Derham Groves

Barber Shops in Melbourne




One of the areas that my Master of Architecture history/theory course, Popular Architecture and Design, which I teach at the University of Melbourne, looks at is “everyday architecture”.

In previous years the students who did this course have researched kebab shops in Melbourne (2011), launderettes in Melbourne (2012) and painted garage doors in Melbourne (2013).

This year (2014), the students researched barber shops in Melbourne. Working mostly in pairs, they were asked to choose a barber shop and record the following basic information about it:


• The name and address of the barbershop.

• A plan of the barbershop, including the fittings and furniture.

• At least one photograph of the front of the barbershop.

• At least one photograph of each of the rear and sides of the barber shop (where accessible).

• At least four photographs of the interior of the barbershop.

• Photographs of any advertising (awning signs, window signs, 3D signs, etc.).

• A brief description of the barbershop.

• A brief interview with the owner/manager and/or one or more customer(s).


Barber Shops in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey contains the above data exactly as the students gave it to me—errors and all. To be able to see 50 barber shops at a glance and compare their similarities and differences based on exactly the same information is this book’s main value in my view.

Judging from the students’ research, many barber shops in Melbourne are very quirky, highly masculine places. Those that have the barber’s personal collection of football memorabilia, or foreign currency, or knickknacks, or photographs, or whatever on display in the barber shop are the ones that fascinate me the most.


Derham Groves.     


Hoon, Tiang, Thiaw and their Dad


My wife, Tiang (who I call Ping), found the negative of this photo in some things she had stored at my parents’ house. It shows the three Khoo sisters and their father at Central Padang in Kuching in the 1960s. The surreal perspective has almost turned their father into a Ken doll. Weird! And Hoon looks like she has only one leg! The photo was probably taken by one of my wife’s brothers.

Darwin 2014


Last week I spent two days in Darwin to attend the opera I was involved with at the Darwin Festival. It was one of the most incomprehensible things I’ve ever seen! Never mind. It was enjoyable all the same.


William Boyd/Hopalong Cassidy visited Darwin in 1954. However, if he came back to life and visited the town again today, he wouldn’t recognize the place. About the only building that might look familiar to him is the Star Theatre, although it isn’t a cinema any more, but some shops. Every Wednesday evening was “ranch night” when cowboy films, including Hoppy’s, which were the favourites of Darwin’s Aboriginal community, were shown at the Star Theatre. Hoppy’s glory days are commemorated in the shopping centre’s courtyard by a poster. I managed to track down one person who met Hoppy when he visited the Bagot Road Aboriginal Community school in 1954, a delightful man named Don White. He remembered Hoppy’s school visit like it was yesterday.


I drove to Adelaide River, about 100 kilometres south of Darwin, just for the hell of it. It was just a name on a map to me. But I was unexpectedly moved by the immaculately-kept, World War II military cemetery there. So many young men in their twenties killed. The inscription on “craftsman” R.W. Thomas’s Army headstone really got to me: “Ever loved by this Dad …” The youngest person buried in the cemetery appears to be 16-year old R.H. Stobo, a Merchant Navy “deck cadet”, while the oldest appears to be 66-year old G. Dew, a “donkeyman”,  also with the Merchant Navy (I guess he looked after the Merchant Navy’s donkeys. How many donkeys were killed in the bombing of Darwin I wonder?). [I stand corrected by Mike Scully. A “donkeyman” looked after the boilers on a ship. I guess it comes from the term, “donkey engine”. Nevertheless, how many donkeys were killed in the bombing of Darwin?] It seems that the Darwin Post Office received a direct hit, because about a dozen post office workers were buried side-by-side. As I say, I was unexpectedly moved by the stories of the people buried in this beautiful, but out-of-the-way place.


Termite mounds by the side of the road between Darwin and Adelaide River.

Hopalepidopter almost takes Darwin

Danius Kesminas recently asked me to write a libretto—in the form of a story board for a comic book—for the fourth part of a science fiction/surreal/punk opera, to be performed by the Lepidopters (Punkasila et al) at the Darwin Festival in August 2014. I had to more or less continue the storyline of the first three parts written by Mark von Schlegell. I based my story on Hopalong Cassidy’s visit to Darwin in 1954. Instead of Hopalong metaphorically capturing Darwin, as he did when he visited there, Hopalepidopter literally captures it (well, almost). Great fun. Following is the relevant page from the Darwin Festival program and two of the 45 panels of my collaged story board.



