I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I am also using it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone.
Suggestions welcome!

Monday, August 24, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Interdisciplinary Anxiety

I was very happy to start writing my book last Thursday. I have drafted the first thousand words of a chapter which will mostly be about prisons. I have lots of ideas and lots of materials. So far so good.

And then I had a momentary anxiety as I was thinking about structuring the next section/paragraph. It was an anxiety that took me back to my work on the Order of the Garter, when I would sometimes ask myself, "where's the text?" Trained as a literary critic, I am always most comfortable when I have a text to organise myself around. But as with the previous book, I am happy to think about the emotive language used about these bluestone buildings and natural formations; and indeed, that is the main concern of this book. I'm also getting better at reading images, and applying my discursive analytic skills to texts (journalism, reports, histories) that aren't obviously "literary." So I'm pretty confident of my general approach in this book.

But I recall one particularly aggressive review of the Garter book that chastised me for calling that book "a vulgar history". The gist of this review was that non-historians like me should stop using that word "history" so loosely (and also stop writing studies that weren't proper historical ones).

Undaunted, I am thinking of a comparable subtitle for this bluestone book. Bluestone: An Affective History is my working title. So I will be treading into same disciplinary hot water. Similarly, although I have some training in historical method, I won't be writing a "straight" history in the sense of a sequential, comprehensive narrative.

I've also just been reading readers' reports on an essay going into a book collection where most of the other authors are historians. Apparently my essay sticks out a bit because it is based on a single text. Nor does my essay deal with broader social movements like the others do. (That's because it's based on a single text.)

So here are my questions.

  • How does interdisciplinarity really work in practice between Literature and History? There are some brilliant examples in medieval literary, cultural and historical studies, but what about in other, later fields?
  • Do we police our respective territories with equal vigilance?
  • Should we be trying harder to respect each other's starting-points and assumptions? 
  • Should I use "history" in my subtitle?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: a question

Something that has been on my mind a little as I think about bluestone. Is it soft or hard? It's often described as forbidding, gothic, dark and awe-inducing, but I've also read a few things about its attractiveness as a walking and tactile surface because it is soft. Think of all those rounded edges in all those laneways, and our (Melbourney) familiarity with its rippled edges on the foundations of so many buildings, or on the edges of our kerbs as we cross the road.

It's a stone that's hard to carve -- though I need to find out more about this from a sculptor. But what do we mean when we say a stone is soft?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Kickstarting this project

So my plan of blogging daily about bluestone kind of slipped away as the year reached an intense peak around May, June and July. Two trips to the UK; many new papers to write on non-bluestone projects; quite a few conferences and events to either convene or attend. And now I am teaching two subjects this semester. Not a *huge* load, but a few lectures in other subjects in the first few weeks.

But I had a very productive hour or so with the fabulous Anne and Helen, the research assistants on this project, as I started to think about what the next stages of research would be. And even more excitingly, to think about how I am going to shape the book. All a bit provisional so far, but I've just come on here to say the bluestone book is alive and well. I'm going to start drafting my first sample chapter on the weekend!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: brief ROOBAIX bookmark

So, I have just two more utterly new conference papers to finish and deliver in the next two weeks. One is on representations of burning cities in medieval poetry; the second on the discourse of hte speaking face in Sidney's poetry. Then when I come home, I will be settling into a routine of teaching and writing the bluestone book, with only one other paper, on the Magna Carta, to write for a conference in October. And a couple of new lectures. But still.

Partly because I am finishing other projects, and partly because I can feel the "girls in the back room" of my brain starting to move things around in the kitchen as they prepare to cook that project, I find I'm not doing much conscious thinking about bluestone at the moment. Though I am also starting to plan a few weekend trips north west and south of here over the next few months.

In the meantime, a quick note about the Melbourne ROOBAIX, which was held last week. A kind of cycling non-competitive scavenger hunt around lanes and streets and parks of Melbourne. It takes its origins from a similar event in Paris, but instead of jumping around on cobbled stones, our Roos set off down bluestone laneways. Check out this website for information:

But mostly, check out this great video of bikes and bluestone lanes, and bikes along the Merri Creek paths and bridges I ride. This was the 2014 roobaix.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Guest Post

I'm delighted to give the floor to Geoff Winkler, who's building a bluestone house in southern Victoria. He has direct experience with the various properties of stone at first hand... This is a very different kind of knowledge/obsession: very practical and intimate knowledge. Click through to the photos of his house.

Thanks to Geoff, and best wishes for his building project.


Most Melbournians’ perception of bluestone has been gleaned from seeing it in its most common use as paving and building stone. Rock for this purpose was usually quarried from one of the many deep deposits over the western and northern parts of the greater metropolitan area.

In the thicker beds, where the lava flows cooled very slowly and uniformly, the contained gasses rose to the surface. This led to the texture of the basalt becoming very even and fine grained. Generally, this is regarded as the best quality stuff for the building industry, however, the range of variations in bluestone is actually quite diverse.

