Melbourne – The Nicholas Building


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 ūüôā

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.


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.


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.



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


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.



New Year’s Day 2018 at the Hepworth


I’m still far from finished writing up our trip to Australia, but I’d thought I’d take a short diversion to report on our trip to the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield on New Year’s Day. It’s become a bit of a tradition for us to drive over a quiet M62 to visit this excellent gallery. Last year we didn’t make a subsequent visit so it’s a while since we were last there – well, 12 months exactly!


There had quite been a few changes with new exhibitions in four of the galleries and a temporary exhibition of work by the Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow which was coming to the end of it’s run.

Gallery 1 featured a range of works from the Wakefield collection, including the beautiful elm sculpture by Henry Moore shown above and works from Barbara Hepworth, and Nuam Gabo,


The next two galleries concentrated on works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, both born locally in Castleford and Wakefield respectively.

In the first room, works by henry Moore included this unusual (for Moore) bronze head Open Work Head No. 2 (1950)


some of his drawings of miners from local pits during WWII


and a series of lithographs of Stonehenge that he had personally donated to the Wakefield collection.


The next, large room, was a comprehensive survey of Barbara Hepworth’s work including sculpture, drawings, prints and even her library of books


We had a brief look around the next two rooms which¬† explore Hepworth’s working methods and display examples from the Hepworth’s collection of her plasters as they’re on permanent display and we’ve seen them many times before. But the next two rooms had new displays – more works from the Hepworth’s collection


and an exhibition¬†Daughters of Necessity¬†by British artist Serena Korda, featuring some of her own works displayed together with ceramics from the Hepworth’s collection. The Hepworth website tells us

Working with ceramics for several years, Korda combines her experimental approach to the material with her interest in the acoustic properties of objects. For The Hepworth Wakefield, Korda has created a new work, Resonators, comprising five large, richly glazed vessels with openings at each end. Visitors are invited to interact with the work by placing their ears to each vessel to hear a range of bass-like tones.


The exhibition also features a new presentation of Korda’s ceramic sound installation Hold Fast, Stand Sure, I Scream a Revolution, which was premiered at Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art in 2016. This work is made up of 29 individual porcelain mushrooms suspended from the ceiling, which will be played as bells in public performances during the Ceramics Fair in early May 2018.


I really liked these works which were a combination of art, science and music.

There were some beautiful ceramic pieces selected by the artist too



The temporary exhibition Alina Szapocznikow: Human Landscapes was an extensive survey of the work of this Polish artist and

highlights how the artist‚Äôs work developed from classically figurative sculptures to her later ‚Äėawkward objects‚Äô, which are politically charged and overlaid with Surrealist and Pop Art influences. (Hepworth Website)


 features more than 100 works created between 1956 and 1972 including drawings, photography and sculpture, incorporating Szapocznikow’s characteristic use of cast body parts, many of which she transformed into everyday objects like lamps or ashtrays.


Hopefully, I’ll find some time to write up more about this.

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.


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.


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



The NGA Sculpture Garden and Skyspace

Angel of the South?

Australia is like the UK in many ways – including the opening hours for Galleries and Museums. The National Gallery is only open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. so with limited time available I didn’t have chanced to see much of their rather excellent and extensive collection. However, a sculpture garden has been created in the grounds between the Gallery building and of Lake Burley Griffin and that’s accessible even when the gallery is closed.¬† There’s also a few sculptures at the front of the building.

In all, there¬† are 26 works by International and Australian artists on display. Here’s some of them.

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Although not strictly part of the Sculpture Garden, there’s another major work outdoors that can be accessible out of hours – Within Without, an installation by James Turrell. Like the¬†Deer Shelter at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it’s a “Skyspace” which visitors can enter, sit quietly and contemplate the sky. Unlike¬†Deer Shelter Turrell hasn’t converted an existing structure but created one from scratch, and landscaped the area around it with lawns and a pool.


The Skyspace itself is a structure inside a structure. The outer one covered with turf but, as became apparent, with no roof. Once inside a second dome like structure made of stone, Victorian basalt, is revealed. This is the viewing chamber which has a hole in the ceiling – the oculus – with seats around the walls, just like the Deer Shelter with which we’re familiar.


