Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Roman Republic and the Death of Democracy

Ruins of the Roman Forum

Well, I have previously explored the similarities, and differences, between the world as it is today and France prior to the French Revolution, so now I will go much further back into the past to the Roman Republic so see what we can learn from the tumultuous period between the fall of the republic and the rise of the empire. If you are like me back before I returned to high school you have probably heard of Ancient Rome, Julius Ceaser and his adopted son Augustus, but little beyond that, so like my post on the French Revolution, I will begin by telling you the back story before I finish on with how I see the world today.

Roman Republic
The foundation of the Roman Republic dates back to 509 BC when King Tarquin was overthrown by a group of noblemen led by Lucius Brutus. Like the French Revolution, Tarquin didn't appreciate being dumped and unsuccessfully attempted to take his old job back. Rome already had a constitution which had been set up by a previous king, Numa Pompilious. Before the revolution the senate had elected the king for life however Brutus changed the terms of the incumancy so that the senate would instead elect two consuls for a fixed term. As the republic developed a number of other positions were also created:
  • Quaestor: similar to members of the Federal Reserve;
  • Praetor: basically Supreme Court judges;
  • Aediles: pretty much the religious heads, but not really that religious;
  • Censor: could consider him to be the chief public servant;
  • Tribunes: There is no real equivalent as they represented the people against the government.
The republic was basically a highly stratified society comprising of the wealthy Patricians and the common Plebains (who in turn sat above the foreigners and the slaves). Much of the history of the republic was a constant struggle between the members of the patrician class and the plebians (now I beginning to sound a but like Karl Marx), and there were times in which various patricians would ally themselves with the plebians for their own political gain.
Sucession of the Plebs
Around 494 BC Rome was facing a crisis where the plebians were strugging under a huge burden of debt burden (private debt, not public debt since there was no such thing as a bond market back them, and Rome didn't actually trade with her neighbours - she just conquered them). At the time the debt collectors were resorting to some rather harsh methods to get their money back and this quickly morphed into a public protest. A short war managed to relieve some of the pressure, however once the enemy had been beated, the plebs realised that they were back where they started, being beaten up by the debt collectors. The consul of the day, Apulius, sided with the creditors (because, well, if you didn't want to get into debt, you should have borrowed any money) which further outraged the plebians (because in many cases they had no choice). Fortunately for Apulius, the neighbours began playing up again, which meant another distracting war. Unfortunately, this was also a brief war, which meant that once it was over the debt collectors were back doing what they did best - beating up on the plebians.
Finally getting fed up with this, and knowing that the patricians were more interested in getting their money back (with interest), a group of plebians realised that if they simply renounced their citizenship and went and set up their own country then they could cancel all of the debts. This actually turned out to be a really good idea because when all of the plebians basically downed their tools and walked out of the city the patricians realised that they had lost a bulk of their, well, army (and generals tend to prefer to have others do their fighting for them). Realising that they actually needed the plebians to be on their side, the senate created a new post, that of tribune. The job of the tribunes was to represent the plebians, but they also had teeth because they could veto rulings.

Agricultural reform
We will now jump a few hundred years to 150 BC and where the Republic seemed to be running quite smoothly. However, Rome was still a highly stratified society where movement between the classes was difficult, if not impossible. Due to their wealth and influence the patricians acquired some quite large landholdings making it quite difficult for many former soldiers to obtain their own plot of land on the Italian peninsula. A tribune, Giaus Gracchus, arose and used a rather obscure law, the Lex Hortensia, to bypass the senate and to break up these large plantations and parceled them out to the plebians. This, of course, was opposed (people don't like having their stuff taken from them without consent), not just by the senate, but also by Giaus' fellow tribune Octavius. The reforms never passed and Giaus ended up discovering the rather pointy end of a sword.
However, land reform was not going to go away (sort of like Pandora's Box - once it has been opened you ain't getting that stuff back in again). One of the reasons was not just being able to simply live off the land (and there was actually plenty of land to go around in the conquered territories, it was just that everybody wanted land on the peninsula) but to be able to join the army you actually had to be a landholder. However the general Gaius Marius had a better idea - he got rid of the property qualification. This resulted in a massive influx of volunteers from the landless plebians. Marius, with his enlarged army, then when on a number of very successful campaigns and was elected consul a record six times.

