Monday Melbourne: LXXVII, June 2005
The Forum Theatre through the Federation Square atrium. Taken April 2005
29th June, 2005 01:29:11
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A Public Service Announcement
It hardly seems like a year, but today the Melbourne International Animation Festival begins again. It runs until Sunday the 26th at ACMI (Fed Square) and comes highly recommended. Traditionally I go to every session I can manage, and while the schedule prohibits me from completing the full gamut, I will be there all evening till Friday, and all day, all weekend. Blogging will be light in the interim. If you are down there and know me say 'hi'; if you are down there and don't know me say 'hi' to random people; the regulars are sometimes freaky but generally nice.
For those wondering what to see, here is a brief, mostly useless guide, sorted by personality type:
The curious - International Program 1 - 21st@7pm, 22nd@6:30pm - Includes the short animated film Academy Award winner amongst others. Int.1's brethren, Int.2-6 will also be worthwhile.
The nerdy - Computer Animation Panorama - 23rd@8:30, 25th@4:30 - An always outstanding collection of cutting edge computer stuff.
The drugged - Digital Abstracte - 25th@8:30 - Films from museum installations. The first, Obras, is outstanding.
The shpants wearer - Long Shorts - 25th@8:30 - Too long to be shorts, too short to be...
The parochial - Australian Panorama - 25th@5pm - A collection of local films. Includes academy award nominee Birthday Boy.
The lover of anime - Wonderful Days - 24th@8, 25th@8:15 - Feature length has good write-up.
The insane - Eastern European Spotlight - 25th@1:30, 26th@1:45 - These films have to be seen to be believed. They defy understanding even then.
The lover of Disney 26th@3:30 - Ub Iwerks Retrospective - Mickey Mouse and other films by his inventor.
The caregiver - Kids' Session - 25th@11, 26th@11 - The kids session is often the most solid. Also the cheapest.
The impoverished - Student Animation Festival - 22nd@8:15, 23rd@6:30, 24th@6:30, 25th@6:30 - A fair chunk of all programs are students. I'm crushed to miss these because of clashes. $5 tickets.
The musical - Music Video Festival - 25th@5:30@Loop Bar - Free animated music videos. I will miss it, but you shouldn't.
The boring - Best of the Fest - 26th@8, 26th@10 - Ok, if you still don't know, try the Best-of. Traditionally, half the films I don't like, but it is generally a good session. Last year there were extra sessions because it sells out. Also, don't forget to clap after each film.
As the curator Malcolm always says, "you're in for a real treat".
21st June, 2005 10:00:23
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Monday Melbourne: LXXVI, June 2005
The Royal Arcade and Melbourne Central beyond. Taken May 2005
21st June, 2005 09:59:51
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Bill Henson : 3 Decades of Photography
Yesterday I finally  got around to visiting the Bill Henson exhibition at the NGV. Henson was born in Melbourne in 1955 and worked here much of his life. Many of his more interesting pieces (to me) depict elements of Melbourne or country Victoria that are familiar, both symbolically and, in some cases, actually. For more information, try Gary Sauer-Thompson, who has written about him in a more scholarly manner than I'll even attempt here, here, and here; also try the Pavement article he linked to.
Displayed over 8 rooms, it is worth spending a bit of time there. The first two rooms are packed with small black and white photographs, from the first decade of Henson's career. I particularly liked the shots of individuals within a crowd. Like much of Henson's later portraiture, and his other works in general, the slight blurring makes the people seem out of place within the non-descript masses. If you were inclined, you could medidate on length on them, but, as I said, it is a big exhibition.
Except for a couple of rooms I wasn't overly enamored of, the remainder of the exhibition consisted of two types of work. The first: dark, almost entirely black, photographs such as the Paris Opera Project at right where people sit intent on something out of frame; and of adolescents, equally detached from the suburban lights often depicted behind -- the latter, by far his most controversial, and most commented on works.
Annie Leibowitz (I think) once commented that the art of a good photo is catching people in an off-moment, when their true personality can shine through. Henson seems to photograph people from the shadows, without their knowing, enhancing that voyeuristic element, but catching the moment in the process.
