Saturday, September 30, 2006


Here's a view of my soon to be neighborhood; those are tram tracks down the middle of the road. The house I'll be in is the first on the left. You can't see much of it, but it stretches from the left of the picture to that first mustard-colored railing; my room will be the one behind the railing.

But the big event in Melbourne today was the grand final of the Australian rules football season, which over 97,000 spectators watched the West Coast Eagles win by a single point, 85-84, against the Sydney Swans. Australian rules football started here in Victoria in the 1850s, and this is the first time in a long time no Melbourne team's been in the final, but everyone assured me "the Swans used to be South Melbourne" so they were the ones to root for. (Could you imagine Brooklynites rooting for the Dodgers in a playoff?) The Eagles, from faraway Indian Ocean-facing Perth, are strangers by comparison, but "West Coast" called out to me.

Now sport, as you may know, is not my thing. In fact, when a religious studies scholar I was talking to yesterday confirmed the commonplace that sport is the Australian religion by saying "and tomorrow's grand final is Christmas," I decided to do what non-Christians often do on Christmas: I went to the movies. (For my sins, the film showing in ACMI's Great Australian Cinema series was "Crocodile Dundee," clichéd outback meets clichéd 1980s New York City!) Happily the film (which I was the only person watching!) ended in time for me to catch the second half of the game, broadcast on a big screen at Fed Square.

Footie's a mystery to me - it plays in a huge oval field with virtually no markings, and at times resembles soccer, rugby, basketball, American football, a brawl and (some say) a ballet. There was a lot of fumbling and lots of pileups, and the oval-shaped ball changed hands and side constantly. I could tell when something went wrong or something went right from the reactions of people around me, but I really had no idea what was going on. (Like looking up at a skyful of stars and seeing nothing you know, and yet they're stars, and yet there's no Big Dipper...) But exciting it was, the Swans coming from being behind over 20 points to within reach of winning - but never gaining the final edge.

And to explain the picture on the last post, it's from a children's book from 1918 called The Magic Pudding, and the magic pudding is also who/what Bunyip Bluegum the koala is holding in his hand. But more about that some other time.

Friday, September 29, 2006


My search for lodging came to a dramatic conclusion yesterday. My phone rang as I was in the tram, returning to St. Kilda from dinner in Chinatown. I knew the people at the place I wanted to be in were having their last round of interviews that evening. "Mark, this is Peter from 450 Lygon Street. I'm afraid I have bad news. You're moving in with us!"

The location could hardly be better. The house is a terrace about ten minutes' walk from Melbourne Uni (three minutes by tram), and minutes away from the busy cafe, Italian restaurant and bookstore scene of Lygon Street. It certainly has character, and is affordable enough to free me up for lots of time out and about. Technically I suppose it's what's called a dump (20 years accommodating students will do that to a place), but its new inhabitants are in the midst of cleaning it up. My room, facing the street over a gesture of a veranda, has a working fireplace - which will come in handy come May, I'm told; the walls are a mustardy color I may need to do something about. The common room has a bunch of rather spent sofas, but a warm atmosphere. Beyond the narrow skylit kitchen is a sort of garden, well, a potted calla lily with two wooden tables and benches - which will come in handy on the long warm summer evenings just 'round the corner.

My three housemates-to-be are thirtysomethings from Canberra (though one's originally from Sydney), and two of them are in theater. I've learned things I'd never have known about Tokyo and Paris from friends in the theater there, so this augurs well for getting to know more of Melbourne, too! The third is studying copyright law at Melbourne Uni. That might come in handy somehow too I suppose, you never know... (No, this isn't a picture of them. Does anyone know where the picture's from? Philip Pullman says it's the funniest book ever written. And what or who is the koala holding in his hand?!)

I move in next week!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Here are two photos of a phenomenon called earthshine -- when the light reflected off the earth illuminates the dark side of the moon. You can only see it when the moon is nearly new (and I'm not sure you will be able to see it as these pictures are digested by blogspot), but it's a lovely and mysterious thing.

