Saturday, January 29, 2011

From our DC correspondent, Saturday January 29

Anti-Mubarak protest on Connecticut Avenue, Washington DC. The march was peaceful, the police presence conspicuous.

From the DC Bureau

Maurice sent this photo of the aftereffects of this past week's snowstorm in Washington, DC.

Economic stimulus in Crow's Nest

The GFC (which is how Aussies universally refer to the "global financial crisis") is over but the stimulus lingers on. Jon photographed this sign on the gates of an old school building in our Crow's Nest neighbourhood in north Sydney. It was the last day of his stay in Sydney. Two points: the unemployment rate in Australia was 5.1% in December 2010, when this photograph was taken; and U.S.-style graffiti was common, but the graffiti artists were absolutely invisible to us.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Even the recent past is mysterious

This marker and accompanying label were photographed at the Museum of Sydney.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Are obelisks extravagant?

As this brief passage from the New South Wales Government Heritage website reveals, the Macquarie obelisk plays an unexpectedly large role in the history of Australia.

These qualities of the Obelisk and Macquarie Place symbolise Macquarie's vision for a permanent planned settlement, which provided the genesis for the development of the nation, and which far exceeded the views of the British Government of the Colony as simply a penal settlement. When the Obelisk was first erected in Macquarie Place, Commissioner Bigge, representing the British Government, found even this simple monument too grand for a penal colony. Governor Macquarie defended the expense and design of the monument with indignation as a "little unadorned Obelisk...rendered at a trifling expense, somewhat ornamental to the Town" which in his view did not "merit any censure". It was this difference of opinion that contributed to the resignation of a disillusioned Governor Macquarie, and meant that many of his plans and Greenway's designs for an elegant Georgian township were not realised.

It goes without saying that the blog left Sydney with a real dislike of Commissioner Bigge.

Jon's photo is evidence that almost anything in Sydney can be photographed with the Harbour Bridge in the background. It is so large that it is omnipresent (in a good way).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's still standing!

The blog was so happy to find the obelisk alive and well in the Sydney Central Business District. It was erected by Governor Macquarie in 1818 to serve as a reference for the distances of other settlements from Sydney. It was designed by the convict architect Frances Greenway (who also designed the Hyde Park Barracks) and features Greek revival details, some of which are still visible. The inscription is the original. The white sandstone was locally quarried. There is a further story about the unintended consequences of this beautiful obelisk, which the blog will consider in a future post.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Still standing in 1853...

This is the same obelisk shown in the previous post. The artist, Conrad Martens, was born in London. He later sailed briefly with Charles Darwin on the Beagle (and by all accounts became a lifelong friend), but left that voyage in 1834. He arrived in Sydney in 1835, and settled permanently in Australia. Jon, his biography notes the following:

Martens had a liking for the North Shore of Sydney with its panoramic vistas of the harbour and foreshores, and in 1844 built a house at St Leonard's.

Readers of the blog should note that St. Leonard's is the North Shore neighborhood in which the blog resided while in Sydney.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A view of Sydney, 1823

Imagine the excitement when the blog saw this reproduction of an 1823 view of Sydney while touring the Hyde Park Barracks, the building that served as home to the convict work gangs. How did a penal colony founded in 1788 acquire an obelisk so quickly? And, more important, does this obelisk still stand?

Friday, January 14, 2011

What Paul Krugman wrote today about the President's speech in Tucson seems true to the blog

...the truth is that we are a deeply divided nation and are likely to remain one for a long time. By all means, let’s listen to each other more carefully; but what we’ll discover, I fear, is how far apart we are.
NYT January 14, 2010


The lovely ANZAC Bridge is a cable-stayed bridge over the Johnstons Bay section of Sydney Harbour that connects two western inner suburbs of Sydney (Pyrmont and Glebe Island). As demonstrated by the blog in the middle photo, there is a well-designed pedestrian walkway. The bridge opened 1n 1995, but it was not named to honor the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps until Remembrance Day 1998. Statues of two diggers stand at the western end of the bridge. "Digger" is a slang term used in Australia and New Zealand for soldiers from those countries. It originated during WWI and, contrary to what the blog initially and naively thought, it is not a pejorative term.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kookaburra controversy

Susan and Nate saw this kookaburra on a bushwalk in a park north of Sydney in early December. We learned from our Australia hosts to say "cook-a-burra" instead of "kook-a-burra." This means we've been singing the kookaburra song wrong in the United States all these years. We were also tipped off to several ongoing kookaburra controversies...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Now that you mention it...

Cleopatra's needle is starting to look a little worn...unless we take better care of it, we might have to give it back. (Photograph of the obelisk in the snow was taken by Jon last February.)

Christmas dinner in Sydney

Native Australians were most likely cooking shrimp on the barbee, but we settled for wild-caught salmon from the Tasman Sea, Jon's fabulous risotto, and fresh green beans. A nice Christmas pudding with hard sauce for dessert. Australia is amazingly self-sufficient - it even produces its own olive oil!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Iconic Sydney

Two of the nicest things about Sydney, Australia, are the bridge views from the opera house and the opera house views from the bridge. Susan and Nate can be seen at the far left, taking a break during a tour of the opera house.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hyde Park obelisk

A massive 1857 obelisk with an attractive bronze filigreed top stands at the edge of Hyde Park in Sydney, Australia. This is an obelisk with an unusual function - it protected the citizens of Sydney from noxious sewer gases by venting them above street level. For scale, the black arrow points to Nate and Susan standing next to the base. Its apparently well-earned nickname is "Thornton's Scent Bottle," named for the mayor who commissioned it. Sydneysiders (the correct designation for a citizen of Sydney) appear to know this, as the blog was given this information (with amusement on the part of the informant) while Jon was taking these photographs.

Beachfront cemetery (with obelisks)

In Sydney, an easily accessed, paved clifftop walking path connects Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach. Most walkers can't take their eyes off the silvery Pacific Ocean far below, but the blog was delighted to encounter Waverly Cemetery on the top of the cliff near the suburb of Bronte. The cemetery was founded in 1877, and contains an abundance of Victorian and Edwardian monuments, most in excellent condition. These were definitely peak years for obelisks in Australia! The photograph does not convey the scale of the cemetery, which has hosted almost 90,000 interments.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hand, Part 2

The stenciled hand remains a potent symbol for Australians. Sydney Harbour Bridge, New Year's Eve 2010. One consequence of the 2008 apology of the Australian government to its indigenous peoples appears to be the unselfconscious, non-exploitative use of this symbol.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hand, Part 1

The blog has returned from its Australia sojourn, during which it learned the full extent of its ignorance about that country's history. The hand pictured above (stenciled on the wall of a natural sandstone cave in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, which is located northeast of Sydney) was placed there some time in the last 10,000 years by a group of the aboriginal people of Australia, the Guringai people . There is good archaeological evidence that the aboriginal people of Australia have lived in that country more than 40,000 years (some estimates go back to 125,000 years). They therefore represent the world's oldest continuous human culture, and currently constitute about 3% of the population of Australia.