Darling Quarter Night Owls: Week 200

Film still from Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Darling Quarter Night Owls, Sydney

There are no shortages of outdoor film screenings in Sydney during the summer. They run the gamut from contemporary blockbusters to classics and you probably couldn’t throw a stone without hitting someone stuffing their mouth with popcorn. (Actually, make that ice cream- Aussies love to eat ice cream at the cinema.)

Most screenings are ticketed, but I found one called the Darling Quarter Night Owls that is completely free. Each late afternoon showing begins with a short film and is then followed by a children’s movie. Around 8pm, when the sun has set ans the kids turned in, there is a classic film. The one I was most interested in was Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

While I enjoy a free film as much as the next person, the location next to a busy sidewalk meant it was hard to hear the audio. Also, since the movie wasn’t being projected, the blindingly bright LED screen that worked well during the late afternoon was a bit much in the evening. I could have comfortably worn a pair of sunglasses. My friend Jess must have felt the same way because she closed her eyes and fell asleep halfway through.

The movie variety for the entire program was good, but I think this is one film festival that’s best left to the kids.

About: The Darling Quarter Night Owls

Australian National Maritime Museum: Week 199

Stern of the HMB Endeavour: Sydney, Australia

Barret and I have been working on a graphic novel together and when I decided a few chapters would take place on a ship, I realized that I don’t know very much at all about life at sea. It also didn’t help that the kind of visual information I needed was very specific and very elusive.

At Barret’s suggestion I made a research appointment at the library of the Australian National Maritime Museum and mentioned to the librarian in advance that I was researching diagrams for a 300-tonne merchant ship from the 1820s. While she did not find info on that specific kind of ship, she had pulled a lot of great material for me. I was very happy with the information, but I was still having a hard time visualizing what that kind of ship looked like.

How did people move through it? How was it set up? What was the scale of the interior? If I wasn’t sure about these answers, how could I write the storyline and how would Barret be able to illustrate it?

While a library is a great place to start a project, sometimes the only way to nut things out is to get into the field. That’s why I went back a few days later to visit the tall ships at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Crew's hammocks aboard the HMB Endeavour: Sydney, Australia

The one I was most interested in, the HMB Endeavour, is also one of the most historically accurate maritime vessels. It is set up as if the crew had just anchored and gone ashore. While the ship predates the period I was researching by about 50 years, there was still a lot to gain from walking the deck and through the confined quarters.

One of the things that struck me was just how much rope was needed to operate the ship. It draped around every protrusion on the deck and I imagine it presented quite a tricky work environment- especially in bad weather. Being from the digital age, it was quite easy to romanticize this kind of travel when viewing the ship in the calm waters of Darling Harbour.

Crew's toilet aboard the HMB Endeavour: Sydney, Australia

However, once you look a little bit closer you notice things like the crew’s toilet. I’m not sure if there was another located within the ship, but the one at the bow of the deck was a wooden platform with a hole. Aside from absolutely no privacy, a shared tasseled rope served in place of toilet paper.

Then, with the help of the stationed tour guides, you come to realize the things that would be impossible to accurately recreate: the sweaty stench of a 56-strong crew, the rudimentary healthcare, and the disappointing taste of stale food and stale water.

The crew of the HMAS Vampire, an Australian destroyer ship commissioned in 1959, might not have contended with the same issues as the crew of the Endeavour, but it feels a bit different to romanticize about laminate tables and commissaries stocked with Crunchie Nuggets and Dunhill cigarettes.

Mural inside the dining room of the HMAS Vampire: Sydney, Australia

Officer's dining room aboard the HMAS Vampire: Sydney, Australia

The surfaced HMAS Onslow inside the Darling Harbour: Sydney, Australia

When it came to the HMAS Onslow, a submarine commissioned in 1969, the first thing a visitor noticed when stepping aboard was the lack of space. Bunk beds lined the hall and the lowest bed looked more suited to store shoes than a sleeping man.

Officer's quarters on the HMAS Onslow: Sydney, Australia

The quarters of the ranking officers were not much to get excited over, unless of course you were sleeping on one of the aforementioned bunk beds. The one thought that kept crossing my mind was how much work it would have taken to draft the construction plans- every square inch of space had to be accounted for.

The Captain's bathroom on the James Craig: Sydney, Australia

The other thought that crossed my mind was that I’d much rather deal with rats and damp bedding than with the claustrophobic nature of a submarine. Especially if I could have a bathroom like those of a Captain’s wife (circa 1874).

