Melbourne to Canberra; or, The Melatonin Mambo
Similar to the London – Dubai leg, we travelled to Melbourne via an Airbus A380. One of the double decker numbers, it always surprises me that they manage to keep aloft. The front end looks a bit cock-eyed, the pit smooshed and uneven. Evidently, Air Emirates is switching to the Airbus entirely for this haul; certainly wasn’t full up in economy, so I can only assume that the business and first class sections (the top level of the plane, unsurprisingly) float the cost. Couldn’t catch a wink of sleep over the seven-hour red eye, though I did manage to get in both Trumbo and The Big Short.
Flew over the country, diagonally, so we were able to get a bit of a look when we met up with the sun. Riffing on Kant’s style, I’ve been telling my wife for years that the whole place is a desert. It was nice to be proven correct. I was ready for a hassle come security – not as bad as the States, by any stretch, but worse than most. Attendants were a bit stiff, but the Canadian passport did the usual job. It’s coming up on time to replace it, and the photo is comically young by comparison to today. Got a few double-takes on the change of hairstyle.
Did the tour of my In-Laws’ place when we got in. They moved house recently, and have been hard at work reno’ing it for the past half-year. Caught sight of my first Red Back (Black Widow) in the bike shed. Play nice and they shouldn’t be a problem, and, truthfully, it’s unusual that the bite should actually pierce the skin. Saw a white tail spider later on. People are at a bit of a loss as to how or even if this one is toxic to humans, at least in its bite. Some victims have seen necrosis occur several days after the bite (think Brown Recluse style), but this could just be an isolated allergic response to bacteria that ride along with the puncture. Suffice to say, we crushed it with a slipper. The sleep schedule in Singapore was pretty off – getting to bed, dead tired, at 9:30, only to wake up at 2 AM and remain wholly wakeful until 6 – so starting to take melatonin tablets before bed to try and sort things out.
Got out on the bike on the 7th, playing passenger. I can better understand now what Pirsig is talking about when he contrasts car vs. motorbike, the freedom of it, the intimacy and the direct contact one has with the environment that you just can’t get looking through a windscreen. I assume that the experience is only enhanced when you’re in control of the bike yourself, responding to what’s coming at you.
We went a bit outside of the ‘burbs, getting a look at the countryside immediately out of Melbourne. The trees here, even the European transplants, have a very particular look. The dryness of the environment leaves them twisted and thin – idiomatic to my mind of the Australian terrain, at least outside the Northern Territory. Some of the hills could’ve been Canadian, plus a lake worth of moisture and some conifers. We got as far as the foothills of the Dandenongs, a Devonian range subject to heavy glaciation, yet still casting a rainshadow for some distance inland. Looking into some of the valleys, the depth and the curve, was heavily reminiscent of the Devonshire hills – despite the acute desiccation. Saw a few kookaburra, some galahs on the wing, and one dead ‘roo, fairly fresh.
Next day, went further afield, up to Healesville. Healesville, located on the edge of the Yarra Valley and the Dandenong Ranges, historically served as a conduit for resources coming down from the high country on their way to processing and exportation in Melbourne. Picturesque place, the drive through the Valley shows some fairly standard Australian grazing territory, whereas the heights show some proper bushland, thicker than the more tame scrub in the Melburnian ‘burbs.
Took a walk through Badger Weir, a portion of the Yarra Ranges National Park and a segment of one of the city’s reservoir systems. Beautiful old-growth forest, showing off how high and straight eucalypts can get given the time and moisture. Plenty of kookaburras and rosellas filling the canopies and mid ranges.
Arrived in Canberra on the 10th. The melatonin has been replaced by paracetamol, as, no doubt from the abrupt temperature changes with air con and sweltering outdoors, I’ve come down with a head cold. Doubly frustrating as I just got over one before the trip began. Or I could have the Zika, that too.
Canberra, Australia’s Capital, gives Ottawa the run for its money as Cardboard Cut-out City No. 1. Much like Ottawa, Canberra was placed smack-dab between two cities vying for supremacy – in this instance, Melbourne and Sydney. As such, it is – once again, like Ottawa – largely built-to-purpose, with little going on aside from the parliamentarians, diplomats and support staff (i.e., prozzies). Given the relative height of the city, it’s rather good at pretending it’s European, with imported trees, it’s own (artificial) lake, and bewilderingly crap public art (though, the argument can be made, this is universal).