Sulla and the patrician response
Marius took his army to Asia-minor where he went to war against King Mithridantes, but lost. With the rise of the plebians under Marius the patricians were somewhat worried that he might become a little too powerful. An old enemy of Marius', Sulla, decided to come to the patrician's aid (and also wanted to show Marius how a war should really be conducted) so he had senate dump Marius as consul and give the position to  him. Of course, nobody likes to be replaced, especially due to a little mistake, so Marius responded by having the tribunes revoke Sulla's command. This led to no end of trouble because Sulla then took his army, marched on Rome, passed a law to revoke some of the powers of the tribunate, and then returned to fighting Mithridates.
That was a mistake because Marius, who was still in Rome with his army of Plebians, took control of the city and proceeded to flout convention by having himself regularly elected consul (you were supposed to wait ten years before you could be re-elected). Marius also overrode other constitutional requirements by placing his mates in positions of power and passing laws without senatorial consent. Mind you, this wasn't going to last because Sulla, realising that the republic was in danger, made peace with Mithridates, marched back on Rome and declared himself dictator (as you do). During that period he had all of the leaders of the plebian party executed, revoked Marius edicts, and strengthened the powers of the Senate and the patricians in general. Sulla then retired from politics and died in 78 BC.

Julius Ceaser and the Civil War
The plebian party wasn't quite defeated, and soon after Sulla's death they began to rear their ugly head again. There was an uprising in Spain, as well as the famous slave revolt of Sparticus. The army was sent with out to deal with these disturbances. The army that was sent to Spain was led by Pompey, and the army that took out Sparticus was led by Crassus. Upon their return they discovered that the plebian party had taken back control and were progressively undoing Sulla's reforms. Pompey and Crassus then made an agreement with the plebians that if they were elected consul then they would get rid of some of the harsher reforms. Agreeable, the plebians elected them, and they then pretty much got rid of the entire lot. However, despite all that not everybody was happy and a patrician named Cataline began to court many of the farmers who had felt left out of Pompey's reforms (since it was only the plebians in the city that mattered to Pompey). Cataline, with his conspirators, hatched a plot to dispatch the consuls and the senators, take control of the republic, and enact reforms to benefit all of the lower classes. However that didn't happen because the senators picked up chatter amongst the conspirators and acted against Cataline before he could go any further with his plot.
Pompey, meanwhile, had returned to Asia to claim some more land for the Republic (which included a non-violent annexation of Israel on behalf of Herod the Great - the one who slaughtered all those children trying to get at the baby Jesus) and when he came back to Rome he discovered that Sulla's reforms had been re-enacted and the Senate refused to get rid of them. So Pompey partnered with Julius Ceaser and some other guy (it is always 'and some other guy' when it comes to a triumvirate) to form the first triumvirate where they violently forced through Pompey's reforms.
However the patricians fought back and Rome descended into anarchy. The relationship between Pompey and Ceaser began to sour and Pompey moved over to support the Patrician party which resulted in the senate making Pompey dictator. In response, Ceaser mobilised his army, crossed the Rubicon, and marched on Rome. Pompey, unprepared for this (because generals were not supposed to bring a mobilised army across the Rubicon) deserted Rome for Greece. Thus begun the civil war, which Ceaser won (he had already Vene, Vidi, Vici'd Gaul by that stage).
Death of Sparticus

Death of Ceaser and the transition to the Empire
So, Ceaser returned to Rome, declared himself Consul, awarded himself full tribuncian powers, and took the title of dictator. The senate, fearing that he would not relinquish his position like Sulla (and also the fact that he was still supported by the plebians) hatched a conspiracy to kill him, which they did, with Ceaser uttering the famous words 'et tu brutae' as his friend Brutus plunged the last of the 57 daggers into him (Brutus was brought over to the side of the conspirators by appealing to his ancestor Lucius Brutus who, as you may recall, removed King Tarquin). This wasn't the end of the matter though because, as you can imagine, the plebians were a little upset that their hero had just been murdered in cold blood in the middle of the senate (though little upset is probably an understatement).

Thus another civil war broke out, this time between the forces of the conspirators and a second triumvirate comprising of Augustus Ceaser, Mark Antony, and some other guy (who, in reality, is pretty irrelevant, but they added him because triumvirates were cool). The war ended at the battle of Phillipi where the conspirators met their end. This resulted in Augustus and Antony turning on each other (after dispatching the other guy). Antony fled to Egypt where be bedded down with Cleopatra, and Augustus took his army and pretty much brought and end to Antony's influence (because you can't have some guy holed up in Egypt where he could raise another army and march on you). This left Augustus as the sole ruler, who then took the title of Augustus (that actually wasn't his real name, but I call him Augustus because we all, I hope, know who he is).

