Saturday, 2 June 2018

The Secret Garden Olinda


I first read about the Secret Garden in the excellent “The Dandenong Ranges” by Kornelia Freeman and Ulo Pukk. I had visited most gardens and parks listed in the book, many which are quite renowned such as the Rhododendron and Nicholas Memorial Gardens and smaller venues like Pirianda and George Tindale Memorial gardens. Unlike the more popular gardens in the area, the Secret Garden doesn’t appear on a lot of the more available maps, but
luckily it is listed in the State Heritage Register due to some of its unique features. That aside, it’s still a hard place to find if you don’t know where to look or if you aren’t paying attention. It took me two attempts to find, the first I must admit I wasn’t really prepared and I was starved of time and daylight.
 Thanks to modern technology, i.e.: my computer and the google maps I found a path near a small rest stop on the otherwise tight Perrins Creek Road on the way to Kallista from Olinda. The Secret Garden is located in the Perrins Creek Reserve and falls under the care of Parks Victoria. It was originally a private business. Williams Nursery established in the early 1930s and seemed to be still trading in some form as of 1954. It was part of the growing commercial nursery industry formed in and around Olinda in the early 1920s when local farmers turned from berry farming to flower farms. 
A clipping from a Canberra newspaper in 1933 reports how the owner J.B Williams at short notice had arranged for a shipment of Rhododendrons to Canberra. The flowers were packed and dispatched on Friday and were displayed the next day with roses from the new Parliament house garden in an exhibition that was declared “spectacular”. Rhododendrons at the time were considered “rare and exquisite flowers” at the time in our newly created capital. 
A 1954 picture from the Nursery

There is no trace of the nursery from the road these days and as I followed the track into the bush, my first thought was how or where was I going to cross the creek that runs along the side of the road? Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long for an answer to that question because just a bit further down the track was a small sturdy bridge and on the other side a defined and wider path that led up the hill. From this point, there was evidence of Park’s Victoria work with young native trees being planted and the odd chainsaw clearing. Someone had also done me the favour of tying pink ribbons at random points to what I assumed was a guide to the Secret Garden itself. I guessed right and after only a short walk, further along, I could see the environment change. 
At this point, the trees are gnarled and covered in moss giving the bush a Harry Potter Dark Forest vibe, very creepy but also quite beautiful. In the middle of this natural growth of gum trees and ferns were fully grown deciduous trees and the
Steps and tiered wall
ground was covered with their shed autumn leaves. It was also a stunning contrast with all the orange and reds bursting through the muted greens of the gums and domestic foliage. 

After a quick climb and a few bends, the area opens up, before us like an ancient ruin was a three-tiered wall made of rocks split by a set of moss and leaf covered steps, I had found the remains of the nursery. It’s only when you reach an area that levels out
that the whole Secret Garden name really strikes home, the style of the wall is very familiar and it looks like it was an abandoned part of the Alfred Nicolas gardens only about a kilometre away as the crow flies. 
Looking towards the bend
The wide path that the wall runs boundary to, is treelined and gives the impression of a driveway or a grand entrance. All around are mature Beech trees, some straight and narrow lining up along the pathway to create an avenue while others
First view of the nursery

more bent with gnarly roots snaking out all over the uneven ground grow on the slopes that fall away from the path. All of them in their autumn coats of diminishing but brilliantly coloured leaves. The steps sadly lead nowhere and access is blocked by a thick bush. 
A cluster of sequoias
surrouning the reservoir

The Mighty Sequoia
So I decided to follow the wide path up further where it disappeared around a bend expecting it also to run into a wall of natural bushland. Turning the corner and to my surprise, the path/road continued, I came to realise that the path must be the driveway into the old nursery as it was a gentle incline that my own car could have navigated It appeared to head westward towards properties that border the reserve. It was here standing very tall, straight and wide were other introduced trees on the slopes leading down to the creek, the amazing sequoias or Californian Redwoods. All hidden from my starting point by the undulating landscape and forest. One mighty Redwood measured well over two metres in diameter. I followed a shallow path downwards where another group of sequoias surrounded a manmade pit. Either the remains of a small reservoir or retaining wall but obviously once part of the former nursery. Moving back onto the main path and moving upward evidence of galvanised pipes poked out of the walls of the upside hill of the wide path. There even seemed to be small flat sidings off the road that may have been in the past the foundation of a shed. 
The path after the bend
Only a short walk up the ever inclining path I could see the backyard of a house and it was then that it dawned on me. The original Nursery entrance wasn’t on Perrins Creek road it was on one of the streets behind. And sure enough, after checking my maps, the reserve itself has an unmarked and unsigned narrow entry between two properties for access, it actually looks like the driveway for one of the neighbouring properties until you get closer. Looking back down from the road on the right-hand side of the now obvious driveway were a group of mature beech trees planted uniformly that must have been there from the original nursery days. 
Original road in
The Front Entrance