In any case, I took these two pictures of earthshine with my ultrazoom Panasonic Lumix just a month apart, one (on the right) in California at the end of August, the other slightly more wobbly one (on the left) here in Australia last night. The earthshine is there, if very very dimly...

As if the pollen-charged change of season were not reminder enough, the different angle pretty decisively confirms that I am on a different side of our own celestial body!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Flat white

Melbourne, you might have heard, is a coffee lover's paradise. There are cafés everywhere. Along some of the charming alleyways in the CBD ("Central Business District = downtown) there are rows of tiny café facing each other, each with no more than a few tables. One could spend weeks trying them all out.

But don't expect you can just get a cup of coffee! No, this is Italian coffee culture, with espresso and machiato and latte and cappucino... and something distinctively Australian (or Aussie/Kiwi). It's called a "flat white," and assembled as illustrated, though the proportion of coffee, at about a third, is a bit more than the picture suggests. It's unlike a latte, in having more coffee and not being served in a glass, and unlike a cappucino in being relatively free of froth or sprinkled cocoa -- flat topped. It can have the same beautiful leafy patterns as the cappucino at Joe's, the best coffee near The New School (north side of 13th St. between Fifth Avenue and University Place, but don't tell anyone).

I enjoyed my first flat white this morning with K, my kind hostess (who suggested that initials might reasonably be used in a blog), at a place called The Wall. This place has the advantage of direct sunlight in the mornings (especially welcome after yesterday, which was cold, windy and even for spells rainy) and very good coffee indeed. It's called The Wall because, when it closes, it disappears. The benches and few tables outside are taken in, doorways are rolled shut, and you see only a brick wall, graffiti covered. Only if you know to look for it, and look very hard, can you make out big letters W A L L.

But then, all the best places in Melbourne play hide and seek -- but that's a topic for another post.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


For almost a week now I've been fighting the nastiest sore throat I can remember, my raspy voice sometimes reduced to an inaudible whisper, with occasional explosions of coughing which feel like someone's pulling a small rake up the inside of my throat. Well, it seems to be hay fever. Makes sense, I guess. It is Spring after all, the roads here overflowing with flowering trees, and there've been some pretty strong winds these last days. It didn't occur to me because I haven't suffered hay fever in years. But then this is a whole new set of pollens!

Hope antihistamines give me voice back in time for tomorrow evening: I have an interview with some people whose housemate I'd like to be. Wish me luck -- the place is minutes from the University, and sharing a house with local folk is surely the best way to get to know Melbourne!

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Just saw a terrific film, Philip Noyce's "Newsfront" (1978) at ACMI, the Australian Center for the Moving Image at Federation Square (which isn't quite so bad when you're inside). The film looks back at the cameramen who shot the newsreels shown in Australian cinemas until the arrival of television in 1956, and seamlessly weaves together historic and fresh footage shot and edited to look like film and filmreels c. 1948-56. It's remarkable how Noyce recreates scenes with his fictional characters not only in domestic and work settings but at the arrival of great ships full of immigrants after the war, at an around-Australia motor race, at the devastating flooding in a place called Maitland in 1955, and at the Melbourne Olympics of 1956 when the Soviet invasion of Hungary unfolding at the same time led to a violent brawl in a water polo match between Hungary and the USSR. (How come I forgot that Melbourne was an Olympic city, and well before Sydney?)

It was ironic if surely not a coincidence to be watching this film just upstairs from the ACMI's most successful exhibit ever, celebrating 50 years of television with the world's largest wall of TVs, simultaneously showing dozens of programs from the last 50 years at once -- none of which you can, of course, hear or follow. A fantastic concretization of Todd Gitlin's "media torrent." Newsreels seem an innocuous trickle by contrast.

