During lockdown, Cunningham gravitated to Royal Park, seeking a dose of countryside that was otherwise inaccessible, well beyond her five-kilometre zone. The 188-hectare park is one of her favourite spots in Melbourne. “Partly because you can feel like you’re in the middle of the country,” she says. “That lovely sense of being in a city and outside a city.”
She stopped listening to podcasts and tuned in to the natural soundscape, including birdsong.”It gets you out of your head and stops you obsessing about whatever is going on … It brings you back to your senses and yourself.”
Living in New York seven years ago, the City of Trees author regularly hit the pavement, often clocking up between 15 and 20 kilometres a day. The idea of urban walking really took hold and it’s something she’s done ever since. “I do like to think of walks as a form of art … to think about walking in a different way.”
Released online on Wednesday, the podcasts are designed so listeners might see the city through fresh eyes. ACCA’s senior curator, Annika Kristensen, created the series in the lead-up to the gallery’s show, Who’s Afraid of Public Space, which will open in the summer of 2021.
“We wanted to create a project that could be delivered digitally, be accessible any time or anywhere, but that encouraged people back out into public space,” she says.
One of the silver linings of lockdown for her was seeing hordes of people out and about. Living near Merri Creek, her local neighbourhood came into its own, even though at times it became like a highway. Having grown up with Perth’s “car culture”, Kristensen is a keen walker and is drawn to cities that accommodate pedestrians, including Edinburgh, London, Sydney and Melbourne.
In 2016, in a different walk created for ACCA, Tsiolkas explored the city’s history, revealing hidden elements like the brothels of Lonsdale Street, landmark graffiti in laneways, obscure buildings that he loved.
This time, he traces the evolution of his relationship with Melbourne, starting with walks from Richmond into town with his parents — which invariably ended at Stalactites, one of the few remaining places from that era. Later, when his family moved to Box Hill, it was cinemas in the CBD that proved magnetic. Some of the movies he saw were life-changing, notably Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven and The Devil’s Playground, starring Simon Burke.
“[The latter] was one of those first films that made me realise that cinema could talk to you; it wasn’t just fantasy.
“It was also the first time I realised that we could make great art in this country, not that I was conscious of that at that time.”
Tsiolkas recalls seeing a double bill at the Forum of Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey. “I came out and did a vomit straight after,” he says with a laugh, such was the impact on his teenage self.
As well as creating an itinerary through the city loosely based around movies, Tsiolkas says his podcast is a reflection on migration and how the city has changed.
There’s a rich history of writers, artists and thinkers walking. It’s often part of the process of working through ideas and, on a more pragmatic level, getting the body moving.
Cunningham started drawing and painting recently and says those activities serve a similar purpose.
“It’s part of that sitting and observing and being in the moment and that sense of getting to know something, getting to know a place,” she says. “Walks are an important way of knowing a place and knowing where you’re from.”
The walking podcasts will be released on Wednesday, see acca.melbourne/six-walks/
Hear Tony Birch in conversation with ACCA’s Max Delany, see acca.melbourne/program/acca-book-club-tony-birch
Walk a mile (or two) in their shoes
- Author of The White Girl, Tony Birch walks a section of the Birrarung (Yarra) river, exploring its cultural and spiritual significance.
- Royal Park
- Author, publisher and writer Sophie Cunningham takes a walk through Royal Park, taking in the zoo and the city’s newest wetlands.
- Melbourne arts precinct
- Filipino Australian poet, performer, arts producer Eleanor Jackson walks through the arts precinct, including ACCA, the NGV and the playground at Birrarung Marr.
- Carlton Housing Estate
- Somali spoken word artist Idil Ali walks through the Carlton Housing Estate, examining how that impacted on her and others living there.
- Writer and urban researcher of Ballardong Noongar descent, Timmah Ball walks around the hidden parklands along the Maribyrnong, imagining its future.
- The CBD
- Author of Damascus, Loaded and The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas walks through the laneways, streets and arcades of the city.
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Kerrie is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald