Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale

Point Lonsdale lighthouse
We had a great time during our weekend away to Queenscliff. In actual fact, our holiday was in the Bellarine Peninusula, as we stayed in a self-contained cottage in Wallington, about 15 minutes inland from Queenscliff, and, besides enjoying Queenscliff's township, we also made forrays to Point Lonsdale for its beach and to see the lighthouse.

Point Lonsdale lighthouse

I have a thing about lighthouses, and you wouldn't believe how happy I was to see and photograph the one at Point Lonsdale. The current structure has been standing since 1902, when it replaced the wooden lighthouse that had been operating since 1863. I wonder if the wooden one burned down. The plaque didn't say.

I hope to photograph the lighthouses at Airey's Inlet and Cape Otway some day, and have a complete set of the lighthouses of the Bellarine Peninsula and Great Ocean Road.

Queenscliff steam train
The kids are train fanatics and Queenscliff is famous for its tourist steam railway, so there was no way we could avoid a steam train trip. To be able to take our younger son on a ride, we chose the shorter 40–45 minute round trip from from Queenscliff to Lakers Siding. Short and sweet, but much going for it, including passing by some lovely views of Swan Bay and the Marine Discovery Centre (more on that later).

Queenscliff station is a simple, old country railway station with volunteers running the steam trains as a 'living museum', much like Puffing Billy in Belgrave and the museum at Daylesford. Lakers Siding was just a stop with just a little old post and telegraph office. But there we got to watch the train shunt around the carriages and join up to the opposite end to take us back to Queenscliff.

We also visited the Queenscliff Marine Discovery Centre, which is a marine research and education centre run by Victoria's Department of Primary Industries. They don't have an extensive public exhibit, but we got there just in time for the floor talk and feeding time (the creatures are fed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). It was a really good way to see some of the marine life of Port Phillip Bay, including sea horses, sea cucumbers, scallops and such, and for the kids and adults to learn of the impact of litter, plastics and other acts of human inconsideration on marine ecology and sea life. We also got to touch the seastars, hermit crabs and other hardy creatures in the touch tank.

We stayed at a self-contained holiday cottage on the grounds of a B&B in Wallington, set in a mix of bushland and farmland. It was quite easy to get to from the Bellarine Highway, which was amazing because dotted around the property were these amazing, massive and ancient grass trees.

You could tell they were old because they are very slow growing and many had tall trunks and even taller central floral spikes. The one above didn't have half as tall a flower spike, but it was stunning and in blossom. This was pretty much the view from the kitchen window whenever I was at the sink:

What I saw from the kitchen sink window
Not bad for washing dishes, wouldn't you say?

You can find more of my Queenscliff holiday photos on flickr.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Holiday interruptions…

… are, of course, the best kind. But it does mean I have had little time or energy for regular blogging this week.

We are going down to Queenscliff for the weekend, and that means I won't be able to blog very much. I may manage the odd brief email blog post, but being on holiday I won't feel very obligated to do so.

It's school holidays, so... you can imagine what things are like at home. But that doesn't mean I haven't been having fun. Yesterday, I took the boys to ACMI for a free claymation workshop they are holding for kids, and we had a great time. I wanted to blog about it after, but was too exhausted.

Work has been pretty busy as well, so I've had little energy to blog these last few evenings. And
I hope to do just that sometime next week. And, things going well, some photos of the holiday.

Along with some observations on the emerging trends in
the new Opposition new leader, Malcolm Turnbull, portraying himself as charismatic and all-Australian (despite him being the richest man in parliament) against an 'out-of-touch', boring, technocratic, jet-setting PM, Kevin Rudd. Hmm, we live in interesting times when the richest man in parliament – a conservative – can pose as the hero of pensioners and paint the Labor PM as mean and an elitist intellectual.

Meanwhile, you can keep track of what I've been – and will be – up to via Twitter.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The bowerbird near the heart of the city

It is quite amazing that a 40-minute tram ride and 5-minute walk away from my home, a Satin Bowerbird is building a new bower. But what is more amazing is that this isn’t a ride out of the city, but in to the very edge of the CBD.

