THIS WEEK'S FEATURE ARTICLES
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Sydney or the bush
For the record, as travellers we are not city people. As smallholders ourselves for many years, down on the farm at Green Acres with Oliver always held more appeal than with Lisa in Noooo York; Tom and Barbara Good’s backyard always more interesting than Jerry and Margo Leadbetter’s. However, when Sydney, in the form of an invitation to a friend’s special birthday party, beckoned, we decided it was timely to look over a few back fences – so to speak – in the Big Smoke. Well, we knew we weren’t going to spot Arnold, or Pinky and Perky over those fences, but we also planned to visit family, and the current Monet exhibition, in Canberra. A look at a few of those famous harbourside mansions and a dose of culture awaited us.
The public transport system in Sydney was a godsend. Within a day we could find our way from our accommodation in Potts Point to the right train station, ferry terminal or bus stop, and combine any of them. At every train station there are friendly volunteers or officials on the lookout for people like us. They either know where to send you, or can find out by consulting their phones. With an Opal card, travel for seniors is very cheap, and for others costs are also capped. We travelled to Canberra by train, a relaxing and comfortable four-hour journey, and returned by bus direct to the airport domestic terminal, a three-hour, convenient, but less interesting trip. Any holiday involving sight-seeing involves a bit of foot-slogging, but when that wears thin the ferries from Circular Quay are a great way to get a look at Sydney’s iconic attractions. Just catch a ferry up, down, or across the harbour. Hop off one, a returning ferry will appear soon, and the foot-sore and weary can start again in another direction. And the harbourside mansions are on full display; no need to look
Water, water, everywhere
There’s a lot of water around Sydney, and we spent a fair amount of time on that water. Apart from the Parramatta River, there’s the Hawkesbury – historic and scenic, and with several islands reached only by boat. The Riverboat Postman makes daily trips upriver delivering mail, and on Sundays travels in the opposite direction, taking passengers along for the ride with morning tea and lunch part of the deal. At each mail delivery spot there’s something interesting going on: a couple of white-bellied sea eagles are on the lookout for dinner; the self-proclaimed mayor of one of the islands sits enthroned on his jetty, wearing his ‘mayoral’ sash and waving regally. There’s the wreck of the old Parramatta, sister ship of the Yarra, a few waterfalls, mangrove trees, colourful and spectacularly-shaped sandstone formations, and secluded beaches. A couple of dogs have the impression the boat calls by simply to bring them a treat. Their owners to accompany them and collect the mail. The captain’s intriguing commentary includes pointing out Refuge Bay, a refuge for tall ships in bad weather, but also a secret training base for Z-Force (now what was that?) in World War II. A little-known fact, apparently, is that Refuge Bay provided a secure hide-away where much of our Constitution was written in pre-Federation days.
Soaking up the culture
Walking from Potts Point offers many distinctly different experiences. Kings Cross, they tell us, is tamer these days, but still interesting.
Within a stone’s throw are those showy, multi-million dollar mansions, but tucked away are some pretty ‘pocket’ parks. A little further on is Woolloomooloo. It’s a long walk around Garden Island, the Royal Australian Navy Base, with a lot of construction currently taking place, but between the upper and lower levels are a couple of interesting ‘stairs’, steep steps allowing shortcuts to the Domain, the Botanical Gardens, and the Finger Wharves. Athletes in training use these stairs for fitness – so stand aside as they streak endlessly up and down, or keep left. (The same sensible rule applies on escalators, allowing those in a hurry to belt up or down to get to their train.) Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is kept warm by queues of tourists whose ambition in life is to be photographed sitting in it, and the Opera House and bridge beckon visitors inwards and upwards. The historic Rocks area and museum invite more gentle wandering.
Free and easy
In these days of ‘alert’ or ‘alarm’ it was surprising how open and free our experience of the Big Smoke was. Again, at the Monet exhibition in Canberra restrictions seemed few and such open access to these precious exhibits was a privilege. Checking my map and journal for some details, I now see so much more we could have done, calling us to another visit perhaps? Australian lyric poet Les Murray tells the story of the transition of Sydney from its bush origins in colonial days to cosmopolitan city in his poem, Sydney and the Bush, but says, “When Sydney and the Bush meet now, there is no common ground.” Perhaps we found some ‘common ground’ Les Murray couldn’t, for in many ways Sydney seems a collection of small cities, or perhaps a big city with many smaller hearts. Maybe we could be that sort of city people after all.
