The Abbotsford Convent comes alive in pictures

The Abbotsford Convent is a rich artistic treasure nestled in suburbia. Spread over 16 acres, it was once identified as the biggest religious institution in the Southern Hemisphere. It now boasts a diverse artistic aura and is a breath of fresh air in the midst of a gentrified pocket of Melbourne.

The Abbotsford Convent is currently undergoing huge renovations to improve its image as a cultural hub. According to the Abbotsford Convent Foundation Business Plan, only 60 per cent of the Convent’s buildings, grounds and gardens are presently usable. In 2015, the Federal Government announced that the Abbotsford Convent Foundation (ACF) would receive a challenge grant of $2.68 million from the National Stronger Regions Fund (NSRF) to renovate the 3600 square metre building and surrounding land, according to the Abbotsford Convent website.

The photos that follow walk you through the Convent’s invaluable artistic community, home to artists, art galleries, educational workshops, markets and much much more.

The Abbotsford Convent houses at least one hundred artists, writers, creatives and wellbeing practitioners. This studio belongs to Asphyxia, an artist and writer who draws and paints exceptional dolls. Many of the artists welcome visitors, so knock on the door and say hello. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli
Artist Ralf Kempken has expanded his studio over the past few years as he increases the size of his artwork. Predominantly consisting of children’s faces and landscapes of Melbourne’s CBD, you may have seen his artwork installed around the Yarra. Read this YR article for an in-depth look at Ralf’s work. Photo: Catlin Matticoli
Ralf is working on his latest three-layered stencil artwork depicting the iconic Collins Street landscape in Melbourne’s CBD. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
The Australian Government bought the Convent off a developer in the 1990’s. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
The Contemplative Garden is regularly maintained by gardeners and landscapers. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
The Abbotsford Convent has a calming aura about it. There are endless hidden spaces to sit alone or in company. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
The Convent started out as a safe place for nuns and girls in the late 1800’s. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
There are now hundreds of tenants that occupy the offices, workshops and art spaces on the ground. These rustic legs were made by fibre artist Wendy Golden who has a studio in the convent. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
At its peak, the Convent housed 1,000 women and children on its fully self-sufficient property and farm land. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
While walking through the Abbotsford Convent, you will find a few of these money boxes requesting funding. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
Stone pillars. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
Every nook is covered in art. This photo was taken in the ladies toilets beside popular pay-as-you-feel restaurant Lentil as Anything. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
A handful of catering companies are located inside the Abbotsford Convent. One of them set up this fantastic table setting for a wedding held the same afternoon this photo was captured. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
Art installation found inside the Convent, hanging from an old staircase. Artist unknown. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.

Written and photographed by Caitlin Matticoli

Controversial Melbourne artist, Lushsux

Melbourne street artist Lushsux is recognised for his large murals on streets, walls and other structures.

He goes without a name to keep anonymous and with a following of 210,000 on Instagram, his work speaks for itself.

Lushsux is considered the first meme artist on social media.

Trending memes are constantly created on social media based on popular events and issues that happen in the media. Lushsux makes a comical meme out of the trends and paints them.

He started painting murals around Melbourne and now travels the world working on murals based on trending events on social media.

He has painted famous A-list celebrities and politicians such as Kim Kardashian, Kanye, Donald Trump, Seinfeld, Kesha, Kin Jong Un, Kanye and Bill Nye.

Early this year a mural of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Donald Trump was painted on the corner of Victoria Street after Schwarzenegger responded to Trumps climate move creating controversy between them. Photo: Zathia Bazeer
An uncomfortable encounter between Jerry Seinfeld and singer Kesha during a red carpet interview, where Kesha asked Seinfeld for a hug and he awkwardly denied it, sent social media into a frenzy. Memes of the moment were made in a comical sense on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Photo: Zathia Bazeer


A mural of the supreme leader of North Korea wearing street clothing was a comical take of Kim Jon Un who is renowned as a serious leader. The work also used the pun of his supreme leader status with him drawn wearing the brand ‘Supreme’. Photo: Zathia Bazeer


Bill Nye was interview by Marco Morano about his controversial views on climate change where he claimed he didn’t believe in free speech. A mural was painted days after the event. Recently the mural has been spray painted with comments criticising the artist Lushsux by calling him Banksy (another street artist). Photo: Zathia Bazeer


A mural of Andrew Bolt appeared after he got attacked on the streets by two men that may be linked to Antifa (a leftist group). “Lefties get a left hook” was added to make the mural comical and focus on the fact that Bolt punched one of the attackers. Photo: Zathia Bazeer.

By Zathia Bazeer

The children are watching us

Talented artist and father of four, Ralf Kempken, has used a grant awarded to him from the Yarra Council’s public art styles program to install historically inspired art work of children, with a major focus on their eyes, around the City of Yarra.

