Category Archives: calendar

Open House in Brisbane 2016

Next weekend (8-9 October) is Open House, Brisbane, when a wide variety of buildings are thrown open to the public.

open-house-2016

The idea began in England, where there has been an Open House London since 1992, but in the last few years the idea has spread more widely. Melbourne has been involved since 2008, and in all other capitals as well – Brisbane, Sydney, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth now have open days as well. Nothing yet in Darwin, by the look of it, and I haven’t checked out our regional cities.

The aim is to open up interesting buildings that are not normally accessible to the general public. Private institutions such as clubs and societies, government offices, commercial buildings that are old, or beautiful, or interesting – or all three – are open for us, the curious public, to have an annual snoop around.

I was lucky enough to be in London one year, quite accidentally, on its Open House weekend. With more preparation and more stamina, I might have seen more, but as it was, I spent a happy hour or so pottering around Marlborough House. The building is now the Commonwealth Secretariat, and usually closed to visitors.

Marlborough House was built as a town house for John and Sarah Churchill, first Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, and is just the sort of pied-à-terre you might expect from a couple whose idea of a country shack was Blenheim Palace. Marlborough House wallows in stucco ornamentation, gilded cornices and chandeliers. Sarah Churchill first hired Sir Christopher Wren – as you do – but sacked him, presumably for not being sufficiently over the top. John Churchill may have beaten Louis XIV’s armies on the field, but Louis got his own back architecturally. Along the rear of the building is a long gallery which was clearly influenced by Versailles’s gallerie des glaces.

This room is now the main conference room, and it is almost entirely filled with an enormous table, large enough so that every member of the British Commonwealth can sit down together in a round table discussion. Except that the table is not round, but an extended oval. The seating is arranged alphabetically around the circumference, from A to Z, starting at the middle of one long side. This arrangement means that M for Malta can happily chat across the narrow axis to A for Antigua or Z for Zambia, but G for Guyana might have difficulty communicating with S for Singapore along the long axis.

When I was there about 15 years ago, relations between Australia and Malaysia were still tetchy* after years of very personal antagonism between Prime Ministers Paul Keating of Australia and Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, and visions of them glowering at each other across the table during heads of government meetings really made my day. So it was a bit of a disappointment to learn that Keating and Mahathir never met there, and the seating is laid out as it was at a much earlier Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 1969.

As the role of the Commonwealth inevitably declines, no doubt eventually Marlborough House will be recycled once again. Goodness knows what they’ll do with that table. They will need to break it up to get it out the door, but I suppose that’s how they got it in there in the first place.

Meanwhile, Brisbane’s Open House day offers some interesting possibilities, though there will be fewer nymphs, and less stucco generally. Tattersall’s Club has a splendid Daphne Mayo frieze, the Masonic Memorial Temple has terrific black and white marble decorations, and the former Treasury Building, now the Treasury Heritage Hotel, includes a tour of the office of the Minister for Lands.

It should be a good weekend.

*They are again, thanks to the Hooray Henrys at the Formula 1 race the other day.

Apologies – this is an update of my post from 2013. Three years ago I was complaining that neither Sydney nor Hobart had Open House days – now they do 🙂
On the other hand, the Irish Club, which I urged people to visit 3 years ago, has since closed 😦

For another, architectural, perspective on the Open House phenomenon, this article by Susan Holden in The Conversation is worth reading.

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Christmas in July?

Colonists in 19th century Australia always found it difficult celebrating Christmas at midsummer. The strangeness of coping with the Christmas festivities in hot weather is a common theme in their letters home.

Today, most Australians have adjusted. Christmas food is usually cold and relies on such seasonal specialties as prawns and mangos. But that leaves a gap that gets filled, often enough, with ‘Christmas in July’ celebrations – an excuse to turn on the oven, cook a turkey, and binge on mince pies and Christmas puddings. It is now a binge that has totally broken its links with either the Christian religious festival or the winter solstice festivals of pre-Christian Europe.

advert for Christmas in July

For the colonists, though, Christmas still had important religious significance, but it was also a way of keeping in touch with the rituals they had left behind, so they grimly celebrated the feast day, cooking and eating the heavy roasts and puddings they remembered from their British childhoods.

James Macarthur, watercolour on ivory, c.1820

James Macarthur, watercolour on ivory, c.1820

I was intrigued, then, to discover an early colonist thinking about moving Christmas to mid-winter as far back as 1827. James Macarthur, son of the more famous John, visited the Australian Agricultural Company’s headquarters at Port Stephens in December 1827. The place was still very primitive, with most people living in bark huts or tents, but understandably the new settlers made a big deal of Christmas Day. In his journal of the visit, James recorded:

We dined today on the Verandah where we kept up the good old customs of our ancestors, by being very merry & by eating plentifully of roast Beef & plum pudding – notwithstanding the difference in temperature between mid winter in England & mid summer in Australia a trifling variation of some sixty degrees of Fahrenheit….

A Corroboree of the Natives close to the Verandah finished the amusements of the day.