I have always had a great fondness of bluestone myself, so much so that in 1994 I embarked on the biggest undertaking of my life, building my own stone house at Bellbrae, in southern Victoria. I greatly underestimated the logistics involved and subsequently also set about building a saw to assist with the project. I have sourced the raw stone from many nearby localities and from as far afield as Stoneyford, near Camperdown.

When I’m sawing the raw stone into usable blocks, many different textures and features are brought to prominence. Some of these examples I share with you here. The muddy water produced in the process is also quite interesting and varies quite considerably. The spectrum runs from a “clean” deep blue/grey colour from the Warrion Hill stone, through rusty reds from high iron content stone sourced from Lovely Banks, to “dirty” browns from Mount Duneed and Winchelsea. By “clean”, I mean that the sediments tend settle very quickly, whereas with the “dirty” the water stays cloudy and mucky for quite a considerable time.

Pic 1 
A Common feature in the finer grained bluestone is “Veining”. This is where bands of gas bubbles, or “Vesicles”, have become entrapped as successive layers of lava have been overlain.

Pic 2 
Also quite common is what’s commonly known as “cat’s paw”. It can occur in a similar fashion to veining, where rounded groups of vesicles are entrapped, or when fragments of already solidified lava are melded into the mass, as in this case.

Pic 3
When the lava cools more rapidly, generally in the thinner and more erratic flows, or nearer to the surfaces on the thicker deposits, the entrapped gasses are unable to escape and remain in situ. In this state, the basalt is termed “Vesicular”, or as it’s known to more common people like myself, “Honeycombed”. This is the most abundant form of readily accessible bluestone in Victoria and is found right across the Western district and at least as far north as Bridgewater (on Loddon). The composition and textures vary quite considerably though. Despite it being not generally highly regarded, historically in the building industry, its appeal grew on me and I now much prefer it for a rock faced surface finish. I feel it has a much more “natural” look about it. This sample, from near Beeac and typical of the flows from Warrion hill, has a very even texture and little in the way of “impurities” and “fracturing”. This stone was used in a number of local buildings there and its only downfall, in the one case that I’m aware of, resulted from inadequate footings.

Pic 4
From a little further west at Mt Pollock, near Gnarwarre, this piece has small amounts of other minerals crystallizing inside the vesicles and forming small nodules. These commonly include quartz, calcite (calcium carbonate) or other minerals called zeolites. It is a similar phenomenon to that which occurs in the formation of “Geodes” found in sedimentary rock, where the crystallisation tends to occur evenly all around the void. In all the examples from within basalt that I have seen however, it tends to form from the bottom. This makes it easy to determine the original orientation of any basalt containing it.

Pic 5
This “Vein”, contained in a piece from a small outcrop near Winchelsea, was exposed when splitting the rock along the same plane. Most of the vesicles were nearly filled entirely with Quartz. When this occurs and the rock assumes a more solid mass, it is referred to as being ‘Amygdaloidal’.

Pic 6
Mt Porndon near Stoneyford produced this interesting example, the nicest I have yet come across. Where a wide, but shallow, fully enclosed “Vug” (void), was formed within the flow, the crystallizing Quartz formed within it has the appearance of a coral garden.

Pic 7
Other rocks can also found in Basalt as inclusions, these are formally termed “Xenolith(s)”. This is where pre-existing fragments have been incorporated into the molten lava. This sample contains, what appears to be, a lump of quartz.

Pic 8
The correct term used to describe the small white flecks in this sample, from the earlier flows surrounding Mount Porndon, is that it contains “plagioclase phenocrysts”. It sounds a bit brain numbing, but the word “plagioclase” refers to a form of ‘feldspar’, which is part of a group of minerals that make up as much as 60% of the Earth's crust. “Phenocryst” refers to their conspicuous crystal size, being distinctly larger than the grains of the host rock.

pic 9
Basalt found on the flanks of Mount Duneed, south of Geelong is about the crankiest stone I have worked with. It is a paler grey colour and the vesicles, generally flattened, show no consistent orientation. They swirl in all directions and vary considerably in size up to some quite large voids. Foreign inclusions (Xenoliths) are many, the stone is more brittle and stress fracturing is common.

I didn’t set out to be too technical with the terms used when writing this, but as the subject is investigated further, I am finding it increasingly difficult not to do so. An almost unlimited number of variations exist that I have not seen myself as yet. One that I would particularly like to witness is the relatively large Olivine inclusions, apparently quite common in the lava flows from Mt. Shadwell, in the Mortlake area. I intend to continue documenting my observations and will hopefully be able to provide further updates.

