Thursday, December 31, 2009

Today's Walk - No Feathers but Cross Koalas


Just a set of photos from today's rainy summer walk.

A flock of pelicans.

This Koala wasn't cross, when I took the photo a few years ago at Mornington 
Peninsula, south of Melbourne:

Cressida Campbell
Eucalypt Forest, 2000
Woodblock Print,
62 x 121 cm

Wednesday, December 30, 2009



Finally, after the Christmas break I managed to do my regular 1.5 hour walk (I 
try to do it a few times a week).  I take the same route most of the time 
(although if I do a run, I do a shorter one).  It could get boring, but I've got a 
great incentive to do it, which is listening to podcasts on my iPod.  My favourites 
are most of the Slate Magazine ones, NPR's 'This American Life' (early this 
morning in bed I listened to nightmarish stories in an 'episode' called 'Party 
School', which was about appalling excesses of Penn State University rowdy 
students), and NPR's 'Fresh Air'.  From the BBC I subscribe to the 'Media Report', 
'Arts and Ideas', and 'Front Row Highlights'. The New Yorker Fiction podcast is 
always very enjoyable, but it comes out only once per month. I just listened to 
author Junot Diaz reading Edwidge Danticat's short story "Water Child", with a 
pre- and post- reading discussion about the piece with Junot and Debra Treisman 
from the New Yorker Magazine.

'Some of your ears may be purely ornamental'.  Vladimir Nabokov to his students 
during a lecture of his...  (learned this from Slate's Audio Book Club that I 
listened today, the book subject was Nabokov's 'Laura').

Walking while listening to these requires some concentration, so usually my eyes 
are downcast, making me often notice feathers aside the road.  I've got to a 
habit of picking them up, bringing them home, and sticking them to a box (see 

Today I found two feathers, one of Cockatoo's and another I'm not sure:

Between podcasts I came to think about how Michael Riley had photographed his 
iconic feather images from his Cloud series.  I though maybe he used a mirror to 
lay the feather on, with a reflection of sky in the background.  To test this theory 
I did exactly this and here are two results:

Michael Riley
Untitled, from the series cloud
- Cloud series
- Feather 2000
Photograph, chromogenic pigment print
110 x 155 cm, Edition of 5

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Woody Pear, Xylomelum pyriforme


Yesterday, on our dog walk, we decided to take a slightly different route: doing 
so, we bumped into our near neighbour, a fellow pug owner named Damo. He 
was driving along Plateau Road in his 'down to earth' car, as opposed to his usual 
red Mustang convertible with Rocketboy usually taking the passenger seat to 
enjoy the breeze. No Rocky this time, and Damien stopped his vehicle in the 
middle of the road to ask how the boys were. I asked him about Rocketboy. The 
thing is Rocketboy has been very sick for some time now (he just turned 15), and 
everybody in the neighbourhood seems to be quite concerned about him. Rocky 
is still getting worse, but apparently he still wishes to be with us, so he's hanging 

We actually wanted to take this route to see, if we'd find some more fallen 
Woody Pear seed-pods. We've got some two dozen already, but I'm collecting 
more for our artist friend Kurt, who wants to draw the shapes of them.

Apparently our area is the only place in Sydney region, where there Woody Pears 
are growing in the wild.

We were lucky - we found five pods, usually it's only about a few per year!

Here's one 'pear' still on the tree, outside Damien's place:

Damien is the lead singer of a band called The Celibate Rifles (he's also a well 
known sports commentator in Australia). Here's some information about the band 
and Damien on the ABC website:


Playing stripped-down, loud, and fast Ramones-inspired guitar rock, the Celibate 
Rifles were one of the earliest punk bands to emerge during the post-Radio 
Birdman/Saints era.

They exploded out of the gates in 1982 with a series of records (released in 
Australia only) fuelled by high-speed guitars, wah-wah-strangulated solos, and 
cartoon-ish, tongue-in-cheek lyrics.

Playing initially for crowds of hard rock-loving surfers, it didn't take long for the 
Rifles to develop a following especially for their 1985 release of Quintessentially 
Yours, a lengthy EP that was a collection of tracks from earlier albums.

Lovelock has also released a solo album (It's a Wig, Wig, Wig,World) with 
members of the Church.