His latest concept “Past Futures” involves using stencils to create art installations depicting the idea of nature vs nurture in human development.

His four children aged 20, 21, 23 and 26 are the inspiration for this series of work.

“Having children makes you look at your own upbringing. I used to be a very strong believer that nurture played a bigger role than nature, but I noticed character traits in [my children] similar to mine and my wife’s that presented from day one.” 

Ralf prefers using children’s eyes in public spaces because they represent our future, and adult eyes appear “too threatening.”

Ralf’s street art uses eyes as a motif. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

Ralf believes that nature and nurture both play an important role in the development of a child, and has combined this idea with the use of stencils to represent the “psychological filter” that each of us possess, which, he says, is often inherited at birth. 

“Many people don’t realise that there is no actual image placed behind the cut out filter I create – they are just squiggly lines and paint. The human brain pieces together the entire image on its own, and this is the precise process that I wish to explore in my art work.”

This idea, combined with the inclusion of past images, work in unison to make a commentary on the connection between our past, present and future. A child’s curious and innocent state of mind is consistent throughout the ages, irrespective of the century.

Ralf Kempken’s ‘Past Futures’ exhibition is currently displayed at Carlton North Library until September. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

The historical photographs, donated by Yarra Libraries and a primary school in Fitzroy, depict early 20th century children and concentrate on eyes from varied backgrounds such as Asian, Indigenous Australian, and European.

Ralf says the choice to include different cultures in his local art work is: “a comment on suburbs [like Fitzroy, Richmond and Collingwood] that have changed through immigration and multiculturalism.”

Ralf, who was born in Germany himself is living proof of how lucky we are to live in such a culturally diverse country.

The premise of classic Italian film “The Children are Watching Us”, released in 1944, helped to inspire “Past Futures”. The film follows the story of a very young boy left with his heartbroken father after being abandoned by his unfaithful mother. It explores how well children can absorb their surroundings and make their own moral judgements despite what their parents or carers may think.

“Watching”, part of the “Past Futures” installations, is located at the entrance gates of the Abbotsford Convent where Ralf’s studio is located and contains an old photograph of a child taken in the early 1900’s.

“This piece is rather momento mori- esque, or in other words: a reminder that everyone must die. It’s a reminder that everything is transient,” says Ralf.

‘Watching’ stencil art by Ralf Kempken at the entrance of the Abbotsford Covent. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

You can find Ralf Kempken’s “Past Futures” installations in various parts of the Yarra.

Check out his stencil screen made of aluminium located in front of Dimmeys in Richmond. The piece contains an old photo of various children from Fitzroy during the migration period.

Kempken says that he has similar images displayed in his installations in West Footscray and Richmond.

Ralf uses images from the early 20th century to depict a connection between past, present and future generations. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

As a part of the Light Box Program, an art initiative from Yarra City Art, Kempken’s stencil art is being displayed at Carlton North Library until September this year. You can find more information at Yarra City Arts or check out Ralf’s art portfolio on his website to learn more.

Written by Caitlin Matticoli

The Arts and Activism: a profile of Equal Love’s Anthony Wallace

In 2004, Prime Minister John Howard tabled the Marriage Amendment Act 2004, which banned gay couples from marrying or having their overseas marriage recognised by Australian law.

Fitzroy local Anthony Wallace’s interest in marriage equality peaked when he sat outraged and perplexed with his partner at Prime Minister Howard’s decision in 2004.

Over nine years later, Mr Wallace is the campaign manager of Equal Love, the Victorian arm of a nationwide campaign to achieve marriage equality in Australia.

“I was walking down Smith Street and saw a poster for a same sex marriage rally. I asked if there was anything I could do to help,” says Mr Wallace.

After attending his first marriage equality rally with a CD player in hand, Mr Wallace saw enormous scope for improvement in the staging of Equal Love’s rallies.

Addressing the crowd with a megaphone was simply not going to cut it.

Although at a busy time in his life, between performing as an actor in stage shows and finding his feet in the bar ownership caper, Mr Wallace took on a more prominent role with Equal Love.

As campaign manager, one of his greatest achievements is the staging of a rally in conjunction with the Sydney based Community Action Against Homophobia.

Anthony Wallace (centre) at a Marriage Equality rally. Photo: Anthony Wallace

In 2011, thousands marched from Hyde Park to Darling Harbour to the Labour Party Conference in support of marriage equality.

“It remains the biggest march for marriage equality in Australian history,” Mr Wallace recalls proudly.

“When I joined the campaign, public support for marriage equality was as low as 23 per cent. We can champion this until we are at 99 per cent, but the government has to act.”

Remaining motivated to campaign for marriage equality is easy and it is people like Peter and Bon who inspire him to do so.

Peter de Waal and Peter (Bon) Bonsall-Boone are two men who have loved each other for over 50 years.