There is a magical Australian Indigenous rainforest garden of gum trees, tree-ferns, palms, creepers, sedges, grasses and bushes flourishing in Melbourne, and it is not at the Botanical gardens. Nor is it in the walled garden of the Melbourne Club or any other exclusive garden of the city’s elite.

Enclosed by concrete walls, glass, steel mesh and a metal framework, this rainforest garden is at the Melbourne Museum and is the permanent Forest Gallery, demonstrating the natural and human forces that shape southeast Australia's forest ecology. This flourishing garden is habitat for tiny birds, frogs, blue-tongued lizards, insects, and a host of other creatures I have not yet encountered. It is also home to a pair of Satin Bowerbirds – male and female.

The Satin Bowerbird, Ptilonorhynchus violaceus, is common to the forests of eastern Australia from southern Queensland to Victoria. The male, whose stunning, shiny jet plumage provides the name, builds a bower of twigs and grasses on the ground and decorates it with bright objects, including flowers, berries and even plastic oddments, to woo a female to mate.

On a previous visit to the Museum's Forest Gallery, I noticed a stunning arrangement of blue plastic objects around the large bower near the path. Blue plastic spoons, straws, biro barrels, and milk bottle lids and broken bits of blue balloons were artfully arranged around the bower’s entrance and the ground around it. I didn't have my camera with me, so I don't have any photographs to show this brilliant display, but this Wikipedia image does the job.

On my visit there with my younger son last Sunday, however, this brilliant cerulean concourse was missing. I thought it had been washed out, raided by vandals, or tidied up by over-zealous clean-freaks who missed the point. The bower still stood, but seemed somewhat diminished.

Later, while quietly waiting for the tiny wrens to show themselves in the open part on higher ground, (my son and I love sit quietly to see how close the wrens will reach us before they dart off again), I noticed the Satin Bowerbird male was assembling a new bower.

I guessed that it was new because he was very busy with it – scuttling in and out, making adjustments to the arrangements of twigs and grass that are so minute to be barely perceptible, at least not to anyone else besides the Bowerbird and the female he is trying to woo with his bower.

And there didn't appear to be any blue bits and pieces around that bower, as though it weren't ready for the finishing touches that will attract the female to mate with him.

The irony is that after all that construction work, if the female is attracted by the male’s bower to mate with him, she will the fly off to build a separate nest in which to lay their eggs.

I wonder if she raids his love-shack for material to build the nest.

The photo is one I took of the Forest Gallery from a visit there early last year. You can see a photo of the Satin Bowerbird in its bower on the Museum’s website.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Message to Garnaut: we want to stop global warming

We are at another of those turning points in the effort to reverse, halt or even moderate global warming, with Professor Ross Garnaut about to finalise his report on how the Rudd government should tackle climate change. This report is crucial as it will be the basis on which the government formulates its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions and position Australia in the world effort to halt global warming.

Going on Garnaut's draft report, those advocating stronger action have criticised Garnaut's proposed greenhouse gas emission targets as too little and too slow in effectively slowing CO2 build-up, and slowing global warming and the knock-on effects in dangerous climate change.

According to global warming campaigners, including Clive Hamilton, Get Up Australia and Avaaz.org (amongst others), Ross Garnaut must strengthen the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in his plan in order to more effectively reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. The crux of the matter is that Garnaut doesn't believe that Australians are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices – including paying higher prices for energy and slowing in economy growth – in order to effectively cut our greenhouse gas emissions.

As Avaaz.org outlines it:
Solving the climate crisis will only happen if we can muster the political will for change, but Australia's leading climate change advisor Professor Garnaut, who is delivering his long awaited report to the Prime Minister at the end of the month, doesn't think Australia or the world has the mettle to face the crisis.
Avaaz.org wants as many Australians as possible to sign their online petition calling for stronger targets to be delivered to Ross Garnaut this Monday – hopefully in time to influence him as he prepares the final version of his plan to the government. Help them to get 20,000 signatures!

Clive Hamilton's concerns with Garnaut's plan hinge on the issue that while Garnaut recognises that climate scientists agree that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be reduced to 450 million parts per million in order to avert dangerous global warming, his plan advocates a lower target:

…Garnaut has decided that keeping warming at 2°C is too hard, at least for the next decade or more, so instead he says we should aim to stabilise at 550 ppm. Climate scientists believe that allowing the atmosphere to reach 550 ppm will dramatically increase the likelihood of catastrophes and runaway climate change, such as an irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet resulting in sea-level rise of seven - yes, seven - meters.

