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Tuesday, February 24, 2004
The incinerator

There I was a few days ago, walking along one of the more obscure streets in the hinterland betwen Moonee Ponds and Aberfeldie when I saw a sign directing me to 'Incinerator Theatre'. I did a double take and continued on my way, wondering what it meant.

A few days later, I see another sign pointing to 'Incinerator Arts Centre'. Knowing full well that many artisitic creations belong in the incinerator because of their mediocrity or because destruction of the work is part of the artist's intention (usually the former), I am greatly puzzled that a facility seems to be provided for disposing of this dross. 'This requires further investigation,' I think and fuel up my zimmer frame for a local expedition.

Soon, I come across the building to which the signs had pointed: next to the municipal rubbish dump is the Incinerator Arts Complex. The incinerator part is no longer used; it is indeed an arts centre. However, the incinerator has an interesting pedigree.

After he designed Canberra, Walter Griffin - usually but slightly inaccurately referred to as 'Walter Burley Griffin' (we don't call Tony Blair 'Anthony Charles Linton Blair', do we?) - faded into relative obscurity, but he did manage to design one or two very minor municipal buildings around Australia. One of them - the best preserved of the bunch and the only one in Victoria - was the Essendon incinerator to which the signs had directed me. Unused since 1942, this 'iconic building' as a leaflet picked up there puts it, had very recently been refurbished. Whether the arts centre will be successful is too soon to say: it has only been open a few weeks and nothing much appeared to be going on. I had clearly just missed the opening ceremony and associated exhibition. What a shame. One thing appears inevitable, though: they'll play down the incinerator bit and concentrate on the Walter Burley Griffin element. Indeed, the building has already been named accordingly. Knowing a bit about community art, I can't help feeling though that it may be advantageous in the long run to be able to demonstrate the building's original function...

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