Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sunday in Brisbane

Today was our last day in Brisbane.  I spent this morning in the State Library, looking at the Flash Women display of fashion design by Aboriginal women.  There was a wonderful dress shaped like Ayres Rock in bright orange, and some print fabric based on the woven patterns in tradition aboriginal basket making.  There were some good quotes on display. 

One for the reading community:
"Ignorance and fear on the part of the dominant communities often influences the way those societies deal with Indigeneous communities.  Libraries have a duty to dispel that ignorance".  Wharehuia Hemara.

One for anyone interested in identity:
"We are reminded from an early age to never forget who we are and where we have come from.  Unless we have the capacity to have knowledge about our history and culture, we may never realise our identity, our dreams and our future".  Dr Jackie Huggins

One for artists:
"Prints are connected to marks and marks are connected to symbolism, and symbolism to identity.  As Aboriginal people, one of the ways we retain, maintain and demonstrate our identity is through print" Fiona Wirrer-George (Oochunyung)

While all of these statements have an obvious application to the exhibition of Indigeneous work, they all have a wider relevance.  My librarian friend Juliet would be committed to the role of Library to dispel ignorance and build a love of learning for many groups/people.  She is also very committed to oral storytelling, for the communal enjoyment that it gives. Juliet would probably have an opinion on what other things oral storytelling gives. Sociologists, anthropologists, old people, young people, adopted people and others, each have a particular interest in identity and how it is manifested and utilised to create positive futures.  And if a community has a limited written history, with a strong oral tradition, how does the Library service support such a community?  Around the millennium, there were many oral history projects in the UK, so does this indicate that academic thinking is broadening, to accommodate people and stories that do not fit with the western (Victorian?) way of recording knowledge?  Is this set of thought processes, created by my summer roadtrip and the exhibitions I encounter, part of what the Study Abroad experience is meant to give me, in addition to the formal study?  I think so.  But I'm only getting this because I'm making the effort to go out and look, and think.  I'm making the effort to take my visual diary with me, make notes and sketches, and it's often only when I'm writing my blog that the conclusions come to me.  I don't think quickly  and it takes time for the assimilation of ideas before I realise I've seen something profound.

Another reflection from something I saw in the Queensland Art Gallery yesterday.  I was looking at a painting by an Aboriginal painter (did not note down his name in my visual diary), whose work commented on appropriation of Aboriginal painting styles by western artists.  He had an image on the left, but on the right, had painted the names of about 20 western artists who had incorporated Aboriginal techniques /style /motifs in their work, and who had not credited their inspiration to the indigeneous community.  Two names that remain in my mind are Ian Fairweather and Margaret Preston. In the 1930s Margaret Preston was very keen for Australia to develop its own national style, rather than to follow the European art deco movement.  Therefore she incorporated indigeneous spots, lines and artefacts such as boomerangs.  I understand that it is inappropriate to fail to credit other people's work. She did not ask permission from the Aboriginals to use their designs and did not credit the specific tribes, and this is now deemed wrong. However, my observation is that this happens worldwide to ethnic art patterns.  And as students we have to do extensive research into other artists work, and this informs and influences what we develop and create.  Creative students have to show their artistic research and credit the main influences in their design folder, but we don't credit other artists in our final work - because if it is that obvious at that stage, it would be plagiarism. (So how do I differentiate between plagiarism of an individual, and plagiarism of a community or style?) Artwork is often described as being "from the school of" to indicate it is from a particular style.  I think the issue is about how western art theory deals with the intellectual property of ethnic or historical communities as opposed to individuals.  I think in the West, we differentiate clearly between the individual and the group/style, and this may not be appropriate to non-western communities.  Another case where I don't have all the answers to my own questions.

Also while I was in the State Library, I saw some live drawing take place.  Stephen Wiltshire is an autistic adult from London, with a remarkable skill for architectural drawing.  He has had a trip around Brisbane over the last few days, and proceeded to draw Brisbane cityscape from memory in front of passers-by at the library. Absolutely astonishing detail. His website shows more detail of his visit. 

Tomorrow Jim and I are off on the next stage of our tour - another campervan that we will take to Cairns over the next four days.  We may not have wifi again until we reach Cairns.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Museums and theatre in Brisbane

This morning, I went back to the Brisbane Museum of Modern Art.  I'm starting to identify the themes that recur and that I like.  I've looked at a lot of modern art that leaves me cold, but the themes that appeal repeatedly are ones that refer to social history, family, narrative, and illustration.  Today I looked at a series of family portraits from a chinese family.  William Yang had compiled this series "About my Mother" after her death, taking portraits of her and her immediate family, and mounting them with a piece of script that explains something about the situation or conversation that took place at the time.  An insightful narrative about the life of a chinese migrant mother and her son.  She had died just after a family tour of Australia.  Her 3 children had come home from worldwide locations, and had taken her on holiday, to visit all the places she had lived in Australia, and she had spent a lot of time telling them about their heritage, and she had died two days after this holiday from a stroke, perhaps because she had had the final satisfaction of having her dispersed family back together again. 

Another series of artworks was by Vernon Ah Kee, "Neither Pride, nor Courage" which was simple, large hand-drawn portraits of his family members, who were attributed as indigeneous people, by a variety of Aboriginal group names, but who also appeared to have asian features, as well as asian surnames.  Very simply drawn, with clear scribbly charcoal lines in the tonal variation, but absolutely brilliant interpretation.

In the afternoon, I went to see the "Rock of Ages" musical.  It was a riot!  It played lots of rock songs from the 80s, with a predictable story line of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl.  As I am not a rock fan, some of the music was lost on me (Styx, Whitesnake) but I did recognise some of it "we built this city" etc.  There was some comment at the beginning about certain rock bands (Def Leppard?) that had refused to allow their music to be played, and there were certainly parts that parodied other rock stars - the lead actors were strutting around taking off Freddie Mercury and tongue actions taking off Mick Jagger.  And another actor played a rock star who "died" and reappeared as an angel (looking very like an ageing John Lennon).  All in all it was a good tempered story of right winning out over wrong, with some fantastic music performed on stage.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Art galleries in Brisbane

On Thursday evening, when we were walking back to the hotel, Jim and I found a free event for board games.  It was part of the Making Brisbane Better campaign.  The last Thursday each month, the council have provided an open space and some board games for use by the public.  One of the best ones was Scrabble - but a floor size game.  We watched a couple of games being played, and some of the words were different to those accepted in the UK (eg Danes) and the scoring was different - a triple word score, where the link letter created words in two directions, scored triple in both directions.  In the UK rules, it only scores triple in one direction.
End of the game of Scrabble

We had a lovely day yesterday, Friday.  While I toured the art galleries, Jim looked in cycle, book, and camping shops. 