The second type of photograph, generally next to the first, with no seeming connection are the landscapes. Sometimes, as in the 'cut screens' from 1995, the two mix together. But it creates a surreal effect. For some reason, the writhing naked bodies, monumental clouds and distortions of depth reminded me of Michelangelo paintings. Once again, I think they would reward a closer study than I gave them.
In the Pavement article they comment that, "we glimpse into his magical world - a distant world of romance and exquisite beauty which the artist seems to somehow have dreamt rather than visited"; for me, it was the opposite. The landcapes are familiar and local, reminding me of Melbourne and the country areas they were taken, and no other place. In part, it is because of images like the above, of the rail-crossing on the Upfield line on Park St.; familiar because I have crossed it a thousand times and more to go to the cricket ground beyond, or of the Hazelwood power station whose polluting stacks and surrounding power lines remind me of my parents' home.
Others are symbolic, such as this railway line, or this bridge. There are a thousand places they could be, but each reminds me of other experiences at home: of long, silent car trips at night in the country where nothing but a hundred metres of road and reflective lights can be discerned; of walking home through seemingly deserted suburbs as the sun sets over telephone poles and railway lines; of country mornings; and of that very special light.
The combination of lonely suburban landscapes with the light is what makes Henson's work unique to Melbourne. Only Melbourne skies seem to combine that bright evening sun with the dense clouds that could spell a dozen different weather events. And Henson captures them beautifully, letting them do the work of providing colour in the otherwise grey city.
Not surprisingly, during those eight months a year when the daytime sun is too bright to get good photos I do the same thing. In general, being attached to the inner city I aim to silhouette buildings, but looking through my collection there is a few of those suburban moments, and they are qually as bleak and colourful as those of Henson.
Enjoy, the last picture is taken roughly 50 metres from Henson's above. The exhibition is on until July 10th, at the Ian Potter Centre, NGV. On the last night, July 9th, the gallery is open until midnight. In all likelihood I will go again then.
 I say 'finally' because, even though I can claim to have been a little busy at times since it opened on 23rd April, I was free enough to visit the gallery on a half dozen other occasions to do nothing more than read in the members' lounge.
19th June, 2005 16:46:12
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Same old, same old
I wish the Socceroos could play Germany more often. They might not be stylish, they won't beat a team with a piece of individual brilliance but they find problems in a defence like a well paid structural engineer. And it shows that Australia has not improved on their biggest faults. Faults that have cost us in world cup campaign time and time again.
Problem 1: defensive lapses. There is no excuse for this, they are not amateurs, but the marking was shoddy against Germany and goals were scored. Once I'd have said this was because they don't play together enough, but Popovic and Moore have played together at least 30 times if not more.
Problem 2: lazy players. Watch Zidane, Beckham or Ronaldinho and they obviously want the ball because they track back to get it. Watch some of Australia's players and you wonder whether they really do. Once you are past the Australian midfield you can run at the defence in numbers. It makes them vulnerable on the break, and a lot of soft goals go in: see home against Iran '97, and away to Uruguay '01 for example. Kewell is the worst offender -- see the semi-final against Juventus -- but others are as bad.
Problem 3: one paced. England are one paced, but they are always intense. Australia never controls the pace of the game, it is always worked around methodically. You rarely see the lightning break, the holding of a ball in defense for long periods, the midfielder who waits then accelerates isn't there. Defensively, the sudden speed rips Australia to shreds. Offensively, there is not a lot of penetration through the centre. Shut off Australia's wings -- difficult though that is -- and there aren't many other options.
Having said that, the offense is not a problem, Australia has a surfeit of quality attacking midfielders -- just think, Bresciano and Kewell have to fit into a side that scored thrice against Germany. Viduka, when and if fit will allow them to hold the ball up in attack and bring Cahill and company into play. The wingers get forward and there are backups.
But if there are two soft goals scored over the two-leg play-off, then Australia will miss out. Again.
16th June, 2005 14:19:59
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Thoughts on Education Reform
Rob urged me recently to write down what I wanted to reform with education. I have decided to embark on another not-quite-abortive multi-part posting because there is an underlying method in some of the madness, and because its my blog.
At the outset, let me summarise some positions I believe in. I can't prove them necessarily, but they inform my opinions on the subject.
