Coronaviral days: The Houses of Fawkner

Howard Arkley (1993) Australian House, held by the Hamilton Art Gallery


From Crawford, A. and Ray, E., Spray: The Work of Howard Arkley, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995, pp.88-89:

… Arkley’s homes are far from ironic – they appear as if painted by a proud owner. Yet, ironically, given Arkley’s engagement with feminism, it was the suburbs that feminists often accused of locking women into the subordinate role of home-maker. The movement which had motivated his earlier work could be seen in his celebration of the house, regarded throughout the modern era as a woman’s domain, far from the masculine world of work. Yet one could also contend that his emphasis on the suburban exterior reasserted a masculine image of the home for it was often a male responsibility to maintain the suburban façade, with its driveway, ornamental garden beds and neatly mown.

Regardless of these issues, the Australian dream is to own one’s own home, and here the ambition was writ large and loud as Arkley took the house as a commodity and rendered it as a marketable façade with a Pop aesthetic. This was a Pop sensibility attuned to the Antipodes and pulsing with knowing and self-awareness. Arkley knew his audience would recognise the message and identify with the dream of the house. His confidence was reflected in the stridency of the airbrushed panels, throbbing and resonating with a keen sense of an Australian aesthetic. When Arkley first showed his vibrant interpretations of this symbol, it was as if the penny had dropped not only for the artist but for the public. Pop had come to the Australian suburbs and the suburbs had come to Pop:


‘What I am trying to do, I believe, is explicitly the right thing, and if it isn’t me, it will be someone else. It has to be done. And we’re not just talking about the work, but inspiring a whole generation of future artists to delve into this area and exploit it. It looks like an overstatement, like it’s obvious, and I would rather make subtler art, but I don’t think it will get across.

What I would actually like to do is equivalent to when you’re driving along in the country and you look at the landscape and you say ‘Oh, there’s a Fred Williams.’ You change the way people see it. And you can make people look at it. In the same way that David Hockney has changed the way people can look at Los Angeles, the swimming pools, Hollywood’s Mulholland Drive, good God, that could be Lower Templestowe Road! I just want people to see it.’

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Fawkner is a child of the 60s. At the time, once you passed Mahoney’s Road you were on your way to Sydney. On the limit, crossing the boundary. It consisted of cheap housing, quite a lot of which was erected at the government’s behest set in rectangular and repetitive town planning punctuated with green bits left to memorialise Charles Mutton and Someone Evans, but raw and perturbing like all such sites.

Sixty years later the massive expanses of the Cemetery remain, dividing the world quite carefully by religious denomination (although ‘Baptist B’ is plumb next to ‘Chinese’). (Could it be that the journeys of the different sections have discrete features which can’t be shared, or even … that they arrive at different destinations in the after-life!?)

But it is the other side of Sydney Road which interests us on a warm sunny Coronavirus Sunday afternoon with the carwash closed and bowls and netball just off.

Mutton and Evans were replaced years ago by Martinelli and Evangelidis and their countrypersons from Greece and Italy.

But now, 60 years on, Fawkner is Turkish: a land of kebabs, gozleme, saksuka, pide, iskender, pilav, borek and lahmacan. And of hot cars, muscles bulging out of black T-shirts and, where the women are not veiled, dramatically glamorised femininity.

These are not Turks from the heights of Istanbul. They are more likely to be from places closer to Syria and Iran than the Bosphorus. What do they make of Fawkner with its shopping strip in Bonwick Street off Jukes Road? (Bonwick. Jukes. What?) What do you hold on to? And how do you respond to an urban setting 50 or 60 years old compared to one 1500 or far many more years old?

I suppose you first of all attend to the primary structural elements of life: food, shelter, family, soccer, and then over time turn your attention to embroidering them at will, perhaps pleased with the fact that you can do so much to mold things as you would like them to be, perhaps daunted by the scale of taking what you might think of as a wasteland and making it homely and to your taste. You look at the housing stock and you might just be grateful there is a roof to put over your family’s head. Or you might think how weird and alien is this? Why would they build houses like this and on these blocks that are all the same size? And so badly tuned to the climate? And separated from each other? In fact why is there all this focus on separation? Where do we sit and drink our coffee and smoke our cigarettes? Where is the market? Where is the sheesh palace? Where is my village?

Right here perhaps. Partly anyway.