Friday, September 22, 2006

New year

It's September 22nd (though blogspot will tell you it's the 21st, the first day of Spring/Fall!) and the Jewish bakeries have only round bread today. Happy Jewish new year! Meanwhile a couple hundred young people in extravagant makeup and costumes are gathering for the Melbourne Anime Festival just beyond the Old Quadrangle here at Melbourne Uni (pronounced: yoonie), the school holidays having started. Always lots going on in Melbourne!

I gather my blog's a bit bookish for some tastes -- some people seem weirdly more interested in my wanderings than those of snails -- so here are some pictures of the places I've been going back and forth between: gum trees along the Broken River in Shepparton, and a circle tram approaching from Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, a new complex called Federation Square on the left. In fact, trams, Flinders Street and Federation Square are the three icons of the city.

I'm also told that blogs are for pontificating as well as musing, so let me say that I think the colors and textures of Federation Square are most unfortunate, though not (speaking of pontificating) as unfortunate as Pope Benedict's contribution to the clash of civilizations in Regensburg on September 12th. Oz may be a long way from most places, the news dominated in recent days by the huge memorial events for race car driver Peter Brock and vaudeville naturalist Steve Irwin, but the din of wars present and planned is audible beneath everything.

We could use all the new year's repentance and renewal we can get.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

What's this?

I thought it might be fun periodically to offer an unexplained photo - well, unexplained until the next post. This makes a good first, I think.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Aussie animals

How many Australian animals do you know? In this boat, rushing from an improbable bush tidal wave in a book recommended by my nephew, you'll find a cockatoo, a cookaburra, an echidna, an emu, a galah, a kangaroo, two koalas, a platypus, four possums, a numbat and a wombat.

The story appears in The Great Possum Creek Disasters Omnibus by Dan Vallely and Yvonne Perrin, where these friendly animals face and overcome The Great Possum Creek Bushfire, The Great Possum Creek Earthquake and The Great Possum Creek Drought, as well as this, Possum Creek's Big Flood.

In case you're wondering, the flood wipes out the little town of Possum Creek, leaving nothing but a bathtub in a tree! But the animals come together to rebuild the town and

Now the tourists flocked to see
That old bathtub in the tree
And to marvel as a platypus in rhyme
Recalls that fateful day
When the town was washed away
And that tidal wave gets bigger every time!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


After four full days in Melbourne, I'm back in Shepparton with my sister. Going inland two hours and a half, feeling the population thin out and seeing the variously watercolor-colored eucalyptus trees (called gum trees here) pass by, I felt like I was doing something dangerously countercultural. Bear with me here-- it's just a week since I arrived--but one thing I think I've learned is that coastal Australia, the Australia of the big and also most of the small cities, is a different world than an inland starting just a few miles in. Indeed, Coastal Australia partakes of the world across the seas more than it does this inland world.

My sources for this hardly novel view are a new friend, who described Australia as among the most urbanized of societies (with all the cities on the coasts), and David Tacey's Edge of the Sacred: Transformation in Australia, a fascinating critique of Australian culture recommended to me by an Australian priest I met in at the Parliament of the Worlds' Religions in Barcelona in 2004. Tacey's "edge" is the coastal cities, and his argument is that Euro-Australian culture has refused to form a real relationship with the land, which it imagines as barren, strange and dangerous. Tacey quotes as representative a James McAuley who describe Australia's outback as "a futile heart within a fair periphery."

As an American who sometimes describes himself as "bicoastal"--raised in Southern California, resident now in New York City, who can count on the fingers of one hand significant stays into the region between--descriptions of Australia's coastal cities made it sound familiar, but I'm starting to wonder. We coastal Americans (especially New Yorkers and people conscious of being on the Pacific Rim) are more cosmopolitan than the rest of the land, and define ourselves against it, but we're defining ourselves against people, the "heartland," what many see as the true America. From Tacey I get the impression the situation here is quite different. If a true Australia there is, it's coastal, and defined against a heart which is landscape (and Aboriganes seen--or not seen--as part of it), shunned as hostile and incomprehensible. As illustrations Tacey discusses novels like Patrick White's Voss and Peter Weir's film Picnic at Hanging Rock. Seems to me that, by contrast, the American land (with the possible exception of places like New Mexico) is too domesticated and Europeanized, its indigenous populations and cultures too decimated and displaced to represent an other in this way.