There have been a lot of information sheets, briefings and explanations explaining Ross Garnaut's draft report floating around, but for the time-pressed who can't digest these, I highly recommend Get Up's excellent video clearly explaining the report's recommendations, Get Up's reactions to them and suggestion of what really needs to be done (see the still from the video below).

Meanwhile, we have a small window of opportunity this time round to influence the global warming policy agenda in favour of stronger targets. We have the opportunity to show the government – and each other – that we are prepared to have the foresight to do what it takes to stop global warming. And we must show each other that we aren't alone. As Clive Hamilton says in the article I've already referred to:

Does anyone believe that Australians would be less happy if they had to wait an extra six months before they became twice as rich? The absurdity of the situation set out in the Garnaut report suggests our obsession with economic growth is so powerful that we are unwilling to contemplate sacrificing a tiny amount of consumption to sharply reduce the risk of irreversible damage to the Earth's climate.

I, for one, am prepared to join the thousands of others who are prepared to pay the price now to stop global warming, rather than making my children pay the price.

As I said at the start of this post, we are at one of those turning points in the effort to stop global warming. We can either continue to fiddle around the edges of policy and emissions targets while this continent burns – and other parts of this globe flood – or we can hold the Rudd government to its rhetoric and force its hand to pursue something more effective in stopping global warming. Something that is more befitting the futures of our children and grandchildren, rather than the profit margins of carbon polluters.

It is time to put a plug in the carbon economy
, rather than continuing to pander to the carbon polluters.

[Images: 'flying over Greenland' by Doc Searls, Creative Commons licensed, found via Alex Steffen at WorldChanging.com - btw, Alex Steffen's article 'The Tyranny of Small Steps' is well worth reading – and still from Get Up's video on Garnaut]

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Monday, September 15, 2008

On the tram coming home from the city late this evening

There are a lot of tired people on the tram going home late from work. And still working. When do people ever let up?

Staring glassy-eyed into the middle distance, we are each lost to our own exhaustion, refusing to engage each other.

The ghostly back-lit screens beckon us, siren songs to the rocks of connectivity in every way but real. The full moon ignored till we briefly raise our heads to check we don't miss our stops.

After being 'on' all day, how much more can we smile and bob our heads at people who mean nothing to us?

When we can barely manage grunts and grimaces to our loved ones when we finally return home – if they are not already in bed.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The stuff of stars and galaxies

I'm not sure what to make of this. Sometime today, the Large Hadron Collider will be turned on and particles will be sent hurtling at astonishing speeds to smash into each other, and this will either tell us something about the very stuff of stars and galaxies – and perhaps about the big bang – or blow a 27 km long hole in the Swiss-French border and suck half the Swiss Alps into a black hole and trigger the end of the world as we know it.

Either way, a whole bunch of scientists are getting very excited about it. According to the ABC's European correspondent, Raphael Epstein:
"By injecting concentrated beams of protons into the machine and watching them collide, scientists are striving to reveal more about the greatest event in history - the birth of the universe, the moment when everything we can see and measure, all the matter and electricity that makes up the stars and planets, was the size of a basketball, the scientists say."
Aldo Saavedr, a theoretical physicist from Sydney University who is one of thousands of scientists who helped develop this project, told the ABC:
"In terms of discovery it is [just as significant as a landing on the moon], because it's something we don't see [often,] you only discover one thing in a life time, in the lifetime of the universe."
Others, including a group who tried to use the courts to stop the collider being turned on today, think that it will spell the end of the world, or create black holes that will suck Europe into it, or create a portal allowing beings from another universe to invade ours.

Oh schmozzle. The old 'rip in the time-space continuum' thing.

Then again, you'd think the scientists would have learned their lesson when they let Tom Cruise land on Earth.

What I still can't get over is that it cost $9 billion to build the thing.

