Last Sunday I took my older son – who for the purposes of this blog I’ll call “Templeton” – to his first MUGs Junior meeting, a local LEGO group held bimonthly here in Melbourne for kids aged 5 to 13. We went with Templeton’s little mate “Tell” and his father, James, an old friend from uni who, like myself, has been experiencing something of a rekindled enthusiasm for LEGO through our sons’ discovery of the multicoloured bricks. “Did they have LEGO in the old days, daddy?” Templeton has asked me. “Well, we did have LEGO in the 1980s,” I say, which I know for him is a near mythical period from before the dawn of time when there were no mobile phones, LEGO Bionicles hadn’t been invented yet and his parents were still children themselves. “But what about the medieval times?” he asks. “Er, no, they didn’t have LEGO back then,” I tell him. Which I’m pretty sure is true.
MUGs Jnr is run by MUGs Snr, the Melbourne [LEGO] Users Group, who have been meeting and building and generally having a good time with LEGO since 2000. These are the guys who put on the annual Brickvention in Melbourne, Australia’s premier LEGO exhibition that has been going strong for a decade now. Earlier this year we were lucky enough to film a Games vs Play video story at Brickvention, where we met many of the hugely talented exhibitors and even got to interview Ryan “The Brickman” McNaught himself, the Southern Hemipshere’s only Certified LEGO Professional. You can see our video about Brickvention 2016 here.
The MUGs Jnr meet was held in a mysterious location in Thornbury known simply as The Baseplate. LEGO fans get this reference straightaway, but for the uninitiated let me just say it has nothing to do with baseball. I was personally hoping for something James Bond-esque, as in “Welcome to my subterranean lair, Mr Bond. I call it The Baseplate.”
We parked on a sidestreet just as several other carloads of parents and children were arriving. Walking in together as a silent group it felt a bit like we were about to join a secret society, or perhaps go to an underground rock concert. I began worrying that I’d forgotten to download from the MUGs website the special doorknock we needed to get in.
I must’ve driven past the Baseplate’s warehouse-like exterior on St Georges Road a hundred times and never suspected what was inside. But once you step through the front doors you find yourself in what one of the friendly MUGs volunteers proudly described as “the ultimate LEGO nerd cave.”
First up you’re greeted by a lifesize LEGO pirate standing just inside the door. “Yarr, here be bricks of many colours, ye scurvy LEGO lubbers!” I imagined him saying in fluent Pirate-ese (actually I might’ve said some of this out loud). In the front lobby there’s also a Duplo play area for younger children, some comfy couches with magazines for parents to chill out on if they want to take a break from their children’s current build, and glass display cases housing some Melbourne-themed LEGO kits like the Shrine of Remembrance and Flinders Street Station.
But it’s in the much larger back room that the Baseplate comes into its own. On the day of the MUGs Jnr meet there were at least half a dozen trestle tables each set up with an enormous tub of bricks, most of which soon got dumped in the middle of each table. Taking up the greater part of one wall was a replica Sydney Harbour Bridge, still under construction but looking great already.
James and Tell had arrived before us, and we joined them at their table. Within minutes the two boys were busy at play, building the kind of anarchic LEGO creations that are held together as much by the bricks as by the colossal imaginations of five year olds.
The next two hours passed in something of a blur. What I remember most is the sound that LEGO makes as it’s swirled about in those big plastic tubs, as people search intently for that piece that’s just right. The sound is something like hail falling on a tin roof, crossed with 5-cent coins rattling inside a washing machine on spin cycle.
The main focus of a MUGs Jnr meet is free play for the kids, which I think is awesome. Though I love the look of pride and excitement Templeton gets on his face when he completes a particularly complicated LEGO Star Wars kit, I still think there’s an important place for LEGO free play, for it’s within this space that kids’ imaginations can find their own discoveries and create their own worlds. But the good folk at MUGs Snr also run a small competition at each meet, and this month’s theme was for kids to use 50 2×4 bricks to create anything they liked. Which is kind of like saying to a pack of gremlins, “Hey, it’s after midnight, here’s the fridge – eat whatever you want!”
The MUGs volunteers announced the winners of the comp near the end of the 2-hour meet. I liked it that they didn’t rank the prizes in 1st, 2nd or 3rd, but rather just chose their two favourite builds. These were “Multipurpose Figure” by Isaac (in the centre of the picture below on the left – correct me if that title is wrong, Isaac!) and “Pooper Scooper” by Ryan (on the right.)
I think both these young lads did an excellent job on their builds – it takes not only talent and skill to make up your own LEGO creation, but also guts to show it in front of other people. I also think that Ryan should get in touch with the curators at MONA down in Hobart, as the idea of LEGO poop is surely right up their alley (if you can pardon that choice of words).
Overall I reckon the MUGs crew do a really excellent job running the MUGs Jnr meets. I know Templeton and Tell had a great time, and parents will be happy that the Baseplate is a safe and inclusive environment for their children to play in. For children (and parents) who are into LEGO there’s not much better way to spend a Sunday afternoon, apart from maybe the inevitable round of coffees and hot chocolates that came afterwards in which we debriefed. Templeteon and I will definitely be back – the only thing is that we have to wait another 2 months until the next meet!
Well done everyone at MUGs who contributes to running these sessions, and also to all the parents who made the time to be with their children. But most importantly, well done to all the kids who built something or just had a good old play, for it is in your plastic yellow claw-like hands that the future of LEGO is held.
For more information about MUGs Jnr go to their Facebook page. MUGs Jnr meets at The Baseplate, 509 St Georges Rd Thornbury 3071 from 1-3pm on the third Sunday of every second month. Here’s the meet up dates for the rest of 2016 – see you all there next time!
- Sunday 19 June
- Sunday 21 August
- Sunday 16 October
- Sunday 18 December