This may be nonsense, but it's an interesting set of hypotheses to start out with!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Past present

Notice anything strange about the nightly news broadcast below?
It's from an exhibit on the Victoria gold rush of the 1850s in the now empty vaults of the old treasury in Melbourne, an effort to make the past seem relevant and interesting to the present. I take it this is a real newscaster, and imagine he was asked to talk about loss of life from shipwrecks, cholera deaths, and the labor shortage caused by worker abandoning the city for the gold fields north of here as if they were breaking news stories today.

It works in its way, at least in divesting the past of its hoary patina. For me it also resonates with the strange contemporaneousness of past and present you feel when you first arrive in a place and try to understand its place in time and space - although that's more like expecting a hoary patina to the present, too. Melbourne 1859 is as new to me as Melbourne 2006; both feel relevant, interesting and historically significant. (Walking past Flinders Street Station yesterday, for instance, I thrilled at its being the busiest station in the world--though that was in the 1930s!) Or is it that, compared to the 40,000 years that Aborigines have lived in these parts, the 172 years since Melbourne's founding are as one moment?

By the way, there's another new post below this one, yesterday's. I didn't have a chance to post it then. (And don't believe the dates of these posts. Blogspot is on US time, so most things I post are recorded as if posted the day before. Right now, for instance, it's the afternoon of Sunday the 17th.)


This bird alit on the cable outside the window of the place where I'm staying. Its call, craning its neck upward like a wolf howling to the moon, sounds like squeaky hand breaks on a bicycle coming down a hill, but I'm sure it's beautiful music to its mate. Don't know its name yet.

Speaking of names, I haven't decided yet what to do about naming people, given the public nature of a blog. I'm staying with a friend I met in Paris in 2001 in the flat she and her partner just bought on Balaclava Road in East St. Kilda, a Jewish part of Melbourne. They're wonderfully hospitable, and she's the perfect guide to Melbourne. Is it excessive discretion or valor on my part not to tell you her name, too?

Friday, September 15, 2006


When I came into Melbourne yesterday it was overcast, but today the sun's come out and it really feels like Spring. Nice but... I think it's going to be a while before I stop thinking "enjoy the warmth, cold days are just round the corner!"

Sara asks if I am now upside-down. I suppose I am. Head over heels!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

World class

Spent yesterday in Shepparton, the country town 175 km from Melbourne where my sister lives with her family. Got to experience the excitement of arriving in a big city as I came into Melbourne this morning on a rickety one-car train. It took us through eucalyptus forests, fertile fields (some glowing yellow canola), a small mountain range, and miles of pleasant English-looking suburbs... to arrive at a stunning modern train station whose wavelike roof seems to float undulating above the platforms. From there wandered through the downtown, the streets full of people lunching in food courts and cafes spilling onto the streets, and eventually by streetcar up to Melbourne University, where in less than an hour I was fixed up with an ID card and an office to share! Melbourne likes to call itself "the world's most livable city," and so far I'm feeling it!

I leave you with a remarkably sophisticated description of Melbourne taken from a quarterly guide to events in the city:

Melbourne’s history is best understood in comparative perspective. The city’s origins lie in a surge in nineteenth century urbanisation which ringed the Pacific with a network of bustling commercial cities: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. They grew as gateways to their expansive hinterlands, facilitating European settlement and the harnessing of their developing regional economies to world money and produce markets. They were cities of the nineteenth century, built from scratch, their spatial form shaped by the latest technological innovations and their social economic structures mirroring the logic of modern capitalist market place. … Melbourne was for most of the nineteenth century the most remarkable of these Pacific Rim cities, and the largest in both population and in physical extent….

