Thursday, 30 October 2014

An exploration into the mind of modern Australia

Australian Museum of Contemporary Art

Australian Museum of Contemporary Art140 George St, The Rocks
There is a certain building in Sydney that everybody visits, usually so they can get a photo of themselves standing in front of it, and even though I had an appointment at that particular building during my stay in Sydney, since it is an Australian icon I feel that I would simply be wasting my time saying anything about it because, well, everybody knows about it anyway. So, instead of going to that building, I decided that I would go and pay a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Over the years I have been developing an appreciation for visual art, even though I still find some aspects of modern art to be, well, strange (if not downright ludicrous). For instance, the first time I come here I walked into a room and it was completely empty with the exception of coloured gaff tape covering the floor (though there were a couple of dangly things hanging from the ceiling). When I exclaimed my surprise on Facebook, a friend of mine simply replied with 'well, what did you expect?'. This is probably the best photo that I could get of this piece of, well, art:

Modern Art Room
I call this the Modern Art Room
My developing understanding of art has made me appreciate the writings of Karl Marx so much more, especially with his discussions on the 'Estrangement of Labour'. Whatever you think about his economic theories, I feel that he does have a point in this essay, namely that what industrialisation has done is to depersonalise art. The thing about art is that it can take many forms, though many of us understand art as simply being paintings, sculpture, and to a lesser extent, literature. However, before the industrial revolution, industry was personalised, meaning that when a blacksmith made something, there was a part of him going into that creation, and that is what art is, something that we create that we infuse a part of our personality into, whether it be a painting:

School of Athens - Raphael
I bought a print of this painting when I was in the Vatican
The Deposition - Michelangelo
This sculpture is much more exciting than Michealangelo's other sculpture
or even a building;

Cathedral Doors in Prague
The entrance of one of the cathedrals in Prague.
whenever we create something we infuse a part of ourself into it and it becomes art.

The thing with modern art is it breaks the traditional boundaries of what we understand as art. Okay, we may all laugh about the artist who throws a handful of mud at a canvas, encases it in a frame and some glass, and proceeds to auction it off for a million dollars, but modern art, in a way, goes beyond that: like all art, a part of the artist's soul is infused into the creation.
Seriously though, the paintings below simply seem to be little more than what I described above, especially all the artist appears to have done is get some white paint and paint lines across a black canvas:

Modern Art - Painted Lines
Then again, maybe there is some deep existentialist meaning in these paintings
and everytime I think about it I am simply not convinced that this particular artist put all that much time and effort into this creation. However, the fact that this painting is hanging in the gallery as opposed to my muddied piece of framed canvas suggests that this artist must have a reputation.
Still, there is more to the exhibitions in this gallery than simply silly paintings and sculptures that makes us scratch our head and ask 'how did this ever land up here'. The first thing that I wish to touch upon is the nature of modern art. As I have said, modern art redefines the boundaries of what is accepted as art. Modern art is not confined to a piece of marble or to a canvas, but it can be the room itself, as we saw with the gaff tape room, and we see the same here:

This artist is even using light and shadows in the creation
It need not be a single object, but can a collection of objects:
Box Art Room
Those boxes all contain apparently random objects
And in some cases, the space can be a part of the art in as well:
Body Parts Room
Those are actually sculptures of body parts hanging from the ceiling
Modern art is not limited to the static either, since when one wanders through a modern art gallery one will not only encounter creations that move (such as the collection of rolladexes that randomly flip cards) but also video as art.

I couldn't think of a better example of modern video art

As I have suggested, art is where the creator infuses a part of themselves into the creation, however I will suggest that collections can give us an idea of the nation from which these artists come from, and since this gallery is a collection of art created by Australians, I would like to suggest that this gallery gives us an idea of the Australia psyche. There are two aspects about our psyche that come to the fore in this museum: the guilt of our treatment of the aboriginals and our lack of identity as a culture.

