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Return of the Laksa King?

For the last couple weeks I've been watching - with a mix of amusement, bemusement and some hope - as one of Flemington's best loved joints re-invented itself. The new signage reminiscent of McDonald's brought a smile - is the King thinking of a dynasty of chain stores? The new location on Pin Oak Crescent is confusing because the existing location was always buzzing and bookings were theoretically possible but often bungled. And the hope? Well, I just wanted the food to be as good as when the King slummed it in a grubby arcade and you came away with change from a tenner for that steaming bowl of Malaysian soup.

We arrived late for our reservation and there was a huge crowd bubbling over into the street. It was opening week and there were floral tributes piling the windows, so I expected we'd be worshipping at the feet of the King for a while before our audience. But I was wrong. The new venue seats 200, so our reservation was honoured and we're zoomed through to m…

A Fest Full of Hollers: Shout outs for MWF tix

On Friday the Melbourne Writers Festival program was a hefty insert in the Age. In the past it came as part of Saturday’s weekend supplements, but it’s all part of the new energy buzzing through the festival. New director Steve Grimwade put his program out on Friday to coincide with online bookings and the program boasting more than 400 events has more in common with Friday’s hip EG than Saturday’s brunchable browser, A2. The big news in the program is Joss Whedon as the second keynote. Tickets have probably already sold out but it does give an excuse to show off Joss Whedon on writing for new media:


Mark Scott presenting The Quest for Truth interests me less. We know where the ABC supremo is coming from already and there will be a lot of talking up ABC 24. Cory Doctrow on Copyright Vs Creativity speaks more to the challenges of our time: namely how can we continue to create quality content when it is free? The argument is often made that we should be giving away content, “getting it ou…

ACDC Lane and Melbourne's Musical Deadend

As AC/DC prepare to unleash themselves on Melbourne in three gigs next week, artist and metalhead Ben Couzins has created a fitting poster tribute to the rock gods. ACDC Lane (slash omitted because it apparently offended the Registrar of Geographic Names) has become a lunchtime tourist attraction for grey suits to admire Couzins' images from across the band's 37-year career. There's a cheekiness to the posters plastered all over this city lane that makes even non-fans smirk at their pomp and majesty.

The lane was reclaimed for rock in 2004 after ditching its dreary former moniker, Corporation Lane. The renaming was partly due to the It's A Long Way To The Top video that dragged the band and bagpipers down nearby in Swanston St to the confusion of 1970s Melbournians. But the ACDC Lane is a nod to Melbourne's music culture while that same culture is getting a bureaucratic thumbs down.

A crackdown on Melbourne's liquor licencing has forced the closure of the Tote, a…

Nocember the too-much month

Nocember is the cruellest month - no matter what TS Eliott says. It masquerades as two months but long ago blurred into one which crams in too many events to reasonably attend. Worst of all it forces bloggers to do wap-up blogs as there's not enough time to attend and blog.

Here's my pre-Christmas fast forward:
This Annoying Opening
Kicking off on 19th of November, Paul Oslo Davis' show This Annoying Life showcases his illustrations particularly his Overheard series in the Sunday Age that joins conversational snippets with his minimalist style. The poster is characteristic of his style - several bitter dancing couples exchanging lines like "Let's play hide the resentment" or "Let's run away in opposite directions". It's humanity at it's best and bleakest.

It was a crowded little space with most of the fun in watching people making the connection between text and images. Some of the city's best cartoonists were along to raise a beer to …

Eid in Western Melbourne

On this morning's walk we were overtaken by women and children in their finest. 'It's a celebration,' they said hurrying past. Last night’s news came to mind and we asked the next rushing passer-by if it had something to do with the Hajj. 'Yes, Hajj celebration,' as she jogged past with her kids towards the massive congregation on the lawns outside the flats. The smile on her face – whether at our interest or our ignorance – seemed to invite us to find out more, we followed into the worshipping.

