Friday, November 23, 2012

Melbourne's Strange Public Art

Melbourne is an artistic city.

We've got the laneways, the street art, lots of small galleries and masses of hip folk . So it makes sense that a succession of local Government's have sought to celebrate the artistic nature of the place by funding various large, public art projects for us all to enjoy.

That is, it makes sense until you look at some of the artworks themselves, which would have to be some of the fruitiest artifacts anyone has ever spent public money on. We are undoubtedly lucky to have elected representatives willing to make these chancy artistic choices on our behalf.

What follows is a short celebration of this giddy public property.


Artist: Chris Reynolds

The result of an unlikely collaboration between a local artist, the Metal Workers Union and the City of Melbourne, Chris Reynolds' bizarre steel, concrete and bitumen construction sits obtusely on Russell Street in the CBD, waiting vainly for someone to explain its existence.  It was funded as a result of a short lived project to try and strengthen the links between the manufacturing and artistic communities, although who thought this was important is now lost to history. Also lost to history, Apparatus sits on the site of Melbourne's first underground toilets, now defunct (the entrance can still be seen at the Bourke Street end of the sculpture).


Artist: John Kelly

Cow Up a Tree is fun to say, and this may be the best thing that can be said for it. The bronze sculpture stands on the windswept frontage of Docklands Harbour in the East of the city, and its faux natural stylings provide an unintended ironic commentary on the manufactured landscape around it. Before finding a home in Docklands, Cow traveled the world and was displayed at a number of galleries and art festivals in Europe and America.


Artist: Debora Halpern

Having lived in the moat outside the National Gallery for 15 years, the mesh and tile Angel was moved to Birrarung Marr on the Yarra in 1999 by gallery trustees looking for a less flamboyant entryway.

Angel at the NGV

Inspired by the works of Picasso, Angel was commissioned to celebrate Australia's bicentenary and served as the logo for a campaign to promote Victorian tourism in 1996. It's proved a popular riverside feature, as indicated by the number of Flickr photos of it, and has even inspired some tribute artwork of its own.


Artist: Petrus Spronk

Emerging from the pavement outside the State Library on Swanston Street, this work shows either the grim future of the library or the creation of the library if libraries emerged from the ground like orcs. The work was commissioned in 1992 as part of Melbourne City Council's 'Swanston Street Public Art Project'. Dutch-Australian artist Petrus Spronk made his sculpture from Port Fairy bluestone and his actual inspiration was the poem Ozymandias, by Percy Pysshe Shelley. A quote from the poem adorns the piece:

 'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look on my work you Mighty, and despair.'


Artists: Alison Weaver and Paul Quinn

Commissioned as part of the same project that produced Fragment, this bronze sculpture on the edge of the Bourke Street Mall is actually titled Three Businessmen Who Brought Their Own Lunch: Batman, Swanston and Hoddle. And the artists intended it to live a sort of dual existence; on the one hand as caricatures of some of the cities founders, imagined as time travelers viewing the city they created far in the future, and also as anonymous business figures who are, in the words of Weaver, 'trapped in the perpetual motion of consumerism' (an interesting theme for a statue on the CBD's main shopping strip). Whatever the thematic considerations, the sheer oddness of it has proved a reliable draw for visiting tourists, who can often be seen hugging and holding hands with the statues, while having their pictures taken.


Artist: Pamela Irving
Another Melbourne City Council funded effort, Pamela Irving's bronze sculpture on the edge of City Square is a celebration of the prominent role of dogs in Australian life. Larry is a kind of every-dog, and so is not meant to depict any particular breed, his name a mixture of the artists uncle and the first Lieutenant Governor of Victoria (chosen, from what I can tell from my research, more or less at random). The statue has always been popular, so much so that it was stolen in August 1995. Despite a public campaign agitating for it's return, the original sculpture has never been recovered. A second Larry was cast in 1996 and more securely bolted to its display point.

Note: The remaining public artworks are all taken from Melbourne's Eastern Freeway. The Labor Government that oversaw the construction of this road embraced the idea of decorating it with public art so fully that it can almost serve as a kind of large, outdoor public gallery. The following artworks were estimated to have cost $5.5 million, making it the largest public art project in Australian history.


Artist: James Angus

Situated between Wellington Road and Corhanwarrabul Creek, these 24 multi coloured spheroids could represent:

a) A kinetic representation of traffic patterns on the road it sits alongside;

b) The synergy between the sky (blue) and the land (green) of the surrounding environment; or

c) $45 833. The number of spheroids divided by the total cost of this piece ($1.1 million).


