sandhurst.

Dorothy Marian Kiaora Blanchard was a member of the family that owned the house in the 1920s and she left to pursue a dream of Hollywood stardom, and, not finding it, found Oscar Hammerstein instead, divorced her husband, and married Oscar. In the B&W photo you can see Oscar and Dorothy top right, the missing mansion behind, and in my recent photo, you can see they are standing where that brown shed is now. (Dorothy's daughter Susan, from her first marriage, married four times, notably to Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark!)

31 January 2015 @ 09:28 pm
I've often wondered, as I passed them, which I do every time I take out the garbage or go to the shop, why the stables at the rear of my building appear to have been chopped in half. It turns out, they were.

I thought they may have once been altered. They are the stables of the huge Victorian Italianate mansion that I live next door to. Perusing the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works of 1897, I discovered that the mansion next door was originally one of an identical pair, and I am living on the spot where one was demolished, presumably to build the dreadfully poorly planned flats I am in now.

The path which runs behind my building to the back of the gym and the tennis courts, has been there since the 1860s as well.

The tennis courts, currently behind the gym, belonged to an even larger mansion, long demolished. There would have been three very large Victorian villas where you now see only one, 101 Alma on the left now converted to luxury flats. I might attempt to draw what this scene may have looked like in 1880.

A little further along you have the white 1860s villa, with its 1915 flats attached, and next to it Aldourie, which I wrote about in my previous entry, the first of the Alma Road mansions.

It is fascinating to me that the space I inhabit, sits on a space previously inhabited by another building and different people. Presumably although I am in a different building, when I look out my front window, which I do for some reason every night before I go to bed, I'm seeing a view not unlike that seen by a tenant of long ago, albeit in a different structure, as the park is unchanged since the 1830s. I have always been fascinated with the idea that spaces and buildings acquire the feelings and emotions of previous tenants, if you believe in hauntings and ghosts this is easy to understand. If not, you may believe that if bad or good things happen in a place, that place acquires some of that feeling, over time. From time to time late on a spooky night I have heard a noise and wondered if something was about, and thought that if anything was, it is probably wandering over from next door, not knowing I am sleeping in a spot where presumably many many people have lived and breathed over the last hundred or so years. I've had a couple of psychotic neighbours here in this building, and wondered if there was something in the air here that effected their behaviour.

When I lived around the corner in Fulton Street, I discovered also via the 1897 survey, my flats were also built on the former grounds of another demolished mansion, Waitara. I had a psychotic neighbour there who I was sure was effected by something around us. Several houseguests and at least one flatmate told me they saw a ghost in my apartment, and once or twice I did also. My neighbour in the building also said he and his mother had seen shadowy figures at night in their hall. I get the shivers just remembering it! I also discovered that my favourite apartment I had in Sydney was also built in the 30s on the grounds of a demolished Victorian mansion in St Neot Ave, the famous Grantham.

The house on the left of this photo still stands, and is called Jenner House. My front door in St Neot Ave sat roughly in about the same spot as where Grantham's from entrance was.

I've always been attracted to these areas in which I can catch the occasional glimpse of the past, and it was my intention when I moved here to find a flat in one of these converted mansions, as they are available from time to time. I missed out on one and since then Ive just been in 60s flats, but from tie to time I keep looking for that elusive mansion flat. Living here has deepened my appreciation of architecture of the period in ways I could never have imagined.
31 January 2015 @ 08:33 pm
I went for a stroll around my block with the camera. I never noticed until a friend pointed it out that there was yet another 1860s mansion hidden behind a block of ugly 60s flats on the corner of my street.

It saved many from being demolished, and I guess someone may have hoped that there may come a day when the 60s flats could be reduced to rubble and the villas restored( I know I live for that day).

This one was called Aldourie, built in 1864 for Alexander Fraser, a merchant and politician, who died in the house in 1888, just as many newer and bigger mansions were going up along the same street. This one is converted into flats and Ive never been able to get inside when there's a flat open for inspection, but I quite fancy moving in.

Hidden behind a tall security gate is this magnificent oroginal doorway.

Lovely secluded gardens at the rear, very cool and quiet on a hot day. I've never been able to get inside but once the gate was left open and I snuck in but didnt have my camera. I got these from google images.

Magnificent staircase and entryway. I wonder if the mural is original?

While doing some research online I discovered yet another, just around the corner on Dandenong road. I discovered that 1897 land surveys are available for my area, and have been excitedly perusing them. theres a beautiful garden estate called Ardoch built in the 20s.

Gorgeous Arts and Crafts apartment blocks set over lush green gardens.

What I wasnt aware of was that Ardoch was built over the remains of two mansions, Dulquhurn built in 1864, and Cliefden, built right next to it. Cliefden was demolished to build Ardoch, but the first one remains, converted to flats.

Sandwiched between a school and one of Melbourne's busiest main roads.

26 January 2015 @ 11:27 pm
I am glad that I went back to find my Great Great Uncle Paddy's mug shot. He as arrested for being "a rogue and a vagabond" in Kaingaroa in 1917 (among a few other charges).The resemblance is uncanny.