Sunday, October 28, 2012

Scary Altona

Two years ago, a few kids came knocking on my door. I was puzzled what they were asking for and how I should respond. I have now learnt that they were following the trick-or-treating tradition of Halloween. The celebration of Halloween, which was imported from America but originated in Ireland, is gaining popularity in Australia. About 24% of Australians plan to celebrate Halloween this year, according to social demographic and trend experts McCrindle Research (Ref 1).

Halloween  09

Indeed, the celebration of Halloween has caught up in Altona. We first saw the Halloween pumpkins and merchandise at Coles in Pier Street.  Then, we were informed by the childcare centre of our kids that they will be having a Halloween celebration. Now Altona has an additional seasonal attraction - a house at 180 Maidstone Street, decorated with a Halloween theme, complete with corpses, skeletons, skulls, witches, vampires, big black spiders hanging outside the house and even a graveyard. While I was taking these pictures, two other cars with children had specifically come to look at the decorations. 

Halloween  13

Twelve years ago, fresh produce wholesaler Moraitis started to receive a few queries on the availability of Spooky Pete Pumpkins - the soft-skin variety commonly grown in America to be carved into Jack O' Lanterns (Ref 1).


The Moraitis family took a punt in trialling the local growth of this variety of pumpkin that would cost customers about $15 each, yet are barely edible. Some thought they were mad. But they were hoping the Halloween tradition that has long been a part of American culture might soon take off here.


They enlisted contract growers to plant 1000 heads of these pumpkins. This year, three growers in far north Queensland and Broome planted 200,000 heads of pumpkin between them. Moraitis' general manager Michael Antico said,  ''The demand has grown little by little every year and then probably in the last four or five years it has really started to escalate as Halloween as an event has really taken off here.'' (Ref 1).


Halloween is pretty much a commercially-driven activity. The big supermarket chains Coles and Woolworth as well as other independent retailers, grocers and gift shops, have spent millions of dollars this year on in-store promotions, catalogues and decorations to spark interest in shoppers. The two supermarkets are reporting sales increases of as much as 30% across lines of costumes, confectionary, specially-created chocolates and pumpkins in the lead-up to Halloween (Ref 3). Other retailers too are cashing in on the excitement around Halloween, which will be celebrated on the night of 31st October.


"People will start shopping from this week on, but really October 30 is our biggest trading day around Halloween," Coles' general manager of merchandise Chris Garlick said. Not to be outdone, Woolworths is selling a range of pumpkin-flavoured beer and is using social media to spread the word, with online tools such as instructions on how to carve a pumpkin, and offering customers a stencil to download (Ref 2).

My wife was wondering if the Halloween-themed house at Maidstone Street would be lit up at night. I said, "Why don't we take a look?" However, I had forgotten to check it out last night. I did manage to find a very interesting Youtube video combining the best of both the Halloween ambience and the current craze of Gangnam Style.

Stickwork @ Federation Square

If you are visiting Federation Square, do not miss its latest attraction besides Flinders Street - a colossal, startling art masterpiece by the American sculptor Patrick Dougherty. He bends, weaves, snags and flexes a humble pile of tree saplings and sticks to create works of art inseparable from nature and landscape. As the sculptures are made of organic matter, they disintegrate and fall apart, becoming part of the landscape once again. Most people see habitats and shelters in his work – which is what many of them are meant to be.

Ballroom 07

Over the last 25 years, he made over 200 art pieces throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia - woolly lairs and wild follies, gigantic snares, nests and cocoons, some woven into groves of trees, others lashed around buildings. Every piece mesmerizes in its ability to fly through trees, overtake buildings and virtually defy gravity. Thirty eight of his works are collected in "Stickwork" - a monograph-memoir published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2010. Since then, he has referred to his art pieces as "Stickwork". You can view his featured works here.

Ballroom 04Ballroom 01

As part of Federation Square’s 10th Birthday Celebrations, Federation Square and Creative Production Services have commissioned this new work which Patrick Doughert affectionately named as "Ballroom". Over the course of three weeks, Dougherty and 70 volunteers weaved and bended more than ten tonnes of willow into an incredible sculpture using just gloves and secateurs.

The initial inspiration for this piece came from Dougherty’s visit to the Indigenous collection at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia in November last year, but the shape of the final work was inspired by the architecture of Flinders Street Station and St Paul’s Cathedral.

Ballroom 03

This work is sponsored by Melbourne Water which also supplied raw materials (willows) cleared from key water catchment areas. These are weeds, their dense canopies and invasive roots which can smother creeks, affect water quality and reduce habitats for fish and platypus in waterways throughout Victoria. An estimated $2 million is spent annually on managing willows, which are often replaced with native species that benefit the health of waterways. Raw materials were also supplied by Cricket Willow – a fifth generation family business in Shepherds Flat that has been making cricket bats for more than 100 years.

Ballroom 09

Stickwork is the latest addition to Federation Square’s Creative Program, with recent works including Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest in February and the magical web installation of Tape Melbourne by Numen/For Use.

Ref 1, 2, 3

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Prime Minister's Cinderella Moments

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has a history of embarrassment with apparently loose shoes and difficult heels. She had again made headlines from her "shoe malfunction". This is the third time that her shoes had slipped in nine months.

During the 2010 election campaign, she lost a high-heeled shoe when she stepped off the back of a forklift while visiting a distribution centre in her electorate.

