Tag Archives: Melbourne

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social Media (Part 1) – guest post by Alexander Sheko

I asked my son, Alexander Sheko, (also known as Sasha) to write a post about how he uses social media for his academic and personal pursuits. He is currently in his second year of Master of Urban Planning at The University of Melbourne, and at the stage where his interest in mindful and pro-active involvement in urban and environmental issues have blended his studies, personal life and work. I have recommended the use of social media to him since his later years in secondary school, so it’s interesting for me to note that his use of Twitter and Facebook have taken off at a time when they could serve a real purpose in connecting him with experts/like-minded people and enabling him to organise and promote forums and events. As a teacher librarian with an interest in social media in education, this observation has confirmed for me that students will appreciate and use social media platforms when there is a real world significance – and this is often problematic in schools where the agenda is more about practising for life rather than experiencing life. If nothing else, I hope this post will help educators reflect on possibilities for real life connections made possible for our students using social media. 

Photo by Alexander Sheko

Social media – especially popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter – are often characterised as frivolous time-wasters, manifestations of first-world banality and ennui. They are platforms on which to post cat pictures and selfies, the means of production by which we broadcast the minutiae of our lives to nobody in particular, craving likes, follows and other reassurances.

Certainly, they are often seen as counter to productivity, tools of procrastination. We might switch to another tab when a manager or (not so long ago, for me) a parent enters the room. Of course, there is more than a grain of truth in this perception. When attempting to focus on a set task or meet a deadline, it can be unhelpful to have the ping of a Facebook notification providing an excuse for distraction. And unless one is an academic in the field of communication analysing memes as “nuggets of cultural currency”, it is probably less than productive to spend hours looking at Doge, Dolan, Insanity Wolf and the such.

However, as with all tools, the utility of social media is determined by the user and the manner in which they are used. Contrary to the prejudices discussed above, tools such as Facebook and Twitter can be invaluable in finding information (and new sources thereof), sharing and discussing opinions, and making useful connections with others. Over the past year, having begun studying a postgraduate degree and exploring career opportunities, I have been able to use these tools to considerable benefit.

Finding information is perhaps the most basic way that these tools can be used. I often recommend Twitter to those reluctant to use it as a quick way to receive updates and notifications on topics of interest. For example, following a variety of news sources is a good way to get a large number of headlines and snippets of information that can be followed up (perhaps using a service such as Pocket to save articles for future reading), while following cafes and restaurants in the local area can provide updates on changes to menus or opening hours, special events, etc.

Of course, this one-way communication does not fully utilise the interactive nature of social media; however, it often does make use of social media’s networking effects. By following a particular journalist, politician, musician or writer, you are likely to see who they interact with and what information sources they use. You may also get useful recommendations from the social media platform along the lines of “people who liked X may also like Y”. This is a great way to expand your pool of information sources, providing a greater variety of perspectives.

For example, rather than only reading about sustainable transport (an interest and potential career path of mine) through local mainstream media sources such as The Age, Twitter has helped me find sources providing information and opinion from around the world, covering a more diverse range of topics and a broader set of perspectives. (For those interested, I often read The Atlantic Cities, Sustainable Cities Collective, Next City and Co.Exist, as well as blogs such as those of Mikael Colville-Andersen and Brent Toderian). Of course, whatever your interest or profession, finding and following a few key sources and active individuals will start a cascading network effect that will expose you to an increasing array of information and opinion sources.

I’ve talked mostly about Twitter so far, as I’ve found it the most useful platform for finding information in the ways I’ve discussed. Facebook can also be used for this purpose by following pages of organisations of interest (for example, I “like” the Public Transport Users Association page, which often posts articles and other updates on public transport issues in Melbourne). However, I find it is not as useful due to its more dominant use in socialising with people known in “real life” (friends and family). One aspect of Facebook that I do find quite useful, however, is group pages on particular topics that allow for sharing content and discussion.

For example, I often visit Urban Happiness, a group that was started by a professor from the faculty in which I am studying at the University of Melbourne. This is quite a successful group, with 650 members at time of writing, and frequent activity and interaction on urban-related topics, such as architecture, transport, placemaking, design, environment and policy. The group’s members include students (past and present), teaching staff and other interested people. Members are from a range of backgrounds (planning, architecture, landscape architecture, engineering) and include those employed or active in a variety of professions, sectors and locations. This diversity is incredibly useful in exposure to a broad range of information (when people post information that is relevant to their background or expertise), a variety of perspectives (when various people comment and provide their take on material posted by others) and a diverse pool of knowledge that can be accessed (for example, when posting a question to the group page).

I’ve published this despite the fact that it is only a portion of what Sasha had intended to write. When his life is less hectic, I hope to convince him to complete his post, or perhaps take part in an interview-style post. 

New Melbourne-based collaborative blog – Brassofthebear

Photo by Alexander (Sasha) Sheko

Brazen plug for my son, Sasha’s, new collaborative blog about Melbourne – Brassofthebear. It’s just new but there’s plenty to read already.  Here’s the ‘about’ –

Welcome to Brass of the Bear, a collaborative blog with a local focus written by people in and around Melbourne, Australia. The name of the blog is derived from Bearbrass, one of a few names by which Melbourne was originally known.

