Leave your Leonard Cohen hat on

Under a moonlit sky, with Hanging Rock illuminated in the background, Leonard Cohen held the thousands spellbound as he recited A thousand kisses deep.

It was a magical performance. He and his support band are a class act, with undoubtedly world-class talent. The obvious gap between their musical ability and those of the support acts of Paul Kelly and crew, Clare Bowditch, and Dan Sultan perhaps accounted for their apparent stilted performances. I expected much more from these great Australian talents, but their contributions were brief and lacking in enthusiasm. Leonard Cohen more than made up the shortfall, but I wonder at Paul Kelly. He is a seasoned performer and haled in this country as one of our greats. Was the mastery of Leonard Cohen and ensemble just so superior that it even made the likes of Paul Kelly feel inferior?

The day was perfect with no rain and the first warm day of the summer season. So it was hot standing in the queues waiting to get in and then as the day grew long the sun took its toll. You definitely needed a hat and the Leonard Cohen style was dominant. The break between Paul Kelly and Leonard Cohen hailed the opening of the gourmet picnic hampers and we were surrounded with tempting Master Chef creations. We had not been organised and so joined the queues again to buy hot samosa’s and ice creams.

Crowd behaviour is amusing to watch, don’t you think? There is a self-organising aspect but it only goes so far before chaos takes over. Maybe it can be defined using the Chaos Theory? So the guidelines stated that you were allowed to bring in a camp/deck chair, food, only sealed bottles of water, no glass, no umbrellas, no alcohol but it would be for sale in the venue, and no SLR cameras. And these rules were made to be broken it seemed, or perhaps many just didn’t read the guidelines on the website.

So of course there were SLR cameras about, and glass brought in, and I saw an umbrella. So people choose and stake their spot on the grassy hill and then place their chairs, rugs, eskies, etc. Then as the crowd grows and more people come in, what was a somewhat organised pattern of rows now gets crowded in as other people squeeze in between the generous territories already staked. Then there is the problem with the chairs. Seasoned Port Fairy Folk Festival people will try to exert their traditional PFFF rules relating to low chairs (folkie chairs) and the higher camp chairs. They will shoo anyone away who dares try to set up their higher chair in front of them. And will also try to wave people to sit from 3 or 4 rows back so that they get an uninterrupted view of the tiny ant-size humans on the stage far down at the bottom of the paddock. Thank goodness for big screen technology.

At full capacity the crowd had no sensible traffic flow in and out of any “spot”, or any way to identify this spot when returning from buying food or alcohol or a lengthy trip to the toilet queues. The coffee queues were just plain silly. It became amusing entertainment seeing people navigating the crowded mishmash of the audience, and not being able to find their way back. They would stand with the sun in their eyes lost and forlorn, often holding bottles of wine and beer, talking on their phone to their mates in some attempt to find their spot. You couldn’t even identify groups by their hats because most were like Leonard Cohen’s hat.

Leonard Cohen made it all worthwhile. He was generous with his time and attitude and gave us everything. His backing singers, the Webb sisters, have voices like angels and contrast perfectly with his ruff croon. His guitarist, Javier Mas, is a master in his own right and one guitar solo in particular provided another spellbinding performance. It is a fine lesson in how to tame a fidgety uncomfortable bunch of people and quieten and hold them still and focussed for a few precious minutes.

By the end of the night I was shivering and waiting for Leonard to finish so I could go home. We made a dash for it and crowded into Phil’s blue Landrover that stood out in the car-park amid the more popular styles of car. It was a special and unique experience that I am glad I had despite my dislike of crowds of people.

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Points of perspective

Here I list some of my random thoughts and impressions after one year in this new location and lifestyle (in no particular order of relevance or preference):

  • Have settled into this new life
  • LOVE the new vistas
  • Needed this change of scene more than anything
  • Miss my kids and parents achingly
  • Feel I have escaped the “ratrace”.
  • Realise I am not a “country person”.
  • Have not seen evidence of the fabled “country charm”.
  • Am amazed at the lack of world view by many country-folk.
  • Feel a sense of impending doom.
  • Have seen/experienced the effects of the population/cultural explosion/collision in Melbourne and want to warn the locals of the approaching tsunami.
  • Feel like a foreigner in my own country.
  • Have read the local history of Portland and realise how this has shaped the culture of the town.
  • Love the look of the old buildings especially those made of stone.
  • Always feel sad at the sight of another dead koala on the road and wish I could protect them.
  • Love the local bird life.
  • Still want to live in France (not sure why) but realise the culture/population problem is far worse there.
  • Am looking forward to settling into our new house.
  • Feel proud of what we have achieved with our building project.
  • Miss friends, workmates and lifestyle on the Mornington Peninsula.
  • Portland is a “blokes” paradise.
  • Love the regular trips to Melbourne on a small (20-seater) plane.
  • Appreciate Melbourne more as a visitor.
  • Miss regular and varied choices of movies to see at the cinema.
  • Have not established a regular exercise routine yet.
  • Feeling healthier as a probationary vegan.
  • Enjoy listening to audio books in my car as I travel the country highways.
  • Love the weather – the wind, the cold, the rain. Sunny days are gifts.
  • Love living beside the wild open sea.
  • Enjoy the variety and challenges of my job.
  • Have made some new friends.
  • Grateful to have a constant companion/friend/husband to share this with.

Library recipes

Combine books, libraries, design, art, and architecture and you have a recipe to feed me well.

