The city is waiting

By Rhonda Dredge

Two arched doorways beckon in pearly white marble. A figure is standing between them, about to make a decision. Both options appear to be equally viable.

Sandra Bruce is the player. She is in an imaginary space but one that also exists in an historical sense on the site of Melbourne’s first stock exchange.

She crosses the grand marble-lined space where fortunes were once made and lost. Will she choose the right doorway?

Making choices is now a game played by many young women in the CBD. A year ago Ms Bruce invested in an eighth-floor apartment in McKillop St and her passion for visual culture has been rewarded.

On some weekends she defies prejudices and curls up like a cat in her own little principality above the street and admires her terrain, particularly the other city that hides in the one we take for granted.

From her metal-framed casement windows Ms Bruce looks out over the city, east along Little Collins. Two towers always attract comment, she says. One is Melbourne’s first commercial post-modern building at 101 Collins and the other at 120 Collins looks like New York’s Empire State.

Ms Bruce’s first job in the CBD was at Gallery 101, run by Diana Gold, and she researched the building’s genesis in a Masters of Museum Studies at Monash. The Denton Corker Marshall building shocked modernists in the ‘90s with its over-sized classical columns that perform no function at all and it still does well as an emblem of a creative approach to the play of history.

Ms Bruce works in her day-job as assistant director of the La Trobe Art Institute in Bendigo and Bundoora and it is her role to lobby for art. She commutes from the CBD most days then returns to her home amongst the rooftops and laneways.

“My other CBD is Centre Place,” she says. “It’s a dark thoroughfare for getting from one fun part of the city to another – a few blocks from the Bourke St mall; I like heading down through the twists and turns. It has a vibe inside like a weird mash-up of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I like to look at the crowd from above.”

On Friday evening you might find her at her favourite perch at Hell’s Kitchen. The crowd below is steady but thins out by about 5 pm. It takes a while to distinguish other CBD personalities from tourists. Then a shaved head and goatee makes an impression and you are now entering the zeitgeist.

‘The avant garde and the notion of anarchy in the art world led to Banksy and street art in becoming acceptable,” she says. “None of these things are born out of permission. Artists put themselves out there.”

Ms Bruce is a new style of CBD dweller who doesn’t know her neighbours and isn’t here in search of “traditional” community. Her most prolific social contact might be on Facebook where she goes into bat for feminist activists such as Clementine Ford.

“I’m a single, independent, thinking activist,” she says with a laugh, as she resists attempts by anyone to put her in a box.

Ms Bruce often finds herself defending Melbourne and her lifestyle from doubters. “It’s OK. It’s my choice,” she says. “I’m what a conservative might call a social justice warrior.”

In her real social life she might be gossiping about the latest opening at the NGV but on her fictional platform she is getting into tough debates about contemporary issues. “You see the shit storm, the worst of people’s inner selves. I have a very strong sense of right and wrong. I’m generally in favour of the vulnerable and minorities.”

She’s a little afraid of the culture but persists. “Social media is such a skewed and irrational platform for communication. The sorts of things said on social media are never expressed in real life. I’ve allowed myself to be quite blunt. Even if you put forward tough, rational, straightforward points, they’re greeted by the same response as if you’d called them names.”

Perhaps this other city she has entered is full of tough communicators. There are even tags high on city buildings. A name has been written beneath a roundel on a mysterious pale structure that appears to be somewhere between Elizabeth and Swanston on Little Collins.

Ms Bruce points out a fire escape that gave the tagger access. People will do anything to get their names out there. The building turns out to be the Century Building on Swanston Street. A CBD dweller can follow up leads such as this as if she was walking a dog along the rooftops.

The larger view predominates when you think in terms of decades and towers. That’s where the superheroes live. The avengers are on the move and the city is waiting for them.

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