One of the areas that my Master of Architecture history/theory course, Popular Architecture and Design, which I teach at the University of Melbourne, looks at is “everyday architecture”.
In previous years the students who did this course have researched kebab shops in Melbourne (2011), launderettes in Melbourne (2012) and painted garage doors in Melbourne (2013).
This year (2014), the students researched barber shops in Melbourne. Working mostly in pairs, they were asked to choose a barber shop and record the following basic information about it:
• The name and address of the barbershop.
• A plan of the barbershop, including the fittings and furniture.
• At least one photograph of the front of the barbershop.
• At least one photograph of each of the rear and sides of the barber shop (where accessible).
• At least four photographs of the interior of the barbershop.
• Photographs of any advertising (awning signs, window signs, 3D signs, etc.).
• A brief description of the barbershop.
• A brief interview with the owner/manager and/or one or more customer(s).
Barber Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey contains the above data exactly as the students gave it to me—errors and all. To be able to see 50 barber shops at a glance and compare their similarities and differences based on exactly the same information is this book’s main value in my view.
Judging from the students’ research, many barber shops in Melbourne are very quirky, highly masculine places. Those that have the barber’s personal collection of football memorabilia, or foreign currency, or knickknacks, or photographs, or whatever on display in the barber shop are the ones that fascinate me the most.
My wife, Tiang (who I call Ping), found the negative of this photo in some things she had stored at my parents’ house. It shows the three Khoo sisters and their father at Central Padang in Kuching in the 1960s. The surreal perspective has almost turned their father into a Ken doll. Weird! And Hoon looks like she has only one leg! The photo was probably taken by one of my wife’s brothers.
Last week I spent two days in Darwin to attend the opera I was involved with at the Darwin Festival. It was one of the most incomprehensible things I’ve ever seen! Never mind. It was enjoyable all the same.
William Boyd/Hopalong Cassidy visited Darwin in 1954. However, if he came back to life and visited the town again today, he wouldn’t recognize the place. About the only building that might look familiar to him is the Star Theatre, although it isn’t a cinema any more, but some shops. Every Wednesday evening was “ranch night” when cowboy films, including Hoppy’s, which were the favourites of Darwin’s Aboriginal community, were shown at the Star Theatre. Hoppy’s glory days are commemorated in the shopping centre’s courtyard by a poster. I managed to track down one person who met Hoppy when he visited the Bagot Road Aboriginal Community school in 1954, a delightful man named Don White. He remembered Hoppy’s school visit like it was yesterday.
I drove to Adelaide River, about 100 kilometres south of Darwin, just for the hell of it. It was just a name on a map to me. But I was unexpectedly moved by the immaculately-kept, World War II military cemetery there. So many young men in their twenties killed. The inscription on “craftsman” R.W. Thomas’s Army headstone really got to me: “Ever loved by this Dad …” The youngest person buried in the cemetery appears to be 16-year old R.H. Stobo, a Merchant Navy “deck cadet”, while the oldest appears to be 66-year old G. Dew, a “donkeyman”, also with the Merchant Navy (I guess he looked after the Merchant Navy’s donkeys. How many donkeys were killed in the bombing of Darwin I wonder?). [I stand corrected by Mike Scully. A “donkeyman” looked after the boilers on a ship. I guess it comes from the term, “donkey engine”. Nevertheless, how many donkeys were killed in the bombing of Darwin?] It seems that the Darwin Post Office received a direct hit, because about a dozen post office workers were buried side-by-side. As I say, I was unexpectedly moved by the stories of the people buried in this beautiful, but out-of-the-way place.
Termite mounds by the side of the road between Darwin and Adelaide River.
Danius Kesminas recently asked me to write a libretto—in the form of a story board for a comic book—for the fourth part of a science fiction/surreal/punk opera, to be performed by the Lepidopters (Punkasila et al) at the Darwin Festival in August 2014. I had to more or less continue the storyline of the first three parts written by Mark von Schlegell. I based my story on Hopalong Cassidy’s visit to Darwin in 1954. Instead of Hopalong metaphorically capturing Darwin, as he did when he visited there, Hopalepidopter literally captures it (well, almost). Great fun. Following is the relevant page from the Darwin Festival program and two of the 45 panels of my collaged story board.
Three suspicious-looking characters: me, Stephen Knight and Lucy Sussex. (I only got back from the USA that morning, so I wasn’t quite at my best!) In between us is the cover of the new edition of MURDER IN THE TELEPHONE EXCHANGE by June Wright, which was first published in 1948. Following is a press release by Carmel Shute:
Queen of Australian Crime Rediscovered: (Re)launch of June Wright’s Murder in the Telephone Exchange, Sun Theatre, 10 Ballarat Street, Yarraville, 4pm Sunday 27 April
Murder in the Telephone Exchange, the long neglected 1948 crime novel of Melbourne-born June Wright, is set to win a new generation of fans, thanks to its reissue by US publisher Verse Chorus Press in April. Murder in the Telephone Exchange, Wright’s debut novel, was remarkable for its ‘scene of the crime’ (a central telephone exchange), the murder weapon (a ‘buttinsky’, a piece of equipment used to listen in on phone calls) and its setting (Melbourne). According to Wright, it was the first detective novel set in Melbourne since Fergus Hume’s Mystery of the Hansom Cab was published in 1886. Wright drew on her own experiences at Melbourne Central Telephone Exchange from 1939 to 1941 to create the richly detailed plot with a telephonist sleuth. In 1948, Murder in the Telephone Exchange was the best-selling mystery in Australia, sales outstripping even those of the reigning queen of crime, Agatha Christie. Wright went on to publish five more top-quality mysteries over the next two decades – including three featuring the irrepressible nun detective, Mother Paul – while at the same time raising six children, one of whom was severely intellectually disabled.
