BYO Cinema at Central Park: Week 175

Central Park: Sydney, Australia

For as long as I’ve been in Sydney, at least as long as I can remember, there has been a construction site near Central Station. The levels kept rising, as any build would, but once they reached their apex this odd cantilevered part stuck out. Then there were plants. Lots of them. They grew up the walls of the building in tiger strip patterns and spilled over the edge like urban Spanish moss.

It became one of those buildings where every time you walk by you have to look up and make some sort of comment on the progress. I wonder what that shiny thing is? How are they going to wash those windows? How long will the plants survive up there?

Eventually the construction ceased and Central Park opened. The residential towers rose above a mix of retail shops and restaurants. During the day the cantilevered section glittered like the surface of water and at night it twinkled like a web of LED threads.

One day Barret and I finally walked inside Central Park and found the inside as verdant as the outside. The escalator was surrounded in a leafy whirlpool and perky little succulents adorned the patio tables.

We also discovered that the third level of the building housed a non-profit arts organization called Brand X. They provide, “subsidised workspace and creative development programs alongside facilities where artists can traverse the entire creative process from development to presentation.” It was pretty amazing, considering the cost of real estate, that Central Park had galleries and studios set aside for independent artists.

While the work was great, Barret and I were most interested in the BYO Cinema on Tuesday nights. Guests were obviously encouraged to bring their own alcohol and food, but that was only half the story. Participants could also bring their own ‘cinema experience’: a rug, a pink flamingo, a bathrobe, a purple unicorn, anything.

After going over a mental checklist of the stuff we owned, I decided the easiest theme would be a campsite. Tuesday evening I raced home from work and packed the inflatable mats, tin cookware, trail mix, wine, headlamps, pillows, and picnic blanket. On the way out the gate I stopped for a handful of broken eucalypt branches and stuffed them in my bicycle basket.

Ticket to BYO Cinema at Central Park: Sydney, Australia

I looked a little crazy walking into the shiny new building with a clutch of branches under my arm, but the guy at the door appreciated my bundle. “Oh my God!” He exclaimed as he gave me a clip of film for my ticket, You brought the fags!

While I inflated the mats Barret began to make a ‘campfire’. He put a blinking red bike light inside a paper bag to soften the glow and then piled up the branches around it in a conical shape. The result was a soft, flickering campfire that we could all gather around.

Just before the documentary began, the event organizers made an announcement about the upcoming film schedule. “I would also like to point out the winner for the best theme tonight because the bar has been set to a new level. Everyone, please take a look at the campsite and their fire!”

Not only was the evening’s documentary very interesting, but we also won a bottle of champagne and a DVD. It was such a fun experience that I’m already thinking about the next theme. I love Central Park, I love BYO Cinema, and above all I think my friends would say I love winning.

About: Central Park

About: Brand X

About: BYO Cinema

Australian Botanic Garden & A Scavenger Hunt Twenty-Two Years in the Making: Week 174

Grevillea paradoxa flower and bee: Australian Botanical Garden

Grevillea paradoxa

In 1992 anything I needed to know could be found in my set of World Book Encyclopedias. In the pre-internet days, my encyclopedias were a carefully curated fountain of knowledge that my parents didn’t need to monitor. Naughty buzzwords like ‘penis’ only ended in disappointment once redirected to the ironically sterile ‘reproductive system.’

Sometimes my dad would use the encyclopedias to create spontaneous educational lessons. There was something about the sight of 21 gilded volumes sitting on a shelf that tickled his fancy at the most inopportune time.

“Stephanie, what is unique about the Liberty Bell?” My dad would ask, clasping the black hardbound cover in his hands.

“I don’t… know.” I replied. It was evening and I was snuggled under a blanket in the downstairs lounge. My peripheral vision was glued to the Sesame Street movie flashing in front of me.

Think about what I read. How is it different from a new bell?”

“It’s… shiny?”

“Stop watching that TV! Here- give me the remote!”

Queensland silver wattle yellow flower: Australian Botanical Garden

Queensland silver wattle

Other times my mom used the encyclopedias to segue into topics such as plagiarism. This usually happened when I was writing school projects. I was completely nonplussed at the idea of getting in trouble for doing homework.

“Well,” my mom explained, “plagiarism means you can’t just write everything you see in the book.” I thought maybe she meant all of my sentences just had to be shorter than the ones in the book.

If I could go anywhere I would go to australia. This is the australian flag. I want to see soom australian animals like the salt water crocodile, a dingo, a koala. a Tiger Quail, a wombat, a cuscus and some plats like the ghost gum.

