Last night at 450 Lygon Street, my home for the last nine months. Here’s the view early this morning. You’ll notice the new graffiti on the wall. It went up about a month ago – the artists came to the door to notify us before they started, a month or so ago, and, in the way of Carlton house shares, have now been connected up with housemate P’s sister who runs a gallery in Manchester and is interested in graffiti art. I don’t much like it, seems derivative of retro tattoos or something, but P assures me it’s not finished. I was much happier with the graffiti on the wall before (the picture was taken in January), which had much more character and even wit – isn’t this fellow dreaming of spray-painting St. Jude’s across the street?
450 Lygon Street is a place almost everyone I meet can picture, or claims to be able to picture – the last terrace on Lygon Street, above Elgin, bluestone, before the Housing Commission flats. One block south from us, towards the CBD, you reach places everyone in Melbourne knows – Jimmy Watsons (the city’s first wine bar), Readings bookstore, and some tried and true Italian restaurant/coffee shops: Tiamo, Brunettis, Università. On the corner of our block, next to Victoria’s biggest used bookshop, is Percy’s (which you’ll remember from the pics of my trip to the Center). J, the manager of the Philosophy Department at Melbourne Uni grew up two houses down from us (have I mentioned this?), and her very short very Italian parents are still there. In the house between, also a bluestone (J reckons our two blustones could be heritage listed if the owner wanted), lives a roadie – he’s a friend of a friend of D, and has lived there for thirty years. Small world!
What I haven’t mentioned, because I haven’t really thought enough about it, is that I live on a frontier between the known world and an unknown one. The Housing Commission Flats start just above us. I’ve had little to do with them, although I took my nephews to one of the playgrounds once, and the younger one quickly befriended some bashful Somali girls. I thought I might meet some in the Church of All Nations, the Uniting (once Methodist) Church you can see from our kitchen, so went once, finding, instead, a small congregation of very good very old middle class white people. The people from all the nations who live in the flats, just beyond the big cross in the brick wall, haven’t become members. It made me very sad.
A few weeks ago I saw a community theater piece by people form the flats, developed at the Church of All Nations’ Walk In Centre. From it I learned that the the towers stand on several large blocks from which slums of terraces like ours had been removed. There are 4500 people in the towers, many of them recent immigrants – I hear more different languages as people pass my window here than you’d hear on any street in Manhattan (if not in Queens). What I hadn’t really considered until I saw this play (called “Le Corbusier’s dream”) was that in 1964, when all this happened, there were no residential buildings in Melbourne taller than a few storeys; J says that the tallest buildings she remembers as a child were Myers, five or six storeys tall in the CBD. And then suddenly, twenty-one storeys. Imagine: a slum translated into the sky.