When Wright died two years ago at the age of 92, her books were largely forgotten and very hard to find, despite the praise she received at the time and the championing of her work in such recent surveys of the field as Stephen Knight‘s Continent of Mystery. All that’s about to change as Dark Passage, a Verse Chorus imprint, is republishing all of Wright’s novels, including a previously unpublished mystery, Duck Season Death, due out later in the year. Both these books include extended introductions by Derham Groves, a Melbourne academic and crime aficionado. The other five novels will follow at intervals over the next two years. Sisters in Crime Australia is joining forces with the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville to re-launch Murder in the Telephone Exchange – 4pm Sunday 27 April – Sun Theatre, 10 Ballarat Street, Yarraville (Melbourne).
Speakers at the launch include crime fiction historians Lucy Sussex and Stephen Knight, Derham Groves and Wright’s eldest son, Patrick. All crime fans are welcome to attend. Sussex, who interviewed Wright in the 1990s whilst working as a researcher for Knight’s history of Australian crime fiction, says: “Wright was a type of woman I met often from the generation born in the early twentieth century: highly articulate, clever, toughened by the experience of the Great Depression and a World War, but doomed to the domestic sphere. She had it worst than most, with six children. Her writing was a means of keeping her sanity, regaining respect via self-expression. She was a housewife literary superstar before Edna, and people loved her for it. Wright chronicled Melbourne and women’s lives with great acuteness. She believed in her writing, but never was a pushy author. Rather in person she could be self-deprecating, as a defensive weapon. But like her writing she was observant, intelligent and also charming.”
Knight, who is currently Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne, says that in 1948 Wright began a career notable in two ways. “She was the first Australian crime writer to take seriously the idea that a woman can play a major role in detecting crime – and internationally one of the first to see that role as not merely enacting female stereotypes. But Wright also, just as unusually, experimented through her novels with the form and structure of the crime novel to release in the best way her proto-feminist instincts. Murder in the Telephone Exchange is a very capable classic mystery, notable both for being set in a large city – Melbourne – and also for the practical way in which Maggie Byrnes, quick-witted young telephonist, goes about her inquiries.”
Groves has long admired Wright, in 2008 curating an exhibition, Murderous Melbourne, which featured the work of Wright and another largely forgotten Australian crime writer, S.H. Courtier. He says Wright’s books are “distinguished by finely drawn settings in and around Melbourne, Victoria, feisty female protagonists and credible social situations, and in my opinion, they thoroughly deserve a contemporary reappraisal.” In his introduction to Murder in the Telephone Exchange, Groves recounts the story of Wright’s second book, So Bad a Death, originally entitled Who Would Murder a Baby? When challenged by the editor of the Australasian Post, she declared: “Obviously you know nothing of the homicidal instincts sometimes aroused in a mother by her children. After a particularly exasperating day, it is a relief to murder a few characters in your book instead.”
Wright’s son Patrick, a retired university lecturer now living in Newport, says: “For my granddaughters I hold June up as a role model of someone who had a dream, claimed their talent, and with courage, application, focus, hard work and resilience achieved their dream, something worthwhile.” Wright stopped writing crime fiction to earn a regular salary when her husband Stewart became unable to work. She returned to the telephones, this time at the TAB, where she worked for six years. Stewart later established a cleaning business, and Wright retrained in business to assist him until his death in 1989.
The Jay Pritzker Pavilion by Frank Gehry, a Pritzker Prize-winning architect. No conflict of interest there.
S.R. Crown Hall (the Architecture Department building) by Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).
The McCormick Tribune Campus Center at IIT by Rem Koolhaas with Mies van der Rohe watching the comings and goings.
Unity Temple by Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park.
The Arthur Heurtley House by Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park. Beautiful brickwork.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s house and office in Oak Park.
Marina City by Bertrand Goldberg. Car parking at the bottom, apartments at the top.
Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa in Millennium Park.
Derham at the Autry Center in Griffith Park.
Hopalong Cassidy’s former headquarters at 8907 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverley Hills. It is now a medical centre. All that is left is Hoppy’s ghost.
The Eames House by Charles and Ray Eames in Santa Monica.
The Chemosphere or Marlin House by John Lautner in Torreyson Drive, off Mulholland Drive. The house was subsequently bought by Troy McClure of The Simpsons.
The Getty Villa by Langdon, Wilson, Garrett and Neuerburg in Malibu.
Revisited the Pavilion of Japanese Art by Bruce Goff at LACMA on Wilshire Boulevard.
“Levitated Mass” by Michael Heizer at LACMA.
Walt Disney’s barn in Griffith Park.
Two rides at Walt Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim.
The abandoned Johnies Coffee Cafe and Restaurant in Wilshire Boulevard. It has appeared in a number of films, including The Big Lebowski.
Revisited the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City.
On Saturday night, Ping and I went to Melbourne’s White Night Festival. I can’t recall seeing such a big crowd in Melbourne. It was a bit scary. Being an old postmodernist, the lighting up of the buildings reminded me of the importance of surface. Sometimes the most interesting architecture is only a quarter-of-an-inch thick.