Australiana


This season, from the people who brought you ‘The Early Bird Get’s the Right Size‘ we are treated to an exciting new adventure in language mangling with their wholesale invention of the word ‘giftorium’. So confused and befuddled by this word was I, that I had to look it up just to make sure there was no obscure Latin usage with which I was not familiar. This is typical of about the first hundred Google hits:(i)

Oh my fucking absinthe-addled maiden aunt. This should be a crime against humanity. Think of the poor children.
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Footnotes:

  1. There’s nothing quite like seeing all these search results in one long stream to help you understand how marketing press releases get used in the wild… []

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The person who has just been appointed to the head of Australia’s once(i) world-admired science organisation, the CSIRO,(ii) believes in magic.

Yes dear Cowpokes, Dr Larry Marshall, a man whose scientific credentials barely cast little more than a dim glow from within the deep shadow of his business escapades, and whose tumbling grammatical trainwreck of a biography uses expressions like ‘leverage’ and ‘serial entrepreneur’, wants to create water dowsing machines.

Larry says he would…

…like to see the development of technology that would make it easier for farmers to dowse or divine for water on their properties.

“I’ve seen people do this with close to 80 per cent accuracy and I’ve no idea how they do it,” he said. “When I see that as a scientist, it makes me question, ‘is there instrumentality that we could create that would enable a machine to find that water?’

You know what, Larry? When you see that – as a scientist – you should actually ask yourself why no real scientists believe, for even a nano-second, that dowsing works.

You have no idea how they do it? My suggestion is that you look up the ideomotor effect and watch this video. Several times, if you don’t get it on the first run through.

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Footnotes:

  1. I say ‘once’ because, like everything else in this country lately, it seems that the idiotic buffoons who aspire to be some kind of ‘government’ here, are hell bent on making it the laughingstock of the educated world. []
  2. You know WiFi? The CSIRO invented that. Yeah, WIFI! []

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Late last Saturday evening, Violet Towne and I spent several hours in an abandoned lunatic asylum. Now I know there are those among you who will feign surprise that this is anything out of the ordinary (I’m looking at you, Queen Willy) but it has been, in fact, nearly 25 years since my last Abandoned Lunatic Asylum Adventure.

The place we visited is called Aradale, formerly Ararat Lunatic Asylum, one of three asylums built in southern Australia in the late 1800s for the express purpose of accommodating ‘the growing number of ‘lunatics’ in the colony of Victoria’. Aradale is set on a small hill overlooking the Victorian country town of Ararat, a former goldrush settlement which now sports a population of about 7000 people. It’s about an hour’s drive to Ballarat, the nearest center of any significant size, and a further two hours to Melbourne.

Aradale offers three types of tours: a standard historical tour by the volunteer group The Friends of J Ward,(i) and a ‘theatrical ghost tour’ and a ‘ghost hunting tour’ run by a company called Australian Ghost Adventures

I am, as you know dear Cowpokes, quite skeptical of all things ‘haunted’, but I’m nevertheless partial to a bit of gothic fun, so VT and I nixed the straight historical tour in favour of one of the more ghostly options. Since the ghost ‘hunting’ tour sounded like it might attract the same kind of loonies formerly housed in the asylum,(ii) the ‘theatrical’ affair seemed the best bet.

In the end, it was a great choice. After leaving our motel at around 9pm (where the manager warned us that she’d once hosted a ‘total skeptic’ who was ‘completely converted’ after his visit to Aradale…)(iii) we headed out to the asylum and up the suitably forbidding yew-lined driveway.

At the door of Ararat Lunatic Asylum, we were greeted by a chap in funereal attire who enquired ghoulishly after our health, and effusively espoused the benefits of the hospital’s location, situated as it is in such a way on the hill as to take the maximum advantage of ‘the cleansing airs’ (a contrivance in keeping with the prevailing wisdom of Victorian mental health practice). He told the assembled group that, in the manner of the historical facts accumulated from patient records in Victorian asylums, about two thirds of us would be able to leave the hospital at the end of the evening, but that one third would be staying for the rest of their lives.(iv) The ensuing two-hour tour continued in a similar manner, with our guide proving to be an entertaining raconteur as he led us up corridors and down stairways by lantern light, through the length of the shadowy and labyrinthine edifice.

I fear that it wasn’t the terrifying and ghastly ordeal that some of our party expected, but for me the blend of tempered gallows humour and well-researched historical detail was just about right. I must confess that I was expecting probable episodes of faux haunting, but none eventuated, and the only notable ‘scares’ came from our guide when he appeared cadaverously from the shadows in some unnoticed nook in the corridor. The building itself was the star of this show, and those who really wanted to see ghosts almost certainly went away thinking they had.(v)

Places like Aradale are, as I’ve mentioned previously on The Cow, among the creepiest and most disturbing structures on the planet, when you consider the thousands upon thousands of suffering souls who once wandered their dark and echoic corridors. No-one needs to do much to make a tour through them a very memorable and unsettling experience.

It was pretty gloomy for most of the time we were inside the hospital,(vi) so I wasn’t able to get many good interior shots of our adventure, but there are some nice photos of the rooms and halls of Aradale on the Aradale Ghost Tours site.

And while we’re on the subject of lunatic asylums, if you’ve never heard the story I referred to up in the first paragraph, of how I was lost, by myself, in the middle of the night in an abandoned asylum in London, it’s here (and even for those of you who do know it, it’s worth a revisit – I’ve updated that post to include some more information about Stone House Asylum, and I’ve linked to an UrbEx site that has an enormous and beautiful gallery of interior photographs).

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Footnotes:

  1. J Ward is an annexe of Aradale, and is a goldrush-era high security prison that was seconded by Ararat Asylum in the 1880s as a repository for its ‘criminally insane’ inmates. It can be found in the town of Ararat, a few kilometers from Aradale. VT and I did the historical tour of J Ward on the morning after our Aradale visit. It’s also quite a grim and amazing place. []
  2. The ghost hunting tour offers all the technical accoutrements that have become associated with this contemporary folly – night-vision cameras & goggles, EMF detectors (which may as well be called WTF detectors), spirit boxes (more on those in an upcoming post), air temperature monitors and all manner of other nitwittery. It was also about four times as expensive as a result. []
  3. A claim which I took with a large grain of scoff. []
  4. He neglected to mention at this time that a good number of the patients who left the hospital prematurely did so in pine boxes… []
  5. At one stage, two impressionable women on the tour were besides themselves when they noticed a ‘chill breeze’ on their legs. Yes ladies – that would be the cool wind from outside blowing under the door into the warm room we were in… []
  6. Outside, by contrast, the skies were ablaze with the most incredible starry vistas I’ve seen in ages. []

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A little while ago, Violet Towne and I drove up to Sydney as we sometimes do. It’s about a ten hour trip and we’d usually make it in a day, but this time we decided to break it by leaving on Friday night, driving for a few hours and stopping on the way at at a motel at which we’d made an online reservation. To save the proprietors from embarrassment, I’m not naming names, or even putting a pin on the map, but suffice to say the place we chose was a sizeable establishment in a largish country centre with more than enough reason to know what constitutes modern expectations of hospitality. Somehow or other I ended up on their mailing list. I’m not really sure how this happened, as I’m usually fastidious about not handing out my personal email address unless it’s absolutely necessary. I suspect that they got it through the online booking form, even though I opted out of any email ‘notifications’ as I always do.

Whatever, I know they now have my details, because this morning I got a cheery update from them, espousing the wondrousness of their restaurant’s new menu. Viz:

Bonzo’s(i) Restaurant & Bar has recently launched the new menu with brand new dishes created by Head Chef, Hattie Bonilla(ii) and her team with an emphasis on The Grill. The Grill has a big variety of steaks in all sizes and cooked to your liking with your choice of sides and sauces to provide you with the ultimate meal.