The image at the top was taken using the Hubble telescope, and is beautifully called 'Young Stars Sculpt Gas with Powerful Outflows in the Small Magellanic Cloud'. It is free off the Hubble website. The image below that is of the Large Hedron Collider.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Four years ago

I first published this blog four years ago. I remembered this recently while reflecting on the number of Father's Day posts I'd written, and wondered what my first ever Father's Day post was. It was, in fact, the first ever post I wrote for this blog, on Father's Day 2004:
I promised myself that I would publish my own first blog in time for Fathers Day (here in Australia). It is my gift to myself: a place for me to express myself, publish some of my own work, that I care about: social and political issues (here in Australia and globally), fathers and fathering, writing, reading and the English language, and whatever else strikes my fancy about what's going on in this crazy world.
And I think I've managed just that over this time.

Of course, I can't claim to have been blogging for four years. I kept up the first burst of blogging for nearly four months, and then stopped for nearly a year. I can't remember exactly why I stopped. It was early December, and I think I was busy applying for jobs to get out of my then insane job in a toxic workplace. And keeping on top of family needs, and
keeping sane.

I think I was also feeling somewhat demoralised at the thought that no one was reading my blog, that I wasn't reaching anyone or making an impact. Blogging was no longer a priority and fell off my plate.

Three months after I stopped blogging, my family and I moved house, I started a new job, and my eldest (and then only child) had recently started school for the first time – all wonderful, positive, life-changing and very time-consuming events.
And as time passed blogging was further and further from my mind. Until another September.

In September 2005, three years ago, the blogging bug bit me again and I resuscitated this blog. And I pretty much kept going bar the few odd dry spots and the deliberate longer breaks that came with things like holidays and child-birth.

So while this blog is four years old, I've really
only been a blogger continuously for three years. Which is a pretty good run, I think.

And now, this past month and especially these early days of September have seen the biggest burst of blogging activity I've sustained in quit a while. What is it about September and spring that gets the sap running?

[Image: a photo I took of my neighbour's plum blossoms and posted to mark the first day of Spring last year]


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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Happy Father's Day

I've had a good sleep in, unwrapped the lovely toiletries and bath salts my son (eight years next month!) has given me (is he trying to say something?), read the cards from both the boys, and read bits of the Sunday paper.

The late breakfast things have been cleared (raisin toast, coffee and a delicious lightly toasted muesli with with nuts, and soy milk, low-fat yoghurt, frozen blueberries, banana and sultanas – I'm on a cholesterol-busting diet), and I've showered off the crumbs.

And I've called to wish my dad Happy Father's Day – he lives in Brisbane so I can't with he in person, but I do know the presents I posted him earlier last week arrived in good time And hopefully he will enjoy them.

So I'm taking a quick few minutes to send my best wishes for the day to all the fathers out there in blogland, especially those who read this blog and whose blog I regularly enjoy – Steven, Tim, Mike, Phil, and Matt, to name a few. And also to David Tiley, who once told me to enjoy the simple, lovely moments with my kids while they're young, because before I know it they'll be all grown-up and raiding the fridge. This morning, I did.

Happy Father's Day!

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Overheard on William St, Melbourne

'I remember when this went up. I must 'ave been about 14. I was gobsmacked!'

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Monday, September 01, 2008

City after rain

City after rain, originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.

The streets glisten, the lights dripping from each surface. Sighing, the night is comforted in a sparkling embrace.

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Homage to Analogue #1 - film photography

A photography course I took earlier this year reacquainted me with the joys and tribulations of shooting photographs on 135 mm photographic film and using old manual SLR cameras.

Reflecting on my experiences, I came to see waiting as one of the defining aspects of film photography and how it is different from digital photography. It is a slow process, and a slow technology.

And so I was inspired to write a series of posts in homage to ‘analogue’ technologies, with this, the first, a homage to 35 mm film photography.

I learned that taking photographs on film is an exercise in patience – each roll had to be finished and developed before I could see the results. However much I wanted to know immediately if my tinkering with framing, composition and exposure had worked out, I was forced to wait.

After collecting the developed roll, I would flick through the envelope of prints and flinch at each debacle of composition, focus, exposure, or colour. Many were just silly errors. It was frustrating.

When things went well, amongst the wasted shots would be a few gems where the right confluence of light, composition and subject would emerge from the emulsion. And with that would come a great sense of accomplishment – made all the sweeter by the waiting and the length of the process.

