UTSpeaks: Week 167

UTS campus on George Street: Sydney, Australia

Upon entering the room I locked eyes with an old scholarly-type standing next to an hors’ doeuvre platter. He was sheepishly raking an enormous pile of cheese and crackers onto a napkin in the palm of his other hand. Yes I thought, universities are the same the world over.

Instead of my old Alma mater I was outside the Aerial Function Centre of the University of Technology, Sydney. It was on the seventh level and had a balcony overlooking the glittery lights of the Sydney CBD. My friend had invited me to the lecture on animal culling and from the looks of the foyer, it was a popular topic. I’m sure the open bar played no small part in that.

Professor Rob Harcourt and Dr Daniel Ramp were both interested in how people responded to ‘inconvenient animal populations’ and how we could ‘devise more compassionate solutions’.

Trapping and poisoning have almost always been the go-to methods for dealing with ‘pests’ and invasive species. One of the main problems with this mentality is that food webs are extremely intricate and the effect of removing or adding species are not necessarily straightforward.

For example, at its zenith Macquarie Island had 2,500 cats killing 60,000 seabirds per year. The cats were eliminated in the year 2000 which in turn increased the rabbit and mice population. Rodents ate the younger chicks and rabbits removed grass layer which lead to soil erosion and cliff collapses which further destroyed more nests.

The rabbits and mice where then poisoned, which worked, but the young doctor with a skinny mod tie and a mohawk was quick to ask, “was that ethical?”

It was an interesting question that Dr Daniel Ramp proposed. I have to admit I didn’t feel too bad for the rats, but I had also never thought about them as sentient beings suffering a slow death by poison. Dr Ramp also pointed out that to make a significant dent in the rat population a large percentage of them would need to be exterminated at once. If this didn’t happen then a lot of money and time were being wasted to needlessly kill rats.

While I disagree that absolutely no ‘pests’ should be harmed for the sake of conservation, I do believe that to kill as a matter-of-course would be a disservice. The world has changed and so has our environment. Perhaps it is time to realize that these ‘invasive species’ are here to stay and that we should adopt new methods to work around this premise instead of futilely enforcing old boundaries.

Or maybe we should just let Maremma guardian dogs run the world.

What do I know? I just went for the cheese and champagne like all the other nutty academics.

About: UTSpeaks

About: The Centre for Compassionate Conservation

Golden Slipper: Week 160

Golden Slipper  horse race at Rose Hill: Sydney, Australia

This is what the Golden Slipper looks like if you are in the winner’s circle. Well, it’s what it would look like if you grabbed the banana-shaped trophy, held it too close to the camera, and lined it up between the enormous floral arch way. And then traced over it in Photoshop.

“That’s a shitty banana.”

Thanks Barret, it’s actually a low-brow slipper trophy collage.

***

Unlike the ecstatic jockey who won the coveted $3.5 million dollar prize and the right to hold the golden banana slipper, I was feeling a bit blasé.

During the buildup to the race, my friend told me the Golden Slipper was all about wearing your best clothes, best accessories, and biggest fascinator. In fact, I only knew which train to catch at Central Station because I followed a woman in a long floral dress with an orange feathery hairpiece.

After weeks of careful coordination and shoe shopping, there I was: dressed to the nines and reading the Sydney Morning Herald…. inside McDonalds. It wasn’t how the day was supposed to go, but I had woken up with a hangover and my friend was running late. Two hours later I tossed my Syrupy McSmoothie into the trash can and jumped into the passenger seat of my friend’s car. We were finally en route to the races.

Scratch that. We were finally heading north on the highway.

Half an hour later we were back at Rosehill Gardens and walking past the stables. Since the racebooks were all gone,  my friend bypassed the betting windows for a strawberry daiquiri while I bought hot chips. The food stall was greasy and looked as out of place as an liquid-cheese-in-a-can nacho stand at the Oscars.

The Australian anthem began to play so we wandered into the stadium and moved as close to the track as possible. It was crowded and when I turned around, a few thousand expectant faces were looking over me.

I turned back towards the field. “Is this the last race?”

“No,” my friend replied.

“But Earthquake’s name is on the board and isn’t he favored to win?” I didn’t spend two hours at McDs for nothing.

“I don’t think it’s the last race.”

The gates opened and a huge screen displayed the racing footage. I couldn’t see anything, but I could tell when the race was about to end because the ground shook right before the horses ran past me and past the finish line.

The favored horse came in second to Mossfun, whose jockey was standing up in the saddle and pumping his fist in the air. “I think he just won the big prize.”

“Nooooo,” my friend cautiously replied as she studied the scoreboard. “Oh wait. Yeah, he won.”

We looked over to where the winning jockey was grasping his trophy. Unlike the US, Australians never ‘thank God’ during their acceptance speeches. It’s something they actually like to poke fun at. “So, did you enjoy the races?”

It was a strange question since we had only witnessed the last 40 minutes of an all-day event. Horse races in general are a bit infamous for the crowds of elegantly dressed drunks that stumble out the gates at the end of the day. I was just glad I didn’t have to undergo such an induction into the world of posh sporting events. My hangover had also completely vanished so I was feeling particularly amenable.

“Yeah,” I replied, “oddly enough I did.”

How to get to Rosehill Gardens: Rosehill train station, Carlingford Line

About: Golden Slipper

Newcastle & the Morisset Mental Health Hospital: Week 156

Bar Beach in Newcastle

Bar Beach is surprisingly beautiful and I only say that because Newcastle was once a heavy industrial port. This was confirmed by my guidebook and by a woman with eyeliner pooled under her eyes and a throaty cough. She was walking her dog with one hand and clutching her cigarette in the other.

“It used to be dirty.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, really dirty.” She squeezed a squeaky yellow ball; her dog did not pay attention.