Derham’s Run for Moreland Council

The final election results for the three councillors from the City of Moreland’s South Ward are:

FORSTER, Martin 1512 9.83%
RATNAM, Samantha 3579 23.27%
HOPPER, Meghan 2580 16.78%
FARRELLY, Liam Shaun 985 6.41%
GROVES, Derham 1314 8.54%
CARMODY, Michael 1315 8.55%
GRAEFE, Narelle 261 1.70%
TAPINOS, Lambros 3832 24.92%

While I didn’t win the election, I was pretty happy with the result. 1300-odd votes in only a 2-month campaign from a zero base and no political party brand or backing was very respectable in my view.

When you come to think about it, there is the equivalent of a small country town out there supporting me. Now all I have to do is find out which country town! (A colleague of mine suggested that it might be Mirboo North, population 1300!)

My wife Ping did a fantastic job of campaigning on my behalf and I saw her in a new light after 34 years of marriage, which is truly something.

Despite having to endure some dirty tricks by one odd ball in particular, running for Moreland Council was a worthwhile experience. Indeed, I’d like to write a George Plimton-style journal article from the point of view of a truly independent candidate (which is a badge of honour in my opinion), albeit an unsuccessful truly independent candidate.

I say “truly independent” because the Labor Party disingenuously refused to endorse its candidates, which then enabled them to claim to be “independent,” something that wasn’t really true — a clear case of having your cake and eating it too.

Sincere thanks to those Moreland residents and ratepayers who voted for me. Your votes profoundly influenced the outcome of the election. Let me explain.

The preference voting system basically works like this: the candidate with the lowest number of votes is “eliminated” and his/her votes are then distributed to the candidate he/she has nominated second on his/her how to vote card. Then this process is repeated again and again until, in the case of the South Ward, three candidates have gained the required number of votes to be elected.

It was always extremely likely that Labor’s Lambros Tapinos and the Greens’ Samantha Ratnam would be elected, which is exactly what happened. However, the third spot on council was up for grabs. I was eliminated from the contest following the Greens’ candidates Narelle Graefe and Liam Farrelly. Where my 1300 votes went ultimately determined who would be the South Ward’s third councillor.

I first proposed swapping preferences with independent Martin Forster. An obvious strategy for the two genuine independents in the race; a real “no brainer.” But he declined and put me number eight. Wrong decision Martin. If you had accepted my offer you would have been the third councillor from the South Ward.

It is a pity that at least one independent candidate was not elected in the South Ward. Now you know why this did not happen. Unfortunately there is no accounting for people who foolishly won’t listen.

I next proposed putting Labor’s Michael Carmody number two in return for putting me number four. (Labor Party rules meant that number four was the best I could get from any of the three Labor candidates running.) He also refused and put me number eight as well. Bad decision Michael. (In fact, one of your closest Labor colleagues described it as “very stupid.”) If you had accepted my offer you would have been the third councillor from the South Ward.

Finally, I proposed putting Labor’s Meghan Hopper number two in return for putting me number four. She accepted my offer and became the third councillor from the South Ward. Congratulations Meghan! Good decision. Something for both Martin and Michael to think about over the next four years until the 2016 council elections.

My thanks to Francesco Timpano and Charles Car, my two independent “running mates” in the North East and North West wards respectively; and many thanks to everyone who helped me hand out how to vote cards on election day, I really appreciated it.

Following are some of the things that I’ll be donating to the Political Ephemera Collection at the State Library of Victoria:

Listen to Derham speaking to Glen Ridge on mymp.

WARNING. We are now known and formally registered as “The Moreland Ratepayers Action Group.” Sadly, our former name, “The Moreland Residents and Ratepayers Action Group,” has been “stolen” by a candidate for the North East Ward (and perhaps others) who is now sending out bizarre and mischievous emails under that banner. We have nothing whatsoever to do with these grubby emails.