Not surprisingly there are a lot of works here that bring out our relationship with the original inhabitants, and many of these pieces do not paint a pretty picture of our society. While the Marta room displays artwork produced by aboriginals from the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia:

Marta Painting
This painting seems to have a lot more cultural significance than others I saw
which come across as what one would expect from traditional aboriginal artists, there are other pieces of art that describe our colonisation of Australia as being little more than an invasion and subjugation of a native population, which is what this painting clearly expresses:
This painting reminds me of the cover of a street directory
This is not the only artwork of that nature - there are more - however, what it portrays is a nation that is trying to reconcile the crimes of our past with the reality of the present. Mind you, the aboriginals are not the only peoples that have been wronged, as I saw in another room which was dedicated to the Muslim population. In reality, Australia's history has always been a struggle to defend the White Anglo-Saxon culture against intrusions from other cultures, whether it be from Southern Europe, South-East Asia, or as we are seeing now, the Middle East.

That is the other thing that I noticed from this visit: how our modern art portrays the struggle with our attempts to define ourselves as a nation. While there may be things that we claim to be proudly Australian, such as the Kangaroo, the Koala, and the Didgeridoo, they don't actually define our culture. This artwork captured that disjointed understanding perfectly:
Disjointed Words
I suspect the artist had another interpretation of this painting
The thing about modern art, though, is sometimes it can be difficult trying to work out what is art and what is not. However, this is modern art:
Artistic Rubbish Bin
I almost threw my wrappers in here
while this is just a foot stool:

Foot stool
It certainly is

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Monday, 27 October 2014

Two Wars Played out in a little room

Henry V 
Bell Shakespeare Company 
21 October - 15 November
Sydney Opera House Playhouse Theatre

I must really not know my way around the Australian theatre scene because other than the state theatre companies, the only other theatre company that I know of (and have regularly seen productions) is the Bell Shakespeare Company (Bell). However, a few people that I have spoken with in my literary circles seem to have a very low opinion of Bell. I suspect it may be because I have not had the luxury of regularly travelling to London or New York to see other productions (though I did get the opportunity of seeing the Globe's production of Dr Faustus and a couple of plays by the National Theatre Company, though they were recordings that I watched at a cinema here in Melbourne). I guess the reason that I have been a regular attendee at Bell's productions over the last couple of years is because not only did they produce Shakespearean plays that I had not seen (such as Henry IV), but they also did a couple of plays by French playwrights (Moliere and Racine).
What I have noticed is that Bell productions try to present Shakespeare in a way that is appreciated by the modern Australian audience (though in a couple of instances, such as with Tartuffe, I felt that they had butchered the play – come on, the ghost of Shakespeare appearing to drag Tartuffe down into hell – seriously guys, you could have done better than that), and in many cases the plays use a modern setting without undermining the original concept (in much the same way that Richard III was produced).

Personally, I like putting Shakespeare into the modern context because not only does it make the plays more accessible to us in the modern world,  it also helps us  understand that many of the issues in Shakespeare's time are the same issues that are faced by us today, and the issue that is brought out in Henry V is the nature of war.

The producers, aware of the accessibility problem that many of us have with Shakespeare, decided to set the production in a bunker during the London Blitz. We are not watching a 'play within a play' as with other Shakespearian productions (such as Hamlet and Midsummer Nights Dream), but rather we are watching a performance of a performance. We are watching Henry V being played out on stage, yet the stage that we are watching is a bunker, and the props that are being used are those that one would expect to find in a bunker (which is also a classroom). I found that the way the producers used these props was quite clever indeed.

For instance: there are three bookshelves, and they turn these three bookshelves at one stage into a ship, as well as a throne room and a military encampment (though the characters had also managed to get their hands on a parachute at that stage in the play). A cricket bat becomes an axe, and five 30 cm rulers, taped together, becomes King Henry's sword. What is more interesting is that the setting is not just an invention of the producers, but based on true events that occurred during the blitz (and there are some pictures and videos on that site as well, since me, being an ordinary audience member, couldn't take any photos or videos during the performance).

It was interesting setting the play, a play about war, during the middle of another, vastly different, war. In fact the Blitz was not just in the background, but it affected the actors as well, with power outages, falling objects, a captured German paratrooper, and even a couple of deaths. To me, it was very cleverly constructed as the scenes within the play were seamlessly merged with the events outside, and the questions that are raised by the characters are also the same questions raised by the actors (should we kill the German prisoner since he has been killing our friends, or should we show him mercy to demonstrate that we hold a higher moral ground than the enemy).