On 26 Jan 2012, when the PM and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott were presenting the inaugural National Emergency Medals at the Lobby Restaurant near the old Parliament House in Canberra,  about 200 protesters arrived from the nearby Aboriginal Tent Embassy and surrounded the site. The protesters were incensed by remarks supposedly made by Mr Abbott in an ABC interview that morning in which he said he thought it was probably time to reconsider the relevance of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. The mob banged on the three glass sides of the restaurant chanting "shame" and "racist". The two leaders, protected by police and security officers, escaped out a side door after about 20 minutes. The PM lost her footing and a shoe, as she was dragged by a security officer to an awaiting vehicle. Protesters chased the car down the road, banging on its roof and bonnet. The size 36 Midas pump blue suede shoe was seized by the protesters, who finally returned it after considering auctioning it off on eBay (Ref 1, 2, 3, 4).

Footage of the PM's unceremonious exit from the Australia Day event was splashed across televisions, newspapers and websites around the world, with some news organisations focusing on the fact the Australian leader lost her shoe during the chaos.

"A fancy dinner. A hurried escape. A shoe left behind, found and offered back by an unlikely suitor .... The story ... called to mind a kind of Cinderella story turned on its head, a combustible mixture of race, social status and the juxtaposition of a leader dining in a glass-walled restaurant only steps from a decades-old protest encampment.", The New York Times reported.

The BBC said the two leaders had to be "rescued" from the protesters while Italy's news agency Agenzia Giornalistica Italia said she was "fleeing enraged aborigines". The Sun News in Canada noted the PM lost her "blue-suede shoe" during the commotion - perhaps alluding to the 1950s rock 'n' roll track Blue Suede Shoes, famously sung by Elvis Presley. Other news organisations noted her look as she was rushed to her car by her protection officers, pointing out that she looked "visibly rattled" and "frightened" (Ref 5).

In August, the PM slipped out of one of her high heels as she walked on stage at Sydney's Customs House to launch a cyber safety initiative. As a male guest helped her put it back on, the PM could be heard telling him "it is a Cinderella moment". On the podium with both heels intact, the PM explained she had been distracted by seeing how well event host Melissa Doyle had walked in her high heels. She told the audience: "I think I thought myself into that moment. I was staring at Mel and admiring the way she got up and down these stairs with those big heels. And though I've got far more humble heels on, I thought to myself 'I bet I don't do that as elegantly'." (Ref 6).

PM Julia Gillard Shoe Slip

Yesterday on her way to a press conference on the last day of her visit to India, the PM lost a shoe when her heel became bogged in soft grass and she fell spread-eagled nearly landing on her face near the Gandhi Memorial in Delhi.

Helped up by her hosts, she quickly recovered and laughed off the incident as she explained to the men around: "For men who get to wear flat shoes all day every day, if you wear a heel it can get embedded in soft grass. And then when you pull your foot out, the shoe doesn't come, and then the rest of it is as you saw." Gesturing to the female reporters, the PM told a male journalist who questioned her, "If you're in any doubt about the logistics of this, some of my friends here can help you with the description.''  (Ref 7)

The PM's tumble was being shown on Indian TV where she won praise from one commentator who said she seemed very fit as she had recovered well and continued with her busy schedule. (Ref 8).

UK-based magazine TNT said Liverpool soccer player Luis Suarez, who was recently ridiculed for theatrically going down too easily in a match, could learn from Ms Gillard. "Note to Luis Suarez and your mates: This – as Julia Gillard demonstrates in New Delhi – is how you fall over without anyone touching you and not look like a fool," TNT wrote.

The Telegraph reported Ms Gillard "provided a good natured commentary of the incident". India Express said she "showed good humour and immediately joked about it". (Ref 9).

The PM brushed off suggestions she could wear boots, saying that would lead to fashion critique in Australia about wearing boots with a skirt. (Ref 8).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Gangnam Style is coming to Altona

Inspired by Spandy Andy, the Altona Loop Facebook Group has been discussing having a flash mob dance. The ideas developed and it looks like we will be seeing Altona's cover version of Gangnam Style. A group member Annaliese Bishop has volunteered to choreograph the dance. However, nothing is concrete at this stage. For example, it has not been decided when and where to host this activity.

For the benefit of those who do not yet know of Gangnam Style, here is a brief introduction. Known for its catchy tune and  absurd but funny dance moves, this song is sung by 34-year old South Korean rapper Psy. Since its debut on 15 July 2012, this song/video has topped the Billboard charts in many countries, broken the Guinness World Records as the most "liked" video in YouTube history, shared on the internet by many celebrities and featured in international media outlets such as CNN International, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the Harvard Business Review and the global politics magazine Foreign Policy (Ref 1).

Psy's original Gangnam Style video

This viral video has spawned thousands of parody videos worldwide. I could understand why it is so popular as I am myself afflicted by this current craze, having watched the video and numerous parodies many times. Even my 2-year old son knows about Gangnam Style.

One of my favourite parodies is by the US Navy which has made the life of the navy appear so enjoyable.

There are various Melbourne versions but I like the followng video the most in which you can see popular Melbourne icons such as the Federation Square, Flinders Street Station, St Paul Cathedral and the UNESCO-listed Royal Exhibition Building at Carlton Gardens.

The following parody was filmed in Little India, Singapore and though a lower-budget version compared to others, it is really funny.

One popular remake strategy is the changing of lyrics in different countries and cities to reflect styles peculiar to the place and people. An example is the following Jewish Style video, which appears to be professionally made.