The Early Empire
I will finish off my whirl wind tour of the fall of the Roman Republic with a quick discussion of the first three emperors. Of course we have Augustus, who is pretty much seen as the benevolent dictator:iIn fact all of the histories from that period paint him in a pretty good light. Yeah, he supported the plebians, and also went and systematically killed all of his opponents, namely the patricians, and preserved the relics of the Republic in name only. Despite that, they still considered him a pretty good guy (but I guess that had something to do with the histories being written a hundred years after his death. Then again, writing bad things about him was not conducive to a long life). Once Augustus had ascended the throne peace reigned throughout the empire and everybody was happy (unless, of course, you were a Republican). However there was only one problem - Augustus was mortal, which meant he died.
This brings us to the next two emperors, Tiberius and Caligula. These guys were pretty much monsters. Okay, if you read the Christian histories all of the emperors up until Constantine were monsters, but this is not a Christian history, this is a political history of the struggle between the plebians and the patricians. While things were good under Augustus, when Tiberius took the throne things started heading downhill. Having the power of an emperor does get to one's head, and in times of peace emperor's become board. Wars are good because it means that rulers can go and fight enemies letting people live their lives (or at least rallying the people towards a common enemy - when it works that is), but when emperor's stay at home they get up to all sorts of mischief. Tiberius, for example, was a sexual deviant (and you can read about that in Seutonius). He would do things such as borrow other people's wives for his own pleasure, and you really couldn't say no. However I won't go into any further detail than that because, well, it's all in Seutonius.
Caligula, well, he was nothing short of insane (actually, he was more like a spoilt brat that never grew up). The name actually means 'Little Boots' because when he was young he would hang around the army wearing miniature armour which the soldiers all though was pretty cute. However, the cuteness wore off pretty quickly when he became emperor because, well, he was emperor and he could do what he liked, and that is what he did. He taxed people (actually tax is probably the wrong word - he simply took what he wanted using the pretext of tax, loans, and winnings - though there are people that still consider tax to be a form of legalised theft), killed people on the simplest pretext, and made sure that people praised him for his greatness. Mind you, you can only push people so far and he reached a point where his praetorian guards said enough was enough and hacked him to death. Oh, and might I also mention Nero, who would wander around the streets of Rome mugging people, and if anybody had the audacity to fight back he would have his guards (who were hiding in the shadows) kill them.
As they say, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Implications for Today
Well, I'm almost finished, and I was going to suggest that one of the implications was that despite a populist figure coming to the fore front and fighting for the common people that first of all this figure is doomed to die and his ancestors are not necessarily going to be that tolerable and it will be much more difficult to get rid of them. Granted, that is the case, but from this latest review of Roman history it almost seems that by the time of the civil wars the whole plebian and patrician conflict had drifted into the background and it was simply a slug fest amongst members of the patrician class (but then again, aren't all wars a slugfest between the rich and powerful?). Also, those who rise to represent the plebians end up becoming patricians in themselves and eventually the class distinction returns to where it was before the uprising.

However, I am beginning to suspect that we are nowhere near the point where democracy is breaking down in the way it did at the end of the Roman Republic. In a way we are probably back near the era of the first plebian succession where there was a class of creditors (the patricians) and debtors (plebians). Okay, we are seeing elements of the end of the Republic with one party enacting legislation to support the lower classes, and then another party progressively tearing it down. Yet I would not say that this is similar to the events occurring around the time of Sulla. Our leaders are still operating within the bounds of the constitution and the laws are being enacted legally. Yes, there is a concern that there is a lot of money in politics and that lobbyists are able to buy legislation, however I don't necessarily see it as a breakdown in the democratic system. However, when I consider the plebian succession, I note that there are similarities to our time, such as the extent of private debt, and not debt that has been created simply because people want expensive things now, but debt that is created out of necessity, such as through medical bills and the loss of employment. Like the time of the plebian succession, we are beginning to see a rise in debt slavery and homelessness created through unsustainable private debt. It is also interesting to note that there were also frontier wars which acted to distract the plebians from their immediate problems, though when the wars were concluded they would turn back to their grievances with the system (which is similar to Anonymus now targeting ISIS with its hacking).
If we are to compare ourselves with Rome, I suspect that we are still in the non-violent part of our democracy where peaceful protest and pressure can still work to bring about change as opposed to the violent civil wars during the twilight of the republic. However, we still need to be aware of the problems when a benevolent dictator rises to take control, because even though at first he may reach out to and court the populace, what he (or she) will inevitably do is create a new class structure, and the subsequent rulers may (actually probably won't) be anywhere as nice as the first.

Creative Commons License
The Roman Republic and the Death of Democracy by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. All images on this post are © and/or ™ their relevant owners. If you are the owner of any of the images used on this website and wish them to be removed then please contact me.

Tiberius photo source: Giovanni Dall'Orto
Caligula photo source: Louis le Grand use permitted under Creative Commons attribution-share alike 3.0 unported

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The French Revolution and the Global Financial Crisis

French Nobles at Play

I am sure that many of us, especially those of us that sit to the left of the political spectrum, have read about the rise of inequality between the top 1% of the developed world's population and the rest of the population. However, as I was reading a random article from The Guardian newspaper on Facebook I happened to stumble across another article by the billionaire Nick Hanauer called 'The Pitchforks are Coming'. It was interesting, and in many cases I believe that he is correct because many of the wealthy elite live in a bubble and are completely oblivious to the outside world outside. They have been educated through a purely right-wing education system which believes that by cutting taxes to the rich boosts the economy and as the bosses and the corporations become wealthier, the wealth spreads out to the rest of society. I also agree with him that the idea is codswallop, and was quite surprised when somebody pointed out the absurdity of the idea using the Bible (the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31, where we are told that the poor man wished he could even get some of the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table). However, I'm not wanting to write about political or economic theory here but rather point out that when the pitchforks do come out it is not just the rich who are thrown off of their golden thrones but that such a revolution can be dangerous for society as a whole.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

