Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mt Wellington & Hobart

We can’t stray too far on Tuesday as Steve has to register for his conference.  We haven’t spent much time in Hobart so we decide to browse the Salamanca Markets and try some of the local fish and chips.  I’ve read great things about Fish Frenzy so we decide to eat there.  It is another glorious day in Hobart so we sit outside at the docks and watch the action on the water.  The flat fish is wonderful and fresh but the pieces are tiny! 2011 10 25 Mt WellingtonWe’ve arranged to visit friends for dinner so we spent the rest of the afternoon driving up Mt Wellington.  It is a 22km winding drive up the mountain and it was interesting to see the change in vegetation from dense forest to more windswept and sparse vegetation as we neared the top.  The mountain is often covered in snow and even this late in the year there were pockets of the white stuff lying around although much of it was running off down the road we just came up.  The temperature was a lot colder up here and the wind a bit breezy so I put on another layer to keep warm!  Mt Wellington-3

We spend some time at the top exploring before we head back down to Hobart for dinner.  We have a great time with Steve & Shevaun, friends of Steve’s cousin Maria and her husband Shannon who we met when they visited Sydney a few months ago.  They have four kids and live in a lovely location, overlooking the water in a central part of Hobart.  They run a chicken farm along with looking after their four kids and it was fun spending an evening with them and hearing their stories of a very different life.  All too soon it is time to say goodbye and we drive back to surfside – another great day in a beautiful city! 

Picking Strawberries & Browsing Mona!

A cold front blew in on Monday and we woke up to cold winds (from the Antarctic?) howling outside even before we got out of bed.  Not in a rush to go out in the cold and wet weather, we got up late and had a nice breakfast in-doors.  Unsure what the weather might do we decided to visit the Sorrell Fruit Farm, a 10 minute drive from our cottage.  We are given umbrellas and a plastic box and encouraged to go outside and pick our own strawberries the only berry that is in season at the moment.  A little hesitant, I don my raincoat and set off.  We have only just started walking up the hill when the rain starts to fall again but by now we have reached the first of our strawberry patches and the taste of the ripe, sweet fruit has enticed me to stay and pick some more.  There is nothing like fresh fruit and veggies and in Tassie, everything seems to taste a little fresher and sweeter.  We can’t help but taste a few of the fruit as we fill our respective boxes.  The sweet juices run down our hands and I contemplate growing my own when we get back to Sydney.

Once our boxes are full, we go back down for a gourmet lunch of fresh salad, spinach pie and vegetarian lasagne.  It was absolutely yummy and after learning a little more about the farm and the fact that strawberries are so named because they grow in beds of straw, we get back on the road.

Mona Gallery-1 We drive through historic Richmond and head out to the rather nondescript suburb of Berriedale to visit the Museum of New and Old Art (MONA).   The museum is the brainchild of multi millionaire gambler David Walsh who has collected both old and new art with his winnings.  I am sure there have been many heated debates about what constitutes ‘art’ after people leave this museum.  It certainly gives you an insight into the mind of David Walsh!  I think of some of the words that might describe the art as well as the building – incredible, amazing, awesome, creepy, weird, gimmicky, thought provoking, bizarre…the list goes on.

006623-monaThe museum is referred to as the Temple of David and houses a collection that some may find to be both disturbing and confronting!  The collection which is valued at around $100 million is the largest privately owned collection in Australia.  The main focus of the art appears to be sex, death & bodily functions and it forces you to confront things you would rather avoid.  There is a machine that mimics the human intestinal system which is fed each day and excretes depending on what the curator fed it!  I am not kidding….it is one of the talking points and highlights that people seem to come in search of.

We were rather lost when we first arrived, finding it difficult to even find the entrance of this famous museum.  I read later that all this is intentional and the fact you have to walk through a tennis court to get to it is one of David’s idiosyncrasies that in fact annoyed the architect!  The museum has been carved out of the ground and you descend 3 stories to its depths to start your tour.    Down in the depths is a bar which serves David’s own brew – Moo Brew!  A solid 15m sandstone wall reminds you of the excavation carried out to create this museum.  P1010219

One of the first exhibits that catches my eye is Julius Popps Bit.fall where a sheet of water falls in front of a vertical wall and various words appear and disappear in a bid to remind us of the flood of information we are now bombarded with.  Words such as ABC, Tony, victims, mall, inquiry, accident flash by, making us stop and think about our world today.  I think the only problem for the curator is the popular appeal of this exhibit!  P1010208

Then there was Austrian Erwin Wurm’s fat car made specially in red as per David’s instructions.  The Porsche – the ultimate symbol of extravagance - has been deformed to resemble a puffy obese car reminding us of the unnecessary consumption occurring in the world around us.  