I understand this as a major physical manifestation of culture, the filling out of detail in personal and civic preferences for the look and feel of buildings and their surrounds, how they operate, how they relate — a constant and unrelenting process of change and adjustment in the context of a constant and unrelenting process of preservational push back. But when it has been going for 60 years you must get a different result from an operation which is a millennium or more old.

The Turks are now giving Fawkner an identity. Opposite Mama Lordy’s pizza joint is a brand new and very stylish house clad in up-to-the minute corrugated iron which flies three Turkish flags. But I wander.

When the original housing stock of Fawkner was built it was pretty much of a piece: double-or single-fronted Howard Arkleys. It is gentrifying quite rapidly and so you get two-storey infill of brick veneer and Blueboard or tight little rows of units. Or, as you will see, someone’s wet dream in semi-rusticated concrete block. Or set off with palm trees. But it is also showing the distinctive character, and choices, of the people who live there, diversifying quite wildly. Perhaps especially in the relationship to the garden. And that draws us back closer to thinking about the Turks and the general question of how you might make a home and what such a thing might look like.

Because it is not a millennium that these houses have been here those choices are more visible. I find them intriguing. Let’s have a look at some of the ones I chose to take pics of as we walked (sometimes for rather obscure personal reasons like a concern with stormwater drainage).

And because whenever you go for a walk there is always something to look at, some surprise …

Not Turkish at all. Look you just never know what you’ll come across do you?

What would Howard make of all this? I think he’d probably love it.

I include the photo of this tree as a matter of self indulgence. (It’s not even in Fawkner. Fawkner begins on the other side of the road.) But every time I go past it — which is regularly, a daughter and family live 150m to the right — I think what a simply magnificent creature this is, and what a remarkable example of survival.


During the last relief from being locked down we visited the mountains. Jessie and Myrna climbed up Mount Buffalo’s Big Walk on a cold day with, apart from a few brief breaks, a heavy dripping mist clamped down on everything.

We were sitting having a late lunch (provided by the estimable Support Team) and across towards the Gorge was the brief revelation pictured below. Drama.

It’s Jessie’s photo with her flash new phone. Superb.

From the other direction Crystal Brook was spilling over the Gorge to another version of itself several hundred metres below.

With the wrinkles and creases of its eddies, Crystal Brook drains Hospice Plain, sometimes under snow, more frequently under water but most often dry. This was an occasion.

Wet wet wet. Weather persons like to conjure up distress at the prospect of rain. ‘I’m sorry Pete. It’s going to be wet for the next few days.’ ‘But we can look forward to some better weather next week can’t we Jane.’ ‘Sure can Pete.’

From almost any point of view — almost, unless you’re a house painter for example — there’s nothing wrong with weather like this. We could start from the proposition that we couldn’t live without it and move from there. But stormy weather on a mountain is profoundly good for the soul as well.

It could be suggested that the aesthetics of these conditions might be best enjoyed from snug interiors with good windows. Like this one in fact.

Breakfast at Chestnut Tree Apartments looking towards, but not seeing, Bogong.

Or this one, with not one but two fires which we just happened to find in a shelter hut near the Chalet — a real surprise. Go Parks Victoria.

The view out its window.

Or even from the warmth of a car.

The slabs near Mackey’s Lookout, all slick with a centimetre or so of run-off.

But there’s nothing like being out in it.

Eurobin Creek near the entrance.
Not the weather, but the sort of thing you go to Mount Buff to see.

While the Support Team undertook rehabilitation at the Bright Gym next day, the Intrepid Adventurers went back up on the plateau for another long walk: Long Plain, Mount Dean, Dingo Dell, wet feet most of the way and a certain amount of snow and ice.

Another masterpiece from the new phone and its owner-manager.

Ice crystals in an old foot print.
The Horn (and peak) of the buffalo from near Cresta carpark.

And then on the way down it all cleared and suddenly there were the Buckland and Ovens Valleys in all their late afternoon shimmering splendour.

* * * * * * * *

Determined to make the most of the break in lockdowns we headed off to the Grampians almost as soon as we got home from the Alps.

Weather? Yes of course. Wet. In this case, standing on top of The Pinnacle after walking from The Sundial, majorly wet in driving sleet. (Hmm ‘majorly’. You can think about that. Is he just trying to keep up with the young people I wonder?) And very very cold — freezing — just there, a big wind chill factor.

