BioFour years ago I took an opportunity to work at a national museum in the paradise islands of the British West Indies. After a year working in archives across southern Australia, I'm in the desert of southern California working to develop a desert museum in the middle of the desert - the only educational institution within a 25 mile radius.
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Category Archives: Australia
Our first exhibit opened on May 2nd.
I have always liked May.
The exhibit, entitled Every Day is Earth Day allows us to see the world through the eyes of seven members of the Imperial Valley College Arts Faculty. We marked the occasion with a celebration of art and film that continued all evening.
Earlier in the month, we held a preview of the event for the Friends of the Museum, a support group of members who have made a commitment to support the museum with a gift of $500 every year for the next five years. Lauryl Driscoll, who attended both events, commented that her parents had worked for more than 30 years to see this museum get built, “and it is great to see it finally happen.”
“I like the idea of having a new cultural institution that will support the arts,” said Bernardo Olmedo, who was instrumental in organizing the exhibit. Carol Hegarty, the Head of the Humanities Department at IVC, agreed, “It takes everyone working together in a community for local arts to be successful. It is not about competition, it is about partnership.” As I said when I opened the event that evening, I am realizing that much of what the Valley has to offer is under-appreciated and the Desert Museum can help highlight this spectacular community.
The evening continued with a screening from the Film Forward program. This international program from the Sundance Institute brought two independent films to the Imperial Valley with the film directors. Here at the Museum, we screened Bran Nue Dae – my absolutely favorite Australian film. Director Rachel Perkins captivated the audience and demonstrated, as I’d been promoting for months now, that this was not an event to be missed.
We had an intimate group of 30, a solid turn out for a weekend event 25 miles outside of town. And now they are 30 people who now understand my adoration for this quirky little film. They join the 8 million people in Australia who have viewed the film – a huge number for a country with a population of only 2 million. Many attendees commented that the film was funnier than they thought it would be and the director explained that this film is one of only 3 Aboriginal comedies – and she has produced two of them. Usually, she said, films about Aboriginal people are somber and serious and she deliberately made a film that people could see themselves reflected in and laugh. People asked about the lack of dreaming references (though someone else said the jail scene with traditional dancing – ie dreaming – was the best in the movie). Rachel explained that this film was not a vehicle for that aspect. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about this film. It’s irreverent and zany, reaches all audiences, and captures the contemporary spirit of Australians today.
The night overall successfully stimulated conversation on the commonalities and differences between cultures, cultural expression through art, and the charming grace of passionate communities.
This morning the last Film Forward event was an informal chat with the directors. I went with an aspiring young film maker who is now so excited I have to go out and find film editing software so he can make movies in the Museum’s technology lab. As we left the event, I was incredibly loathed to leave. “Did you ever imaging that when you came here and made us watch Bran Nue Dae that you’d be having a casual cup of coffee with the Director?” Never in my wildest. But I should know better than to be surprised. Australia is the biggest small town there is.
A friend from Australia happened to be on holiday in NYC just as I’ve returned to the area. I think she saw the city the right way: ignoring the tourist traps and catching some of the local flavor. But I still wanted to make sure she saw some of Midtown Manhattan.
We compromised on the day I accompanied them around the City. I visited the Brooklyn Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art (showing a moving exhibit of Aboriginal Art by a Victorian artist) and she had dinner at Le Bonne Soup, a long time family favorite. Hard to tell who got the good end of that deal. The exhibit, while very small, was intimate and moving. The most prominent installation was a video of people of Aboriginal decent repeating “I forgive you”. This made me very uncomfortable as I thought they were talking to me as the ‘white man’. My friend felt like they were talking to her, essentially forgiving her for not looking more Aboriginal. Heavy stuff.
Before we met up in Brooklyn, I hopped off the train to check out the Occupy Movement. There wasn’t much going on at Wall Street, as the action has been moved to Zucotti square, but there are a dedicated few still carrying on. My friend and I went to visit the square on our way up town. Our hearts are with you, Occupy, even if we aren’t brave enough to live in a tent.
It occurs to me, long after the thing is done, that my blog is missing a lot of the good stuff. I did this in the TCI too. Shame really, the stories in my head are so much richer than the ones on the net.
