Vertigo


Two signs made by Penny Thwaite using 1950s home movie titling letters. Each sign bears a quote by W G Sebald from his first (proper) book Vertigo selected by Johannes Klabbers. These signs were used as in-situ titles for a series of short films I have shot at various locations in Newcastle.

The Architectural Uncanny

A Polaroid photograph of an apartment block in Wolfe Street, The Hill. I spotted this building on the first day of my residence in Newcastle and subsequently walked past it on a number of occasions. Each time I came across it I was struck by the sense of the uncanny that the structure embodied. Built sometime in the first half of the 2oth century, this solid, largely unremarkable building features a central staircase that leads to an unseen and unimaginable interior. Escaping the harsh sunlight and disappearing into the at once inviting and foreboding darkness, the staircase is an unsettling and enduring presence. On the last day of my residence I returned here to film with artist Penny Thwaite, whose ascension into the darkness I shot on Ektachrome super-8.

The Future That Never Came

The above image, was published in the Newcastle Herald on the 1st of June 1968.  This proposed plan for Newcastle East involved the complete leveling of the city centre and was credited to an unidentified “professional man in the City.”  The plan called for the existing urban environment to be replaced with a utopian dreamscape of high density housing, parks, carparking  and a shopping mall that would “allow housewives to shop at their leisure in quiet surroundings.”

This scorched earth approach to urban planning was pioneered by the architect Le Corbusier who in 1925 put forward his Plan Voisin for Paris. This called for the destruction of large sections of central Paris, replacing the antiquated and disparate architecture with a unified new order of high density housing, parks etc. In Le Corbusier defence there was an element of avant-garde provocation in his proposal. However, this didn’t stop his vision for a new urbanism becoming the default setting for much twentieth century town planning.

While this vision for Newcastle thankfully never came to pass, there is one element to the plan that is today as topical as it is contentious, the abolition of the railway line into Newcastle central . In recent  years this issue has become a planning impasse with the current GPT backed redevelopment of the CBD stalled as the State Government undertakes a transport study for the area. The results of the study are due in June 2010. A virtual tour of the new future Newcastle is viewable here.

The Shadow of Rationality



What is the place of youth in politics? Some Newcastle Young Liberals have their say.

On Tuesday June 25 1968, under the stern sounding headline; EMPHASIS ON YOUTH, the Newcastle Herald published the perfectly rational (if somewhat meaningless) views of the local Young Liberals regarding youth and politics. Meanwhile on the opposite page youth courted irrationality and came off second best. Seven in Court on drug charges the weighty headline proclaimed. The report started: Seven young people appeared in Newcastle Court yesterday on drug charges following police raids on the week-end. Unfortunately there were no images of the convicted “marihuana” smokers published nor their opinions on how they saw their role in the political process.

Click on the thumbnails above to reactivate the empasis on youth.

The Store



A series of Polaroid photographs taken on level 2 of the partially derelict Hunter St building that once housed the long defunct department store known simply as “The Store”. A ubiquitous presence in the newspaper advertisements of 1968, The Store ceased trading in 1983. The massive building was radically remodeled sometime thereafter to house a number of smaller shops and a food court. Today, the building is largely empty with whole floors abandoned. A sports-shoe warehouse (3rd floor)  and a computer shop (1st floor) were the only operating businesses when I visited.

1968

While I have been in Newcastle I have spent some time researching in the Local Studies Section of the Newcastle Region Library. In undertaking this research I was specifically interested in gaining an impression of the city in the not too distant past, and in this process, uncovering some of the subsumed history of the place. To this end, I have searched through back issues of the Newcastle Herald (and Miner’s Advocate) looking for small snippets of information that will act as windows into the past and narrative prompts for my project. Unsurprisingly, this form of investigation is a potentially overwhelming task without some historical point of entry or focus. I spent some time deliberating on how to define this “point” and finally decided that I wasn’t particularly interested in retracing an acknowledged defining moment in Newcastle’s recent history (The closure of BHP, the earthquake etc). Rather, I decided that I would choose a point in time that was more famous for what was happening outside of Newcastle, May 1968.

While the eyes of the world were firmly planted on Hanoi, Prague and Paris what was happening in this corner of the world? If May 1968 can be read as a type of cultural degree zero, a point of crisis and questioning, how were the reverberations being felt throughout Australia? Indeed, there is a certain level of willfulness in choosing this point in time to examine the social landscape of Newcastle. But at the same time there is also an inverted logic that appeals to me, what other time could I choose?