Henry V from the National Portrait Gallery
Henry V (Source: Wikimedia Foundation)
As I have mentioned, though, Henry V lived in a different time and was fighting a different war than was England in the 1940s. The period was a time known as the Hundred Years War, where France and England were locked in an almost endless struggle (and in reality the war extended beyond the 113 years that most historians bracket the hostilities, and even during that time the fighting wasn't continuous; in many cases it was more of a cold war situation where hostilities would break out on a regular basis). Unlike the blitz, Henry had decided to take the war to France, and much of the action takes place on French soil. Here Henry is the invader, not the invaded, as was the case during the blitz. The play begins with a speech justifying Henry's actions in France, and the play ends with Henry not only conquering France, but conquering the princess as well. To help put the play in context, this particular production opened with a quick run down of the three previous plays (Richard II, Henry IV part 1, Henry IV part 2).

Schlact von Agincourt
Schlacht von Azincourt (Battle of Agincourt) - 15th Century Miniature

The central point of the play is the Battle of Agnincourt, a battle that turned out to be a complete disaster for the French, simply due to the English's effective use of the longbow. What effectively happened was that the French, who relied upon their knights and backed them up with crossbowmen, could not get anywhere near the English before the archer rained arrows down upon them. The production's representation of the battle was quite effective, with a two characters sitting on the bookshelves using a couple of long sticks to represent bows, but then turning them around to imitate a heavy machine gun, which gave us a modern representation of how effective, and destructive, the longbow was back in those days.

One final aspect of this play that I should mention was the almost flawless use of the French language. There are parts of Henry V which are written in French, however one does not need to know French (I don't) to know what is being said. In one scene we have the princess trying to learn English, and while she speaks only in French, we still understand what she is saying based upon the context in which the French is spoken. We have a similar scene at the end, where Henry is attempting to court the princess, but he doesn't speak French, and she doesn't speak English. However, we still know what is going on, once again, based on the context in which the French is spoken. To me, French is one of the most beautiful spoken languages that I know, and to hear it spoken flawlessly (despite the fact that I do not understand it), is a testament to the ability of the actors.

Despite some of the criticism that I have heard about the Bell Shakespeare Company, I have enjoyed a number of their productions that I have seen. I certainly enjoyed this production so much that I travelled to Sydney to see it a second time, and felt that the journey was well worth it. However, while this production will pass away in the same way that many of the other productions disappear, I am sure the play itself, as will the other plays by the Bard, continue to reverberate through our world for decades (or even centuries) to come.

Here is another really good exposition on Henry V that I found on the internet.

A great interpretation of the play by a 14 year old blogger (and her mother).
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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

I felt welcome as soon as I entered the car park

St John's Presbyterian Church - Bendigo
St John's Prebyterian Church
35-41 Forest Street, BENDIGO
(corner of Forest & Mackenzie Streets)
Minister: Rev. Phillip Burns

I always try to make a habit of visiting churches in places where I travel because it can be encouraging meeting like minded people and being welcome even though you are a stranger. However, the difficulties with going to a church you don't know is that it can be a bit hit or miss in regards to hospitality and teaching. Despite that I am finding that this is not really the case with Presbyterian Churches here in Australia (though so far I have only been to four).
To be honest, I am always a little apprehensive going to a church that I have never been to before, namely because I am quite shy. In fact I was almost was going to head straight back to Melbourne, though I swallowed my nerves and instead decided to pay a visit to St John's.

