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We have been cultural hermits of late, curled up with books or our favourite television shows. We are hooked on the second season of “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”, a home-grown detective show set in the roaring twenties in Melbourne. It has a wonderful cast, fabulous costumes, great cars and eccentric villains.

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Then there are the offerings on BBC IView, which I have discovered through the IPad and Apple TV. And thanks to the miracle of mirroring, we can now access one of our favourite shows– A&E’s recently renewed Wyoming Western– “Longmire.” Despite the lead’s ruggedly Western appearance and accent, Robert Taylor is a graduate of the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts. He hails from this part of the world.

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The Melbourne International Festival is going on, however. We have witnessed some wonderful productions at the Festival in past years, including a great Lithuanian production of “Romeo and Juliet” set in two pizza parlours. This year the offerings seem less compelling, but that may be because I’m simply not keeping up with the cultural shifts or the artistic director is less attuned to my demographic, or there are budget constraints, or a combination of all three.

We did get tickets to one of the hottest new dance troupes to hit Melbourne in awhile– Hofesh Shecter’s troupe from the UK. His latest show is called “Sun,” a production my wife compared to Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring. It was definitely loud and intense, discomforting and a little disorienting.

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“In a career still only ten years old, Hofesh Shechter’s inimitable brand of epic, cinematic and powerfully tribal choreography has become a genre unto itself – a blend of pulverising rock, skittering folk dance and haunting imagery that has redefined the boundaries of dance. A former drummer and rock musician, Shechter composes the propulsive soundtracks that drive his works, making for a closely bound marriage of sound and movement.”

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Check out the trailer for the show and decide for yourself. It’s at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLjTbvasEzo.

This weekend, we have tickets for Clannad. This will be one of their first performances together in years and I’m looking forward to their ethereal sound. On Sunday, I took the tram down to the City to see an eleven minute anamorphic art film called “Film.” It is another product of the UK, originally projected at the Tate Modern. “Epic yet intimate, Dean’s work is a surreal, hallucinatory display of ever-transforming images, grand and minute, silent yet full to bursting. A 13-metre-tall monolith, FILM appears for its second-ever showing in the expansive setting of ACCA’s main gallery. Flickering with a luminous, tangible beauty, Tacita Dean’s artwork is an epic homage to an endangered medium – a pure and essential distillation of the fading magic of celluloid cinema.”

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What captivated me more than anything else was an event I witnessed by chance, when I wandered around the wonderful water-wall at the National Gallery of Victoria to take some photos. I arrived right before a performance of “music” on the oddest assortment of instruments I have ever seen. The event was called “DisArm,” for reasons that soon became obvious.

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Mexican artist/musician Pedro Reyes was already known for a 2008 project called “Pistols to Shovels,” in which he melted down 1,527 weapons to make the same number of shovels to plant trees. For “Disarm,” Reyes had a choice of about 6,700 guns that were turned in or seized by the army and police in Ciudad Juarez, a city of about 1.3 million people across the border from El Paso, Texas. In 2010, at the height of the drug-related violence in Mexico, the city averaged 10 killings a day. “DisArm” began with a phone call offering Pedro another chance to work with an arsenal of seized weapons.

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Drug-cartel violence cost more than 70,000 lives in Mexico over the last six years and the weapons trafficking has been a sore point; many of the weapons used by the cartels are smuggled across the border from the United States into Mexico. In 2012, then-president Felipe Calderon inaugurated a billboard in Ciudad Juarez which, facing Texas, spelled out the words “No More Weapons” in welded pieces of decommissioned guns.

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“It occurred to me to make musical instruments, because music is the opposite of weapons,” Reyes said. “This exercise of transformation we see with the guns, is what we would like to see in society.” “It’s important to consider that many lives were taken with these weapons, as if a sort of exorcism was taking place,” sculptor Pedro Reyes said in a description of his project emailed to The Associated Press.

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When they were played, he said, “the music expelled the demons they held, as well as being a requiem for lives lost.” As you might expect, the “music” produced on the ingenious instruments was anything but harmonious. It was loud, cacophonous and disturbing, like the lethal impact of the weapons themselves. But if the medium really is the message, “DisArm” has “Sun” and “Film” beat by a plowshare.


