Foto Biennale day trippin’: is there a doco in the (open) house?

Luxville 5 exhibition by Erin McCuskey

Luxville 5 exhibition by Erin McCuskey

Spring sprang, momentarily, on Sunday, so we carved off a chunk of the arvo and hit Ballarat to tick off a few more sites in the Foto Biennale.

There was no doubting the power of the documentary images: in the City Hall, Mitchell Kanashkevich‘s superb depictions of life in Belarus; and, more naturalistic, a joint project offering slices of life in the town of Swifts Creek in Gippsland, ensconced in the upper floor of the refurbished restaurant and music venue Sutton’s House of Music (love this space). Keeping the Creek company were some most excellent travel pictures from Lesley Costley-Grey — one of my favourites, a smashed typewriter on the footpath, already with three red dots beside it.

There were interesting techniques such as cyanotype and sunshine (at boutique beer store Coach House Ale near the railway station) and photogravure (at Backspace Gallery, which also has on show some stunning South American landscapes — flamingoes add splashes of colour in some).

A couple of Vicki McKay’s “Bohemia” images, inspired by Norman Lindsay, at the Miners Tavern (luckily, you don’t have to pass the pokies to get up the staircase to the upstairs exhibition, which has been thoughtfully marked as featuring nude women *gasp*), also popped, but I really enjoyed the personalities on show at the Regent theatre, where Erin McCuskey has a stills exhibition of characters in a fictional town.

lost ones gallery

Lost Ones Gallery

More starscapes, these from Tim Lucas, at the Beechworth Bakery (amazingly, no bee stings were eaten during this visit); a seascape with ship carved into panels at the Yellow Espresso cafe (yummy coffee that you can take away, unlike the big print), and some exceptional images from India by Rochelle Wong at the Trades Hall were among the list that took in about a dozen or so venues. Some others were closed (Sunday, you take your chances in the Rat), but a peek through the window was enough to go yea or nay to a revisit.

We also caught up with the print books competition, which showed a range of styles and themes. One, for instance, had folded pages; another was a narrative of being nekkid and in love in the woods; another had landscapes from the waterline, taken from a kayak. Another documented female residents of a town.

I love the former Freemasons building, now Lost Ones Galley, on Camp Street with its slightly risky stairs down to the welcoming basement (and outdoor toilet block) with sofas, bird cage, and a puffer fish under glass.

So not only does the biennale open up a range of photographic topics and techniques, it also gives access — encourages access — to a range of buildings that maybe wouldn’t normally get a visit, and puts galleries and cafes and the like on the radar. Even if you do cop the occasional glare over a coffee cup for peering over someone’s head at the pictures.

Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB): a quick snap

Home by Nightfall, by Angela Bacon-Kidwell

Home by Nightfall, by Angela Bacon-Kidwell

The Ballarat International Foto Biennale officially opened on Saturday night — pizza, wine (Langi Ghiran, no less! oh so noms) and a whole lotta people checking out the exhibits in the Mining Exchange.

We managed to roll two other venues on Saturday — one before and one after. The first was Stacey Moll‘s ‘Frankenstein Atomic Frontier’ at wonderful comic shop Heroes HQ (darn, the latest Saga trade isn’t out yet) — I particularly like a gloomy alley shot of a woman with book, like an urban mage with grimoire. The second was ‘Silver’, by a collective of non-digital aficionados, which included some nice black-and-white industrial decay, hosted at Sebastiaans, the cafe, which included a pretty decent fisherman’s basket.

There are about 80 venues this year, many of them eateries — you could easily put together a food tour based on the exhibits.

My favourite so far, at the Mining Exchange: ‘Home by Nightfall’, an exquisite narrative of dust, sunlight and birds from Texan artist Angela Bacon-Kidwell, in which she reflects on her emotional journey during her father’s fatal illness. Also striking, some of the refugee photos from Maltese news photographer Darrin Zammit Lupi — incredible captures, brimming with emotion.

We moved to Ballarat in time for the previous biennale, and found it an intriguing way to explore the town. We hope to spend a few more days this time around. Sadly, we missed out on participating in the ‘Ballarat Through My Eyes’ contest, because it runs in the lead-up to the biennale itself. The event asks photographers to present photos in three categories taken in the Rat — bit of a treasure hunt! Maybe next time.

The biennale goes until 20 September 2015. Look for the biennale lens logo outside venues, or check the website for who’s got what. Amazingly, most of the exhibitions, as was the opening-night shindig, are free.

Vampires on the radio

the big smoke by jason nahrungEarlier today I chatted with ABC Ballarat 107.9’s Prue Bentley about Australian vampires, fast cars — and how freakin’ cold it is!

Producer Gav McGrath has posted a (stammer-free!) summary of the radio broadcast here.