All I can say is that I am glad I did. Not only did I run into a couple who I had not seen for years, I also received an incredibly warm welcome. In fact the pastor even arranged a lift to the railway station so I could catch the train back to Melbourne in time to attend one of my regular churches.
While I have not had the privilege of seeing this church grow in the same way that I have seen other churches grow over the time I have attended them, it was still great to speak with the regulars and learn about how the church works in their community. This particular church appears to have an annual service dedicated to the Naval Cadets (which is a little odd considering that Bendigo is nowhere near the ocean). It seems that they use this as an opportunity to meet with the cadets and to have conversations beyond what the weather is like and whether the stories about the ritual of crossing the equator are true.
While one can learn a bit about what the church does by glancing through the weekly newsletter, it is always good to speak to the people involved. St Johns clearly has a strong relationship with the AFES group at the Bendigo Campus of La-Trobe University because not only were there are a number of university students in attendance, they also have an evening service dedicated to the university crowd.
No doubt the make up of the church has changed significantly over the years as Bendigo has grown from a gold mining town to a regional centre, and I suspect that initially the church would have been full of miners and local farmers. However as the of the city has grown into a major regional centre, the younger crowd who have moved here to escape the city lifestyle have brought new life into the church. No doubt that these foundations are going to continue to be built upon in years to come.

A copy of this post also appears on my travel blog.
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Thursday, 16 October 2014

Benidgo Art Gallery - An art gallery in the country

While most people travel to Bendigo for the quaint country atmosphere:
Bendigo Fountain
This fountain is quite an attraction
the Farmer's Market:
Bendigo Farmers' Market
Much more fun than your weekly shopping trip to Coles
the abundance of curio shops:
Bendigo - View Street Bazar
I don't think the owners appreciate my suggestion that they sell junk
or simply to go for a ride on the talking tram:

I went there because of the art gallery.
The reason for that was because I discovered that there was an exhibition of Ancient Greek statues (and other pieces of artwork), so I jumped onto the internet, booked my ticket, and took the two hour train trip to this once thriving gold mining town.

Bendigo - Central Deborah Gold Mine
Beats panning for gold any day
As well as the Greek statues there was also an exhibition of Victorian underwear, but since there is a collection of Victorian underwear in my drawer, I saw no real point in going to that exhibition as well. However, since I managed to get a two for the price of one deal when I booked the tickets, I decided to also check out that exhibition.
I must say, it was incredibly boring. 
That is not surprising since I have always considered fashion to be, well, boring. Also, I found the quotes from Christian Dior quite annoying because they kept on reminding me of our society's obsession with looking good. Okay, I thought it was interesting that the word lingerie comes from the French word for linen, and it originally referred to your standard under garments as opposed to the sensuous underwear that we think of today, but even then it was still a collection of mondernish clothes, and I have no desire to spend my time looking at clothes (I can do that in a shopping centre).
So, after a grand total of ten minutes weaving my way through the crowds of people all gawking at store models wearing little more than underwear (if you want to see store models wearing underwear, there is a decent collection at your local Target), I decided to go and check out the rest of the gallery (I also went and saw the Greek statues, but I have spent enough time on that below so I won't repeat myself here).
As with most art galleries, the Bendigo Art Gallery was an eclectic collection of artwork, which is not surprising because I suspect many of these galleries grab what artwork they can: whether they are donated; they actually get money to purchase the art; or they swap pieces with other galleries. At first I thought it was going to be a collection of Australian artwork, but there were a number of European works as well, including one by Albert Sisley:
Albert Sisley - Siene are Suresnes
Albert Sisley - Siene at Suresness: 

I did stumble upon a painting called Milford Sound, which confused me for a bit because I was under the impression it was the same painting that hangs in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, but I then noted that the painting was slightly different, which made me wonder whether artists simply loved the idea of travelling to Milford Sound in New Zealand to just paint a picture of it.
There were a couple of really cool incense burners from China:
Bendigo Art Gallery - Chinese Incense Burner
This certainly make a mockery of the piece of wood that I use
There was even a piece of modern art sitting in the middle of one of the galleries:

Bendigo Gallery - Modern Art
I've seen worse
Actually, the modern art wasn't just restricted to the inside of the gallery:

Bendigo Art Gallery - Mine Monster
Looks like something from Doctor Who
As it turned out, the statues weren't restricted to the temporary exhibitions, as there were some neo-classical sculptures out the back, such as this one:

Bendigo Art Gallery - Apollo & Daphne
Ovid gives some great ideas for artwork
So, even though I was sorely disappointed with the Victorian underwear on display, there was plenty of other artwork about to keep me entertained (though I was entertained plenty with the Greek statues and vases).

