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.’

* * * * * * *

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.