One of the few things Canberra does have going for it, again mimicking Ottawa, is a quality Uni – which is why we’ve made the trip (I’ll let you lot fight over whether I mean Laurier or OttawaU).
The party split on the 11th, one set headed to a talk at ANU, the other touristing, seeing the Parliament and the National Museum. I fell into the second group, and can report that, on both scores, Ottawa is superior. I feel a bit awkward at playing the Canadian Nationalist, but the advantage clearly lies to the North.
The Australian Parliament building (the new one) is a monstrous conglomeration of architectural styles. Primarily built around a central hall with the House of Representatives and the Senate in opposing wings, the corridors in between displaying a mix of old-dead-white-dude portraits (surprisingly, they haven’t X’d out the eyes on ol’ Gough Whitlam – yet), abstract art, either naff or aboriginal, and, oddly enough, an elaborate copy of the Magna Carta.
The House of Representatives and the Senate look like the second best lecture hall at your local community college. The colours were washed out to begin with, and have faded something fierce in the intervening decades. A dull blue-grey in the Representatives, a magenta that may have been puce for the Senate, the set up does little to confer majesty or national pride on the proceedings. As a venue for the annual Business Depot general meeting, it would be more appropriate. And so many clocks! Digital, analogue, four or five to a wall – there’s no explaining the number.
The building itself, as I’d said, is a melange of different marbles, plasters, dry-wall and wood, parquetry and paneling jumbled together with no sense of organisation. Even if they had done something full-on, Rococo as anything, at least then they’d have some internal coherence, a respect for the form. As is, you’re left with a moderately unsettling building, undignified and garish.
The National Museum was equally architecturally embarrassing. One of our group described it as a modernism that just wasn’t quite modern. Redolent of ideas steeped in the nineties, it’s a mystery as to why you’d set up what purports to be a touch-stone for the nation, something you’d think is meant to express stability, progress, and design it with in-built expiry. It looks passé. It looks, for all its striving, mediocre.
Curling around itself, the building is deliberately set up “like a puzzle.” There’s no linear progression through galleries – paths double back on themselves when not running parallel with intermittent division, floors have holes punched to the above or below, mixing the apparent themes willy-nilly. As a means of exhibition, the space fails.
There was an exhibition focussing on the Aboriginal artefacts, many on loan – on loan, not repatriated – from the British Museum called Encounters. The curation of this collection was confusing, at best. Much like the rest of the museum, there was little logic in the organisation or flow of the space – a continent’s worth of artefacts from a variety of disparate cultures were scattered about, with barely any ethnographic contextualisation. Placards and videos that did exist focussed more closely on how the artefacts were acquired by whitey than they did the meaning and use in the original instance. There were plenty of emotive statements by Aboriginal elders, but very little of anything educationally useful.
I reckon that these may have been cherry-picked, pulled out of context and used to shore up the predetermined narrative of the museum, but, outside of the Encounters exhibition, in the main collection, there are many statements by Aboriginal elders along the lines of “We are the owners of this country – we welcome you to it,” or “You are welcome to leave a footprint on our land.” Coming or going, this is execrable. If Aboriginal authority figures are so deluded as to believe they are in a position of power within the structure of the nation, despite all evidence to the contrary, how is the greater mass of people to overturn a continually lethal state of affairs? Or, if these words are indeed taken out of context, in a building and by a government agency that purports to be aligned with their interests – well, the culpability is obvious. Given the way the (paltry) Land Rights Act of 1976 has played out, and the continual way in which Aboriginal authority figures have economically preyed upon those they nominally lead (in ways quite similar to the Canadian situation), I’m inclined to believe the former. All in all, I left the museum dispirited and angry.
The gift shop was pretty shit, too.
Posted on March 12, 2016, in Travels & Travails in Australasia and tagged Aboriginal Culture, Australia, Australian Parliament, Canberra, Melbourne, National Museum of Australia, Travel Writing, Vacation. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.