Eid-el-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) celebrates the end of the Hajj, or the pilgrimage that Muslims are encouraged to make once in their lives. Lasting around three days, the festival commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son for Allah, and observances include prayer, alms for the poor and sacrificing a goat, camel or sheep. Here in Flemington, there was sombre intoning from the Iman, prayer and a sermon, collection tins, but thankfully no livestock in s…

Welcome to the Wheeler Centre

A little while ago I wrote about being inside the mouthful that is the Centre for Books Writing & Ideas. A few other people must have been having trouble with the name because it is now the Wheeler Centre.

At a function this morning the curtain slid back to reveal a Lonely Planet founders, Tony and Maureen Wheeler. According to the speeches, they're funding top-class or "Melbourne standard" events at the new centre named in their honour. It's all part of their Planet Wheeler foundation.

The first program of events was unveiled in a glossy brochure. The big gig is A Gala Night of Storytelling, which boasts some of Melbourne's biggest personalities from Paul Kelly to John Marsden all telling stories passed down through their families. It's an intimate look at the cities literati. Its an exciting start to Melbourne's biblio-hub.

Inside the Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas

This weekend I went to the first workshop at Melbourne's brand spanking new Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas. It's the jewel in the crown of UNESCO's City of Literature and, based on the construction work going on out the front, there's a bit more polishing before it's fully open to the public.

Even still it's up and running in a pilot mode with most of the resident organisations already moved in and some even starting their events. Six resident organisations - Australian Poetry Centre, Emerging Writers' Festival, Express Media, Melbourne Writer's Festival, Victorian Writer's Centre and SPUNC - all seem to be in various stages of unpacking. The centre itself starts programming events early next year.

It's an impressive building from the inside and out - keeping the State Library's classic look while making it contemporary enough to be a work place. There's still a few bugs to iron out with the entrance which was still draped in construc…

Flemington by fascinator

It's the race that stops the nation and keeps Melbourne's milliners in business. Living not far from the track means that I've seen heaps of feathered finery so this Melbourne Cup I snapped a couple of fascinators while escaping the throng.

Made from feathers, flowers or fur and later on in the day bits of bread, beer caps and raceday flotsam, the fascinator is best seen in the morning. By the end of the day they're teetering on the edge like the drunk on high heels who is probably supporting this elaborate construction.
The wave of style washes in early as punters are keen to find their place in the carpark and flush away a few bets on dead certs. Somewhere in the balancing of headgear (when does a fascinator become a hat?) there's a horse race, but mostly it's about drinking. After a long day of waiting to not be invited into a celebrity tent, most stagger home or shout at cab drivers. Some take time out to vomit in local resident's letterboxes so we can…

Vigilante Virgin: a review in progress

This week Fairfax opened its new Media House building in Melbourne's CBD. There was much back slapping from the premier and words like 'bold', 'exciting' and 'future' were thrown around. But is Fairfax really ready for the future - bold, exciting or otherwise? Based on the technology they've put behind Text Tales: Vigilante Virgin, the present is challenging.

A couple of other bloggers have already made the point that this isn't really an m-novel. Adam Ford makes the point that it "might be the first password-protected Australian-authored online-story-in-instalments accessible via mobile-phone-delivered subscription" because you only get sent a text that directs you to web page. Essentially you'll need a web-enabled mobile to read the story. And the main advantage to this seems to be that the story can be bookended by a big picture of author Marieke Hardy and an ad for Borders. Gully Bogan is less kind pointing out that this is "th…

Who is Sam Knott?

As you're driving from Melbourne towards Warburton, you might notice your health being toasted by a Father Christmas-like gent by the side of the road. Out the front of the Sam Knott Hotel in Wesburn there's a wood sculpture of an icon that decorated Australia's pool rooms and pub for just over a century.
The subject of the sculpture is Sam Knott, a prospector who came from England in 1888 just as Victoria's gold rush had run dry. Sam found work other work including in the pub that now bears his name. The current bartender reckons he was repeatedly paid the same pound note once a week that he religiously returned to cash register to clear off his weekly drinking slate.
In 1906 a photographer from the city snapped the enthusiatic drinker at the bar. When he remarked that he enjoyed his drink even though it was before noon, Sam cracked his famous line "I allus has wan at eleven" which became part of boozing and branding history. Carlton United Breweries loved the…

Southern Star dimming

In 2008 Melbourne's skyline saw the building-up of a large Ferris Wheel in the re-vamped Docklands. The Southern Star was gleefully nicknamed the Melbourne Eye (likening the Antipodean to its London sibling) and, as manufactured tourist attractions went, it served as the ideal centrepiece for a new shopping centre.

