Archive for the things to do in melbourne Category

Bearing up to a weekend in Melbourne

Posted in things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , on June 2, 2014 by jason nahrung

At the weekend we went to Melbourne.

Feathered polar bear installation You started it ... I finish it, by Paola Pivi, at NGV

You started it … I finish it, by Paola Pivi, at NGV


We saw, at the National Gallery of Victoria, a stunning collection of artwork by William Blake. He made his own process for printing words and pictures together. He had to write backwards — maybe that was why, as my wife pointed out, he had i before e after c. We went to Dante’s hell with Blake and it was a free ride. Next door was a video installation, part of which involved jiggled bellies, swaying branches, a tilting table, body parts being covered in dye and washed off. In the foyer, THERE WERE BEARS. Polar bears covered in feathers. No touching. Kirstyn was jumping out of her skin, wanting to hug these life-size, brightly coloured sculptures. The sheer delight these statues brought, not just to children but adults too …

Untitled, 2003, by Lee Bul

Untitled, 2003, by Lee Bul

Also for free at NGV was a whole floor of funky furniture and glassware, a Warhol or two, and an alien hanging in disassembled (or reassembling) pieces. Here and there amongst the art were little placards, part of the self-guided Art As Therapy tour, that directed the viewer to consider the work, perhaps in a different way to what it, at first sight, suggested; at the very least, the placards pointed out symbolism and meaning for the viewer to ponder and appreciate.

We went to the Willy Lit Fest. It’s a literary festival held annually in Williamstown, on the bay. Kirstyn was on a panel with Lucy Sussex and moderator Dmetri Kakmi talking about the Gothic and horror, and then we had lunch with friends. Or rather, we ordered lunch with friends, who ate theirs and went to the next panel, while we waited for ours, and ate it, and took the ferry back to the city. I love seeing a city from the water. I especially like the cranes, not to be confused with the cormorants, and the low bridges the ferry slips under, vaguely reminiscent of Venice’s waterways, and the high bridges it goes under, which I usually see from the other side.

Westgate Bridge seen from Williamstown Ferry

Westgate Bridge

Cranes seen from Williamstown Ferry

Cranes

Bolte Bridge seen from Williamstown Ferry

Bolte Bridge

Williamstown Ferry approaching Melbourne

Williamstown Ferry


We saw Gary Numan perform his Splinter concert, rocking the Hi-Fi bar for 90 minutes and never a non-lyric word said, but an awesome grin at the encore that said it all really. The Red Paintings were the support, two kimono ladies doing wonderful things to violin and bass while a man called Trash with a sloth on his back sang about a failed revolution, and painters painted, one on canvas, one on a dancer not quite game to go-go in her underwear and carnival bobble head. The sound was far more crisp for them than for Numan, where volume won out, but everyone played their hearts out.

On the Saturday night, walking up the street, we saw a water feature, a wall with water running down it, and people were making patterns and words from autumn leaves, stuck to the surface. Seasonal art, flowing naturally.

We ate Japanese one night, at our favourite city Japanese restaurant, Edoya, and it did not disappoint. The next night we picked a Vietnamese restaurant, Pho & Co, at random and ordered up a storm of share dishes. The service was slick and the food was quick to arrive and sensational. We also scored a breakfast table at hole-in-the-wall Aix creperie: awesome way to start the day.

We watched a movie we hadn’t heard of but the poster looked so very cool: The Babadook. It’s Australian. It’s incredibly good. Someone — I suspect the writer/director, Jennifer Kent — had a good, hard think about horror movies and mental illness, and the resulting metaphors were brilliantly drawn. All the way through to the end. At the panel at the Willy Lit Fest both Kirstyn and Lucy said how horror can be used to approach difficult subjects, how symbolism can help us be touched by something we’d otherwise shy from: this was, Kirstyn said, the perfect example. I agree.

We stayed at the Citiclub Hotel on Queen St. The website we booked through mentioned the competitive price and the comfy room and the convenient location, but skipped the fact the hotel contains a nightclub. I intend never to stay there again.