Sandra Wilson, one of the spokepersons of the Altona Loop Community Group, commented on Facebook that she can't wait and is asking her two sons to teach her the dance steps first. I guess she will even be more motivated after watching this "mum and son" video on Ellen Show.

For those who are interested in learning the dance steps, there is now a "How to" video on YouTube:

Further readings: 1, 2, 3

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Preparing for the November New Train Timetable

Those arriving at Altona Train Station yesterday morning (Friday 12/10/2012) were greeted with a pleasant surprise. Jostling for attention with the newly-opened station cafe is a reception table right at the entrance to the platform. Manning the table is someone that I know - Gordon. His wife Sandra Wilson has been very active in the local community. Together with Diana Rice, she had initiated the Altona Loop Community Group last year, in response to the train timetable changes which had adversely affected Altona commuters.


While Gordon was busy tending to his post, Sandra was managing the overall situation. Hence, nothing of the sort of "misogynist, sexist stuff" that we hear so often in the media the last few days can be seen in Altona. Only two days ago, I was bemused by Sandra's Facebook post to Gordon that "his food was turning cold" because he was thrown off a train at Newport and could not get home. This was his second time lucky on the same day as he was also "detrained" at Spotswood earlier in the morning on his trip to work.

Gordon and other volunteers had brought with them a supersized "Christmas Card" for Altona residents to sign on. Christmas is still more than two months away. So you may wonder why is there such a haste. Well, Metro is implementing a new timetable on the 18th of November. And the Altona Loop has rated at or near the bottom in all five of the most recent quarterly Customer Satisfaction Surveys conducted by Public Transport Victoria (Ref 1). Hence, this is now a timely opportunity to make a "Christmas wishlist" (or submission) prior to the change. The wishlist includes:
  • Through services to the City and Werribee instead of changing trains at Newport and Laverton.
  • Trains arriving on time and no bypassing of the Altona Loop.
  • Partial duplication of the single track as a long-term fix.

Altona Loop Letter
This "Christmas Card" is heavy as it carries the signatures of many commuters

This special "Christmas Card" will shoulder the mission of delivering the common wishes of the Altona community to the Transport Minister. If you are making a Christmas wish this year, please include your wish for Altona train services. May the force be with us! Amen.

At the time when I left, everything was proceeding smoothly. But I learnt later from the Altona Loop Facebook Group that there was some drama towards the end of the event. I do not know what has happened but it appears that this will be reported in the Hobsons Bay Weekly this coming Wednesday. I will provide a link to the story in due course.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

PM Julia Gillard's Speech on the Misogynist

Thank you very much Deputy Speaker and I rise to oppose the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition. And in so doing I say to the Leader of the Opposition I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever.

The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That's what he needs.

Let's go through the Opposition Leader's repulsive double standards, repulsive double standards when it comes to misogyny and sexism. We are now supposed to take seriously that the Leader of the Opposition is offended by Mr Slipper's text messages, when this is the Leader of the Opposition who has said, and this was when he was a minister under the last government – not when he was a student, not when he was in high school – when he was a minister under the last government.

He has said, and I quote, in a discussion about women being under-represented in institutions of power in Australia, the interviewer was a man called Stavros. The Leader of the Opposition says “If it's true, Stavros, that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?

And then a discussion ensues, and another person says “I want my daughter to have as much opportunity as my son.” To which the Leader of the Opposition says “Yeah, I completely agree, but what if men are by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?

Then ensues another discussion about women's role in modern society, and the other person participating in the discussion says “I think it's very hard to deny that there is an under representation of women,” to which the Leader of the Opposition says, “But now, there's an assumption that this is a bad thing.

This is the man from whom we're supposed to take lectures about sexism. And then of course it goes on. I was very offended personally when the Leader of the Opposition, as Minister of Health, said, and I quote, “Abortion is the easy way out.” I was very personally offended by those comments. You said that in March 2004, I suggest you check the records.

I was also very offended on behalf of the women of Australia when in the course of this carbon pricing campaign, the Leader of the Opposition said “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing…” Thank you for that painting of women's roles in modern Australia.

And then of course, I was offended too by the sexism, by the misogyny of the Leader of the Opposition catcalling across this table at me as I sit here as Prime Minister, “If the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself…”, something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair. I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition went outside in the front of Parliament and stood next to a sign that said “Ditch the witch.

I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition stood next to a sign that described me as a man's bitch. I was offended by those things. Misogyny, sexism, every day from this Leader of the Opposition. Every day in every way, across the time the Leader of the Opposition has sat in that chair and I've sat in this chair, that is all we have heard from him.

And now, the Leader of the Opposition wants to be taken seriously, apparently he's woken up after this track record and all of these statements, and he's woken up and he's gone “Oh dear, there's this thing called sexism, oh my lords, there's this thing called misogyny. Now who's one of them? Oh, the Speaker must be because that suits my political purpose.”

Doesn't turn a hair about any of his past statements, doesn't walk into this Parliament and apologise to the women of Australia. Doesn't walk into this Parliament and apologise to me for the things that have come out of his mouth. But now seeks to use this as a battering ram against someone else.

Well this kind of hypocrisy must not be tolerated, which is why this motion from the Leader of the Opposition should not be taken seriously.

And then second, the Leader of the Opposition is always wonderful about walking into this Parliament and giving me and others a lecture about what they should take responsibility for.

Always wonderful about that – everything that I should take responsibility for, now apparently including the text messages of the Member for Fisher. Always keen to say how others should assume responsibility, particularly me.

