Blue Lake | Finding Dudley Flats and the West Melbourne Swamp
By: David Sornig
Flamboyant singer-turnedjailbird "Black Elsie"and Richmond great Jack Dyer formed a strange friendship of sorts when he worked as a policeman in West Melbourne in the 1930s while also playing football. Elsie Williams lived in a ramshackle hut at Dudley Flats "where the Docklands are today" a wasteland that became a lawless shanty town during the Depression.
Dyer often rescued the violent drunk when she wandered out of the slum into civilisation and caused trouble for residents, escorting her back to her makeshift home. In turn, Black Elsie would step in and defend her policeman "mate"when the scores of criminals, drunks and lost souls who lived at Dudley Flats threatened him harm.
The lives of Black Elsie and other residents are explored in a recent book called Blue Lakes: Finding Dudley Flats and the West Melbourne Swamp by Melbourne author David Sornig.
Sornig believes the unconventional bond between Dyer and Elsie, a talented singer who fell on hard times and spent half her adult life in jail, reveals he saw her true nature.
In Blue Lake, David Sornig examines how the 8km-square zone to the west of central Melbourne became the city's blind spot.
Once a fertile wetland with a large blue saltwater lagoon, it passed through various incarnations- from boneyards and rubbish tips; through the Depression-era Dudley Flats shanty town; to the modern-day docks. Through it all, one thing that has persisted is its uncanny, liminal quality.
As well as being a social history and a psychogeographic contemplation, Blue Lake is a biography of three specific characters- Elsie Williams, a Bendigo-born singer of Afro-Caribbean origin; Jack Peacock, the king of Dudley Flats' tip-scavenging economy; and Lauder Heinrich Rogge, a German hermit who lived for decades with sixty dogs on a stranded ship. By charting the rises and falls in their individual fortunes, Sornig reveals much about the race and class divides of their times and explores questions about those strange and singular places in the urban fabric where chaos is difficult to contain.
In masterful prose, Sornig reveals cracks in the colonial mythology of the ordered vision of progressive, urban Melbourne - a place where identities, both personal and public, have never quite been resolved. In doing so, he encourages readers to look harder at the places they live in - at the streets they walk, the buildings they enter, the empty spaces they pass - and to see in them intricate layers of time and history that have been hidden from view.
About the Author
David Sornig is the author of the novel Spiel, (UWAP, 2009). His fiction and non-fiction writing has featured in the Griffith Review, Harvard Review, Adelaide Review and Kill Your Darlings. He has lectured in creative writing and literary studies at a number of Australian universities and currently teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Melbourne. His essay 'Jubilee- A Hymn for Elsie Williams on Dudley Flats' was a finalist for the 2015 Melbourne Prize for Literature Writers Prize and his subsequent work on Blue Lake was supported by a State Library of Victoria Creative Fellowship. He lives in Melbourne.
`A scrubby sludge of lowland seeping through the centuries; three woebegone characters born two World Wars ago: everything nondescript and forgotten. Starting with these apparent dregs, David Sornig confects a wonderment of time travel, factual imagination, and the humane urge to bear witness.' -Ross Gibson, author of 26 Views of the Starburst World and Seven Versions of an Australian Badland
`The destruction of the Blue Lake on the fringe of Melbourne has long been a sad symbol for me of the ugly order associated with the European conquest. But Sornig shows how in the "zone"of tameable mud that replaced this wondrous wetland, the soul of the country and an underground freedom miraculously survived.' -James Boyce, author of 1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia
`David Sornig's Blue Lake creates a strange and layered depiction of Melbourne over time, told through the history of an overlooked place and its seemingly insignificant inhabitants ... Sornig uses the shifts in time, along with his own personal insights, to contemplate the way a city physically and culturally folds back on its past ... Blue Lake is unusually searching; its indirect nature and focus on memory has traces of the elegance of V.S. Naipaul, W.G. Sebald, and Annie Dillard.' 4.5 STARS -Books+Publishing
`David Sornig wants to take you on a walk to where the past and the present seem to co-exist and the ghosts are just as real as the living.' -Barry Reynolds, Herald Sun
`His insights and imaginings into the lives of Elsie, Lauder and Jack are tender and illuminating, and ensure the reader, whether they can locate the Zone itself, can know it through its inhabitants.' -The Saturday Paper
Published: 3rd September 2018
Number Of Pages: 384
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