On the flight home I’m reading The Geography of Bliss by NPR correspondent Eric Wiener (another book written by a journalist – my new favorite genre.) The gist is that lucky Eric gets to investigate the happy places of the world. Though, to be fair, he also visits Moldova, supposedly the least happy country on earth. It does sound rather depressing. Not rather – it sounds exactly like a destitute, troubled, and forgotten former Soviet republic. But the rest is pretty focused on happiness; what it means, how to quantify it, and why ping pong balls are necessary to Bangkok’s happiness factor.
One part in particular spoke to me: something called “cultural fit”. Some people have profound moments, Eric explains, where they realize they would be happier in places other than where they are born (he doesn’t mention it, but I notice all the stories he cites are from Westerners). In the journalist world, these folks are referred to as having “gone native”. (p. 179)
Interesting aside: An American, on hearing that 90% of Bhutanese who study abroad return to Bhutan even though they have “seen what they are missing” (enjoy a more Westernized life, as it were) commented: “Now, why would they do a thing like that?” (p. 90) For an American ex-pat living in one of the happiest countries on earth, that seems like a sad statement – the poor dear is clearly missing out on all that happy.
My point is, I realized I’ve never documented some of my proudest “fit” moments in Australia. When I got my Victorian driver’s license, for instance, I felt like I’d officially arrived.
More instances: My computer’s power cord needs a converter… in the US. I don’t watch sports but I love watching Aussie footy. Heck, I don’t gamble, but I put money down on that last game. Every encounter with a New Jersey driver has me desperately wishing to just get back “home” – a term I now use interchangeably for separate continents, but in this case refers to a place where road safety is a national priority and completely manageable because there are only 2.2 million people to monitor.
Someone had told me in the TCI they thought I’d gone native, so maybe it’s just the “when in Rome” mentality, but ever since I saw that rhinoceros beetle in Cairns 3 years ago, my fascination for Australia has grown.
AND I could go on and on about my fundamentally non-western view of the land. I don’t know any indigenous people in the US … not anyone close to their roots, anyway… but that’s the majority of who I know in Australia. It skews my view in very interesting ways that I should have dissected in a blog long ago. One of the first things I knew about Melbourne is where the sacred sites stand.
I hold little love for Sydney and as I flew in today I caught myself rather viciously thinking that it was a town of unappreciative (and anti-Melbourne) folk who don’t deserve to inhabit the beautiful patch of land they were lucky enough to take over. I thought a similar thing flying into LA. Imagine those majestic hills without the straight, non-native tree lined suburbia cutting across it. How often do we think of the “before” of our native lands? Before us.
But I digress (is there really a point here anyway?). All I wanted to point out is that I’m not done with this country. At the hot springs the other day we met a group of hostel jumpers listing off their incredibly interesting and ambitious travel plans. How jealous was I?! Their Aussie time was just beginning, and mine was nearly done. There were so many things I hadn’t done yet. The young travelers commiserated, having only been 2 weeks in the country and still awed by Aussie awesomeness (still a paradise).
“Don’t worry,” I told them, “I’ll be back.”
They seemed surprised. Maybe they’d agree with Eric who pointed out, “Our time abroad is supposed to be a fling. Nothing more.” (p.178)
But sometimes, a place just fits.
Well, we (I) are off home indefinitely, but not before saying a fond farewell to all the favorites: chicken flavored chips, expertly made coffee, Fat Yak Lager, burger with the lot, the beach, footy, friends, and the luxuries of Melbourne.
Yay for hot springs. This is quite possible the best thing I’ve experienced in the Melbourne area. Though the penguins were a close second.
But mostly, we’ll be missing the beaches.
Yesterday the nation stopped to watch the footy grand finals. The local champions – the Geelong Cats took on the Yankee-type Collingwood Magpies.
The Cats had a near perfect season and were not going to let the arrogant ‘Pies steal their glory. I was so sure of the outcome I put money down on the game (something I never do, because I almost always lose when I gamble).
It was a close game, but we came out on top. In the TCI we’d visit the casino with the idea that if we won, we’d buy a treat, perhaps a ridiculously overpriced bottle of wine or a couple juicy steaks. Last night our treat was celebrating with the Geelong supporters all over town. Ah, victory is sweet.