Artist: Emily Floyd

Something about the naming of this piece calls to mind the utilitarian naming practices of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. Shops called 'Shop.' Meat products called 'Meat.' Cigarettes called 'Cigarettes'... And a giant, weird bird looking to eat a squiggly yellow thing called 'Public Art Strategy.' The kind of wastleand area this stands on, near Cheltenham Road, seems somehow fitting.


Artist: Callum Morton

Exactly what Melbourne has been looking for all these years, to make us feel more complete as a city; a giant, fake hotel out in the middle of nowhere (actually vacant land near Greens Road). Interviewed at the unveiling, the artist described it thus:

"Hotel appears as a piece of roadside architecture, only there are no other buildings for miles and you can't get in."

He could have added, 'Ha ha!'


Artist: Simeon Nelson

This enormous, trident-y, powerpole-y thing, situated near Thompson's Road, is the type of artefact that makes you wonder what future civilisations will make of, assuming our society has collapsed and left nothing to explain it. What will they think? Religious icon? Superstructure from some unknown building? As we drove past, my car companion provided a clue:

'What do you think that is?' he asked me.

There was silence in the car for a while while we stared at it... then we looked away and talked about something else.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Disappearance of Frederick Valentich

When Frederick Valentich took off from Moorabin Airport on the evening of October 21, 1978, his objective seemed simple.

His destination, Kings Island in Bass Strait, was only a 90 minute flight away. The round trip should only have taken a few hours.

While Bass Strait had a reputation for treacherous flying conditions, the weather on the 21st was clear. Valentich, while only 20 years old, had already logged significant flight time and was considered a capable young pilot.

He had planned the quick hop to the island to pick up some friends and some fresh seafood, to return with both to a family reunion later that evening.

Little did anyone know, that Valentich was about to fly into local history.

About forty five minutes into his trip, Valentich reported to Melbourne Air Traffic Control that he was being pursued by another aircraft.

Moving at high speed, the unidentified object quickly overtook Valentich's Cesna, and returned to buzz him several times. Shortly after 7 o'clock, Valentich reported that the other was flying directly towards him... after which all contact with Valentich's plane was lost.

No trace of him, or his aircraft, has ever been found.

Frederick Valentich with a Cessna, similar to the one he disappeared in.

Frederick Valentich had always wanted to be a pilot. It was all he had ever expressed an interest in doing.

He was so enthusiastic that he started flying lessons as a teenager, as soon as he was legally able, and by the time he was 18 he had already obtained his pilots license.

Valentich would take flights from Moorabin Airport, using an old RAAF training plane, as he built up his experience. Longer term, his goal was to either join the Air Force, or become a commercial airline pilot.

By October 1978, Valentich had attained a Class 4 instrument rating, significant for someone his age, and had 150 hours of flight time behind him.

King Island, in Bass Strait

Rugged, windswept and scenic, King Island is an isolated spec in Bass Strait, halfway between mainland Australia and Tasmania. Originally settled by whalers and sealers, by the 1970s the Island was well known for its high end agricultural produce, primarily beef and cheese.

On October 21 Valentich filed a flight plan with Moorabin Airport advising of his trip to the island.
Oddly, he did not inform King Island Airport of his trip, and the lights at the small airfield were not turned on.

The 235 kilometre round trip was expected to take about three hours.

Valentich took off in a Cessna 182L at 6.19 pm, and headed south.

At 7.00 pm he radioed back to Melbourne Air Traffic Control as he flew over Cape Otway, on Victoria's south coast, and reported nothing out of the ordinary; winds were light, visibility good.

Steve Robey, Melbourne Air Traffic Control

At 7.06 pm, Valentich radioed Melbourne to ask if there were any other aircraft in his vicinity.

Told that there weren't, Valentich reported that a large aircraft had just flown over him, about a thousand feet above his own plane.

Flight Officer Steve Robey, on duty at Melbourne Air Traffic Control, asked Valentich to identify the aircraft and the pilot told him this was difficult, due to the other plane's high velocity. But he stated that it looked metallic and had four bright lights on it, like landing lights.

Valentich then told Robey that the other plane had circled above him for a few moments, 'orbiting' as the pilot put it, before vanishing.

Panel from a graphic novel of the incident, by Emi Gennis

At 7.09 pm, Valentich contacted again to report that the unknown plane had returned and was approaching him at high speed from the South East. He added that he thought the other pilot was 'playing a game' with him.