While Nick Hanauer's article got me thinking, it wasn't until I finished reading the book I Claudius by Robert Graves that I really developed the urge to write this post, namely because while that particular story is about the life of the Roman Emperor Claudius before he took the throne, it also follows how Rome went from being a enlightened dictatorship to a brutal tyranny. I will get to Rome in the next post, but I wish to explore another revolution that sprang out of a similar situation the world is in at the momen:s the French Revolution.

Storming the Bastille

The French Revolution
Before I launch into my spiel on the French Revolution I want to say a couple of things about sources. To put it bluntly, I really don't have time to dig through hundreds of websites and books to carefully document everything that I am writing, but rather I am using my own knowledge that I have picked up from reading books and studying history at high school and university. While I wish I could spend a lot more time researching this topic, it is time that I unfortunately do not have, so while some people may scoff at this suggestion, I would refer you to Wikipedia if you wish to learn more.

One of the main causes of revolutions tend to be financial crises: this was the case with Russia, and this was also the case with Germany in 1931. Another main cause is inequality because, well, the poor people really don't like the idea that the rich live lives of luxury that they pretty much have to suck it up. This is no different when we come to France in the 1780s. The country was going bankrupt and the nobility were finding it really hard to pay their debts which is eerily similar to what is happening today.
France at the time was divided into three groups: the aristocracy, the clergy, and everybody else (though the third estate was generally represented by the middle class as the peasants were to busy growing stuff to pay their taxes - since taxes always come before feeding yourself - to have any time to participate in the political process). The thing with France was that the aristocracy didn't pay tax because they were the people you pay the tax to and it would be pretty silly if you paid money to yourself. The clergy didn't pay tax because, well, they are the clergy and any money they get belongs to God and, well, God is sort of exempt from taxes (which, funnily enough, is still the case today). This meant that the only group that did pay tax was the Third Estate. Remember, it wasn't just peasants, but lawyers, doctors and businessmen who comprised the third estate. However, the people who spent the taxes were, well, the aristocracy (the church got by on their tithes, which the third estate also had to pay, though the aristocracy were good enough to pay their share as well because, well, they didn't want to go to hell). What did the aristocracy spend the taxes on? Well, what they didn't spend it on was infrastructure for the Third Estate, but rather on palaces, gardens, and extravagant parties - oh, and also wars (or should I say, family spats?).

When they ran out of money that was collected from the Third Estate they would then borrow money and throw another party. So, what happened was that the interest on these borrowings got larger and larger and, well, you know what happens then - you end up paying all of your income in interest. So, the aristocracy were suddenly looking at having to tighten their belts, which is something that they really did not want to do, so they decided to raise taxes again, which didn't go down well, so they called a body known as the Estate's General to find a solution to the financial crisis. The problem with the Estates General was that each of the estates would vote as a block, which meant that if the Third Estate voted to make the aristocracy and the church pay taxes then it would be voted down, and if the aristocracy voted to increase taxes on the Third Estate, the Aristocracy and the Church would vote in favour, which sort of led to an impasse.

The Revolution
Okay, while the Estates General was not really getting anywhere it didn't mean that they spent their time bickering and arguing amongst themselves. In fact, the Third Estate pretty much decided that this system of government wasn't working, so left the Estates General and to set up their own assembly called the National Assembly (which they invited members of the other two estates to join). However the King, who wasn't impressed that a group of commoners were trying to usurp his power, decided to close the hall where they were to meet which resulted in them meeting in a nearby indoor tennis court.

Look, the truth is that people in power really don't like giving up their power, so the king wasn't going to go lightly. Instead, he surrounded the palace with his troops, but since it was his palace I doubt he wanted any of his expensive belongings destroy in a fire fight, so they decided to try and starve out the upstarts. However, there was a lot of support among the populace and since many of the soldiers were at Versaille trying to evict the pesky lawyers from the tennis court, the rest of the population begun to run amok (when the cat's away ...).
In fact, one of the first places they decided to storm was a fortress called 'The Bastille' (and I am sure that place is familiar to all of us, especially the 14th July, which is celebrated as Bastille Day in France - though nothing of the building remains. I know because I went looking for it when I was in Paris). After some heavy fighting, the commoners broke into the fort and began to loot all of the weaponry. The French Revolution had begin.