Melbourne: so much to do, but be careful where you lay your head.

King Kong the musical: I liked the gorilla

Posted in review, theatre, things to do in melbourne with tags , , , on June 24, 2013 by jason nahrung

king kong the musicalSaw King Kong the musical playing at The Regent in Melbourne, and can’t say it did the business. Or perhaps it tried to do too much business.

The titular ginormous gorilla was awesome, worked by puppetry ninjas, with a fetching array of facial expressions. And the lighting, a triumph during the climactic air assault on Kong atop the Empire State Building. Almost drew a tear, too, except the big fella’s death scene was dragged out far past the point of caring.

There was one other scene of note, bodies falling upwards as Kong wreaked devastation on the Big Apple.

And that was one of the problematic scenes, too, bringing to mind the terror attacks of 9/11, the dubious metaphor amplified in quasi religious tones by a mysterious — in terms of, who are you and what are you doing in this story? — but well-played fortune teller.

Trying to retrofit modern allegory to the tale was as effective as combining Lady Gaga bondage dance numbers with 1930s swing. Add a suite of non-memorable songs — Ann Darrow’s lullaby the only one to really make an impression amid all the song-and-dance noise — and it all kind of left me swinging in the breeze, really.

But the gorilla was ace.


Tastier far: the lamb ribs at Ombra are amazing (the plonk’s not that cheap, but), and Father’s Office has a scrummy range of Southern-style dishes. Both highly recommended.


Canberra to Clunes: books,books,books

Posted in awards, books, things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2013 by jason nahrung

booktown in clunes 2013Clunes, a mere 20 minutes outside of Ballarat, has turned on its Booktown charm this weekend. Book shops and stalls are replete with all manner of reading material, from $2 paperbacks to rather more expensive collectibles. Newspapers of yore, magazines, a couple of volumes listing Irish coppers by name and year … all manner of quirk and taste was on offer.

It was elbow room only in some book shops when we visited yesterday. There were comments such as, ‘this one’s cheaper here’, or, ‘it’s rare, but it doesn’t have the slipcase’.

We didn’t catch any of the talks, but were content to browse and sup coffee and score tucker from the food vans.

What a cute town; what a lot of books!

Indeed, it has been a week of books, for only last weekend we were in Canberra for Conflux (various reports on the con are here), the national spec fic convention.

It was a hoot, with much catching up and some doozy panels too.

Angry Robot honcho Marc Gascoigne was a guest, and it was a little sad to hear him, and others, say that stories could be *too* Australian for the international market. Look forward to further US hegemony or more universal voices? Let’s hope not. Marc also painted a picture of Angry Robot that had many of us lining up with our CVs — their building has CAVES!

And how good was it to see the marvellous Nalo Hopkinson back in Australia? Very bloody good!

Great to see Russell B Farr land the A Bertram Chandler award for his career in publishing to date, awarded at one of the best Ditmar award presentations ever, overseen by Deborah Biancotti and ably supported by Lego and a cock-block clock (of which I am now the proud recipient due to lottery, and hope becomes an institution for future awards). Kirstyn won an award for her Writer and the Critic podcast with Ian Mond, which was a lovely nod, and as expected, Margo Lanagan’s wonderful Sea Hearts took out the best novel award. The full list of winners can be found here.

the bride price by cat sparksAnd there were book launches … so many book launches! One standout — and an alliterative one, too! — was that for Cat Sparks, rolling out her collection The Bride Price with Ticonderoga — it sold out! Before I got a copy! But there are many more, and you should check them out, too.

In between Canberra and Clunes, there was mileage: about 2500km worth, which included selling off a portion of my comic collection in Maitland, my first visit to Echuca and picking up some Campbells wines (home of Empire Port) in Rutherglen. Ah, road trips … gotta love’em. Especially when you get home with wine and books!

Oz Horror Con: bloody good fun

Posted in gothic, horror, things to do in melbourne with tags on January 22, 2013 by jason nahrung

oz horror convention 2013 posterMy Sunday was spent at Oz Horror Con, as a guest of the Australian Horror Writers Association, and it was fun, and I hope it happens again next year, bigger and better.