I wouldn’t discount how much of it was pure luck, though.

With film, there is none of the instant gratification of digital photography. There’s no seeing if you got the photo right on the tiny LCD screen. And there’s certainly no opportunity to plug the camera into your computer to download and view the image files, tinker with them in photo editing software, delete the duds, file the rest away on your hard drive or burn them onto CD, and, if you’re lucky, print off a few on your home inkjet printer.

Using film also requires more deliberate, intentional activity. Some of this relates to using a manual SLR film camera, where one has to turn dials to set exposures (and wind on film), turn the lens barrel to focus and pressing the button to release the shutter.

But most of it stems from the high cost of buying and developing rolls of film. With each frame costing money, I was less inclined to snap away over and over again at the same subject to try out different approaches in the hopes of getting the perfect shot – or just getting it right.

This is certainly different from digital photography, where you can take however many images as your memory card – or batteries – will allow. And where you can view and delete files and reshoot the photo to hopefully get it right. After all, a digital image is only a series of 1s and 0s, rather than dollars and cents.

Instead, when shooting on film, each frame has to count, each exposure worked out, and each framing and composition planned, often with fingers crossed. Sure, while doing the course the deliberate technical learning played a big part in slowing me down, but cost was never far from my mind. More often than not, I would not take the shot – especially if the elements didn’t come together.

I’m sure many of you would have stories to share about the photographs you didn’t take, rather than ones you didn’t. It would be interesting to compare which instances are most remembered.

Film photography is well-suited to the ethos of the Slow Movement, which encourages us to ease up our frantic, frenetic lives, and embrace slowing down and forging more meaningful connections with other people and with what what we are doing. The patience-teaching, deliberate activity of taking photographs on film, having them developed and sorting, storing and admiring the prints can still be enriching – even if all it does is get us to slow down.

For all the frustration and enforced patience of film photography, it is a beautiful form. It can be like a meditation, and for every two or three duds, the good shots shine brighter. It requires time. And effort.

What are your favourite film photography moments, memories and photographs?

Update: now cross-posted at Sarsaparilla, where I have been invited to to be a contributor! Cool! Thanks,
Sarsaparilla! [Updated 3 September 6.30 pm]

[Photograph is one of mine, taken of my older son at Collingwood Children's Farm, on 400 ISO 35 mm film, on an old Minolta 100 ST manual SLR. Not one of my best, but illustrative]

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In Praise of Analogue

When I did an SLR photography course earlier this year, I was the only one in the class who was shooting on film. The rest had digital SLR cameras. Though I felt like a dinosaur at the start, I learned to appreciate many things about film photography.

It also got me reflecting on a range of other technologies and media that have been superseded by digital technology – what you could call ‘analogue’ technologies, for lack of better word. And I was inspired to write an occasional series of posts in homage to ‘analogue’ technologies.

It is not a new use of the term, of course. Many have long described pre-digital technologies as analogue, after how clocks with hands were distinguished from digital ones. Analogue has become a very handy catch-all phrase.

There is a wide range of pre-digital media: 135 mm photographic film, black and white film, cassette tapes, video, vinyl records and even letters.

And there are many more technologies that have receded into our not-so-dim past: pre-electronic SLR cameras, transistor radios, reel-to-reel audio recorders, dial telephones, typewriters, fountain pens, and even the lowly pencil. And potentially cathode-ray tube TVs.

This won’t be an exhausting survey, but an idiosyncratic exploration drawing on my own experiences and reflections. So while I am not covering things many things, that is not stopping you from doing so, either in the comments or in your blogs.

The first in this ‘Analogue’ series will be a homage to film photography, so stay tuned.

What sets these technologies apart as analogue is that each has been superseded to some extent by a digital equivalent.

More significantly, analogue technologies are much, much slower than digital technologies. The speed of digital made it so much more appealing than the analogue equivalents. Paradoxically, in our fast-paced digital world, slowness is now what is increasingly appealing about analogue forms.

I’m no technophobe. I have enjoyed the digital revolution tremendously. But exploring analogue technologies offers a richness – not only of tapping some sentimental past, but of exploring new ways of experiencing and appreciating our world today.

[Image: photograph published by Library of Congress on flickr, no copyright]

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