Recently featured in a video on the Equal Love website, they have become well known to Mr Wallace and Equal Love.

Bon recently lost his battle with terminal cancer, with his final wish to be legally married to his partner Peter going unfulfilled.

Mr Wallace recalls the story of Peter and Bon to me, his tone changing from optimistic to outraged.

It is beyond his belief that these two men aren’t married, despite the tenure of their relationship and the love they have for one another.

It is clear in Mr Wallace’s exasperation that Peter and Bon’s story, and many others like it, are what keeps him fighting for marriage equality.

“Until you get what you are entitled to, you keep fighting for it. We won’t give up. I won’t give up. I’ll tire, but new people will come in and join the fight,” he says.

“We know what the word husband or wife means. That is a significant person in someone’s life. Nothing compares to that,” he says.

Mr Wallace angrily describes the marriage equality issue in Australia as “embarrassing” and “shameful”.

Recent remarks by former tennis great Margaret Court only served to incense him further.

Mr Wallace and his Equal Love comrades protested Margaret Court being the keynote speaker at a Liberal Party fundraiser in Melbourne on the 22nd of June this year.

“The Liberal Party endorsing Court as their keynote speaker was worse than broadcasters airing her views. It was more endorsement for her,” he says.

Ali Hogg, convenor of the Equal Love campaign describes Mr Wallace’s involvement as “lifesaving.”

“He organises a lot of the sound and stage aspects of our rallies. His background in event management has helped us tremendously with our campaigns,” Ms Hogg says.

His expertise in sound and the stage was cultivated in his teenage years, where he chose to forgo admission to the prestigious Melbourne High School in favour of the performing arts focused Northcote Technical School.

“I did my orientation at Northcote Tech and fell in love,” he says.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Performing Arts from Ballarat University, he worked as an actor in stage shows and created a children’s touring theatre company, Jumpin’ Theatre.

As work in the performing arts dried up, he opened the 86, a cabaret bar in Fitzroy.

Anthony Wallace, owner of the 86. Photo: Anthony Wallace

“I shook a lot of cocktails in my time, but had very little cabaret bar experience,” he chuckles.

Nearly six years later, the 86 is the holder of a Guinness World Record for the staging of the longest non-stop Drag Queen and King stage show in the world at 36 hours, 36 minutes and 40 seconds.

“88 drag queens performed, with a drag queen on stage the whole time,” he says gleefully.

When Ms Hogg was asked to use three words to describe Mr Wallace she said, “he’s passionate, he’s driven and he’s opinionated.”

Passion, drive and opinion have been the ingredients to Anthony Wallace’s success and long may it continue.

The next Equal Love rally for marriage equality is on the 26th of August at the Victorian State Library, a Mass Illegal Wedding commemorating 13 years since the amended Marriage Act was legalised. 

Written by Nicholas Nakos

Far from grubby is Grub Street Bookshop

A Fitzroy institution boasting more than 35 years of history, the Grub Street Bookshop is the perfect embodiment of a second-hand bookshop.

In the heart of Brunswick Street, the bookshop’s name has its origins in 19th century England where Grub St in London was home to aspiring writers and low-end publishers.

The Grub Street Bookshop on Brunswick St, Fitzroy. Photo: Nicholas Nakos

Today, the Grub Street Bookshop hopes to cultivate community engagement with aspiring writers by making it not only the home of a vast array of literature, but also a community hub for readers and writers alike.

Noir at the Bar is one initiative that co-owner Regan Brantley has brought to life as part of a recent revamp of the bookshop.

“Noir is a group of Melbourne’s best noir fiction stylists reading their works to an audience in an intimate setting,” Ms Brantley said.

“Nights like Noir at the Bar make our space multi-functional. We want to be more than just a bookshop,” Brantley said.

The collection at the Grub Street Bookshop is indeed more than a smorgasboard of recycled books.

“We don’t like to see books as old or used and we are selective about the titles we purchase,” Brantley said.

This selectivity is what makes the Grub Street Bookshop a refreshing change to the stereotypical second-hand bookshop.

The curation of titles and careful selection of works ensures that Ms Brantley and her co-conspirators have expert knowledge in particular genres. For Ms Brantley, one such specialty area is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersex (LGBTI) literature.

Ms Brantley is the brains behind a new idea that adds appeal to new readers and long-time literature lovers.

The ‘Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover’ concept involves Regan wrapping a selection of books in recycled paper.

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover (Photo: N Nakos)

A three-line synopsis of each title is given and for 10 dollars customers are able to purchase their mysterious novel in a lucky-dip style concept.

“The idea has been really popular. It’s like people are giving themselves a present. They get to unwrap it and get some enjoyment when they reveal what they’ve come home with,” Brantley said.