The walk back gave me more of a chance to pay more attention to detail on the way back to my car and doing so found more irrigation pipes and outlets running down to the creek but I couldn’t find any buildings or remains of anything resembling such. As I was leaving the light was hitting the tops of the trees and the autumn leaves of the Beech trees seemed to glow brighter in the afternoon sun. 
I think I gave enough clues where to find the Secret Garden and discover its wonders yourself. It never ceases to amaze me the history and wonderful things to find up the mountain. 

Irrigation pipes still remain

Distribution pit

As a sidebar. 
One other notable features around the Secret Garden is Dalcrombie, the estate the garden backs onto. Delcrombie. A beautiful example of Art Deco architecture and was designed by prominent Australian Architect Mr Harry Norris. It was built in 1939 after Norris’ more famous but almost derelict Burnham Beeches. It was built for Mr Earl Coles, of the Coles and Garrard fame. Now in private hands, and was reported to once have had nearly 50 metres of dovecotes (aviaries), a monkey house and a Seal enclosure.

previously published in The BBCN Issue 267 June 2018

Friday, 4 May 2018

The Mystic Market Ferny Creek.


We have some wonderful events up where I live.
One fine day late January 2018.
It was great to drive up the mountain on such a warm day, lucky for us the event we were headed for was on Saturday as Sunday was forecast to be up near the 40 degree mark and I just don’t leave the house on days that hot. I was looking forward to the Mystic Market, as it had been rescheduled to January 27 after being cancelled due to extreme weather in the form of the torrential rainfall we had in early December. I couldn’t help but think if it was held a day later this time, we would see the same thing happen.
The Mystic Market is a celebration of all things magical, fantastical and whimsical. A collection of stalls displaying and selling such diverse crafts as jewellery, clothing, pottery, sculpture and highlighting cosplay, faeries, steampunk and fantasy worlds and creatures. All with a good mixture of fun and participation.
Held at the Ferny Creek recreational reserve, a perfect setting for such an event with the tall gums surrounding the grass oval giving plenty of shade as well as open space. I have soft spot for the old hall on the reserve and today it housed some of the displays and stalls. It’s a lovely old building and I most point out it is also the venue of one of the best collector’s fairs held in the area every weekend prior to Melbourne Cup day and a great one to mark on your calendar. As well the hall the market spread out with many marquees and tents of stall holders which also helped give the whole event a medieval feel.
The stalls, inside and out, were an amazing mixture of wares.Among there were two ladies selling fairy Skeleton's in glass top wooden boxes, a table full of multi-coloured skulls. Another with steampunk style hats complete with goggles, as well as various fantasy swords and knives all with foam blades. One of my favourite stalls was selling detailed sculptures of scenes from Jim Henson’s movies such as Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal.
I bought my wife a mechanical dragonfly from a lady who made steampunk jewellery. There was one lady with lots of facial piercings and an interesting hairstyle that created and sold all manners of horns, the type you stick to the side of your head. I had no idea there were so many variations, most from myth, movies and novels. One stall was selling all manner of wizard staffs, decorated with polished stones and dragon heads.
Many people got into the atmosphere of the market, many dressing as fairies, I saw more wings on grownups than children and though I haven’t been to a tattoo convention, I don’t think I have seen as many tattooed ladies in my life assembled in one place. There was lots of colour and unique designs.
Despite the hot weather people also wore heavier gear, one fellow was ion a suit of armour. Another group of gents were dressed in their swash buckling best including heavy coats. I left early but as the late afternoon settled in a lot more serious cosplay patrons started to arrive and there were some seriously well made up fairies and sprites in the crowd.
All up a fun day and was surprised at the variety of product at very good prices, I already looking forward to the next one.
For more information on where to find the next market and more pictures of the amazing costumes and make up go to

originally published in The BBCN Issue 264 March 2018

Monday, 16 April 2018

ALTERNATE WORLDS: A historical journey.