Firstly, I believe that (almost) anyone is capable of understanding any subject given sufficient time and background resources, and with sufficient devotion to the task. I believe it because there has been no significant evolution towards particular tasks the brain performs. Each aspect remains part and parcel of basic neurological connections between abstract concepts (poorly understood). Some people make those connections more easily than others, but there is no such thing as being "unable to do math" to quote the most common complaint.
I also believe it because I have seen ostensibly stupid people be amazingly intelligent in fields they devote themselves to. Regularly in fact on sports fields, when the 'natural' intelligence of a player means they are quicker to the ball, well-positioned, and making better decisions.
Secondly, I believe education is both a means and an end. That it is a means is self-explanatory and uncontroversial. The latter is the subject of the first part. Namely, why breadth matters, and how undervalued it is.
Part 1 - The Way We Learn
First and foremost, it should always be remembered that the brain is not a computer. It can do a reasonable impression, but it is built fundamentally differently. Everything in a computer is precisely defined -- even abstract concepts, they are precisely defined abstractly to their detriment. As near as we can tell, everything in the brain is defined abstractly, in reference to other things.
The primary problem with a lot of teaching is it tries to impart knowledge as if to a computer. It makes sense. A teacher has knowledge they wish to impart, they define that knowledge and disperse it. But knowledge is useless without reference to what it means. Both to use, and to learn.
You could define (imprecisely) three tiers of knowledge.
At bottom, facts (or beliefs) with no supporting theory. 2 + 2 = 4. Tchaikovsky wrote the 1812 Overture. The only Australian poet in Poet's corner is Adam Lindsay Gordon. The brain can be adept at remembering facts, though it can also be vague and unreliable. Facts are useful because they inform more abstract ideas. In some ways we have gone too far in repudiating ROTE learning of basic facts. Because, unless you are being willfully stupid (and everyone is on occasion) it is impossible to simultaneously answer questions of how or why that contradict your position.
But they are also useless, because they are just facts. They don't explain causes or effects, nor inform decisions. They just are. Nor are they a sign of intelligence, some idiot savants can recycle loads of facts; some of the thickest kids at my school could recite the number of every player in the AFL.
What informs decisions are in the middle: the relationships. This is what is taught in schools an universities. That freeways induce more traffic, that for a right angled triangle: c2 = a2 + b2, or even the technique for bowling a cricket ball.
These are useful things to know, and a sufficiently large collection of relationships allows you to claim that you have an education. The problem is, such a large collection of the things we learn pass us by, because a relationship, like a fact, is contained within a much larger set of knowledge. And without that broader knowledge, you are no better than a machine.
This is why there is another tier of knowledge, the intuitive, metaphorical tier. This is what allows you to draw analogies between one relationship and another, to recognise illogical statements or contradictions in your own knowledge and things read. It is this third tier that education should develop, and the third tier that is so poorly serviced by existing methods.
But let me draw some examples. Playing cricket. I was, as a youth, the worst batsman you would ever see. And no coach made the slightest impression, because they explained things in short sayings that implied I had the faintest idea: "keep your elbow up", get behind the ball", "come forward". All good, all useless to me. Unlike my bowling, I lacked any instinctive batsmanship, until I actually sat down and worked out what I was trying to achieve.
If you want to cover-drive a ball you need to have so many things under control: both feet, both arms, hands, elbows, hips, head. If any of them aren't you'll either miss it, edge it, or spoon it, and yet, in the half second you have to play it, you can't think your way through it. It needs to be an instinctive process. Hence, in order to make it instinctual, I had to systematically understand what each and every body part was doing and practice until the process was instinctive. In other words, physics and geometry informed my cricket.
When you have time though, you can muddle through with an inadequate understanding. When I learnt to C program pointers were a mystery. I could use them -- sort of -- but I didn't understand them, because they are taught using mathematical symbols: p = &n; n = *p. Symbols aren't my strong point. When I eventually understood them, it was through a library analogy, seeing the memory as books each with their own 'address'. The two concepts sit in my brain in parallel, each informing the other.
Similarly, when I approach issues in planning, it is from my understanding of systems, or economics, or physics, or politics, or ...
The problem with most education is that it focuses on the relationships instead of ways of thinking. And it is ways of thinking that allow you to add to your knowledge, to analyse problems, and to draw new conclusions. Understanding how to approach a problem, any problem, is an end in itself. Unfortunately the way students are taught and assessed often works against this goal. In part two I will look at why.