Looking up through the oculus the sky can be seen.


Initially, the sky was dull, grey and featureless. But we returned a little later after our tour of the sculpture garden when the sky had partly cleared and we were able to view a blue sky with passing, white clouds. Sitting watching the changing patterns induced a feeling of calm and it was fascinating to watch the sky change as the clouds passed over. 

Within the Skyspace, light seems more painterly. Movement and sound are intensified, the sky shimmers and pulsates. (NGA website)

It was really weird in that although we were looking at only a small area of the sky, we could perceive¬† changes we would not have noticed looking at the ‚Äúbig‚ÄĚ sky outside. I could have spent hours staring through the hole!

I believe that the installation is open during the night and it would be good to view the dark star lit sky on a clear night. Not possible for us on this occasion, though.

Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series


I had an hour to spare before our tour of the Parliament building in Canberra so I took the opportunity to pop into the National Gallery (only a 20 minute walk from Parliament) to have a look at the iconic series of paintings by the Australian artist Sidney Nolan of the legendary bushranger, Ned Kelly.

The Gallery’s website tells us

Sidney Nolan’s 1946-47 paintings on the theme of the 19th-century bushranger Ned Kelly are one of the greatest series of Australian paintings of the 20th century. Nolan’s starkly simplified depiction of Kelly in his homemade armour has become an iconic Australian image. Highlighting these works makes the point that Australian art is part of the world, with its own stories to tell.

Ned Kelly was a controversial character; a violent criminal to some, including the establishment, but a hero to many. Nolan, who, like Kelly, had Irish roots, clearly fell into the latter category.


There are 25 paintings, displayed in a dedicated room with some related works, which tell the story of Kelly – the events that led him to become an outlaw, his exploits as a bushranger, the battle with the police that led to his capture and trial. They’re painted in a simple, colourful, na√Įve style, using house paints rather than oils. Kelly is depicted in his armour, in a simplified way, but it is as if the armour is part of him. His helmet becoming his head and the eye slit going right through.


The paintings are also noted for the way they depict the Australian landscape


They’re fantastic paintings and I’m glad I managed to find the time to see them.¬†The whole series can be seen on the Australian National Gallery Website.

We would come across Ned Kelly again a few more times during our holiday, while we were in Melbourne.

A visit to the Australian Parliament


As the Conference I was attending finished at lunch time on the Wednesday, I had a free afternoon. We’d decided to visit the Parliament building and, although there are regular free tours, we signed up for a paid tour that would allow us access into more areas of the building.

Parliament was sitting, so the tour didn’t include visits to the Senate and House of Representatives Chambers. However, afterwards we took the opportunity to sit in an watch part of a debate in the House of Representatives.

To get into the building we had to pass through security, although once inside visitors are relatively free to wander around much of the building. The security personnel were also friendly and polite, unlike the stoney-faced individuals you often face in official buildings in England.

The original Parliament building, now known as¬†Old Parliament House, is a short distance away. It’s an Art Deco style structure¬†completed in early 1927. In 1978 it was decided that a new building was needed and an architectural competition was held to select an architect, which was won by¬† Mitchell/Giurgola, an architectural practice based in Philidelphia, with the on-site work directed by the Italian-born architect Romaldo Giurgola. Work started in 1981 and it was opened¬†on 9 May 1988.

On the forecourt in front of the building¬† there’s a 196-square-metre mosaic by the Aboriginal artist Michael Nelson Jagamara. It wasn’t possible to get a good shot of the mosaic but there’s a photograph of it on the Parliament website together with some additional information.

After passing through security we entered the foyer where there are  48 marble columns, clad in green Cipollino marble from Italy and creamy pink Atlantide Rosa marble from Portugal, intended to evoke the muted pinks and greens of the Australian landscape as well as the colours of the two Parliamentary Chambers.  The floor has a series of circles, semi-circles and triangles of Paradise White marble and black Granitello Nero limestone from Belgium, full of fossils.


The Great Hall is used for dinners, receptions and the like. During our visit it was being prepared for a dinner due to take place that evening.