Operation room of the HMAS Vampire: Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney

After viewing the utilitarian style of 1768 and the 1960s, it’s easy to see why the HMB Endeavour captures people’s hearts- the creaking floorboards, the skylights, the excitement of traveling by the whim of nature. Paying passengers today can even sail aboard it to places like Tasmania.

You just don’t feel the exhilaration of being out at sea inside the Bat Cave of the HMAS Vampire. Seeing the inside of the operation room also made me glad that I am not writing a military thriller- you really need to have a background in the Navy to even begin to understand the complex operations on board a ship like that. I’ll stick to describing poop platforms and toilet paper tassels.

Operation Room of the HMAS Vampire: Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney

How to get to the Australian National Maritime Museum: Darling Harbour- 2 Murray Street, Sydney 2000

About: The HMB Endeavour

About: The HMAS Vampire

About: The HMAS Onslow

Darlinghurst: Week 96

Polaroid of Florentijn Hofman's sculpture 'Rubber Duck' on display in Darling Harbour

As soon as the clock hit 5:15pm I was out of the office.

It was my friends’ last night in Sydney so I had all the motivation I needed for a Wednesday Night Out. From work I rushed through the fringes of Haymarket towards the trendy and vibrant neighborhood of Darlinghurst.

Our first stop was at the delightfully eclectic Govinda’s.  It was part Indian buffet (voted Best Vegetarian Restaurant 2011), part movie theater, and part meditation/chanting/cooking class center.

I ordered a lassi and piled my plate with creamy potato curries, lentil pies, cauliflower pakoras, rice, poppadums, and salad. A liberal dose of yogurt and a bowl of dhal soup rounded out the course.  Just after fulfillment but right before complete overindulgence I paid my bill- only $19.80. Because we ate dinner, the cost of a movie ticket was only another $10 dollars; practically a steal in the third most expensive city in the world.

From the second level restaurant we climbed a narrow staircase to what felt like a crow’s nest of a theater. Instead of traditional seats, Govinda’s had large red cushions covering each of the five or so terraces. It was a communal, relaxing way to watch a movie and it kind of reminded me of the DVD bangs in Korea.

I took my sandals off and fluffed a few pillows behind me before settling down. I didn’t even care what movie we were watching because I was so full, comfortable, and Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson were main characters.  If you can’t make it to Govinda’s, I would suggest creating a cozy nest on the floor of your local theater and sneaking in a Tupperware full of palak paneer. Just don’t forget to take off your shoes; that’s the most enjoyable part.

Of course no self-respecting Wednesday Night Out would be complete without cocktails. After the film we walked down a narrow alley in Darlinghurst in search of the Red Lily Cocktail Bar. It was a tiny place with the ambiance of old Saigon set to a soundtrack of retro Asian soul.

It didn’t matter that half of our group were bearded men, I felt so Sex and the City as the four of us sipped cocktails. The round of drinks we ordered had names like Cactus in Asia (tequila, muddled cucumbers and Szechuan chilies), Monkey Magic (rum, lime juice and grated nutmeg), and Sesame Street (rum, toffee, castor sugar, egg and toasted sesame).

We started with dessert-black sesame seed ice cream on fried balls of rice and sesame seeds, and finished with a savory dish- the Banh Tom- aka Auntie 5’s rice cakes.

The fried rice cakes were topped with tiger prawns, caramelized pork, shallot oil and pork floss. Yep that’s right- pork delivered with a fluffy and dry cotton candy consistency.

Indulging our curiosity, the bartender explained (in a nutshell) the process for making pork floss. It involves boiling the pork, drying it and then wok-tossing it with sugar. On its own it was a cottony and slightly sweet version of beef jerky. As a whole though, the Banh Tom was chewy, savory, salty, sweet, spicy, and delicious.

On the way home we passed Darling Harbour, which curiously enough isn’t even in Darlinghurst. It’s the kind of place that almost falls into the only for tourists realm, but somehow still manages to attract locals.

At the start of January, Darling Harbour hosted the opening celebrations for the Sydney Festival- a month-long cultural performance extravaganza. Although the opening ceremony was done and gone, an inflated sculpture by Florentijn Hofman remained.

It was a massive yellow creation appropriately called Rubber Duck. Children responded to its enormous proportions with thrills of delight, cameras flashed and thousands of pale pink jellyfish floated around the duck like limp trash bags.

Friends, Indian buffets, rubber duckies, glorious cocktails- they’re all good excuses to explore Sydney on a Wednesday night. Just don’t tell your boss why you showed up to work the next day as listless as the Darling Harbour jellyfish.

How to get to Govinda’s: 112 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst NSW 2010

How to get to Red Lily: 60 Crown Lane, Darlinghurst NSW 2010

About Darling Harbour

About the Sydney Festival

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