Tag Archives: ROBERTO CHUTER

MIETTA, dressed in black

By Roberto Chuter
‘A woman of so shining loveliness.’ – W. B Yeats

It was announced on the 1st day of January 1996, that a Melbourne institution was to be off the menu. Sophisticated, elegant and unique, Mietta’s, in the words of English novelist Howard Jacobson housed “a chandeliered restaurant on one floor, a coffee house and cabaret and salon on another. Now you were in Bohemia, now you were in Versailles.” Now, the iconic Mietta’s Restaurant was to close.

Mietta Fernanda O’Donnell was born in the affluent eastern suburb of Glen Iris on 6th January 1950. She was educated at Sacre Coeur Convent and while going to Melbourne University in 1968 won a press competition which sent her off to Indonesia and acquired a cadet journalist position on the Melbourne Herald. After quitting journalism she worked in a Labour opposition politician’s office but left in 1974.

Mietta was the granddaughter of Italian migrant Mario Bigano, who arrived in Melbourne from Milan in 1928. He became the first and most influential Italian chefs in Melbourne, establishing Mario’s Restaurant in Exhibition Street and playing a major part in changing the city’s cuisine during the 40’s and 50’s. In June 1974, following the footsteps of her grandfather, Mietta, her mother, sister Patricia and her partner Tony Knox opened their restaurant called Mietta’s in Brunswick Street, North Fitzroy. It was one of Melbourne’s early BYO restaurants and its menu was frequently described as ‘adventurous’.

Then in 1974 they purchased and renovated the former Naval and Military Club building at No. 7 Alfred Place in the heart of Melbourne. It became one of the city’s finest and known restaurants and on Friday nights queues stretched to Collins Street. ‘It attracted prime ministers, poets, society matrons, business people and artists who would sit at marble tables with their cocktails and watch Mietta in her signature black dress, standing still with her hands crossed’.

Wendy Harmer described her as a ‘“Queen Cuisine’., a ‘Grand Dame of Dining’, a “Cultural Figure”, an “Ambassador of Melbourne’, of course she was all of these things’. She had an eagle eye for detail, almost X-ray vision, an alertness of a hawk, straightening a white linen napkin here and a white linen napkin there: ‘beautiful perfection’. She surrounded herself with order and orchestrated a salon of astonishing range of events from comedy to art song, poetry to plays and readings with music ranging from jazz to opera alongside forums for social, literary and political issues.

Opera Australia held regular recitals, even Nick Cave wanted to read excerpts from his novel “And the Ass Saw the Angel’ there.

Theatre such as “The Wild Party’, “Oscar Wilde at the Cafe Royal’, “Loot”, “My Dinner with Andre”, “A Dinner Engagement”, “Splendid’s” are some of the numerous productions at Mietta’s. In February 1992, the Melbourne composer/pianist Jex Saarelaht and Kate Ceberano performed at the restaurant. They recorded and later released an album entitled “Open the Door – Live at Mietta’s”. ‘Visiting celebrities such as Barry Humphries flocked to it and Anthony Sher made it his home while he was performing in ‘Richard III’ in 1986.”

In 1985 she established the Mietta Song Recital Award, the leading Australian and New Zealand Art Song competition to promote the performance and wider appreciation of Art Song. “Mietta loved this form of singing and we have been determined that her name lives on in a manner that is actively encouraging, like Mietta herself,” said Mietta Foundation Awards Committee Chair Professor Emeritus John Poynter. Her support for the performing arts was also recognised with a Green Room Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Performing Arts.

Greedy developers reared their ugly heads in the late 1980’s. Mietta and Tony fiercely battled the Oakford Group’s plans to construct a massive $94 million hotel complex next door to their heritage building. This wasn’t going to happen… and thankfully it didn’t.

When my producer Jason Buesst and I met with Mietta to pitch some projects, I found her to be charming, gentle, sympathetic and keenly interested. Bruce Palling wrote that she was ‘a quietly spoken, reserved individual, she possessed a steely core that belied her petite, porcelain-skinned appearance’. .She, somehow, understood the artistic temperament having surrounded herself with numerous actors and musicians. So with her help and support we produced three beautifully successful works in the downstairs salon… The first in August 1993 was ‘Storm Is Her Name’ which starred Christian Wagstaff as Storm with the backup singers/dancers Kate Whitebread and Tracey Flaningan.

This was followed two years later with two solo shows “The Yellow Book” with Antony Neate as Aubrey Beardsley (performed on top of an ornate coffin) and ‘Perks’ with Shawn Unsworth as Percy Grainger (performed on top of the grand piano). This theatrical trio was filled with delicious twists, fine performances set in the beautiful period salon – a perfect fit. Dressed in impeccably black and smiling Mietta always ensured that our cast and crew members were fed and watered before each performance.

Unfortunately Mietta’s entered receivership in 1992, however, they emerged later that year but by 1996 Mietta’s was forced to close and its contents were to be auctioned. The closure of Mietta’s meant that there was now more time for Mietta to devote to her food newsletter, several influential books and Australia’s first comprehensive restaurant guide.

On 4 January 2001 Mietta was killed in a car accident south of Burnie, Tasmania, while traveling to judge at a wine and food festival Tony was the driver of the rental car and was seriously injured in hospital on the day the Requiem Mass was held for Mietta at the St. Mary Star of the Sea in West Melbourne.

He was later charged and cleared of negligence in the collision which also took the life of local man, 34 year old Glen Harman. Tony presented a brief media statement but broke down when he tried to read it. Over 1,000 people from the arts, politics, and the culinary world attended Mietta’s funeral. Asked how life might go on from now, Tony said rhetorically “Without Mietta?” Since losing her he has been quietly rebuilding his life out of the public eye.

Working with Mietta at Mietta’s was an honour, an unforgettable privilege, one not easily forgotten. Mietta O’Donnell and Tony Knox’s contribution to our city’s artistic and culinary culture remains profound. They both have left us with a valuable and enduring legacy.

RAZORSHARP: GAVIN CAMPBELL by Roberto Chuter

St. Kilda’s legendary DJ, Gavin Campbell, is one of the most important and influential figures in the dance music and club scene in Australia. I was one of many, including a swag of Swinburne film students and actors that flocked to Campbell’s alternative club ‘Swelter’ downstairs at the old Matilda’s Bistro in Queen Street every week. In 1983 it was THE place to hang out and this was also the place where a variety of tribal music tastes were DJ’ed by Campbell for the first time.