15th June, 2005 02:21:49
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Monday Melbourne: LXXV, June 2005
Boukre St. mall. Taken May 2005
13th June, 2005 18:49:28
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Because we don`t know what we`re doing
I ranted below about doing strategic planning without demonstrating arguments for why, or even a clear statement of goals. The evidence for why its is bad keeps piling up.
Exhibit A: Regional Fast Rail Project
This is a project that was devised with one purpose only: to win votes in the country. Unfortunately it worked a little too well, because suddenly the Bracks government had to find a way to provide faster rail services to regional areas. This would be fine, except they are a) small and uneconomical, and b) cutting through difficult terrain. The original $80 million was a ridiculous pipedream. But it has meant the whole project has been ridiculously poorly planned from start to finish.
Consider the pronounced goal: shorter travel times to Melbourne. Why would country people want that? That might seem ridiculous -- of course they want them -- but it isn't, because they want it for a reason. They want it so they can commute to Melbourne, and live in a regional centre. There is far more to this project than just the reduction of travel times. It offers a potentially substantial number of people a lifestyle choice. Done properly, it would increase demand for housing in regional centres -- at the expense of the outer suburbs with longer, slower commutes. 
But this also means it impacts on dozens of other government areas: health, education, local transport, water, and the relative strength of different regional and metropolitan economies. It should be done in the context of planning for those services and others. But of course it wasn't and won't be, because we don't plan like that. Instead we assume that all other factors will remain the same, and then predict the infrastructure needs given those trajectories.
 Of course, it wasn't done properly. It is a complete balls-up of a project that won't reduce travel times at all.
Exhibit B: Flinders Street Overpass
I love this article. It is a triumph of circular reasoning and contradictory stupidity. Cauchi starts by stating that the Flinders Street Overpass is being removed because it is ugly. He then adds that after it was built "hotels closed and shops and showrooms were boarded up". Last I checked, destroying the economic vitality of an area was a more serious problem than just "ugly". It is a problem that has remained, because pedestrians don't walk down ugly, windy, littered, dirty and noisy streets noone in their right mind would try and operate there.
Having misrepresented the proposed change he then states that it is necessary for the suburban commuter to speed their way into the city. He completely fails to see that the overpass is a trade-off between the commuter and the amenity of local residents and businesses. An argument for which I will always argue in favour of the locals, if you hadn't noticed.
He then acknowledges that reducing commuter amenity is also a useful way of getting people onto public transport instead -- once again, it is a trade-off. But his argument against it: public transport in outer-suburbia is bad and people have to drive. This is a tiresome, ridiculous argument, public transport is slow and infrequent, so people don't use public transport, people need to get to the city though, so people drive, all those drivers slow down the morning commute, so you need to spend money on freeways to make faster commutes, noone uses public transport because it is faster to drive, so public transport gets less funding, public transport is slow and infrequent, so people don't use public transport...
His last statement refers to the fate of the railway viaduct between Flinders Street and Spencer Street stations. On this, as I have said before, I believe it should be removed, not because it is ugly but because it obstructs two city blocks worth of valuable land. It should be removed underground along with Flinders Street traffic as well, to open up the river to development and pedestrians. No doubt it would provide a pleasant vista for Mr. Cauchi as he speeds along King Street to his suburban residence in the evening.
13th June, 2005 16:55:37
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Ratings - June 2005
England v Bangladesh
Opening Ratings: Eng: 1209.78 Ban: 616.46
1st Test: England by an innings and 261 runs
2nd Test: England by an innings and 27 runs
Closing Ratings: Eng: 1211.20 Ban: 614.29
The most fascinating statistic from this most pointless of all series was that both tests took 191 overs to be completed. That's just four full days and a session of cricket. Some kudos to Javed Omar who got four starts and a 71; Khaled Mashud who got three starts, a 44, and took three catches; and Aftab Ahmed who also got three starts and a run-a-ball 82. But Bangladesh were never going to get near a good English side still trying to establish themselves as a unit. As I've said before, the ICC needs to rethink the way they introduce new test nations. This doesn't include stripping 'test status', but series like this are a pointless side-show. No change in the ratings, England are 2nd, Bangladesh 10th.
