11 September 2009

A Writer's Melbourne

In her new book A Writer’s Britain, Margaret Drabble says,

‘I am one of many who read the landscape through those who wrote about it. Walking in the footsteps of great writers, and seeing landscapes and buildings through their eyes is one of the most enjoyable and sustaining of pleasures.'
We know what she means. We Onions are some of the many.

In Britain you can't walk more than a couple of paces without tripping over the stomping ground of a famous writer: ‘Oh look, it’s Toad Hall; it’s Beatrix Potter’s house; it’s Wordsworth’s daffodil garden; we’re in Baker Street; that's the 100 Acre Wood. But you don’t have to go halfway round the world for literary landscapes. Melbourne is brimming with them.

Here are some of our favourites:

1. Aqua profonda. The beautifully misspelled warning at the deep end of the Fitzroy pool is now heritage listed. The Victorian Heritage Database explains succinctly, if a little clinically: ‘The sign achieved iconic status through its appearance in the 1977 Helen Garner novel Monkey Grip and the subsequent film where the “Aqua Profonda” sign served as a metaphor for the tempestuous relationship of the main protagonists.’ Who among us can walk past a certain ‘old brown house on the corner’ in North Fitzroy without whispering to our companion, ‘That’s the Monkey Grip house’? (Although, who knows if it really is the right one.)

2. St Kilda and the Windsor Hotel. The intrepid, the indefatigable, the elegant, the ideal Phryne Fisher is ever just around the corner about to stride by wearing a cloche hat or roar past in her red Hispano Suiza. Who can stroll down The Esplanade without keeping half an eye out for number 221B, or walk past The Windsor without wondering if Phryne is taking tea.

3. Walkerville. Alison Lester’s Magic Beach is about to celebrate a milestone birthday. For nearly 20 years kids and families have been playing in the sand at Walkerville beach and thinking to themselves, ‘At our beach, at our magic beach we search in the clear warm pools, peering at starfish, limpets and crabs, and tiny fish darting in schools.’

Where are your favourite literary landscapes?


Celine said...

Fairview strand in Dublin, where Bram Stoker once lived. No matter how short a time he may have or have not lived there, as a child, it gave me such a thrill to think 'there lived the man who wrote Dracula' It was impossible for me to believe that real people wrote, and so to have physical proof that one such creature used actually do something as mundane as come in and out a front door fascinated me. Mind you, I did always imagined the house within as being filled with coffins.

Penni Russon said...

I read Monkey Grip the week I moved into my first Melbourne sharehouse (in 'the biggest house on Rowe street' which also scores a mention) after fleeing Hobart. It seemed to me like Helen Garner wrote my Melbourne into existence, and there are traces of her everywhere in the landscape that became mine.

More recently The Slap and Garner's The Spare Room made my Melbourne sing.

I set the Undine books in Hobart because nothing was set in Hobart when I was growing up.

Misrule said...

I once shared a house with a woman who shared a house with people who shared the house in Helen Garner's Monkey Grip.

That said, I love the various sets of steps in The Rocks. Always make me think Beatie Bow is slipping ahead of me just around the next corner...

thaliak said...

Yes! Playing Beatie Bow, definitely. I had never even been to Sydney when I read that book and it gave me such a real sense of the place - both now and long ago.

Also, when I was eighteen and less then 24 hours into a big trip around Europe, I found myself utterly culture-shocked in Amsterdam. Anne Frank's house eased the homesickness - somewhere that was familiar against everything so foreign.

miss elise said...

ME TOO for Beattie Bow, and certainly Magic Beach... and every time I'm at Bronte's Beach in Sydney I feel convinced I'm living in Ursula Dubosarsky's 'Red Shoe'... even though I know full well that I have the wrong beach!

Mike said...

Brunswick: Murray Whelan country.