For just under thirty bucks, Melburnians would find themselves (according to the marketing material) 'rising gently to 120 metres in one of 21 air-conditioned cabins' for a half-hour ride. Southern Star opened in late-2009 amid excited projections of over 30,000 tourists visiting a week. It even promised views as far as Geelong. But early in 2009 a heatwave warped the big wheel and it was quickly shut down. Opened for just over seven weeks, it seemed that the designs couldn't take the heat and it seemed better to be safe than sorry. The $100m project has gone further into the red as the wheel needs to be repaired elsewhere and looks like it won't be up aga…

Out of Luck

When I had to write about definitively Melbournian experiences for Lonely Planet's the City Book I included this:

hunkering down in a Fitzroy pub to watch local band the LucksmithsIf you own that book, it's time to get out the red pen, because this essential Melbourne band is no more. And their final show wasn't in Fitzroy, but at Richmond's Corner Hotel, one of the city's great remaining pub venues.

It was a bittersweet gig after a long farewell tour but the cheeky chaps behind Melbourne's best indie/folk/pop outfit put on a great final show. Stage banter between Marty, Tali and Mark has always been a big feature and this gig featured songs interspersed with good-natured scuffles about Scrabble rules and a nod to the ex-Fitzroy landmark Punters Club, which was "dear to our hearts if not our livers". They were always a Melbourne band - where else could a song like "T-shirt Weather" be such a powerful anti-depressant?



They played songs from acr…

End of Melbourne Writers Festival

As well as a beguiling name, Wells Tower has one of those author photos that promise much. It has the look of someone who is either hurt or about to throw a punch. His Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is a blistering collection of short stories where you want to hear precisely what inflection the author puts on every word.

His Friday free session was packed with folks who couldn't get one of the limited places in his Sunday workshop and although he spoke quietly he didn't disappoint. He was most interesting on his writing method citing the internet as 'lethal to writing and reading', because of its distracting power. He described his ideal writing day as creative fiction for breakfast when he's fresh, then giving the afternoon over to journalism then in the evening working on his screenwriting which he reckons comes easy to him. Sleep wasn't part of the equation.

He emphaised the importance of revision by talking about the need the 'grad school' wisd…

Melbourne Writer's Festival: Future of the Book

Thursday the MWF got all digital. There were sessions dedicated to marketing in the info age and showing off the latest e-readers. I got along to three sessions but the whole day proved too much of a test of stamina and battery life.

The opening was called the State of Digital Publishing. Victoria Nash and Elizabeth Weiss grappled with the huge subject from the publisher point of view. They were concerned about the rise of the $9.99 e-book and how it had pushed them into what Elizabeth refererred to as "Get all out books out there and have them competing" mentality. Victoria mentioned piracy and how they saw it as "protecting our authors' copyright and obviously our revenues". It all looked very industry-focussed and I felt like the author was out of the picture.

Thirty minutes in Bob Stein got a word in about the future. He pointed out that more than a million books are available on public domain and that the book industry was facing the same challenges that vid…

Rush in Your Street

Today our suburb was over-run or perhaps over-Rushed as a film crew set up at few key streets in the area. Residents were told to stay out of shot (I managed to get told off three times) though most of us just stood back and gawped.