Poo is not taboo
Euphemisms are a useful way of saying rude things in a cover up way. Nothing new there. Of course, it all depends on who considers a certain word to be a rude thing, and how attitudes or manners change. Words relating to bodily functions, considered to be too rude for polite conversation, have always had euphemistic substitutes. Remember when we used to say: “number one’s” and “number two’s”? I don’t need to spell it out, except perhaps for the older generation, but kids are not so coy. Children love rude words – they always have. There are books, which I have been pressed into reading to my grandchildren, aged five and three, containing words like bum and fart! Shock horror to Grandma! After all, everybody’s got a bum. The “Bum Book”, written by Kate Mayes, illustrated by the delightful drawings of Andrew Joyner is a cheeky book, considered to be a celebration of your bum, my bum and the whole world’s bum. Kids big and small find it a hoot. No euphemisms are used in the making of this entertaining story.
Although poo and bum are, or were, rude words, times are changing. Leading the change is the admission that these words are related to normal life and we don’t have to be so coy. The recent launch, about a year ago, of the Pooseum at Richmond caused some surprise and possibly slight embarrassment among the older members of the population, but kids accept it for what it is – a scientific explanation about how animals “go to the toilet”. Sorry, I couldn’t help that euphemism from slipping out. There are many words for poo, including scats, used especially when related to animal excrement. The Pooseum is a unique science museum dedicated solely to animal poo. Prepare to be fascinated and intrigued by the work of veterinarians, biologists, ecologists and paleo-scatologists. The Pooseum is an unusual tourism experience, an idea from Karin Koch, who is the creator and owner of the Pooseum in Tasmania. With a background in arts, tourism and event management, she was looking for a new project, when she read a story about a small caterpillar being able to launch its poo up to 1.5 metres away. Karin considered this to be quite an achievement. She was intrigued and started to do some research on animal faeces. The idea for a poo museum was born. This is what she has written about the reasons behind the museum: “Humans too often feel embarrassed talking about bowel movements, a normal bodily function, because it’s considered gross. Animals see poo in a very different light. For them poo is a valuable resource. They use it to live and lay eggs in it, mark their territory, catch a meal, and attract sexual partners. Faeces are eaten, played with, and used for self-defence. Some animals evade their predators by looking like poo! If you would like to know why koala joeys eat their mother’s droppings, how bats avoid soiling themselves, which animals are responsible for poo showers, or how some owls use the faeces of other animals to catch their prey, or want to see some real Tasmanian devil, quoll and emu poo and fossilised dinosaur droppings, then the Pooseum is the right place for you.”
Entertainment aplenty at the Pooseum
Not only is the Pooseum entertaining, there is lots and lots of information on animal poo! Some of the things you may learn at the Pooseum: why not every poo smells nasty; how dung from farms and zoos is used to produce electricity; why a dog in Queensland tracks koala poo; why looking like bird poo is life-saving; why you shouldn’t walk barefoot on a tropical beach; how vanillin can be produced from cow dung; and much, much more. It really is fascinating and very entertaining. If you are looking for a fun and interesting thing to do with young people, or just want to overcome your need for using euphemisms for the normal bodily functions, the Pooseum in Bridge Street, Richmond is the place to go. My little grandkids are begging to go.
Plastic free July
Golly gosh-lings! Where does the time go! We are halfway through July – July is supposed to be a plastic free month. If you forgot, as had I, it’s still time to take stock of the reasons for being plastic free. July is also a time to take stock of our own contribution to the plastic problem. Australia should really be taking the plunge and putting an end to single-use plastic. Plastic is an incredible product – versatile, strong, durable and made to last forever. Most plastic objects are just used once before they end up in landfill and the oceans. One website that keeps me informed about the environment and the problem with plastics is the World Wildlife Foundation. They have a response form for interested persons to contact their politicians, to urge them to phase out single use plastics and fix the urgent waste crisis now. It’s a good idea and could work, in conjunction with us all changing our attitudes, our spending and our habits. While rust never sleeps, plastic is forever. It will eventually break down, with the aid of sunlight and time, but it gets everywhere…
The ten worst single-use plastics
The ten worst single-use plastic products are: straws, stirrers, balloon sticks (and balloons), cotton buds, coffee cups and lids, cutlery, cups containers and plates. These products are part of a system of consumerism, involving our choices and our behaviour. The result is our responsibility. What a depressing thought. Don’t despair, we can do something about it. Think, for a start. What can we do without? What can we recycle? What are the repercussions if we don’t? Locally, our country’s beautiful beaches, breathtaking nature and picturesque coastlines are threatened by an increasingly urgent waste crisis that we need to address now. From WWF, here is a statistic to ponder on: “On average, Australians use 130kg of plastic per person each year. Only 12% of that’s recycled. More frightening still, up to 130,000 tonnes of plastic will find its way into our waterways and into the ocean. Once in the ocean, it endangers our marine wildlife. Studies have also shown that it has begun to enter the food chain and onto our plates.” Multiply the damage from our nation by millions, billions of users worldwide and you can get an idea of the problem. The convenience (and versatility) of plastic – especially that which is used for just a few minutes, or less, means it is thrown away. It ends up in landfills, by the sides of roads, as litter in parks and floating in our oceans for hundreds of years before breaking down into microplastics. The truth is, plastic is everywhere – and it doesn’t disappear.