Looking back at my second grade Australia report, I definitely had my World Book Volume A at my side. Aside from ride an ostrich, (blame my South African mom for this erroneous inclusion) my Australian flora list read like a data table of native plant species.

Forest red gum peeling bark: Australian Botanical Garden

Forest red gum

They were the kind of plants that not even botanists get excited about; I know this because I went to the Australian Botanical Garden to find them. Of all the trees and bushes on my list, only the forest red gum was apparently important enough for a large sign.

Orange thorn bush: Australian Botanical Garden

Orange thorn bush

The Fruit Loop was one of the walks at the Australian Botanic Garden which contained a lot of interesting fruiting plants that definitely were too exciting for my seven-year-old self. The orange thorn bush had berries like miniature oranges. Unlike their namesake, the sweetness of the fruit and the bitterness of the rind were inseparable. After eating a few of them, the back of my throat was as dry as a cotton swab.

Atriplex-Australian-Botanical-Gardens-cropped-square

The old man saltbush was the hardest one to find. I enlisted the help of both the nursery volunteer and the visitor center to find the location of the elusive plant. The center’s computer eventually prevailed and I was led to a flower bed on the outskirts of an inflatable jump house and a kid’s birthday party. A metal dog tag clasped around one of its stems identified the plant by its scientific name.

Old man satlbush green leave: Australian Botanical Garden

Old man saltbush

I found a Grevillea striata grafted onto a Grevillea robusta, which was also on my list, so that kind of counted as two trees.

Grevillea striata: Australian Botanical Garden

Grevillea striata

The ghost gum and the snow gum were both in the park, but they just weren’t labeled. As this was a scientific journey, I was embarrassed that I couldn’t tell these two apart from each other nor from the red gums. I took photos of pretty flowers instead.

Sturts desert pea, red flowers with a black center: Australian Botanical Garden

Sturts desert pea

I know for a fact that the bonya pine grows on top of one of the tallest hills in the park, however I only learned this after missing the turn and riding my bike down the steep hill. A part of me wanted to traipse back up, but the other part just couldn’t be bothered. Barret sided with the lazier part of me.

The only plant I didn’t bother looking for was the karriatuarra jarrah. It doesn’t exist on Google, so I didn’t have a hope in hell of finding it at the botanic garden.

At the end of the day, I might make a terrible botanist but I will eventually see this list through. My second grade teacher would be so proud.

 

Dry grassy field at the Australian Botanical Garden

How to get to the Australian Botanic Garden: Narellan Road, Mt Annan NSW 2567

How to vote like an Australian: Week 173

An example of an Optional Preferential ballot: NSW, Australia

 

In honor of the 4th of July (I admit I’m a bit behind on my blog), I would like to write about one of the most patriotic things a citizen can do: voting. However, not just any old voting will do. Today we are going to talk about voting Aussie style. Not only is it unique, it’s also compulsory. That’s right, Belgium and Australia are the only two countries in the world in which you have to vote or you will get a nice little fine in the mail.

Depending on the type of the election, there are two main ways to conduct elections. The first and more straightforward method is called Optional Preferential (see drawing above). Unlike the US, which favors a two-party system, Optional Preferential will never leave you feeling like you’ve wasted a vote. Unless of course you are the kind of person who uses your ballot to draw anatomically correct figures.

This form of voting is commonly used in some local council elections and also to elect the NSW Legislative Assembly. The number ‘1’ is placed next to your preferred candidate and you can either finish there or continue numbering as many other candidates as you wish.

At the end of the election, these votes are separated into their first preferences. If one candidate receives 50% +1 of the first preference votes, they win.

If not, the lowest performer is ruled out and their votes are disbursed according to the second selection on the ballot. For example: velvet blue, your first choice, receives the lowest amount of votes. Velvet blue is eliminated from the pool and your vote goes to your second choice, Robin egg blue. If a ballot paper does not have a second choice it is exhausted and removed from the pool.

This continues amongst the lowest performers until a candidate emerges with the majority of the votes. Therefore, if you number multiple candidates, your vote could still count even if your first choice does not win.

The other common form of voting is called Proportional Representation. It’s commonly used to elect members of the Legislative Council and is a system which increases the odds of a minority party being represented.

An example of a Proportional Representation ballot: NSW, Australia

Unlike Optional Preferential, the Proportional Representation ballots can be massive. In fact, the 1999 election was a record-breaking election in terms of the size of the ballot paper.

As Norm Kelly puts it in his book Directions in Australian Electoral Reform:

“The March 1999 NSW Legislative Council election produced one of the largest ballot papers ever used in Australia (and possibly the world), with 81 groupings (including 78 parties) comprising 264 candidates.