A copy of this post also appears on my travel blog.

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The Body Beautiful - Art and Sculpture from the Ancient World

Ever since I moved to Melbourne I have been wanting to catch one of the trains out to the country, but other things (such as exploring the city and plays in Sydney) seemed to always get in the way - that is until I saw these flags fluttering over Latrobe Street:

The Body Beautiful Flags

Suddenly, I had an excuse to go to Bendigo (or at least to go for a ride on one of the V/Line trains). 

Initially I was going to write about my experience at the gallery (and will still do so) however since I have had a fascination with the Greek world since I was in high school, and that there is so much I can write about the exhibition itself, I will dedicate this post to 'The Body Beautiful'.

At first I thought this was just going to be an collection of Greek statues, and I also had the impression that I wouldn't be allowed to take photos, but that didn't matter because I've got tonnes of photos of Greek statues, such as these which were taken at the Vatican Museum:

Hall of Statues - Vatican Museum
I call this place 'The Hall of Statues'
The Garden of Statues - Vatican Museum
And I call this place 'The Garden of Statues'
You might be thinking that since I have been to the Vatican Museum (and Greece) that I have probably seen so many Greek statues that I could not possibly want to see any more.

Personally, I can never look at enough Greek statues.

Anyway, it turned out that I could take photos, so upon discovering this I rushed back to where I had stored my bag and grabbed my camera (I put it in there because I had expected to get told off if I had tried to walk into the exhibition with my camera dangling around my wrist), so here is a photo of a couple of vases that were on display:

Greek Vases - Bendigo Art Gallery

Unfortunately I cannot tell you anything about the scenes on the vases (namely because I forgot to take notes of this particular display) however what I can say is that it would be one of the Greek myths because that was what they generally painted on their vases.

Whenever I look at these vases I wonder why the Greeks would have gone to so much trouble to create such artwork only to use it to store wine, until I realised that we do that as well.

Grecian Tea Mug from Hong Kong
I use this mug to drink tea.
I also wondered when they dug these vases up whether they were covered in ancient wine stains (among other things), though I believe that a lot of the ones that were used ended up being thrown onto the trash heap. I believe (though don't quote me on this - I only have an arts degree where I specialised in Ancient Greek and Roman culture) many of these vases came from the multitude of shipwrecks that are scattered across the Mediterranean seabed.

It goes without saying that the Greeks have had a significant impact upon our culture, which probably had something to do with Greece having a significant impact upon the Roman culture. It is not just the the myths and legends that have been passed down to us, but also their art, sculpture, and architecture. Books such as The Odyssey are probably a staple on many bookshelves (or computers, since many of us read off portable devices these days), and we all know the stories of Perseus and Medusa, Theseus and the Minotaur, and Jason and the Argonauts, which can be found in Apollodorus' Library of Greek Mythology and to a lesser extent, Ovid's Metamorphoses.
I certainly found it interesting that the Greeks themselves produced abstract art, such as this figurine from the Greek islands which dates around 2600 to 2400 BC:

Greek Abstract Figurine

While some may suggest that this may be a primitive form of sculpture, let us not forget how art has developed in modern times:

Clock Sculpture - Paris
I saw this in Paris
Even though we are all familiar with the incredibly life like statues, such as this one:

Barbarian Bust - Bendigo Art Gallery
If you look close enough you can see his moustache
I also discovered that there could be an element of farce in some of their artwork, such as with this statue:
Laughing Statue - Bendigo Art Gallery
I call this the 'Laughing Statue'
The exhibition had a section purely dedicated to Hercules, which also included a bust:
Heracles Bust - Bendigo Art Gallery
He certainly looks nothing like 'The Rock'
I quite liked how they had quotes from the ancients on the wall, which reflected in part the theme of the particular gallery (though some galleries, being quite large, would have multiple themes). The quote I liked the best was this one from Euripides' Medea:
Men say we women live safe and secure at home
While they go to battle with spears.
How stupid they are! I'd rather stand
Three times in battle holding my shield
Than give birth once!
This was in a room with some pieces of art dealing with marriage and childbirth, and from this room I discovered that one of the rituals involved in a Greek wedding (which would no doubt be nothing like this Greek wedding) was a mock abduction of the women from her parents' house to the house of her new husband. This no doubt relates to a practice that occurred in the much more chaotic periods of Greek history, though we should remember that the whole farce that was the Trojan War came about because Paris abducted Helen, the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta. Though there was a reason for this as Aphrodite had promised Paris the hand of Helen in marriage if he judged her to be the most beautiful of the gods.

