Wonder 102: Week 177

Wonder 102 Boys and Girls Brigade Flyer: Sydney, Australia

I locked my bike across the road and walked over to the three story red brick building. The main entrance was marked with a poster and brightly colored shapes dangling above the door. A retro food cart was parked in front of the building. It had wood paneling and wooden letters which dangled over the side awning: Veggie Patch.

The ground floor of the building was filled with chairs and kids. I walked up the narrow steps to the second floor and into a small foyer. To the left was a raffle stand and straight ahead was a photo booth and a rack of kid’s costumes. A small group of princesses were excitedly waiting their turn when I headed upstairs.

The next floor up had a silent art auction and a pianist facing an audience of squealing children. At the back of the room boys and girls with painted faces lined up to buy cheap candy in individually wrapped packages.

Unwittingly, I had found myself Sunday afternoon in the midst of a horde of children. Wonder 102 was a festival which benefitted the Boys and Girls Brigade in Surry Hills, but unlike the ad had led me to believe, there was nothing to do for child-less adults.

Wonder 102 Boys and Girls Brigade raffle tickets: Sydney, Australia

I had hoped there would be some local artisans, but instead I settled for three raffle tickets on my way back down. The parents looked unnervingly my age while the kids reminded me of own elementary school fairs.

The most memorable event at my school had been part carnival and part school cleanup. My friends and I threw wet sponges at our teachers, browsed the second hand market for curios, and spent the afternoon repainting the lines on the basketball court. Some optimistic teacher left a bunch of us fifth graders with brushes and a few cans of paint. When they returned they discovered yellow pools on the concrete and basketball court lines three times more thick and wobbly than before.

Then there were also the Scholastic book fairs! Nothing got me more excited than the large wooden boxes that mysteriously showed up at school. They were wheeled into the library and opened up to reveal shelves and shelves of cheap new books. The last year I went to one, my dad specially picked out a Roald Dahl book that I hadn’t read before.

I couldn’t believe that was almost 20 years ago. That freaked me out a little bit, so I grabbed my bike and got the heck out of parenthood central. I don’t know when I will take that next step into adulthood, but when I do I hope my kids will be as entertained as I was with wet sponges and paint brushes and lots and lots of books.

About: Boys and Girls Brigade

Scandinavian Film Festival: Week 176

Scandinavian Film Festival 2014 in Sydney

Sweden reminds me of: little strawberries that stain fingers red, twenty-four hour sunlight, swimming in frigid water, and picking flowers. Those aren’t the most obvious connections, but that was my experience and what Sweden means to me.

So when I heard about the Scandinavian Film Festival, I was interested to see a movie about Sweden through someone else’s eyes. Barret and I chose a romantic comedy named Hemma (Home) that was screening at the Palace Cinema in Leichhardt. Like so many other theaters in Australia, it lacked the sticky psychedelic carpets and nacho carts of my American childhood.

The lobby was stained concrete and decorated with wire furniture in earth tones. The scent of butter popcorn and gourmet coffee wafted across the room. A few patrons sat inside black leather booths and licked hand-scooped ice cream. A large glass wall overlooked a balcony and the main street below.

It was almost too nice of a day to be indoors, but the movie was worth it. Unlike a majority of rom-coms which revolve around absurdly farfetched scenarios, Hemma focused on funny dialogue and quirky characters.

Most importantly though, there was a scene where a bunch of people jump into the frigid ocean. How reassuringly Swedish.

About: the Scandinavian Film Festival

How to get to Palace Norton Street: 99 Norton Street, Leichhardt NSW

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.


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.

Blog at WordPress.com.
The Esquire Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 165 other followers

%d bloggers like this: