Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Ghost of Job Warehouse

I was saddened to read some time ago that Job Warehouse was closing down.  Melburnians will know what I’m talking about: a grubby, shambolic fabric shop up the Parliament House end of Bourke Street that seems have been been there forever.

For those who have never been inside Job Warehouse, think wall to wall fabric, double the amount you were just thinking of, double it again, then arrange the bolts from floor to ceiling, from back wall to shopfront display window, with the haphazard flair of a kid playing pick-up-sticks. Think rich fabrics. Think poor fabrics. … Think the finest and the rarest. Think dead flies and the odd stray sandwich.  Think bridal, suits, opera, army. Think every type of material you’ve ever heard of then double that too… Think of a leaking masonite-patched roof.  Think colour as far as the eye can see- which in the dimly-lit clothy claustrophobia of Job Warehouse isn’t very far. [ Tony Wilson ‘No looking with the hands’ The Monthly, August 2005]

Job Warehouse (54-62 Bourke St) was spread over several shops in a double storey row that was constructed in 1848-9.  As such, it is one of a handful of pre-gold rush buildings still standing in Melbourne.  It is constructed of rendered stucco on a basalt plinth.  The western part of the building, nos. 60-62 Bourke Street, was built by a well-known butcher William Crossley as a shop, slaughter yard and residence, and the landscape artist Eugene von Guerard lived in number 56. It is registered on the Victorian Heritage Database. [Check out the pictures on the database entry]. I should feel reassured by that, but after my Banyule Homestead adventures,  I don’t.

[Click to enlarge the pictures]

I must confess that I never stepped foot inside Job Warehouse while it was open.  Two reasons: first, it was very rarely open and second, I’d heard terrifying tales about the owners.  They were two brothers, Jacob and Max Zeimer, who arrived in Melbourne in 1948 as penniless Polish refugees. All their family had perished in the Holocaust.  Their salesmanship was idiosyncratic:

“He [Mr Zeimer” took one look at me,” recalls Erin, a disgrunted shopper, “and yelled ‘Out! No browsing, just buying!” Another short-lived customer claims that in trying to access a particular material she once had to move an errant banana that had been left lying on a bolt of cloth.  She was spotted with the banana and shown the door: ‘No food in shop! You will have to leave’…..’You had to know what you wanted’ says Gaby, another regular ‘but if you were looking for individual, vintage and unusual fabrics it was the place to go.  Some of the stuff was water-damaged and rotting. Some was just beautiful’  [Tony Wilson, ‘No Looking with the Hands’ The Monthly August 2005]

There’s even a video from the Late Show where Tony Martin and Mick Molloy get kicked out and try to re-enter in typical Chaser fashion.  It starts at 3.00 minutes in and goes to 4.30.

When Max died in 1988,  Jacob continued on in the business, closing the haberdashery section that Max had run as a mark of respect.  Jacob died in 2005 aged 91.  His sons decided to close the business in 2012 and lease the building, possibly for restaurants.

IMG_5043

Well, that hasn’t happened yet.  Job Warehouse is closed but not gone completely.  Walking up Bourke Street, I was surprised that it still looked much the same, and if I pressed my face up against the grimy windows (that, to be honest, were not much grimier than when the shop was in full operation), I could see that it looks much as it always did.  There are still bolts of material, great snarls of lace, yellowing papers and dust.

Just for now, I can imagine that it’s still operational.  After all, it was always shut when I saw it, and a new owner could step right in and take over where the Zeimer brothers left off- if he or she had a mind to.

‘Streets of Melbourne’ at the Old Treasury Building

While I sometimes feel as if I am the only person who’s not away at the beach, the mountains or where-ever everyone else goes, there are some advantages in being home during the close-down around Christmas and New Year.  Off into town we went yesterday, feeling like tourists in our own town, to see the ‘Streets of Melbourne’ exhibition at the Old Treasury Building.  It’s on until May 2014, so there’s plenty of time to catch it!

IMG_5042

If you haven’t been to the museum in the Old Treasury, I strongly suggest that you pop in.  It’s FREE, it’s grown-up and it gives a much better narrative of the history of Victoria than the House of Fun that pretends to be the Museum of Victoria.  It’s open every day except Saturday between 10.00 – 4.00 each day, and its website is here.