Beginnings…

“I grew up in the Western suburbs and St. Paul’s College, Altona North is where I started secondary school, but I didn’t finish there. They wanted me out. What happened there was if you got a demerit it was bad, you had to do something really bad to get one. And if you got 10 in your whole six years there, like when you got the tenth you were expelled automatically. And I got 9, towards the end of Year 9, third form. And the Dean called me into his office and I said “Mum doesn’t like this school anymore. She doesn’t want me to be

here. She thinks I am getting too rough. So she’s going to pull me out at the end of the year”. So he simply said okay. It was a bit of a slack final term that year. Then I went to Geelong College, which is obviously a well appointed school, very expensive. Mum fought with Dad tooth and nail to pay the fees but I wanted to do drama, I wanted to act. I did all the drama classes and all that kind of stuff. English literature was a big thing with me. I didn’t fancy my chances at H.S.C. (which was Year 12 at the time) because it was heavily based on exams and I got nervous about that so I left and did T.O.P. at Preston Technical College which was a TAFFE course. I went there specially because they had drama and cinema studies with Tom Ryan, the famous Australian film critic, he was one of the main lecturers.

My connection with Tom and a couple of other drama teachers ended with me going to Melbourne State College to study teaching which had more cinema and more drama. I began fooling around and was not very disciplined in my teacher’s course so I left. I started hanging around the band scene in St. Kilda. A very dear friend was the musician Mark Seymour from the rock band‘ Hunters and Collectors’. That was the sort of scene I was hanging out in.and I actually knew Mark from Melbourne State College. He was there doing final year and one of his early girlfriends was in my year. So I connected with Mark and we became very good friends and we used to intellectualise about music and other stuff. It was his influence and another person from Melbourne State College, Craig Pearce, who at the time was a celebrated music journalist, (he also happened to be my housemate), so I became confident and said I think I am going to DJ now. I was good at that, so it took over from acting”.

An originator, DJ, producer and label owner, Campbell became the founder and co-founder of landmark underground and mainstream Melbourne clubs of the 1980’s – 2000’s. In the early 80’s there were some glitzy mainstream discos along King Street for the footballer set, but nothing for Melbourne’s alternative crowd when Campbell started ‘Swelter’ with Craig Pearce. He pioneered the introduction of cutting edge strains of house, techno and other new music to the hordes of hungry patrons. With a finely tuned archaeological ear as a DJ, he interspersed sets with deep-cut discoveries across genres including disco, funk and and created seminal cultural waves that still reverberate even today. Though his tireless pursuit of musical perfection during his years of prolific creating, the past couple of years have noted an auspicious return to form with music in the charts, exciting collaborations and the renaissance of his label, Razor Recordings.

Could you tell more about the seminal nightclub ‘Razor’?

“I created it in 1986 with Jules Taylor, a fellow club promoter (and club rival) who was a very close friend of mine. Jules and I, we had drug problems at the time. St. Kilda was a very druggy  music scene, and we weren’t doing too well. So we wanted to open a club together because I had ‘Swelter’ and she had ‘Hardware’. We join forces to  make some money and go to America and get away from drugs and drive from L..A. to New York – you know that kind of romantic ideal so we found a venue with an old-fashioned club licence, the old art deco ‘Light Car Club of Australia’ in Queen’s Road (now demolished). After a few months, Jules left and so I asked my partner from ‘Swelter’, Andrea Treble to join me at ‘Razor’, as the club had become very special and I needed help.  I was stuck in the DJ booth a lot in those early days. I continued to run ’Razor’, with Andrea mainly, for the next five years.”

 

‘Razor’ represented the beginning of the underground in the modern Melbourne club scene. It was the first club in the 80’s to offer an alternative to the music played in existing nightclubs, other than Euro disco and commercial Top 40. There were a few other alternative styled club nights, however, they were usually short lived. The music at ‘Razor’ attracted the arts and fashion industries as well as the music scene on both sides of the Yarra, from St. Kilda and Fitzroy mainly.

“The club was credited with being the world’s coolest of its time as the likes of Bono, Michael Hutchence and Sting attested. It was never about being seen. It was always about the music for those who mingled joyously in the multi-storied art deco building where ‘Razor’ existed every Friday night from 1.00 am. Celebrities were free there to be just another face in the crowd. INXS used to go there after their gigs. They even spoke about the club  n interviews around the world. Michael loved the club. There was a bunch of pop stars, unofficial ambassadors for our club, they thought it was the bees knees and they knew it because they travelled – ‘Crowded House’, Kylie, Michael, Gus Till, Ollie Olsen, ‘MaxQ’ – all kinds of people that were regular travellers overseas  would like to brag about this really cool club ‘Razor’ attracting other stars to come over for the experience,” Campbell said.

“The creatives flocked to ‘Razor’, without any need for promotion because of the eclecticism and style with the music choices, along with the mix of colourful and interesting people like George Huxley, Gavin Brown, Ash Wednesday, Sam Sejavaka, Hugo Race, Kerri Simpson and many others. Ironic really, when you consider that throughout this whole time, the other nightclubs in Melbourne were tripping over themselves trying to attract the same crowd as ‘Razor’. It was a hopeless endeavour because they were never adventurous enough with their music policies. For the ‘Razor’ dancefloor, I could quite literally go shopping for records on a Friday, pick up the most cutting-edge club music from overseas and then program up to 20 new songs that same night at ‘Razor’, with all of it packing the floor. ‘Razor’ was always ahead of the pack. Fresh club sounds from overseas mixed with edgy 70’s and 80’s funk, soul, disco, post-punk and hip hop/rap, James Brown and Prince, played mostly by Paul Main, Guy Uppiah, Sean Kelly and myself, along with 3RRR soul show presenters Jo Brady and Kate Seeley warming up every week. House music started to seep into the mix toward the end of 1987 and really took over by the time ‘Razor’ closed in 1992”.

