On the Road: Melbourne, Australia

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Me and Stevie at the Australasian Quilt Convention, Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, Australia.

Okay, so it was the first time I’d been introduced to a cheering crowd accompanied by Elton John’s classic anthem “Crocodile Rock.”

I guess that’s when I knew that quilters Down Under do it a little differently. As I walked onto stage opening night at the Australasian Quilt Convention (AQC), I was encouraged to put my boogie shoes to good use. What the heck? Everybody else was doing it.

My fellow U.S. tutors (not teachers) were introduced in a similar fashion: Victoria Findley Wolfe to “New York, New York,” Mary Beth Krapel to “Born in the USA,” and Laura Wasilowski to something that had to with Illinois (I didn’t recognize it. I may have shamed an entire nation with my ignorance.). The Australian tutors were introduced with Men at Work’s “Land Down Under.”

As we improvised dance steps, solo and together, another song, “Quilting’s in the Air,” with lyrics written especially for the event sung to the tune of “Love is in the Air.” You know, that song may not seem very long to you, but when you’ve been asked to perform an impromptu dance in front of a crowd, it seems like an eternity.

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Cheers! A photo booth moment with me and Australian tutor Jenny Bowker at the cocktail party.

The festive atmosphere continued throughout the four days with a cocktail party on Wednesday night and Gala Dinner on Saturday night that lasted well past the time I left at 11:30p.m. The gala included two different bands, including one with an Elvis impersonator. Dancing seemed almost as natural as breathing in that space, so we took the floor, with and without partners. At one point Australian tutor Deborah Louie grabbed my hands and we swung to an Elvis classic. Evidently, something stuck from that ballroom dance class I took years ago for, with Deborah’s able leadership, we cut quite the rug.

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Opera singers: Gloria Loughman, Laura Wasilowski, Lessa Siegele and yours truly.

While the alcohol did flow freely as the ladies cut loose, I would not want to give the impression that its consumption was in any way excessive. Its role as a social lubricant was minimal. The camaraderie and enthusiasm was genuine and the result of the atmosphere of celebration imparted by organizers Judy Newman and her husband Gary Fitz-Roy of Expertise Events.

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Downtown Melbourne along the Yarra River. Or in the language of Wurundjeri people who originally inhabited the area: Birrarung Marr, the River of Mists.
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Angel, by Deborah Halpern

Melbourne

I had a couple days before the convention to sightsee around the city. Two highlights were visits to the grafitti-painted “laneways” in the Hosier Lane neighborhood and SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium.

Hosier Lane and the surrounding area has been painted (with permission) with grafitti-style art. It seemed like every surface was fair game—walls, awnings, doors, poles.

And of course I had a very specific goal in mind when I visited the aquarium. After creating my own fabric version, I was excited to meet a real-life saltwater crocodile. Pinjarra is a croc that was rescued from a crocodile farm and now lives in a huge tank where he is visible from both above and below.

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Royal Exhibition Building set among Carlton Gardens

Royal Exhibition Building

Part of the excitement of visiting Australia of course was exhibiting my quilt “Crocodylus Smylus” (aka Stevie after Steve Irwin) in her native land. I don’t believe I could have asked for a more beautiful and interesting venue to show her off.

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Interior of Royal Exhibition Building. Classes were held in the balcony overlooking the main floor. On the right is part of a special exhibit by Victoria Findley Wolfe.

For it’s impressive history, I’ll let you visit its website. But briefly, the Royal Exhibition Building of Melbourne was built in 1880 for Melbourne’s first international exhibition. At the time it was the largest building in Australia. After being renovated to house Parliament for a while, restoration of the building to its original grandeur was completed in 1994, including reproducing the 1901 murals of lunettes and crosses. It was truly a grand place with its soaring arched ceilings and open balconies.