As one might expect from a first event, it had its share of squeaky hinges: a non-accessible venue, for instance, and a touch of confusion in the organisation, and from the outside, an ad hoc marketing campaign. We writer types were largely based in an upstairs room, echoing in its emptiness, a closed door making it even harder for those arriving to be aware of our existence. So that’s some of the negatives that can be easily addressed next time round. The big blow, in having marquee author Ramsey Campbell inability to attend, was unfortunate in the extreme.

The positives largely outweighed what amounted to teething troubles: the venue, the Donkey Wheelhouse, had wine cellars that would make a Hammer Horror stage designer drool. Not so easy if you’re mobility impaired even when the elevator works, but creating the right atmosphere, even if you need a lot of signage to help folks navigate (and find that upstairs room). It also had an excellent pub directly across the street and Spencer Street Station (oops: Southern Cross) nearby, too.

The variety of exhibitors was most excellent: make-up artists, funky sculptors and jewellers, talented graphic artists, purveyors of weird stuff. Throw in a bunch of wonderful cos players and you’ve got atmos coming out the wazoo.

More bodies would’ve added to that atmosphere, and one can only hope that word will spread, attractions will grow, and the audience will increase.

The panels, and they were many and varied, were well attended by an informed and interested audience; occasional zombie screams penetrating the bricks and steel door just added to the fun of it all.

As it was, Oz Horror Con was a very friendly event, a wonderful opportunity to meet other creatives and talk shop, in a relaxed environment. It has laid the foundation for a major cross-platform horror-themed gathering with numerous options for further synergies with filmmakers and other genre and literary events, a night program perhaps; indeed, the AHWA was a noticeable participant in the program this year, and it was pleasing to see its banner (or at least, some posters) flying.

Oz Horror 2014? Bring it on.

Time out in the Grampians

Posted in things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by jason nahrung

halls gap from pinnacle in grampians national parkHectic times here at the desk, so not a lot of bloggage; needless to say, skiving off last weekend to hit the Grampians was a blessed relief. We stayed at the well appointed Boronia Peak Villas, close enough to walk to the centre of Halls Gap and the most excellent Kookaburra restaurant (you really do need to book for weekend dinner; we were lucky to get in and saw more than one hungry diner turned away).

Kangaroos rule Halls Gap, and we also saw deer and plenty of bird life: cockatoos, galahs, ducks with parades of ducklings, parrots of all shades, wrens, ravens and currawongs, and simply oodles of all sorts … and that was just in town!

Twas spring and wildflowers were spraying colour all over the national park, a much more colourful affair than our previous visit in May when the weather had been somewhat drab compared to the warm sun and cool breezes we encountered at the weekend.

pinnacle walk in grampiansWe managed to get in walks to the spectacular Pinnacle — the 2km journey was steep but not entirely mountain goat terrain, with some amazing rock formations and a stunning view at the top — and the much smoother creek-side Silverband Falls, still showing signs of devastating flooding in 2011, and the Balconies lookout, with quick stops at the Boroka Lookout and Lake Bellfield along the way.

Back in May, we did the steep stairs down to the base of Mackenzie Falls, too, but we ran out of time this weekend.

It really is a gorgeous area, and only three hours from Melbourne. It really does make you appreciate the effort to not only protect such sites, but to make them accessible.

cliff in grampians


These are some of the pix I took on my mobile phone after both sets of batteries for my point-and-shoot died. More from the weekend, including actual camera shots, are at my Flickr site.

Napoleon conquers at NGV

Posted in art, things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , on September 11, 2012 by jason nahrung

napoleon exhibit at ngv

It took two-and-a-half hours to go through the Napoleon exhibition at NGV yesterday. It wasn’t particularly crowded, but there was oodles to see and read. Simply oodles. Busts, furniture, books, uniforms, paintings. Music.

This line jumped out:

The attention paid to the decorative arts in particular was part of a wider plan to revive the country’s economy…

Whoa! Art as an important part of a nation’s economy as well as identity? Revolutionary stuff, at least Down Under.

