Thursday, March 25, 2010

Grand Prix

Melbourne is hosting Grand Prix racing today and over the next few days. I don’t have much interest in motor car racing but the noise is exciting and it was impossible to resist going to have a look. This however proved to be more difficult than I imagined. The course of the race is on public roads that have been sectioned off. I thought this would mean that members of the public would be able to watch the cars zip past from not too far away. However, the entire area has been fenced off and one has to buy a ticket, which start at $40 and go into the hundreds, in order to get in for a good view. I was appalled by this. Sure, if it had been a private racetrack then people can be charged for entrance, but it is a public road they are using. Public roads belong to the public and they ought to be able to see the race. To section off some public roads so that people can’t use them and also to cause further traffic congestion for the benefit of a private profit-making enterprise is unjustified. No doubt the local politicians who okayed this decision got free passes to the event.

I made this argument to a policeman who happened to be standing next to me as I tried to get a look, but he was unresponsive. Anyway, here is the view I had - I have zoomed way in and could barely see the cars. In the hotel where I am staying, the room next to mine is occupied by a professional photographer from Germany who is here to photograph the race. Hopefully for him, he gets better shots than me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Movie Double Double Feature

I haven't been posting much to the blog recently because I've been not doing much, just relaxing in Melbourne. Soon I'll be heading for a quick visit to Tasmania and then an equally quick trip form Melbourne to Adelaide via Great Ocean Road and the national park at Grampians. So I'm saving my energy for then.

One enjoyable experience in Melbourne happened over a week ago when I discovered the Astor Theatre, an old movie-palace in St Kilda that shows a mixture of contemporary and classic films. On one day they were showing a double feature of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, Swing Time and Top Hat. Both were great. I couldn't tell you much of the plots of either - one involved mistaken identity - but the stories of the films are less important than the great music and dancing. Songs included 'Cheek to Cheek' and 'A Fine Romance' by Irving Berlin.

After watching these in the afternoon, I hung around for another double feature in the evening, this time two Alfred Hitchcock films, Rear Window and Vertigo (for which Kristen joined me). I've seen both these before but seeing them on the big screen and in brand new prints was amazing. I'm unsure which is best. Rear Window is so clever in each of the windows that 'Jeff' peers into having its own story, but Vertigo is beautiful and has a dreamy atmosphere. James Stewart is great in both. I even wore a James Stewart t-shirt, which I had bought the day before, to the screenings!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hanging Rock

The location of the book and film Picnic at Hanging Rock is not far from Melbourne so, being such an admirer of both, it would’ve been remiss of me not to take the opportunity to visit. The train trip took around an hour and just after noon Kristen and I were at the town of Woodend. There is no public transport out to the rock, so we hired bikes and set out on the twenty minute ride. Arriving at the park, we passed through the main entry and souvenir shop (trying not to be tempted by the special limited edition of the book with lavish photos from the film) and walked up the track until we reached the location where the main picnic in the film took place, which is at a spot called Morgan’s Blood Waterfall. After cheese and tomato sandwiches with olives and crisps we were sufficiently re-energised to make the walk up to the summit.

The entire crop of rocks is called Hanging Rock after a particular rock formation where a rock seems to hang over the pathway. We passed through this and continued our way until reaching the area of flat rock where the four girls stopped for a rest and fell asleep in the sun. Here, we went off the designated path and weaved our way through some of the narrow passageways in the rocks, finding small clearings leading to further passageways. We made our way further up, with more exploring of the rocks. It is not difficult to see how someone could get lost there. The rocks are tall but narrow and there are so many of them that once you make your way around a few, your sense of direction gets confused and finding the way back is tricky. For a brief moment, I felt lost and unable to work out the way back to the path. I circled round until luckily I found it again. Once at the summit, I climbed to the highest point possible and had a great view of the surrounding Macedon Ranges.

The major theme of the book and the film is the mysteriousness of nature, its oddity and at times otherworldliness compared to the life and activity of humans. Hanging Rock feels like that. You feel like you’re somewhere where you don’t really belong, or, that if you do want to belong, you have to separate yourself from usual worldly affairs. Perhaps that ultimately is the only explanation of the girls’ disappearance.