Aftermath of the Revolution
Okay, I could go into the gritty detail of what happened over those few months which culminated in the establishment of the First Republic, but I won't, except to say that in those first few days France descended into anarchy and the revolution quickly spread from the capital into the provinces which resulted in many of the nobility's abodes being stormed and looted. However, over time, order was restored and a new parliamentary democracy was established (based a lot on the American democracy over the Atlantic, of which the French fought on the side of the revolutionaries. Sounds pretty silly to me - can you really expect that if you sent your troops to fight a revolutionary war that they wouldn't bring any ideas back home?).
However, things were not all beer and skittles after that because a revolution in France was going to have a disastrous effect upon the surrounding kingdoms. The rest of Europe realised that the idea that the people could rule themselves might spread, which meant that the powers that be in those kingdoms were suddenly under threat and they might in turn lose not only their power, but also their luxurious lifestyle. Also, since the European nobility were one big happy family, they took the revolution quite personally. As such they mobilised for war with the goal of restoring the French Monarchy.
This had a knock-on effect in France because not only were they now at war, but their fledgling democracy was under threat. So, not only were they mobilising troops to beat back an certain invasion, they also feared rebellion from within. The result was the establishment of 'The Committee of Public Safety' whose goal was to defend the republic at all costs. At first they went around arresting, and then executing, royalists (including the King) but they quickly began to jump at any possible shadow that threatened their perceived freedom, which turned into what was known as 'The Terror'.

Execution of King Louis

The Committee of Public Safety had taken matters to the extreme with its attempts to dismantle the church and to pretty much execute all of the nobility and their sympathisers. This resulted in a rebellion against the government which ended with the execution of the head of the committee Robespierre - the guy who loved the guillotine came to experience it first hand. Things then settled down with the rise of a more moderate government. However, France was still at war, and the war dragged on to the point that France was beginning to take the back foot. This resulted in the rise of a man whom we all know as Napoleon Bonaparte.

Analysis of the Revolution
In a way there are many similarities between the times we live in and the times in the lead up to the French Revolution. While we may believe that we live in an egalitarian society, the reality is that we don't. As the saying goes 'money talks' which means those of us who have money tend to get a much better deal than those of us who do not. Not only that, but society is in many cases stratified with the wealthy elite at the top and the rest of us at the bottom. The rich seem to be getting richer while the rest of us get the raw end of the stick. However, like the Third Estate, the rest of us are comprised of the middle classes and those of us who fall lower, such as the unemployed, the pensioners, and the refugees. While it is sad to suggest this, those of us who are not white anglo-saxon protestants fare even worse. In many cases, like France of the 18th century, it is the middle and lower classes that are shouldering the burden of the financial crisis.
Yes, I am sure we are all aware of the global financial crisis and the austerity policies that are being pushed by numerous governments, with the wealthy elite avoiding taxws while the bulk of the burden is being lifted by those of us trapped in our nine to five jobs. While the most vocal voices of the French Revolution were the professional members of the third estate, it is the university educated members of the middle class that are beginning to speak out against the austerity policies of today. We also see our governments cutting back on benefits and restricting payments and subsidies to the middle and lower classes. The rise in university fees and the implementation of copayments in the medicare system here in Australia are remarkably similar to the French Aristocracy's attempts to service the debt of their creation by raising taxes on the Third Estate.
Yet, by looking at the French Revolution we can also see that revolutions are not without blood shed. Even if we attempt to overthrow the elite by force, the elite really do not want to go anywhere and will fight back. This in turn will lead to a much more oppressive society where many of the freedoms that we take foregranted will be removed using the pretext 'in defence of the revolution'.
While I believe that we should stand up and fight for justice, we should also remember history and not repeat its mistakes. When the French Monarchy was overthrown France descended into chaos - there was no law and order and people pretty much did as they want. However, we must also remember that France transitioned from a monarchy to a republic, and one of the reasons for the chaos was that not only were the foundations not present, the existing government literally had to be torn down. Unlike the American Revolution, where the institutions of a functioning democracy already existed, there was no such infrastructure in France. In many ways we can see similarities between France and our modern society, but there are also quite a few differences.
In that regard we need to also look at another revolution, one that occurred over two thousand years ago were we see what happens to a democracy when the system grounds to a halt, and that will be the subject of another post - The Fall of the Roman Republic.

