Open House Melbourne

Open House is on the last weekend of July in Melbourne . A day for public and private buildings of significance and interest , to throw their doors open  to all .

A visit to the Mission to Seafarers , Australian Tapestry Workshop , and Malthouse theatre , whetted my appetite in 2012 .

Marvelling , I steeped into the portico of the squat , iconic Mission building in Flinders St . It was a building I had passed on a daily basis in transit to my city job . Its closeted chapel revealed  intricate stained glass windows depicting sea misadventures , and well polished wooden pews warmed by the bums of many seamen  .  In the silent sancturary of the Norla Dome , home to changing art exhibitions of marine themed works  ,  I felt the history of the building .

edgewater towers
edgewater towers


The bustling Australian Tapestry workshop  , housed in a unique 19th century white filigreed building , was a plethora of colour and action . Massive , striking , woven canvases were draped across enormous frames , as the weavers diligently performed their timeless craft . All manner of stories were being told in thread , from afl footy matches , to delicate indigenous themes .

Malthouse , the stark modern theatre buit on an industrial site of a working brewery , is home to Melbourne’s avant garde theatre . Rehearsal rooms , costumes , sets and theatre spaces were explored with some dexterity by the zealous guide . Forced to forgo a visit to the police horse stable as the queue  snaked around the corner and down the street , I remembered it had also been a daily backdrop to my working life .

In 2013 , I want to visit the grotesque edgewater towers in St Kilda , Melbourne’ s first high rise dwelling built in 1959 . The quirky , Cairo , art deco bachelor  apartments  in fitzroy, and the majestic , distressed ballroom , atop flinders st railway station . Conversely , I  have been fortunate enough to enter , via the stagedoor , the Palais de Danse theatre in St Kilda . I too have danced on the rollingstage , crept  up into the roof space and peered out from the juliet balconies.

Hi Rise StKilda 1959
Hi Rise StKilda 1959

How successful is Open House Melbourne ?  I regularly attend the gallery space at the Mission to Seafarers ,  have attended a woodcut printing workshop at the tapestry workshop , and enjoyed several performances at the Malthouse Theatre . Fingers crossed that I win the ballot , and get the chance to peek inside the compelling , ruined splendour of  the Railway Ballroom  , this year .


Johnny Cash

Tex wore black . I wore black , in sync with the Melbourne nightscape . Ruth, shimmered towards me in a sea of red . Her alabastar skin encased in an opulent red velvet cape , arms neck and fingers festooned  with oversized  rubies ,  luxuriant brown locks garlanded

June's Dress
June’s Dress

with red ribbons. Tex crooned and titilated . He sang , danced and played guitar and seamlessly reeled out the Johnny Cash song catalogue chanelling the man and his music effotlessly . The back up band could have been Johnny’ s own and the pretend June Carter Cash , adorned in glorious gowns , lifted her voice to the heavens , to match June’s own . The ancient Athenaeum theatre was packed , and gave a rousing reception . Old classics were revived with singalong and hand clapping . Gems buried from youth were unearthed . ” Ring of Fire ” , bought the house down . Stumbling out into the freezing Melbourne night , I knew I had witnessed something unique . An aussie impersonating Johhny so well it could have been the original , in the surrounds of the gracious old girl theatre , the Athenaeum , letting her hair down .


Betty was my mum . Dimunitive in stature but feisty in nature she was born in 1926 in rural outer Melbourne .  She grew with an older sister and enjoyed a bucolic lifestyle in the period between two wars , a forerunner to the  Great Depression .It is a shared history of many older Australians  .

These events helped shape my mum’s early life , as did a bout of peritonitis when she was 14 , that required a 6 month stint in hospital , and precluded her further education . Betty went to work at 15 in the British Australian Tobacco company , Swanston st , Melbourne .  First sweeping the floors for discarded tobacco skeins , later graduatiing to the sorting bench . Lifelong friendships were forged and happy events shared , particularly when VP day was announced  . Dancing  in the streets and all out revellery was enjoyed as a young spirited nation could put the grim spectre of war behind them .

Mum married ,  moved , lost a baby  , and subsequently raised my brother and I in Colac , a country  town in the Western District of  Victoria . She was an astute baker , sewer and gardener and seamlessly re -adapted to rural life . Independence presented itself in the form of her tiny Morris Minor and a driving licence .  She was soon seen careering around country roads , only travelling marginally faster than the pedestrians , with us , and the corgi “Taffy ” firmly ensconced in the back .


Betty Ellen Kiernan
Betty Ellen Kiernan


A move to  Melbourne saw Betty take on the joint running of  a pub. The first in gritty industrial Port Melbourne circa 1969 . A subsequent move to a South Melbourne  pub , where she remained for 30 years followed . Betty nursed her partner through cancer and retired to the home she had made for herself . Some uneventful years followed . Mum travelled , gardened , entertained and viewed the world at a more leisurely pace .

Warning bells began to ring when phone calls became discordant  , words jumbled and sentences incomplete . Heating was unable to be turned on or off and letters were attempted to be posted at flinders st railway station.Taps were left on and keys were lost . Falls in the street , and further falls late at night alone in an empty house , indicators to Betty’s world slowly unravelling .Inoxerably Betty ‘s progress towards a nursing home was charted .

Comfortable , modern ,    great views and caring staff replaced her much loved home .  She mourned for and lamented with flickering anxiety her home . It was mirrored in her plaintive cry of ” I just want to go home ” . Betty survived for 4 years in the new regimented environment , daily submitting her will to greater indignites and submerging her independence . The slurred speech , unkempt appearance , wild hair , and muddy eyes , signified her gradual descent into madness . Her final act of rebellion , I believe administered by what remained of her addled brain was to stop eating . Betty peacefully slipped into oblivion on the 27 september . There is not a day goes by that I don’t miss her and rue her passing . Dementia is a cruel , remorseless disease .

Self Serve Hell

School holidays and I’m running on empty , food wise that is .   A quick trip to the local food dispensary is required . Hmm , I only want a few things why not do self serve , it’ll be quicker , I think . Balancing my overloaded basket of goodies requires the juggling skills  of a  Circus OZ acrobat . The ability to slot them into the minuscule space provided in the self serve checkout requires even more dexterity  . I deftly negotiate scanning the barcodes and continue packing the item snugly into the plastic supermarket issue bags .


Issey Miyake Dress
Issey Miyake Dress

Quite a manoeuvre above the cacophony of non soothing music , binging sounds and moronic intotonations of the Self Serve robot . I move a bulging bag from the tiny packing area . Apocalyptic lights start flashing , and the robot goes into loud accusatory mode , as I am told not to  remove a bag . The self serve screen shuts down and refuses to continue until I press the appropriate button . Hard to do whilst balancing the 12 pack of dunny roll on top of the raisin loaf ,  which is balanced on top of the plain flour ,  which is balanced on top of … etc etc . Feeling like a recalcitrant schoolgirl caught shoplifting I reluctantly continue . Having stowed the many purchases in 3 supermarket bags , alright I forgot  the recycle bags , I stagger away from the checkout having paid a sum of money equal to the deposit on a small flat . Disaster quickly ensues as with a sickening thud the groceries tumble out of the inferior bags , burst and ricochet across the supermarket floor. The tiny efficient supermarket worker darts form her post with a dire admonishment ” you must not pack too much stuff in the bags “. Again I feel great inadequacy  as I furtively retrieve my items .


combat fatigues to shop in
combat fatigues to shop in

Escaping into the crisp , early morning  air I feel only a sense of crushing relief . I am shell shocked but alive to tell the tale . the tale . Ah consumerism , at its finest !