In 1989 Campbell founded Razor Records when he licensed a pair of old disco hits from the U.S., “Dance Across The Floor” and “You Get Me Hot”, both by Jimmy Bo Horne. The label was then picked up by Mushroom Records in Melbourne and ‘Razor’ started to make its own dance music. Its historic moment came through Filthy Lucre which consisted of Campbell, Robert Goodge (of 80’s band ‘I’m Talking’) and DJ Paul Main, who together made Australia’s first international club hit with their remix of Yothu Yindi’s ‘Treaty’. It was awarded “Song Of The Year” at the 1991 ARIA’s and was the fifth biggest-selling Australian record of the year. Campbell and Main were the first Australian DJs to achieve an ARIA-certified Gold Record, as well as an ARIA nomination, in the Best Producer category.

In 1992, Campbell opened ‘Tasty’ at the Commerce Club (in Flinders Street) – an alternative queer dance club way before its time – so much before its time that on the 7th August 1994, Victoria Police raided the club. They forcibly stripped searched all 463 patrons and staff, some even were cavity-searched and people were detained illegally for seven hours. The exact police motivation for the raid is unclear. The reaction after was a moment that changed gay rights, some described it as Melbourne’s Stonewell. The reaction also changed the rights of those attending music events with politicians acknowledging the extremity and brutality of the raid. The incident led to successful legal action against Victoria Police with damages awarded to many patrons.

In the ensuing decade, Campbell created landmark clubs such as ‘Savage’, ‘Temple’, ‘Bump!’ and ‘Uranus’, as well as a successful stint as co-creator, musical director and resident DJ at ‘Poof Doof’. He currently holds down a long-term residency at world renowned Sydney/Melbourne quarterly Techno event, ‘Trough X’, Melbourne’s South-side disco quarterly, ‘Disco 3183’ and is a regular guest at Thursday cult night dance clubs ‘Honcho Disko’ and ‘New Guernica’.

‘The Treaty’ 25th Anniversary remix project in 2017, spent six months on the ARIA club chart, resulting in Campbell spearheading a new live show with one of Australia’s most internationally recognised aboriginal bands, ‘Yothu Yindi & The Treaty Project’. Campbell performs with YYTTP onstage, using a Toraiz SP-16 sampler, Ableton Live and also live percussion, with the outfit having appeared at several music, arts and First Nations festivals across Australia and New Zealand including Sydney Opera House, Victorian Arts Centre,Commonwealth Games Festival, Adelaide Fringe, Byron Bay Bluesfest, Strawberry Fields, Queenscliff Music Festival and NZ’s Waitangi Festival.

I asked Campbell why he does the work he does…

“I’ve loved sharing music and hosting people since the 1970 at home and community social gatherings and events. I combined the two as a DJ and promoter in the 80’s and 90’s, which seemed a natural progression and evolution for me. I do this work because it’s always been in my blood”.

Who are some of the artists or some of the works that inspired you to get started?

“Growing up, I was very much into music and theatre. In the early 70’s it was the ‘Jackson 5’ and early Australian music shows on television, like ‘Happening 68, 69 and 70’. Standout events growing up included “Jesus Christ Superstar”, AC/DC (many times from ’73-‘77), Suzi Quatro (Festival Hall ’74) “Tommy” (Ken Russell’s film ’75), Queen Live (Festival Hall ’76) and then, in the 1980’s – Grace Jones, Iggy Pop, ‘Talking Heads’ and ‘The Birthday Party’ and Prince (music in the 1980’s, live in the 1990’s). The current artists I really admire are bands like ‘Arcade Fire’, Sampa The Great, Daft Punk, Hot Chip, Todd Terje and Emma Donovan. My DJ crushes include Carl Cox, Maceo Plex, Patrice Baumel, The Black Madonna, my main DJ influences have been Stephen Allkins (Sydney) and Frankie Knuckles (Chicago) and fave Australian DJs are Phil K, Guy Uppia, Stephen Allkins and Late Nite Tuff Guy”.

What have been some of the negatives in your work?

“Drugs, alcohol and late, late nights are all occupational hazards and even when one doesn’t indulge personally, these things still affect you because everyone else around you is high. No judgement, it’s just that it really tests your patience. It’s a double-edged sword really, as the positives also include the experience of everyone having fun because you’re entertaining them. A definite positive is playing songs that I’ve personally had a hand in creating. When the dancefloor is packed and going off, it’s especially satisfying”.

What have been your favourite completed projects up to this point?

“The recent remixes of Yothu Yindi’s ‘Treaty’ has been my fave recent project, in terms of music production and the songs continuing relevance to Australian culture and politics. The stand-out anniversary remixes were from Carl Cox, Baker Boy and The Journey and I also expanded his production outfit Filthy Lucre (including DJ/producer Nick Coleman and multi-instrumentalist and Circus Oz musical director Ania Reynolds) for a couple of new remixes. We also created several new remixes for a series of live Yothu Yindi & The Treaty Project shows, resulting from the success of the ‘Treaty’ anniversary package”.

What projects are you currently working on or have lined up for the near future?

“Robert Goodge (original Filthy Lucre co-producer) and I have recently returned to the studio together, again under our Filthy Lucre moniker, to produce a new remix for his seminal Australian dance band “I’m Talking”. We remixed the band’s classic 1985 hit ‘Holy Word’, along with other current remixers Dr. Packer and Jolyon Petch. And we’re currently working on new material”.

Where do you see yourself in a few years and what would it take for you to consider your career a success?

“In a few years I want to still be producing music for myself and others, along with occasional DJ gigs and perhaps more live shows for Yothu Yindi & The Treaty Project.  I’m also writing my memoir. I regard success for myself as being measured in terms of the influence and the activities in which I’ve been involved. Many of the projects I’ve done happened at a time when other people were not yet active in those areas. I’ve been a bit of a trailblazer in that respect. Therefore, my work is often regarded as being influential, or seminal and has been inspiring for others”.

If you couldn’t do this anymore, what career path do you think you would have followed?

“I think I would’ve been a chef. I love being creative with food, cooking for people and hosting. I can see myself with a bar/café or perhaps even a restaurant. I think I would’ve still found myself in the hospitality or night economy industry, as I take after my mother, in that, I’m very much a night owl?”

Could you tell us a funny story or joke that involves your work?

