SUE JACKSON Therapist | Writer | Photographer | Activist

An avid blogger for the last fifteen years, I believe in the power of the word to change the world. I have participated in, and reported on, a range of protests during this period, including the successful East-West Link campaign and, more recently, our wonderful, home-grown Extinction Rebellion (XR). If you believe, like I do, that it is time for ordinary people to rise up in defence of the planet, I encourage you to explore this blog, share it with your networks, and – of course – take action.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Graffiti Art Melbourne: Who am I?

Cowboy Cool

There's a guy I often spot, especially in Brunswick Street, dressed in a long studded leather coat, high-heeled cowboy boots, black leather pants and a stetson. With his goatee, sideburns and shades, he always manages to convey an air of absolute assurance about his urban cowboy persona. The picture above reminds me of him.

'Carn the 'Pies!'

The team we love to hate - because they are so good!
I found this Collingwood fan on a wall in Collingwood itself, so obviously not all locals support the Magpies. Unless of course the artist is celebrating the team's fans' 'bad boy' image. There he stands with his battered face, a ciggie hanging out of a dribbling mouth with its missing teeth, a pot of beer behind him and meat pie in hand. That lewd wink says it all: 'You mightn't like us, but who gives a stuff!'  Barry Humphries' obscene offensive buffoon, Sir Les Patterson, packs a similar sort of wallop. And we mightn't like to admit it, but there's something quintessentially Australian about both of them.

Hey Dude!

I absolutely love the high-spirits of some of the characters you meet, and the unexpected places you meet them. This party-ing bear was in a dead-end lane-way, and though he was celebrating alone, he was obviously having a ball.

Reclusive Rooster

Not so this reclusive rooster. You'll need to look hard to find him. He's hidden behind a shed at our local community garden, whose produce he's obviously been enjoying. But from his sombre expression I suspect he's had it with being alone. He wants to get out and have some fun. And I know just who to hook him up with:

Party girl

Totally out there, she's an expert at having a good time. I'm sure she would rise to the challenge of helping Reclusive Rooster let it rip.

Where are my feet?

The twins above could do with some of Party Girl's effervesense. But on the other hand, they do have something to look concerned about - after all, what's happened to the rest of their bodies? They remind me of the unfinished slave sculptures of Michelangelo, which have intrigued generations of art lovers. The perennial question is: What would they have looked like had they been completed?
But I love them just as they are, because they remind me that human beings never are 'finished'. There are always new things to discover about ourselves, and we're always changing. Although I'd have to agree that there's changing. And then there's changing...
When I was a teenager there was a film that terrified me. I think it was part of 'The Planet of the Apes' series. As the film progressed the heroes, who were humans, inexorably started changing, bit by bit and feature by feature, into apes. I remember I had nightmares about that film for ages afterwards. This image by Kaff-eine, where the boy seems to be growing pig ears, instantly brought the film to mind. I always ensure that I pass by this utility box on its far side.

Planet of the Pigs?

I don't know what I'll post about next. But Melbourne's street art is proving hard to resist.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Graffiti Art - Melbourne style

'Sistine sisters'

I love this image. It's just around the corner from my place on a wall behind St Georges road. I don't know who created it, but it reminds me of Michelangelo's God the Father reaching out his finger to his Son. So I not only get to enjoy this contemporary piece, but every time I see it I'm instantly transported to the the Sistine chapel in Rome where I'm lying on my back transfixed by the wondrous ceiling. Two for the price of one. Or in this case, for no price at all.
Because one of the great things about street art is that it's art for the people by the people and it's free to all. And unlike Michelangelo, the creator of what I have dubbed the Sistine Sisters, doesn't have to kowtow to noble patrons or work like a dog to meet their impossible demands. He (because Melbourne's graffiti artists are predominantly male) can work when and if he likes. And produce what he likes too.

Lord Ganesh?

Spotting this lugubrious elephant on the side of a house on Alexandra Parade, Ganesh the Elephant god, the purveyor of success and the most widely-worshipped Hindu deity, instantly sprang to mind. The elephant's eyes are somewhat red and watery - because he is reflecting on the sad plight of humans or simply struggling with the fumes from the adjacent freeway, we will never know.
But the clever way the creator has integrated the windows into his picture reminds me of one of my favourite art works ever. It was painted specifically for the wall it emblazons and effortlessly integrates a small window at its apex into the composition. Again it's in Rome, in a church off the beaten track called San Agostino. The picture was painted by the wonderful Caravaggio and is called the Madonna of the Pilgrims. It caused an uproar in its day because the dirty and cracked feet of the pilgrims was right at eye level and many viewers thought it improper.
I think Caravaggio, who was a wild and anarchic figure, would have applauded my comparison of his work with that of a graffiti artist. Like today's street artists, he was also a creature of the night and often made art that was derided.

Australia? Africa?... Wherever

Something that really appeals to me about graffiti art is that you often come across it in the strangest, most unexpected or even inaccessible places, obviously because those are the only places where the artists won't be caught or interrupted as they work. This powerful landscape, or is it a dreamscape? which seems to leap off the wall, is located in a dull, grey internal car park.

Who or what won't stop?

I don't understand this piece, but I find it intriguing. The house it adorns is right on Wellington Parade, and has huge numbers of cars and cyclists streaming past its front door, day and night. Perhaps it's the commuters who 'won't stop'. But, if so, why does the glamorous '50s-screen-siren-look-alike appear so unperturbed. As I said, it's very intriguing.

What's going on?

This picture on a public utility box, whose every surface is decorated with images that perfectly fit its limited space, worries me. I don't know what's going on in this picture by Kaff-eine, and I'm not sure I want to.

