Maree Coote's guide to Melbourne is as extensive as it is passionate.
Maree Coote loves Melbourne and suspects you do too. But do you know it? Coote has set out to ensure you do.
The Melbourne Book was first published ten years ago and is now in its fourth edition. It covers pretty much everything you could want to know about a city from its beginnings to its fashion, sport, food and more. But it’s not all text on a page: Coote is a photographer and visuals are integral to The Melbourne Book with over 700 photographs over its 376 pages.
This emphasis on appearance is one of The Melbourne Books flaws: it’s often over-designed. Imagery, typefaces and colour clash across some spreads, throwing the eye and obscuring the content. It seems to be the result of wanting to get more and more photos without wanting to just plug in photos, resulting in some sections going overlong and featuring quotes or passages that don’t seem to add much to product.
This is a small misstep in an attempt to make the book fun and engaging, which, ultimately, it is. It’s nice to flick through and the bold design choices do encourage a ‘stop, read a bit, thumb through some more’ approach that works for this kind of book.
It would be for nought if the text wasn’t worth reading. Thankfully it holds its own. Despite being over-sentimental at times (particularly in the introduction where Coote gushes as much as a Jane Austen side-character), the book is interesting and in-depth, offering just enough insight into Melbourne’s history (both pre- and post-colonial) and its key figures (ranging from John Batman to William Buckley to Tommy McCrae). It’s about time we know about the people our streets are named after or how Aussie-rule football got its start, says Coote, and she’s right. It won’t replace a comprehensive history for some, but it’s a conversational ‘in’ for Melbourne’s past that will likely whet the appetite for more.
But this is a (paradoxically) ‘History of now’ and thus provides information on contemporary Melbourne. The range of content borders on intimidating: architecture, food, coffee, fashion, people and more wait for you between the covers. Each thing or person covered gets little more than a page or two to shine but that’s enough to get a feel for something you may have never noticed before.
The range is eclectic but that’s part of its charm: where else could read see a page on Germaine Greer between sections on utes and Vegemite? (Which, it turns out, was originally made from yeast waste left over from beer making. The more you know.)
This isn’t a history of or guide to Melbourne you’ll read cover-to-cover and feel all the richer for it. It’s an affectionate guide to the city and everything it offers and, like its subject, something you can enjoy at your leisure. You explore its pages the way you do a city: see something, think ‘oh, that’s interesting’ and then experience it.
‘There’s a pretty great city out there,’ Coote seems to say. ‘Go have a look.’
I’m inclined to agree.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
The Melbourne Book: a History of Now
Hardcover, 376 pages, RRP $55
Published by Melbournestyle Publishing
ISBN: 978 0 9757 047 76