Napoleon’s savvy might not have made it down here just yet, but the little dictator was fascinated by Terra Australis, in particular Captain Cook’s voyages of discovery.

A section of the exhibit is dedicated to giving the French their due in the mapping of the coastline and the cataloguing of its flora and fauna. Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, even had black swans, emus and kangaroos in the garden.

The Australian connection runs close to home, too. I also wasn’t aware of the Napoleonic memorabilia to be found at Briars Park on the Mornington Peninsula, thanks to a family connection running to Napoleon’s incarceration on St Helena.

napoleon on horsebackAnother section sets the scene for his rise to power, and then it’s a chronological introduction to his career and the way art changed with the times as classic imperial motifs rose to the fore.

You can trace his evolution from thin-faced general to round-cheeked emperor; a video of his death mask completes the passage. One watercolour portrait on a small box shows eyes of avarice; another display contrasts his simple soldierly tastes with the pomp of state; elsewhere there is mention of manipulation of the media of the day with exaggerated reportage and widespread iconography of his greatness.

As always in such a historical display, there’s the fascination at the thought of these items being used: the combs and travelling boxes, the chair with the lion-headed arms, the Psyche mirror …

A familiarity with the French ruler’s history is advisable to help fill in the gaps, but what a champion display this is.

Meals on wheels: Melbourne’s Colonial Tramcar Restaurant

melbourne's colonial tramcar restaurantOn Sunday night we dined out in style for a friend’s 50th, indulging in five courses on the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant.

The 1947 tram has been decked out with lamps, tables for four and for two, a chef and bar service, and for three hours it trundles amongst a convoy of three around Melbourne — St Kilda, Albert Park and Docklands slid past the tinted windows, while a various artists playlist of the Eagles, Prince and Sinead O’Connor played quietly in the background.

The food was top notch: appetiser of dips, entree of grilled barramundi, main of eye fillet, cheese and then sticky date pudding for dessert, all washed down with sparkling and red wine, with port to finish. All included in the price. The staff were awesomely friendly, too.

Rather than rush home from the tram, we made a night of it, crashing at Citigate, right opposite Flinders St Station, which meant we could walk everywhere we needed to go: ideal springtime lunch at Southbank, then to the tram, then to the gallery in the morning before the train home. The room was spacious enough for two people with only one carry-on bag between them, there was an iPod dock, the staff were wonderfully friendly, and this was the view from the twelfth floor:

view from citigate hotel melbourneQuiet, too. All they need now are proper cave curtains to keep out the sunlight.

Writing by the dock of the lake

Posted in things to do in melbourne, travel, writing with tags , , , , , , on September 5, 2012 by jason nahrung

writers soaking up the sun at Lake Mulwala

Lake view at Mulwala

The writing group to which I belong hit Lake Mulwala at the weekend for a three-night writing retreat. What a brilliant spot it was, with a dozen of us camped in a two-storey joint on the lakeside: a drowned forest, a plethora of birds — including cockatoos and a black swan who came a’visiting — and some amazing moon rises, including a blue moon!

The town sits on the New South Wales side of the Victorian border, across from the rural town of Yarrawonga, and took about three-and-a-half hours of scenic driving to get to from Melbourne. We also popped into Euroa to stretch the legs and scarf down a very tasty lunch.

wine by the case

Winery supply run

It was also fortuitous that the Rutherglen wine district is only a short drive away. After tasting and lunch ($20 with a drink, w00t!) at Rutherglen winery in town, we hit All Saints (with added cheese!), Stanton & Killeen and Campbells . We returned with the rattle of bottles; fortifieds mostly. The muscats hit the sweet spot.

But the aim was writing, when we weren’t chowing down on our self-catered banquets. And writing we did, each in their own way. I managed to untangle a lot of the knots in a new novel, so slowly but surely that yarn is coming together. There was plotting. There was scribbling. Typing. Solitaire. Ahem.