Welcome to local government politics in Moreland! Surely, obviously, it is time for a change!

Launderettes in Melbourne

Last year (2011) the students who did my Popular Architecture and Design course at the University of Melbourne examined kebab shops in Melbourne. This year they looked at another similarly “invisible” and seemingly banal building type — launderettes (the English term) or Laundromats (the American term) in Melbourne.

Kebab shops and launderettes represent “third places” (in contrast to first and second places — home and work respectively) as described by the American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place. He argues that, despite being taken for granted, they are central to urban vitality.

Working in pairs, the architecture students were asked to document a launderette in Melbourne, which included the following basic information:

• The name and address of the launderette.

 • A plan of the launderette, including fittings and furniture.

 • A photograph of the front of the launderette during the day.

 • A photograph of the front of the launderette at night.

 • A photograph of the launderette showing it in relation to the other shops in the street.

 • Photographs of the sides of the launderette (if they were accessible).

 • Photographs of the interior of the launderette.

 • Photographs of any advertising, signs, etc.

 • A brief description of the launderette.

 • Comments by the owner/manager and any customers.

Launderettes in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey contains the above information exactly as the students gave it to me — errors and all. To a large extent, the value of this work is being able to compare 37 different launderettes in Melbourne at a glance and seeing their similarities and differences.

Hopefully Launderettes In Melbourne, along with Kebab Shops in Melbourne before it, will encourage a greater appreciation and understanding of these “third places” locally.

Mail Art Project

This envelope is being mailed from one student to another in my Popular Architecture and Design class. Each person has to add something to the envelope before sending it onto the next. Following is a photographic record of the “layers” that it has acquired to date.


My latest book titled, Out of the Ordinary: Popular Art, Architecture and Design, is due to be published in September this year by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

    The book’s blurb by Andrew Chrystall:

Out of the Ordinary is one part unembellished documentation and one part verbi-visual equivalent of a Pro Hart work made with nineteenth-century, paint-loaded canons. It is a cultural history, resource for contemporary designers, imaginarium and luminous almanac of an explorer of the stranger species of creativity — from brick art to letterboxes, junk mail, mail art, television, fashion, food, model trains, Disney’s imagineering, amusement parks, feng-shui, Postmodern architecture, human-scale craftsman­ship, forgotten Australian architects in China, famous architects (that, perhaps, should be forgotten save for their bow ties), collectors of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia, outsider artists and clients — and none of these things exactly.

Everywhere Derham Groves attends to and finds significance in the minutiae of everyday life, inter-association, and those things that affect us so profoundly but remain just outside the purview of the “normal.” And in these things — objects, art, architecture, environment(s) — he finds stories and teaches his reader how to do the same. Out of the Ordinary is also a motivational text. It begins with bricks, perhaps the most standardized and repeatable units of construction, and reveals how they can be used as vehicles for unfettered creativity and not merely for the creation of containers. Groves shows how art and architecture can emerge and receive nourishment from the garbage of the everyday and creative collisions. Groves also calls, albeit subtly, for a turn away from homogeneity, the standard­ized, and unimaginative or “lazy” design informed by principles of economy, efficiency, utility and function conceived in abstraction. Rather, Groves celebrates the reanimation and/or rejuvenation of place by the makers of anything out of the ordinary (who don’t necessarily pray to the demiurge of good taste) who have created spaces and things through which the creative imagination shines.

Dr. Andrew Chrystall, School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, Massey University.

    A review of the book by Michael Jørgensen:

