By William Markiewicz
What first drew my attention was the architecture; cardboard beauty suited to a climate where nothing is especially threatening. Reduced in dimension Melbourne could be a child’s toy, which doesn’t take away from its appeal. Sophisticated buildings neighbouring simple geometric houses, mostly white, inscribed with large rectangular windows that don’t protect from the subtropical sun, contrary to other places with similar climate. It seems that the architects in Melbourne were able to scrape beauty from matchboxes. The heat doesn’t make your eyelids heavy. The air is not as humid, as for instance in Mediterranean Europe where nature sleeps, the air sleeps and you sleep. The streets course with life, simultaneously busy and relaxed.
It’s well known that after the Antarctic, Australia is among the least forested places on earth. So you can cross miles in Australia without encountering trees. But, wherever they live, the Australians exhibit an obsessive attraction to trees. Melbourne is covered in trees, in places, almost like a forest. There is almost no street without trees. The tree planters found species and variations that, for me personally, were totally unknown. They excelled in finding trees that the generous Australian climate can support. But some of them may surprise you. For instance, in the Botanical Garden of Melbourne, I found a beautifully developed Cedar of Lebanon which would be much more suited to the snowy and stony djebels than to the sunny expanse of Melbourne. Contrary to North Africa and the Middle East, pigeons thrive. One species of tree seen everywhere in Melbourne struck me. It looks like a giant broccoli: not the tallest tree, but still a tree, topped by a giant “broccoli-ean” bulb and supported by a tormented looking trunk. You have to go close to see that there is no bark, just a parchment like covering, surprising and very dramatic from far away. I enjoyed those other-planet-like dwellers that I encountered on my strolls in Melbourne.
The art of the primitive tribes in Australia is surprisingly subtle and their metaphysics, philosophy and interpretation of nature are striking in their poetry. Their plastic composition is an unending collection of points and strokes. In Australian nature, insects, reptiles, almost everything is decorated with mosaics of dots and strokes. As the Egyptians took desert sand dunes as the model for pyramids, as the Mexicans created pyramids in the form of the surrounding hills and mountains, so the Aborigines of Australia were inspired by their environment. I would not say that everybody has to appreciate the work. The work of strong personalities will find its particular amateurs. Still there is practically no important collection without examples of archaic art of Australia.Back to the index of the Vagabond