Asked again by Robey to identify the other craft, Valentich was still vague, although he added that it had a 'long shape,' that its lights were green and that its exterior was 'shiny.'

One minute later, Valentich reported another fly over by the craft, this time from the South West.

At 7.11 pm, he also indicated that his own plane was showing some signs of mechanical difficulty; that the engine was 'rough idling.'

Asked his intentions by Robey, Valentich confirmed that he was going to push on for King Island. At this time, he should have only been about twenty minutes flying time from his destination.

At 7.12 pm, only six minutes after he had first reported the other mysterious craft, Valentich sent his final message:

This was followed by 19 seconds of static and white noise.

And then all contact was lost.

The local press reports the story.

Unable to communicate with Valentich, Robey raised the alarm and a Search and Rescue order was issued.

Two RAAF transport planes were dispatched to search for Valentich's plane, although the advanced hour and poor visibility meant that not much was done on the first evening.

The unusual nature of the incident, and the pilot's own description of encountering a mysterious craft immediately before disappearing, meant that the story would be headline news the following day.

Official investigation summary.

The search continued for four subsequent days, but no wreckage or any other physical evidence would be found. A small oil slick was spotted on the sea's surface just near the Cape Otway lighthouse, where Valentich radioed shortly before his strange encounter began, but a subsequent analysis showed the oil was not aviation fuel and this clue was abandoned.

After two weeks, the Victorian Department of Transport would conclude that the cause of Valentich's disappearance was 'unknown,' although it was presumed to be fatal for the young man.

And there ended the official investigation.

So what happened to Frederick Valentich?

Guido Valentich with a photo of his son.

The most likely explanation is that the Valentich crashed his plane.

While it was considered unusual that no wreckage was found during the search, this was not thought of as conclusive evidence that he had not crashed into the ocean. The difficulty of any search at sea, combined with the rough nature of the water in Bass Strait, may have caused the wreckage to sink or disperse in such a way to leave no trace.

Another difficulty for the search and rescue teams was that Valentich's Cessna was small enough that it did not show up on Melbourne Air Traffic's radar. So there was no way of verifying exactly where Valentich was prior to losing radio contact.

The search parameters were based around where Valentich said he was before he disappeared, and nothing more. He could have been mistaken and so inadvertently sent the search party off in the wrong direction.

Some aviation experts have also speculated that the young pilot could have become confused or disorientated, attempting such a long flight on his own. He may have even seen his own plane's lights reflected in the ocean and mistaken them for another aircraft.

But the lack of evidence meant the field was open for other theories.

Instead of accidentally mis-reporting his location, some commentators floated the idea that Valentich could have deliberately mislead Air Traffic Control and used this as a cover to disappear.

At the time of the incident, Valentich's Cessna would have had enough fuel to fly another 800 km, more than enough to get him out of the vicinity of the subsequent search. He could very well have never been in the vicinity of Cape Otway, at all.

But why would he want to fake his own disappearance? Valentich was described as an amiable young man, with no obvious reason for running away. And no evidence has ever surfaced to suggest that he landed his plane anywhere else in Victoria.

So if he didn't crash, and he didn't fake his own death, could he have been abducted by UFOs?

One of the photos taken by Roy Manifold

On the evening of October 21, Melbourne plumber Roy Manifold was driving along the south coast when he stopped to take some photos of the sunset.

At around 6.45pm, by his estimation, he claims to have seen a large object emerge from the water, several hundred metres off shore, and then fly away at high speed, quickly disappearing from sight.
Manifold was able to snap some photos of this event, although they are blurry and inconclusive (the best known of these is produced, above).

Other witnesses also came forward to say that they had seen unusual lights in the sky over Bass Strait that night.

Barham Valley Rd, where an unidentified witness claimed to see lights.

A local man and his two young nieces, never publicly identified, later reported to UFO investigators that they had seen lights near Apollo Bay.

Driving home along Barham Valley Road, after a rabbit shooting trip at dusk, these witnesses claim to have seen a set of lights, like those of a small plane, with a second green light hovering above.

The man thought the sight remarkable enough that he pulled his car over so he could watch the lights more carefully. The lights were moving from right to left, with a downward trajectory, and it took about 90 seconds before they disappeared from view behind the treeline.

The Manifold photos, and the Valentich case more generally, have become a favourite of UFO and paranormal investigators worldwide.

A quick google search will return any number of hits on either subject, and a wealth of 'evidence' beyond the points I have listed here.

All of which leaves us pretty much where we started.