I went to the Museum of Modern Art first, followed by the Brisbane Art Gallery.  I looked at a textile exhibition, where the best piece was about exploitation in the mother-of-pearl industry, called "No job for a white man".  In its heyday, Broome provided 80% of the mother-of-pearl supplies in the world.  The local population dived for the shells, and the overseer was the white man.  Apparently, white people tried to use white migrant labour for the diving, but they were not up to the job, so the job returned to the local population.  The artwork showed a starched white cotton suit (as worn by the overseer) pinned rigidly to the wall, with the soft, warm, loose, cropped woollen trousers worn by the divers, draped over a wooden chair.  The trousers were covered in pearl buttons, indicating it was the divers who earned the valuable resource, not the overseer who benefitted from the trade.

I also looked at the work of Yayoi Kasuma, a japanese artist whose work is brightly covered and mostly created from polka dots.  Apparently as a child she had hallucinations with bright dots, and she has been painting them ever since (now in her 80s).  It sounds as if she has some form of obsessive compulsive mental disorder, because she lives in a mental institution and has a studio a short distance away.  She works intensively for 60-90 hours then has a spell of exhaustion.  I have to say her work left me cold, but some of the comments in the exhibition provoked thought.  She considers introspection/spectacle; expression/formalism; asian/western; insider/outsider; repetition/variation and materialism/tradition.  For some time I have been thinking about differences - monochrome/colour, smooth/texture, inside/outside, open/concealed.  She had a wider range of differences that she considered.  And from my perspective, if a Study Abroad experience is all about "difference", how do we express the ability to define or portray what we experience?  Does my Study Abroad experience have a long term impact on my life and if so, in what way? It has taken me some time to be able to clearly articulate the question.  I don't have the answer yet.  I hope it does have a long term impact.  I'm here to identify differences and utilise them.  I'm not here just to have a jolly.

I then went to Brisbane Art Gallery (next door) and looked at a variety of Australian, Indigeneous, and European art.  I definitely like the Impressionist style - Pissaro, with a painting of washerwomen and their washing on a line, in a bright green field, John Russell with bright images of Belle d'Isle sea and coastline, Grace Cossington Smith with bright dabs of colour representing cloth on a sunlit table. 

I liked some of the quotes on the walls - John Russell "I am a painter of nature, of nature's moods.  Of sunlight and the changing temper of the sea", and Margaret Preston 1923, "When is a work modern?  When it represents that age it is painted in". 

All in all, a very good day.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Arriving in Brisbane

Jim and I took the overnight train to Brisbane.  It set off at c4pm from Sydney and arrived at 0530 in Brisbane.  This was a different experience to the plane or campervan.  As it was a $69 budget railtrip, the customer base was that of budget customers.  Oddly the seat booking system put most of the customers on one carriage, out of the 3 available.  This meant we were in the middle of a noisy car. 

When I got fed up of this, I took a stroll up and down the train, found the two other cars were virtually empty and decided to ask if we could move.  There were transit security officers right at the back, and they said they would get the supervisor to find me to confirm we could move seats.  She came seeking "the english girl", and duly found me, and agreed we could move, and noted it on her seat allocation sheet.  We had quite an interesting discussion with her.  She advised Us that a girl with mental health issues had been moved into the rear car with the transit officers, and the girl had quietened down.  We decided to settle in this car as, other than the girl, it was empty and quiet.

The supervisor and I had an interesting chat about shift patterns as transport workers.  Her pattern was for a duty taking a train to Sydney, then 7 hours rest in a barrack, then an 11 hour night duty taking the train back. I thought this was appalling.  I've worked a system where the rules said you had to have 12 hours rest, and even this small turn round made me feel appalling.  7 hours rest, even in accommodation provided by the company would never be enough for me.  The supervisor said they had also recently had a change to shift pattern where they now were not allowed to work more than 10 consecutive days, whereas my pattern previously had no more than 8. 

The supervisor showed us how the seats reversed with a foot pedal. Apparently the train has a diesel unit front and rear, and the train runs forward or backward, and each journey the seats are turned to face direction of travel. But if it is nearly empty, as in our carriage, and you get on with the supervisor(!), they can reverse alternate seats so four seats are facing. This meant Jim and I could curl up to lie down to sleep, each of us sleeping across 4 seats. Much better than sleeping sitting up.

My first museum in Brisbane, was the Brisbane Museum, which has an exhibition of social documentary photography 1993-2010.  Blakeley and Lloyd are two photographers whose work focusses on documenting stories about trauma, suicide, genocide and grief.  It was a set of very demanding, thought provoking artwork.

The first series of photographs was called "Control Yourself" - a set of images about a girl with anorexia and self mutilation.  One image was of her torso, very thin with self harm scars; followed by a pink corset with extra pink laces around the body; followed by a handwritten weight chart documenting fortnightly body weights over 3 years deteriorating from 52k-37k, and finally a large image of a bottle of laxative.  The images themselves were not particularly disturbing, but close inspection told a very distressing story.

The next series was about the Rwandan genoicide.  There was a row of 37 black photo frames, to portray one Rwandan woman's family.  There were 4 head and shoulders portraits, and the rest of the frames either had a name and birth/death dates, or just a name if the person disappeared.  Obviously this person had lost most of her family in the genoicide of 1994.  Very powerful.

The third set of pictures that remain with me are the set of 4 images of a woman talking, obviously upset.  The caption stated she had lost her son, and kept his ashes on her dressing table, and dusted them regularly.  But when she needed to, she took the urn and nursed it, feeling closer to him.  Another set of very powerful images, which probably portrayed intense emotion, with which parents in similar situtions could identify.

A small exhibition, which was very thought provoking.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Leaving Sydney, taking the train to Brisbane

Jim and I have had a lovely time in Sydney.  We stayed with friends, Rob and Sal, for a couple of days.  We spent a lot of time just walking around Sydney, looking at buildings.  There is a contrast between powerful impressive Victorian buildings and the modern commercial office blocks.  Yet, somehow it all seems to meld together better than in the UK.  Not sure why.  One of the phrases that keeps coming to mind, is "contemporary retro", was a term used about a student's work in the textile class.  This is where a retro design is created with a modern twist.  And seeing the Queen Victoria Building juxtaposed with modern office block window reflections makes me think how a textile designer might use the two sources of inspiration to create a contemporary retro fabric.  I've also been thinking about the Scott sisters botanical illustrations, with the palest imagery of the landscape in the background, with the bold botanical illustrations over the top of butterflies on their host plants - this contrast of pale detailed background with bold imagery superimposed, might appear in my design work next semester.  Maybe architectural detail from iron lace railings, with australian plants?  So many ideas, so little time!

On Saturday, I had a trip to Bondi beach to see a sculpture exhibition (which I failed to find!).  Bondi beach has never appealed to me before, because over the years it has had a reputation for being overused and litterstrewn.  But when I arrived, it was beautifully clean so there has obviously been a big push to keep it pristine.  I had a lovely peaceful afternoon, watching the various school activities being conducted by the surf lifeguard team.  Some of it was obviously water safety, but other games were in progress.  One game involved boys lying in a line, facing away from a line of rubber hoses, (one less than the boys left in the game). The life guard said, "head up, head down, go" and the boys bobbed their heads, leapt up and ran to grab a hose.   Far too energetic for me. 
Surf lifeguard

Surf school games

Water safety lesson

Bondi beach - it was much brighter than it looks

I've not seen this sign in the UK

 We found a 50 metre pool yesterday and had a lovely swim.  It is the first time I have swum in such a long pool, and it was not as different as I expected.  I had expected to find it very tiring to swim with fewer turns but I must be fitter than I thought, as it just felt as if I were flowing along easily.  Mind you, the lane was very wide, and there was only me and Jim swimming in it. 900m for me, 1200 for him.