“Once, in 1985, I was DJing at ‘Chasers’ on a packed Saturday night. I really needed a piss, so I put on a very popular, long song (“Teardrops” by Womack & Womack), so that the floor would still be packed when I got back to the decks. Unusually, this particular 12” single included a shorter radio version as track on side one, as track one (followed by the extended version). I was at the urinal, right down the back of the club, when I heard the song fade to nothing, which meant that I first had to finish and quickly run through the entire club, to get back to the booth and continue the music, which seemed like an eternity. Needless to say, management was not happy. ‘Chasers’ and I concluded that I was much better suited to running my own club nights where I could actually be free, to be me, rather than being a promotional tool for their mainstream crowds and we parted ways. I find it funny because I really need to do my own thing and it’s better to be celebrated for that but I was sacked instead!”

Gavin Campbell’s contribution to the Australian music industry is absolutely irreproachable. He is a person of great enthusiasm, of genuine warmth and is humorous and enterprising to boot. He possesses a rare bouquet of eclectic talents, and he is astoundingly prolific only to become justifiable so – a Melbourne legend, a much loved DJ who refuses to be ordinary. Thankfully.

Postscript: There is an added bonus too, he is a huge Prince fan!

Profile – Robert Chuter

 

 

ROBOBOP: ROBERT SCHALTEN by Roberto Chuter

“Love is a many splendored thing, until it’s not… in which case it just plain sucks. Whether we fall out of love, experience unrequited love, or lose the love of our life, heartbreak is a pretty universal feeling for most people. I personally love a little heartache, but I do believe that there’s something to be said for what a little heart-wrenching despair can do for the creative mind. I’m not alone in this sentiment. Whether reeling from the discovery of an unfaithful husband, like Frida Kahlo, or capturing the death of a beloved wife on canvas, like Claude Monet, many artists have experienced their greatest artworks after love has been lost.”

This quote made me reflect on an interview I did with artist Robert Scholten (aka Robobop) in front of a live audience at Chapel Off Chapel back in 2014. Scholten had his artwork projected on a large screen and spoke eloquently about his relationship between his art and his marriage breakdown. It was certainly a memorable interview. The packed audience were entranced, moved by Scholten’s tender and creative voice. Audiences talked about the interview for weeks later.

I first met Scholten fleetingly at “Collective Momentum” exhibition at the Carlisle Street ArtSpace in St. Kilda. The first thing that I noticed was this huge smile, white teeth like something out of a toothpaste ad and this shock of black spiky hair. He was surrounded by a crowd of women all vying for his attention, which I am sure thrilled him. Some where along the way we became good friends working on a few projects together – some successful and some not successful.

I was most curious about this prolific artist’s life and career, so I asked:

What did you do before you became an artist?

I’m not sure there was ever a “before,” but here goes. Growing up, I was always known as the shy kid in the corner who’s good at drawing. My job was to fill the other boys school organisers with drawings of sexy women to get them through maths class. After high school, I did a year of biotechnology but was deeply unhappy – and totally obsessed with making art and devouring every art book in the library! With the encouragement of my worldly interior design student and girlfriend at the time, I left to study art and become a real artist. After declaring my ambition to the world, arguing with my family and friends, I was rejected from every art school. It really sucked. So I found myself studying Information Systems instead, which led to technology being a big part of my practice. After that, I decided to go and live in Japan. I was lucky enough to paint theatre backdrops and murals there. Japan really opened my eyes to art, in the sense that I felt art can be everywhere, not just in galleries. I returned to Melbourne, studied graphic design and worked in that field for a while. After a tough period where my marriage broke up and I lost my job, I found myself doing art full time ever since. However, I always felt I was an artist, it’s more like, so it’s hard to say “before”, as I always created art, rented studios.

How did you become an artist?

I like to joke that I’ve tried everything I could to not be an artist. In the end, I just gave up and accepted my fate. There’s an element of truth there. One of the earliest times where I really felt connection as an artist, it was on Hirado, a small Japanese island near Nagasaki. All I had was a sketchbook, markers, ink and cheap book of Van Gogh drawings. For weeks I wandered around the island drawing.

Why do you do the work that you do?

I don’t know how to answer this question. There is no real why, just do. It feels right and it feels good so I do it. I suspect if you’d ask a child the same question, they’d have the same answer. Maybe I remained a child in that sense. If anything, my goal is to be as authentic as possible – this also means knowing and accepting yourself, which is a lifelong journey.

Which people or what inspires you to work in the arts? Your work seems to span all kinds of mediums – film, painting, installation, can you tell us about these different mediums and why you chose to do this?

Art is something I just really love doing. Even the boring parts. From this passion comes a desire to create, improve and learn. So I look a lot. Inspiration is hard to pinpoint as it comes from so many different sources, changing on a regular basis. I love art history, from all across the world and across time. I like organic surfaces with a feeling of time ravaging it. I like nature. I guess the short answer is anything could be inspiring at any given time. Growing up, I didn’t come from an artistic family so a lot of my art exposure came from pop culture and self study in libraries. I met some artists growing up, which provided inspiration and guidance. My friend asked me the other day why I do many different mediums and I joked that I’m a hustler! In the sense that to make money and survive as an artist, I do many different types of jobs. But the flip side of that is that I enjoy the challenge of working in different media. It’s just fun. It keeps you fresh, as I think it’s dangerous to be too comfortable – you risk repetition. Also, today’s world makes it easier for artists to cross between different mediums as there are less barriers – better tech, cheaper equipment and accessible knowledge.

You have suffered a number of personal setbacks. Do you think these are explored subconsciously in your work?

I feel like all our experiences shape us, and as an artist these will definitely come through. Uninvited or not and especially subconsciously. Our individuality will always come through including sadness and despair. But overall I’ve been quite lucky. My setbacks are relatively minor to other people I know and I’ve been able to turn them around into positives. If anything, they’ve made me stronger and gave me greater persistence!

What do you think have been some of the negatives and positives in your work do you think?

My philosophy has always been to keep working. I can look back and connect the dots later. The best thing I can do in my work is to be as honest as possible, which is quite hard to do! Positives and negatives are momentary perceptions, subject to change. Especially from my brain. Some of the things in my work that I hated before, I love now for the reason that I hated them!

