Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Parliament, Neighborhood Tours, and Papers, Oh My!

By Jasper Dean

Post-island expedition trip to North Stradbroke, we first reconvened as a group again bright and early Thursday morning for a lecture on the political structure and history of Australia. The lecture largely carried a theme of ‘compare and contrast’ to America’s system.  Australia is also a bicameral, two-party state, but operates in a much different fashion. Instead of voting regularly to elect a multitude of faceless politicians to ambiguous positions of responsibility, Australians essentially vote once: on their favorite party; on a style of government. Once parliamentary seats are divvied up, a Prime Minister is selected from the dominant party. Many other complications ensue, but Parliament is crucial to the functioning of Australian government, and thus this lecture preceded a field trip to the Queensland parliamentary house.

Our guide at the house took us through 3 main rooms, and a few extras. The first was the official reading room, a gorgeously constructed mini-library, covered wall-to-wall in proceedings and transcripts and other official government documents. Every chair and table is ornately carved from a native and now-protected Australian wood and finished with black leather. Alone with the doors closed and the fire-place ablaze, I can see that room being a true sanctuary of intricacy and peace.

The next room we visited was the upper house of Parliament. The highlights of this room were the pair of six-figure valued chandeliers, and the royal red Queen’s chair. Though now defunct of power, prominent movies such as “Inspector Gadget 2” are regularly filmed here.

Finally we crossed the hall to reach the lower house, flush with green to represent the meetings on grass that were held among commoners before they received representation in England. This room is the primary site of debates and votes on matters today in Queensland. Amidst all the significance, they let us sit in the Speaker’s chair and hold a mace.  A brief tour of the gardens and group picture concluded the tour.

Friday’s first lecture focused on the history of women in Australia. Despite its youthful nature and history of oppressing those they don’t like, Australia has a surprisingly long record of women’s’ movements and subsequent progress in gaining equal status. The World Wars also played a significant role in moving women into the workforce, and away from submission into domesticity.

Our second lecture covered Australia’s environmental history since its European settlement. We discussed the abuse and gradual adjustment of certain industries, the boom of cities, and finally the emergence of suburbia into Australian culture in contrast with the Bush Legend, or the idea of the typical Australian as a rough, do-it-yourselfer, adaptable to any environment and always true to his mates.

When all the learning had commenced, we embarked on a walking-heavy tour of the West End neighborhood of Brisbane. Down by the river, we learned that what used to be a factory heavy few blocks had been converted to their modern state of upper-middle class housing. Later on, we stopped to see the former Rialto Theatre, which used to be a prominent broadcasting site for Brisbane radio, that has been converted into restaurants but nonetheless preserved. One of our final stops was the 17 Browning Street house. Famous for its colorful cast of characters over the years, their story has been compiled in a published book, and the house is now used during festivals by actors portraying the quirky former tenants. The house is also one of the few remaining examples of Brisbane’s earliest architecture dating back to the late 1800s.  Our final-final stop was a delectable Indian lunch; a fitting end to a lively day.

Most of the weekend was pretty quiet, with the Reds (the local rugby unit) kicking off their season with a win and the rest of us holed up, hammering out our papers. In need of a break, a good handful of the group spent Saturday afternoon at Coby and David’s house soaking up the sun, the pool water, and the wine.

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