On Tuesday night I went to my third (and final) concert in this year’s jazz festival. The band was Knower, a duo of multi-instrumentalists from LA, who are revitalizing electro-jazz-funk for the millennials (and us old-school fans too!). Apparently they’ve been recording and performing small stateside gigs for years, but recently one of their tracks went viral on youtube and now they’ve assembled a band, and are touring the world! I had heard them on BBC Radio 3 and was thrilled when I found out that they were coming over – and they didn’t disappoint! There were squelchy bass sounds (on nimble electric bass & synths – occasionally evoking Squarepusher), ’80’s-style synth noodlings (think Herbie Hancock), sly and catchy vocals (delivered by the gorgeously eccentric female vocalist), all underpinned by the drummer’s super-fast and accurate breakbeat rhythms (my very favourite thing to dance to – although it proved too fast for most people!).
Some tracks were quite disorientating – they’d chop and change grooves and styles so frequently (it’s what the kids love these days!), but other times they’d dig in for a while as the synths battled to play the fastest/zaniest riffs. The drummer had a great line in sardonic patter between each exhausting musical workout, and it was clear the band was genuinely excited to be there (as was the audience), which always makes a gig special!
It was Japanese day at Maisie’s school this Thursday. She loved dressing up in a kimono (thank you Lizzie!), and was patient while I attempted to construct her an authentic-looking hairstyle!
Her school day was spent making origami models, playing Japanese games and taking part in tea ceremonies. When she got home she was keen to teach us all her new paper-folding skills!
Maisie’s school was closed on Friday and the kids were keen to go on a day trip, but it was pouring with rain. We went to the volunteer-run Fire Services Museum, and were lucky to arrive in time for the adjoining fire station’s weekly ‘open house’, when kids can explore the various vehicles (fire engines, fire buses, fire cranes etc.) and have a go squirting the fire-hoses.
The place was busy with school groups, and Tommy was rather overwhelmed, but Maisie was in her element, trying everything out.
The museum itself is located in the former stables. It’s a well-dusted collection of vintage fire engines and equipment, helmets and oxygen tanks, uniforms from fire services around the world, old films, medals and memorials (the one honouring firemen killed in 9/11 caught Tommy’s eye and I had to try and talk them both through the terrorist attack).
On the upper level was the perfectly preserved 1920s control room (the telephony equipment housed in beautifully carved and polished wooden cabinets), which was used until the early 1990s! A volunteer explained how it worked and gave a demo (Maisie rang him on the handset in an old street-side fire-alarm box, and he patched her in on the grid!).
Afterwards we caught a tram over to ‘Clip and Climb’, joining Natasha, Hannah and Rose for an hour of scrabbling up walls. Tommy is so much more co-ordinated since last we went, but his reach is still limited, so he didn’t make it very high (Rose, who is several months younger, and taller, was zooming up to the top of all the walls!).
Maisie didn’t complete any of the routes either, but she impressed on the ‘Vertical Drop’, a thrill-ride which involved her clutching on to a rail and being dragged to the top of a very high slide, before she let go and zoomed down.
On Saturday Row and I caught the train to Bendigo for the day. It felt luxurious sitting back and relaxing on the comfy train seats for a couple of hours eating snacks and watching the pretty central Victorian countryside (rolling meadows, tangles of gum forests, light-catching lakes and muddy water-holes, small settlements of quaint wooden and tin roofed structures) rush past.
Bendigo is a well-preserved, goldrush-era country town. It’s now a popular tourist destination, home to a university and several hospitals and a respected art gallery, which we were there to visit.
It was the last weekend of the gallery’s Marimekko show (a temporary exhibition focussing on the iconic Finnish fashion and textile brand). We weren’t the only art tourists from Melbourne – Marimekko has become wildly popular with the monied artsy middle-classes of Victoria over the last few years!
I have to say that I wasn’t overly excited about going to the exhibition – I wasn’t expecting such a glorious celebration of colour and pattern, pieces with the vibrancy and movement of a Kandinsky, Bridget Riley, or Matisse.
The brand’s aesthetic was shaped by two female Finnish designers in the 1950s, Isola and Nurmesniemi (many of their prints are still in production), and extended by a couple of Japanese designers who joined in the late 1960s and 1970s.
The company’s (female) founder, Armi Ratia, chose the brand’s minimal logo (simply the company’s name in Olivetti typewriter letters) which has never been changed.
The fabric design always came first, the clothes (mainly simple dresses) were designed to showcase the bold patterns and colours.
Furnishing fabrics pitted huge graphic swathes of orange against pink against red – to bring warmth to the severe concrete greys of ‘60s and ‘70s brutalist Finnish architecture.
The designers worked at different scales – some started with small sketches that were massively enlarged in execution, others painted great exuberant canvases that could have been art-works in their own right.