In between the finals games this weekend (and there are plenty of them: national, state and local footy, and rugby which I am considerably less familiar with), I managed to escape long enough to finally visit the Werribee Open Range Zoo just 30 minutes up the highway. I forgot my camera (a trend lately! – no proof of the footy-end-of-season party either ) but I’ve borrowed the one at right so you can get a taste of my favorite part of the day.
The Werribee Zoo has a unique open range area where the animals wander in relative freedom. The public (as part of admission) is toured around in buses to get a peek at the unconstrained habits of giraffes, rhinos, hippos, and various antelopes and gazelles. It was pretty cool and there were a few moments when I was jealous of the tour guides…. and the tours they guide. I’ve never heard of a “touch the animals” tour in the US, have you?
photo from: http://www.welcome2australia.com.au/victoria/werribee/
My family lives up and down the northeast coast so my month-long visit itinerary hit some of the best late summer vacation spots. I don’t have pictures from all my adventures, but here’s a pleasant sampling:
A couple days before Hurricane Irene I went up to Maine to visit my dear cousins. Now, Irene was hitting dry land as a category 2, which means by the time it got up to us it would be category 1 at best. That’s a couple days without power and some downed trees. I wasn’t worried and I didn’t change my travel plans.
|The calm before the storm.|
Then, this time actually paying attention to the newscast, I saw a tiny little footnote that maybe should have been bigger: 8-9 feet of water surge. Oh, so that’s why everyone is in a panic. I changed my travel plans and stayed in Maine to weather to storm.
We did, as expected, lose power, even though the storm had died down and moved inland. After the brunt of the storm passed we escaped the dark house and non-flushing toilets by going to see the waves. We took a ridiculous amount of pictures.
Very impressive, Mother Nature!
My next stop was to visit the grandparents and co in New Jersey. It just so happened that my aunt and uncle had planned their annual trip to Ocean City that week. This is the only picture I have from the beach:
But I did have my camera handy for the birthday party.
She turned 3!
Aren’t they cute!
It’s a lie.
I love them all, but the four of them combined are a force of nature to shame Irene.
The adults also had fun. Uncle Gary surprise attacked Mom-Mom:
Who’s counter attack failed miserably,
Uncle Gary wins!
When the fun in Jersey was done, I jumped across the Delaware to visit my very good friend in Pennsylvania who became a new parent just a couple weeks before. I have a really great picture of my pre-baby visit, but I don’t think she’d speak to me again if I put it on the internet. How about this one instead:
A couple of days and 2 sleepless nights later I finished the circuit home to tour some very happy newly weds around the Hudson Valley. We traversed the new walking bridge – formerly the only rail line across the river, converted for the 400th anniversary of Hudson’s trip up the river. I failed left and right to recollect interesting facts about the River and it’s history. “I feel the ship was named something to do with moons… wait, that doesn’t make sense… oh! there on the sign – the Half Moon. I was so close!”
We ate lunch just under the bridge at the Mayor’s favorite resturant (I didn’t know this before we … actually, Patricia… pointed it on the menu as one of the establishment’s fun facts.)
Then we tortured the poor new groom with our American and related social history lessons as we toured the grounds of FDR’s childhood home.
We also decided that since we pay taxes we shouldn’t feel awkward about making ourselves at home. It is a national PARK after all.
Then Patricia and I did that thing where we talk about period architecture or whatever terribly interesting subject comes to mind.
Not everyone in our company appreciated this, spawning this inspired piece of photography:
And that was it! Two days later I was on an uneventful flight back to Australia – I only went to the wrong airport (only in NY, I think, will you hear “oh, I’ve done that” and have a new itinerary offered without another thought.) and stood in an unnecessary immigration line causing me to nearly miss my connection to Melbourne. Easy as pie.
I’d just like to take this moment to thank all the babies on the long flight who did NOT cry (exorbitantly) and that nice couple who decided to move to another row leaving me 3 seats to myself by the window on a 15 hour flight.
No really: thanks.
I used to wonder how those princesses of old dealt with up and being married off to princes in far off lands.
I think I’m beginning to get an idea.
Return flight on Tuesday and after another bout of time travel I’ll arrive home on Thursday morning.