To judge by John McLaren’s thought-provoking survey of 200 years of writing about Melbourne, the city’s most insidious negative feature for many observers – wrong-headed though they may be – is dullness. In George Johnston’s My Brother Jack (1964), the narrator David Meredith rails against the suburbs as ‘worse than slums. They betrayed nothing of anger or revolt or resentment; they lacked the grim adventure of true poverty; they had no suffering, because they had mortgaged this right to secure a sad acceptance of suburban respectability that ranked them a step or two higher than the true, dangerous slums of Fitzroy or Collingwood.’ In affluent suburbs like Malvern, Graham McInnes in The Road to Gundagai, a memoir first published in 1965, saw ‘immense deserts of brick and terracotta, or wood and galvanised iron [that] induce a sense of overpowering dullness, a stupefying sameness, a worthy, plodding, pedestrian middle-class, low church conformity’.
This backyard thy centre is
Melbourne: City of Words
by John McLaren
Arcadia Publishing, $39.95 pb, 264 pp, 9781925003079
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