We have settled into a dull routine here, I’m afraid. Even though the tax work is done, my good wife has conscripted me to help with the book she is under deadline to complete by the end of the month. I have been looking for something new to blog about and it occurred to me that I have accumulated a lifetime (seven years) of material, so it may be time to start plagiarising myself. All the best writers do. Spring has sprung here in Melbourne and I have written about that before. At this time of year we see almost every kind of weather, from sun to rain, clouds and clear skies, all in the same day. Today is quite spectacular.

From 2007, “The birds go berserk at this time of year. The squawkers get up at first light, but they also make sure you know when the sun is going down. Magpies dive-bomb cyclists under the mistaken impression that their nests are under attack. Lorikeets and parrots fly in colourful formations, but the bell birds are my favourites. Riding through trees full of bell birds is like being delivered into a temple in Bangkok. The tones are resonant and beautiful and stay with you long after the birds have gone.”

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In September of 2007, we made our first big trip in Australia– up to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree. Our daughter was with us then and she is back with us now, so it seems appropriate to start this re-blogging exercise with that holiday. It was a pricey trip, but we saw some spectacular countryside. We flew up to Cairns, then rented a small car to travel North to the chic, quiet little town of Port Douglas. The rainy season was still a month or two off and the lethal, stinging jellyfish were waiting for their cue to come toward shore and scare the living daylights out of swimmers. As if huge, saltwater crocodiles can’t do the job.

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We chose a relatively small, snorkelers-only boat to visit the reef. A limit of thirty passengers meant we were unlikely to get left behind and we were virtually guaranteed individual attention. The trip out on the Coral Sea was an all day event. Port Douglas is the closest town to the reef, but it takes two hours to reach the reef from the small, busy harbour. There are 2900 separate fringing reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef, all under fairly constant threat from mining companies bent on trashing a World Heritage Site in order to increase revenues and dividends for their shareholders and supply more coal to China.

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Fortunately, the weather was fine. Unfortunately, the brand new underwater housing I had purchased for the trip did not allow me to actually see what I was shooting. I aimed, shot and hoped for the best. Pixels are cheap. It didn’t occur to me that I might actually snap the shutter 150 times and then spend hours on the computer trying to turn fairly drab results into sparkling, colourful photos. With digital photography, all that requires is patience.

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The reef stretches for about 2300 kilometres, supporting the most diverse ecosystem in the world. All thanks to a tiny critter called the polyp. Its proclivity for warm, clear water and the sturdy support of Australia’s large continental shelf make these ideal waters

After our trip to the reef, we headed North again, up into the Daintree area of the rainforest. We settled in at our lovely Bed and Breakfast within walking distance of Cow Bay beach. There are no hydroelectric lines north of Daintree river. Every home and business has to have a generator or solar power. Needless to say, we turned in early, grateful for the sunlight that fed the batteries that powered our reading lamps.

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Despite its poor soil base, the rainforest covers about 1200 square kilometres. Its plant diversity is unrivalled in Australia. Some species date back 110 million years when the continent was much more humid than it is now. There are trees that may be unchanged from the time of Gondwana. While the trees, ferns, vines and other greenery is stunning, the animal life inhabiting this world is difficult to spot. A private zoo in Port Douglas makes all but the shyest creatures accessible. We arrived in time to see a stork making lunch out of another bird’s chick, so the visit was not entirely without distress, but it was fascinating.

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Cassowaries are among the few diurnal creatures in the rainforest. They are huge, scary-looking birds. The males raise the young. Since they have the talons, size and sometimes the inclination to rip unwary humans wide open, visitors are encouraged to keep their distance. They are a key species to the rainforest, the only animals capable of eating large fruit, such as cassowary plums, and dispersing the seeds with a nice pile of fertiliser. Someone with a clever hand doctored a speed bump sign at a Cassowary crossing point to encourage motorists to slow down for the big birds. The end message gets the point across bluntly, but some motorists need that.

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We took advantage of our carefree days of relaxation and exploration to go swimming, walking, bicycling, hiking, snorkeling, horseback riding, and kayaking. It seemed like each beach was more inviting than the next; each boardwalk through the rainforest beckoned with an air of mystery. It was our first major expedition out of Melbourne, an enchanting visit to the land at the top of the continent down under.

Here is a simple breakdown of the seasons in the Southern hemisphere. Summer: December to February; Autumn: March to May; Winter: June to August; Spring: September to November. This is a rough comparison. Australia is almost the same size as the continental United States and has a number of different climate zones. Up in Queensland and in the Kimberley, it is simply “dry” or “wet.” It gets very, very wet up there even though this is the driest continent on the planet. Summers are hot.

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