Neighborhood Walk: Toorak Black Over Red

Most of you will probably notice the Hornet on the truck first. Johannes and Bryce might initially be drawn to the truck itself. For me it’s the building behind; my hometown favourite.

The Toorak/South Yarra Library. Toorak Black.

Billy Thorpe was a seminal figure in Ozrock’s coming of age. I’m not so much a fan of his music, but towards the end of his life he wrote two highly readable memoirs; ‘Sex and Thugs and Rock’n’Roll’ – an extraordinary true tale of music and murder in Kings Cross in the 1960s, and ‘Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy)’ – the followup chock full of hilarious anecdotes.

Thorpe takes a pew in the automotive hall of fame for one of these anecdotes.

In 1965, a 19 year-old Billy walked into British and Continental Motors in William Street, Sydney, after having seen a red Aston Martin DB4 GT through the window. He made an offer on the car, and was of course snubbed by the sales staff. So he went to the bank, withdrew £8,000 in cash and returned to the dealership.

He drove home from British and Continental to retrieve some clothes then straight onto Brisbane, some 900 kms north. At 8:45am the next morning, he guided the DB4 through the gates of his old school Salisbury High, smoked the quadrangle with its rear wheels in front of 1,800 students then sped off while flipping the bird to his former headmaster who had told him he’d never amount to anything.

By the early 1970s Thorpe has moved to Melbourne and taken a house in Hawksburn Road, South Yarra.

One day, a dope tree about ten feet tall and six feet in diameter found its way to the house. It yielded four briefcase-sized blocks of hash. This concoction was duly named Toorak Black for its dense colouring and for the suburb next to South Yarra sitting just up the road.

The resin needed curing, but with a tour booked the house would be vacant. So the booty was instead buried around the corner on a block of land that had been vacant for years.

Billy went away for six weeks.

When he returned to the vacant block, instead of his stash Billy Thorpe found a giant hole being filled by the Toorak/South Yarra Library.

The Toorak/South Yarra Library is a clumsily-named architectural masterpiece.

Its design was led by local resident Barry Patten of the firm Yuncken Freeman. The structure is essentially two flat rectangular planes; with floor to ceiling glass curtains uninterrupted around all four sides apart from thin I-beam girders holding the roof aloft.

Its avowed minimalism belies a genuinely humanist space.

This is how I remember it in the late 1970s when visiting for my fix of Tintin and Asterix. I can still feel its soft warm energy in memory.

The use of red here might seem counter-intuitive, but it was very adroitly applied. The intensity of the hue was superbly balanced by the extra generous headspace.

To the credit of its custodians, this building has not suffered in the subsequent years nor has its amenity altered. The plan is unchanged; an uninterrupted U-shaped space around a large entrance. To the right is the study area, the left the children’s space and downstairs the servicing. It’s just a little bit more cluttered now.

Tragically, the red is gone.

I walk past Toorak Black daily.

And it can make a superb setting for the occasional curbside classic parked out front. Like this lovely E30 BMW. A smart shape, even in four-door. A leap in styling sophistication over its E21 predecessor.

The great thing about these C107s is that they are yet to fully emerge from sportscar beater status and seeing patinated examples is still the rule not the exception. This one I see a lot.

My preferred Boxster, but not a preferred Porsche. This is the first gen with the 996 nose and fried eggs and I think it’s the best of its breed. For me, the more modern this model becomes, the more it looks like a Toyota.

Loved seeing this so much, I going to run an AMC piece next.

I always thought I’d be happy with just a Sportabout, but I’ve caught a superb four door which has me thinking I need to own both.

Come Christmastime, the windows join the party.

Plenty of 105 coupés around here and this one I see the most. I spoke to its driver once, and she really didn’t come across as an enthusiast. This was just the car her husband has given her to use. I get the impression she does like driving it though.

This window dressing is a recent thing, and I’m not a fan. I get it because first and foremost it’s acting as a sunshade on the north-facing entrance.

But the image chosen is entirely underwhelming.

The council recently used the library as a base to gather demographic and qualitative information about the suburb and its residents.

This council also happens to have one of the most magnificent messaging boards in the world.

Bring these statistics to life on the face of this building.

This example is from Herwig Scherabon, a model depicting household values in London. Not that you’d have to understand its social message straightaway.

In the first instance, it’s just a great graphic pattern far more in keeping with its canvas.

Toorak Black is ageless. There is no fatigue in the facade at all; no peeling corners or pockets of decay. It exudes a material integrity missing in today’s swathe of cladding and veneer. It can be impenetrably impermeable, or it can reveal a resinous translucency in the low winter sun.

Its capacity to influence its surroundings does have its limits, though. For example, it simply cannot forgive this Jaguar XJC its chrome wheelarches.

My second best get is this Velar. Everything in the shot conspired to make it work including the clean overcast lightbox and the sensuous surfacing.

My best get so far. Magic hour during winter, when dusk overlaps with opening hours and the ceiling is called in to help fight the dying of the light.

This building is so magic, it can forgive a whaletail on a narrow body 911.

Further Reading

AMC Gucci Sportabout

Aston Martin DB5

BMW E30 Touring


1997 Porsche Boxster

The twincam jewel inside the Alfa Romeo 105 Coupe

Jaguar XJC Pillared

Loving the Velar

Whaletail on a wide body