The Judgement of Paris - Angelica Kauffman
This was the only painting I could find that didn't have nudity. 
The judgement of Paris could be considered to be the world's first beauty contest when the three gods (Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite) approached Paris of Troy to ask him to judge which of them was the most beautiful. Mind you, this was hardly a fair contest considering that the judge happened to have been bribed.
Anyway I will finish of with a picture of this guy:

Socrates - Bendigo Art Gallery
This is Socrates, one of the most influential philosophers the world has ever known. Some of his discourses include the Apology, and the Gorgias, though he never actually wrote them down (he never apparently wrote anything down). I have always had an admiration for this particular character, especially since he saw wisdom and knowledge as being far more important than the acquisition of wealth, looking beautiful, or being popular.

Further Reading
I you happen to be interesting in some further reading, an article on It's All Greek looks at the five most famous surviving Greek Scupltures (and the rest of the site isn't too bad either).

 Another article on the history of Greek sculpture can be found on the Hellenic Period blog.

A wordpress blog that has pictures of a whole range of sculptures (and this is just one post).
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Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A Journey to the Fringes

Every city has a side that many of us do not want to think about, and Melbourne is no exception. While many of us travel to the city to work:
Flinders Street Station Friday Morning
spend some time in the air-conditioned comfort of one of the many shopping malls:
Melbourne Central Shopping Centre
or trying to work out how they got that scarf up there:
Matthew Flinders with a Hawthorn Scarf
there is another side of Melbourne inhabited by people whose daily life is a struggle to survive. Over the last week, with a group of friends from my church, I went on a journey to learn about and understand this world that is hidden behind many of the bright and shiny buildings of Australia's cultural capital.
QV Building

Monday Night - Urban Seed
After having a rather, different, dinner at the Flavourtown Hot Pot, we made our way to the Collins Street Baptist Church (though for some reason I keep on wanting to write Flinders Street, until I realise that the Flinders Street Baptist Church is in Adelaide) to learn about Urban Seed, an organisation that works with the homeless people of Melbourne.
When many of us think about homeless people we usually think about people who are sleeping rough (that is on the streets), however, as of last count, out of the 20 000 people who are known to be homeless, only 220 of them do not have a roof over their head. While it is believed that drugs are a major cause of homelessness, this is actually a fiction - drug use is more a symptom than a cause of homelessness. In fact the major cause of homelessness is domestic violence.
The story of Urban Seed came about from the 1980s when the parishioners of Collins Street Baptist would have to step over the numerous homeless people who would sleep on their verandah. The question soon arose as to how to deal with the situation. While the easy solution would be to move them along (especially since there were safety issues relating to the parishioners of the church, especially the elderly and the children) they also understood that it was not really how Christians should respond.
We spent the time discussing the issues of homelessness and extreme poverty in Australia. As it turns out food is not really a huge issue. Many of the homeless are on government benefits, and food can be quite easy to come by (such as raiding bins outside the supermarkets, which is colloquially referred to as dumpster dumping). However, the biggest challenge that many of the homeless face is the isolation that they experience in the city. To be able to survive in the city one needs money, and without money there is very little to do (and one certainly cannot sit in a coffee shop). The State Library of Victoria is one of the last remaining places where one can go without having to pay a fee, and since there is free internet inside, it gives many of the homeless a place to while away their time (in fact there is one person who purportedly spends all of his time on Facebook and has over 2000 friends).
While the beggars who hold up their signs pleading for small change may be the face of homelessness, the reality extends much deeper. People who have reached that point have effectively hit rock bottom. Many of the homeless (especially teenagers) will go to extraordinary lengths to hide their homelessness, especially since it tends to bring about feelings of isolation (and how many of us have sat down with one of the homeless to really get to know them?).
Anyway, after discussing these issues (or I should say during this time), we left the church and went for a walk around the city to try to picture it from the point of view of those who have very little. Our journey ended in an alleyway much like this one:
Melbourne alleyway
where many of the dispossessed end up, usually because it is a quiet place to take drugs (and not just marijuana), out of sight of prying eyes. This is why Urban Seed has set itself up in an alley like this one, not just to be able connect with the homeless, but also as a safe place where they can inject so that if anything bad were to happen, help would not be too far away.

