The State Library of Victoria

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The morning of our second full day in Morning, we decided to visit the State Library of Victoria, which is at the north end of the Central Business District.

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It’s an interesting, impressive building, with a large, round, domed reading room.

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The library also shows exhibitions, including two which are on permanent display, the Changing Face of Victoria  and Mirror of the World : books and ideas which are located on the galleries around the circumference of the dome, providing visitors with good views down into the void of the reading room!

One of the highlights of the exhibition about the history of Victoria was the section devoted to the famous Bushranger, Ned Kelly. The exhibits included the armour that he wore during some of the Kelly gang’s raid and during the final showdown with the police in the small ton of Glenrowan, where they were planning to rob a train, on 28 June 1880.

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and his death mask.

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I couldn’t help but note the library opening hours, 7 days a week – 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday to Sunday. What a contrast with libraries in the UK which are being starved of resources. The main library in Wigan has had it’s opening hours severely cut back , shutting at 5 p.m. weekdays and, unbelievably, at 2 p.m. on a Saturday! You can almost forget visiting the library if you are lucky enough to have a full time job.

 

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Melbourne – The Nicholas Building

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We left a hot and sunny Canberra (the first day it had been like that!) and took a flight to Melbourne, arriving to grey skies which turned into heavy rain during the evening. No worries though, as the weather improved the next day and stayed fine and sunny for the rest of our time there 🙂

Standing at the baggage reclaim waiting for our bags, one of them arrived fairly quickly, but after a while we realised that we were the only ones from the Canberra flight still standing there. Good news – we only had one bag to cart to our accommodation. Bad news – my bag had gone astray. We reported the loss at the information desk – the guy there reckoned it had probably been sent to the International terminal by mistake. That was probably the case as a couple of hours later I received a text telling me they’d located it and it was delivered to our Apart-Hotel early the next morning (Phew!).

We took the Sky bus to the city centre and then the shuttle to the Adina Apart Hotel on Flinders Street. After freshening up and getting a bite to eat, we set out to explore. As it had started raining we explored the Arcades which are one of the features of the Central Business District shopping streets.

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Dodging a heavy downpour (even though we were wearing our rain coats) we found ourselves in the Cathedral Arcade, an L-shaped Art Deco style arcade that cuts the corner of Flinders Lane and Swanston Street.  The arcade, which is  situated on the ground floor of the Nicholas Building, which was built in 1925, has a particularly attractive arched stained glass ceiling and central dome and the floors are decorated with ceramic tiles.

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While we were admiring the arcade, we spotted a number of people milling around and going up and down a stairwell. Checking it out we discovered that there was an open night in the Nicholas Building which, today, is something of a “creative hub” with the offices occupied by artists, design studios, architects offices and small start-ups as well as a number of galleries, jewellers, and boutiques  who are members of the Nicholas Building Association.

For the open night, the shops and galleries were open late and a number of the occupants of offices and workshops were open with displays showing off their work. Many of them were providing sweets, cakes and snacks and there was a pop up bar.  A group of musicians were performing on the stairwell and there were performances taking place too in one of the offices.

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The creatives moved in when previous occupants had moved out and the building began to become dilapidated. It has something of a “grungy” look to it, like the trendy, bohemian areas of city we were to visit later during our stay, and it still had many of it’s original features

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We must have spent over an hour pottering around. It’s always good to stumble across something interesting by accident and that was definitely the case with the Nicholas Building and Cathedral Arcade.

 

The Australian War Memorial

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After 5 days of weather typical of an English summer (i.e. cool, grey, intermittent rain), the day we were leaving Canberra was hot and sunny. C’est la vie! Our flight to our next destination, Melbourne, wasn’t due to leave until around midday so we had a couple of hours to kill and took the opportunity to walk up to the Australian War Memorial, about 20 minutes away on foot.

It’s in a dominant location in Canberra, standing on a hill at the north end of the city’s ceremonial land axis, which stretches from Parliament House on Capital Hill along a line passing through the summit of  Mount Ainslie.  There are three parts to the Memorial – the Commemorative Area (shrine) including the Hall of Memory with the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, the Memorial’s galleries (museum) and Research Centre (records). The road leading up to the Memorial from the city centre and along the axis is known as the  Anzac Parade  and is lined with memorials to various campaigns the Australian armed forces have been involved in.

Conceived in the 1920’s, indecision about the design and the Great Depression in the 1930’s delayed it’s construction and it was only completed in 1941, after the outbreak of World War II.  It was designed by two architects from Sydney, Emil Sodersten and John Crust. The main feature, the Byzantine domed  Hall of Memory is a Modernist, Art Deco structure.

Time was very limited, so we didn’t have much time to look around once we’d reached the memorial, and could only get a quick look around the Shrine.

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In the courtyard there are  a series of bronze plaques, the Roll of Honour, which lists the names of 102,185 Australian servicemen and women killed in conflict or on peacekeeping operations. The poppies are not an official part of the monument but have been left by relatives visiting the Shrine who have left the poppies next to the names of their relatives. A moving, unofficial, tribute bringing a human touch to the monument.

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We returned to our hotel via the Anzac Parade. Here’s a few photos of some of the monuments lining the avenue.

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A night at the Opera

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Sydney Opera House is one of the world’s iconic buildings; designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon who, at that time, was a relatively unknown young architect.  His dramatic concept, caught the eye of the judges of the international competition held to decide on a design.

Last time I was in Sydney (3 years ago) I joined a guided tour and also went to see a play  being shown in the Drama Theatre, one of the 4 smaller venues in the “basement” of the building, but wasn’t able to see a production in one of the large auditoria. So before we set out for Australia we checked the Opera House’s website and were able to get tickets for a night of opera in the main auditorium, the Concert Hall.