Well can anybody remind me if the Leader of the Opposition has taken any responsibility for the conduct of the Sydney Young Liberals and the attendance at this event of members of his frontbench?

Has he taken any responsibility for the conduct of members of his political party and members of his frontbench who apparently when the most vile things were being said about my family, raised no voice of objection? Nobody walked out of the room; no-one walked up to Mr Jones and said that this was not acceptable.

Instead of course, it was all viewed as good fun until it was run in a Sunday newspaper and then the Leader of the Opposition and others started ducking for cover.

Big on lectures of responsibility, very light on accepting responsibility himself for the vile conduct of members of his political party.

Third, Deputy Speaker, why the Leader of the Opposition should not be taken seriously on this motion.

The Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have come into this place and have talked about the Member for Fisher. Well, let me remind the Opposition and the Leader of the opposition party about their track record and association with the Member for Fisher.

I remind them that the National Party preselected the Member for Fisher for the 1984 election, that the National Party preselected the Member for Fisher for the 1987 election, that the Liberals preselected Mr Slipper for the 1993 election, then the 1996 election, then the 1998 election, then for the 2001 election, then for the 2004 election, then for the 2007 election and then for the 2010 election.

And across these elections, Mr Slipper enjoyed the personal support of the Leader of the Opposition. I remind the Leader of the Opposition that on 28 September 2010, following the last election campaign, when Mr Slipper was elected as Deputy Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition at that stage said this, and I quote.

He referred to the Member for Maranoa, who was also elected to a position at the same time, and then went on as follows: “And the Member for Fisher will serve as a fine complement to the Member for Scullin in the chair. I believe that the Parliament will be well-served by the team which will occupy the chair in this chamber. I congratulate the Member for Fisher, who has been a friend of mine for a very long time, who has served this Parliament in many capacities with distinction.

The words of the Leader of the Opposition on record, about his personal friendship with Mr [Slipper], and on record about his view about Mr Slipper's qualities and attributes to be the Speaker.

No walking away from those words, they were the statement of the Leader of the Opposition then. I remind the Leader of the Opposition, who now comes in here and speaks about apparently his inability to work with or talk to Mr Slipper. I remind the Leader of the Opposition he attended Mr Slipper's wedding.

Did he walk up to Mr Slipper in the middle of the service and say he was disgusted to be there? Was that the attitude he took? No, he attended that wedding as a friend.

The Leader of the Opposition keen to lecture others about what they ought to know or did know about Mr Slipper. Well with respect, I'd say to the Leader of the Opposition after a long personal association including attending Mr Slipper's wedding, it would be interesting to know whether the Leader of the Opposition was surprised by these text messages.

He's certainly in a position to speak more intimately about Mr Slipper than I am, and many other people in this Parliament, given this long personal association.

Then of course the Leader of the Opposition comes into this place and says, and I quote, “Every day the Prime Minister stands in this Parliament to defend this Speaker will be another day of shame for this Parliament, another day of shame for a government which should already have died of shame.

Well can I indicate to the Leader of the Opposition the Government is not dying of shame, my father did not die of shame, what the Leader of the Opposition should be ashamed of is his performance in this Parliament and the sexism he brings with it. Now about the text messages that are on the public record or reported in the – that's a direct quote from the Leader of the Opposition so I suggest those groaning have a word with him.

On the conduct of Mr Slipper, and on the text messages that are in the public domain, I have seen the press reports of those text messages. I am offended by their content. I am offended by their content because I am always offended by sexism. I am offended by their content because I am always offended by statements that are anti-women.

I am offended by those things in the same way that I have been offended by things that the Leader of the Opposition has said, and no doubt will continue to say in the future. Because if this today was an exhibition of his new feminine side, well I don't think we've got much to look forward to in terms of changed conduct.

I am offended by those text messages. But I also believe, in terms of this Parliament making a decision about the speakership, that this Parliament should recognise that there is a court case in progress. That the judge has reserved his decision, that having waited for a number of months for the legal matters surrounding Mr Slipper to come to a conclusion, that this Parliament should see that conclusion.

I believe that is the appropriate path forward, and that people will then have an opportunity to make up their minds with the fullest information available to them.

But whenever people make up their minds about those questions, what I won't stand for, what I will never stand for is the Leader of the Opposition coming into this place and peddling a double standard. Peddling a standard for Mr Slipper he would not set for himself. Peddling a standard for Mr Slipper he has not set for other members of his frontbench.

Peddling a standard for Mr Slipper that has not been acquitted by the people who have been sent out to say the vilest and most revolting things like his former Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Senator Bernardi.

I will not ever see the Leader of the Opposition seek to impose his double standard on this Parliament. Sexism should always be unacceptable. We should conduct ourselves as it should always be unacceptable. The Leader of the Opposition says do something; well he could do something himself if he wants to deal with sexism in this Parliament.

He could change his behaviour, he could apologise for all his past statements, he could apologise for standing next to signs describing me as a witch and a bitch, terminology that is now objected to by the frontbench of the Opposition.

He could change a standard himself if he sought to do so. But we will see none of that from the Leader of the Opposition because on these questions he is incapable of change. Capable of double standards, but incapable of change. His double standards should not rule this Parliament.

Good sense, common sense, proper process is what should rule this Parliament. That's what I believe is the path forward for this Parliament, not the kind of double standards and political game-playing imposed by the Leader of the Opposition now looking at his watch because apparently a woman's spoken too long.