Savvy cosmpolitanism!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Twenty-seven hours from the Amtrak Station in Solana Beach, California to the main square of Shepparton, Victoria, Australia went remarkably smoothly, perhaps because I slept most of the way and spent the rest of it reading Tim Winton's wonderful novel Cloudstreet. Many passengers got off at Sydney so I was able to slip into a window seat for Sydney-Melbourne. Asutralia's vast - and even this most populated stretch of Australia seemed pretty open! That it was Australia I was seeing kicked in as I noticed a stream looping and twisting extravagantly, leaving the occasional "billabong" (the water in an abandoned loop of river). And I noticed another thing, as some bright greens and yellows flashed out: it's Spring here!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Terrae incognitae

Here we go ... into the unknown!
I'll try to check in when I arrive, September 12th.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Friday, September 08, 2006

In an azure mood

A propos Kant: the first 23 volumes of Kant's works are available and searchable at, so it's easy to find what Kant had to say about Australia. (Well, you need to know that it was known as Neu Holland, too.) When Kant started lecturing on physical geography in the 1750s, some people thought Australia was just a bunch of big islands. When Captain Cook set out on the voyage that would come to be remembered as the 1776 discovery of Australia, his mission was actually to determine whether New Zealand was the tip of the great southern continent. In the notes of Kant's lectures published in 1801 (the originals are hard to date precisely), we find Kant writing of Australia as a continent whose coasts have been traced but whose inland remains unknown. But he expects no help from the Australians, whom he discusses together with "Papuans." The "New Hollanders" are the most abject of peoples; they don't even accept toys and red cloths the way other savages do.

Zu den Ländern, deren Küsten man geraume Zeit nur allein kannte, gehörte das, was man von Ufern auf der südlichen Hemisphäre bemerkt hatte, und welches v. Rhoden zuerst auf einer zu Berlin verfertigten Karte verzeichnete. Eben dieses war der Ort, wo man noch viele Länder vermuthete, und deren auch wirklich einige seitdem entdeckt hat, doch mit geringerer Wahrscheinlichkeit noch viel mehrere daselbst aufzufinden. In Neuholland, welches allein fast so groß ist als Europa, giebt es sehr wilde Einwohner, die nicht einmal wie andere Wilde Spielsachen und rothes Tuch annehmen wollten. Welche Schwierigkeiten, zu einer genauern Kenntniß des Innern zu gelangen, wenn der Erfindungsgeist der Europäer nicht andere Mittel zu diesem Ziele ausfindig gemacht hätte! Überhaupt befinden sich die Nationen der südlichen Hemisphäre auf der niedrigsten Stufe der Menschheit, und sie haben an nichts weiter ein Interesse als an dem sinnlichsten Genusse. Die Wilden gegen Norden, ob sie gleich noch weiter gegen den Pol hin wohnen, verrathen bei weitem mehr Talente und Adresse. (Akademie-Ausgabe, 9:230)

Perhaps I'll finally be able to leave Kant behind this year! (Hence the pretty porcelain urn from I will after all be in one of the "nations of the southern hemisphere ... who are interested in nothing but sensuous enjoyment."

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Strange to say, it's because of Immanuel Kant that I'm fixated on the sphericity of the globe. Outside of geographers, who know that Kant was one of the inaugurators of their field, nobody seems to know that the great philosopher cared deeply about contingencies like oceans and continents, winds and currents. Even geographers seem unaware that he thought geographical knowledge the surest foundation for sound philosophy and ethics.

In fact, Kant thought that unless you were aware of where you stood, historically and geographically, your thinking on human questions was likely to devolve into dreaming. And unless you were aware that knowledge, like the globe, forms a bounded whole of interrelated phenomena, your philosophy (and religion) would soon slip into the unmoored mysticism the 18th century called enthusiasm (Schwärmerei). Place and history may not be deeper questions than space and time (or maybe they are). But you're sure to go wrong thinking about space and time without a good sense of place.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Well, Australia's moved about a bit these last few hundred million years, but I don't think it's ever been anywhere near North America! (For a view including North America which spreads the globe out, see, and for one which abstracts from the globe entirely, letting the drift of tectonic plates resemble a lava-lamp, see Is it a coincidence that the last one is American?)

