Before tourism, and before Ford, the wool industry brought wealth and identity to Geelong. Proximity to farmlands and an excellent port helped establish the industry and in the 1900s woolstores lined the foreshore – although these days those red brick woolstores house university campuses and shopping centres. The Federal Woollen Mills building is a little way north of town and was built around 1915 for the Department of Defence as a textile mill. The tall metal letters are still intact, but all the more appealing for their stains and rust and evidence of birds nests poking out from corroded corners.
My friends and I were daytripping in Barwon Heads on a fine but blustery Sunday. We were full from an excellent lunch of fish and chips, had strolled up and down the main street, indulged in a spot of window shopping and made our token girls-day-out trinket purchase. Then the clouds came over and a sudden burst of heavy rain forced us to take shelter. And right there at our feet, the footpath — previously unobtrusive and unworthy of notice — was transformed by the wash of water into a work of art.
It’s not that I’m particularly interested in signage per se, it’s just that it’s so prevalent and serves as such a public arena for a hugely diverse range of typographic styles and usage. Good design and appropriate use of type can make the ordinary, like this storage facility, look striking. This view is at the back entrance, where each of the numbers and roller doors are their own bold colour, but the view from the main road is eyecatching too: the numbers, even bigger than this one, sit at ground level and hug the corners of the building, their minimalist simplicity making them stand out from the crowd of industrial neighbours.
Sydney Book Art Group, of which I am a part, has an installation this week at Walsh Bay, Piers 2 and 3, as part of the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival. ‘Lifecycle’ consists of roughly 750 pages of ‘reborn text’ hanging from a Hills hoist and is the backyard component of the encompassing theme of rooms — there’s also a reading room, lounge room, kitchen and a viewing lounge. As a group we meet on a regular basis to discuss and share our work but this is our first collaboration.
Jan Mitchell’s hand-painted bollards are located along the Geelong waterfront from Limeburners Point to Rippleside Park. There are more than a hundred of these quirky and likeable figures, all of whom have played some part in Geelong’s history: there are sailors, footballers, brass bands, fishermen, bathing beauties, firemen, explorers, rowers, performers, as well as these lifesavers. Many of the bollards are made from wooden pylons recovered from the Yarra Street Pier which was destroyed by fire in the 1980s. I love the work that has gone into them. They are meaningful (not only historically, but in their contribution to the revitalisation of the town), well-crafted, and most of all their humour and whimsy proves that artistic endeavour does not have to be heavy and serious to be significant.
The Geelong and District Poultry Club Annual Super Show was held on the weekend, and I had the good fortune to be in the vicinity! There were all sorts: chooks that looked so much like raptors it was a relief they were so small; huge fluffballs that didn’t look like chickens at all; chooks with beautiful multicoloured plumage that changed colour and shimmered in the light; bad-hair-day chooks; black chooks; white chooks; mottled chooks; even Foghorn Leghorn was there. The magnificent Rhode Island Red was almost declared champion of the day, his only shortcoming being his not-quite-big-enough size, but (no surprises here) my vote went to the noticeboard of certificates from the 1920s and 30s.
P22 is a type foundry that creates digital typefaces derived from historical forms found in art and history. Founded in 1995 by Richard Kegler and Carima El-Behairy and based in Buffalo, New York, they also work with museums and foundations to develop accurate historical typefaces. Their fonts include Cezanne, Duchamp, Czech Modernist and Bauhaus, and I particularly like Miro Extras for its weird and wonderful shapes.
It’s not just the typography on containers I like, it’s the colours too, like this outstanding trio. The container terminal is a city of towers rich with colour, contrast, and accidents of design. I love the happenstance of placement — like this bold orange stripe that matches and perfectly picks up the underline on the container below it.
Here’s something you don’t come across every day: a rusty metal topiary elephant in a suburban park. The park has quite a history: it was known as the Pleasure Gardens, and was the main attraction of the nearby Sir Joseph Banks Hotel, which in the 1840s and 50s was Sydney’s equivalent of a European spa resort. There were walkways and arbours, an amphitheatre, pavilion, botanical gardens and formal terraces. Australia’s first zoo was here too, with Bengal tigers, bears and, needless to say, elephants.
Every now and then I take a trip down to Botany Bay to take in the view and watch the planes take off and the ships come in to port. Botany Bay is Sydney’s main cargo seaport and two airport runways extend into it, but the northern and southern headlands of the bay are national park. This contrast between protected park and heavy industry is what makes the area so interesting. From the lookout at the end of Prince of Wales Drive, Port Botany, you can look straight out to sea through the headlands of La Perouse and Kurnell, over calm shallow waters that are home to hundreds of territorial marine creatures. In fact when Captain Cook landed at Kurnell in 1770 he named it Sting Ray Harbour after all the stingrays they caught. To the west is the visually rich and fascinating landscape of refineries and containers. I love those towers of containers – the patterns of colour, the marine-inspired names, and of course, the distinctive typography.