I've had him yell at me to shut up in the past, but I will take the remaining seconds of my speaking time to say to the Leader of the Opposition I think the best course for him is to reflect on the standards he's exhibited in public life, on the responsibility he should take for his public statements; on his close personal connection with Peter Slipper, on the hypocrisy he has displayed in this House today.

And on that basis, because of the Leader of the Opposition's motivations, this Parliament today should reject this motion and the Leader of the Opposition should think seriously about the role of women in public life and in Australian society because we are entitled to a better standard than this.

The Macquarie Dictionary, which is regarded as the standard reference on Australian English, has announced that it is broadening the definition of the word "misogyny". The dictionary currently defines misogyny as a pathological hatred of women. To reflect what the PM had really meant in this speech in Parliament, the dictionary will also refer to misogyny as an "entrenched prejudice against women" in its next updated edition (Ref 1).

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Curious Case of South Kensington

How does my morning routine change after the train timetable change in May 2011? Before that, a Werribee train would take me from Westona to Altona, Seaholme, Newport, then express to Footscray followed by express to North Melbourne. So it is basically just 4 stations in between.

Now, a Laverton train will stop all stations (with 3 additional stations - Spotswood, Yarraville and Seddon) except for South Kensington. In the past, I could reach my workplace at Parkville as quickly as within 35 minutes, now it will take about an hour or more. Even this extended time is not guaranteed due to increased train cancellations and delays on the Altona Loop. Furthermore, train departures from Westona are now scheduled at more awkward timings and intervals, and at lower frequencies, when compared to the old timetable. This means that I need to wake up and leave my house much earlier to accommodate these changes.

What I find very puzzling is that the city-bound Laverton trains often make unscheduled stops at South Kensington. How can this be so when these trains are not supposed to stop at South Kensington according to the timetable?  I will like to hazard a few explanations:
  • The train driver is very kind and will like to reduce the waiting times of those passengers at South Kensington.
  • City-bound Werribee and Williamstown trains are scheduled to pick up passengers at South Kensington. But since they are behind schedules, they are ordered to skip South Kensington, passing the stranded passengers to the later-arriving city-bound Laverton train instead.
  • Due to earlier train cancellations and delays, there is a buildup of passengers at South Kensington so city-bound Laverton trains are ordered to pick up the tab.
  • Due to signal failure or congestion at North Melbourne, the city-bound Laverton is stuck. Since the train has to wait anyway before being cleared to drive into North Melbourne, the driver decides to do the passengers at South Kensington a favour by allowing them to board the train.
  • Metro decides to pay back the Altona Loop commuters for their constant complaints by occasionally extending their journey times (just a joke as I doubt this explanation will turn out to be true).

How I wish that Metro can be "fairer" and make occasional unscheduled stops through the Altona Loop? Please don't bank on this unrealistic dream - it will never happen!

Places to visit in Melbourne during Spring

I like the feeling of Spring when one can finally bid farewell to a long chilly winter and start putting warm clothings to storage. You know Spring has arrived when soil in the garden beds starts loosening and buds begin opening up into flowers. First to blossom are the flowering plums, which commonly adorn many streets of Melbourne. Different species of plant will take their turns to flower, a timing dictated by their biological clocks and in response to environmental cues.

Spring Flowers 01
I think this is a plum. Located in Altona.

Coming from tropical Singapore, I am always excited by seasonal displays of colours, particularly that in Spring and Autumn.  Hence, I am determined not to let this Spring pass by without engaging in an immersive experience and breathing in every sounds and sights of the season. I started searching on the internet for places in Melbourne or Victoria where one could see extravagant displays of spring blossoms. However, the search turned out to be more elusive than I have expected. I will like to share in this post what I already know and what I have found but have not yet visited. I would love your contributions and am keen to explore your suggested places.

1. Bright Spring Festival

The Bright Spring Festival is a 2-week annual festival in October/November celebrating the magic of spring in Bright and the natural beauty of the Ovens, Buckland and Kiewa Valleys. It features open gardens and workshops, street and river markets, food and wine events, decorative arts exhibition, craft workshops, the famous Alpine Four Peaks Climb (for walkers and runners) and family fun days. It runs from 20 Oct to 6 Nov in 2012. The Grand Fireworks Spectacular and Concert is on Sat 3 Nov 2012.

I visited this Festival last year and a few open gardens. I was most impressed by the George and Mary Hall in Porepunkah. I also enjoyed the garden of Shady Brook Cottages at Harrietville.

George and Mary Hall 01 George and Mary Hall 04
George and Mary Hall 03 George and Mary Hall 07

Pardoning my perfectionist streak, what I find a little amiss is the opportunity to stroll through meadows of wildflowers, that I imagine to abound on high mountains, plains and valleys. All the flowers I saw were cultivated and painstakingly manicured so were lacking somewhat of an untamed touch.

2. Tesselaar Tulip Festival

You do not need to go to Holland to view its world-renowned tulips for they were brought to Melbourne by the Dutch for cultivation some 70 years ago.

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 01

The story began in depression-era Holland as World War II loomed. Cees Tesselaar read from newspapers that exports of tulip and other bulbs to Australia were increasing. Hearing that Australia is a land of opportunity for those willing to work hard, Cees decided to give it a shot. He sold his cheese business, married Johanna and her father gave them a gift of bulbs. In 1939, they left for Australia on their honeymoon and never returned. After a few years growing gladioli, tulips and daffodils at Ferntree Gully, they moved to Silvan in the Dandenong Mountain. News of their "little piece of Holland" spread and many of the "Dutchies" immigrants who arrived during the 1950s headed straight for the Tesselaar farm where they found a place to stay and a job. Many of these immigrants stayed in the area and began their own farms so the area is today dominated by the "Dutchies" and their beloved Tulips.