West Indies v Pakistan
Opening Ratings: WI: 808.01 Pak: 1065.38
1st Test: West Indies by 276 runs
2nd Test: Pakistan by 136 runs
Closing Ratings: WI: 823.10 Pak: 1046.49
These two-test series are going to kill test cricket. This could have been a fascinating tussle, but instead it finishes with an unsatisfactory draw before it has got going. The West Indies won the first on the back of a Lara 130 (off 120 balls) and a 92 and 153 by Chanderpaul. Shahid Afridi's 122 off 95 balls couldn't prevent a big loss. Edwards and, of all people, Gayle, taking 5-fors in respective innings. In the second test, a hundred by Younis Khan with good support, was matched by another Lara hundred (153). Collymore getting 7 wickets in Pakistan's innings. Inzaman, having missed the first test, made the difference though, getting 117 -- again with support until a late-order collapse set an intriguing 280 to win. Collymore getting 4. The West Indies didn't get close though, Kaneria picked up five on a deteriorating pitch, and Shabbir Ahmed polished the tail to get 8 for the match. It is hard to make any statements about how good each of these sides are. The West Indies keep losing, despite a mountain of runs from Lara -- and on occasion others; Pakistan are up and down as only they can be. They retain their respective places in the rankings, 6th, and 8th.
Sri Lanka (1077.85) v West Indies (823.10) - 2 Tests.
Another day, another pointless two match series. The West Indies have been abominable away from home in recent years; Sri Lanka have been equally as good on their own turf. Sri Lanka were close to the second best team in the world a few years ago, but have stalled recently. They should win both tests here however.
England (1211.20) v Australia (1389.17) - 5 Tests.
This is the one. First versus second. England at home, and improving, Australia still as good as they've ever been. A mere 78 points difference in the adjusted ratings for home advantage. Oddly, it was closer in 2001 -- 43 points -- but England were put back in their place quite firmly. Somehow I can't see the same happening here. England are more settled, more focused and more used to winning. But therein lies the rub.
For me, this series seems like the Australian tour of the West Indies, in 1990-91. An emerging side, with some strong batting, reasonable bowling, and capable of annihilating a side on their day. Against them, a side full of players who were used to doing one thing: winning. It was a great series. Australia, at times played extremely well, and yet then, they couldn't do what they do so well now; they couldn't stick the boot in. In the first test they led by 107 on first innings; the West Indies replied with 3/334 to get a draw. In the second, 348 was met with 569, and 248 in the second innings resulted in a ten wicket loss. In the third, a 67 run lead on first innings but it rained. In the fourth, Australia bowl the West Indies out for 149 in the first innings. The response? Australia are bowled out for 134, and the West Indies pile on 9/536 to win by 343 runs. Border claimed they were "blitzed", but it is more accurate to say the West Indies turned it on when it counted.
The recent history of these two sides supports the idea that Australia will turn it on at the same juncture. Australia have made a habit of coming back from precarious positions of late: New Zealand scored 433 runs in the first innings and had Australia 6/201 but it still ended in a 10 wicket loss; against Pakistan Australia did just enough in the first two tests; and then there are the comebacks, a 141 run deficit against India, 91 and 161 run deficits against Sri Lanka.
England have swept all before them of late, but the sort of pressure they will get from Australia hasn't been applied too often. When it has, as it was, fleetingly, in South Africa, England lost. But worse, for them, when the game started to drift from them, they couldn't stop it.
I expect England to be very competitive. On their good days, they will run up scores over 400, and run through Australia for less than 200. But Australia will hang in there, waiting for their chance to do likewise or worse. And when its played out, they'll have won when it really matters to retain the Ashes. After the never ending tapas menu of two-test series, this will be the best cricket all year.
India (3rd) 1142.64
South Africa (4th) 1127.19
New Zealand (7th) 1034.08
Zimbabwe (9th) 707.44
10th June, 2005 16:35:02
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Postcards from Southbank to Brighton
Last Sunday, being a day without homework to do, and little else either for practically the first time in nearly 12 months, allowed me to make a little walking excursion. It had long been in my mind to wander down to Brighton for a look-see, and so, camera in hand, with a pleasant sun beating down and a cool breeze floating off the bay I did just that.
It's quite a long way, Brighton.