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We had a meal in one of the restaurants that line the east side of the Circular Quay and then headed over to the Opera House to have a look around inside the building before the start of the concert in areas only accessible for concert goers or on a guided tour.

There were views over the harbour from the large windows at the end of the building

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Inside the auditorium, ready for the concert to begin

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The main piece was a on Act opera by Bela Bartok based on the rather gruesome story of Bluebeard. A quite heavy piece and not exactly a light hearted pre-Christmas concert, but enjoyable nevertheless. I’m not really up to critiquing a serious Classical  concert but this review sums it up I think.

And after the concert

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A good experience and an enjoyable evening.

Northampton architecture

After my visit to 78 Derngate, I didn’t have much time to have a look around as I needed to get back on my way down the motorway. But I did manage a brief stroll through the town centre.

This Art Deco style block of flats, Bedford Mansions built in 1935 is immediately opposite the house.

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This is the Guild Hall, a very grand neo-Gothic building, built between 1861 and 1864

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A little further along the road, this neo-Classical church, All Saints. It was built in 1675 to replace an older, Medieval church that was largely destroyed  during the “Great Fire of Northampton“.

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Quite a mix of styles in a relatively short distance!

 

78 Derngate

A couple of weeks ago I had to drive down to Hertfordshire on a Sunday as zi was working down there on the Monday. An 8 o’clock start meant a stay over on Sunday evening. Rather than just belt all the way down the Motorway I decided to break the journey, pulling off the M1 at Northampton, with a view to visiting 78 Derngate, a house where the interior had been designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

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The house was owned by a local industrialist, W J Bassett-Lowke a man of Progressive ideals, Fabian politics (he knew G B Shaw who visited the house and stayed in the guest bedroom), had, for the time (the early 20th Century), rather modern tastes.

One of a row of Georgian houses in the centre of Northampton, Bassett-Lowke’s father  bought the relatively small house for him in 1916 when he got married. Being right in the middle of WWI it wasn’t possible to build a new house (which I guess he would have preferred) so he set about getting it modified so it would be more in line with his Modernist inclinations and he hired Mackintosh, who was living in Chelsea at the time, to help with the interior design.

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The Bassett-Lowkes lived in the house 1926 when they moved to a newly built Modernist home designed by Peter Behrens. It passed through several owners until 1964 when it was bought by Northampton High School for Girls who initially used it for offices and then later as classrooms.   When the school decided to sell off the house it was bought by Northampton Borough Council. A Trust was formed who restored the house and it was opened to the public at the end of 2003. The house itself is quite small so the Trust has also bought No’s 80 and 82 which houses the reception desk,  gift shop, museum, restaurant, art galleries, meeting rooms and offices.

Although visitors can explore the house and garden on their own, there are regular guided tours, which take just over an hour, and it’s well worth joining one. I arrived about 45 minutes before the next tour was due to start so I spent some time looking around the small garden (it was a fine, sunny, autumn afternoon), the museum and the galleries where there were exhibitions of works by a local artist, Roy Holding, and the Northamptonshire Guild of Designer Craftsmen. The guided tour, which started with a short video, was led by a knowledgeable volunteer and was excellent. After the tour I had about 45 minutes left to have a quick look round on my own to take a closer look at the rooms and furnishings.

Bassett-Lowke had a number of structural changes made to the house. A rectangular extension was added at the back to enlarge the kitchen and the dining room and creating balconies for the two bedrooms. It isn’t clear how much of these changes (and, indeed the décor) Mackintosh designed.

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Mackintosh was hired during a period when his architectural and design work had largely dried up, so he must have welcomed the commission.  Bassett-Lowke must have been a difficult client to work for, though. He had had some architectural training and had his own definite ideas about what he wanted and certainly didn’t leave mackintosh to get on with it, organising the work himself. His wife, who it seems had more conventional tastes, didn’t get much of a look in! But  Mackintosh’s touch is clearly evident throughout the house. The décor is a little different  to his earlier work, being more angular and almost prefiguring what became known as “Art Deco” style.

After watching the video which covered the history of the house and an overview of the interior,  the tour started in the garden. We could see the rear elevation which looked very Modernist and nothing like a Georgian property.

This planter looks very “Mackintosh”, but it’s not certain he designed it.

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Moving inside the house, first stop was the kitchen. No Mackintosh touches here but quite modern for the early 20th century. Bassett-Lowke was very keen on having all the latest electrical gadgets including an electric kettle and other appliances, many which had to be specially imported.

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The kitchen would have been the domain of Lotte, the Bassett-Lowkes’ servant. She was Austrian so an “enemy alien” during the war, so I don’t know how they managed to keep her employed.

Moving upstairs to the dining room

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Mackintosh’s main contribution to this room was the walnut cabinets to either side of the fireplace.

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Across the stairwell and we were in the living room (the house is only two rooms wide)

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This screen beside the staircase is probably Mackintosh’s “tour de force”.

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He designed the décor, an angular pattern representing trees, which is predominantly black, making the room rather dark.

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Mrs Bassett-Lowke did not like it so it was changed to a much lighter design, which was shown in a display on one of the rooms on the top floor of the house

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Up another floor and into the main bedroom. There wasn’t much furnishing in here.

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but the guest bedroom on the next floor has been recreated.  This is where G B slept when he stayed in the house. The striped décor is very striking and must have looked so radically different in 1917. It could easily have been designed in modern times.

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Mrs Bassett-Lowke did not like it at all.

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Across the corridor the bathroom had all the mod cons for the time

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I spent almost 3 hours in the house, much longer than I expected. It was certainly well worth the diversion!