Friday, March 12, 2010

War and Memorials

Yesterday I visited the War Memorial Museum in Canberra and got to thinking about war memorials and war in general. Several people, both on this blog and elsewhere, recommended visiting this site. The size and diversity of the collection are impressive but like other war museums, this one is ultimately two things: a glorification of war and a place where overgrown boys can get their jollies by imagining they are soldiers. I’m all in favour of public institutions that help people learn about the history of their country but glorifying war is not what those institutions should be doing. And have no doubt that this is what they do. Perhaps not in an obvious way - it’s not as if they triumphally brag about victories - but the materials subtly present as noble and dignified what is ultimately the most fundamentally immoral form of behaviour possible. The memorial centrepiece is a church-like room with twenty foot representations of a soldier, a navyman, a nurse, and an aircraft pilot between stained-glass windows inscribed with virtues such as ‘courage’, ‘patriotism’, and ‘honour’. We’re obviously supposed to be impressed and humbled by these pictures. War is a remnant from the middle-ages, a form of dispute-resolution for numbskulls. Most of the wars that Australia has been involved in have been unjust wars - Boer, First World War, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq (I’m willing to concede the Second World War was necessary to overcome fascism). I’d like to see war memorials replace the current ‘noble sacrifice’ message with one that says: ‘Like unintelligent cavemen who used to kill each other for bad reasons, countries also attack each other for bad reasons. Here’s what happened and why and here’s some of the stuff they used.’

Australia and New Zealand both fought in the First World War and the battle at Gallipoli in Turkey has become heavily symbolic in both countries, with increasing numbers of people (and increasing numbers of young people) commemorating Anzac Day every April 25th. The reason they fought Turkey is that they were allies of Britain and Britain was at war with Germany who were allies with Turkey. ‘The friend of my friend’s enemy is my enemy’ is hardly a sound basis on which to take action that will kill thousands (and as it turned out, millions) of people. Imagine Amy and Adam are friends and Ben and Bill are friends with each other, but Amy and Ben are enemies. So is it right for Adam to be hostile to Bill? Surely not. So the action at Gallipoli was actually an unjustly hostile invasion of Turkey by Australia and New Zealand. I’ve never seen any suggestion of this in a war museum.

It gets worse actually. Unlike in some other wars, the soldiers who fought for Australia and NZ in the First World War were volunteers. They freely chose to take part in this unjust war. So not only should the governments of the countries be held responsible for declaring an unjust war, but the soldiers themselves ought to be held accountable. Instead of honouring the surviving veterans every April 25th, we should actually be putting them on trial for war crimes.

Miranda's dress

At the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, there is a display of various items from Australian films, including the dress worn by Miranda in Picnic at Hanging Rock. It's one of my favourite films and if you've seen it you'll know that Miranda is the pivotal character. Sorry the picture is a bit dark but I think you can make it out.


I’ve spent three days in Australia’s capital city. The first thing that strikes the visitor is how self-important the city is. Parliament House is a huge building inside a circular piece of land and all around is a wide and spacious area dotted with other large buildings and statues. The area looks like it's trying to be Washington D.C and they even call it 'Capital Hill'. It's handy for when you are lost, for you simply scan the horizon for it, but otherwise the area is a sterile, forboding place. A sweeping vista of land leads from the parliament to the lake, and from the other side of the lake to the war memorial. Nearby, the old parliament house has been converted into a Museum of Australian Democracy, recording the 2000 years of development of democracy, as though this was a historical process that was always leading up to a culmination in Australia’s form of government. It is as though this nation - which although geographically large is only a small country of twenty million people - is stamping its foot and saying ‘take me seriously!’ Having said all that, I did enjoy my time here though. I sat in the public gallery of the House of Representatives and heard them debate paid parental leave policies. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said 'fair dinkum' at one point and another politician said it three times!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Puzzle solution

The correct answer is Sydney Opera House. A fantastic building, so unusual. It wouldn't get built today, cities are no longer daring, imaginative, or wealthy enough.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Can anyone guess what this is, what it is from? Answer in next posting.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Man Who Cannot Die

Today I sought out the offices of Frew Publications, the Sydney-based firm that has been publishing the Phantom comic book (which I read when I was young and still buy the occasional issue of) since 1948.

