Spending Time in Australia

"Well, my feeling about this country (Britain) — that we have nothing left but consumerism — does, as far as I know, translate to other consumerist societies like America and Japan. My impression is that Australians, however, have got other things to do with their spare time. They’re not besotted with shopping, because the country’s so large and there are so many opportunities for recreation — that’s probably another delusion of mine, I’ve no idea."

- JG Ballard in interview on Ballardian

Well, even sages have to be wrong some of the time.

Ballard seems here to have fallen for the English disease of transposing onto Australia his ideal of what it ought to be. Generations of Englishmen have fallen for the same trick, building up Australia as a wonder-land of plenty, the anti-England. Of course it's not all false, as those who experienced the grim pessimism of post-war Britain and then moved here would no doubt attest. But certainly there is a compulsion to dream everything one wishes for in existence in that Great Southern Land, and it is one that proves easier if you stay in Britain. Ballard's Australia seems to be a huge expanse of driving terrain, free of the British social hierarchies he so rightly loathes and ripe for the exploration of inner space. The reality proves somewhat duller.

Presumably Ballard does not watch Kath and Kim but it offers a clear picture of Australian suburban reality/banality. The suburban consumerism & anti-cultural, alienated thinking explored in Ballard's novel Kingdom Come is here too, made even more intense than in Britain since in Australia everything is fucking miles away! Australia's space does not facilitate liberation, quite the opposite. Those McMansions parked on large, cheap tracts of land hundreds of kilometres from the city are intensely claustrophobic. The nearest library, cafe, pub or shop requires a seemingly endless voyage through bland medium density habitations.

All of this is done by car of course, which might impress Ballard I suppose. Yet while there are plenty of roads in Melbourne, they aren't the neon highways of Crash, and of Heathrow airport (stretches of the new Eastlink freeway excepted). The roads here are decorated by factory outlets, discount kitchen warehouses and hardware superstores. And all roads lead to a mall, even those from the CBD:

That is not to single Australia out for special punishment, but the idea that it is exempt from the dumbed-down second rate consumerism in Europe, Japan and North America is patently false. What does place Australia apart however, is that the space here means people are less 'hemmed in' and so maniacal bourgeois terror cells are probably less likely to appear, but I'm not sure Ballard would think that a good thing. Then again there's always hope that this was the beginning of something bigger...


Clifton Hill: Accusations in the Concrete

Perhaps the thing confusing me the most about this cemented accusation near my house is whether Lily is being accused, or whether Lily is accusing the forces of gentrification. If it's directed at me I'm not sure how to take it. On the one hand I'm no yuppie wanker, on the other I'm not a blue collar worker hailing from the area either. Just because I work for a trade union doesn't mean I don't drink cafe lattes (I'm afraid I do).

I read an interview with Michel Gondry recently which touched on this conundrum. Gondry, lamenting the gentrification of his New York neighbourhood, was horrified by the interviewer's suggestion that he was part of the process. Of course he didn't like to think of himself that way, but if having a commercially successful art house movie director in the area doesn't count towards gentrification I don't know what does. Even if Gondry himself is no wanker, wankers are sure to follow.

This is also the case in my home town of Manchester where the Hacienda yuppie flat complex is a natural, if perverse & unintended, consequence of the nightclub. How to infuse an area with something fresh and useful without attracting vacuous parasites? That is the question.


Reach For Your Pipe and Dressing Gown....

Alas, I have neglected blogging duties in the past months due the hard work of my new job as a trade union official. Slog on behalf of the working man is immeasurably more rewarding than corporate wage slavery, but it certainly saps one's energy and creative juices. Such is my fatigue I have begun longing for the days of the Dalston dole office. In spite of the loss of dignity encountered there I at least had the freedom to flaneur the streets of London, if not to escape chronic debt and general impoverishment.

I have resolved to make more time for urban exploration and regain my blogging vigour. In the mean time I shall absorb some of the lessons offered here at The Measures Taken.