ALTERNATE WORLDS- Comic book shop: A historical journey.

My first visit to ALTERNATE WORLDS  was a pleasant surprise on so many levels. Back in 2013 I had, while researching something totally unrelated, read an article that I found via a link via another link of the best local comic book shops in Melbourne. Much to my surprise one of the most highly recommended was just two streets from my current employment. This was too good to be true, so I jumped in the car and promptly couldn’t find what I thought would be an obvious landmark. You know, a shop front with lots of colourful poster and a large sign.
I was travelling on a main thoroughfare down a very busy Bayswater Industrial estate at lunchtime. I then realised the shop was in one of the estates. So, I turned into what I hoped was the right driveway and checking either side of the road making not to collide with errant forklifts, that’s when I saw it. Sandwiched between a car upholster and to this this day I’m not sure what the guy on the other side sells but it seems to still be old newspapers, unregistered cars and broken electric motors. In the corner was a door with a small sign above it ALTERNATE WORLDS. I parked the car in one of the many spots available and walked towards the heavy solid door. The sign said it was open.
Now here’s the thing. ALTERNATE WORLDS is an optical illusion, which adds so much to its appeal. Its location belies what is on the other side of the door. Because it has no visible office or windows it appears as it is a back door to one of the neighbouring premises but as you enter you feel like any one of the Doctor’s companions the first time they enter the TARDIS.
 It’s a lot bigger on the Inside than it is on the outside.
ALTERNATE WORLD is a warehouse with over 400M2 of floor space, divided into several areas. The entry where all the new releases are, the toys and collectables to one side and huge bookshelves of Graphic novels and art books and Manga to the other. Whilst down the         
back is the game playing area and the massive collection of over 2000 boxes of archived back issues and rare comics. Being a Thursday, as I was later to find out, new release day (actually it’s usually Wednesday night, but the plane was held up this time) and the shop was quite busy with regulars getting their fix. I just walked around for about half an hour soaking it all in.
For a guy in his early fifties, rediscovering a passion for comics long dormant due to …. basically life, this was nirvana. I had fallen back in love with illustrated stories thank to Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison and was playing catch up thanks to the likes of the League of Extraordinary Gentleman, Watchmen,WE3 , the Crossed series among man others. I had even had a few scripts published with some very understanding artists. The star had aligned. No more long trips into the city to inspect the shelves. And I have been a regular visited every Thursday lunchtime ever since. Some people go to the pub or the Pokies once a week. I go to my local comic book shop.
Move ahead a few years.
The Upholster has moved and ALTERNATE WORLDS has taken over the building, signage is a lot more prominent and I still don’t know what the guy next door is selling. My guess is rust and wet newspapers. ALTERNATE WORLDS is now my new haunt and I feel very comfortable there, so I took the opportunity to take a moment and sit down to talk to co-owners and operators of ALTERNATE WORLDS Joe Italiano and Peter Hughes about their own and the shop, what I got was a fascinating history of Australian Comics in the last quarter of the 20th Century.
ALTERNATE WORLDS is Melbourne’s (Australia’s) longest established comic book seller, having it’s roots back in the early 1970s from Joe Italiano’s house where Joe, a passionate comic book reader started bringing in comics from overseas to satisfy his own appetite for new comics which evolved into supplying others with the same interest who were also looking for missing books from their collections. In 1977 the genesis of ALTERNATE WORLDS evolved from IMAGES IMAGES. During this period Joe took over The Australian Comic Collector (TACC)  ]  to bring attention to new comics and to use as a vehicle to sell and trade comics. This was funded by a Science fiction and comic club Joe started at RMIT (which is still running under the name Science Fiction and Gaming  Club) [ Along with Moris Sztajer and  likeminded people from the club this led to the Comic Art Show held in St.Kilda in 1978 which was the precursor to the first Comic Con held at RMIT campus in 1979. This was supported by the Club and the venue supplied free of charge by the University. Though there were no big name overseas names, there were plenty of artists, primarily newspaper comic strip and political artists. During this period Joe met his future partner Peter Hughes in Melbourne’s SPACE AGE BOOKS and struck up a friendship after bonding over an issue of Captain
America -issue 215 to be exact according to Peter- and other mutual interests. A busy period ensured from this point Peter joining with Joe to process and pack IMAGES IMAGES mail orders and producing TACC and in 1980 Joe, Moris and Peter staged COMICON II at Sheraton Motel in Melbourne. Once again there were no overseas talent, but they managed to get one Peter Ledger, who was gaining a name as a colourist in big name comics overseas. It was also one of the first times Cosplay was introduced to a convention. These conventions continued in different venues and guises during the 1980s these tended to be more Science Fiction based under the name Phantasacon. During that period TACC was handed over to others to produce to the work load of running IMAGES IMAGES and the conventions. After giving up TACC, they found they missed it and created a more newspaper styled affectionately named Baby TACC which eventually morphed into ALTERNATIVE WORLDS Pre Oder Catalogue which is still published every month till this day and is one the first of its kind pre dating the larger US publishing house editions. It was also during this time Joe wrote a Super Hero RPG  Super Squadron which was released in 1983 and for a while was distributed in the USA. It is during this period you can see some of the work Peter and Joe contributed as aspiring artists themselves. For Peter it was a four part series BLOODSWORD with Robert Shaw in the original REVERIE  by Gary Dellar from 1983 and Joe cover art for TACC No.1.
Due to various circumstances within their professional and extracurricular pastimes, it was decided to expand the mail order business into a fully-fledged a comic book shop, though at first they were hesitant to make their hobby their job. However good sense prevailed and then  in 1988  the   IMAGES IMAGES name was changed to ALTERNATE WORLDS and the shop was opened at 40 Chapel St. Windsor. ten years later saw a  move up the road to 76 Chapel St to bigger premises. This was augmented with another store opening in the mid-1990s in Bourke Rd Camberwell but closed when the introduction of the GST made it an unproductive venture. When the prestige of a Chapel St address pushed rents to stupid levels ALTERNATE WORLDS  found a new home in its current location at  Malvern St Bayswater in 2011. Closer to home for the owners and a large warehouse space to house the massive collection of rare and back issue comics and cards.

Though more settled these days, Joe and Peter are still passionate about their work, both have a keen sense of what is happening in the Industry and the scene in general. Joe still attends and supports the big Conventions with a large stall of stock. He was recently a guest at the regional Gippsland GeekFest as special presenter.  Peter not so much these days , he‘d rather look after the shop.
The lack of shop front and a main street or Shopping Mall position does not phase the owners, stating that finding such a location would be cost prohibitive, especially with the amount of space the require storing the stock they want to carry. Joe believes they are one of the only true “comic shops” in Australia where you can get all current editions, along with variant covers and have a good chance of finding recent and long discontinued lines in the store. Not just what is currently available and  not to be seen again once the run is over. By moving a little off the main thoroughfare is not an imposition for foot traffic, if people want to come, they will come regardless. Plus, on the weekends parking is plentiful. Both men are collectors and cater for collectors and the current set up is the perfect solution.
To enhance that last point ALTERNATE WORLDS has begun a new monthly program where on the fourth Saturday of each month boxes are opened, and treasures unearthed from its collection of over half a million issues with the introduction of PREMIUM ACCESS COMIC DAY. Where the vast collection of rare comics dating back to early last century, Australian and US underground, Golden and Silver age tiles titles as well as magazines and early popular titles. Each event is different and surprise to behold. On the very first one I attended I found my Holy Grail, A RAT’S satire magazine from the early 1970s. Pure gold. Something I was convinced no longer exist, not even an image on the internet. So, believe me, there are surprises aplenty.

On a parting note I asked both Joe and Peter after forty years were they looking at slowing down or you up for another forty?
Both replied simultaneously:
Peter: We’re not going anywhere.
Joe: No way. Bring it on.
Joe and Peter

ALTERNATE WORLDS is located at 11 /13 Malvern St Bayswater Victoria and trades Seven days a week opening at noon.


(c) 2018 Danny Nolan originally appeared on the Australian Comic Journal Website March 2018