I was also quite taken with the exhibit of a human mind.  You can peer inside and have a look at the million bits of information (by way of pieces of fruit, other objects) swirling around.  It is a reminder that our conscious mind can only process a very small fraction (about 20 bits of information/sec)  P1010205compared to the more than 11 million bits that pass through our sub conscious mind.  People often talk about a sixth sense or intuition and this exhibit makes us realise the value of information stored in our subconscious from our past experiences and come to grips with the fact that not everything can or should be evaluated based on pure logic!

What strikes me about this museum is how different it is from anything I have seen before.  While most museums are just buildings that provide space for their collection, it was David’s collection that inspired much of the design of this building.  Sydney Nolan’s P101020345m long Snake is one such example where an entire wall is taken up by this piece of work.  It is a collection of hundreds of individual images that combined highlight the image of a snake reminding us of its significance in dreamtime stories. 

The artwork is not displayed in any chronological order but rather appears to be completely random.  The walls are devoid of any information and each visitor is given a set of head phones and and iPod type device which gives you access to both audio and written information about each piece.  The information you get changes each day and is random, so you may be reading something quite different to the person standing next to you.  A novel concept indeed.  The museum is quite dark, while the artwork is lit by spotlights.  There are rooms within room that surprise and startle you and it is the most innovative building I have seen designed to house works of art.  I read that during the opening festivities, there were a pile of dead animals next to the carvery, a reminder to people of where their food comes from!

It is certainly worth a visit if you have an open mind are able to think laterally and feel open to being challenged!  If not, I suggest you give it a miss…:) P1010183 “Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”   - Erica Jong

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Postcard from Tassie..

We arrive in Tasmania to discover that although it was about 10 degrees cooler than Sydney, the sun was still shining brightly and it looked spectacular. Everything had gone to plan, our Qantas flight wasn’t cancelled despite the strikes and we picked up our car Surfside Cottage-11and arrived at our Surfside Cottage without too much fuss. It is a delightful little cottage, with beautiful views of the Southern Ocean.  The view is both stunning and mesmerising and the sound of crashing waves almost deafening!

We run down to the beach but the water is freezing and we both fight shy of diving in.   We are excited to be here and after devouring a hot cup of tea, toasted sandwiches and the cheese & crackers we discovered in our fridge we drive in to Hobart for desert.  It is Saturday night and the place is buzzing and we find ourselves a cosy cafe in the plaza behind the Salamanca Markets and enjoy desert and hot chocolates as we people watch.

We wake up excited.  It is another sun drenched day in Van Dieman’s LDrive to Port Arthur (4)and!  Our cottage is on the eastern side of the island and hence ideally placed for a trip down to Port Arthur.  Steve has never been to Tassie before so it is exciting to be here with him and discover it together.   We drive through beautiful tree lined back-roads (are the gum trees taller here?) on the Tasman Peninsular to reach our first scenic stop where we find a great example of tessellated pavement at Eaglehawk Neck. 

As explained in Wikipedia, tessellated pavement is a rare erosional feature formed in flat sedimentary rock formations that is found on some ocean shores. The pavement bears this name because the rock has fractured into polygonal blocks that resemble tiles, or tessellations. The cracks were formed when the rock fractured through the action of stress on the Earth's crust and subsequently were modified by sand and wave action.  It is a beautiful spot and we go for a walk, take pictures and marvel at the display of colours – the stark black of the pavement, the green moss and the blues of the ocean.  2011 10 23 Tessalated Pavement Tasman Arch & Port ArthurThere are many strange rock formation on the Tasman Peninsular but the Devil’s Kitchen seems to be an appropriate lunch stop.  This area is all part of the Tasman National Park and has spectacular coastal walks that hug the cliffs and provide great views of more formations like the Tasman Arch.  The arch is what is left of the roof of a large sea cave, created by the wave action thousands of years ago.  It is a beautiful sight that I almost missed because it is right at the car park! Tessalated Pavement Tasman Arch & Port Arthur-1It is past midday now and we decide we should make tracks to Port Arthur, the main reason for our trip today.