Jim and I have not managed to find a campervan to take us up to Brisbane/Cairns, so we booked an overnight train for Wednesday to take us to Brisbane.  Only $69 each.  Then Jim has found us a B&B for 4 nights, so I can work my round all the museums. 

Yesterday I took my large sketchbook out, and sat to draw the Sydney Opera House in charcoal.  I only managed 3 sketches, before the rain came in (didn't it just!) but I was quite pleased with how I represented the shapes and curves.  When we first came to Sydney a couple of days ago, I saw the opera house in fog, and thought then, "it needs to be drawn in pastels".  I've now decided that what interested me visually at that stage, was not the opera house, it was the atmospheric effect, and it was the atmosphere that demanded pastels.   Working in charcoal, in better light, it was the shapes that caught my attention, and the charcoal media was excellent to represent the sweeping curves.  I'm starting to get better at selecting the relevant media to obtain the required effect. 
Rain approaching opera house and artist!

This morning I looked up my university results - they are due on line at 5pm today.  So by 9am, I wondered if they might, just might, be on-line.  I am a very happy bunny - Historical Issues in Art & Design 89%; Private Lives, Public Issues 71%; Studio Textiles - Pattern & Meaning 83%; and Visual Inquiry - Reconsidering Traditions 79%.  I was absolutely delighted.  And I am quite sure that had I remained in the UK this year, my marks would not have been so high.  I certainly needed to raise my game when I got here, and work hard I did.  So from the marks, it looks as if I succeeded in raising my game.  Thank you Curtin University. YIPPEE!!!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A few days in Sydney

Our first night in Sydney was at an hotel on the borders of Potts Point and Kings Cross.  Kings Cross, Sydney is similar to Kings Cross, London - not a particularly desirable area, particularly after dark.  There is obviously some event on in Sydney this weekend because there was very little hotel accommodation available.  We moved on the next day, Friday, to another hotel, slightly closer to the town centre, for 3 nights. 

I started my museum visiting with a trip to the Australian Museum, just at the top of the road where we are staying.  There was a wonderful exhibition of the Scott Sisters, who were Victorian botanical artists.  Their work was amazing - beautiful water colours of astonishing detail of plants and butterflies.  They were the first to marry a very pale image of the landscape with a bolder image of butterflies, caterpillars and eggs on the host plant.  In fact their work was amongst the first to show the scientific link between specific plants and animals. Their works were ground-breaking in their day, and retain their beauty and attractiveness today.  Their father was a entymological collector, and Harriet and Helena documented his collections.  Their father, AW Scott, gave independent latin names to the moths and butterflies he collected, although subsequently they were often reclassified or had already been named in another country.  However quite a lot of the butterflies he collected were the first collected, thus known as the "primary type".  On display were the primary type butterfly specimens he had collected in Victorian times, shown alongside the images the sisters had painted.  How good is that!

While I was in the Australian museum, Jim walked up to the Museum of Contemporary Art, but discovered it was closed for renovation.  So I had spent the time being educated, and he had spent it undertaking some light exercise.
Sydney opera house view on our morning walk
The following day, Saturday, we started by walking to friends Rob & Sal.  We spent a lovely morning sitting having a chat, while looking out from their balcony at the Sydney harbour bridge.  They have lived in Aus for about 6 years and have just participated in their Citizenship ceremony.  It sounds a bit like a marriage ceremony, where you promise to love, and honour the country, and obey her laws.  They had to sing the national anthem and were presented with a Citizenship Certificate and some goodies, such as a toy boxing kangeroo, Aussie shorts and and Aussie sports towel.  What I don't understand is why the Aussie flag is a union jack with one 5 pointed and five 6  pointed stars - in red, white and blue - and the Aussie competing colours are green and gold.  I don't know of any other country that has its sporting colours a different colour to their flag.  Maybe I should ask Rob and Sal.
The old juxtaposed with the new

Chinese fruit market

We then went on back to the Sydney Art Gallery, and I looked around their general collection.  I enjoyed the Cezanne and other impressionists in the european art collection, and then went downstairs to look at the art from other continents.  In the UK I had never understood why we called people from India, Asians, yet in other parts of the world, the Chinese were referred to as Asian.  Now I do.  East Asia is comprised of China, Korea, and Japan; South Asia is India and the Himalayas; South East Asia Asia is Indonesia and Vietnam.  There was a fantastic undergarment from China, that looked a bit like a jacket made from string vest material.  But it was actually made from tiny pieces of threaded, fine bamboo, joined in a detailed diamond grid pattern.  Fantastically detailed, and was used to insulate and ventilate clothing, and prevent staining.

From my History of Art lectures I knew that calligraphy was one of the favoured forms of islamic art.  In this gallery, it was the best explanation I have come across.  "The written word is God's word, therefore calligraphy is the highest art form.  It decorates and enhances an object's significance.  It also confers protection".  This was a statement describing a batik indonesian coffin cover which was beautifully woven and printed with calligraphy.

Today, Sunday, we went to the Powerhouse Museum, and I looked at the "We Love Lace" cometition exhibition.  There were about 120 finalists work displayed, all showing a contemporary application of lace, or lace like patterns applied to modern contexts.  These varied from carbon fibre rope symbolising a tsumani in an open air display in the city square, to work on acetate screens, to lace chain link fence, to lasercut rusted metal corsets, to porcelain jewellery.  It showed people's reaction to the message of lace in a variety of different communities.  It was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Flying off to Sydney

We got up at 5am and were off by 6 on our way to Melbourne Airport.  We had packed all the spare food into the suitcase but discovered when we got there that we were over the 20kg weight limit. So we jettisoned some food and with judicious juggling to make the hand luggage up to the maximum 7kg allowed, we just made the weight limit. 

It was only a couple of hours on the flight and we were arriving in Sydney. Walking up the road to the hotel, I was taken with a lot of the Victorian cast iron balconies.  All very intricate and a wide variety of styles.  There were a lot of these balconies in Melbourne too.  Thinking about it, I've not seen these in the Victorian parts of London where I've worked, but I wonder whether most of them were salvaged as scrap metal during WW2 and used to build aeroplanes. 