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The AQC crowd among the vendor stalls behind Stevie.
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Photo op with Stevie. If anyone has a selfie with Stevie, feel free to share it on my Facebook page.
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Also on display, my quilt “Dixie Dingo Dreaming” another quilt partially inspired by Australia. Note the croc-inspired outfit. Thanks Barb G.!

One fact I found particularly interesting is how the space had to be adapted to accommodate a show like the convention. The building is not wired for electricity. It doesn’t have a kitchen. There are no individual spaces for classrooms. I showed up a day early while the show was being set up by an army of technicians laying electrical cables for the 200-plus sewing machines in use, assembling a temporary kitchen to feed students and tutors, and raising dividers to partition spaces for classwork.

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My lovely Aussie students

The Class

Most of my classes are made up of twenty students. Usually they are all doing completely different subjects. It often feels sort of like I’m conducting an orchestra with each of the 20 musicians playing a different instrument and a different part of the melody. But in the end, if I do my job well and the students are enthusiastic and cooperative, it all comes together. A bonding happens.

That was the case in Melbourne. After four days, the group gathered together for a huge, group hug. As they expressed how much they had enjoyed the class, and how they appreciated how I taught, it felt like a tribal ritual.

This atmosphere I think was aided by the setup of the convention. Delicious hot lunches were served on the balcony with a view of the quilt show. Having vendors so close by, downstairs on the ground floor, was handy as students don’t always know exactly what they’ll need. Being able to trot downstairs and pick up a perfect piece of fabric was a real advantage.

I was also impressed with how far many of my students had traveled to be there. Australia is roughly the same size as the United States, and they had come from all over the country.

It’s always nice to renew contacts and friendships with teachers I have met while teaching. The camaraderie we share is energizing and informative. In this case, I got to see a few of the Australians I have met stateside, this time in their own country, where I’m the one with the amusing accent.

I really feel like I made friends here 10,000 miles away from home. There’s another group of ladies whose quilts it will be fun to see finished. Some of them say I will see them again when I go back. A return trip is being discussed. Details to be finalized later.

And of course in the end it was all about the quilts. Lots of interesting subject matter. Lots of interesting challenges. View the slideshow below to see their work as it progressed over the four day class. I have to say, their results left me gobsmacked.

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And now a word from the Australian Tourism Board…

I know, I know. Someone else’s vacation pics. Just doing my part to promote this beautiful section of the world. For those who are interested, I thought I’d share a little of what I did and saw in the three free days I had after the end of class.

My traveling companion during this time was a stuffed budgie (they’re native to Australia) I picked up as a souvenir at the Melbourne Museum. You might have seen our pet budgie, also named Kiiora, in my quilt “Golden Temple of the Good Girls.”

Basically I headed west along the southern coast toward the famous landmark, the Twelve Apostles, along the Great Ocean Road, which to my mind is similar to Big Sur—a steep bluff falling to crashing surf. Very picturesque.

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14 thoughts on “On the Road: Melbourne, Australia

  1. I really enjoy your slideshows of the student work. Your style, your quilts, are just spectacular and your students must have so much fun learning the techniques while creating their pieces.

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  2. What a precious memory for all of our class and your experiences in your short stay. I am looking forward to the many aboriginal prints I saw you spiriting away from the merchants hall, in your future projects.

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  3. So pleased you enjoyed your trip to Melbourne. Your Stevie is magnificent and that high light of my day. I am really pleased that I flew over on Thursday to see the quilts. It was a long day but so pleased I did it.

    Francie L. xx

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  4. Thank you so much Susan, for the best 4 days! I had an amazing time, and am so inspired by your work, I am so happy that I was one of the lucky few to have been in your class. I have continued working on my cockatiel and have already drawn up my next quilt. I love that you have experienced what we Australians have to offer…we are really quite a unique bunch!

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  5. Lovely to read your most comprehensive report of your trip Down Under. Pleased you were able to a little more of Victoria, outside Melbourne, during your visit here. I really enjoyed the class and hope that you are able to come to AQC again.
    Jill x

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