In any case, it's clear I'm heading to a whole new neighborhood!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I spotted Australia in the CompuServ logo, in a rather odd place. But then it occurred to me that, just as a symbol of the Illuminati is hidden in plain sight in American $1 bills, so this may be a hidden-in-plain-sight symbol of the Lemurians. Who are the Lemurians? Lucky for you, this intrepid scholar of religion reads widely:

“Followers of the Lemurian Fellowship, founded in San Diego in the 1930s and still active today, believe that 76,000 years ago a vast continent, Mukulia, existed over what is now the Pacific Ocean for about 50,000 years until it sank. The capital of Mukulia (or Mu) was Hamakulia. Its ruler, Emperor Meichizedec, was actually Jesus Christ. Lemurians … believe the Mukulian world was so highly advanced that people had no need for work or possessions. Crime was so rare that no thefts were reported between 40,000 and 28,000 BC. Freed from the banalities of life as we know it, robed Mukulians spent most waking hours engaged in highly advanced spiritual thinking. But decadence crept into society and somehow coupled itself with geophysical forces. Mu submerged into the Pacific Ocean." Another Lemurian Empire arose 12,000 years later in the Atlantic (known, thus, as Atlantis) but it eventually sank, too, and its leaders, together with those of Mukulia, "moved into the 'other world,' forming the Lemurian Brotherhood, which actively channels highly advanced spiritual thinking through one selectively chosen human being.” In 1936, this was none other than Dr. Robert Stelle, former osteopath and correspondence book salesman, who was whisked off in a black limo and told to found a community on a mountaintop. Apparently, they're still there.

Jack Sheffler Innis, San Diego Legends: The Events, People, and Places That Made History(San Diego: Sunbelt, 2004), 81

Soooo: Mukulia = Australia? What's the significance of Melbourne's being just where the lines cross? And what's the Lemurians' connection to CompuServ? You heard it here first.

Monday, September 04, 2006


So yes, the globe is Italian. I might first have seen Australia there as my parents lived in Italy until I was three, and I have distinct memories of looking up at it - though probably from well after we'd moved to California.

Today's pic is a cloud overhead during one of those fabulous Southern California sunsets (three days ago). It's nebulous shape and color (like a nebula!) sort of corresponds to the way I feel considering I'll be in Australia a week from now, living I know not quite where, hanging out with I know not yet whom. But I suppose the light's coming from a sun which has already slipped over the horizon to shed more light on places like ... Australia!

Sunday, September 03, 2006


This closeup might make it clearer...

Saturday, September 02, 2006

First view

I suppose the first time I saw Australia was probably on this globe. Notice anything interesting about it?

Friday, September 01, 2006

My first blog

In just over a week I'll be heading to Melbourne for a sabbatical of most of a year - my first extended stay not only in Australia but in the other hemisphere.

I've given this blog the somewhat cryptic name Sunny Side Up because I'll be missing fall and winter in my native northern hemisphere and so will go from sunny summer to sunny summer to sunny summer before I see winter again. Summer's actually my least favorite season, perhaps because I spent most of my childhood in sunny Southern California pining for change, but I expect I'll have enough of seasonal change: Melbourne is about as far south of the Equator as San Francisco (its fellow 1850s gold rush city) is north of it.

This Hobodyer world map - notice the correct placement of the Equator in the center of the map, not usual in world maps - makes clear that it is just prejudice to think I'm going "down under" or even to "the ends of the earth." What better vantage point for viewing a world turned (as it seems to some of us in the crowded and cantankerous northern hemisphere) upside-down by injustice, moral laziness and superstition?