We made our way to the hotel, dumped the luggage and took ourselves off to the NSW art gallery.  There we found a Picasso exhibition, which had travelled from Paris.  Apparently when Picasso died, there were massive death duties, and the family paid them by giving all his works from his studio to the State Art Gallery.  One of the quotes of Picasso on display expressed the sentiment "the greatest collector of Picasso, is Picasso".  There was a lot of his work on display, from his blue period, to the rose period, to cubism, collage and constructivism, classicism and surrealism.  There were pictures of quite a few of his lovers. I can't say any of his work is to my taste, but I'm starting to understand how to look at cubist paintings now, and find them quite interesting.  I did like his lithographs and etchings that were on display, particularly the series of the bull as it moved from representational to symbolic.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A second day being a tourist in Melbourne

Jim checked the Transfercar website this morning, and there were no vehicles available to go from Melbourne anywhere we fancied.  So we decided to go for our swim, then off to a travel agent to book a flight.

We had a lovely swim at the baths we found yesterday.  Their lane management was much better than at our local pool because they have allocated expected swim times for each section.  I have not swum for 4 months, and Jim has not swum for a year or so, and we managed about 900m each.  It was lovely to swim again.

There was a set of free scales - this confirmed I weigh 12 stone, and Jim is 13 stone 2lb.  So I've lost half a stone since I got here.  Only another 2 stone to go!

We went to a travel agent and booked flights tomorrow to Sydney, and a night's accommodation.  Then we went back to our hotel, logged onto Transfercar, and a new transfer had just come on line - from Melbourne-Sydney.  You win some, lose some. 

Then I went to the Immigration Museum and learned all about the different groups that have migrated to Australia and how they earned their livings - from cake decorating (Hungarian), to traditional wedding finery (Greek), to machine knitting from home (Italian), boilermaking (Scottish).  I still find it intriguing to find out what actually motivates people to leave a familiar, if unacceptable, life, and to branch out into the unknown.  For all that I'm doing a student exchange, I cannot see me having the desire to permanently change my country of residence, despite thinking it quite likely that I will spend another year studying abroad somewhere else.

There was also a section on Child Migrants, largely from the UK, where orphaned and destitute children were sent to Australia to populate it under the "White Australia" policy.  This was portrayed in a balanced way, showing how some children benefited from this, and others were systematically lied to and did not.  However, it did fit with what I have heard from other sources, that children's homes, particularly Barnardo's, was very good at using wholesome images of this policy to gain financial support from the great and the good, when the experience of the children was far from wholesome.

We passed Flinders Street railway station and it has about 8 clocks hanging in the entrance of the station, showing the times of the next trains on each line, on analogue clocks.  This must be a predecessor of indicator boards, so that customers in a hurry can glance at the clock for their line, and know whether to hurry or not.

On the way back, we passed the ANZ bank.  This was an amazing example of Gothic architecture, with stunning painted and metal decoration inside the building.  It started as a huge domestic residence, then became the Stock Exchange with large wooden counters in the centre of a huge hall, then ANZ took it over and it is their corporate pride and joy.  Unsurprisingly.  We were told that the frieze of gothic dogs around the top of the ceiling, had one dog with no tail.  So we looked carefully, and found him in a corner.  I think the painters started in that corner, above the entrance door, worked their way all the way round, and then had misjudged the spacing slightly, so one dog lost its entwined tail.  Apparently it was the bank manager who pushed for the elaborate decoration and he was a big fan of the gothic style.  It was originally costed at $44,000 for 3 years work (in Victorian times I think) and by the time he had finished altering the spec as it was done, it cost $74,000 and took 4 years.  Sounds like a modern building contract!

Then once we got back to the hotel, I discovered my college modules had been enrolled by the International Office, and I could register for classes.  I'm still puzzled how to register for the summer school drawing class.  But my other classes are Indigeneous Studies Monday morning, History of Art tutorial Tuesday morning, Cloth and Habitable Space Wednesday morning and History of Art lecture Thursday morning.  All in all a pretty good timetable.  Roll on February!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Being a tourist in Melbourne

We've had such a lovely day.  We decided on a day at the museum.  On the way there we passed Victoria Market - an undercover market selling truly wonderful quality food.  We saw fantastic local fruit and veg - amazingly low prices; a deli market, meat market and fishmongery.  The quality of the food was amazing.  It is such a pity we don't have much of this in the UK.  There is no reason for poor health and malnuitrition when you can access such fantastic food.  It made typical supermarket food look so sad.  But on the other hand, to be able to utilise this resource, you would need to be able to go to the market regularly, and be at home to prepare and cook it.  And if most households have all adult family members out at work all day, this is unrealistic.  The market was very inspirational, and if I was living here and had the time, I'd spend many days, trying out different fresh foodstuffs and trying new recipes.

Aromatic cheeses and sausages

This is what you call a Bread Shop!
 We passed a Victorian swimming pool built from red brick and stone, and had a look round inside.  It had been partly modernised, with a new gymnasium, but the pool area was largely original, and had some historical information provided.  Apparently it had financial problems right from the start, having been built from inferior materials (we could not see any).  The contract had been awarded by the mayor of the day, to a contractor who was a personal debtor of the mayor.  The contract was awarded to him in order for him to have the funds to satisfy his debts to the mayor!  I wonder if this ever happens now?

Jim and I are planning to go to the pool tomorrow for our first swim in 4 months.

At Melbourne Museum I was able to get in for free, as I am a student.  Normal prices about $6.  I looked at a collection of aboriginal art, collected by an anthropologist back in the 1920s.  It was largely painted on bark and the relevant stories that it portrayed were listed alongside. 

Then I looked at the history of Melbourne.  The bits that interested me were about labour relations and the lunatic asylum.  Melbourne was amongst the first cities in the world to have legal intervention in the setting of wages, and the imposition of a minimum wage.  The main industrialist of the Victorian age in Melbourne, Hugh Victor ...., was paying 6 shillings per day, for a 6 day week.  The case went to court, and in a test case, the judge received witness testimony from the wives of the workmen, listing their household expenses, to demonstrate they were in poverty.  This was the first time women had been used as witnesses and to speak personally in court.  Some women had their statements read out for them.  Also the industrialist's evidence stated he believed the wages were "fair and reasonable" and that he would "pay the minimum possible".  The judge awarded judgement in favour of the workers and the rate of pay was increased to 7 shillings a day (more than 15% increase!).  There was no comment at the display whether the number of workers was consequently reduced to reduce costs.

The display about the lunatic asylum was interesting.  I notice there are more displays in museums in general that portray a wider range of people - a more inclusive approach to social history.  There were artefacts from the asylum - a fork where the prongs were webbed except for a quarter inch at the end, to prevent self harm; crockery stamped "lunatic asylum", etc.  An inmate of the day commented that at a patient, you were never allowed to forget you were a "lunatic".  It was reinforced at every turn - especially by the labelling of all the equipment and clothes.  This display noted that the term used for patients varied according to the psychiatric theory of the time - lunatic, inmate or idiot!  It shows how polite society has found an acceptable term, and over time it has become a term of abuse or derision, and been deemed inappropriate, so we have changed the word. 

Monday, 14 November 2011

14/11/11 Day 6 - Horsham-Melbourne

Bark photographed at the rest area before we left

More bark
We're back in contact with the rest of the world!  We found a MacDonalds and parked in their carpark to use their free wifi! 