Damien Lovelock with Rocketboy

Here's one 'pear' from our 'fruit basket':

They have two seeds in the woody pod, here's one we found that hadn't fallen 
from the pod when it split:

See here for a nice story about Woody Pears: 

Edward Michen (1862-1913) Xylomelum pyriforme (Woody Pear)
from: 'The Flowering Plants and Ferns of New South Wales - Part 2' (1895)
by J H Maiden

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Architectural Monsteras


Lazing in the bed this morning my eyes turned to the 'Swiss Cheese Plant' 
(Monstera deliciosa) in the corner. Nothing new about this, since I've been 
marvelling how it's been sprouting these wonderful new leaves for the last few 
weeks. The thing is I picked this particular plant up (well, grabbed, very quickly, 
although they are plentiful in Sydney, in gardens and wild) while on a walk with 
the boys about a year ago, and it's taken its time establishing itself amongst 
these Alvar Aalto pieces of furniture. And that's exactly the direction my thoughts 
wandered towards. I can remember the Monstera plants at the foyer of Helsinki's 
Finlandia Hall - lining the large windows of this space designed by one of the 
masters of modern architecture, Alvar Aalto. Hmm, we really need to put the 
plant in a nicer pot!

I've never visited it, but Noormarkku's Villa Mairea in Finland (the most famous 
Alvar Aalto residential house design) is another place I associate Monsteras and 
Aalto with: They are climbing up the famous bamboo style staircase, with the 
aerial roots hanging out freely:

I don't know how much the architects have a say on the design of the interiors of 
their creations (although Aalto was famous for having a holistic approach to his 
works, sometimes designing everything from door handles to lamps to furniture 
for special consignments), so the use of Monsteras in interiors may be just a 
fashion of the time, or a preference of the occupant of the house. Having said 
that, they do have an architectural quality suited for large open spaces.

Note: Doing further research I found a picture of one of Aalto's first sketches for 
the Villa Mairea staircase, which still had the supports in real bamboo wood, and 
more importantly, vines climbing on them. They're not Monsteras, so maybe the 
commissioner of the house, Aalto's friends Maire and Harry Gullichsen, had the 
final say:

Here's how the architect/designer couple Charles and Ray Eames used the plant 
in their own home, the Eames house, in Los Angeles:

And here's an image of an interior of a Frank Lloyd Wright house, the Price 
Tower in Oklahoma City. In this case I would guess the plant is a later 
introduction to the space, although the image is from a restoration project where 
they tried to bring back the building's interiors and furnishings, including textiles 
and fabrics from 1956.

The general plan of the Villa Mairea is reminiscent of the guitars painted by the Cubists, with the 
sauna complex forming the fingerboard and the swimming pool the sound hole. At the corner of 
the main building's kitchen wing, crossing the lower end of the sauna area, are four laboriously 
cast, rounded beams which seem to have no structural or technical justification. Asked about their 
significance, Paul Bernoulli, Aalto's assistant architect in charge of the Villa Mairea building site, 
replied with a laugh: "They're part of Alvar's game." I believe that it is plausible to take the beams 
as the guitar strings in Aalto's collage, and that this was part of the game Aalto played with his 
Cubist friends Georges Braque and Fernand Léger. My interpretation is of course purely 
speculative, and its main purpose is to stress the way Aalto's work fitted in with the heritage of 
modern art while expressing his Finnish cultural background."

Alvar Aalto: Points of Contact
Alvar Aalto Museum 1994

Exhibition of Aalto furniture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York , 1938.

Georges Braque
Aria de Bach, 1913
Private collection
Height: 61.91 cm (24.38 in.), Width: 46.04 cm (18.13 in.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Backyard Pool


While seeking relief from the humid heat we had yesterday I took a plunge in our 

pool. Backyard pools have been in the news lately with a spate of reports of 
young kids tragically drowning in them - with inadequate or missing pool fences 
(which are compulsory in New South Wales).

This is from our local freebie Manly Daily:

Backyard pools concern
THE tragic consequences of inadequate safety in the state’s backyard pools has been highlighted in the 2009 NSW Drowning Report, which shows that 70 per cent of children aged under five who drowned this year did so in a backyard pool.
One hundred and four people drowned in NSW between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009 - nine per cent more than the previous year.
The rate of drowning was higher for most age cohorts compared to the five-year average, the main exception being the 45-54 year age group, which fell dramatically.
The ocean, beaches and rivers accounted for 60 per cent of the locations of drownings and alcohol was a factor in half of all drownings.
But it is the number of children drowning in backyard pools that has safety authorities worried.
And inadequate or sub-standard safety fencing is usually the reason children were able to gain access to the pool in which they drowned, the report reveals.
“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through to pool owners that it is vital to check and maintain pool fences all year around to protect young children from drowning in backyard pools,” Royal Life Saving NSW chief executive officer David Macallister said.
But another factor in the number of child fatalities is the inability of most people to perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Community Services Minister Linda Burney has announced the release of a DVD called Home Pool Safety in a Box, which encourages parents to learn CPR and highlights ways to protect children around backyard pools, including increased parental awareness and a greater emphasis on safety education. To get a copy call 9634 3700.

