One criticism often levelled at Australian culture (usually by Australians themselves) is that our society largely ignores – sometimes even demonises – people who are considered too ‘intellectual’. Scientists, writers, mathematicians, philosophers, artists, academics of any kind – these people are generally neither seen nor heard within mainstream Australian culture. (Except if you’re Nicole Kidman and you win an Oscar. Then suddenly you’re ‘our Nic’.)
This is one cultural evaluation that I happen to agree with. If you’re doubtful, stop a few people in the street and ask them if they can tell you anything about Peter Doherty or Patrick White (hint: each of these Australians won a Nobel Prize). You might be surprised by how many blank looks you get.
But never fear: if you’re visiting or living in Melbourne there is some respite for your downtrodden brain cells close at hand. One of my favourite cerebral rehab clinics is The Wheeler Centre, which hosts frequent events dedicated to exploring ‘books, writing and ideas’.
The centre was established in 2010 after Melbourne was declared a UNESCO City of Literature – only the second in the world after Edinburgh. This might surprise you (it surprised me), but the stats given during the city’s UNESCO bid are pretty convincing. For example, apparently 41% of Australia’s booksellers are based in Melbourne, generating 43% of the entire country’s book sales. Melbourne is also, it seems, a writer magnet, with a third of the country’s writers calling our city home.
So if you’re dying to hear a debate about vegetarianism or listen to an author wax lyrical about a new book, head down to The Wheeler Centre next to the State Library of Victoria. Many of the events are free.
Address: 176 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9094 7800