We arrived in Melbourne in good time to return the campervan.  Melbourne is a massive contrast to the environmnet we have travelled.  Huge roads, multiple lanes, crossing the Yarra river.  It was just like crossing the Thames on the QE2 bridge!  We had written detailed instructions on how to find the Travellers Autobarn garage, and our hotel, and found them quite easily, with only one minor detour.  However we had not been told by the Perth branch that we needed to return the van clean.  Water restrictions in Melbourne mean businesses are strictly limited to how much water they can use, so Travellers Autobarn make it the customer's responsibility to return the van clean.  We had a short trip to the carwash to clean off the dead insects so we could return the van in pristine condition.

We listened to a very interesting conversation in Travellers Autobarn.  We were able to use the campervan free, because we were returning it from a one-way hire to its origin.  Travellers Autobarn were not openly promoting this option.  A customer was trying to work out whether he wanted to hire a station wagon (estate car for the British!), or a campervan.  Prices varied from $49-$89 per day. Alternatively the dealer suggested the customer buy a vehicle, up to $10,000, and then sell it back once they had done their road trip.  If you include fuel and living costs, this makes it a very expensive option. 

So, for anyone reading this blog, who is considering a road trip and is flexible about where they want to go and when, try the Transfercar website.  You can have a roadtrip where you don't pay for vehicle hire.  Transfercar links a variety of businesses/individuals to people who want to drive long distances.  You normally get the use of the vehicle, insurance for one driver, and the first tank of fuel free, but pay for all other expenses.  With Jim driving, he thinks it cost us $360 in fuel and oil to cross from Perth to Melbourne. We stocked the van with food before we left, and bought very little on the crossing. We had no accommodation costs because we always chose campsites that were free.   Jim worked extremely hard for 6 days, driving an average of  8-9 hours per day.  I was chief cook. 

Once in Melbourne, and settled at our hotel, we had a walk around the area.  We are in North Melbourne, which appears to be a Victorian area, with lots of arty types and young professionals living here. There appears to be a thriving art scene and lots of museums in Melbourne.  I have good plans for what to do for the next 3 days.  Jim says we can extend our stay here if I find more things to look at.  The original plan was to see how soon we could get another vehicle on Transfercar and head to Brisbane, but as Jim sagely observed, we have travelled the east coast of Australia a couple of years ago, and the further north we go, the hotter it will get.  If I'm intellectually stimulated here, we may stay another few days.

Distance travelled - 400 k

13/11/11 Day 5 - Redhill-Horsham

Another early start at 5.45 am.  Today's drive was across country that was much more like English arable landscape, than desert.  Farming is the main activity here, and we spent much time driving between wheatfields.  It was a bit overcast, which kept the temperature down a bit and I spent a lot of time considering the colours as the sky varied between blue, and storm cloud grey, changing the colours of the grain crops from golden to sunbleached beige.

After the desolation of crossing the Nullabor, it was good to be back in some greenery, and to encounter small towns with housing and shops.

We passed the town of Iron Knob.  This is a mining town that supplied iron ore to the Australia's steel industry.  Ironstone was identified in the 1840s and from a distance, the hills look like tabletops.  This is because the gigantic electric digger, the "shovellaurus" has reshaped the hills over the decades by the open cast mining technique.  The mine has died since bigger iron deposits have been found in northern Western Australia and apparently only 100 people are now employed in mining in the town.

We parked overnight in another rest area, no toilets or water, but very peaceful in a copse of eucalypts.  There was a wooden picnic table and bench seats which was very weathered and the grain of the wood was badly split.  I spent an hour, drawing a postcard.  This is probably my best postcard to date.  A hexagonal bolt, with split wood, and lots of detailed grain, all split and degraded by constant sun damage.  A very detailed black and white sketch.
Evening sunset over farmland, seen from our van

Rusty bolt in distressed wood.  I drew this without my glasses, so the detail is different to reality!

Distance travelled - 550k

12/11/11 Day 4 - Ceduna-Redhill

This was another long hot day on virtually flat roads.  We set off early, about 5.30, again driving into the sun.  This section was very largely treeless, desert.  There was the occasional vehicle passing us, but mostly it was empty road for as far as we could see. 

We got to the Nullabor roadhouse to refill with fuel, and I noticed a sign on the petrol pump stating driver's licence would be taken prior to refuelling. For some reason I thought this referred to cctv taking the licence plate number from the vehicle, but when I went to the kiosk, the attendant said he needed Jim's driver's licence, before the pump would dispense fuel.  We supplied this, and the attendant said lots of customers were really angry about this requirement, and the belligerent ones said it was an illegal requirement etc.  I had quite a conversation with him about this.  In some states in both Australia and the USA, it is illegal to require a driver's licence prior to supplyng fuel, but in Southern Australia, it is legal.  Basically, until this requirement was imposed, they had a lot of people driving away without paying for their fuel. 

The Nullabor roadhouse is in an area with no other facilities for about 100miles each direction, so is an essential facility.  Unsurprisingly prices were very high.  Unleaded petrol was $2.09 a litre.  A pint of milk was $2 (we got 4 pints for $2 in Melbourne).  The attendant said some customers were abusive because prices were high, but if I had owned/worked in this roadhouse, I would have expected to be well rewarded to work in such an arid, isolated area.  I think this is a case of "you get what you pay for" and the consequences of the roadhouse closing would be the loss of a life-saving service.  I found the attendant to be articulate, and helpful, but the conversation showed he was very familiar with dealing with upset customers.

I did not note the price of the bottled water, but this was another area of contention.  The signs in the toilet clearly stated the water was not potable, and obviously many customers wanted water, but were not prepared to pay for it.  Given the precious requirement requirement for water in this area, and the difficulties in maintaining a constant supply (major maintenance for a pipeline across desert, or extensive road transportation of other supplies), I think you just have to be prepared to pay for it.

An interesting road sign was the one for the Royal Flying Doctor Service Emergency Airstrip.  The airstrip is the road.  There are large yellow signs advising road users that the airstrip is ahead, and the start is indicated by white stripes painted across the road - somewhat like a pedestrian crossing.  The RFDS was the creation of Revd John Flynn, who ministered to isolated communities in the outback.  He had been given the idea by an Australian pilot in 1917 on his way to WW1, who thought the new technology of aeroplanes would be ideal for covering large distances in the Outback in emergencies.  This pilot, Clifford Peel, was killed in the final months of the war.  Then Revd Flynn worked with Alfred Traeger, an Adelaide engineer and radio buff to develop a pedal powered wireless that could be used in the outback to call for help.  In 1928 a single airplane was put into service, leased from the fledgling Qantas.  In 1996 the RFDS undertook 14,000 evacuations, and conducted 4,500 remote health care clinics and averaged 82 flights a day around Australia.  Well done Revd Flynn!  His portrait is on the $20 note.
RFDS sign at the start of 90 mile straight (note the sun behind me)

RFDS sign at the other end of the road two days later (note sun on face)

Distance travelled - 620k

11/11/11 Day 3 Caiguna-Ceduna

Budgies on the ledge outside the ventilator window

This was another long hot day. This is the heart of the Nullabor - so called because there are supposed to be "no trees". Actually on this section there are plenty - small, scrubby, often burned, but with little bits of green regrowth. But miles and miles of scrubby, sandy desert.