But not wet all the time.

I have wondered about the tendency to look at rock formations and anthropomorphise them. (‘Anthropomorphism: the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. It is considered to be an innate human tendency.’) This takes concrete form in the naming process, say as something domestic (The Flat Iron, The Cool Chamber) or otherwise familiar (Fallen Giant, The Alligator, Elephant’s Hide, The Grand Canyon). I’m sure that’s better than naming them after obscure — or famous — humans.

I have commented elsewhere about the tendency on Mount Buff to name everything: The Sarcophagus, The Piano, The Cathedral, the Monolith, Mahomet’s Tomb, Giant’s Causeway, The Leviathan, Whale Rock, The Sentinel, Og Gog and Magog etc etc etc. Perhaps not strictly anthropomorphism, but wandering round the ball park.

Maybe we need to do that, or maybe we used to, and, as nature has been experienced (and understood) at a rapidly increasing distance, that’s dropped off. I notice in the Grampians most of the signs that used to be attached to such formations have been taken away. Too cheesey perhaps? Too 1950s?

This cold day I found myself thinking whether formations like the one above have ever had a name, especially a Jardwadjali or Djab wurrung name? Perhaps they are too common in the Grampians to matter in that way. Perhaps only the really remarkable sites/ features/ spectacles (of which there are more than ample) received that sort of attention.

Just going on a bit randomly, if I call this a bus stop, or a group of friends lining up for a mass selfie, am I betraying something about myself? And should I quit right now?

Perhaps I should marvel from a more elevated non-verbal perspective. That’s probably right. So much thrilling to see everywhere you look.

Pink heath, Victoria’s floral emblem. Just thought I’d note that. Flowering unseasonally on a sheer rock face.
Anything Mount Buff can do the Sundial range can do just as well.

A lot of tracks become water courses after rain: they’re cleared, they’re often lower, they’ve often been chosen because they at are the bottom of two inclines. Or, in New Zealand, because you won’t care or notice the difference.

This is a track on the Tongariro plateau.

Even when they’re raised on rocky ribs like this one they hold water.

Another one of those formations … hmmm The Artichoke, The Bag of Lollies, The Hand Grenade, The Transplanted Hair, The …

* * * * * * * *

The average annual rainfall on the eastern side of the Grampians is double that on the west. The next day we were thinking of a walk with Robert near where we were in the central Grampians. But the weather looked shocking, enough even to turn us back and barely worth a 90-minute drive from Horsham. However, he had an idea about a walk near Troopers Creek, and the further north we drove the more the weather improved. (‘Improved’. An unnecessary judgment right there.) The more the prospect of life-giving rain diminished. (Much better.) Can I say it turned out to be a lovely day? No I didn’t think so.

This track was a discovery: brand new and part of the very slowly evolving Grampians Peaks Walk, from Mt Zero, the northern tip, to Dunkeld in the south. There will be 100 km of new track as well as 60km of established trail and Parks Victoria thinks it will take 13 days.

The part of this track that Robert knew about, ‘Lower Waterfalls of Gar (Mt Difficult)’, had just been opened, brand new, and very carefully and thoroughly constructed: ‘Troopers Creek’ to Beehive Falls below Budjun Budjun (Briggs’ Bluff). ‘Troopers Creek’ has a very new and well appointed camp site now. I have thought, known really, that Troopers Creek is about 4 km south of this site and that the creek that runs through it is really Dead Bullock Creek, but this is more of that name quibbling business.

It did have waterfalls and they were wonderful, running enough to justify the naming process, and, to me, completely unknown. We didn’t do it all — it was a Sunday arvo stroll — but what we saw was compelling.

This rather ordinary photo was taken from the car as we headed down Roses Gap Rd towards Wartook. It all reminded me again of what I wrote about the Grampians in my remembrance of when we lived there.

Over Djibilara (Asses Ears) through Glenisla Crossing towards Billiwin at sunset from Reed Lookout.

Much of the Grampians out of the tourist swarm has a very particular and striking flavor. It resonates with something that is difficult to describe. It’s incredibly particulated but of a piece; it works; but it’s not you, or me anyway. Both fragile and resilient; scrubby but graceful; worn out but enduring; brimming with life but a lot of that life is crepuscular or nocturnal.

What a place. Really.