The next in our series of interviews about home and place with the editors and contributors to Elsewhere is with Nick Gadd. Nick’s article Ways of looking at a ghost explores the ghostsigns of Melbourne and appears in the current edition of the journal.
What does home mean to you?
The western suburbs of Melbourne, in particular Yarraville, have been our home for the last 20 years. It’s a place with a fascinating industrial history, interesting architecture and the other stuff that you want like bookshops, cafes, pubs and cinemas. What makes it home, though, is the fact that this is where we’ve worked, studied, where our kids have gone to school, we’ve made friends, all the simple experiences of life. Gradually we’ve learned about the history of the place, and we’ve woven our own stories into it. Most of my writing is about Melbourne in some way, especially the west. I can’t imagine feeling at home anywhere else, although I came here fairly late, when I was already in my late 20s.
Where is your favourite place?
I’m very happy wandering the inner suburbs of my city, especially if it’s a part of town I don’t know, somewhere with bluestone laneways and red brick factories, ghostsigns, old shops, maybe a bit of street art, and intriguing stories to discover. Roving further afield, I visited San Francisco last year and was immediately smitten. Like Melbourne it’s a former Gold Rush town that grew very fast and has experienced a lot of immigration – you get the sense of diverse stories on top of each other, great creativity and energy, and natural beauty as well.
What is beyond your front door?
A street of small weatherboard houses like ours, a creek, a primary school, and the distant West Gate Bridge which carries traffic across the river Yarra from west to east and back – it’s a great sight, especially at night, when it’s lit up like an illuminated ribbon. Underneath it there’s a nature reserve, where land reclaimed from a former quarry has been replanted with native species, and there are mangroves growing in the water right below the bridge. And not far off there are oil refineries, and beyond them the docks. It’s a weird mixture of heavy industry with little pockets of nature quietly thriving amongst it all.
What place would you most like to visit?
I actually have a wish list of destinations which I made about 15 years ago. They include Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico City, the Ideal Palace of the Postman Cheval in Hauterives, which is a surrealist icon, and Easter Island. Needless to say I haven’t been to any of them. But maybe this will inspire me to revisit the project. These days, thanks to Google Earth, it’s pretty easy to visit almost anywhere virtually, which may make us lazier, or may inspire us – I can’t decide.
What are you reading?
I’ve been working my way through the complete works of Robert MacFarlane, as I’m sure is compulsory for all readers of Elsewhere, and have just finished Mountains of the Mind. It’s a history of the relationship between people and mountains from the 17th century to the present, along with MacFarlane’s account of his own mountaineering experiences. I’m also reading Anson Cameron’s new novel The Last Pulse which is about a man who blows up a dam to liberate the water that the Queenslanders have ‘stolen’ from the southern states. You would think it’s hard to write a comic novel about eco-terrorism but Cameron manages it. He’s just sent the Minister for the Environment floating down the river trapped in a portable toilet, which is not something I’ve encountered before in literature.
You can order Elsewhere No.02 featuring Nick’s article on the ghostsigns of Melbourne via our online shop.