Creative Commons License
The French Revolution and the Global Financial Crisis by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. All images on this post are © and/or ™ their relevant owners. If you are the owner of any of the images used on this website and wish them to be removed then please contact me.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Glebe – a trendy suburb with some city views

Glebe Point Road

The thing that I have noticed since moving to Melbourne is that when I would come over for a weekend, usually because I wanted to go to the football, I would generally not stray too far out of the city. In a sense, most tourist attractions seem to be located in and around the city centre. Such a mentality tends to act against experiencing the city as a whole (even though there may be some places, such as Manly or Bondi in Sydney that tourists visit). Every city has its own unique character, and every suburb acts to build upon that character.
Okay, there are probably some places that tourists shouldn't visit, such as a suburb like this one:

Run Down Old House
It's probably best I don't reveal this location
but that doesn't mean that everything outside of the city centre should be considered a no go zone.
So, one warm and sunny Friday afternoon I decided that I would jump on the light rail simply to see where it would take me (I like doing that as well, jumping on a train or a tram and getting off at places I would like to visit). I won't necessarily say that I didn't have a plan, I did, especially since we now have access to the wonderful website known as Google Maps. Normally I would pick out a few places that I would like to visit, usually pubs, and then let my journey take me where it will.
The Sydney Light Rail network runs from the front of Central Station and through Darling Harbour (where you can get off for the Casino, the Exhibition Centre, as well a numerous other entertainment spots), however I suspect that most tourists do not venture beyond the Casino. I did, if only to see where it went.

Sydney Light Rail
I could have just looked at this map (the light rail is in purple)
My first stop was at Glebe, where the tram entered a tunnel that was formally used by goods trains to take goods down to the port (much of the light rail network has been built on a disused goods line). After seeing the tram disappear into the tunnel, I thought it would be good to get a video of one coming out, which I did:

I have an addiction to taking videos of rail transport

Anyway, since I knew where I wanted to go, I made my way up a rather steep hill past what were probably some really expensive houses with no doubt an awesome view of the city.

Glebe Houses
I doubt these places are cheap

Sydney from Glebe
Quite possibly the bedroom view.
I could have gone down the hill (and afterwards did because the tram trundled past a pub that I decided the visit) but as it turns out, heading down the hill takes you to a bunch of factories, though you do get a good view of the Anzac Bridge (well, not that good a view because there is a factory in the way).

My trek up the hill brought me to Glebe Point Road, which was basically my destination (since I was already planning on visiting the pub there). However, as is prone to happen, when I was walking towards the pub I discovered some place else I wanted to visit, both of which I will tell you about, however, before I go any further, I better show you on the map where I was:

il Cortile Caffe
325A Glebe Point Road, Glebe

Il Cortile Caffe
Now that is one cool sign
Okay, I didn't go straight into this little cafe as I was wandering down Glebe Point Road as I had another destination in mind, but after looking at the sign I had decided that I would definitely be stopping by on my was back to have a cup of tea. Okay, probably the fact that it was full when I first went past also helped me make up my mind, but fortunately when I walked back the crowds had mysteriously vanished, which meant that I was able to have my cup of tea in peace. The cafe itself had a nice rural feeling about it, and at first I thought it was French, but later discovered that it was actually Italian (which makes me wonder if there are parts of Italy and France that are indistinguishable from each other). Also, they made the tea the way I like it, and that is with a teabag. Okay, that may not be as fancy as some people think, but I don't like my tea uber strong, which means that tea bags do me just fine. Oh, and the staff were really friendly as well, which is always a good thing for a small business.

While the Il Cortile Caffe was really cool, the purpose of my visit was the pub, so I think I should share that with you as well.

345 Glebe Point Road, Glebe

Toxteth Hotel
Yep, it's a pub
Well, it seems like the Toxteth is the place to go if you live in Glebe because they have a number of events (and an art gallery, or is it just a function room, called The Tate), including two trivia nights (one of them focusing exclusively on sport) and a slider night (miniature hamburgers for those of you who have no idea what sliders are, and they are $4.00 a pop, which is not too bad). The other thing I noticed is that the food was quite reasonably priced, which probably works to offset the fact that living here is really expensive, so if you don't earn all that much, at least you can still have a meal. I probably should also mention that they have a pretty cool beer garden, which they colloquially call 'The Yard'.
This is not the end of my story though, because I did end up going down the hill, only to discover a pub surrounded by factories. While I could have spent more time exploring Glebe, I decided to jump back onto the tram and continue my journey through the inner west (and maybe, at a later time, I can return here and discover some more out of the way oddities), however my trek into Leichardt will have to be left for another time.

This post also appears on my Travel Blog.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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Sydney Light Rail Map Source: MrHarper use permitted under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Alberton Oval - The Power's Home Ground

Alberton Oval Stands

Okay, it's not quite the MCG, and they don't play any AFL games here, but this is still the traditional home of the Port Adelaide Football Club. When I was in primary school (the dates which I will not be disclosing) there were only two SANFL (South Australian National Football League - though I don't know where the word 'national' came from since it is a state based league) teams that were any good, Port Adelaide and Glenelg. Okay, I grew up in the Central Districts (and if you are baffled by the names just click on the SANFL link and that, hopefully, will explain everything, and if you don't know anything about Australian football, well there is always Wikipedia) but they were always on the bottom of the ladder (but that has since changed) and in primary school you didn't want to support a team at the bottom of the ladder, so I decided to go for the Port Adelaide Magpies since they were always on the top of the ladder and always won grand finals.
Mind you, I never actually watched a game of football and had no idea of the rules, and my Mum, who has been a long time Carlton supporter, laughed when I told her I went for Port Adelaide because she knew that I knew absolutely nothing about the game (and she proved that by asking me who played for them and I couldn't give her one name). Anyway, my token support continued through my life, and when rumours began to circulate that Port Adelaide was going to be the second South Australian team to enter the AFL, I was right behind it. However, it was still going to be a number of years before I actually started watching matches.