Then follows what we must assume is meant to be a pictorial representation of ‘the ultimate meal’ (completely unaltered from how it appeared in the email):

Oh, my absinthe-addled one-legged maiden aunt. Could they possibly have made something look any less appetizing? This must surely be the best example I have ever seen of what NOT to do when photographing food. Here at the cusp of the visually hip 21st Century I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone could achieve anything quite so awful unless they actually set about it intentionally. Why, even the average iPhone meal snap looks tastier (and more professional) than this.

These two blobs of anonymous meat cuts, flanked by iridescent plasticized broccolini and a smear of… what is that – industrial sealant? Baby poo? – served up on a medical specimen tray and bleached out by a blinding flash of light on a morgue table are less a depiction of a tastebud temptation than a snap from a crime scene. And for Christ’s sake – how about a second shot to at least get the whole thing properly framed? It’s not like it will cost you anything!!!

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Footnotes:

  1. Name altered to protect the innocent. []
  2. Ditto. []

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Violet Towne and I sometimes like to venture out on the weekend to one of the many places in Melbourne-and-surrounds where we might take in some of that magical stuff which is given the name ‘art’. One of our very favourite such venues, the TarraWarra Museum of Art is not even too far from where we live, and it was there we trundled last Saturday to experience their ‘Sonic Spheres’ exhibition, “an assemblage of contemporary Australian visual artworks engaged with music, sound and voice”.

TarraWarra, a privately funded public visual arts gallery, is one of the few of its kind in Australia, and is a purpose-built art museum situated among vineyards in the Yarra Valley. It’s a lovely place. It always maintains a high standard of exhibition and as is usual, our visit there provided an appropriately diverting & thoughtful hour or so. But I am not, Faithful Acowlytes, going to pontificate on art in this post, something for which I can sense palpable gratitude out there in Cowland.

No, what I want to talk about today is the survey which were handed upon our arrival at the gallery, and which we were asked to complete on our departure.

In my experience, surveys can be divided into two kinds:

1: Surveys where the point is to find out something useful.
2: Surveys where the point is to get a bunch of diffuse and obfuscated data that can be read in any way the surveyor chooses.

You know I wouldn’t be writing this post if it was the #1 variety that VT and I faced, pencils ready, at the end of our visit. I wish I’d snaffled a copy away for accuracy’s sake, because I will unfortunately have to go from memory as I attempt to draw you a picture of the confusion that beset me as I tried to answer as truthfully as I was asked.

The first portion of the survey annoyed the crap out of me because it was full of the kinds of questions that tried to stick me in a pigeonhole as a certain kind of person:

•Would you consider yourself the type of person who visits TarraWarra art museum?(i)

Thinks: Well, no. I got lost on the road, saw the sign that said ‘Art Gallery’ and thought I’d come in to see if glimpsing a Pollock might refresh my sense of direction.

•Do you like to be among the kinds of people who visit TarraWarra art museum.

Thinks: No! I wish they would jolly well stop those people from coming here, so me and my friends could come instead.

And so forth.

But then came the section that was the kind of thing that makes my Grumpy Old Man antennae start waving around like those of a grasshopper on acid:

•If the TarraWarra Museum was a person, would you say it was (check all that apply):

Charming

Entertaining

Outgoing

Interesting

Intelligent

Acowlytes, I was forced to scribble my incredulity on the page at this point. When the creators of a survey decide that by anthropomorphising an institution this will help reveal something useful about said institution, they’ve ventured well into cloud cuckoo land and thrown away their compass.(ii)

The problem with even beginning to attempt to sensibly answer the questions posed above, is that you are on EXACT LOGICAL FOOTING with the following:

•If the TarraWarra Museum was a person (check all that apply):

Would you ask it out for a drink?

What colour eyes do you think it would have?

Should you give up your seat for it on a bus?

Do you think it would be appropriate dinner company for the Fire Station, the Public Library and the Chinese Restaurant?

