by Susan Roberts
Last weekend saw the city of Melbourne come to a standstill as a 2 kilometre line of dominoes nudged each other along a picturesque route through the city centre. The event happened due to the generosity of an octogenarian lady who has become known as Melbourne’s Arts Angel – Betty Amsden.
This is the third public event sponsored by this awe-inspiring philanthropist and patron of the arts. Miss Amsden believes that if you have two pennies you should give one away, and this is the tenet by which she has lived all of her life. She’s never stopped giving away her pennies, and Melbourne is both literally and figuratively the richer for her generosity.
The dominoes project was organised by Arts Centre Melbourne, in conjunction with a UK organisation known as Station House Opera – the brainchild behind the original project, in which events like this have been held in several major European cities. This was the first of these events outside of Europe.
Much to the delight of all Melbourne’s residents, Saturday 6th February dawned warm and the weather was kind. The sun shone and gentle breezes helped to keep the rising temperatures at a comfortable level as interested onlookers poured into the city to wander around, watch the careful arrangement of the dominoes, and choose their favourite viewing spot for later that afternoon.
From 1 pm onwards, 300 volunteers began their task of setting up over 7000 concrete breeze-blocks – each weighing 8 kilograms – throughout the city at meticulously measured intervals, in specifically arranged places. These turquoise Tee-shirted volunteers were everywhere to keep an eye on the lines of dominoes, and to ensure that no one tripped or fell over them. They were also a happy, chatty team, and fielded thousands of questions with endless patience, smiles and obvious enthusiasm.
Every 7th or 8th domino lay on its side in case of an accidental triggering at any point, and as the starting time drew near, the missing blocks were carefully placed, and the final lanes and streets were closed to traffic.
A slight delay on the 5 pm starting time allowed two or three trams to complete their commute up Collins Street, and then the last few breeze-blocks were placed on their marks across the road. An appreciative roar from the crowd outside the City Hall let the rest of us know that the fun had started.
The first domino tipped out of the City Hall’s window onto the pavement of Swanston Street, and the game was on! The ripple effect continued across Collins Street and beneath the trees of the City Square, over a Venetian style bridge and a table belonging to the nearby Brunetti’s Cake Shop, into the historic St Paul’s Cathedral and down the centre aisle where the dominoes tipped gently onto a specially prepared plastic sheeting to ensure no damage to the century-old mosaic floor tiles. Out of the door, across the road and into an arcade the movement went, followed by the crowds from Swanston Street.
Down another lane they rippled, and upstairs (yes, up stairs!) into the library and through a window into one of Melbourne’s iconic laneways, before clattering down into the subway and along one of the train platforms at Flinders Street Station. Across the pedestrian footbridge over the Yarra River and into another shopping centre, the dominoes took yet another leap of faith from a high balcony onto the paving alongside the river.
Along the water’s edge, up over benches, tables and other obstacles the dominoes rippled, before climbing up a spiral staircase and into the Hamer Hall, up more stairs and out of the foyer into the Arts Precinct, curling in and out of the ornamental Black Waves, and across one of Melbourne’s famous green areas up to another jump, and around a curve into the foyer of the Arts Centre. Up more stairs to the final jump and a huge domino splattering finale in front of the Opera House.
Roars of applause and cheers heralded the end of the event, and then 300 volunteers set to work to clean up and re-stack the breeze-blocks, and to sweep the streets and pavements free of breeze-block crumbs. For the hard workers, there was the reward of a party at the Arts Centre – with special guest Betty Amsden herself.
And what happens to the breeze-blocks? In the weeks to come they will be donated to a community building project. Thank you, Betty Amsden!