A young man with a love of flying disappears during a short, routine flight, leaving no physical evidence. He also leaves a recording of a strange, eerie radio conversation, where he claims he is being pursued by a UFO, immediately before he vanishes.

While we may never know what happened to Frederick Valentich, we can also never be sure that there isn't some additional evidence out there, at the bottom of the ocean or somewhere else, waiting to be uncovered...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Movies and TV Shows Shot in Melbourne - Part 1

Melbourne has a rich artistic tradition.

When you live here, you feel it all around you. The inner city streets are dotted with art gallery's and the laneways between them are vibrant with street art. And every pub seems to have a live band on Friday, if not every, night.

So it's no surprise that the city has served as backdrop for a number of iconic local TV shows and movies. What follows is a short list of some of these productions, highlighting whereabouts in our city they were filmed.


Was there ever a bigger production in Melbourne? Or a bigger celebrity frenzy? Four of Hollywood's biggest stars spent one very hot summer in Melbourne filming an adaptation of Nevil Shute's bleak science fiction drama; 'The Biggest Story of Our Time... !' The ups and downs of that shoot have been well documented (check out this wonderful essay on the ACMI website for a taste of it) but it's worth noting that Ava Gardner's famous quote about Melbourne - 'On the Beach is a story about the end of the world and they sure picked the right place to film it' - was actually made up by a young journalist, annoyed that he wasn't able to get an interview with her.

The city features prominently in the production, most notably Frankston Beach and various parts of the CBD.

Anthony Perkins and Donna Holmes on Frankston Beach.

A similar spot on the same beach today

Flinders Street station, as Ava Gardner runs towards it. Note
the large advertising sign on the front.

Same spot, no sign.

Bourke Street, looking up towards the State
Parliament, in the closing montage sequence.

Similar spot on the same street today.

The State Library on Swanston Street, as part
of the same montage.

The same spot looking a little cheerier.


Perhaps the definitive Australian cult film, this ultra low budget effort from 1979 made the names of both director George Miller and star Mel Gibson. It spawned two, soon to be three, sequels and kicked off a whole new sub genre; dystopian future wasteland warriors run amuck. It was filmed in various spots around the city, with the car chase scenes and climax in rural locations.

Main Force Patrol's (MFP's) headquarters in the movie...

... was actually Spotswood water pumping station.

Goose does a burnout on his way to patrol...

... in this backstreet; Claremont Street, South Yarra.

MFP's underground parking garage...

... was the Southern Carpark at Melbourne Uni.


Dogs in Space is about music, share housing, drugs and grunge (in no particular order). The late Michael Hutchence stars as the front man for the eponymous band, who all live together in a sprawling house in Richmond.

Relaxing at the Dogs in Space house.
The same house today, looking expensive,
on Berry Street, Richmond.


One of the most controversial local films I can remember, Romper Stomper depicts life among a small cabal of Melbourne neo-Nazi's and made a star out of Russell Crowe, who has an eye catching turn as their leader, Hando. Shot on location in and around Melbourne's inner suburbs, the closing scene was filmed at Point Addis, on Victoria's south coast.

The opening scene of the film shows the gang bashing a couple of Asian
kids. Onscreen, this is listed as taking place at 'Footscray Station,' but was
actually filmed at Richmond Station.
The same tunnel at Richmond train station.

The gang clash with a large group of Asians in one of the films defining sequences.

This was filmed at the Railway Hotel, Ireland Street, West Melbourne.

The dramatic final scene: skinheads on the beach

Filmed at Point Addis, near Torquay.


This wildly successful and heavily quoted low budget comedy gave us the Kerrigan family, whose mild mannered patriarch Darryl (Michael Caton) is on a mission to save the castle of the title, his house, from demolition. The film was shot mostly in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, with a few memorable scenes at the Kerrigan's 'holiday house' in the country.

The cast from the film in front of The Castle.

The real house: 3 Dagonet Street, Strathmore

The Kerrigans relax at their holiday house.

The real property: 3491 Maintongoon Road Bonnie Doon.


Set in St Kilda, The Secret Life of Us showed us the lives of hip Melbourne twenty somethings as they grappled with work, relationships and the other elements of classic soap. The show was filmed on location in the beachside suburb, with two different buildings used to depict the characters apartment block.

Samuel Johnson enters his apartment block on the show.

The real building: 14a Acland Street

A regular feature of the show was the character's drinking
and barbecuing on the roof of their building.

These scenes were shot on the roof of this building: 22a The Esplanade.

Coming up in Part 2: Malcolm, Alvin Purple, Death in Brunswick, Chopper, Stingers and maybe a few others...