We took a break at Cocklebiddy. This was a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. Amazingly there were flocks of budgerigars! We had parked under a tree at the side of a large parking area, and I made a sandwich and cups of tea. We noticed the whirling group of budgies going to and fro, and suddenly they all started landing on the campervan. There must have been a hundred of them. They were obviously used to being fed by travellers, as they were perching along the door rails, on the window ledges, on the ariel. So I crumbled some crusts and threw them on top of the van, and even more budgies arrived.

More budgies perching on the side of the windscreen
We set off again on the Eyre Highway, and this is where the flocks of budgies became a problem.  There were flocks of budgies for about 10 miles along the highway.  They kept swooping across the road in front of the van, or even worse, flocks sitting on the highway in front of the van.  Jim kept honking the horn to make them move, but to little effect.  They would take off just in front of us, and quite a few hit the windscreen and were killed.  The road was littered with dead birds, particularly by the passing of a roadtrain.  I wondered whether the air currents were sucking seed from scrub  onto the road, and they were feeding on it.  There were a lot of budgies, so obviously the continual culling by traffic was not impacting too much on population.

Then a bit later, about 11am, we saw a cyclist ahead.  As Jim is a cyclist, we decided to pull over for a chat, and as we passed the cyclist, we saw a sign on his back "Food".  We pulled over immediately.  We discovered Stanley Chen, was Taiwanese, and was cycling around Australia.  He looked very fit and an experienced cyclist.  But to our astonishment, he said he had been cycling for 4 hours, had only travelled 40k, and had no food!  The heat and the strong headwind were making cycling difficult.  He had wild camped the previous night, and run out of food.  It was 90k to the next roadhouse!  I made him a cheese sandwich,  and followed this with pineapple and yoghurt, bread and jam, and a litre of apple juice.  He was keen to eat anything available.  He said he had plenty of water on the bike (it was extraordinarily heavy - Jim lifted it).  We chatted with him for about half an hour in the van, and he was keen to get on his way.  He had a solar panel on the front of his bike, and various electronic kit, but his phone would not work, as there is no mobile coverage across the Nullabor.  We found his lack of preparation somewhat worrying, but he was unconcerned.  Still, at least he had the sense to put a notice on his back, indicating he needed food! 

Stanley Chen, cycling around Australia, with 90k to go to next roadhouse.

Distance travelled - 720 k.

10/11/11 Day 2 - Coolgardie-Caiguna

The first night sleeping in the campervan was a success.  It took us a few minutes to work out how to collapse the table, and use the tabletop to slot between the bench seats, to make up the bed, but Jim succeeded in his usual manner. 

We awoke early, made tea and a quick breakfast, and we hit the road by 5.45am.  The first town was Coolgardie.  The gold found here was alluvial gold.  There is gold in the rocks and geological movement has folded the rocks, and weathering and erosion has winnowed out the precious metal.  There are still a few backyard miners working the area, but the majority of workings are closed because richer gold deposits were found elsewhere. 

Coolgardie has a very wide main street.  This is because during the late 1800s, when the gold boom was at its height, camels were used for transport.  Camels are ideal pack animals in completely arid environments.  However if you have a train of camels, and want to turn them around, you need a big area, which is why the main street is so wide.  (Quite why no-one thought of walking them around a block, and maybe setting up a one-way town square, is beyond me).
Jim and our van on the main street at Coolgardie where it was wide enough to turn a camel train

Coolgardie's name is derived from aboriginal word coolcaby, meaning mulga trees at waterhole.

I rather liked the road sign for Widgiemooltha, another place with a rest area with facilities, which became another postcard for Lisa.  Widgiemooltha gets its name from the aboriginal word and was originally wagiemoola which was the name of a well in the area.  Understandably, wells and water sources were important in this environment.

We reached Norseman and refilled with fuel - $1.90 per litre.  Petrol prices were rising dramatically, which is unsurprising, given the extended distances that it had to be transported.  Norseman is the last small town before the Nullabor commences. 

The next piece of road is commonly known as 90 Mile Straight. I am not sure why, in a country that measures everything in kilometres, this road is measured in miles!  Jim drove for 90 miles without a bend requiring him to turn the steering wheel! There are places where the road ahead is so long, that it disappears out of sight, because of the curvature of the earth! This is where I am glad that Jim did not cycle from Sydney-Perth. The section from Norseman to Balladonia is 192k with no facilities at all.
Cathy at 90 mile straight.

Most places named across the Nullabor, are just one roadhouse building. Nothing else. Unsurprisingly prices are high. Passing trade is all the roadhouses have to make their money, and if they go out of business, there is no facility for vehicles.

Near the end of the day, we crossed into the Central Western Timezone.  This advanced the time by 45 minutes.  I find this really odd.  I understand moving the time forward by an hour - a nice round amount of time to adjust.  We have also encountered the half hour time change at other locations on this journey.  Not so sure about this - why such a small change?  What difference does half an hour make, other than to inconvenience people travelling?  But 45 minutes is completely beyond me.  Difficult to mentally adjust easily when working what time it is for someone you are telephoning.  Much easier to do an hour change.  Maybe someone will tell me.

Today the weather was hot. And Jim worked hard - driving all day, with little rest. There were plenty of rest areas provided - often just a piece of hardstanding a few metres away from the road, with maybe a toilet.  Plenty of signs stating "A microsleep can be fatal, Rest area ahead".  I expect there have been many accidents due to driver fatigue, so provision of rest areas is part of the Government safety campaign.

Approaching Caiguna we decided to set up camp, and found a small rest area just off the main road.  No services at all, but very peaceful and quiet. 

Distance travelled - 780k

Six day roadtrip to Melbourne - 9/11/11 Day 1 Perth-Coolgardie

Jim was itching to get on the road, but we needed to feed and walk the dogs, Miggie and Zorro, and conduct final checks.  The 35litre water tank was full, and so was the gas cannister for the cooker. We loaded the campervan with food for 6 days - soup and tins of fruit, home-made cake, bread, milk and tea - checked the oil and water and we were off by 8.30. 
Cathy and the campervan

Jim, chief driver and campervan

Filled up with petrol - $1.43 per litre. We made slow progress picking our way through traffic and carefully watching roadsigns.  Little were we to know that this was the last serious traffic we were going to see until we reached Adelaide and Melbourne, 4 days later.  Coming from London, we are used to heavy traffic virtually everywhere, and by our standards the traffic on our roadtrip was minimal.