I don't know any of the actors, but what struck me was how many people there were in orange vests surrounding the production. There was a guy who's job it was to wipe the windscreen and another who seemed employed to exclusively clean up coffee cups after each shot.
Security was like that of a presidential motorcade for a shot that lasted less than 30 seconds. The set-up for shots is amazing - one sequence that involved a hoodlum chased until he falls over featured an enormous reflective screen and several crach mats to ensure the actor fell snugly.
Normally I see Rush being filmed around Lonely Planet's Footscray offices, but today Flemington was chosen as the locale for crime sprees. With so much security and fake police it could even reduce cr…

Game on for Freeplay

Finns are an enterprising bunch. Take the Freeplay keynote speaker Petri Purho. From his flat in Helsinki, he created Kloonigames with the goal of creating a game a week. This led to his rapid protoyping method that built his creative game Crayon Physics Deluxe. He believes the next big development will be a "YouTube of games" where developers will be able to push their work to global audiences to play, comment and refine - though he admitted to being nervous about business people crowding out the creativity for the dollars.
Purho believes making a lot of games will eventual create a good game. Make a lot of what he calls "shit games" and you'll eventually hit on something that resonates with an audience. The only way to get over your fear of the inner-critic and your lack of technical skills is to churn it out.
It's an idea that applies across the arts. Purho referenced the Scarlet Letters: Notes on Making Art, written by two visual artists. Many of their i…

MIFFed film goers

As the line to 10 Conditions of Love sprawled out the front of Melbourne's Town Hall and ran a full city block up to Russell St, China's decision to oppose the film's screening was looking like the best publicity the could hope for. Without allthehackings, this 54-minute film might have got a limited release and only appeared late-night on SBS. Instead the flag of East Turkestan appeared on nationalandinternationalnews, international film festivals are saying they'll pick it up and Australian politicians are supporting a national struggle they may not have heard of two months ago.

Festival director Richard Moore kicked the film off saying "How sweet it is to push play this evening". The film itself follows the life of the Uyghur's most vocal proponent, Rebiya Kadeer, who was imprisioned in China for her actions. It uses the limited footage that has come out of the western province of Xinjiang (New Frontier) intercut with interviews with Kadeer herself. One…

Melbourne International Film Festival hacked

Strange news today that the MIFF website has been hacked in response to their screening a film by Uighur film-maker, Rebiya Kadeer. It's made even stranger by recent Chinese government demands that the film be withdrawn from the program. The film is critical of the treatment of western China's Uighur people and has seen several Chinese filmmaker withdraw their films from MIFF, but MIFF says it will still screen the film on August 8th.

Three Melbourne Art Galleries

If you ask any other Australian what they think of Melbournians, the word 'arty' comes up as often as 'coffee'. We're known for our black skivvies as much as our long blacks. On Saturday we went out on an art safari taking in three very different galleries which confirmed this reputation, but also stretched it to breaking point.

First up was Heide gallery – the sprawling property of the Boyd family which is a daytrip in itself. The Modern Times exhibition currently visiting from Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum races through Australian modernism (1917-1967). I was impressed to see the size of Australia’s involvement in this world art movement and even more pleased to hear they've developed a podtour to help you visit. Early in the exhibition a snapshot of Albert Tucker in Jack Kerouac’s New York apartment gives you an idea of Australia’s artistic influence. It’s a good companion to the current Brack exhibition. Swimwear and swim culture are a little over-represented, …

Literally Melbourne

This weekend saw the opening of the Emerging Writers' Festival, a uniquely Melbourne event that was created to showcase "the best writers you haven't heard of yet". Friday's opening night First Word was a packed program that included hilarious sketches by List Operators, launching of the 48-Hour Play Generator, a Call to Arms from comic book writer Shane McCarthy and a hypothetical about the city's Centre for Books Writing and Ideas. And all this just on the opening night.

The ever-witty Michael Nolan hosted the hypothetical which looked at what the centre for Books Writing and Ideas could be as it prepares to open at the State Library of Voctoria later this year. There were a few digs at Readings becoming the official bookstore of the State Library of Victoria (the store's owner is a board member of the Centre) and some pointed remarks about it creating an ivory tower (from memory Nolan's delightful phrase was "Stalinism with good coffee"). …