For those who came in late, a brief summary of the Phantom: The character began in 1936 as a newspaper strip created by Lee Falk, portraying the adventures of a costumed hero (no super-powers) based in the jungle of a fictional country. He battles pirates, robbers, and various other villains, as the 'keeper of the peace' in the jungle. The newspaper strips were collected into comic books by the Frew company in Australia, are still published every week, and there have now been over 1500 issues. So popular was the Phantom that when newspaper strips ran out, other stories had to be found. The Phantom is also very popular in Scandinavia and writers and artists there create original stories, which Frew then translates and publishes in the Australian comic book.

Tentatively, I knocked at the doors of Frew's offices, not knowing how they'd react to a member of the public dropping by. They were very welcoming, letting me look at the framed prints and other Phantom memorabilia there. Then the editor Jim Shepherd invited me into his office and we chatted for over half an hour on all things Phantom-related. I now have lots of inside info about things such as Lee Falk's sometimes frosty relationships with Phantom artists, the difficulties of tracking down the original strips, and the possibility of a new film version. And to top it all off, Mr Shepherd gave me a replica Phantom ring as a parting gift! So, a great experience, the memory of which I will cherish for a long time.

The Frew front office

Postscript added on 18 March: I've just been to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and found this Phantom-inspired piece of artwork. It's a shield of the Wahgi people of the village Korkor in Papua New Guinea, where Phantom comic books are also popular.

Totally, like, awesome

I'm in Sydney now and instead of the usual tourist sites I thought I'd bring you some unusual ones. I visited the Powerhouse Museum where there is an exhibition about 1980s culture. While reminiscing about the music I listened to (though where were Frankie Goes to Hollywood?) and the films I watched in that decade, a group of very loud and out of control school children came through. When they discovered a room that re-created the mood of an 80s nightclub, they went completely mental. Not just usual childish-high-spirits mental, but screaming-like-in-a-riot mental. Here's the proof in a brief video clip I shot. (It's an AVI file which can be viewed on most computers I hope.)

P.S. Can anyone guess the song that's playing? Title and artist please.

Here are a couple of other pictures: an Atari video game (I spent hundreds of hours on one of these) and a giant Rubik's cube.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Brisbane, city of rain.

I’m at the end of my stay in Brisbane and here are a few facts about the city:

1. It rains a lot. Four or five days of constant rain. I’ve never seen so much of it. I’ve lived in Auckland where it rains a bit and been to London where it also rains, but Brisbane takes the record. At least now whenever Australians hassle me about NZ weather I can mention Brisbane.

2. There is a beach in the middle of the city. Artificially created of course but there is sand and a bit of water to swim in. Unfortunately it rained so constantly that I never got a chance to sit on the sand or swim in the water.

3. There are river taxis you can catch and from which you can enjoy views of the city. Can’t really enjoy this when it’s raining though, which is ALL THE TIME.

4. It is close to Surfer’s Paradise, which I went to but didn’t really enjoy because of the rain. See earlier post.

5. The cultural centre - containing two art galleries, a museum, and the state library - is a good place to go to when it is raining. You may get wet getting there though.

6. There is a casino in the old Treasury building. This is something to do when it rains. I didn’t but I thought it was funny that the treasury is now a casino.

7. Fortitude Valley is the main nightspot with bars and clubs, though its difficult to get round when it is wet, and that is (have I mentioned this?) almost ALL THE TIME.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Surfer's paradise?

I'm sure it's probably much nicer when it isn't raining.

Monday, March 1, 2010


A non-travel-related blog entry, just for a change. For some time I've been interested in communication difficulties, partly because of professional interest (I'm a university lecturer). I think it was poet Philip Larkin who said that if we realised how seldom we are understood by those we talk to, we'd hardly ever make the effort. Probably too strong, but I think misunderstandings are more pervasive than we think. Anyway, the reason I thought of this is because I came across this cartoon today I liked, so I took a photo of it. (Hopefully my blog entries are clear.)