Brass of the Bear (BB) aims to feature a broad range of content within its local focus, such as:

  • Reviews of cafes, restaurants, bars and the such,
  • Information on local events, art, cinema and music
  • Photography, writing and other locally based creative content
  • Secrets, quirks, hidden locations and adventures to be had
  • Information and opinion pieces on local community and political issues

BB is seeking contributors in any of the above areas (or even anything relevant that doesn’t fit into the above categories). Contact us at brassofthebear@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you.

Sasha asked me to contribute and so I wrote about Melbourne as a UNESCO City of Literature, highlighting events at the Wheeler Centre. Here’s a selection –

You  may or may not know that Melbourne is ‘a City of Literature’. I have no real way of predicting that since most of what I don’t know is common knowledge. In fact, Melbourne’s designation as aUNESCO City of Literature is apparently “acknowledgment of the breadth, depth and vibrancy of the city’s literary culture”. That makes me happy. And so Melbourne boasts a variety of literary organisations  and events to promote a culture of reading and engagement, events such as  Writers VictoriaExpress Media, the Australian Poetry Centre, the Melbourne Writers Festival and theEmerging Writers’ Festival.

You can read the rest here.

The Gertrude St Projection Festival is a good read.

Over the past couple of weeks (from 20 – 29 July, to be precise), Gertrude Street in Fitzroy has been home to a variety of projection art pieces, ranging from hypnotising geometric animations in shop windows to colourful patterns projected onto the entirety of one of the 20-odd story public housing towers. This year saw the fifth Gertrude Street Projection Festival (GSPF), featuring a large number of artists, including a number of collaborative works.

This is the first time I’ve seen the Projection Festival, and I really enjoyed it. Gertrude Street is one of my favourite streets, so much character.

Photo by Alexander Sheko

Other posts include Adventure – Footscray, Le Miel et La Lune restaurant review by James Zarucky, a very informative post about Yarraville by Ashley Onori, a story about the old Children’s Hospital (with photos which look apocalyptic) which is being demolished, and a review of the White Rabbit Record Bar in Kensington. The blog includes posts expressing political concerns (a letter to Daniel Andrews) and commentary on a film  from the National Film and Sound Archive’s Film Australia Collection.

I’m always supportive of collaborative efforts, especially when they’re shared online for others’ enjoyment, and I do love my city, so I’m looking forward to reading more from hopefully a growing list of contributors. If you have any expertise in any area of knowledge pertaining to Melbourne, or if you’ve recently attended an event which is worth writing about, leave a comment in the ‘About’ section of the blog.

Photo by Alexander Sheko

Melbourne – Centre for books, writing and ideas

Did you know that UNESCO bestowed on the city of Melbourne the title of City of Literature as part of its Creative Cities Network?

Maybe you did, but did you also know that the Arts Minister, Lynne Kosky, announced two days ago the creation of The Wheeler Centre: Books, Writing, Ideas. It has been named after the founders of the Melbourne-based Lonely Planet travel guides.

From 2010, Melbourne will have a new kind of cultural institution. The Wheeler Centre. A centre dedicated to the discussion and practice of writing and ideas. Through a year-round programme of talks and lectures, readings and debates, we invite you to join the conversation.

The city of Melbourne is home to an impressive collection of literary organisations, including the Victorian Writers’ Centre, Express Media, the Australian Poetry Centre, the Melbourne Writers Festival, Emerging Writers’ Festival and the Centre for Youth Literature.

These organisations will reside at 176 Little Lonsdale Street, a newly renovating wing of the State Libray of Victoria. I still remember the Melbourne Public Library housing the National Art Gallery, the Museum of Melbourne and the Planetarium.

Now it is the home of the Wheeler Centre for Books Writing and Ideas.

Browsing the Wheeler Centre’s website, I discovered a remarkable short animated film for the New Zealand Book Council.


No doubt some wonderful initiatives will be coming from these literary organisations, like the Summer School Novel Writing workshop in January 2010 organised by the Victorian Writers’ Centre.

 And if you ever doubted the connection between reading and writing (as if you would), you’d be advised to read what the Victorian Writers’ Centre writing tips state at the top of the list:

A few good tips to develop your writing.

Every experienced writer reads widely. Professional writers always recommend reading as a way for the writer to learn their craft. Reading widely can enhance your writing technique, broaden your scope, multiply your ideas and deepen your understanding of literary form in all its variety.

And if you’ve ever been confused by punctuation rules, think about following the great French author, Gustav Flaubert, in his ‘musical’ rules for punctuation:

Flaubert’s rule was that a pause of:

one beat equals a comma

two beats equals a semi-colon

three beats a colon

four beats a full stop

That’s what I call simple rules of punctuation.

Thanks to CMIS Fiction Focus for the alert.