James had lived in England as a boy, but he was Australian born, so perhaps that is why he considered the possibility of moving Christmas to mid-winter:

I have always thought it would be a publick benefit (if practicable without heterodoxy) to change the eating and drinking part of this festival to a more temperate season of the year – At present too the Xmas holidays happen just at the Farmers’ busiest moment in the midst of harvest wool packing &c – Nothing can be more ill timed – In the month of June there is no operation of importance going forward & besides John Bull might then indulge as freely as at home without endangering his health.

I suspect that James was more concerned with getting greater profit from the workers than with endangering their health, but it is true that in the northern hemisphere, Christmas came at the slowest point of the agricultural year. In the southern hemisphere, there was more to do in December.

James was only musing to himself about the possibility of making the change – but farmers did once petition the South Australian government to change the Christmas holiday to April, so that their children could help bring in the harvest.

Reference: Journal kept by James Macarthur of a visit to Port Stephens, December 1827, in Australian Agricultural Company (London Office), General Despatches, 78/1/6, in Noel Butlin Archives, ANU.

Twelfth Night

Not that you’ve probably noticed, but tonight is Twelfth Night – the evening before the Feast of the Epiphany that marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Traditionally this was the day that the Three Kings (aka Three Wise Men) visited the baby Jesus.

Twelfth Night celebrations

Celebrating Twelfth Night in style. January, from the Tres Riches Heures of the Duc du Berry, in Wikipedia

Here in Australia we have two ways of dealing with holidays. There are those that self-evidently must be celebrated on the date itself: Christmas, New Year’s Day, Anzac Day – and those that get shuffled off to extend the nearest weekend with an additional Monday: Labor Day, Queen’s Birthday. Good Friday and Easter meet both criteria, having the good grace (pun intended) to constitute a long weekend anyway.

Australia Day, on 26 January, has recently been upgraded from ‘nearest Monday when we can all veg out at the beach’ to ‘the day itself, and it’s about time you replaced those reindeer antlers on the car with Australian flags.’ But the traditional day for taking down the Christmas decorations was Twelfth Night. Continue reading

Remember, remember, the fifth of November!

In Australia, Halloween has recently become popular, at least amongst children – what’s not to like about an occasion that gives kids a socially sanctioned reason to be out at night, wear silly costumes and put pressure on their parents to eat lots of sugar?

The shops love it too. Most Australians, I think, are pretty cynical about this imported commercial event – yet another example of creeping Americanisation.  My favourite example of the way the marketeers have pushed it into our consciousness was the pumpkin I saw in Woolworths a couple of years ago, printed with dotted lines to show kids how to carve it.

Yet festivals morph and merge.  Before there was Halloween (31 October), there was Guy Fawkes Night (5 November). I remember bonfires and fireworks from my childhood, long, long ago.  I wonder if the rise of Halloween in Australia has occurred because nature abhors a vacuum? Continue reading

Governor and Lady Bowen: an odd couple in Queensland

Today is Queensland Day, an inoffensive but slightly daft non-holiday that was dreamed up in 1981, during the mad, bad days of the Bjelke-Petersen administration, with its separatist, anti-Canberra agenda.  It celebrates the splitting off of the northern part of New South Wales into a separate colony, Queensland in 1859.

It’s an odd date.  6 June was the day on which Queen Victoria signed the Letters Patent, which are still held in Britain at the National Archives, but given communications at the time, nobody in the Australian colonies knew what Victoria was doing that day.  If we must celebrate the birth of Queensland – and do we really need to? – then surely 10 December makes more sense. This was the day that Governor Bowen arrived in Brisbane, and the new colony was proclaimed. We usually celebrate birthdays, not the date of conception, after all.

Continue reading

Feast and Famine, and the Fast Diet

It seems as if half the population of the developed (and therefore obese) world is currently reading The Fast Diet, otherwise known as the 5:2 Diet, or Intermittent Fasting.  The author, Michael Mosley, is a BBC journalist with a medical degree, and his documentary and book (co-authored by Mimi Spencer) seem interesting.

The rules are simple: for 5 days of the week, eat as you normally do, but twice a week, limit your food to 500 calories (for women) or 600 (for men).  Someone I know tried it and found it worked.  She even fasted a few times during a holiday in France – how’s that for dedication?

As Mosley points out, many religions include periods of fasting.  During Yom Kipper, Lent, and Ramadan, the aim is similar in each case: to concentrate on spiritual rather than material things and – in extreme cases – to mortify the flesh.  All require self-discipline, but they use quite different strategies.

Continue reading

Fast Foods

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent, the 40-day fasting period that leads up to Easter.

Fasting can take many forms.   Muslims fast during the holy month of Ramadan by abstaining from all food and drink during daylight hours; Christians fast by abstaining from particular foodstuffs – definitely meat, sometimes other animal products such as dairy products and eggs.  The rest of us may use Lent as the occasion for a detox of some sort, giving up wine or tobacco or chocolate.

There is a spiritual dimension to going without, but the Lenten fast was once also a grim reality in temperate Europe, coming at the end of winter when food stocks were exhausted and the first fruits of the new year were yet to ripen. Continue reading