They all experimented with colour and colour combinations – the same pattern (most only utilized 2 or 3 different colours) might be produced in brilliant clashing shades, monochromes, or subtle earthy tones. The books of fabric swatches were fabulous in themselves!
One room was devoted to different versions of the brand’s famous ‘poppy’ motif, and the delightfully surreal ‘strawberry mountain’.
In our quick walkthrough of the rest of the gallery, we were taken by Australian artist Denis Chapman’s crystal-sherry-glass installation ‘I forgot to remember (the most organised violence in the world)’, a memorial to the genocide enabled and perpetuated by the British Empire.
Outside in the precarious sunshine (dark clouds loomed, but thankfully never released any rain!), we climbed one of Bendigo’s many remaining poppet heads (a look-out tower from the mining days).
The city sprawls, but is dotted with pretty Victorian-era landmarks, and the 1960s red-brick and 1990s glass-fronted blocks are low enough not to dominate.
We walked through the city centre park, enjoying the last remnants of autumn colour. A stand of tall trees seemed to be festooned with bulbous black fruit – they were in fact roosting bats, hundreds of them! The air was pungent with their distinctive aroma!
The goldrush brought many Chinese prospectors ever, and the city has a Chinese museum and garden. We had a wander through the slightly shabby, wintery walled garden.
Lots of love had gone into the decoration of the covered walkways and little pavilions, and it seemed to be a popular spot, with gaggles of children feeding the shoals of orange koi carp in the murky ponds.
Our walk back into town took us past the heritage tram (which takes visitors to the old gold mines), and plenty of ornate stone-faced late C19th buildings – former post offices, banks, law courts etc. now turned into shops and restaurants. Some of the grandest structures were pubs, freshly painted and still doing good business.
Row and I spent the day with Row’s cousin Kirby, who has lived in Bendigo for the past seven years. She was a great guide, pointing out all the tourist sites and giving us a feel for life in the city!
I’ve spoken to a couple of Melbourne friends recently who are considering moving to Bendigo, where they can afford larger houses and live calmer lives – and I could see the attraction (although as a relieved escapee from St Albans, it would never tempt me!).
We pottered round bric-a-brac shops and went to ‘The Dispensary’, a charming lane-way wine bar, for a late lunch. Although the kitchen was closed for the afternoon, their bar snacks menu looked great – steak tartare, garlicky edamame beans and a generous cheese board – we ordered it all, washed down with classy French wine (I’m now so used to average Aussie wine, that a decent glass of Beaujolais was a taste sensation!).
We emerged from the wine bar at dusk, and Kirby drove us over to Weeroona Lake, a popular spot for a stroll and a bag full of fresh jam doughnuts. The sun was just disappearing into low wisps of pewter cloud, and everything was black and silver and gold.
Above us the screeching galahs glowed salmon pink, and the branches of the still-leafy weeping willows took on a coppery hue as they cascaded into the lake waters (I haven’t seen willows in some time!).
While there was still light in the sky (now rapidly dimming to an eerie mauve pink), Kirby took us to see the atmospheric old orphanage (now luxury flats) and raced us up to another poppet head, situated high on a ridge to the south of the city.
It was very quiet, just a few roosting birds sweeping across the tree-tops, and vast open views across miles of gum forest. I wasn’t expecting that sense of space at all – it was magical!
We headed back into town for an early dinner at the aptly named ‘Wine Bank’. It was lovely inside – the walls of the grand (if small) former banking hall stacked high with pleasantly dusty-looking wine bottles, an open wood fire on the go, but the food, the wine and the service, was so-so (happily, this was more than made up by the lovely company!).
We had half an hour left before our train departed, so we did a drive-by the impressive cathedral, and up to another viewpoint where we could enjoy the twinkling lights of the city below, and the sparkle of a good smattering of stars in the sky. Row and I enjoyed our cosy quiet train journey home through the pitch black countryside, but arrived at Southern Cross at football-match chucking-out-time, and in the general drunken fan chaos didn’t make it home for another hour (it wasn’t quite the end we were hoping for!).
On Sunday afternoon the kids and I met up with Lizzie, Sean and Rosa at ACMI, to see a selection of international short films programmed especially for children aged 2+ years (there were more age-appropriate sessions, but both Tommy and Maisie were worried that they might be too scary!). Their favourite film was a CGI cartoon about a couple of young seedlings (‘Rooty’ and ‘Beany’) journeying through the magic garden to find the golden vegetables. They were amused by a super-short animation about a tiny man in a Chinese restaurant struggling to use chopsticks (he was thrilled to discover the toothpicks). I enjoyed a sweet hand-drawn dystopian tale about an abandoned surburban house going off to find it’s old owners, who had moved into an ultra-modern new flat in the city (it was very ‘Mon Oncle’ in tone!). The most haunting movie was a Brazilian animation about a boy who stole the clouds to make water, and the stars to make light – and how he got his comeuppance for his crimes against nature.