While the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first explorer to land on Tasmania, it was originally named after the Dutch East India Governor Van Diemen.  The British colonised Van Diemen’s land in 1803 as a penal colony and while it was initially part of NSW it became a colony in its own right in 1824.  From 1833 to 1853, Port Arthur became the destinations for the most severe offenders in both Britain and Ireland.  Generally, it was the re-offenders and the rebellious who found their way here.  Port Arthur became an example of a system based on the ‘Separate Prison System’ theory which was a shift from the old school thinking of physical punishment to the newer thinking of psychological punishment.  Ah…let’s play with people’s minds!Tessalated Pavement Tasman Arch & Port Arthur-2The layout of the prison was also interesting with each of the prison wings connecting to a hub from which they were controlled.  The ‘silent treatment’ was meant to give the prisoners the space to reflect on their crimes and hopefully become ‘reformed’ human beings!  Many of the prisoners developed mental illnesses from both the lack of light as well as sound and ended their days in the mental asylum built right next door!  The prison closed in 1877 and is a great open air museum that gives us a rare insight into the colonial era of Australia.  We finish a wonderful and exhilarating day with a boat cruise around the prison surrounds before we head back to base. 

2011 10 23 Tessalated Pavement Tasman Arch & Port Arthur-1 “Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” -Leo Burnett

The Salt Project & the Australian Centre for Photography


I learnt about the Salt Project an exhibition at the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP) through my photography club.  The ACP is located in Paddington, an inner city suburb renowned for its markets but equally appealing for its historic buildings and a great place to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon.  The ACP is located in a wonderful building and was hosting two exhibitions on the weekend we visited. 

The Salt project is the spectacular culmination of 8 years of hard work by Murray Fredericks.  He made 16 separate trips to the centre of Lake Eyre, camping alone sometimes for periods as long as five week to photograph and record this amazing landscape.  The photographs record the changing mood of the lake from those dull boring days where nothing happens to days awash with dark clouds, awesome thunderstorms and howling winds.  The changing colours are breathtaking from stark white to the orange hues of sunrise and sunset.   We sat on the floor and watched a documentary also filmed at the lake which gave us an insight into why he started this journey and some of the turmoil in his life which led him to chose a project that allowed him to be reflective of his past.  I was amazed at what he did to capture these photographs and would highly recommend this exhibition.  Check out his website and a preview of these photographs

"They are literally pictures of nothing, but nothing has never looked so good"
Art Critic John McDonald, Sydney Morning Herald 19th February 2006 - (on the Salt Project)


The second exhibition, also at the Australian Centre for Photography is that of outstanding Australian press photography.  As the website states, from daily-life and photographic essays, to portraiture and sport, the Nikon-Walkley Photographic Awards recognise excellence in Australian press photography.  Each year, more than 1000 photographers are judged for their work in capturing those moments that made us stop in our tracks.  From the triumphs in sport to the heartbreak of floods and gales, the photographs take us back in time through the lenses of Australia’s most talented press photographers.  Also definitely worth looking through!


“It’s not about breaking the rules. It is about abandoning the concept of rules altogether” - Paul Lemberg

52 Suburbs and the Museum of Sydney

When I returned from my travels around the world, I had at the back of my mind that I would write a blog about Sydney.  Perhaps, visit one special place each weekend, and share with the world all the hidden gems that only locals know about.  I many tourists have even heard of Berowra Waters, Dangar Island or our famous Pie in the Sky cafe?  How many people have made the trip up to the historic pub at Wiseman’s Ferry and sat outside to cook their own steak while enjoying the live music?  In fact, how many locals are out there who have never ventured further than a safe radius from the suburb they have called home for most of their life?  Most visitors to Sydney are taken to the usual icons – Bondi Beach, Circular Quay and the Three Sisters but there is so much more to this fabulous city. 

While thinking about how I might go about this project, I got caught up in life.  The 9 to 5 or rather 6 to 7 routine of waking up, driving to work and getting back home in time to cook dinner takes up much of the week.  In between I managed to throw a welcome home party, organise an exhibition, design a catalogue, have knee surgery, renovate my house, present my travels at a few forums, help move my partner to my place then help pack & clean up his house so it could go on the market, in fact we packed & unpacked a few times over, and the list goes on.  So, imagine my surprise to discover that while I had been travelling the world a lady by the name of Louise Hawson had decided to do something similar in Sydney.  She states that while she has lived in Sydney for over 30 years she had never set foot in most of its 600+ suburbs. So from September 2009 to October 2010, she explored and photographed one new Sydney suburb a week in search of the beauty in the 'burb!  She blogged about her experiences, 52 Suburbs, wrote a book and then launched an exhibition at the Museum of Sydney which we visited. 