“It’s much nicer since the steelworks closed. The ride up the coast is also beautiful.”

She was right. The three hour train ride from Sydney wound through eucalypt forests and along wooded lakes. The only drawback was that the Sydney metro system was not made for bicycles. In the older carriages, a narrow door leads into a small antechamber with a cabinet. It looks like it should hold an ironing board, but it has a hook for one bicycle.

Fernleigh Track tunnel, Newcastle

Barret hung up his bike and I tied mine to a metal railing. I hoped people wouldn’t complain too much as they traveled between compartments.

Despite the odd grumbling stroller pusher on the train, it was definitely worth it. Saturday was a beautiful sunny day and we couldn’t wait to ride down Fernleigh Track, an old railway line.

Redhead Beach, Newcastle

We stopped at café along the route before continuing on to Redhead Beach. It was named after a giant sea-facing cliff that cast a large, cool shadow in the late morning sun.

By the end of the day we had cycled about 30 kilometers: from Redhead Beach to Bar Beach, down hip Darby Street, past the Newcastle Ocean Baths, and around Fort Scratchley. Downtown was mostly empty, but the bars were beginning to open like night flowers.

Street art in downtown Newcastle

The ride on the train back down to Sydney was even more crowded with two-wheeled devices. Barret and I got off the train with the rest of the bicyclists at Morisset, a town on the skirt of Lake Macquarie. Instead of heading for the lake, we went in the direction of the Morisset Mental Health Hospital.

Small groups of tourists were walking in both directions down the forested road and a few locals ran parallel to the road on motorbike tracks. Their noisy engines were the only disturbance.

At the end of the 4km road was a compound of red brick buildings reminiscent of a small military outpost. There was as administration center for visitors, trade shops, a rec hall, a Grease Tank, and a Doctors Cottage. It was a Sunday afternoon and no one was around. I imagined all of the residents packed inside the small chapel that overlooked the lake, a cloud of mosquitoes waiting in the cool recesses.

Wallabies at the Morisset Mental Health Hospital

It was an odd place for tourists to make a pilgrimage to, but then it was also the best place to have a close encounter with wallabies. They were all over the place, sleeping, lounging, and scratching their backs like they were doing the limbo. More wallabies poured out of the woods like water draining from a sieve.

I was so excited when I saw a wallaby with a baby in its pouch. Finally, an opportune moment to stalk the animals using the technique I learned at the Great Barrier Reef! I was “browsing” the perimeter like a confused shopper when a large family got out of their car.

Wallaby with baby at the Morisset Mental Health Hospital

As the family encroached, little furry ears pricked up. The wallabies began to hop away from me and towards the family with their hands full of white bread.

I walked past the one of the adults holding the bag of bread. “That’s bad for them you know.” It was the third time today I had told someone that. There were didactic signs tacked to several of the trees: bread + wallabies = death.

The guy with the bread shrugged and I walked back to my bike.

About: Newcastle

About: Morisset

How to get to the Morisset Mental Health Hospital: Cnr Silky Oak Drive & Acacia Avenue, Morisset NSW 2264

Crossing Boundaries: Week 152

'Ponytail' by Mylyn Nguyen: Crossing Boundaries exhibition, Sydney

One day I was told I should have been a pig and that dogs are noble and should have been my brother. I was told that dragons shouldn’t like me but it didn’t matter as one day karma would turn me into a bird and then a snail. I was told monkeys would protect me from snakes and whales would save me from drowning. Naturally I thought I would marry a rooster but I was told I would fall in love with a horse. I was told that my mole would stop horses from finding me and that parting my hair in the middle would make my monkey and pig hate each other.

The sculptures above, by Mylyn Ngyuyen, were some of my favorite pieces at the Crossing Boundaries exhibit in the Sydney Town Hall. Inspired by the Lunar New Year celebrations, Crossing Boundaries showcases the local talent of Asian-Australian artists. And since 2014 is the year of the horse, equine references abounded.

'Conversations' by Jayanto Damanik: Crossing Boundaries exhibition, Sydney

Not all artists incorporated the zodiac into their work though. Jayanto Damanik’s piece Conversations was created entirely from used teabags that he had collected since 1997.

Tea has a special place for me and my family. Tea can also be served for ceremonies praying to The Universe and as an offering for reconnecting with The Dead – in the spiritual realm. I collected my tea bags from family and friends and each tea bag contains a memory. In ‘Conversations’, every tea bag tells a story of daily life’s grievances and joys.

Somchai Charoen’s installation Landmind was comprised of beautiful ceramic flowers that rested on lily pad-esque  landmines. The individual pieces were arranged on the floor in a grid pattern, an uncomfortable mixture of military precision and the soft curves of nature.

'Like a Horse' by CNY Pamela See: Crossing Boundaries exhibition, Sydney

This is probably the lamest selling point, but I was really happy that the gallery was open till 8pm. To put it into perspective, not even the mall is open that late on a Saturday! Crazy, right? In my mind, this is pretty much the perfect Sunday afternoon: siting out the afternoon heat with a late brunch and several cups of tea before riding over to Town Hall during the last hour of golden sunshine.

If only more places were open this late!

How to get to Sydney Town Hall: 483 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000

About: Crossing Boundaries

About: Sydney Chinese New Year

Great Barrier Reef: Week 146

Have you ever been someplace so beautiful you thought, how could I possible make it look terrible?

Well, that’s kind of what I did. I made snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef look like an exercise in drowning. Thankfully Mikayla and Barret took the GoPro away from me.

On a side note: the woodpecker-like noise in the background is made by parrotfish nibbling on the coral reefs. This is really what it sounds like to be snorkeling on the reef.

About: Calypso Cruises

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