Mulwala lake retreat

Wordsmiths at work


It is such an advantage to be able to get away to somewhere quiet with like-minded souls and just butt up against the story. With only cockatoos and pretty sunsets to distract, it was a very productive and rewarding time indeed. Having a nearby walking track along the lake edge was an asset, too, because sometimes the brain just needs some downtime to process and come up with some subconscious solutions.

The retreat has added impetus for a new Supernova website, which seeks to draw together the various news and views of the members as well as extol the simple virtue of having a constructive support network to keep you on track. Ellen has written about the retreat there to help get the ball rolling.


Sunset over Lake Mulwala

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  • Mesopotamia, and a taste of Africa

    Posted in things to do in melbourne with tags , , , , , , , on August 30, 2012 by jason nahrung

    lion weight from mesopotamia exhibit at melbourne museum

    The Mesopotamia exhibit at the Melbourne Museum has more cuneiform thank you can point a stick at. Some might say they can see direct links between this first recorded writing and my own scrawl, but given these ancient scribes were using a pointy stick and a wet clay tablet, that’s being unfair to them. What an exotic, precise script it is, evolving from pictographs to poetry. And Gilgamesh, of course. Where would we be without that ancient epic, hey? There’s a piece of it at the exhibit. And I missed it! Skedaddling to cram in as much as I could before closing time, this chink of literary history slipped under my radar. Honestly, you want a good two hours to work through the exhibit, a collaboration with the British Museum.

    Gilgamesh, the first comic book hero

    As well as the clay tablets, there are figurines and implements, a walk through the region and its history with focus on the main urban centres of the three early empires (Sumer, Assyria and Babylon), stunning relief pictures of battles and — a little sadly — lion hunts, some of which have been given hi-tech interpretations to help understand the wonderfully detailed graphics. There is one brilliant, touching image of a wounded lion on its death bed …

    nebuchadnezzar cuneiform tablet, mesopotamia exhibit at melbourne museumThere are cylindrical seals shorter and not much rounder than a pinky finger that make incredibly detailed pictorial seals in clay. Recreations of artifacts. Agatha Christie makes an appearance — cleaning ivory figurines with her face cream! Very cool five-legged lammasu gate guards, five-legged to ensure the legs add up from both front and side views. An intriguing silver goblet found squished ‘hidden’ under a flagstone.

    I would’ve liked more direct translations of the cuneiform tablets, just to put the scratchings into better perspective, and to get more of a feel for the language of the day. Still, seeing artifacts that someone made, thousands of years ago, that were used day to day, and here they are, you king whose name still endures, you unknown sculptor who made such beautiful images … it’s quite amazing.

    Who couldn’t be entranced by the slow unveiling of this once-mysterious, still somewhat obscured, piece of history with its marvellous pantheon, towering ziggurats … and canals?!

    Luckily, the paperweight pictured here wasn’t in the rather limited museum store offerings, although there was a rather cool, spindly Pazuzu figurine …

    polly cocktail bar, fitzroyAfterwards we went to Fitzroy to meet friends for dinner, and, as you do when in Brunswick St, killed a very pleasant hour in one of my favourite bars, Polly. Skipped the rather yummy $7 pizzas (though the menu was different to our last visit and rather enticing) but kept the pangs at bay with dips and coffee while slumped in one of the red velvet armchairs. And then that dinner, across the street and down the block and up the stairs at Nyala African Restaurant. So totally yummy and relaxed.

    Sometimes, it’s good to have a day like this to remind you why you live in the big smoke, eh.

    Glory Box: glorious burlesque

    Posted in review, theatre, things to do in melbourne with tags , , , on June 16, 2012 by jason nahrung

    cast for glory box by finucane and smith

    I love Meow Meow. She’s an awesome performer, fearlessly shattering the performance walls; stylish with a great voice, charismatic and opinionated, a kind of singing stand-up comedian with her ability to mix laughs and social commentary. She was guest last night at Glory Box, the latest production of Finucane and Smith, and the two-hour show was every bit as entertaining and provoking as last year’s Burlesque Hour.

    Some of the pieces are repeats, all the better for another viewing: Salome’s unveiling, the balloon-bursting Queen of Hearts, the concluding Get Wet for Art that requires the front rows to shelter under brollies. There’s clever illusion — where does the naked woman hide that hanky? — and stunning trapeze and hoola hoop action; there are spraying apple pieces in keeping with the Eden/sin/Pandora theme, smooches, cross-dressing, the shattering of sexual identity preconceptions … and the thing that struck me at that other performance and again here, the simple joy of the female form, sans airbrushing, surgery and other unrealistic expectations. Writer Christos Tsiolkas contributes the script for a be-suited duet, ‘I Have a Confession’, a slap in the face of homophobia. And as before, the performers get out and about amidst the audience, packed into the basement level of the very cool fortyfivedownstairs.

    Meow Meow’s ‘Down Dolly Down’ set encapsulates the political context perfectly, and her ‘Be Careful’/All the Girls with piano accompaniment is sheer class. That she pulls off such impact while, for example, rotating slowly on a lazy susan or lit by her own torch is all the more reason for applause.

    Glory Box is a glorious romp indeed, with Jimi Hendrix, Portishead, Prince, Salt-N-Pepa on the playlist, and a message in the medium that is revealing in more ways than one.


    Things to do in Melbourne: dinner and Macbeth

    Posted in gothic, horror, review, theatre, things to do in melbourne with tags , , , on June 14, 2012 by jason nahrung

    Last night, there was steak, seafood and Macbeth. It’s a winning combination, even if the play wasn’t quite as noms as the dinner.

    Il Primo Posto is at Melbourne’s Southbank. It’s a welcoming space, unlike many of the corporate aquariums that line the river walk, given warmth and character by its mural wall, wooden shelves and dashing burgundy feature wall. The staff are efficient and friendly, and the food — the food is spot on in size, quality and price.

    We got to the Arts Centre with the bell — not just the theatre bell calling us to our seats, but the Bell Shakespeare Company, performing my favourite work by the Bard, Macbeth.

    The stage was set with turf and grass, suitably crunchy for adding to suspenseful creeping scenes, and a key feature was a reflective ceiling — it had a more dramatic effect farther back, I think, based on what I saw at intermission. Lighting was superb.

    Among the highlights: Lady Macbeth, played by Kate Mulvany, and the beautifully balanced and passionate relationship with Macbeth; the sensation of spirit possession in the cleverly singular witch, Lizzie Schebesta; Macduff’s emotional speech on reception of news of his family’s death; the way in which dead Banquo exits the stage as the dinner scene is set up around him; the sex/violence dynamic between Macbeth and the witch. Great fake blood, too!

    Some of the things that didn’t work quite so well for me: the truncated, even jumpy, second half, especially the absence of the scene explaining how it is that the woods can march; slow motion while actors deliver soliloquies; the confusion about whether the witch is still the witch when playing minor characters. Why keep Macduff’s family’s death scene but deny Lady Macbeth her post-dinner ramble?


    One striking aspect of the play was the unexpected humour. There was an ironic, even Ocker, vein that elicited laughs in places one wouldn’t normally expect, while the one character often played for laughs — the gatekeeper — presented in part as quite dour. Lady Macbeth suffers a bout of hiccups, highly effective at beginning and end, but a tad disruptive in the midst of a heavy emotional monologue. And Macbeth himself, looking impish with a constant crouch and hunch and arms akimbo, at times more Rumpelstiltskin than tortured king, giving air to that jarring Aussie twang once in a while. The costumery was understated Australian, too, with the men’s uniforms of jeans and work shirts topped occasionally by formal blue military coats, and woollen jumpers to the fore.

    This is another version that seems to put more weight on the role of the witch/es not just as oracles of fate but manipulators or even victims of it. I’m not convinced that reframing is required, given the sheer power of the tale about self-fulfilling prophecy.

    It was a bold, even challenging production, and overall I enjoyed it, not just for what it did so very well — some wonderful scenes will linger for a long time indeed — but for what it dared to do. And kudos for programming Fever Ray for the departure song: a perfect beat to leave on after such a striking final moment.

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