Having just completed my own exhibition and kept a blog for a year, I had a great appreciation for the effort and discipline it must have taken her to put this project together.  As we viewed the photographs, many of them displayed as a double collage of complementary photos from the one place I was transported back to some of my favourite suburbs through the eyes of Louise.  However, I overheard comments from others that perhaps she had not captured their version of a particular place.  Art is never without its critics and will never please everyone but I thought the concept was clever and she had captured moments from each of these places that she thought was special and created punctum for others.  Ultimately, I think what is most important i that your art is an honest portrayal of a place through your own filter…and then you hope your audience will feel that connection as well! 

The exhibition has now ended but the Sydney Museum is still worth a visit.  As the website claims it was designed by one of Sydney’s best-known architects, Richard Johnson of Denton Corker Marshall, and it sits on one of Australia's most important sites. It was here that Australia’s first Government House was built in 1788 as a home and office for the colony’s Governor, Arthur Phillip. The museum forecourt, known as First Government House Place, preserves the remaining foundations of the house, while aboveground the art installation Edge of the Trees marks the site of first contact between the British colonisers and the Gadigal people.  It was a great day out and one I would recommend. 

Local Clubs – Toastmasters & Photography

Finding a local club in an area you are passionate about is a great way to meet local people who share your passions, make new friends and learn from each other.  Travelling gave me a chance to realise more fully the things I was passionate about – writing, public speaking, the great outdoors and photography were at the top of this list.  Before I left on my travels, I had pursued my love for bush walking by joining Trekfa, a bush walking club in Northern Sydney but now it was time to pursue other passions..

On my return to work I found that a corporate Toastmasters Club had been started at my office.  It was a young club and was having a hard time attracting and keeping members who were too distracted by their lives to dedicate time to developing a skill which would help in more areas than most people realised.  Toastmasters not only helps give you self confidence in public speaking  but develops leadership skills, impromptu speaking skills, enables you to listen and evaluate speeches and also helps develop your creative writing!  One of my favourite segments is Table Topics where you are given a topic of which you have no prior knowledge to which you speak for 2 minutes.  It was quite a surprise to enter my club competition for this segment and end up winning the competition and to then realise I would have to represent my club at the area competition!!  While I didn’t go any further in the competition, it gave me a taste for the competitive side of public speaking although my real passion is to eventually become an effective motivational and inspirational speaker!

While hanging up my photos for my exhibition at the Hornsby Library, I was fortunate to meet Sean Collins, the president of the Hornsby Heights Photographic Club.  He came along to my launch and invited me to the launch of their own exhibition, held at the library a month later.  Sean also invited me to join their club and after thinking about my time commitments, I decided to go along.  It has turned out to  be a really fun experience and in the short time I have been there, I have met new people and been introduced to many opportunities in Sydney to grow my love of photography.  The club has a competition each month to which you submit photos in 4 categories ranging from monochrome, to prints to digital.  The photos are judged by independent qualified photographers who award you a merit or a high commendation.  In my two visits, I have already collected my fair share of merits and commendations and feel I am already learning about how to go from taking a good photograph to a great one!  We had a professor of photography visit the last time and I was quite thrilled when he picked up one of my photographs and said – now here’s a photograph with punctum!  While the word is latin for puncture or wound, it was used by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida (1980), to describe how he feels touched by certain photographs, because of incidental details which trigger emotionally charged personal associations, unrelated to the meaning of photographs as culturally determined.
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The judge kept reminding us of the importance of triggering a reaction in our audience and also that we should be trying to convey a story and that a photograph should have depth rather than being just a holiday snap.  I went home happy in the knowledge that I seem to be on the right track to capturing a bit of punctum…!

JPEGS  2010 12 28 Paulet Island-29

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off… They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating.” - Pearl Buck

Stormwater Conference

During my travels of 2010, I became more aware that water has shaped the way cultures have evolved since the beginning of civilisation when our predisposition to settle along rivers shaped our societies.  I realised that humans the world over are intrinsically connected to water and this defines the way they live, how they spend their time and the quality of life they enjoy. 

This formed the basis of a paper I wrote for the NSW Stormwater conference putting together stories I had come across during my time in Asia….