The first thing we noticed, having left the Perth suburbs, was that there was a pipeline running alongside the road.  This was about 3 feet in diameter, and was a water pipeline that had been laid to supply the goldfields in Victorian times.  The original, exorbitantly expensive, water supply in the gold towns was created by using condensers to distil brackish water in the gold rich, but water starved areas.  Charles O' Connor the Engineer of Public Works, was a visionary who planned and built the water pipeline, powered by 8 steam powered pumping stations to lift water 355 m up to Calgoorlie, and this system is largely in use today and was a massive success.  Unfortunately, during the planning and building of the pipeline, he was the subject of massive criticism and ridicule for starting such an "unrealistic" task (does this sound familiar in today's media coverage?) and took his own life, 10 months prior to it opening. 

We regularly passed yellow roadsigns showing the road crossed both railway lines and the pipeline, and these signs became the subject of one of my postcards for the art project I am doing with my friend Lisa. 

We rested in Meckering where they had had an earthquake in 1968 which more or less levelled the town and the railway.  However, the heritage lobby had retained the distorted track as a memento of the event.  As a former railway employee, I found the buckled track fascinating.  It would certainly derail any train!
This railway line would derail any train!

As we approached Coolgardie, at about 5pm, we found a roadside campground, and parked for the night.  It was free, and had toilets, a fire hearth, and was in the middle of a group of eucalyptus trees.  The flies were persistent, and constant, and the 2 other campers wore nets over their hats.  Notably there was no water supply.  Jim is horrified that I'm going to write about the toilets but I found it quite intriguing.  Because there was no water supply on the site (remember all water is piped in to the towns, and this is a remote campsite), the toilets were described as a "ventilated vegetative composting system".  The toilet block had a corrugated iron wall around, and there was a gap at top and bottom of c6", then a roof over.   The toilet was a long drop system.  The instructions said to keep the toilet lid down, when not in use.  Much to my surprise there were no flies in the toilet block at all. Looking at the outside of the building, there was a comprehensive ventilation system to the composting area underneath the block.  The 2 ventilators were globe shaped wind fans, and were rotating fairly fast, even though there was only a light breeze.  I was amazed at how effective the system was - no smell, no flies and no need for water.  Much more pleasant than many public toilets I've used in the UK.
Eucalyptus bark

Stand of Eucalyptus trees

This was the first time I'd tried cooking in a campervan.  We were both tired, and dehydrated, so I just did soup and tinned fruit and yoghurt.  All high fluid and easy to prepare.  But even heating the soup made the campervan very, very hot, even with the ventilators open.  We had to have the door closed, because the flies were so persistent.  You can see why there is a stereotype of australians wearing a hat with corks on it. 

Daily mileage - (measured in kilometers?) Daily distance 462k.  All driven by Jim.  My hero.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Another set of results are online!

I had checked the Historical Issues in Art & Design page on Oasis, yesterday, and some of the results were listed.  So this morning, at 8am, I checked again just in case the last results had been entered overnight (highly unlikely I thought).  But at 9.30pm last night the final score was entered! 

Overall I achieved 89%!  Yippee!  This mark comprised several assessments. We had two short answer tests based on the lectures, both of which I scored 9/10.  The presentation (own choice - historical influences on Lucienne Day's textiles) I managed 78%.  The essay (own choice - Grayson Perry) scored 89%, with which I was absolutely delighted.  And finally there is an attendance/ contribution mark for which I scored 20/20.   This mark is easy - all you have to do is turn up and contribute.  Anyone who knows me will be aware I enjoy classes so always attend, and I'm always prepared to have my say - the only way I would drop marks is if the scoring system wanted me to be silent!

I thoroughly enjoyed this module, and have told the tutor so.  I've changed my planned module for next year, in order to do the next module in this series.  I do like to understand why artists use the subjects they do, and this is exactly what these lectures cover.  Roll on next year.

Monday, 7 November 2011

End of semester marks are starting to come in

I've just been on Oasis, the university computer system, just in case end of semester marks had been updated - they are due by 27 November.  And to my surprise, Private Lives, Public Issues, had been entered early.  To my delight I got 70.6%!  As I have not previously studied sociology, I had to work hard to keep up with the class, and it massively changed my thinking and writing style.  I am much more selective about the words I choose, and what I say, to back up my conclusions now. 

My breakdown was 18/30 for the article analysis (which I found incredibly difficult), and 24.6/30 for critical summaries (where each lecture, we had to identify key learning points, for you as an individual, state why they were important, and how we were going to apply them).  I was delighted to score 28/40 for my essay.  I chose to write about an art subject - Donatello's David - the paradox of secrecy.  This was all about how the homosexual meanings in this artwork have been concealed in many art history books because of the comparatively recent legalisation of homosexuality (in the UK) and the family values of Christian culture (in the US) controlling the anticipated sales of major art textbooks.  And I rushed this homework too.   I had started it really early, during tuition free week, and decided to hand it in early rather than extensive mulling and editing.This was because I had a severe tooth infection, and can react really badly to antibiotics, so decided to close off some work so I had less to fret about. 

And talking about dentistry, I have had extensive work on my tooth, 4 visits so far to prepare for a crown, and, much to my surprise, the University of Herts travel insurance covers the costs of dentistry!  This has cost approximately $2,000 (so far - one visit left!).  So UH insurance is excellent, and so is Dr Darabi at  Lifecare Dental, Perth.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A trip to Perth Art Gallery

It was wet and dreary yesterday, so I went for a trip to Perth Art Gallery.  This is a lovely gallery and I spent time in the Centenary Galleries downstairs, and in the 1920-1960 gallery on the ground floor. 

This gallery is not extensive (compared to the huge galleries I am used to in London) but has several good examples of work from a very wide range of art periods.  There were several artworks that represented periods I have just covered in Historical Issues in Art & Design, which captured my interest.  I very much like the layout inside the gallery, which is built in the structure of hexagons, and which gives an amazingly spacious feel.  A fellow student from the UK, Karen, is doing her dissertation on the feeling that is encountered in corners (yes, something quite obscure!) and until I had been to this gallery, I had no idea what this concept was.  But once I had been in a hexagonal gallery, I realised non-standard shapes give a totally different feel to a room.

In the Centenary Gallery I was struck by a large Doulton vase, decorated by Hannah Barlow, one of Doulton's top decorators.  It was a combination of art nouveau trailing lines, and scrafitto kangaroos, beautifully covered in slip.  Absolutely amazing.  Apparently Doulton played to the market in "the great south land" (Australia) by making work that appealed to affluent Australians around the time of the First World War. 

I continued the female artist theme by looking at the work of Margaret Preston and Marina Shaw. Margaret Preston was an artist who promoted the concept of Australian inspiration for truly Australian art, commencing at a time when modernism was becoming an international leader.  She wanted the Australian design language to become independent of Europe.  This was taken up by various artists in Australia who promoted regional expression in art and design through motifs from the artist's locale.  Marina Shaw, an artist and ceramic decorator, used WA and Australian flora and fauna - as demonstrated on a vase with WA kangaroo paw plant. 