It’s taking two of the things I love – the Australian landscape, and vampires and the gothic more broadly – and trying to make them fit together

Headstones and lake reflections in Ballaratia

Ballaarat Old Cemetery, Ballarat

Ballaarat Old Cemetery

Friday was sunshine and fluffy clouds, little breeze, the typical Ballaratian winter’s day, we are told, but the first we’ve been able to enjoy. So Kirstyn and I took the day off and went to the Ballaarat Old Cemetery.

The city fathers were indeed wise to commission a second, with the city being a boom gold town and all, and the cemetery quite compact — population, about 25,000 (according to a sign board at the graveyard).

Here a lawn of unmarked pioneer era graves, here the Jews, here the Irish, the Germans … here the Chinese with the only oven I’ve seen outside of Mt Morgan.

Diggers' Eureka memorial, Ballaarat Old Cemetery, Ballarat

Diggers’ Eureka memorial, Ballaarat Old Cemetery

Probably the boneyard’s greatest claim to fame is the Eureka rebellion, with separate monuments for soldiers and rebels who died in the uprising, the insurgents so popular a jury would not convict them for treason. Interesting wording on the monuments, too. Fascinating insight.

We were struck by the number of children and infants mentioned on the stones, a sign of the harsh conditions in the late 19th century, no doubt. Those simple engravings conveyed so much sorrow.

Others blustered with Christian piety or simple resignation and hope; some struck more affecting messages: my beloved has gone down into the garden to gather lilies in the garden.

More cemetery pictures

The cemetery is well tended, sparkling with wafting strands of cobweb glistening like fishing line. An information building offers some insights. There are few grand monuments, defying expectation of a wealthy town’s significant departures; maybe the toffs have got their pillars out at the ‘new’ cemetery … We will investigate!

Eclectic Tastes Cafe, Ballarat

Eclectic Tastes Cafe, Ballarat

Next to the cemetery is the Eclectic Tastes Cafe. This converted home is one of those cafes that is welcoming as soon as you walk through the door — eclectic in decoration through its various rooms, a proudly parma-free zone, and a darn tasty menu with good coffee. I knocked back a sensational skillet of kidney beans and cheese and stuff, gently spiced, served with sourdough for sopping up the sauce. Kirstyn had a vegetarian pizza that even tempted me, thanks to nuts and blue cheese sauce. It’s the favourite eatery we’ve come across here so far.

Boathouse Restaurant, Lake Wendouree, Ballarat

Boathouse Restaurant, Lake Wendouree

Later in the afternoon, we headed for Ballarat’s defining geographical feature: Lake Wendouree. It’s been a site for rowers since 1864; now it’s dotted with boatsheds and cafes and parkland. We’ve yet to do a proper tour of the lake, and on Friday were content to just hover around one part where the Lake View Hotel enticed with its second-storey balcony … but we opted for cake and coffee on the deck at the tad pricey Boathouse Restaurant, right on the water, with a wonderful willow tree for extra scenery. There we could take in the water birds and joggers, rowers and paddlers and anglers as the sun sank and chill came down. One couple in a canoe pulled up at the cafe for coffee.

We snapped off a bunch of photos and retreated to home in the gloaming, appetites whetted for further exploration of Ballaratia.

More sunset pictures

Lake Wendouree sunset, Ballarat

Sunset, Lake Wendouree

Hungarian Chimney Cakes … nom, nom, nom

hungarian chimney cakeFor six months, the sign tantalised: there on the side of the highway on Ballarat’s eastern approach, “Hungarian Chimney Cakes’.

Oh, the mystery! The exotic appeal — why Hungarian? What chimney? Just … what?!
Well, the answer is tasty indeed, with the pastries being dispensed at Ozzie Creations, right next to the remarkable Mill Markets.

The cylindrical pastries, harking from Transylvania and baked on a rod, have the texture of doughnut under a hard crust. Sayest the blurb: ‘a handmade pastry with a crunchy caramel coating wrapped in sweet spices and nuts’. They unroll in a long tendril that’s not only noms but damn fun to munch. They take 6-7 minutes to bake, but there’s enough pretty — gem stones and gewgaws and clothes, personalised jigsaws made from photographs — in the shop to occupy your attention, as well as tables and chairs if you can’t wait to get home to tuck in. They make other snacks, and coffee, too.

The adjacent Ballarat branch of the Mill Markets is well worth a visit for antique hunters and gift buyers: the sprawling complex is divided into bays where shops range from artisans selling glassware, handmade soaps and paintings, to business offshoots hocking old toys, antique and funky furniture, and all manner of stuff — even suits of armour. If you’re into old stuff, allow two hours at least to peruse, and take heart that there are clean loos and a cafe on site … plus a seriously large fireplace with sofas.