Astonishing scope and artistry

As I rattled past this huge fantasy piece on the tram, I noticed that I was not the only one who gasped when I spotted it.

Longing for a pat

I have to stop! But remember - Melbourne is one of the world's top cities for street art and Fitzroy is its epicentre. As you can tell, I'm a great fan and get a buzz out of scrambling down alley ways and behind buildings to discover new treasures. (I'm weird, I know). So if you'd like to see some more graffiti art, just let me know.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

All You Need is Love. If only...

Equal Love rally this afternoon outside the State Library of Victoria

Despite the fact that our next-door neighbour, New Zealand, has now embraced it; the sister of our Prime Minister-in-waiting, Tony Abbott, is a gay woman who wants to marry her partner; and the majority of Australians favour it, marriage remains an elusive dream for members of the Australian LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) community.

No fairytale endings in sight for the Oz LGBT community

But that didn't stop the community and its supporters (including me) from rallying today outside the State Library of Victoria on a beautiful autumn afternoon to apply pressure. Official advocates like the Greens were there, as well as some unions, in what turned out to be a passionate and festive atmosphere.

Police enjoying their weekend gig?

The highlight for me was a heart-felt address by X-factor celebrity Paige Elliot Phoenix, who has undergone a female to male transition. He described how a bureaucratic anomaly allowed him a very brief experience of realising his dream to marry his sweetheart. He is still grieving the fact that, after the discovery that 'female' had been ticked on both their birth certificates, their happiness was snatched away.

Paige Elliot Phoenix, an eloquent spokesperson for Marriage Equality

Some of those who attended the rally undoubtedly found words more difficult, but they still made a big impact. The beautiful greyhound Slick was clear where his loyalties lie. If you are in any doubt, check out his hash tag - the unequivocal 'gay hound'.

Slick in his rainbow coat 

Perhaps Redmond Barry, who sentenced Ned Kelly to death, would have been hard to win over to the cause.

Redmond Barry turning a blind eye to the rights of the protestors

But maybe there is hope, as not all officialdom is so hard-hearted:

Victoria's first Lieutenant Governor, with spurned female, wearing his heart very close to his sleeve 

With red roses at his feet and a placard in his hand pleading 'Why Can't We Marry?' Victoria's first Lieutenant Governor, Joseph Latrobe, looks wistfully across at Redmond Barry.

I know in my last post I promised you Melbourne street art, but that's for next time.
I hope you have enjoyed this street theatre instead.
And if it's not already in place where you live, please advocate for Marriage Equality.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Final episode? - Happy Birthday House!

By 1922 the Misses Balchin had disappeared from our house, leaving their brother, Henry, alone and by now the owner. I like to think that N.E moved on to bigger and better things, to somewhere where she was feted as a maestro 'teacher of pianoforte'.
In the meantime, on the other side of the Tasman, two young Kiwis were preparing to take centre stage in our story. Mungo Gordon Mackney and Ethel May Lily Mackney had married in 1911 in beautiful Otago, Dunedin, on New Zealand's south island.
By 1914 Ethel, whose occupation was listed as 'home duties', had emigrated, apparently on her own, to the house below.

Ethel Mackney's first Aussie home at 168 Scotchmer Street North Fitzroy

Ethel's lone occupancy got me thinking. Had the marriage been a fizzer, with the runaway bride abandoning her homeland to make a new life as a single person in Australia? Somehow that explanation didn't quite square with Ethel's continued listing under 'occupation' as 'home duties'. Presumably if she intended going it alone she would have needed to find paid work. I got the feeling that she was waiting for her husband to join her. And that's when the penny dropped, at exactly the same time as I lucked on another piece of information.
I found a listing for Ethel and Mungo in 1919 living together in a nearby house.
I entitled the Mackney's story Torn Apart Kiwi Lovers Reunited in Paradise for several reasons. Given the date of their shared occupancy, I wondered if Mungo had returned from overseas after fighting as an ANZAC in the Great War. Perhaps Ethel had spent four long years, alone in a new country, waiting patiently and anxiously, like so many other women, for her husband's safe return. Suspecting that this was the case, I was delighted when I located the home they lived in after their reunion. It is a beauty, as I'm sure you'll agree:

21 Alfred Crescent - luxury retreat for reunited lovers?

Below was the view from their first floor verandah. I imagine them holding hands, sitting quietly in adjoining chairs on the verandah, as they watched the light shifting over the leaves of the trees opposite. Maybe this serene view helped them open up about the loneliness of their lives during their separation, with Mungo perhaps working hard to protect his wife from the harsher realities of his war-time experiences.

Balm for Mungo's troubled soul?

The Mackney's moved to our house in 1924, with Mungo, a painter by trade, continuing the painting tradition established by its first occupant, John Hawkins. The couple lived here together for thirty years until 1954, when Mungo apparently died. Ethel ended her marriage where she started it, living alone. I only hope the intervening years with her husband provided some solace.
And that's where we leave our story, except to say that the streets of our neighbourhood still brim with stories, as they always have done.
Helen Garner lived nearby (and was fired from the local high school) during the years she wrote Monkey Grip. Walking in the Edinburgh Gardens recently I stumbled on a crew filming an episode of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, which is set at the exact time the Mackneys would have been admiring the gardens from the comfort of their verandah. And nearby streets are regularly cordoned off to facilitate filming of the popular series Offspring.

The family home in Offspring

Keeping with the creative theme, next time I will move on to art of a very different type.

What do Paris, Sao Paolo, London, Los Angeles and Melbourne have in common?... They are all renowned open-air art galleries. And the epicentre of  Melbourne's street art is Fitzroy.
So look out for some of my top picks next time. And do let me know what you think!