The ‘tablecloth’ ballot paper measured 102cm by 72cm (approximately 3’4” by 2’4”). Its size created major logistical issues for the election, requiring the construction of wider voting booths and the use of larger planes for transporting papers.”

The most distinguishing feature of this ballot paper is the think line which runs across the top. It divides the paper according to the two options available: voting above the line and voting below the line.

Voting above the line is the fastest way to complete your civic duty. Just mark ‘1’ next to one of the political parties and you’re done. You could also continue numbering 2, 3, etc. should you feel inclined.

All political parties with a box above the line must have at least fifteen members. The reason being is that a vote above the line is essentially numbering each party member 1-15 in the order in which they appear. Obviously it is the party that decides the order of their own candidates.

Voting below the line is something you might want to do when you either disagree with the party’s order of candidates or you want to cherry pick your own dream team across party lines.

To do this you need to number at least fifteen candidates in numerical order. If you’re really gung-ho you can even number every single candidate on the ballot. Below the line voters can also choose from the group-less candidates on the far right hand that are in an ‘ungrouped’ column.

Even if you aren’t an Australian citizen, you can still benefit from this random bit of political knowledge. Just think about how exciting your next Halloween costume contest or bake-off would be if it were Aussie rules style. I can personally guarantee that the vote tallying makes a great spectator sport.

Iron Cove: Week 172

Bridge over the Iron Cove walkway: Sydney, Australia

Iron Cove is home to one of the most wretched activities in the world: jogging.

When asked if I wanted to join a jog around Iron Cove one Saturday morning I replied, “only if I can ride my bike.” As soon as I saw the faces of the sweaty, miserable hordes of joggers I knew I had made the right decision.

Is it a coincidence then that right next to one of the most popular torture routes in Inner West Sydney is the site of a former insane asylum? I think not.

Completed in 1885, the Callan Park Mental Hospital sprawls over a massive 100 acre plot along the Parramatta River. It was built at a time when new ‘discoveries’ in treatment were being made in the United States. Just as Pennsylvania influenced the rehabilitation of convicts in the 19th century, a Quaker physician named Dr Kirkbride influenced mental health treatment around the world, Iron Cove included.

Old greenhouse at the Callan Park Mental Hospital: Sydney, Australia

Dr Kirkbride was one of the first advocates for humane treatment and reasoned that patients, “are not disabled from appreciating books…or enjoying many intellectual and physical comforts.” He also held the first gathering of professional psychiatrists, which became the forerunner to the American Psychiatric Association.

I even found a blog dedicated to documenting the remaining asylums built in the US during the Kirkbride era. As Ethan McElroy explains:

Once state-of-the-art mental healthcare facilities, Kirkbride buildings have long been relics of an obsolete therapeutic method known as Moral Treatment. In the latter half of the 19th century, these massive structures were conceived as ideal sanctuaries for the mentally ill and as an active participant in their recovery. Careful attention was given to every detail of their design to promote a healthy environment and convey a sense of respectable decorum. Placed in secluded areas within expansive grounds, many of these insane asylums seemed almost palace-like from the outside. But growing populations and insufficient funding led to unfortunate conditions, spoiling their idealistic promise.

Garden path at the Callan Park Mental Hospital: Sydney, Australia

While I don’t know if Kirkbride ever stepped foot in Sydney, the Callan Park Mental Hospital was designed according to his views and the first block of neo-classical sandstone buildings was named after him. When the last patients transferred out of the Kirkbride Complex in 1994 the facilities were renovated for the Sydney Collage of Arts. The numerous other buildings within the grounds are in various stages of development for use as cultural, historical, non-profit, and mental health facilities.

“So, if you hate running,” my friends asked when they finally caught up with me, “how are you going to do the City to Surf?”

The City to Surf is an annual race in Sydney that is the largest running event in the southern hemisphere and one of the largest in the world. At 14 km, it’s about 12.5km longer than I have ever run before.

“Don’t worry,” I replied, “I’m definitely not planning on running.”

About: Iron Cove

About: Callan Park

The Outback: Week 171 Part 2

View of Mt Connor from Curtin Springs: Northern Territory, Australia

107.2FM was the only radio station on the Lasseter Highway. There were no DJs or advertisements, just a collection of obscure American albums that someone cared enough about to share with whoever might be passing through the dusty red landscape.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached Curtin Springs. It was a motel with a gas station and a shop that had as many functions as a Swiss army knife. Jars of pickled snakes and small wooden plaques lined the shelves behind the counter. A TV in the corner of the room was blaring part two of an annual rugby game called State of Origin. The first time I heard the tournament’s name I thought it was an important political address by the Prime Minister.

