Tag Archives: Melbourne

Lockdown Fiction: Red Letter Day

This story was prompted by Clan Destine Press

Red Letter Day

A favourite joke among Melburnians (well, it’s one of many) is that you know you’re Melburnian when you know the difference between street art and graffiti. (Melburnians are smugly pleased with themselves and their city. It’s the city, they say, where you have more prestige as a barista than a barrister.)

The line, to be honest, is blurred. Tagging is a way for the invisible to declare that they, too, are of this city. Sanctioned street art is, some say, fundamentally against the spirit of art bombing capitalist walls with defiance and sharp socio-political commentary. The truth is, for Melburnians, there is no line, there is no real difference. Splash your paint however you will, you Artists of the Street, and we’ll deconstruct your meaning and its merits over coffee and tiramisu until the Yarra has emptied into the sea.

One day, new unsanctioned paint appeared. A red tide of paint lapped first at the base of buildings, oozing wet onto the tarmac and concrete and cobbles of the side street. First one alley, then another, then the next.

Unsanctioned as it was, the council tried to scrub it clean, but the red tide wouldn’t be scrubbed. Within an hour, the cheerful berry red was splashed over street and wall again, higher up this time. Artful arcs across windows; spirals dribbling upward over pipes and wiring.

With a second attempt, the walls of the city reeked of paint stripper, but almost as fast rose the red tide again, but it smelled of cayenne and saffron; of cherry and pomegranate, each sharp scent individual and yet a harmony.

The cafes and bars and restaurants made breakfasts and cocktails and light as air desserts in its honour.

The red tide rose and spread, spilling out of alleys into the Little streets, and then the broad thoroughfares, the inexorable hue sploshing into tram tracks and splashing onto shoes.

The next attempt to wash the tide was half hearted at best. The red splashed up to the second floor of the whitewash of the Myers Department store. This fresh flow held the texture of leather and satin, cotton and wool. The fashionistas were giddy with inspiration.

By the time the red was defying gravity, running up the walls towards the third floor, towards rooftops, it sounded like rain on a tin roof, like the wind through the trees, like the ding of the tram bell. It was jazz club and busker and the chime in the Arts Centre when the second act is about to begin.

In short, Melbourne had been woken, like a sleeping beauty, kissed into life by her adoring inhabitants.

Washed in all that love, Melbourne awoke, and fell in love with itself.

The town was painting itself red, and it was having one hell of a spree.

My Melbourne: Melbourne General Cemetery

Melbourne General Cemetery

I enjoy a visit to a graveyard: these markers of the end of everyone’s story (or, for believers, the end of the fist book and the beginning of the sequel).

One of my favourite cemeteries is Melbourne General Cemetery, which dates from 1853.

Kitty Carrasco lives opposite this graveyard in Kitty and Cadaver, and there’s a very uncomfortable encounter with the dead rising from their graves and the ensuing musical battle where the minstrels try to sing the dead to rest again.

The Melbourne General Cemetery contains the remains of hundreds of Melburnians from all walks of life. Residents include great politicians, social reformers, explorers, singers, public servants and sportsmen from the early days of the colony.

Naturally, there are writers and other contributors to Melbourne’s literary history among the cemetery’s residents. These include Marcus Clarke, author of For the Term of His Natural Life; city co-founder John Fawkner, who produced Melbourne’s first newspaper; and John Stanley James, an early journalist who wrote for “The Argus” newspaper under the pseudonym ‘The Vagabond’.

Explorers Burke and Wills were buried here after their remains were recovered; opera singer Frederick Federici, whose ghost is said to haunt the Princess Theatre, is interred here.

One of the charms of the Old Melbourne Cemetery (and, indeed, of all cemeteries) is the occasional eccentric tombstone; whether it’s a pithy epitaph or an unusual design carved in stone.

One of the most distinctive and evocative headstones in the cemetery is that of Emily Mather, murdered in 1891 by her husband Frederick Deeming (a serial killer who some believed to be Jack the Ripper).

The headstone remarks upon on her murder and gives some frankly victim-blaming advice on being careful who you marry.

Walter Lindrum’s headstone

The 1960 grave of world champion billiard’s player, Walter Lindrum, is much less gruesome – a few stone billiard balls and a cue lie across the polished marble, as though Walter has just stepped away for a moment and will be back to finish his shot shortly.

Another unexpected memorial in Melbourne General Cemetery is the one to Elvis Presley – curious, given Elvis never made it to Australia.

The Elvis memorial

The memorial is said to be the only officially approved shrine outside of Graceland. It was commissioned by the Elvis Presley Fan Club in 1977 and still attracts visitors each year on the anniversary of the hip-swiveller’s death.

Graves can be sad; they can even be morbid. I find them melancholy but restful, a reminder that every life, however, brief, has it’s own story, filled with love, drama, tragedy and joy.

Every story ends. I want to make sure the pages of mine are full.

My Melbourne: Saluting Cyril P Callister

Headstone for Cyril P Callister, plus a jar of Vegemite as tribute

In days gone by, I created an app all about the peculiarities of this city I love so much. Among the tributes to the strange and beloved was a post about that most Australian of foodstuffs – Vegemite.

Australians grow up on the stuff and think nothing of it, but migrants and visitors to our shores have to be taught how to enjoy Vegemite. Many never really manage it.

I used to suspect that Vegemite was concocted in some terrible laboratory accident, but it was in fact invented on purpose

Marmite is a whole other controversial foodstuff, also dividing folks into the ‘love/hate’ camps. Australia’s much saltier version came about because the exports of Marmite from Britain to Australia were limited as a result of attacks on ships during World War One. 

Our nation, swearing never again to be desperate for a yeast-extract spread, turned to Cyril Percy Callister. 

Cyril was born in Victoria and schooled in Ballarat. With his Masters of Science from Melbourne University and experience developing explosives for the Brits during The Great War, he invented a process from scratch using spent yeast from the Carlton and United Breweries. I’m not sure where the explosives expertise comes into it, but he scienced like anything and produced the goods!

Vegemite: The Final Product was released in 1923, although it didn’t become popular until the late 1920s.

Cyril also worked on cheese products for his employer, Fred Walker & Co Pty Ltd, which may explain why cheese and Vegemite work so well together – though most Australians prefer it thinly spread on hot, well-buttered toast.

Callister was super-smart and very savvy in the ways of food technology and was all round a pretty decent guy.

Cyril P. Callister passed away of a heart attack in 1949. He is buried in Box Hill Cemetery near the Middleborough Road end, in plot 14 of section 158. Pass by sometime and pay your respects from a grateful nation.

(The jar of Vegemite I left as tribute all those years ago is probably gone now, though.)

And if you’re a non-native and want some tips on how to eat Vegemite like a local, ask away!

Book Launch: Kitty & Cadaver – 3 August 2019

Kitty & Cadaver was revealed to the world at Continuum Convention in June 2019. It was a delightful little do, but restricted to convention attendees and because of the panels going on in rooms all around us, we weren’t able to have any live music as we’d planned.

Now we can welcome Kitty & Cadaver in musical style and to a wider audience!

The official public launch of Kitty & Cadaver will be held at the new queer bookstore, The Back Room, which lives at the back of Carlton bar, A Fan’s Notes, starting at 5pm.

Along with a speech and a reading or two, Jess and Pat of Bronze will be performing five songs from the book: The Rain Song, Down, Song for the Dead, Bury My Heart and Gretel’s Lullaby.

As a taster, here’s an older version of Song for the Dead, which Jess performed a few years ago!

You can RSVP on the Facebook event page or just show up on the night.