What’s been your favourite achievements up to this point?

I don’t really have massive achievements but I’ve been fortunate to work with different communities of people and have a positive impact on them. I’m grateful to do art everyday and I always try to improve. I just take it day by day, though it’s nice to look back at various projects.

What are you currently working on?

I have a few different projects on at the moment – Murals (one involves a peacock, one involved Poseidon, and another involves a girl drinking coffee, Spice Girls magazine illustration, Children’s book illustration, painting and decorating a Dr Seuss city with a primary school, paintings for an upcoming exhibition, corporate art workshop, Illustrations for a printer company, planning some etching prints for an upcoming residency in Chiang Mai and short animation and some short film docos.

If you couldn’t do this anymore, what career path do you think you would have followed Robert?

I don’t know the exact career but I feel like I would like to do something that has a positive effect with people and culture, like helping with poorer communities for needs like education. Or in a completely different direction, maybe a detective, because I like solving puzzles and thinking about peoples’ personal stories and motivations. I would also rather work for myself.

Tell us a funny story or joke that involves your work or life.

One time I had a coffee meeting with a guy I once did a job for. He wanted to discuss a new project. I went to the cafe and sat down with him. He seemed a bit grumpy that day, so I tried to make small talk. He didn’t talk much, so I ordered a coffee and played a bit with his dog and waited for him to finish his breakfast. After 40, 45 minutes, it got awkward – it was supposed to be a work meeting, after all. So I decided to push the subject of the work, and he gave me a blank look. Didn’t know what I was talking about. That’s when I realised. I was supposed to be in the cafe two doors down! I quickly apologised, paid for my coffee and exited with a red face.

Check out Scholten (Robobop)’s amazingly diverse work at: www.robertscholtenartist.com

Profile – Robert Chuter

DEMOLITION DERBY by Roberto Chuter

As a follow up to my last article, “Threatening A House With A History“, there have been some fearful updates not to mention a potential demolition derby. The developer Nick McKimm’s representative recently requested an adjournment at VCAT to represent amendments for the development of 1-5 Tiuna Grove, Elwood into a monolith of 19 apartments. So, apparently to stay within the guidelines of No. 3 and No. 5’s interim heritage overlay the new plans are to be presented at VCAT later this year.

The plans are as equally horrible as the previous ones. Perhaps worse. The development proposes retaining the facades and the front two rooms of each house demolishing the rest and replacing with smaller footprint double storey additions. There is then a massive building which wraps around the two properties on the left and rear. “This monstrosity has no relationship to the surrounding environment. May as well stick a skyscraper in!” wrote a Tiuna Grove resident and St. Kilda artist Josie Wadelton stated “These Heritage sites must be preserved at all costs.” “Elwood needs to be able to breathe – there is no air left with over-population of apartments and too little regard of local residents. The scale of development utterly inappropriate to neighbourhood,” stated another local.

Now, you would expect that VCAT, the City of Port Phillip and the developers, knowing that there are now 2,300 (and climbing) signatures on the petition against this development, surely there is a realisation that the residents and the wider community do not want this development in their community. Why aren’t they listening? The residents and the community , I repeat, do not want this disaster to occur in their community. It’s a pretty clear message.

“As a resident of Elwood, just a few streets from this development, I’m gobsmacked that such a monolithic, monstrous building that lacks any empathy for neighbourhood character and impact on its surrounding residents, buildings and streets would even be considered…” stated another longtime local with a firm passion.

Is it just all about developers’ profit and greed? If so, haven’t they stuffed their wallets enough already in Elwood. So many beautiful and unique dwellings vanishing virtually overnight.

And what about the historical and cultural significance of these properties, in particular No. 3? Facades will suffice? Really? I think not. Aesthetically, these two beautiful homes are excellent examples of post First World War in the bungalow’s style and are of great value to the Heritage of Elwood and the greater City of Port Phillip and for future generations. Minor changes have occurred to both of these two homes but these are relatively small and reversible, and have not impacted upon their importance and significance whatsoever.

“‘Heritage’ is what you end up with AFTER you save anything that is historic and that is building, streets-cape and trees.” wrote an objectioner.

In particular, the destruction of the rest of the No. 3 dwelling conflicts with the Heritage requirements surely? The former dining room, has always been known as ‘The Red Room” since the early 20s, it has been painted over white during the intervening years but was faithfully restored to its original colour in the mid-90s under the then lessee, well-known playwright Julia Britton. It has now recently been repainted over again (yes, in white), most likely to make it more conservative and/or more saleable to buyers by recent owners. This precious room has nurtured, created and played host to many historical and cultural events over the last hundred years. Too numerous to mention. From discussions about the current political scene, war, to art and painting, to theatre, to filmmaking and radio, to poetry and was a room that magically inspired and bore many famous stage plays, films, music and art throughout the 90s and 00s. It became a legendary room amongst the Melbourne artistic community. Designed beautifully by the architects Richardson & Wood in c. 1912 (dates vary to 1917) in a mock Tudor style highlighted with wooden beams and stunning panelling, this room needs to be preserved.

At the exterior, ajoing The Red Room’s large bay window, it features an authentic verandah in which the famous artist Mirka Mora and Britton once sat together, one afternoon, in blue deck chairs, nibbling green grapes and sipping from small bottles of soda water. Many years later the legendary La Mama Theatre staged an extraordinary open air theatre production entitled “The Murderer’s Barbeque” in the rear garden of No. 3 for the Elwood residents and the general public to see. And did they see. The seven performances were entirely packed out – even during a thunderstorm and downpour one particular evening. The production garnered a number of award nominations for its actor and its genesis at No. 3. This authentic, untouched Australian back garden/yard, its ancient Canary Palm tree and verandah is proposed to be ravaged, the old tree relocated.

Locals JT of Elwood said “The destruction of both these valuable houses must be should be totally protected. What is the Port Phillip council doing?” Karen Boyle added “The minute the neighbours see demolition vehicles approaching put the word out… there will be many happy to protest with a chain, padlock and a muesli bar to keep us going as long as it takes!” and lastly Sonny Day remarked “(A) beautiful house. If all else fails we chain ourselves to the front.”