It doesn’t matter how I try to frame it, I can’t see any possible way that any quantity of answers to this kind of question can provide data that might be helpful in making your art museum a better place – or even a controllably different place, for that matter. There is simply no sensible yardstick by which to measure things. Should the majority of respondents determine, for instance, that if the TarraWarra Art Museum was a person it would be charming and intelligent with a dash of insouciance, what the hell are you going to do with that information? Bash that damned insouciance out of it by removing the sand-blasted glass panels on the gift shop doors? If you thought TarraWarra-the-person was a little short on, oh, charisma, say, could you correct that by installing some crazy paving at the front entrance? You can, I trust, see my perplexity with this scenario.

And really, if you just can’t see your way around it, and you really must anthropomorphise your Art Museum, at the very least allow your respondents to have a creative personal say:

•If the TarraWarra Museum was a person:

Other (please use your own words, or make a drawing):

I imagine the TarraWarra Museum as a somewhat eccentric spinster with a penchant for French rosé. It has a good, if slightly peculiar, sense of humour and prefers chairs that face the window. It laughs a little too loudly and self-consciously at other people’s jokes, has a morbid fear of stick insects and visits a distant cousin in Ibiza every couple of years out of a misplaced sense of familial obligation.

At least reading the results of the survey would be entertaining. They might even make an amusing artwork.

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Footnotes:

  1. These questions were all couched in the wonderful ‘sliding scale’ terms that we are now so accustomed to seeing in these types of surveys, which only serves to cause me to want to unfailingly answer ambivalently in order to confuse the people trying to get some kind of useful result. If you’re asking a direct question, think about what that question should be, phrase it in a way that matters, and accept candid results. What is it with this confounded equivocating?! []
  2. Needless to say, the survey presented no check box options on this question for ‘Boring’ or ‘Irritating’ or Pretentious’ or ‘Eccentric’. You can see, I surmise, the inherent brainlessness of this pursuit. []

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The big news here in Australia – well, you’d think it was big news with the amount of press coverage it’s getting – is that mean ol’ Apple is intentionally bilking people of their money by advertising that the new iPad 3 can connect to 4G networks. Which it can, but hey. Just not, as it turns out, Telstra’s Australian 4G network.

Apple has quite obviously made a misstep here, but in my view it’s unlikely they deliberately went about exploiting their potential customers – I think we can surmise that they’re smart enough to realise that if they tried to trick people this way they’d get busted as soon as someone tried to use an iPad 3 with a Telstra 4G account.

This has not stopped Australia’s consumer watchdog, the ACCC, from putting the boot in, however. In keeping with current media fashion they just lurve the mileage they can get out of kicking Apple. The ACCC took Apple to court claiming that Apple has made ‘misleading statements’ about the connectivity situation. Apple, for their part, have very reasonably agreed to publish a clarification of the issue, and to refund the purchase price to anyone who wants to return their iPad 3.

Blah blah blah, who really cares? It doesn’t seem to me that this warrants the status of screaming front page news on just about every news outlet in the land.

This whole thing annoys me in a major way, though. For a couple of years now I’ve been having conversations with various ACCC personnel about the risible ShooTag and its presence here in Australia. Their willingness to do anything about this product has not demonstrated anywhere near the same level of enthusiasm as this sniping at Apple, and yet ShooTag is not merely making misleading claims: the ShooTag Australia site promotes outright lies (not the least of which is the bogus Texas State University endorsement which is still on the home page).

The makers of ShooTag, as you will recall, are not content to put the health of your pet at risk by promoting baseless pseudoscientific thinking, but are now promoting their product for humans, as a defence against insect-carried diseases including malaria.

I have, of course, pointed this out to the ACCC, here in a country where we have significant problems with mosquito-borne diseases, but apparently it’s much more important to protect the disposable income of affluent gadget-buyers than it is to attend to the wellbeing of pets and humans.

It gets much better press, at least.

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