Derham Groves is a unique thinker and one might say that he himself is “Out of the Ordinary.” An extraordinary range of phenomena fascinates him, which he investigates with an unusual tenacity, skill and erudition. In each case these topics and issues — at first glance deceptively diverse and unrelated — is meticulously dissected, illustrated and described with clear, unpreten­tious and very readable prose, which puts much other so-called academic writ­ing to shame. Consider just some of the things he covers, taken at random here from the contents page of his latest book, Out of the Ordinary: Deceptively “mundane” things such as bricks and brick­work; do-it-yourself letterboxes; and (who would even think of this?) junk e-mail or spam. Then there is television and its manifesta­tions in the days of its introduction in Derham’s home country, Australia; Disneyland and the feng-shui of Hong Kong Disney­land; the shop-houses of Vietnam and elsewhere; Sherlock Holmes and other crime fiction, one of Derham’s longstand­ing interests; a little-known Australian architect and a better known one; and an eccentric naïve Australian painter, the late Pro Hart. But that is not all! Dr. Groves has written elsewhere of the 1939 tour of Australia by Anna May Wong, the celebrated Chinese-American actress, and since the publication of his book about her in 2011, he has become intrigued by another tour “Down Under” by an American, William Boyd, a.k.a. Hopalong Cassidy, in 1954. Der­ham has also become interested in the crime novels of a little-known Australian writer, the late June Wright, whose crime novels were published in the 1940s through to the 1960s. He has also traced the overseas travels in North America of a group of young Australian men in 1959 using an old diary written by one of them. Where did he obtain the diary? On eBay would you believe it, just one of Derham’s research tools and so like this most unusual person — archi­tect, aca­demic and cultural historian. I cannot recommend this book more highly. Derham Groves’ many-facetted interests and the manner in which he so skilfully draws you into them will fascinate you.

 Michael Jørgensen, Architect, author and publisher.

    A book review by Zoe Nikakis in the September 2012 edition of Voice:

In Out of the Ordinary: Popular Art, Architecture and Design, Derham Groves explores his academic and personal passions. Zoe Nikakis dives into his world.

Derham Groves investigates, “the popular, the ordinary and the odd”.

So writes Dr Groves’ frequent collaborator, the celebrated architect Corbett Lyon, in his introduction to the recently published Out of the Ordinary: Popular Art, Architecture and Design.

“His definition of ‘popular’ is broad and not restricted to the high pop art and architecture of the elite,” Mr Lyon writes, “but embracing and celebrating the popular culture of the masses – do-it-yourself renovators; collectors of kitsch; high street commercial architecture; and the signs and symbols of our suburbs.”

Dr Groves focuses on seemingly unconnected topics and types of Australian ephemera and art – from the use and importance of brickwork as an artistic medium and the place of letterboxes in pop culture – but his passion for the obscure and the overlooked ties these disparate oddities together.

His interest in letterboxes and the everyday as art began when he was completing his PhD in the US during the 1990s.

“My supervisor was a Disney and television scholar, and she spurred my interest in popular culture,” Dr Groves says.

“Australian handmade letterboxes are much more than merely containers for mail. Firstly, they are Australian icons, since perhaps nowhere else in the world do people express themselves through their letterboxes with quite as much fervour as we do in Australia.

“Secondly, letterboxes facilitate links with the outside world. Most people love to receive letters – at least those containing good news. The letterbox is also where neighbours often meet to chew the fat and discuss the weather. Thirdly, letterboxes are symbols of home.”

The book also focuses on Dr Groves’ projects with collaborators and his students, who have created artworks for exhibitions made from bricks.

“I’m also interested in bricks because in some ways, they’re the very bottom line of architecture: you can’t get more basic than a brick,” Dr Groves says.

“Australia produces high-quality bricks in a wide range of colours so there is no reason for boring brickwork in my opinion.

“Often the problem is that architects do not design brickwork, but allow it to happen of its own accord. However the interesting brick buildings that have been designed by Lyons Architecture and others in recent years indicate that things are changing for the better.”

Dr Groves often incorporates his students’ projects into his books.

“Students produce so much work that it gets lost, so it’s important to record it,” he says.

“In the past I have investigated the design of brickwork from several different points of view. I have taught several design courses for architecture students focused on how bricks can be used in innovative and interesting ways.

“Earlier this year, I also spent time in Trivandrum in India doing a brick workshop with a group of first year students looking at a specific style of brickwork, so it all ties together.”

Other essays focus on the ways in which Dr Groves incorporates this research into his teaching.

“It’s all about material culture, and the interactions between art, design, symbolism, and popular culture,” Dr Groves says.

“It’s about pop art as architecture – sometimes buildings are ugly, provocative, edgy – and how important it is never to let good taste get in the way of good design.”

    Out of the Ordinary in Amazon’s top 10 “Hot New … Architectural Criticism” list!