Port Adelaide Trophies
Here are some trophies the Port Adelaide Magpies had won
I can still remember the first Port Power game I watched. It was Sunday, 29th July 2001 and I was at my friend's house not doing all that much when we decided to watch a bit of television and the only thing of interest was the football. So we watched the game between Port Adelaide and Essendon and suddenly Port Adelaide began to kick all these goals (though they ended up only winning by 7 points). That brought a real smile to my face because one of my good friends used to follow the Adelaide Crows but had suddenly switched teams because of a girl (which is not really true, but it makes a good story) and when I went home the first thing he said was 'I don't want to talk about it'. Anyway, after that Sunday afternoon I was hooked, and while I don't watch every game on television (though there have been times that I have) I have learnt a lot more about this particular brand of football.

Anyway, when I returned to Adelaide for Christmas I realised that one of the things that I have never done is visit Alberton Oval, the home of both Port Adelaide football clubs; so I decided to rectify that situation. Mind you, I simply expected there to be a football oval with some stands and not much else, and after catching the train with my friend, we alighted at Cheltenham Railway Station and took the short walk to the oval.

So, we arrived at the oval and I took a few photos and then went for a walk to the others ide to see if we could get out (yes, you can actually walk across the oval, which is something you can't do at the MCG, or even at AAMI Stadium where the Crows are based). While doing that I decided to check in on Facebook, and as a response one of my friends (who happens to support the Crows) immediately replied with 'dislike' (and you wonder why I don't like Adelaide). Anyway, discovering the way out I called my friend over and turned around to see 'The Port Club', and also noticed that it was open, so I went inside and discovered that it was a fully functioning bar.

Port Club Bar
We even bought ourselves a beer
So, after buying a beer (but you would have known that if you read the caption on the above photo) we wondered around the club, noticing that not only is it a fully fledged restaurant, but also has numerous memorabilia on the walls. These include guernseys from former players, a hall of fame (which only includes players from the Magpies - the Power does not seem to be represented) as well as a number of glass cases which contains all of their trophies and medals. Along with that there is also a store which sells all manner of Port Adelaide items, and if you wish to become a member, well, you can do that here as well. Okay, it is a little out of the way, and it was pretty quiet when I was here, but it was certainly worth the trip. Oh, when I got home and told my Dad where I had been, he just smiled and said that he and my sister had got tickets for a proper tour (though from what it appears these were special tickets that were not available to just anybody, but then Travis Boak does take us on a tour of the facilities on Youtube, though it appears to be promoting solar energy).

This post has also been posted on my Travel Blog.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me. All images on this post are © and/or ™ their relevant owners. If you are the owner of any of the images used on this website and wish them to be removed then please contact me.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

National Military Museum - Bring on the big guns

National Military Museum

Well, maybe you are wondering why a pacifist is visiting, let alone writing a post about, a military museum. To be honest museums interest me, and my brother also loves going and visiting them, and since this is just around the corner from my parent's house I thought I might go and check it out (though it is only open on Sundays, however don't take my word for it - check out their website). Mind you, while I have no intention of making this some extreme left-wing anti-war post (especially since I do lean towards the political left), I might say a few things about the military as I go along. However, to make it clear, while I do support the military and do believe that it is one of those necessary evils that we need, I also believe that if we are going to deploy our troops we shouldn't simply do so without serious thought, and debate, as to why we are doing so.
Anyway, enough of that because I would rather talk about this museum rather than the pros and cons of the military (and I may end up writing about it at another time). The first thing you should know is where it is located because it can be a little tricky to find. So here is a map:

The museum itself is located in what used to be the Defence Science and Technology grounds (before the government reduced its size and then sold off a bunch of land to defence contractors, among others). As I mentioned, it can be a little difficult to find because a lot of these roads have been blocked off (namely because people used to use these roads as short cuts, and there was a time when speed limits didn't apply to federal government land), however there are some useful signs that will point you in the right direction (if you can find them). You will know that you have arrived due to the armoured personal carrier parked out the front.

Also keep an eye out for this cannon
It is probably not surprising that the museum is located where it is because there is an airbase nearby, and this area was once where scientists worked on technology such as rockets, radars, and signalling devices. However they didn't actually work on military vehicles (in fact, as far as I am aware, Australia never really built its own military vehicles - we just bought them from overseas). Still, it was government owned land and it probably is the best place for such a museum (though it can be even more difficult getting here without a car).

