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Australia Day Four: In which we spot Gidget

This trip is different from any other I’ve taken. There is no rush. I do not have to pack every day with the maximum number of sights seen because I have time. It is messing with my brain. I don’t expect to have plenty of time.

My brain is also struggling with the typical idea-versus-reality thing. It is summer here. I packed for sun. I looked forward to dinner on the deck overlooking the harbor. I prepared to walk all over the place. It is raining. Yes, I know I will not melt in the rain. I even have a new rain slicker that makes me look like a slightly possessed garden gnome with a bad case of Royal Doulton (I like it. Brent and T. find it somewhere between amusing and horrific. No one will think they dressed me.). But it is Not The Same.

This is useful to know, if not entirely pleasant. I may want to rethink my sense of time and the pointlessness of expecting anything in particular from weather.

The good news is: lots of museums here. T. and I went to the Museum of Sydney this morning. It is built at the spot of first contact between the First Fleet and the people who were here already. Later, the first Government House was built on the same spot. As Sydney grew and the building became more and more inadequate, it was replaced. The museum both preserves and interprets the various uses of the site.

Both museums we have visited so far have been remarkable for their sensitivity to multiple viewpoints and for their careful presentations. The items we saw had been carefully placed in context, or perhaps a matrix of contexts, allowing many layers of meaning to exist simultaneously and providing a lot to think about. But that is a digression.

Before we even entered the museum, we got to see art. This sculpture was created by a surfer and artist, who envisioned it as a wave that got all dressed up in sticks and came to hit the land. In the background, you can see some of another sculpture called “Edge of the Trees” that evokes the viewpoint of the native people as the First Fleeters arrived:



Inside, we saw models of the First Fleet ships, enlivened by catalogs of the sometimes odd cargo (something like 700 petticoats? For very few women? Cross-dressing convicts?) and little sketches of various passengers and their personal journeys. T. liked them probably best of everything we saw.

The big exhibit was about surfing. It was awesome to see the giant “toothpick” boards, the period swimwear (I saw some Grandma Marian specials, for those of you who knew and remember her), the surf music, and the general coolness of it all. There was an interactive activity for children like me where I made this surfer:



I made T. make one as well, so I could have both a boy and a girl, but I only took her picture.

Another fascinating exhibit bored the pants off T.R. Apparently, I am much more into the concept of meta-museums than he is, which is not surprising. Photographer Robyn Stacey took artifacts from the historic houses of NSW and arranged them into breathtaking still-lives. The objects, historical in themselves, gain an almost archetypal nature arranged as art. The photos give them new contexts (I seem to be all about context today. Norman Juster would be pleased.) Using my great moral fiber, I restrained myself from buying the $70 book version and settled for a $17 set of cards and a free postcard.

I really liked the exhibit about the Gadigal people (the specific native group that the convict ships encountered on landing) because it was not just a half-hearted politically correct gesture, but rather a celebration of a fascinating culture. Among other things, the exhibit recognizes that the resilience and adaptability of aboriginal culture has kept it vibrant in spite of terrible attacks and subsequent obstacles.

Because I could see that T. was not nearly as excited as I was about the museum, I offered him a chance to pick another thing to do. He pointed out that we have seen no uniforms yet this trip, but deferred his decision until after lunch. Falafels eaten, he opted for coming home and picking next time.

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