The building itself was designed by J. J. Clark, who was only 19 when he started work on it.  It is a three-story Rennaisance Revival- style building, constructed between 1858 and 1862 at the cost of approximately 75,000 pounds.  It’s a proud building that boasts of the wealth that gold bequeathed to Victoria.  It was built to store gold in the vaults below (which you can access) and originally provided office facilities for the Governor, the Premier (then called the Chief Secretary), the Treasurer and the Auditor General.   It is still used today for Executive Council meetings.  The left hand side of the building usually has a bride or two hovering around it because it’s the home of the Victorian Marriage Registry (as you can see if you click to enlarge the image above).

We were fortunate to see the Executive Council rooms upstairs because they’re not always open. I’ve obviously been dwelling in pre-Responsible Government days for too long, because I’m rather ashamed to admit that it hadn’t occurred to me that there even IS an Executive Council any more.   In Port Phillip during Judge Willis’ time (i.e. prior to Separation), the executive council of New South Wales consisted of about 5-7 men, all appointed by the Crown and on the Executive Council by virtue of their substantive positions i.e. the Governor himself, the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, the Lord Bishop of Australia, the Colonial Secretary, the Colonial Treasurer, the Chief Justice and the Attorney General.   You don’t tend to hear much about it, because the Legislative Council was much more significant in the granting of Responsible Government.   But here we are, 170 years on in the separate state of Victoria, and the Executive Council, which meets in this room,now  consists of the governor and the senior ministry (although I do wonder how they all crowd around the table).  It was pleasing to see photographs of the current-day Executive Council with both men and women, compared with the rather dour and serious men-in-suits in some of the older pictures in the corridor outside.

The exhibition of early Melbourne paintings is also on the first floor.  You can only see them through a tour (Mondays 2.00pm. from Jan 20th or other times by appointment $8.00). I purchased the catalogue because there’s images there that I have never seen before.  Many of them are from the Roy Morgan Research Centre collection.

The museum downstairs has a large permanent display, but the first two rooms have special displays, and at the moment it’s of the streets of Melbourne, with an emphasis on the Hoddle Grid.  There are some fascinating maps there, and various surveying instruments and artefacts.

IMG_5040

We probably spent 90 minutes poring over a large map of the grid on the wall that has numbered street scape photos surrounding it.  There were photographs that I hadn’t seen before here as well, and we spent much time picking out buildings and arguing about which direction the photograph was taken from  (a compass and directional arrows on the map, which we suggested, would resolve such disputes!)

IMG_5041

This is a fantastic museum and I’m pleased that it has survived and is still free after the earlier City Museum closed there.  You can see (and purchase) a terrific video of a trip on a cable car just before it closed during WWII, the exhibitions change frequently, and there’s actually something real in the museum to see,  as distinct from a series of ‘experiences’ and ‘immersions’ that we seem to be fobbed off with in museums these days.

New Year spiel on e-reading

It must be part of the New Year dearth of news, but I seem to have read a couple of articles recently about e-reading.  No, not the flogged-horse “Is Print Dead?” article.  The ones I’m thinking about are not so much about the effect of screen reading on the reader,  but more about the way that screen reading has  changed the writing itself, and may continue to do so in the future.

Off on a bit of a tangent was an article from The Conversation website called Will TV series go the way of Charles Dickens?  Michelle Smith from Deakin University turns back to the serialized form of nineteenth century British fiction which was published chapter by chapter, with a cliff-hanger at the end of each instalment to ensure that the reader purchased the next issue.  Television series used to be like this, too, she argues – until boxed sets and internet streaming means that viewers can gorge on  a whole season (and even multiple seasons) at one or more (lengthy) sessions.  She wonders if, just as the serialized periodical-versions of 19th century books were condensed and the cliff-hangers removed once they were published in one volume:

We can only speculate on the future of television now that traditional methods of broadcast have shifted so dramatically. Yet it is likely that these changes in how we consume television will have some effect on the content we watch in the same way as shifting patterns of print publication altered the very nature of popular fiction in the 19th century.