This week I attended a conference at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne – Libraries as Catalysts for Placemaking.

As a Librarian and Industrial Designer, this experience was a real treat for me. Listening to people talk about, and show pictures of, current library design projects is my idea of a great day. It ignites my desires to design. Sigh!

In a past blog post I recalled how as a five year old entering the domed reading room on the State Library of Victoria inspired my desire to be an architect (and ironically, not a Librarian).

So let me tell you a little about the conference. First to present was Ethan Kent from Project for Public Spaces in New York He spoke very fast and still had to fly through half of his slides because of time constraints. He could have filled the whole day’s agenda with his relevant and interesting content. He said that libraries are important “community anchors”. He spoke of the Power of Ten, meaning ten things to do in a place. He pointed us to his website for more information on these ideas and concepts that he didn’t have time to explain more fully.

Next to present was Dan Hill, Senior Consultant from Arup. He spoke about new cultural spaces and how technology can enhance our use of public spaces from a visual and a practical perspective. His ideas included screening text onto the outside of buildings as light displays that represent the immediate and changing measurement of what is happening in a digital sense. For example, light displays as a word cloud of the names of the countries that the URL’s being accessed from the internet devices in the area that are accessing the wifi service in operation. Hmmmm. He also showed us The Cloud, project in London that is not going to be built apparently.

Several public Librarians from Victoria spoke about their experiences in recent library designs. Suzanne Gately spoke about the new Altona North Community Library. Roslyn Cousins talked about the new Colac Community Library and Learning Centre that incorporates the Colac Secondary School. Genimaree Panozzo from Moreland City Library spoke about the recent librarian’s tour of the District of Columbia Library Building Project. Sally Jones of Moonee Valley Library spoke about her trip to the USA looking at how libraries devote spaces to teenagers.

Cecilia Kugler of CK Design International spoke specifically about interior design and fit outs of public libraries and in particular the makeover of Randwick Library in NSW. Peter Moeck of the Brown Falconer Group presented his report about the new Mount Gambier Library in South Australia.

One factor that is continually repeated is the importance of using community art projects in libraries as means to effective “placemaking”. Our library service has a fantastic community art exhibition program that continues due to the continual hard work of people behind the scenes. It is already in place, valued, and effective.

After these presentations I sorted through my thoughts and impressions and began to think about the library designs that I have seen and experienced. What is it about the Mount Gambier Library that I like so much? What works and why? Because in my view it stands apart from the other library redesigns I saw presented and that I have experienced firsthand. And what makes the Mornington Library design so poor?

I recall the poor design of the brand new Mornington Library where I worked as a Librarian for many years. It was state-of-the-art, looked great, applauded, etc, etc. The colour scheme, inspired by local seaside colours of lime green, warm tones of grey/brown, looks great, the shelving and fixtures are nice and well positioned. It is an attractive and comfortable place to visit as a customer. But it was not a practical space to work in at all.

I heard the architect describe how she arrived at the inspiration for placing the first line for the plan of the building and it was by transcribing the line of the perceived route of the ship of Matthew Flinders as he explored the waters off Mornington all those years ago. This gave her a starting point that was not a straight line and forms the profile of the front elevation for the building. To my practical mind this sounded irrelevant and whimsical and even negligent. I much prefer the process being used now that begins with the people and how they want to use the place/space. This was totally ignored I think in this instance and the impractical result reflects this.

The interior of the space has placed the robust and busy children’s area next to the busy information service desk and telephones and the internet access computers. The cute colourful round padded cushions on the curved seating/shelving are perfect stepping stones for toddlers who precariously negotiate with toddler hops at chair height from the floor. The space is poorly thought out. In the afternoons the sun streams in through the immovable louvered windows straight into the eyes of the library staff who squint to see their computer screens and the faces of the customers before them. The spacious open entry forms a wind tunnel that allows cold air in winter and warm air in summer to stream through onto staff at the main service desk. The groovy cafe tendered to a local restaurant is only open for short hours that suit them and not the library customers. The staff work areas are small and don’t allow for storage, expansion or sensible work flows.

I was fortunate to visit the Mount Gambier Library last year before it opened in December and I was immediately impressed. I had seen the old Mount Gambier Library in the small dungeon of the Council offices and this new building was a huge improvement in every way. It is a lovely space to enter and be in. The central area is rectangular with high ceilings that give the feeling of being in a cathedral and light fills the space from above.

It is an intelligent design that treats its customers as intelligent. There is no “dumbing-down” in terms of signage or attitude. The minimal use of primary colours serves a practical purpose in terms of signage for easy identification of collections and zones. Overall the colours used are rich with extensive use of natural timbers and a warm patterned carpet. All the desks, shelving, display units, are custom designed and built with warm timber. This colour scheme gives the interior a feeling of tradition and permanence that many new libraries seem to be moving away from.

The children’s area is a separate area and uniquely fitted out as an underwater cave. It is surely a real drawcard for children and practical for library staff, children’s programs, and the consideration of other library users. The cafe is generous and well used. The work room also is generous with all of the latest technology implemented to make the library work the best possible, so fully-implemented RFID with a “smart” returns chute, that only opens to allow item returns by customers. Extensive use of local artists added much to the building for signage, identification, and decoration. Peter Moeck is justifiably proud of this project.

With lots to think about, I return to my little country library intent on bringing whatever small changes we can accommodate in order to make some improvements and expand our library services and facilities to be a place that continues to surprise and delight our community.