There are eco-friendly alternatives for single-use plastics, including the worst culprit, plastic straws – what a shocker. In Australia, 2.47 billion plastic straws end up in landfill. They’re lightweight. Plastic straws can and do find their way into the oceans, where they are dangerous. Imagine being a sea turtle with a plastic straw lodged painfully in your nostrils. Alternatives are: stainless steel straws, bamboo straws, pasta straws and rice straws. If you like the flexibility of plastic straws, there are other eco-friendly alternatives including paper straws, reusable silicone straws and compostable plant-based straws. Or best of all – and when possible, choose to go straw-free! An alternative for plastic drink stirrers are reusable glass or bamboo stirrers, or spoons! Or try a stick of celery, carrot or cucumber. Or you could go herbal and try a stick of rosemary. As for balloons, and their sticks, they go up, but then they come back down. Balloons may be a nice decorative item for celebrations, but they’re one of the highest-risk plastic debris items for seabirds and not great (deadly) for marine life. Not only are the balloons themselves deadly, but so are the plastic sticks that often come with them. Try celebrating without them. Plan a planet-friendly party and skip the balloons. Choose more eco-friendly decoration options like paper lanterns, recycled bunting, DIY bubble blowers and flowers. These are just a few suggestions. If you need more information, check out the World Wildlife Foundaton website: www.wwf.org.au
Following on from a previous piece about the Lewis chess set, I got to thinking more about games people play now and have played over the years. Just imagine those winter days and nights in ‘olden times’ with no radio or TV. Reading would have been eye straining with only candle or fire light. On http://www.localhistories.org/board.html there is a potted history of board games which will take some readers back a bit. “Many new board games were introduced in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ludo was originally an Indian game. It came to Britain circa 1880. Snakes and Ladders was introduced in Britain in 1892. Monopoly was introduced in 1935. It was followed by Cluedo in 1949 and Trivial Pursuit in 1982”.
Large quantities of gaming material have been unearthed over the past 150 years from Viking boat burials. Dating from the 7th to 11th centuries, most of it consists of checker-like pieces constructed from glass, whale bone, or amber. These pieces range from ordinary discs to ornate figurines and are usually uniform in shape and size, save for one prominent king piece, known as the hnefi. The archaeologist Mark Hall recently chronicled the contents of 36 burials containing such pieces in a 2016 article for ‘The European Journal of Archaeology’. This material, he says, indicates the game (chess) was much more than a frivolous way to kill time between raids. “Its presence in these burials suggests it was an aspect of everyday life that was desirable to see continued,” he says, as well as “a significant element that helped define the status of the deceased.”
According to the archaeologist David Caldwell, author of The Lewis Chessmen Unmasked, chess dates back to sixth-century India, and its origins are possibly even older. By the Viking Age, it had also reached Europe. “Both hnefatafl (a similar game) and chess were played side by side,” he says. “It is not always clear from early sources which game is being referred to, but double-sided boards are known with one side suitable for one game and the other for the other game.” Archaeologists have also found gaming kits in graves thought to be there to serve to remember or commemorate the status and skill of the deceased and to make it available for the deceased in the afterlife!
So, chess has been a favourite of many for numerous years. There is evidence that in the 17th century the rich played board games like chess and backgammon (a backgammon set was found on the wreck of the Mary Rose. It is the same as a modern one).
Chess is ideally played face to face but it is now possible to play with partners around the world online. On just one site ‘Chess.com’ I can see the statistics “members today 29,660,621, games today 3,022,460, players online 63,769” – up over 3 million since I last checked (pun intended!).
There are many more sites like this for ‘games’ sometimes thought of as an addiction. A game addiction is defined as “the compulsive playing of computer or video games, such that it interferes with everyday life”.
But, given the demographics of ‘lone households’, for many could it not be a way of connecting with others?
The 2016 census showed us that “Almost one household in four was a lone person household. This increased from one in five households in 1991. Of the 2 million people living alone on Census night, over half (55%) were female. Women living alone tended to be older than men who lived alone. The median age of females living on their own was 64 years, compared to 54 years for males.”
For the many living alone, for whatever reason, it is easy to see how ‘gaming’ can be a way of connecting up with others through playing online.
And now we seniors are being encouraged to play online games to keep our minds active. Games can be found by typing in “Free brain games” into your favourite search engine. We are told that memory games, math games and word games help to increase reasoning skills and potential. Some research has also indicated that you may be able to delay the development of dementia by helping your mind to stay active.
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