Tulip_30Sep06 062

The Tesselaar Tulip Festival started by accident. By the 1940s and 50s, more people were doing weekend day trips to the Dandenong Ranges. They were all stopping at the tulip field to jump the fence for a closer look at the flowering tulips. Noticing more people every year, the entrepreneurial Cees started selling bunches of tulips to tourists. As more people came, more facilities had to be provided and this eventually turned into a full-blown four-week tulip festival featuring live entertainment, tractor rides, market stalls, a sculpture competition and theme weekends such as Turkish, Dutch, Irish and Jazz weekends.

The Silvan property is still a working farm but the one million tulip and other spring bulbs grown there are purely for the stunning floral display during the festival. Tesselaars shifted the bulk of its bulb production to Tasmania about 15 years ago, where contract growers had access to ample land and the cooler climate was better suited to bulbs.

I had visited  the Tesselaar Tulip Festival several times but was there either too early or too late and have yet to visit at the perfect time when the tulip flowers are at their peak sizes. The Tesselaar Tulip Festival runs from 13 Sep to 9 Oct in 2012.

Ref: 1, 2

3. National Rhododendron Garden

I brought two Chinese visitors to the Tesselaar Tulip Festival. My wife said I should bring them to the National Rhododendron Garden instead. This is because tulip farms are quite common in China while many Chinese have not seen rhododendrons, though these flowers are often quoted in Chinese songs and poetry.

Established in 1961 by the Australian Rhododendron Society, the 43-hectare National Rhododendron Gardens in Olinda are host to over 15,000 rhododendrons, 12,000 azaleas, 3,000 camellias and 250,000 daffodils. Situated on a hilltop in the scenic Dandenong Ranges, the National Rhododendron Gardens are framed by the world's tallest flowering plant, the Mountain Ash, and set against a backdrop of the blue Australian Alps. It also contains a large ornamental lake, sensory gardens, deep fern gullies and small rock gardens (Ref 3, 4).

Rhododendrons 43National Rhododendron Garden - Australian Alp

In spring, the National Rhododendron Gardens hosts an astounding display of riotous colour. Beginning in August, the vibrant sunshine yellows of daffodils dance with the dignified blooms of camellias announcing the imminence of spring.

Daffodil 02Camellia 001

In September, the Cherry Tree Grove is in full bloom and is celebrated at the annual Hanami Festival (on 25th Sep this year). Hanami is the Japanese tradition of "flower viewing" but mostly refers to the celebration and appreciation of the "sakura" or cherry blossom – Japan’s unofficial national flower. In keeping with tradition, visitors are treated to traditional Japanese flower arranging demonstrations, origami, ikebana and bonsai display, calligraphy demonstrations and tea making ceremonies.

Peach Tree 002

Amidst snowy drifts of flowering cherries throughout September, colour will consistently build to a crescendo in October and early November, when rhododendrons and azaleas combine to paint a flamboyant splash of gaudy colour across the Gardens in loud mauves, pinks, oranges and reds (Ref 5).

Rhododendrons 39Rhododendrons 11

Having seen a postcard-perfect photo of the Kurume Bowl bursting into brilliant colours, I am enticed to visit the National Rhododendron Gardens when its Kurume Bowl is in full bloom, expected to be within the next two weeks.

4. Spring Fest - Dandenongs' Garden Festival

Organized by the Villages of Mount Dandenong, the Spring Fest which runs from mid September to the end of October, showcases the best of the region's garden and floral experiences. Of special interest is the Secret Gardens of the Dandenongs activity which comprises 11 separate tours to 17 private gardens. Priced at $99 per person, many of the tours are sold out. I will not have any photo and additional information to share as I will not be able to afford this cost for a family.

5. The Macedon Ranges

This is one place that I suspect is worth visiting during Spring as I had found its autumn colours to be quite spectacular during my last visit. Try the various gardens there such as Tieve Tara, Forest Glade and those participating in the Open Gardens scheme. (A secret to share - the Macedon Ranges is another place apart from the Dandenongs that have many secret gardens).

There are various Spring events in this region:

6. Grampians

The website lists places where you can see seasonal wildflowers and particularly highlights the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road as the gems of the lot.

Known as the "Garden of Victoria", the Grampians are home to more than a third of Victoria's flora. Late winter displays of massed acacia along Roses Gap Road are replaced by miles of Grampians Thryptomene in spring, when tiny white blossoms turn to delicate pinks and light browns. You can find upland heaths in purples, pinks and whites, ground-hugging grevilleas and in shaded areas, beautiful native orchids and delicate necklaces of Maidenhair ferns.

The southern plains of the region hosts numerous wildflowers and native grass species, purple, pink and orange peas, flowering shrubs, bluebells, pincushions, green and red correas. To the north, grasslands support eremophila and the open woodlands have their own displays of orchids, flowering shrubs and trees. In most of the parks and reserves, Greenhood, Golden Moth, Tiger and Sun orchids can be seen in the understorey.

There is an annual Grampians Wildflower Show that is now in its 75th year and will be held at Centenary Hall in Hall Gaps from 4-7 Oct 2012.