The final hearing for this inappropriate development is scheduled at VCAT for 7 days from 2-10 December. Please have your say and help rescue part of our precious and vanishing heritage. It is simple to object but it is urgent, so go to the link below and submit. Hopefully, future generations can stroll down Tiuna Grove, past these two wonderful properties and say: “Thank God, they saved these beautiful homes”. We do need to save Elwood for over development, especially in one of Elwood’s most historical streets, Tiuna Grove.

DRAMATIC TENACITY: RICHARD ASPEL by Roberto Chuter

“If you’re an actor, even a successful one, you’re still waiting for the phone to ring.”

“My friends call me Pim!” is the line I always remember actor Richard Aspel delivering as Isadora Duncan’s sycophant friend in the elaborate stage production of “Isadora”. I can still hear his voice in my memory even today. Aspel’s voice is unique. His acting talent is highly accomplished and with the combination of both of these gifts Aspel’s career has covered virtually every aspect of the arts industry from docos, films, radio plays, stage, corporate, radio and TV advertisements to the French President and talking emus.

He has also recorded hundreds of audio books, winning several Audie awards. ‘Audiofiles’ review of “Can’t Buy Me Love” – a history of the Beatles, quoted: “Aspel’s splendid narration of the many lyrics pulls the listener back to the time of their creation with his almost crooning intonation”. Aspel laughs: “Everyone in Australia thinks I sound English, and everyone in England thinks I sound Australian!”.

The ubiquitous St. Kilda based actor, originally from England where he studied at the respected Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in South London has since built up a great respect from his peers together with a sturdy resume of work that is incomparable. Just some of his stage and screen work includes: “Entertaining Mr. Sloane”, “The Lion In Winter”, “La Dispute”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Playing Rock Hudson”, “Doctor Blakes Mysteries”, “The Mystery of a Hansom Cab”, “Howzat Kerry Packer’s War”, “Something in the Air”, “The Silver Brumby” and “In Too Deep”. And of course ,poorguy, he has done the usual actor’s rounds: “Neighbours”, “BlueHeelers” and all the rest.

I had so much I wanted to ask Aspel about his life and career and so, over a fine wine or two, I did:

How did you come to live here Richard?

I was born here. Well, no I wasn’t but I’d heard there were great pizzas. In truth, my parents had divorced in 1961 back in London leaving my mother, Dian, single with two young boys. She rather hastily married an older man who was a television writer on a show called: “The Adventures of The Seaspray” being filmed in Fiji. So, at the tender age of 6 [my brother Greg was 7] we ended up on the Fijian islands for 6 months which was great fun for two young lads . When filming ended we moved across to Australia where my mother’s husband had a house between Geelong and Torquay. I don’t remember much except not being able to understand a word anyone said and being mocked for not being able to swim. And thinking a thong was something you wore around your groin. Anyway, the marriage didn’t work and after a few months we’re back in olde London. Fast forward a few years – my mother meets another Englishman who is migrating to Australia for work and voila – off we head again for the month long boat trip to the land of OZ.

What did you do before you became an actor?

Climbed Mount Everest and broke the world land speed record. Which of course I didn’t do but the answer is nothing much really as acting was pretty well my first (and only?) profession. I did get suspended from school a few times though which I’m quite proud of but never managed to get expelled sadly.

How did you become an actor (or thespian as some describe)?

By a great stroke of misfortune. I took a gap year before going to university to study Law/Arts and spent the time traveling through England and Europe. During that time I stayed a great deal with my real father Michael Aspel OBE who was – and still is – a well known radio presenter and TV host on programs such as “Crackerjack”, “Aspel and Company” and “Antiques Roadshow”, etc. Through him I came into contact with some very colourful theatre characters and the seeds of a different life were sown. So I return to Australia to study and fall in love with student theatre. I think it was forlorn love for a gorgeous girl that got me into my first play. Anyway, I took to it like a bull in a china shop, dropped out of law and barely completed my arts degree as all my time was taken up with theatre. A couple of years later I went back to England to study drama at a theatre school and voila! I was suddenly unemployable and devoted to a lifetime of poverty.

Why do you do the work that you do?

What work? I’m an actor? Well, by the nature of the beast most actors have had to do a range of other shitty jobs through their careers just to live which only highlights the joy of acting. Why do I do it? Let me think. Because it’s the only thing that truly makes me feel alive. Really alive. Apart from The Ashes, a bottle (or bottles) of fine wine and a beautiful girl- but not necessarily in that order. There is something about acting that takes you to another place – you inhabit a different world – you escape the mundane and boring. What different world’s actors get to inhabit and what characters you get to play! It’s not always easy, far from it – fearlessness is essential, sometimes it can be emotionally wrenching but it sets you free. Not to mention the wonderful and extraordinary people you get to work with – but I won’t mention them. I do it because I simply couldn’t imagine ever doing anything else – apart from a well paid job. Me? A bank teller or public servant? I think not.

Your work seems to span all kinds of mediums – film, theatre, radio, Richard, can you tell us about these different mediums and why you chose to do this?.

And let’s not forget over 100+ audio books. Ah, the grand old days of radio plays – they were so much fun and you rubbed shoulders with old timers who still spoke like they had a rod up their arse. Well, they may well have. Mine not to ask. But they were fun – sadly now a thing of the past. I’ve always felt that my aim was to conquer nothing but to be mediocre in a host of fields. But really, as a pretty young actor in my day, if you weren’t snapped up by the soapies – the only way to survive was to be a jack of all trades. Every real actor’s love is the theatre but who’s going to say no to a juicy film or telly role? And voice work has quite frankly kept me from starving – my personal favourite, recording soft porn for the American audio market! That and recording telephone messages which is very exciting. But, to survive as an actor in Australia – you really must cast a wide net. And not throw back the little catch.

You have suffered a number of personal setbacks. Do you think these are explored subconsciously in your work?

