Ms Clarke met Mr Brownlie “by serendipity”: “He was sitting on a milk crate in the city sketching buildings”.
“He said, ‘I could probably do that in about four to six months’. I just laughed, I knew it would take at least a year.”
The map that became the puzzle is so detailed it took two Mr Brownlie two and a half years.
Digital colourist Sean Rodwell made each building, tram or street feature, “right down to the buoys on the Yarra” its true-to-life shade.
One of the puzzle’s charms for those boxed up at home is that the pieces construct not only images of the grand things we know and love, but the granular.
Icons old and new are there, including the Royal Botanic Gardens, Rod Laver Arena, the Melbourne Star, Bunjil the sacred eagle and the “cow in a tree” sculpture.
So are the city’s characters, including the musician who plays “an oriental instrument” outside the NGV, the Yarra gondola guy, Gardening Australia’s Jane Edmanson, who is under the “significant elm tree” at the corner of Alexandra Parade and Punt Road and “carrot man” who roams the footpaths with a large papier mache vegetable.
There are many references to Melbourne’s traditional owners including a significant scar tree just to the right of the MCG. Mr Brownlie’s baby daughter, Florence, is in the Carlton Gardens.
Ms Clarke, whose tiny group is now working on The Geelong Map, came up with the “thought bubble” for an illustrated Melbourne map while collecting maps of famous cities as a backpacker in the ’80s.
She took 12 balloon flights, and 7500 photographs with artist Deborah Young Monk to create the first, black and white, map in an Armadale garage. It came out in 1991.
A distributor agreed to make only 100 copies, but after The Age ran it as a spread they sold 20,000.
Ms Clarke put the project aside for 15 years to co-found an abalone farm at Indented Head, on the Bellarine Peninsula, before bracing herself in 2015 to clean out a shed full of materials.
“I thought ‘I have to move this stuff’, but I got out there and was totally swept away with this project again,” she says.
“I went back to see if anyone had done another map of Melbourne but there was nothing so I started posting photos of my old map and got a response from people, ‘I know that map and I love it’.”
She invested her savings and part crowd-funded the 2019 map, which was re-drawn from scratch due to the huge change in the city, Deborah Young Monk did the new character illustrations.
He said, ‘I could probably do that in about four to six months’. I just laughed, I knew it would take at least a year.
Puzzle originator Melinda Clarke
The team approached developers for artist’s impressions of buildings under construction, including the Collins Arch (better known as the “pantscaper”) so their finished images could be added to the new version.
Ms Clarke wanted to support local manufacturers, but the closest remaining puzzle maker she could find was in New Zealand. In a fluke of luck, the firm got the puzzles onto a boat the day before New Zealand locked down.
She has been receiving “so many lovely emails” from people in isolation sharing their pleasure, but also their pain if a curious pet chews a piece. She is understanding.
“Dogs and cats seem to gravitate to it. I don’t know why. I actually have a jigsaw made up so I get them to send a photo and I post the piece … Anyone who buys the map and supports us we think is amazing.”
With New Zealand re-opening for business, more puzzles arrive in late May.
Wendy Tuohy is Lifestyle editor.