Monday, June 15, 2015

My Year with Bluestone -- Almost

Well after a month's hiatus, this blog has lost all claim to a respectably or reliably regular daily event. Such interruptions are the nature of scholarly work. I have not been idle over the last month, but working on a bunch of other projects:

  • finished a short essay on emotion and affect for a collection on early modern studies
  • finished revisions to an essay on "temporalities" for a Cambridge companion to Medievalism
  • run a three-day conference on Reading the Face
  • finished and given a paper at that conference
  • gave a short but high pressure talk on Thomas Hoccleve at the TEDx festival in Sydney (yes, at the Opera House to a mere 2300 people, livestreamed to 150 sites: official video available soon)
  • gave the previous talk a mere two days after being hospitalised with a fever and dehydration after picking up a gastric bug my doctor thought might have been appendicitis
  • had my first colonoscopy (all clear!!) as a result of previous episode
  • gave a public lecture on Virginia Woolf
  • sprained my ankle
  • wrote a million emails
  • plus a number of other small things (writing references, managing changing staffing plans at work, planning for heaps of visitors to our centre -- talks, dinners, events)
  • plus all the domestic stuff
  • plus trying to get a writing and reading plan for the rest of the year.
Upcoming events are a paper on the representation of fire in Middle English Literature and then one on the face and emotion in Philip Sidney's poetry. Both these are due in July; and both are completely new. I have an unaccountable desire to work on the first by re-reading The Aeneid.

And then, just as teaching is about to start, I'll be settling down to start drafting the bluestone book.

I still haven't got much further than my own suburbs. Here's a symbolic photo: bluestone on the edges of the building, much as it's been on the edge of my working radar over the last month. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Smoothing Things Out

In which ten thousand bluestone pitchers in Melbourne's city laneways are being dug up, smoothed out, and re-laid so that people don't trip up on them. 

I can see that the re-laid paths are smoother, but it's easy to think sentimentally about the rough and cobbled original laneways. In contrast, the new lanes look rather bland to me. Also, I never wear tall pointy heels so walking isn't really a problem for me....

Friday, May 15, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Friday House Blogging (10) and a Dirty Story

No pictures today: for some reason my phone isn't working, but a sad tale of mud.

They are replacing the gas pipes in our street and I came out today to find most of the strip of garden between pavement and gutter all dug up and piled on the pavement and front driveway. I'd call it a "nature strip" but it's a bit narrow and isn't planted with grass, but little shrubs we have put in and mulched around, including a mini lillypilly and a lovely white hardenbergia.

There was a woman wearing rather a lot of make-up and an orange fluro vest guarding the path (there is lots of pedestrian traffic, as we are on a main road near two schools) and a man waist deep in black mud,  with a pile of ragged pieces of bluestone that had already been dug up.

I was dashing to the dentist but had to seize the bluestone moment, and asked him what it was like digging into the sticky black mud/clay around the bluestones. He looked a bit nonplussed and then started slowly shaking his heads, without words. Very eloquent!

I said I was interested in them and he offered to leave them for us, rather than carting them away. Win-win!

So when I came home, all the plants had been put back in, though in a different order along the strip, so they look weird; all the mud had been carefully scraped off the pavement; and there is a neat little pile of uneven bluestones with heavy scrapes along the side of each piece, that we can use for landscaping around the garden.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Mortality Following Me Around

As I parked my bike outside the oncologist's today (routine check: eight and a half years out: all good), I noticed the fabulous high bluestone wall opposite. This is swanky and beautiful East Melbourne and I have a vague recollection of going to dinner in a big house there once years ago when a friend of a friend was staying in what I *think* was a bishop's residence???  Too vague, sorry. I was determined to photograph the wall when I came out this morning but hadn't reckoned on the always-slightly-discombobulating experience of re-entering the cancer world....

I remembered about the wall only when I came to another bluestone site: St Peter's Eastern Hill Anglican church. It's quite old, dating from the mid 1840s, so pre-gold rush.

You can see the spire of St Patrick's behind the church here.

It's hard to get a good photo of the church, which is positioned awkwardly on the corner block, and which has another section added on anyway.

I specially like this photo of the red door.

And I am coming to love the various textures chipped into stone: 

But of course, you know, mortality follows us around like anything. I had sped away from the garden wall opposite my oncologist's, only to pause by a church where I attended a funeral of a dear friend, Chasely, who died of cancer nearly twenty years ago. Chasely attended our wedding, and Joel was a wee babe in arms when she died, on New Year's Day or New Year's Eve. I'm thinking of her, and Greg and Emily today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: Water Levels

It's becoming a familiar feature of this project that I'm now seeing familiar things differently: like observing the way bluestones are laid in streets and buildings. Today's post is about my beloved Merri Creek, the tributary of the Yarra River that practically runs past my front door. There are a number of bluestone features along this Creek, and in the first days of this blog in January, I wrote about the river downstream from my house.

Today we're going upstream, towards another bluestone quarry. Along the way there's a dear little arched bridge that crosses the creek and takes you into a rather liminal zone. You're not really very far from houses, a playground, a high school, and yet there is a little wetlands reserve where you can go and hear frogs. You can walk along an unpaved track that is muddy in winter and baked hard in summer. There are little hidden tracks between the creek and the paths. So, frankly, you can hide there. A wonderful and small suburban secret.

But to the bridge. It's slippery when wet so wire has been nailed across it... The water levels in the Creek rise and fall a lot, because the storm water from the streets runs directly into the stream.

Some days the water level is very high, and the creek floods and becomes impassable at certain points. Other days the water levels are low and you can see these courses of bluestones running along at various points -- presumably these were made when the creek was being used as a bluestone quarry.

So these are secret bluestones, I think: observable only when the water is low, and when you are thinking about bluestone and seeing it everywhere.