Although we were in the middle of nowhere, the young staff were all foreigners extending their Working Holiday visas. Citizens of certain countries can stay another year in Australia if they spend three months working in regional Australia. If it wasn’t for this program, places like Curtin Springs would have a very difficult time finding employees to wear their trademark blue and yellow shirt: Ugly staff but top service.

The facility itself was surrounded by a million acre cattle station, all of it owned since 1956 by the Severin family. It was easy to forget the arid land could support a working farm. In fact, the only time I heard a cow was before dawn. A pack of dingoes had surrounded the frightened creature with barred teeth and howls like electric chimes.The parking lot emu at Curtin Springs: Northern Territory, Australia

Barret, our friends, and I pitched a tent in the Curtin Springs campground and built a small fire to cook our dinner. A tame emu strolled by, pecking around the fringes of our site.

“Hey you guys, guess what band was playing on the only radio station in the outback!”

“You’ll never believe it,” Barret added, “it’s so random.”

It was impossible to guess, so Barret finally shouted out, “Coheed and Cambria- the entire album!”

Turns out there is no ‘underground’ cattle station, only our American friends driving behind us with their iPod radio adapter. I was a little disappointed to hear that.

Uluru at sunrise: Northern Territry, Australia

Just south of Curtin Springs and the Mobil gas station, a large plateau the color of dusty rose punched out of the flat terrain. To the unsuspecting traveler it looked like Uluru, but it was actually a beautiful red herring named Mt Connor.

The real Uluru was smooth, worn, and patterned like a tiger with dot-dot-dash stripes. When the sun began to rise, the bush landscape became two-toned. The tips of the vegetation were rosy-lime-green while the lower portions were blue-jungle-green. A ray of sun struck the monolithic rock and warmed it up like a glowing stove top.Receipt from Ayers Rock Resort: Northern Territory, Australia

This beautiful landscape first became a national park in 1950. Eight years later the land was taken from the traditional owners, the Anangu, and ownership was only returned in 1985. Since then, ‘Ayer’s Rock’ and ‘The Olgas’ are officially recognized as Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Longstanding cultural traditions, which had been suspended during that period, have also since resumed and contentious issues such as the ‘right to climb Uluru’ are being addressed. While it is legally possible to climb Uluru, it is culturally insensitive and heavily discouraged. The route up the rock is a sacred path taken by a few select Aboriginal men.

Uluru at sunset: Northern Territory, Australia

Photography is another thorny issue since ‘avoidance tactics’ are traditionally practiced after the death of a person. In the past this meant the deceased’s name was not said, but today it also encompasses photography and film. Obviously this is practiced to varying degrees within the community, but there are a few sacred points around Uluru where photography is prohibited.Polaroid of Kata Tjuta: Northern Territory, Australia

Instead of climbing Uluru, our friends and I spent the rest of the day on a circular hike around Kata Tjuta, which means ‘many heads’ in Pitjantjatjara. Unlike the sandstone-composed Uluru, Kata Tjuta is a mosaic of pebbles and rocks cemented together by sand and mud. One of the boulders next to the footpath looked like a geodesic meatball.Polaroid of Valley of the Winds walk at Kata Tjuta: Northern Territory, Australia

The name of the walk was The Valley of the Winds and it cannot be overstated how beautiful the view was when we reached the top of the valley. The hidden oasis was a refreshing pause from the unrelenting sun, and that was the middle of winter!

Polaroid of the King's Canyon rim: Northern Territory, Australia

The following day we drove to Kings Canyon. From ground level, the canyon appears to abruptly end at a sheer cliff face. However, the view from the rim reveals a massive expanse of stupa-like domes. Along the route we saw lizards, honey pot ants, and collected swarms of hitchhiking flies on our backs. The latter is one of those things you just come to accept because it’s just not worth fighting.Rock formations at Kings Canyon: Northern Territory, Australia

The trick to dealing with the flies was to keep moving. Then, when the sun set with a pink halo completely encircling the horizon, the flies just disappeared out of thin air. The red landscape turned to bruised plum and the temperature dropped. The desert might be sparse, but there is life quietly tucked away in every fold and crevice.Red earth landscape of the outback: Northern Territory, Australia

About: Curtin Springs

About: Uluru and Kata Tjuta

About: Kings Canyon

Polaroid of Uluru in the afternoon: Northern Territory, Australia

 

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