Art students collaborate – Indoor Laneway Project

Sometimes things happen in schools. Days and lessons go by and pile up but occasionally an exciting kind of learning takes place. Marie Salinger, art teacher and Director of Learning Enhancement at Whitefriars College (my school), has been a catalyst for this kind of learning. Marie has taken the plunge with her Year 11 Studio Arts class – diving into unchartered waters and taking on the challenge of long-distance, shared learning with Mooroopna Secondary College many kilometres away. Did I mention they had less than a term to produce a show for the public? I’m talking about the Indoor Laneway Project.

Marie talks about how she feels about the project

I am feeling so energised and excited about the Indoor Laneway Project and am especially enjoying the chance to tap into some wonderful, rich resources so easily. Working with Dan West (the Arts Centre) and Eugenia Lim (ACMI) and having access to their wealth of experience, knowledge, technical expertise and creative talents has been a huge incentive and is adding a whole new level of excitement to my work in the classroom. I have also noticed a big shift in how the students are approaching the set tasks. They feel that there is a real purpose to their work and are very aware that they will be addressing a much larger audience than would usually be the case. Normally we might have the opportunity to display their artwork around the school as well as at our VCE exhibition in October. Displaying student work in this way for the school communitiy is great but now we have the chance to show our artwork to anyone, anywhere in the world, who is interested . A daunting but also very exciting possibility.

In the About section of the Indoor Laneway Project’s website, you’ll read this:

Education at the Arts Centre Presents Indoor Laneway – an online collaborative arts project. Its intention is to allow regional and metropolitan secondary school students to develop digital sound and art work.

 Under the mentorship of an established media artist and school based digital media educators, participants remix and re-contextualise each others work and collectively assemble sound and images to explore artistic practice that focuses on key concepts of: 

  • Self
  • Home
  • Global and Local Positioning
  • Connection
  • Exchange 

Over two weeks in September, the Indoor Laneway will establish a virtual space in the Arts Centre’s BlackBox where work generated will be displayed, results disseminated in a public forum and location based performances will take place.

Of all the outcomes listed in the About page, this is one which resonated with me:

  • encourage within participants a community of collaborative creation and a sense of unity working towards a common artistic outcome;

Talking to Marie during the very short span of several weeks before the opening, she spoke of a sense of excitment and engagement amongst the students, and a noticeable increase in productivity and bouncing off others’ ideas. On the day that the two classes met at the Black Box in the Arts Centre to build the sets, I would have loved to be there to witness the shared activity which prepared for a real exhibition in a well known Melbourne Arts space and open to a real audience. I have a feeling this will be something the students will always remember.

Reading Marie’s blog posts, you can sense her involvement in the students’ engagement with the project:

It is so wonderful to see these young students bouncing ideas around. They are so creative and innovative and I am loving the vitality that surrounds the project. There is a lot of dialogue going on about the actual exhibition space and how we might use it to display the very large, diverse and amazing art mountain that has developed from the Indoor Laneway Project.

I’m looking forward to seeing the exhibition this Saturday. Congratulations to Marie, to students and art teachers of Whitefriars College and Mooroopna Secondary College, for your amazing, inspiring work! A real example of authentic learning beyond the walls of the classroom and out of the textbook. Learning from each other, creating together and exhibiting to the world.

Earthquake in Melbourne: Twitter beats breaking news

Sitting on the couch earlier this evening, I felt a strange sensation of moving with the couch, as the bookshelf behind me creaked. Melbourne had experienced a light earthquake. Did it happen or did I imagine it? After a while I tweeted it in the form of a question, hoping to ascertain whether it really happened or not. Sure enough, Twitter exploded with tweets registering similar experiences.

Meanwhile, the TV was on, but no news about an earthquake. Look at ABC news online – nothing. Channel 7 Breaking News remained unbroken – just a repeat of the stories that had been broadcast several times already this evening.

Gradually, traditional news providers came on board. Channel 7 finally acknowledged the quake at 10.27 pm. Very slow, considering John Connell had already completed a post about the Melbourne quake from Scotland.

Here it is, and he has an image of the first 18 twitterers – I’m there on the right. I would have been quicker but my laptop was doing its usual slow-loading.


As Craig has pointed out in a comment below, Breaking Tweets (World News Twitter style)  reported 800 tweets before media jumped in.

“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow”

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I played tourist last weekend. Grabbed the no-frills digital camera and my legs, and went in search of the treasures of Melbourne in early Spring. I grew up in Melbourne, and frequented the city centre regularly as a child. My grandmother, a school principal and biology teacher (Russia) turned factory-worker, sewed toilet bags and shower caps for a Jewish factory in Little Collins Street, and I used to go in with her, sometimes to be shown around to her work colleagues so they could tell me I had beautiful skin (nobody tells me that now), or to deposit her wares and have lunch. These are the memories I cherish – of the mysterious worlds within buildings, old, cage-like elevators, dark passages and illuminated cafes in arcades. Thankfully, much of old Melbourne remains to this day. I love the details and little surprises around the city.