Yes, it’s getting cold in Ballaratia, with the morning mists a’lingering. Thank goodness for the chimney (cakes)!

Mill Markets, Ballarat

Note the mobile rocket launcher, one of two we’ve seen around Ballaratia. Something to do with the Great Bendigo Putsch of ’03, we believe… NEVER AGAIN!

Dining Ballarat: Blue Bell Hotel

blue bell bistro steakLured by a shopping docket discount of 50 per cent off meals, last night we had our first dinner out since moving to Ballarat: at the bistro of the Blue Bell Hotel, probably the closest eatery to the Tor that doesn’t serve tucker in a cardboard box. (My god, you should’ve seen the length of the line-up at McDonald’s drive through down the corner …)

The Blue Bell’s bistro is on two levels further divided by a low wall: the lower section has television screens with captions and gambling, the other just a wall. The wall was preferable, though it was further from the bar, and mercifully further from the top 40 muzak. Ambience-wise, better than a roadhouse, but not exactly homely.

Still, we weren’t expecting fireplaces and shagpile, and the menu is a solid order-at-the-counter pub outing: Thursday nights are parma night and many of the tables were taken. There were three steaks on offer, plus a reef ‘n’ beef special, a variety of pastas, lamb shanks, salads, seniors and kids meals … they have the bases covered with pork belly and Greek lamb pizza adding interest.

I went for a 400g rump steak with pepper sauce, Kirstyn tried the special with garlic sauce — both under $30 — and we were both well satisfied. Both cuts came cooked an accurate medium, with a handful of innocuous salad and a handful of tasty chips.

We washed it down with a glass of Oomoo shiraz ($8 a glass), but a bottle change mid-pour meant a surprising difference in taste and I didn’t go back for a second. Don’t know what happened to the normally dependable drop, there.

ballarat blue bell hotel dessertWe forced ourselves to sample dessert from the display case: an, um, interesting take on black forest cake for me and a vanilla slice for her; not disappointing, just lacklustre, and quite surplus to requirements, really. I mentioned the 400g steak, right? The coffee, however, was pretty damn fine.

Add in friendly, efficient staff and the verdict was: the Blue Bell hits its target, and we’ll be back — I reckon the place would register high on the Dad scale with the cut of those steaks — but might give the dessert a miss and go straight for the coffee.

Extra points for off-street parking and an excellent website, complete with PDFs of the menu.

Greetings from Ballaratia

gargoyles at the front door

Five weeks or thereabouts since this blog troubled the interwebs. I guess moving home and waiting … and waiting … for the internet to be connected will do that.

So what’s happened since the boxes went into the truck and came out the other side, here in steamy Ballarat, in the shade of a hill I’ve christened Wendouree Tor?

Well, my pals The Isle have released a funky little ep, Moment, offering a nice mix of electro stylings. Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, ain’t half bad if the streaming’s anything to judge by. How to Destroy Angels have released their first album, Welcome Oblivion, and it’s a cruisy end to the world if ever there was one.

We saw Einstuerzende Neubauten mix-cartons, and it was a crack, seeing them producing all those sounds from what looked like an abandoned dairy farm on the Palace’s stage. I really dig their gentler stuff, but it’s quite amazing how they manage to make music out of all the rattling and banging. And singer Blixa has an amazing voice.

Tonight, we anticipate hearing new Tea Party material. Oh gosh!

Elsewhere, Aurealis magazine is releasing its duo series with publisher Dirk Strasser and the inimitable Jack Dann leading off. The Aurealis Awards date has been announced — May 18 — with a record field under consideration. Should be a hoot. And the Ditmars and Chronos awards are now open for nominations.

Very pleasing to see the Queensland Literary Awards hitting their stride, too, attracting serious financial support and — gasp! — the State Government funding charmingly parochial fellowships. This from the dudes who axed the awards as their first act in power. Interestingly, a Queensland writer was awarded a life achievement by the Australia Council late last year: Herb Wharton got his start by entering the David Unaipon Award, one of those cancelled by the government and saved by the new awards. Did the AC draw attention to this? You betcha. Because you can’t tell someone like Premier Campbell Newman they’ve acted like a twat enough.

But what about The (other) Rat? There are more stars here and far less buses than in the city. We’ve found the Bunnings and the supermarket and a half-decent chipper and have been very pleased indeed to be in the delivery zone of Pizza Capers (bourbon chicken FTW!). The Courier lands on the front lawn each morning and we scavenge restaurants and events and community groups and places of interest and stick them on the fridge. One day, their time will come.

But first, there’s the last of the boxes, the matter of central heating (winter, it is coming…), acclimatising to the commute and starting to think it might be time to resume the edit of the work in progress. And then there’s that overgrown back yard …