Despite print literature being in decline, the Grub Street Bookshop had three ‘twenty-something’ book lovers in its store recently who were first-time visitors.

“We love the vibe, it’s very Brunswick Street. This collection seems to have depth and I like how well-organised it is,” one of the shoppers Tyson Gould remarked.

The cultivation and expertise inside the Grub Street Bookshop make it a worthwhile visit, whether it’s for a five dollar classic Penguin novel or a recommendation from Regan and her team.

Grub Street Bookshop is located at 1/379 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, VIC 3065, open daily from 10am-6pm. (03) 9417-3117. 

Written by Nicholas Nakos

Faces of Yarra

Wayne, Fitzroy

“I grew up in Tasmania and moved to Melbourne when I was in my early twenties. I came here never having had my hair cut in a shop, never having bought food at the supermarket; we cured our own meats… I came here to study fine arts and ended up getting into massage, which was a good field for me. I liked getting to work with my hands and having that opportunity to physically connect with people… A lot of people in this city put a wall up between themselves and other people, but that’s what happens in cities. I’ve seen a lot in my fifty years though, lived with a lot of people: the Bedouin in the Middle East, Native Americans in Canada and Central America, the Maoris in New Zealand. The values in tribal living, community living, are so much more inclusive than cities. Everywhere I went, I was accepted as one of their own. It was pure trust and openness, acceptance. You don’t see that here.”

Photography by Ruwanthi Wijetunga

Recognising 100 years of Maternal and Child Health services through art

This month a series of art murals are being installed around the City of Yarra in celebration of 100 years of Maternal and Child Health services.

Yarra City Arts and the Maternal and Child Health Service of the City of Yarra have partnered up to develop an Art Trail, featuring a series of pop-up artworks installed around the Yarra at different Maternal and Child Health (MCH) centres, from June 30.

Commissioned by the Yarra City Council, the purpose of the Art Trail is to acknowledge and celebrate the history of MCH services and the importance of the centres to local communities. The Art Trail is a part of the project #100MCH, which is currently being curated by experienced historian Cassie May.

The centenary is being celebrated through art because, “Art communicates to everyone, [and shows] how important the service is, and how it started 100 years ago [but] is still relevant today,” said curator, Cassie May.

Kitty Owens, All Hail Sister Muriel Peck, 2017, vinyl print at Princess Hill Maternal and Child Health Centre.Photo: Yarra Arts

Working alongside Cassie May, to create the Art Trail, are artists Kitty Owens and Lizzie Dennis.

Both Kitty Owens and Lizzie Dennis were brought onto the project because of their personal experience with the MCH services and their ability to empathise with families and new mothers using the MCH services.

“I knew that they could feel [and] express and funnel [their emotions and empathy] into a single piece of content, [and] it’s delightful to see that they enjoy their work,” said Cassie.

The Art Trail takes the public on a tour of the sites located in the Yarra where MCH services were initially set up and still exist today. Each site tells a different story through the painted or paste-up art pieces.

“We draw the public’s attention to those spaces in a new way.  Not only is some of the history of the sites exposed, through Kitty Owen’s historical paste-ups (Love Them Back) for instance, but the sites are also reinvigorated,” said artist Lizzie Dennis.

“[The] contemporary painting of simple line work (located at the MCH centre, South Richmond) may not be seen at first glance, but hopefully the discovery of the imagery provides a happy moment of reflection and perhaps even memory back to those crawling, feeding, playing and reading moments, and in turn the appreciation for the amazing maternal and child health services we are lucky to have,” she said.

Kitty Owens, All Hail the Campaigners. Photo: Yarra Arts

The Maternal and Child Health Service of today is an invaluable resource for families with children from birth to school age. It not only promotes healthy outcomes but provides free practical support and advice.

The purpose of the service is to reduce the high death rate of babies in the inner city suburbs of Melbourne, providing free practical advice to mothers and families regarding nutrition, breastfeeding, hygienic preparation of milk, and mothercraft, according to the Yarra City Art website.

“The value of the MCH service and the need to acknowledge those that established the service and continue to provide the service today [is important].  As a mother of one and [with] one on the way, I have directly experienced the help and assistance that the Maternal and Child Health Care services provide, and understand the necessity for such services,” said Lizzie Dennis.

The 10 buildings that will be included as part of the Art Trail are:

-Abbotsford/Collingwood Maternal and Child Health Centre

-Alphington Maternal and Child Health Centre

-Connie Benn Centre

-Princes Hill Maternal and Child Health Centre

-North Fitzroy Maternal and Child Health Centre

-North Richmond Maternal and Child Health Centre

-South Richmond Maternal and Child Health Centre

-Gold Street Children’s Centre

-Baby Health Centre

You can follow the project on Instagram @YarraCityArts #100MCH to track the artworks at each location.

Written by Zathia Bazeer