Tuesday Night - Indigenous Hospitality House
When many of us think about the fringes of society many of us simply think of the homeless and leave it at that, however the people on the fringe extend a lot further than the beggar that sits on Swanston Street with a sign asking for money, and this is what came out in the second night of our journey.
We were to go to the Indigenous Hospitality House, pictured below:
Indigenous Hospitality House
however a series of unfortunate events meant that we had to move the session to the church hall. So, while eating a lot of pizza, we met with one of the organisers of the house which provides hospitality to the indigenous people of Australia. The role of the Indigenous Hospitality House is to provide short-term accommodation for Aboriginals who come to Melbourne to visit family who are in hospital. As well as providing a bed and a roof over their head, they also provide food, and dinner is served every night at 7:00 pm.
While the role of the house is as simple as this, the issue of our relationship with the Aboriginals goes a lot deeper. The truth is that we originally invaded the land and as Australia developed we pushed the indigenous people ever further to the fringes. However, the problems are much more complicated as now, in 2014, people like me can trace our ancestry back generations (some of us to the early convicts). To many of us 'white' Australians (and in using that term I refer to those of us who are not indigenous), Australia is our home and if we were kicked out there would be nowhere else for us to go.
One of the suggestions that came out of the evening was that we 'White' Australians have a deep sense of guilt over what we have done to the Aboriginal people, and in many cases we either try to ignore the problem or offer band-aid solutions. However, what really struck me (not that I did not know it before) was that the solutions that we tend to offer involves integrating them into our society as opposed to understanding and respecting their way of life.
For instance, us westerners have a strong sense of ownership and individuality whereas the Aboriginal population are more communal in their practices. We might own a hammer and to us that hammer belongs to us and if anybody wants to use it then they must ask us if they can use the hammer. Aboriginals do not see ownership in the same way in that if they need the hammer they just take it, use it, and then leave it for the next person.
Also, there is this sense that we are exploiting their culture for our own purposes, as can be seen by this video:
Whenever I watched these aboriginals playing their instruments I could not help but think that this was not traditional aboriginal music (despite it being very good) but rather an attraction for international tourists to see a unique aspect of Australian society that covers up a history of invasion and dispossession.

Wednesday - Engaging People on the Street
Wednesday night was probably the hardest night of the week, for me at least, because it involved walking up to strangers and talking to them. The sad fact of our society is that people live in their own personal world, in their own personal space, and simply do not want to speak to strangers. I ought to know because I am quite guilty of this attitude, burying my face in a book and ignoring the world around me (even while I might be reading about our world).
It was interesting listening to what others said of their experiences that night, especially the discovery about headphones. I have always seen the personal music devices as creating a soundtrack for our lives, but it is also a soundtrack in which strangers are not allowed to pierce. This is moreso with our mobile internet devices, as people walk around the streets staring into them, reading things that I probably could not even fathom (maybe somebody is reading this post on one of these devices).
There were many places we could have set ourselves up in the city, but it had been decided that we would work outside the State Library of Victoria, opposite the Melbourne Central Shopping Centre. The thing that stood out for me were the people sitting on the steps of the library joining in the protests that had erupted in Hong Kong this week. Okay, there may not have been as many people as this:

but there certainly was a faithful gathering of people who would randomly scream out 'Democracy, Democracy' and then wave their mobile phones in the air.
That struck me because the reason we were engaging with people was because we wanted to talk about what we were passionate about, and it was clear that these people were passionate about their desire to be able to choose their own leaders. I believe that a couple of people even had a conversation with them.

