This backyard thy centre is

This backyard thy centre is

Melbourne: City of Words

by John McLaren

Arcadia Publishing, $39.95 pb, 264 pp, 9781925003079

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’.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Simon Caterson

Simon Caterson

Simon Caterson is a Melbourne-based freelance writer and the author of Hoax Nation: Australian Fakes and Frauds from Plato to Norma Khouri (Arcade Publications, 2010).
Published in October 2013 no. 355

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.