7. Great Ocean Road suggests visiting Great Ocean Road during Spring to see a large diversity of flora, including wildflowers. Recommended destinations include:
  • Mount Richmond National Park - an extinct volcano near Cape Bridgewater known for its spectacular spring wildflowers and abundant wildlife in unspoilt bushland. Some of Victoria's best wildflowers are found there. About 450 species of plants have been recorded in the park, including 50 orchid species. Correas, heaths, wattles and Bush Peas provide spectacular colours in spring but there are plants flowering almost all year round.
  • Surf Coast Walks
  • Glenelg River enroute to Princess Margaret Rose Cave.
  • Native flora and fauna at Tower Hill State Game Reserve.
  • Point Addis Flower Farm
  • Rainforests, eucalypts, mountain ash trees, myrtle beech and understorey tree-ferns in the Otways, Malts Rest and Melba Gully.

8. Royal Botanic Gardens

The RBG in the City is always a nice place to visit, at whatever times of the year. There is a Spring Open Day on 7 Oct 2012. You can download the program here.

After over 20 years of planning, construction and planting, the Australian Garden at RBG Cranbourne finally completes the vision for a bold, contemporary garden of Australian native plants. The second and final stage will open to the public with a two-day celebration from 20-21 Oct 2012. The second stage includes 11 new precincts, 70,000 plants, 850 plant species, a visitor kiosk and cafĂ©, and a dedicated space for community events. Sat 20 Oct is "Gardeners Day" while Sun 21 Oct is "Family Day" with guided walks, children’s activities, gardening workshops and entertainment.

9. Altona

I live in Altona so I know this suburb presents a natural visual delight in October every year. During this time of the year, the Altona Coastal Park is carpeted with pink swathes of Carpobrotus rossii or pigface flowers. Click here for more information and photos.

Pigface B

I can actually experience the splendours of spring right outside my doorsteps. There are several avid gardeners in "Julia Street" where I live. In fact, my neighbour has made it an annual ritual to grow ranunculus whose collective array of colours is a sight to behold.

Ranunculus Anthony

Every morning on my walk to the train station, I would pass by the front garden of a house. Wafts of sweet-smelling scents from clusters of unnamed small white flowers would make me pause my steps. I would feel invigorated and wonder what these flowers are. Their scents are so enticing and what is interesting is that these scents are emitted only during certain times of the day.

10. Melbourne Festival

Formerly known as the Melbourne International Arts Festival, the Melbourne Festival is a celebration of dance, theatre, music, visual arts, multimedia, outdoor and free events held for 17 days each October in a number of venues across Melbourne.

It was first established as the Spoleto Festival Melbourne in 1986 by the Cain Government as a sister festival of the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto and the Spoleto Festival USA held in Charleston, South Carolina. Its name was changed to the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts in 1990 and then to Melbourne International Arts Festival in 2003. It is now simply referred to as the Melbourne Festival.

Melbourne Festival is one of Australia's flagship international arts festivals and one of the major multi-arts festivals of the world, in terms of quality of work, innovation of vision, and scale and breadth of program.

11. Melbourne Fringe Festival

The Melbourne Fringe Festival is an annual independent arts festival which runs for 3 weeks from late September to early October, usually overlapping with the beginning of the Melbourne Festival. It includes a wide variety of art forms, including theatre, comedy, music, performance art, film, cabaret, digital art, live art and circus performance.

12. Royal Melbourne Show

The Royal Melbourne Show, which just ended, is an agricultural show held at the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds at Ascot Vale every September. It is organized by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and has been running since 1848. It attracts attendances of up to half a million people each year.

Besides the display of agricultural livestock and produce with its associated competitions and awards, the show also features amusement rides, a sideshow alley, food sampling and showbags. You can get discounted admission tickets if you are a RACV member.

13. Melbourne Cup Carnival

The Melbourne Cup Carnival is comprised of 4 unique race days, the Derby, Melbourne Cup, Oaks and Stakes Day, of which the Melbourne Cup Day is the most significant. Held since 1861, the Melbourne Cup race starts at 3 pm on the first Tuesday of November at Flemington Racecourse. Billed as the race that stops a nation, it is watched by up to 700 million TV viewers in Australia and New Zealand and is a public holiday in metropolitan Melbourne since 1877, in some parts of regional Victoria and in the Australian Capital Territory since April 2007.

During the carnival, hordes of people swarm to Flemington by train, tram, car, etc. On these race days, special trains fetch racegoers to the Racecourse station which only opens for this event. Coming from Singapore, I have not seen a peculiar phenomenon like this. I still find it interesting and amused by the sight of gentlemen in very formal suits and ladies donning elaborate fascinators, wearing heavy makeups and dressed to the nines, on board trains heading towards the racecourse. Somehow, these people appear to me like figures lifted out from the pages of a commemorative coffee book - men and women from the Victorian gold-rush era, attending what must be the most important annual event in town.  I learnt that these ladies spent a fortune preparing for this big day. Apart from the racing contest proper, fashion competition is also a key conversation topic of the carnival. Indeed, the lawns of Flemington are graced by some of the world's most fashionable and prominent people, which this year would include Prince Charles and his wife Camilla (Ref 6). I was also told by a colleague that people go to the carnival with the purpose of drinking, socializing, dating and treating the racecourse as a big party ground.

14. AFL (Australian Football League) Grand Final

The AFL Grand Final is an annual Australian rules football match, traditionally held on the final Saturday in September or October at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne to determine the AFL premiership champions for that year. The game has become significant to Australian culture and the AFL Grand Final has become Australia's most important sporting event, with the largest attendance and metropolitan television audience.