Ooh, that’s a juicy one. Can I take the 5 minutes? Well, everyone has copped a bit (or a lot) in this life. I had a particularly bad run of losing my only brother, my closest pal, to cancer at the age of 30, my mother (she was a naughy and fun girl) following soon afterwards to a broken heart- smoking had nothing to do with it – and suffering my own bad marriage break up. But I was never sited to marriage really. I missed my mates at the pub. And yet strangely losing my beloved 19 year old Jack Russell Cleo was as hard as anything, heartbreaking – the love that asks no questions. But do I channel it? I don’t think you can help but channel it. Everybody is defined by their experiences and emotions regardless of their profession. I certainly don’t believe you have to starve in a garret to be an artist – hell, I’ve done that often enough. But you simply can’t argue with the fact that emotional experiences , whilst sometimes terribly depressing can only add to the tapestry of self that you have to call on. Doesn’t mean you know thyself – doesn’t make you a happier person but it’s in the register and filed away. As to negatives in my work – where do I begin? Poverty, depression, drinking, rejection, missing out on a great role when you’re down to the final two – nothing is worse than that. Not even haemorrhoids. Long periods of unemployment – doubting yourself, questioning your raison d’etre. Feeling as miserable as shit. But, the next good gig returns you to the land of the angels. Are you listening my agent?

What have been some of the great things in your work? Other than a fine wine and/or a beautiful woman?

None. Okay, meeting some beautiful women. All night cast parties… Next question please. I think for me it’s all about personal changes. I was a bit of a jock at school – captain of the rugby team, destined to study law and end up a boring fart. I’m still a boring fart but not a well paid lawyer fart. But enrichment and meeting people and opening one’s mind. I remember back in the late 80s doing a BBC series of “The Lenny Henry Show” as one of the few white cast members. Set in a pirate radio station – great fun. I’d kind of grown up in London but had no idea at all of “Black London”. I became good pals with (stand-up comedian, actor, singer) Lenny but more so with his offsider actor Vas Blackwood. They showed me a black London I’d never seen- let alone knew existed. And I was richer for that. So I guess the people I’ve met and the emotional journey of discovery. Mind you, along that path there are a lot of utter… twats.

Which people or what inspires you to work in the arts?

Well, I guess I was lucky meeting so many “ famous “ people through Michael, my dad and therefore have never had much of a hero worship thing. I remember watching “Heat” (the first film Pacino and De Niro had ever appeared in together} and debating who won the acting accolades. Who did I go for? I went Pacino – he went De Niro. He was wrong. But inspiration? I’m more inspired by writers than actors for example. I mean I don’t even like Meryl Streep (who does?). And Daniel Day Lewis is as mad as a hatter but a genius – I loved Katie Hepburn and Hitchcock deserved an Oscar and Kubrick deserved his. But inspired? There are so many..

What have been your favourite achievements to date?

Quite frankly staying alive. But I do have to include 26 weeks spent on a Greek Island over 2 years shooting a children’s adventure series. Maybe it wasn’t great and I certainly wasn’t but what a job, what fun and what a beautiful French girl. Mind you I’ll never share a house with the camera department again. Nor ride my motorbike off a cliff the day we arrived. But such things make life worthwhile. Going back a couple of years ago to the very wonderful “The Death of Peter Pan” at the Universal Theatre. To this day I do not believe I’ve worked with a more talented cast or been prouder of a production – beautifully cinematic vignettes and heart searing performances – all under the guiding hand of a visionary director. And, strangely enough a performance as Alan Strang in the wonderful “Equus” when just a lad. But I’m old now – sooo old!

What are you currently working on?

Well, quite frankly that’s just rude! You never ask an actor that question. To be honest a piece in progress called: “ Watching My Belly Fluff Grow”. It’s bound to be a hit without a doubt. Sigh – things are quiet – the life of an actor. I’ve guest cameoed in a couple of great new feature films: “Lilith” and “A Beautiful Request”, and I’m also sporadically shooting a web series spoof on Sherlock Holmes. It’s very funny. I play Dr. Watson, of course, and quite frankly I am simply delightful. Some would say even wondrous… some. Apart from that just generally annoy people.

If you hadn’t become an actor what path would you have followed?

Well, definitely a straighter and narrower one and one paved with gold. There was a time I considered law – barristers they say are just frustrated actors or vice-versa. True. But I have yet to meet a lawyer from my youth who has not become a pompous prick. I’ve managed that without being a lawyer. Journalism was second though, but I doubt I have the intellectual rigueur, although with some clever wit perhaps… I did think of becoming a school teacher (teaching drama?) as I love kids – but the older I get steamed and not fried. Or a radio announcer which I did for a year in my youth and was paid to annoy people. That’s pretty perfect. But no regrets, no tears – goodbye, I am who and what I am and so be it. Acting is my thing. Okay – a lawyer. Or maybe a connoisseur chicken pie maker…

Tell us a funny story or a joke that involves your work or life?

Many years ago when I was young and attractive – yes it’s true – at least the young part and still playing soccer ( I prefer to call it football) I was also recording an animation series. Both were on Saturday. But timing was tight so I’d rush straight to the recording studio still in my shorts and top and plastered in buckets of sweat. One of my characters was Baby Wombat – yes, it’s true- whose scenes were mainly with Papa Wombat. So we would squeeze into this tiny, tiny studio to record – me smelling like a piece of ripe gorgonzola. And Papa Wombat was an older and very gay actor. Hard to record when your armpits are being constantly sniffed with little grunts of delight. Such is the world of theatre. How many tales could I tell – such as taking the voluptuous blonde and rather thick Polish table top dancer to an awards night for audio books and, in the middle of an important speech she says at the top of her voice: “Why is the fat man so boring?’’ We didn’t have a second date. Such is my tale. Don’t put your daughter on the stage but It’s been fun though many arduous journeys. Take a bow, God bless and goodnight – you’ve been a fabulous audience. Now back to belly fluff gazing.

I left Aspel sitting on a bar stool staring into his empty glass and wondered what he was thinking about walking home. But there was one thing I really thought about – Richard Aspel is a St. Kilda original, a St. Kilda personality – witty, talented, clever, annoying, drunken, loveable but most of all a man of deep humanity, of warmth, of generosity and when the chips are down, with no end in sight, Aspel just knows it – guess who materialises in front of your eyes? In your front door? Aspel with his consoling company, his homemade chicken pies and some fine wine in both hands.