The Great Hall Tapestry, which is an enlarged version of an Arthur Boyd painting, Untitled (Shoalhaven Landscape), which depicts a bush scene in the Shoalhaven River area in southern New South Wales. It took 13 weavers more than two years to complete and is one of the largest tapestries in the world.

There are lots of works of art exhibited throughout the building, including portraits of all of the Australian former Prime Ministers (although those of the last two are still being painted). This is the portrait of Gough Whitlam, the Labor Prime Minister whose dismissal in November 1975 by the Governer-General, John Kerr, provoked a constitutional crisis.


This is Tom Roberts‘ painting of the opening of the first Federal Parliament held in the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne¬†in 1901. It’s in the foyer of the Main Committee Room and is known as the ‚ÄúBig Picture‚ÄĚ for fairly obvious reasons.


This is the Main Committee Room itself. The painting on the back wall is Red Ochre Cove by Mandy Martin.


From the roof there was a long view down the main axis from Mount Ainslie in the south right down to the National War Memorial to the north.

After the guided tour we decided to go and have a look in the Chamber of the House of Representatives. We had to leave our bags and phones behind and pass through another security checkpoint and were then guided onto the balcony where we could watch the proceedings. At first there were relatively few MPs in the Chamber and they didn’t seem to be discussing anything of great importance. But after a while we could see Members drifting in and the Chamber began to fill up. It was clear that an important debate was about to take place. There’s been some controversy in Australia about MPs having dual nationality, which isn’t allowed. There was a motion put forward by the opposition Labor Party and we watched the debate begin to unfurl with contributions from senior Labour members and the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, the latter coming across as rather aggressive and unpleasant.¬†We watched the debate for about half an hour before deciding we’d had a good taste of the action (!), and departed to go down to have a look at the National Gallery Art collection before our evening meal.




Impressions of Canberra


Parliament House

We left Sydney on a Saturday morning, travelling by coach. Canberra is a couple of hundred miles away and as Australia doesn’t have a good inter-city train service, this seemed like the best option for getting there and we found it a convenient and comfortable enough service, rather like the National Express coaches in the UK.¬† The Sydney suburbs seemed to go on forever, but we eventually started to travel through open country and even saw kangaroos in the wild.

We arrived in Canberra to be greeted with heavy rain and quite cool temperatures. In fact, for all of our stay there, except the day we were leaving, the weather rather reminded me of a British summer – i.e. cool with bouts of rain! This didn’t have much of an impact on me personally, as I spent most of our 4 days there inside the Conference Centre.

Canberra is the national capital of Australia and was only created in the early 20th Century as a compromise alternative to Sydney and Melbourne. Neither of the latter would have been happy if the other had been designated the Capital. Most Australians from Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere I spoke to were quite scathing about the city as being “boring”. However, we quite liked it.

It’s a planned city influenced by the “Garden City” movement, so in many ways it reminded me of a bigger version of Letchworth or Milton Keynes in the UK. It’s very roomy with lots of green space, wide avenues and broad vistas. There was relatively little traffic, which made a pleasant change from the hustle and bustle of Sydney. We could cross the road easily rather than standing for what seemed forever at the pedestrian crossings in the Sydney CBD! Transport around the city seemed quite easy with regular buses.


The old Parliament building


View over Lake Burley Griffin towards the National Carillon

There was quite a lot to see and my “other half” didn’t have too much trouble finding things to keep her occupied, despite the weather. There’s a number of Museums, Galleries and places of interest including the Australian Parliament, the old Parliament Building and the National War Memorial.

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The National War Memorial

There’s even an Aboriginal “Embassy” manned by activists representing Indigenous people whose treatment over the years has been such that they have plenty of grievances. It was originally founded in 1972¬†to protest about the Government rejecting a proposal for Aboriginal Land rights but now serves as a focal point for the broader Indigenous movement.


The conference kept me busy, but I had a free afternoon and a few hours before we left for Melbourne on the Thursday morning so I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Parliament, a quick look at the National Gallery, the National Gallery sculpture Park (which is accessible after the Gallery had closed) and a very quick visit to the War Memorial.