Now, I do have a nagging feeling about our pool for other reasons as well. I feel 
guilty for wasting our precious water in New South Wales and Sydney: the dams 
providing our drinking water are still well below the levels of past averages. 
Furthermore, the fact that the New South Wales State Government decided a few 
years ago that the expensive and energy consuming de-salination plant is needed 
to supplement unreliable water resources is the way to go makes it worse. 
Putting aside the political reasons for the decision, there are some worthwhile 
issues to consider, such as this list of Pros and Cons from an organisation called 
Austconserv ( - AustConserv strives to promote eco friendly 
businesses and creates eco awareness around Australia):

What are the Pros & Cons of Desalination?

So what are the pros and cons of the desalination process as being an alternative means to acquire fresh water? Take a look at the following list:
The Pros
  • A desalination plant can supply millions of litres of water in a particular city, regardless of rainfall.
  • The ocean is considered to be an untapped fresh water resource, so why should it not be used?
  • Desalination guarantees that there will always be a supply of fresh water, even during the drought season.

The Cons
  • The desalination process itself requires a significant amount of energy to operate.
  • The desalination process has an end result of concentrated brine which, when pumped back out to sea, has a potential effect of damaging the sanctity of marine life.
  • Environmentalists believe that desalination will result to increased greenhouse gas emissions.
  • From an overall perspective, building a de-salination plant is not a cost-effective solution at all when compared to other methods like water recycling and harvesting of storm water.

The Verdict: Does Australia Really Need More Desalination Plants?

Currently, there are desalination plants which are being built in Sydney. The locations of desalination plants which are to be built in the near future include Wonthaggi, Victoria and another one in Perth.
As mentioned earlier, the Sydney desalination plant will be powered by renewable energy resources so that the effects of greenhouse gases can be eliminated. Last December of 2007, the government of South Australia also announced that another desalination plant will be built at Port Stanvac in Adelaide.
With such constructions going on, does this mean that there really is a need for the government to be building more desalination plants? Sure, this process of purifying seawater and ridding it of salt for human consumption is a seemingly novel aspect, but there are still environmental issues which need to be addressed.
The desalination process is still an imperfect science, and further studies need to be made to ensure that it will not cause further harm to the environment.
However, given the fact that the shortage of water supply is something that Australians face on a seasonal basis - especially during drought - this alternative solution of adding more desalination plants is something that is worth pursuing.

Note though, that our situation could be worse: we could be using electricity to warm the pool the year round. We don't, we use solar heating to extend our swimming season by a couple of months, during the summer we don't need to heat it at all (the overall that makes about 8 months of pleasant swimming).

David Hockney
Sun On The Pool 1982
Composite Polaroid, 24 3/4 x 36 1/4 in.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Ticks


Two days till Xmas. It's been a muggy day in Sydney, which is a bit odd, since the 
wind's also up. We're expecting the remnants of the Kimberly's cyclone Laurence 
reaching us on Christmas day, with the rain and such. Not that the weather 
bothers us too much, since we don't celebrate Christmas - the garden could use 
some good rain though.

We went to St Ives on Monday for bushwalking. We've never done this particular 
track, and were pleasantly surprised by the tranquility of the Garigal National 
Park area there. Furthermore, the number of flowering plants was quite 
exceptional for summer (the best time for spring flowers is August).

This morning I made yet another gruesome find. As usual, I took the boys out for 
a walk in the afternoon, and today I felt a tick on George. It was the dreaded 
Australian Paralysis Tick (Ixodes holocyclus):

Now, these pests are a particular problem here where we live, at Sydney's 
Northern Beaches. Both George and Bennie have had them once, both times 
needing antivenom and a night in the vet hospital for observation. They can be 
fatal. Here are the symptoms every dog owner here should know and recognise:

- Weakness in back legs. Walking along then sitting suddenly
- Fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting
- Excessive breathing an panting, even grunting noises

By the way, the two little 'horns' on the opposite site of its mouth are something 
called Hypostome:

A hypostome (also called the maxilla, radula, labium or Unterkiefer), is a calcified harpoon-like 
structure near the mouth area of certain parasitic arthropods including ticks and mites (Order 
Acari), that allows them to anchor themselves firmly in place on a host mammal while sucking 
blood. This mechanism is normally so strong that removal of a lodged tick requires two actions: 
One to remove the tick, and one to remove the remaining head section of the tick.

In the past we've learned how to use force to pull these off; these barbs are 
really embedded on the skin. We called our vet Ross to find out if we need to 
bring George in. Apparently it is not necessary right away, because there're risks 
involved with the antivenom treatment. So we'll be observing him for the next 
few days, and if any symptoms arise (because of gradual spreading of the tick 
poison on his body), it's time for serious treatment then. Note all you dog lovers:  
always check with your vet for the correct action for your own dog or cat.


Francisco de Goya, Spanish, 1746 - 1828
The Marquesa de Pontejos,
c. 1786, oil on canvas, 210.3 x 127 cm
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (1937.1.85)

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