Profile – Robert Chuter

A HOUSE WITH A HISTORY by Roberto Chuter

There are many houses with histories. But this particular house has more than most. Located in one of Elwood’s most historical streets, Tiuna Grove, No. 3 does not possess a heritage overlay to save it from destruction by profiteering developers. Why? No one knows why, including the City of Port Phillip. Mayor Dick Gross, admitted that it seems that it was a mistake not to include these properties in the heritage overlay in the first place. What are the Port Phillip Heritage Review doing? In 2009, Tiuna Grove and Elwood residents battled for months to save the house from demolition because developers attempted to remove the original 100 year old covenant that was in place. Fortunately, the residents and the community were successful.

Built in 1912 on land owned by Liet. Col. Harry McLeod Duigan formerly of the Australian Imperial Forces (with a distinguished military career and noted athlete), the house is legendary for its historical and cultural significance. The beautiful dwelling is a rare example of a Federation home which retains virtually all of its original interior fittings and red brick structure. In particular is the famous ‘The Red Room’ (original dining room) which still boasts of its stunning floor to high ceiling Tudor-style timber panelling and leadlight bay windows. Many artistic and lively events have taken place in ‘The Red Room’.

Flashing back to 1921, the then owner allowed Leslie Taylor, known as Squizzy Taylor, to hide out in the back room of the house after fleeing, disguised as a school boy in a Scotch College uniform, from 60-66 Glenhuntly Road, Elwood. In 1923, Chas. Miller and Edgar Clarke sold No. 3 for 2950 pounds to a large attendance and bidding was spirited. Liet. John (Jack) Frank and his wife Frances lived at No. 3 in 1944, Sadly, on 22nd June, Jack was killed.

The house became a share house in the 1980s then in 1994, the famous Australian playwright, Julia Britton, then aged 89, leased the property. Britton wrote 14 or more of her successful plays in the house, many of the produced nationally and internationally.

From 1994-2016, No. 3 became a much talked about cultural hub under Britton’s tenancy. Fifteen play and screenplay readings were read and presented in ‘The Red Room’ with many personalities of the time involved along with endless rehearsals for acclaimed and award-winning stage productions such as “The Death of Peter Pan”, “The Object of Desire”, “Half A Person” and “Homme Fatale.”

In 2001, the famous La Mama Theatre in Carlton staged an open-air season of “The Murderer’s Barbeque” for the Port Phillip community in the back garden of the property. The production was nominated for some awards and local residents packed out the performances to capacity. No. 3 was on a roll when a number of feature and short films were filmed in the house and the gardens. These included the internationally acclaimed “The Dream Children” (also penned by Britton), “Come Said The Boy”, the horror film “Swallow” and the Screen Australia documentary entitled: “Fearless” about the life of Britton also featuring the house. The documentary aired on ABC-TV, cable channels and worldwide networks. No. 3 welcomed many overseas visitors from Greece, England, the U.S. and Germany eager to meet Britton and visit the house.

No. 3 has also had a long association with the National Trust of Victoria’s properties such as Rippon Lea from 1990-2001, producing and creating site-specific performances from the front room of the house. These highly acclaimed productions included: “Loving Friends”, “The Great Gatsby”, “Anne of Green Gables” and the highly controversial adaptation of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” Manyfamousandinfamouspersonalitiesthathavelived,stayedorbeenassociatedwith No. 3 including: Mirka Mora (artist), Paul Cox (filmmaker), Clifford Frith (artist), John Clarke (TV Sat, Bryan Dawe, Jane Turner (actors), Nicholas Denton (actor), Barry Lowe (playwright), Heather Ellyard (artist), Andrew Domink (filmmaker), Manu Bennett (actor), Graeme Squires (actor), Gerry Sont (actor), Wayne Groom (filmmaker), John Ruane (filmmaker), Maestro Richard Dival, Anthony Breslin (artist), Kate Llewellyn (novelist), Sarah Roberts (actress), Mark Lee (actor), John Muirhead (ABC-TV producer), Chris Young (musician), Sam Mallet (composer), Ronald Woodcock (violinist), Kerri Simpson (singer), Kevin Stanton (musician/composer, Paul O’Brien (actor), Albert Tucker (artist), Dr. Michael Kozminski, Dr. Lisa Dethridge, Dr. George Mucknicki, Simon Barley (sculptor), Jacqui Henshaw (photographer), Peter Leiss (photographer) and many, many more.

With the death of Britton in 2012 and after a large memorial and marquee in the back garden the house was auctioned off in 2016 in front of a massive amount of onlookers and potential

buyers. Surprisingly, prior to this auction the owner destroyed the 100+ year old gum tree (for no apparent reason) that stood in the right hand corner of the front garden homing much birdlife. How did Council allow this to happen? Residents were infuriated. The back garden also suffered some significant loss. Originally three large 100+ palm trees highlighted the garden, (apparently in honour of fallen soldiers) two vanished over time, and only one stands today, its existence now threatened.

At present the house (and the next door dwelling No. 5) is once again under threat by greedy developers seeking to consolidate the large properties and replace them with a single building of oppressive monolith consisting of 19 apartments. Fortunately, the Minister for Planning in the Victorian State Government has granted interim heritage protection for No. 3 and 5 as requested by the Port Phillip Council. This interim protection will last until the 30th June 2020 which gives Council time to put in place permanent heritage plans. Which is about time! The developers requested an adjournment of the VCAT hearing so necessary preparations could be made. VCAT (and we all know what VCAT is like) granted it. The final hearing is scheduled over 7 days from 2-10 of December.

The developers said the demolition of the properties will not proceed until the permit is in place. But on the morning of July 10, five or six workers arrived at the site and started digging up parts of the grove to disconnect gas lines to the properties preparing for demolition next month.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we showed up tomorrow and the bulldozers were here to knock it over,” stated one of the residents. Developer Mr. Nick McKimm expressed that the workers had disconnected the gas and power at the site as a safety precaution and was adamant the houses would not be demolished yet saying: “There will be absolutely nothing more done at the site until we have the proper permits.”

No. 3 Tiuna Grove, Elwood is an important and essential component to the City of Port Phillip’s historical and cultural identity and should be classified and preserved at all costs as a Heritage property. What heritage property does the City of Port Phillip possess that is crucial to the education and enjoyment for our children and future generations?

Profile – Roberto Chuter