However Marina Shaw also used symbols and motifs (spots, stripes and boomerangs) from indigeneous culture on a tea set that was on display at the gallery.  The card beside the teaset sagely observes that the teaset shows lack of awareness of cultural sensitivities regarding use of indigeneous symbols and queries the appropriateness of use of indigeneous imagery by a non-indigeneous artist.  While I agree with the sentiments of this, it opens a can of worms about who is entitled to use which imagery/symbols as an artist.  Where does one draw the line here? In the western world, one would copyright one's designs to prevent them (in theory) being ripped off.  But how do you preserve the integrity of local/indigeneous designs while crediting the skills of the artist and the intellectual property of the creator/community?  And with the problems of globalisation, where everything becomes a homogenous mass, available everywhere to everyone, how do you keep the integrity of a local style that truly represents a place?  How many of us have been on holiday, and been disappointed by the "international" hotel, the "international" food and cosmopolitan culture, when we wanted an authentic or different experience.  Or in our search for travel, glamour and difference, do we really want an adventure that we know will be safe, predictable and won't push our boundaries too far?

However, I had a lovely time looking at a lot of stunning applied art, much of which was by Perth women of the inter-war period, and I think I may follow up this theme by some background reading over this holiday.  Jim is out at running club at present (Sunday morning run) but if he has no other plans for the day, we might have a trip back to the Art Gallery, to see if they have a book on WA women artists.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

We're all going in a summer campervan!

Jim has confirmed a booking for us to take a campervan from Perth to Melbourne!  We've been to the garage where we will collect it on Tuesday and confirmed all the detail.  We have 7 days to deliver it to Melbourne.  Jim is now looking online to see whether there could be another vehicle requiring delivery from Melbourne to Brisbane, in about two week's time. 

We decided to leave on Wednesday, as we are dog-sitting for a day or two first.  Jim's sorting out the route, and I'm sorting out easily transportable food - which includes making fruitcake. 

I'm really looking forward to this as it seems ages since we had a holiday together.  Jim counts both his crossing of the USA and his tour of SW Australia as holidays, but we have not been away together since we went to Glasgow and York before and after Christmas 2010.  I feel I have worked constantly - from Jan-April I was still working 2 days a week as well my part-time studies, then from May-June I finished the UK university year, had a week off to prepare for travel, and then straight out here into a full time course from 26 June.  It's a hard life!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The plan for our summer holidays

Now I have finished the semester, Jim and I have turned our minds to what to do for the next 4 months.  Jim is running around the Transfercar Australia website.  Basically this website links campervan owners whose vehicles need to be returned after a one-way hire, with long distance drivers.  Jim wants to tour Australia, maybe going across from Perth to Brisbane (although our destination is completely flexible) and I am quite happy to have an easy week or so just sitting beside him, watching Australia go by.  Returning a campervan to origin means we would not have to pay car hire, or accommodation costs, just fuel.  This appeals to my student ethic and Jim's scottish thrift!  If all goes to plan, this is how we will spend most of November.

Me relaxing in the evening after semester has finished

Jim looking lean and mean on the boardwalk

Jim at the very tip of Salter Point

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Other students' work for Visual Inquiry

These students are a good bunch of people!

Mollie with portfolio

LeeAnne with 3D hexagons for architectural installation

Meg with modernist designs for an architectural installation

Lauren, radiant with portfolio

Cassie, with the hedge screen - what does it conceal?

Ellie's teapot design (she did not want her photo here, so it is her work only!)

Tracy with her mastery of computerised patterns

So given the class was Visual Inquiry - Reconsidering Traditions and Concepts, do you think we showed how pattern making can challenge traditions and concepts?

Reflections on marking systems

As I have finished my studies for this semester, I've been looking at the results I've achieved so far, in the mid-semester reviews for Pattern & Meaning and Visual Inquiry modules.  I continually reflect on marking systems, what they indicate, how students view them and how marking systems are used to convey information. 

My position is that I want to get a good mark, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all of my education.  I consider where my starting point was, what other factors influenced my outputs and whether I enjoyed the course content and the company of other people who are interested in the same specialist subjects.  I know I am not brilliant and the marks I achieve are through hard work, not through genius!  I've done many assessed courses in my time, both professional and vocational, and have worked with other students whose aspiration has varied from "I only want to pass" to "I'm a high achiever and only a Higher Distinction (or First) will do".  I am frequently astonished by people who get highly stressed or upset if they don't get the highest grade available.  (I get very stressed and my back plays up which is a good indicator if I am upset, but it's not over whether or not I get a top mark).  I also take into account whether the course content was to my taste and whether I liked what I made - often my conservative taste will reduce the score for originality etc.  If I liked what I made, and I can see it did not meet the originality/challenging nature of the spec, then I would expect the outcome to be lower, because I made what I liked, not what the assessors had defined on the assessment criteria.

I've looked at the mid semester results and find them interesting reading.  Factors that influence my interpretation are that when I have been a recruitment assessor, I have earned the reputation of being a hard marker - I only give points for explicit information gained, not implied information.  When I have been assessed, I have rarely gained an A grade (70%) during my UK education (I usually managed a B, because I lost points on completing, finishing and detail).  The data available to me here at Curtin is:

Class                            My score                Average            Median

Pattern & Meaning:  
Written work                 79%                      
Core practical                80%                          77.7               79

Visual Inquiry:
Core practical                 74%                          64                  74
Written work                  85%                          77                  88

So the Pattern & Meaning class gave me higher marks than I have ever achieved before.  This class was an absolute joy from day one.  I really enjoyed it from start to finish.  Given the closeness of the average (add all scores together and divide by number of participants, 13) and the median (score achieved by the middle person, student 7), it is likely we all scored well, and came out with a very high average.  But if you have a high average, this will skew a standard distribution curve.  So is the marking system reflecting high achievement all round, or is the marking system over-generous.  (I've done so much work since, that I can't remember what everyone else had done at this stage to draw a conclusion).

When it came to Visual Inquiry, I found the class very hard work.  I had to raise my game massively to keep up and struggled for the first half of the semester, possibly like quite a few others.  Yet the scores for practical work here show I was the median person (4/5th out of 8), yet the average is a lot lower than my result.  I suspect this indicates there were a cluster of us around 74% and a couple scraping a pass which reduced the average.   Had I been marking my practical work, I would not have given it 74%  (in the UK this would have been an A grade!).  On the written work, I found my article analysis heavy going and was astonished (which I concealed, and expressed delight instead) to get 85%!! My score was below the median, so I think there were a cluster of high scores at over 88%, with the average pulled down by a couple of basic passes.

Mind you, I'm not complaining about the good marks.  It's great to be able to send these results home to Herts.  I have not yet finished thinking about what the marks tell me.  Have I really raised my game sufficient to warrant these marks?  Is Australian education pushing my learning so I achieve more than in the UK?  Being a cynic - is the Australian system pushing out too many degrees with Distinction/ Higher Distinction?

There will be further reflections on comparative marking systems.  Let's hope it's not combined with tears at final assessment stage!