Related to this, on the same Conversation website, is another article entitled A good year for screen readers: notable ebooks of 2013.  Zoe Sadokierski from UTS nominated three ebooks that have used the digital format to do something that print could not.  The first, The Silent History was first published in serialized form, one chapter a day, just as the 19th century novels above were. Now that the whole book has been released, it can be purchased as a complete work.  The chapters are supplemented with video content and user-generated reports.  The second, Gimbal is a short story anthology where you can select the story you want according to the amount of time you have to read it, by genre, or by setting. Maps and pictures support the stories set in a particular city.  Finally, she nominated Interaction of Colour, which was originally written in 1960 and has been re-released in hardcover version (at a rather eyewatering price!) You can tap on hotspots for definitions; there are video and audio commentaries; and there are interactive activities to complete.  It does sound a bit textbook-y to me, but obviously the images are beautiful and the crystal-clear screen of an ipad would do them justice.  We heard a lot about ‘convergence’ a few years ago, but these three examples all affirm for me the blend of ‘reading’ and ‘viewing’ that was predicted with e-readers and screen-based reading technology.

Finally, and rather depressingly, is a short segment from an ABC radio program called Who’s reading the reader? which can be streamed or read from the transcript.  Apparently digital libraries can track your reading behaviour and the data can be used to provide feedback to authors.  The information could show the point at which readers abandon a story, or jump ahead, or go back a few pages to re-read.  If readers return to favourite characters or scenes, they could be brought into a spin-off story.   Ah, it’s all about the ‘product’ and ‘delighting the consumer’, isn’t it?

‘Someone’ by Alice McDermott

someone

2013, 232 p.

I hadn’t heard of the book; hadn’t heard of the writer. Don’t know why I picked it up from the library shelf, but I’m really glad that I did.  It’s a very auspicious way to start my reading year.

‘Someone’ is such an ordinary, anodyne term. “Who’s going to love me?” asks the main character, Marie, after she has been dumped by her boyfriend. “Someone,” says her brother “Someone will.” 

‘Someone’ sounds interchangeable and generic, but what we have been given in this book is a very particular consciousness within an otherwise ordinary, unremarkable person.  We first glimpse Marie as a child, in thick glasses, sitting on the stoop of her Brooklyn home in the 1930s, waiting for her father to emerge from the subway on the way home from work.  We see her life in shards, rather than one continuous narrative.  We see her as an old woman, new mother, worker in her first job, middle aged sister.  She is utterly, lovingly human.

Such beautiful writing.  Here she is, frantic with grief as her first boyfriend breaks up with her:

I sat on the edge of the bed.  I wanted to take my glasses off, fling them across the room.  To tear the new hat from my head and fling it, too.  Put my hands to my scalp and peel off the homely face.  Unbutton the dress, unbuckle the belt, remove the frail slip.  I wanted to reach behind my neck and unhook the flesh from the bone, open it along the zipper of my spine, step out of my skin and fling it to the floor.  Back shoulder stomach and breast.  Trample it.  Raise a fist to God for how He had shaped me in that first darkness: unlovely and unloved. (p. 79)

Darkness and light are motifs that are touched on in several places in the book.  Blind Bill Corrigan sits on a chair out in the street as the children play around him, and Marie herself suffers from poor eyesight and nearly goes blind herself.  Afraid of the dark as a child, the light is left on while she falls asleep and she wakes to “the soft-edged geometric patches of streetlight on the ceiling, across one wall.”  Woken by a bad dream as an adult, “the walls of the room were lit with lozenges of streetlight, long rectangles and a thin cross”.

Marie does not travel far in her life: from Brooklyn to Long Island.  Place has bound her to people forever as they move in and out of her life.  When blind Bill Corrigan dies, a childhood friend- more than a childhood friend really,- reappears at the wake and recalls Bill Corrigan sitting on the chair:

“Remember that chair he sat in every day?”

I nodded. “I was just thinking about it” It might have been the first time in my life I understood what an easy bond it was, to share a neighbourhood as we had done, to share a time past. “It’s still there, ” I added, as if this should amaze him. “At least it was there this morning.  No one’s had the heart to take it in.”  (p 140)

In some ways the book reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with the Irish-American family in the same neighbourhood.  However, this book shucks off any attempt to be chronological as it jumps from childhood to old age, back and forth.  Events occur, sometimes foreshadowed and other times echoing on. McDermott’s control of the narrative is masterful- there’s not a word wasted, and connections emerge as discoveries, unforced and unlaboured.

It’s only a short book- just over 200 pages.   It says much, but it is stripped down and pure.  Beautiful.

My rating: Is it too early on 1 January to give a 10?

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Read because: it was just there on the ‘new books’ shelf.  What a find!