Coming from the city, Southbank is obviously first, and it must be said, the least pleasant suburb for walking in. As nice as some of the big buildings -- such as the new PricewaterhouseCoopers Building on the right -- are for taking photographs of, the persistent shadows, the heavy traffic, and the lack of interesting frontage make the streets devoid of greenery like concrete tunnels. Worse, the Southbank 'hinterland' as it is called, barely a hundred metres from the river, unlike other urban disasters around Melbourne was actually blessed with substantial investment. If any place demonstrates that developers can afford to be short-sighted, and anti-urban in outlook then Southbank is it. But does the State Government have to persistently help them achieve this through short-sighted lot consolidation and weak planning rules?
Escape the hinterland though, and next to the freeway on Sturt St. you come across a little hill. It is covered in native vegetation, and not actively encouraging people to visit, but it gives a great view of the mess of tower blocks and the city behind. Once again I skipped the Centre for Contemporary Art. Perhaps another day.
And so along Sturt St., following the path of the Number 1 tram for a period. A tram route I have never taken, except by accident, not least because although its winding route is no doubt fascinating, it doesn't really go anywhere particularly.
At the end of Eastern Rd. is Albert Park. It was packed with the normal collection of joggers, walkers, dogs and sailboats; some terrible golfers on the public course; and some terrible umpiring on the football fields at the Southern end.
Enough gets written about St. Kilda without me making much mention of my brief sojourn there, taking in Fitzroy Street; the pier, devoid of the kiosk but still not short of visitors; the beach, whose most charming element was a little girl throwing sand in her sister's eyes; Luna Park; and the marina, of which the less said the better. Even now, a hundred years after it was subsumed into endless Melbourne suburbs, it still retains the day-tripper element of times past. It is hard to see on the tram map, but no less than five trams have their endpoint there. Notably, the 69 and 79 that turn down Church St. and Glenferrie Rd. into inner suburbs. Once upon a time at least, transport planners considered weekend travel a worthwhile exercise.
South of St. Kilda lies the Elwood Canal. The walk along it is very pleasant, shady, and wide enough for bikes and the ubiquitous Elwood stroller. A series of little tile strips depicting elements of the local history keep you entertained with stories of boats and fishing in some parts; and detestable quagmires spreading polio, typhoid and any number of other diseases at others. I left i when it stopped being a canal and became a drain, making my way back to the beach.
From here the trip was a seemingly endless beach path with a seemingly endless stream of the same walkers, joggers, cyclists, skaters and dogs that I'd been seeing since Albert Park. Persistent too, was the view out over the bay, where the sun slowly made its way over the West Gate Bridge, the Yarra Power Station with its noticeable chimney stack, and the cranes of Williamstown. Noticeable too, was the CBD. The Eureka Tower is very tall, but you need to stand back about 15km before you realise just how big.
But Brighton is a different demographic to what was now behind me. The packed restaurants and cafes dried up. The housing became a little lower, a little bigger, and a little more exclusive -- this changes once you get away from the beach though, I might add. Teenagers start to appear, and the elderly. In short, I'd entered the middle suburbs. But other things were a bit disturbing, like the manicured sand dunes. Having grown up in Warnambool I am used to real sand dunes, with scrub and lots of sand. These patches of trees surrounded by crisp grass are somehow wrong.
They are especially wrong at my eventual destination. Not the Brighton Pier at left, picturesque though it is, but the sand dunes over a short promontory at the end of Park Street where the poet Adam Lindsay Gordon shot himself on the morning of the 24th June 1870. I'd expected a memorial of some kind, there being no shortage in other places -- Gordon Place, Flemington, Ballarat, Mt. Gambier, and Westminster Abbey being the most prominent -- but no sign of either the dunes or the tea-tree scrub remains.
The walk to the station was problematic. Not because it was far, but because inadequate signage meant my approximate direction pushed me to North rather than Middle Brighton, though Brighton Beach would have been better still. On the other hand, while I didn't see any of the ever invisible Melbourne buses -- it was Sunday after all -- I did photograph a good bus sign to go with my large collection of horrifically bad bus signs. One of those routes -- the 61 -- doesn't actually exist at all so perhaps it was an antique sign of sorts.
All in all, a good walk.
7th June, 2005 18:55:24
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