Cambodians have an incredible history of water management and this is self evident when one visits Angkor Wat and the city of Angkor Thom.   P5061244 As I hovered over this city in a stationary balloon, I got an appreciation of the extent of the channels, reservoirs moats and embankments that covered this landscape.  This complex system enabled them to divert floodwaters during the monsoon season and store it for use during the dry periods, supporting both a large population and the agriculture of the region. Ultimately, due to prolonged droughts and a population that stretched the limits of the water supply that was available, this ancient Kingdom collapsed. As explained by Fagan in his book Elixir which I am currently reading, Angkor delivers a powerful message about the dangers of overstressing the environment and about the importance of maintaining sustainability.

As I travelled through Cambodia, and spent time in villages, I saw much simpler systems of water P4150579 management at work. With ground water often contaminated by arsenic and chemical contaminants The reality for most rural Cambodians is that they must source their own water, collect it, filter it and store it themselves for the survival of their families. As I travelled through the villages I noticed that every household had an informal system of rainwater harvesting mostly by way of large concrete pots connected to their roofs. These jars with a capacity of 200-500 litres (costing about $5 a jar) are the most common way to store water

While these traditional methods of rainwater harvesting need to be revised to safeguard against contamination during storage and use, it is still a great example of how rural Cambodians live sustainably within the water resource of their catchment. Perhaps with a little modification it is an example we could apply here in our own households in Australia.

Thousands of Cambodians die each year due to easily preventable water-born illnesses and due to the fact they ingest contaminated ground and surface water.  While in Phnom Penh, I spent a day with a volunteer from Engineers Without Borders. He worked for Resource Development International (RDI), an organisation engaged in providing an integrated and wholistic approach to providing clean water to Cambodians using a simple technology of ceramic filtration.


The water filtration process that has been developed is inexpensive, simple and sourced from locally available materials and technology.  It is another example of using local/simple solutions to solve a complex problem.

The Mekong and the Tonle Sap Rivers play a pivotal role in life in Cambodia where much of the nations psyche seems to be caught up with the ebb and flow of its rivers. 

P5070022I spoke about the lives of the people who live on floating houses in the lake or raised houses on land and how they have adapted to living with the ebb and flow of the river.  P4040099In Vietnam, in places such as the Mekong Delta where a child grows up around water, it becomes a fundamental part of the make-up of his/her life. Water is celebrated through festivals, and offerings are made to the river deity during times of hardship.  From the floating markets at which they trade and the navigable canals which they use as a means of transport, to the many fish they catch for their dinner table, the river has always been a wonderful provider.


This ‘celebration’ of water was brought home to me as I walked into an art gallery in Hoi An and discovered an entire wall taken up by a flood marker.  The rains around October/November dictate that part of this town shuts down for business as the town situated on the edge of a river is immersed in a few metres of flooding! Furniture from the first floor is taken upstairs to make ‘Room for the River’ and the faces on the marker (happy or sad) records how severe the flooding was!

I was also able to share some of the methods of water harvesting from my experiences in Sri Lanka. P7030151Rainwater harvesting is not a new concept to Sri Lanka whose irrigation systems and tanks for water storage were some of the most complex in the ancient world. In fact one of Sri Lanka’s much revered Kings once stated, “let not a single drop of water that falls form the skies flow to the sea without it being used for the benefit of man,” Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 AD)

The tsunami in 2006 caused much destruction in Sri Lanka and many of the wells were contaminated by seawater intrusion. Thus many of the new villages that were rebuilt used the rainwater harvesting technology that had already been trialled in the country previously. The tanks are from 5-7000 litres in volume and cost up to approximately AUD $200. In the dry zone, these tanks will not be operational for more than 6 months of the year due to the total lack of rainfall. P7030167 The lessons learnt from the water harvesting projects in Sri Lanka are similar to those from Cambodia. Introduction of new technology was done together with education campaigns for both government officials and the villages. Trial projects in the early stages helped demonstrate the technology, making sure there was community contribution in terms of unskilled labour and hence ensuring a higher sense of ownership of the tank by each household. The recipients were also trained in the operation and maintenance of these tanks so they understood the importance of keeping contaminants out and minimising the opportunities for mosquitoes to breed. As the technology improved and first flush devices were introduced the water quality improved creating a greater sense of trust in the system.

As demonstrated by these projects, there are simple solutions to sustainable living that are both beneficial to the environment and also enrich people’s lives.  There are important lessons for us here in Australia from some of the remotest and poorest places in the world.