15. Melbourne Marathon Festival

The Melbourne Marathon Festival has been held every year since 1978. It is composed of the marathon, half-marathon, 10 km, 5.7 km, 4 km walk, and Kids 2.5 km races. It will be held on the 14th of October this year.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Personal Safety in Melbourne and Singapore

I have been asked how the personal safety in Melbourne compares with that in Singapore. This is something I actually cannot easily answer.

In Melbourne, many houses do not have front fences or if they do have, the fence is so low that you can easily climb over it and hence, does not offer much of a protection in keeping off intruders. Also, most of the windows are simply glass windows, not protected by an external layer of lockable aluminium casing.  I read from newspapers that a considerable number of residents do not have the habit of locking their doors when they go out for an errand. Such a practice will be unthinkable in Singapore where homes are much more heavily secured with protective locks and barriers. In government-subsidized HDB (Housing Development Board) flats, lifts are installed with CCTVs and security-coded access. I guess this elevated caution in Singapore could be due to a genuine or perceived risk of burglary or it may simply be a social or cultural phenomenon.

Singapore is said to have one of the lowest crime rates in the world, with rare incidence of violent crimes (Ref 1). In contrast, murders and serious assaults are frequently reported in Melbourne's news media. Some of these news even grabbed international attention. The most recent case is the rape and murder of Jill Meagher which was widely circulated through social media and resulted in 30,000 people marching through the main street of Brunswick, in protest against street violence towards women (Ref 2).  Not too long ago, violence against international students (in particular Indian students) had led to a drastic drop in Indian students coming to Australia for study. Of course, relying on news coverage as a measure of crime statistics may not give a true picture because media in Australia tend to sensationalize news while media in Singapore tend to be more restrained and as a monopoly, have less pressure to engage in a 24/7 news cycle.

As reflected by the highly-popular TV crime series Underbelly, the underground world and bikie gangs of Australia appear to be pretty much resilient. From time to time, gunfire clashes occurred between feuding mafia families and made headlines in local newspapers. Secret societies used to be rampant in the early history of independent Singapore but have now become insignificant though they still remain a security issue (Ref 3). Due to Singapore's strict gun control policies, firearms do not feature much in crimes due to lack of accessibility. In Australia, the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 led to legislation in gun control but 5.2% of adult Australians still own and use firearms (Ref 4). The Victorian Police is holding an amnesty for Victorians to hand in firearms in the next two months with "no questions asked" and without "fear of prosecution" (Ref 5).

My wife is now taking English lessons for migrants. The teacher had asked the class one question: "Would you walk in the streets of Melbourne by yourself late at night?". All the students replied they would not feel safe to do so. I would also steer clear at late hours, particularly in streets with pubs and night clubs. Often reading about alcohol-fueled violence such as stabbings, glassing, rapes and assaults would deter me from patronizing these trouble hotspots.

However, if I am in Singapore, I would actually feel quite safe to be in the streets late at night. I would like to offer a few reasons why I feel so:
  • The streets are much more brightly lit in Singapore. When I first arrived in Melbourne, I had difficulty adjusting to the low-lit streets and seeing things clearly when driving at night. This "energy-saving strategy" extends to the highways and freeways in Melbourne as well.
  • There are more lanes and alleys in Melbourne - perfect hideaways for lurking dangers.
  • The population density is much higher in Singapore so there are more people on the streets at any time, presenting less opportunities for crime perpetrators to launch their attacks. Melbourne is a sprawling city and most suburban streets are devoid of pedestrians once night descends.   
  • Singapore possesses and enforces tough laws against crimes, meting out harsh punishments such as capital punishment (for intentional murders) and caning. These laws work though you may say the system is lacking human rights.

Some people have been questioning whether the 30,000 strong protest in Brunswick serves any useful purpose. They are protesting against violence. But who is the target? Who should be held responsible? Exactly, what are they trying to achieve? I think most people do not have a clear answer.  There are lobbies to install more CCTVs along the streets of Brunswick. This may help to deter would-be offenders who are afraid that traces of their crimes would be recorded. But it will be a pity if these potential offenders turn their attention to more poorly-equipped suburbs.

Could Jill Meagher's murder be prevented? Probably because the attacker's behaviour is not exactly out of the blue. Social commentator Catherine Deveny had reported being dragged off her bike by the same man as she rode along Sydney Road, Brunswick in July (Ref 6). A man with a similar attire and gait threatened to kill Stacey Scaife, a 23-year old nurse, on two occasions near where Jill Meagher was murdered (Ref 7). There were also several incidences of women being followed by a car and an attempted kidnap into a car in the Brunswick area (Ref 8, 9). If these warnings have been acted upon, the tragedy may not have happened.

This incidence reminds me of another Jill (Jill Brookes), a 61-year owner of a second-hand bookstore in Altona, who was viciously bashed by a break-in thief on 20 July 2012 (Ref 10, 11, 12, 13, 14). She suffered life-threatening skull fractures and remains unconscious at the Alfred Hospital. The offender is still at large. The recounting of various horror stories by traders in the same shopping square indicates that the security issue is not an isolated one but more of a systemic nature (Ref 15, 16).

I feel the public outrage and outpourings of grief unleashed by Jill Meagher's tragedy is positive in raising the awareness of society and in provoking public debates of what type of society we wish to live in and how we are going to achieve it. Hopefully, this will lead to a safer society, focusing more on preventive rather than reactive crime mitigation strategies.