You'll find quite a few trucks in here
Normally, when you think of a military museum you probably thinks of tanks, guns, and artillery pieces (I know I do), but while they do have a few tanks and cannons amongst the collection, there is actually a lot more to the military than just ways and means of killing people (though I don't remember seeing any guns here here, only artillery pieces). For instance, there are quite a few trucks and jeeps in the museum, which play a very important role in a modern war. As well as transporting troops, trucks are also required to transport supplies to the front line. Okay ,most of these trucks date back to the 40s and 50s, but they still play an important role today. In fact a military would be quite inefficient if it only had tanks and guns (though there are armoured vehicles for supply purposes as well). Oh, one of the vehicles they had on display was a fully self-contained kitchen.

Kitchen Truck
Just in case the troops need a bit of a feed
Like many of the museums that I have been to there seems to be little order among the major displays, particularly where the vehicles are located. Okay, they do seem to have a lot of space outside, but considering that pretty much all of these vehicles have been restored (meaning that you can drive them), leaving them out on the grounds overnight might encourage some of them to go missing (though I'm sure hardly anybody would notice a tank cruising down the street at 2:00 am in the morning).

Restored Tank
Like, for instance, this one.
Anyway, as much as I want to post some more photos of military vehicles, this isn't actually a photo album (though you probably could be mistaken if you have looked through some of my albums on Facebook - especially the photos that I took in Europe). This museum does contain a lot more than just military vehicles, though they do take up most of the space (probably because of their size).

One of the rooms is dedicated entirely to the signal corps. For those not in the know, the signal corps is the communications arm of the military. They are those guys that you see in Vietnam War movies carrying those huge radios on their backs, and the lieutenants grabbing their phones to receive orders from the command centre. Once again this could lead into a criticism of the modern military, and how there can be little scope for independent thinking among the rank and file - but I think I will leave it at that.

Morse Code Machine
You can practice your morse code if you wish
Once again, this room seemed to be focused more on completeness as opposed to looking at any specific development of the devices. In fact, like other parts of the museum, this room was chock full of communications devices. There were so many devices in here that it simply made my head spin. Surely the military didn't change their communication equipment as often as I changed my underwear - but in many cases it certainly looked like they did.

Signal Corps Room
Maybe I should have taken a panoramic photo with my mobile
Most of, if not actually all, of this equipment looked really, really obsolete, though I am sure the military still use more sophisticated equipment than your average iPhone. Mind you, it is not as if the iPhone can't deliver encrypted messages, but you do need towers to be able to transmit the information, which is probably lacking in many of the modern warzones. Still, you can get satellite phones, and as I suggested, you can still send encrypted messages across the internet on your humble laptop, which seems to put the general population on par with the modern military machine (at least in regards to communication).

Signal Corps Chart
You may require a PhD to understand this
Alongside the signal corps display, there was an trailer which was obviously designed for field communications.

Signal Corps Radar Trailer
Though I couldn't find the USB port.
They even had an old spotlight:

Spot Light
I wonder if they were all that effective
Another room that I went into had, like the other parts of the museum, a miscellaneous collection of stuff. Around the walls, as well as a couple of displays dedicated to a couple of military personal that assisted in setting the museum up, were also a number of items that the troops would be issued with, such as rations:

Army Ration Display
I remember some kid at scouts bringing these along to camp
and a collection of booklets that were handed out to the troops:

Book displays
Yep, these books tell a soldier all he (or she) needs to know
This room also contained memorabilia from the Gulf War, a collection of hats, some uniforms, and even some rifles (okay, one rifle that was used in the trenches of World War I). However, what really caught my attention, namely because it was a little out of place in this room, were all of the engines.

Apparently they all work.
Big Engine
It won't fit in my Monaro

Along with this room, they also have the workshop where they are working on restoring some other military vehicles, as well as a display dedicated to the medical corps and World War I. Along with that there are a number of paintings, no doubt by some artist that was once in the army and has also provided some assistance with the museum. Otherwise he was probably like my Grandfather in that he enjoyed painting, but the art critics of the modern world had felt that his art work was, well, normal, so instead he gave the paintings to this museum. Hey, at least people get to look at his artwork.

Anyway, a military museum wouldn't be a military museum with out a collection of model vehicles on display, and this museum certainly had its fair share. They even had few display cases set up as if there were a battle ranging.

Model CaseModel diarama
 Mind you, there are plenty of models in my Dad's shed to check out as well.

So, that's the museum. It probably isn't everybody's cup of tea, and it is a little out of the way, but it was interesting nonetheless. So, I guess I will finish off with a picture of an American mobile rocket launcher.

They wouldn't let me take it for a test drive.

This post also appears on my Travel Blog.

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National Military Museum - Bring on the big guns by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. All images on this post are © and/or ™ their relevant owners. If you are the owner of any of the images used on this website and wish them to be removed then please contact me.