Saturday, January 26, 2013

Never a dull moment in Sydney: The last leg of the first leg

By Rachit Malhotra

Greetings once again from the Australia group! If you are all caught up with our adventures in the land Down Under, you know we have been anything but docile. As I write this post, it is our last evening here in Sydney as a group. Tomorrow morning, we will depart by bus to an Aboriginal camp in Wollombi; let’s get you up to speed with the past few days.

We had a free day on Wednesday, with no planned group activities. However, we are all divided into neighborhood tour groups, which entails researching a cool local neighborhood and planning a walking tour with the whole group. Since my group, comprising me, India, Ashley and David, had to take the group out on Friday, we used this day to finalize and rehearse our tour of King’s Cross. We set out early morning (10 AM is early for a free day, right?) to the eclectic and bustling neighborhood of King’s Cross and didn’t have to look far to find a living reason for its sometimes zany and unconventional reputation. A man was screaming about the end of the world as he was walking backwards in the middle of the street towards an 18-wheeler truck that had the sense to stop in its tracks at the first sight of him. This was at the heart of King’s Cross. I include this anecdote so that it serves as a point of contrast with the Pott’s Point neighborhood. The Pott’s Point neighborhood is technically located in King’s Cross, but has persevered to separate its posh aura from the, er… less posh aura of King’s Cross. Pott’s Point is actually home to the most expensive apartment I have ever heard of. The picture below is that of a building where the penthouse recently sold for AUD $3.4 million.

I hope the owner knows he could have bought a house in downtown Manhattan, Mumbai, Sydney and perhaps the moon with this money.
We trudged on and walked past the naval base to a historically significant food cart, known to cater to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Russell Crowe and by Friday, Yueping Zhang. Known as Harry’s CafĂ© de Wheels, it serves meat pies, veggie pies, hot dogs and cold ginger ale.

This was one of those times in the program where I thought what the difference is between “All-American” and “All-Australian”. See the navy guys eating there behind the thumbs-up-giving India? Well, that is a picture that could have been taken as early as the 1930s and 40s. This has been an attraction for sailors, wild and partied out King’s Crossians and celebrities alike. It was certainly a must-visit for us. Having a pie floater, a classic, was a delectable and engaging treat. Never in the states have I seen a food cart with meat pies topped off with mashed potatoes, mashed peas and gravy. I suppose Rupert Murdoch hasn’t either. He has been known to fly out Harry’s pies all the way to the states for an Australia-themed party.
India giving the A-OK sign outside Harry's Cafe de Wheel's
Exhausted after eating, we concluded our relaxed run-through of the tour where we started, by the biggest billboard in the southern hemisphere. There’s three quarters of our neighborhood tour group pictured below. Not pictured here is a happy fourth member, (myself) who at this point was ready for a nap. 
The Coke Sign, just in case you missed it
Thursday promised a guest lecture on Australian literature.  His work with Aboriginal people in Australia and his role as a pioneer in including Aborginal culture in Australia’s school curriculum was inspiring. His work with the preservers of an important Aboriginal site was profoundly important and significant. We left that day in class with a renewed sense of vigor and fervor about the meaning of education; our own and for others.

I was equally excited for Friday’s lecture with our guest professor about Australian media. We spent the morning talking about the Australian film industry and what it really means to be an Australian film. Sure enough, if there were a simple answer, it wouldn’t quite be an hour long discussion where we argue about classifying films such as Finding Nemo and Australia (Yes, even the film Australia is slightly disputed in this sense, considering the Hollywoodization of the whole tale). I came out learning a new term that helped me define Australian film. “Social realism” is a good way to define Australian cinema, because it is defined by relatively dramatized dialogue, characterization and music, but the social message is intact through all of this. See if you can apply this to a movie you consider Australian, or one that you think can be considered Australian.

Later on that day, we were given an utter treat by GED, through Nat. She took us all out to the Sydney Theatre to watch a play about the first contact between a fully pardoned Australian convict and the indigenous people. Originally a novel, the play was called by the same name: The Secret River.  It was gut-wrenching, heartwarming, human, inhuman, hilarious, thoughtful, thoughtless and completely engaging. It was a rollercoaster ride, despite being aware of the history. If you are an avid reader, I suggest you check out the book. Below is a still I managed to capture of the cast after the show.

Always heartwarming to see the characters all become friends at the end of the play.  I wish they did that in movies.
After the play, we ran into the lead actor who played the convict. He asked us if we were American and when the group said yes, replied, “Oh, great. Because Canadians mind if you call them Americans.” Funny thing is that he wasn’t the first one to say that to us.

It was a stimulating experience to watch that play. Nat told me that it was lovely to see a full house and how it’s a shame that not enough people recognize this part of history. In fact, when she was in junior school (elementary and middle school, which was not very long ago), the history of Australia started on January 26th 1788. This is when the first fleet of English convicts came over to Australia in boats. This is the kind of ignorance that people like Nat and many of our lecturers are fighting so actively against. They are true educators and I am certain no one on the program disagrees with me when I express my gratitude to be here learning from them.

Today is Saturday, January 26th, Australia Day, Invasion Day, Celebration Day, Mourning Day, Confusion Day. It is a lot of different things depending on your perspective, but most importantly, I think this is becoming a day when people start recognizing the land belonged to someone else before 1788 and there was a lot of strife that came with this day. It is a significant day and I hope it is a day that will bring unity someday, rather than segregation. People are out and about with Australian flags on their shoulders, people walking around with 24 packs (called cases) of VB (Victoria Bitter beer). I am looking forward to going out tonight with the group and experiencing a significant day in the ever-changing life of Australia. I am hoping that this experience, along with the trip to the Aboriginal camp tomorrow, will chisel my perspective into one that is fair and balanced (I wish Fox News never tainted this phrase, because I mean it.)

So, here’s to Australia, here’s me signing off and handing the baton on to the next person to guide you through our life in this truly unique continent. I thank you for making it this far and letting me be your guide. See you in March, when I write my second post!  

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