Thursday - The Party for Asylum Seekers
After a very intense Wednesday night, Thursday was much more relaxed as we went to a party with some asylum seekers who are attempting to make a new life in Australia. We were graced not only with their hospitality (and despite our intention to serve them, it was in their nature to serve us, so many of us, despite our desire to do all of the work, ended up being the guests invited to their home).
Not only where we graced with their hospitality, but were were also graced with their own style of barbeque, as the spread below can attest to:
Barbeque Feast
(Okay, the Coca-Cola was not one of their traditional drinks, but then again I suspect that there is hardly any place these days where you cannot buy a bottle of Coke).
What struck me the most was the graciousness of our hosts. In what is becoming an increasingly hostile community towards refugees, it was evident that they were delighted at our willingness to spend time with them, to share our stories with them, and to have dinner with them. We even managed to sing a song in their native language, which brought such joy to their faces despite the fact that none of us knew how to speak their native tongue.
However, what we also learned was how the process of seeking asylum from war and persecution is treated in this country. Our legal system demands facts and evidence, as well as money. If you don't have money (and asylum seekers rarely do) then justice in many cases is denied. What these people have are stories of persecution, of injustice, and of war, however our system is not interested in stories, our system is interested in provable facts, and if we cannot present those facts, and moreso, if we cannot communicate those facts, then once again justice is denied.
Thus we were introduced to another group of people who exist on the fringes of our society - the refugees. They come here, fleeing the horrors of their homeland to discover that they are treated like criminals. So, having us come to them, with friendship and grace, gave them comfort in what is turning out to be quite a hostile world.

Friday Night - Street Pastors
Street Pastors
All I can say is that these guys are awesome, and I know that I am not the only person to think that. When we were out on the streets a couple of guys came out of a nightclub to have a cigarette and one of the Street Pastors have him a bottle of water and he was literally lost for words. This guy, simply by being given a bottle of water, could not stop talking about how wonderful he thought the whole idea was (and I even mentioned it to my housemate who said 'it is about time somebody did something like that').
So. what exactly is a Street Pastor? Well, even though have their own wikipedia entry, I probably should give you an idea of what they are all about. The organisation was initially set up in London around 2007 to attempt to curb the rise in violence that came out of, well, drunken revelries that generally occurred on Friday and Saturday nights. They are not the police, nor do they have any connection with any government agency, however the police love them because they free them up to be able to attend more serious matters. The whole goal of the Street Pastors is to make sure that people have a fun and enjoyable night out, and if they do land up in trouble, they can provide assistance to help them get home and into their bed safe and sound.
The initiative here in Melbourne is relatively new, however when the idea was first floated the police and government could not wait to get them out onto the streets. In fact they have received charitable status with the Australian Tax Office (which means that donations are tax deductible) in almost record time. They operate in 8 countries and over 300 cities around the world, and the places where they operate have seen a remarkable reduction in problems arising from the Friday and Saturday night revelries.
The operation consists of Christians (who have undergone training and background checks) who wonder around the streets in groups of three or four, not so much looking for trouble, but rather looking for people who need help, and if they need help, then giving it. There is also a group that remains at the base, and Street Pastors communicate with the base by mobile phone. The people are at the base are known as the 'Prayer Pastors' and they will regularly pray for the pastors and the people in general. If they do encounter a problem the Street Pastors immediately report the matter back to the base, and the people there will offer up the situation in prayer.
As I wondered around the streets of Fitzroy with them (and here we are out on the street):
Us and the Street Pastors
it was amazing the warm receptions that people would give them (especially the guy who got the free bottle of water). In fact one of the Street Pastors stumbled onto a conversation with a couple of bouncers who had been talking about spiritual issues, and had seen the Street Pastor's approach as a sign from God (the Street Pastors make an effort to form relationships with the bouncers because such relationships are an essential part of their work).

Even though that last night was a late night, when my alarm went off at 8:00 am on Saturday morning I found that I was all pepped up and ready to have one of my ordinary Saturdays, as well as having an opportunity to share my experiences with you while it is still fresh in my mind.