THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Wednesday, 21 March

More excello and long blacks. And lovely, lovely bacon. We have an appointment at a house museum at 10:30. There will be a cab in our future: the less city driving for me, the better. It’s located in a suburb about 20 minutes from the Hotel Windsock. We’re greeted at the door by Leah Justin, wife of Charles. They are the owners of the house and passionate collectors of current abstract art. She ushers us into a black room with two rows of orange chairs. Opposite, a wall-size video is playing, a grid of human figures, four by eight, dressed in black and lying against a white background. They stretch and contract, contorting into fetal position at random. The, one by one they wink out, disappear. It’s mesmerizing, then a little self-conscious.

 

Charles leads us, by now there are ten of us seated in the orange chairs, in a discussion of what we see, a little self-conscious and not mesmerizing. Then we move up a flight of stairs to a red room filled with black-and-white work. Each piece merits a thorough discussion. I’m enjoying this. Close reading or close looking is all the same exercise to me – brain drawing: filling in blanks or turning over an image to see the bottom or listing synonyms or making educated guesses. Fun. Some of the work the Justins have collected is truly lovely. I’m the only man in the audience: Ali’s the only person under 50.

 

After this lively exchange, we adjourn to their apartment on the top floor, where a beautiful spread of canapés covers the dining table. It’s a gorgeous, light-filled space with bright colors and art everywhere. Clearly, they love what they’re doing. They don’t throw great wads of cash around, most of the pieces cost in the range of several thousand dollars. Their eye is highly personal, yet acute and practiced. A house museum, what a concept. Back to the Windsor for lunch and a rest.

 

Late in the afternoon, Ali and I walk to the State Library of Victoria to see the death mask and armor (!) of Ned Kelly, the last (d. 1880) and most famous bushranger and folk hero (and eloquent psychopath). A lot of space here is devoted to this outlaw and murderer. The armor, for God’s sake, the armor. In their final showdown with the law, he and his gang wore ungainly, patently ridiculous, iron get-ups made from ploughs and boiler plate. Very Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I’m sure the two of us haven’t seen the last of Mister Kelly.

Ned Kelly is but one element of the encyclopedic display in this fourth floor gallery that wraps around the vast dome of the Library’s Main Reading Room. Looking down, wooden tables are arrayed in a snowflake pattern around a large podium. Students peer into laptops. Ali finds more reading material in the Library’s bookstore. So do I.

 

Dinner options in Melbourne are dauntingly multitudinous. This is a sophisticated town in so many ways. I shepherd us toward Cookie, which the guidebooks all agree is a decent Thai establishment. First, it doesn’t seem to be at the address given. It’s on the first (second) floor. And Second, seating is mystifying; we inadvertently seat ourselves in the ‘reservations-only’ section and get shooed to the bar. Oh, the hipster hubbub. After fumbling over the menu which promises much savory goodness, it become apparent the ordering process takes place at the bar. How many challenges do we have to overcome in order to get fed? The bartender tends to us pretty quickly. He’s chatty and kindly with colorful arms. The food is delicious and the hipster veneer endearingly Australian.

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