Thursday, March 30, 2006

Postgrad Students - "Where the bloody hell are you?"

I have posted very little about the ANU's Postgraduate and Research Students Association (PARSA) of late, but as I said a couple of posts ago, I haven't said a lot about much at all of late. PARSA has probably consumed more of my time than anything else these last 2 months, and so does deserve a bit of a summary. In truth, times have been pretty tough for the association, due mainly to a rather sudden drop in numbers, and a lack of new recruits to fill their places. Due to some woeful organisational and scheduling decisions by the ANU's student administration during O'week (and complete ignorance of our interest in this week), and perhaps an error of judgement on our part, we missed out on an opportunity to introduce ourselves to the hundreds of postgraduate students who enrolled that week. To their credit, student admin have acknowledged their mistakes, and promised to work more closely with PARSA next time.

From a personal perspective, PARSA has been quite a strain, but as things now look to have settled down, I do feel a certain sense of satisfaction about what I have done. While one never wants to indulge in self congratulation too much, I am pretty happy with what I have achieved. Two months ago, the Social and Outreach team consisted of just 4 members (down from about 11 or 12 at its peak last year). As of this week, our membership looks like being more like 8 people, which is quite a relief. Two months ago, the S&O team had no employed help to assist with the planning and coordinating of social events. We now have a fantastic Social and Publications officer, working for PARSA 10 hours a week. I was one of two people on the selection committee (the other being Diane, PARSA's Administrator). I must say, this was quite an enlightening experience, but also a time consuming one.

Perhaps my proudest achievement, however, is the introduction of a new initiative to try and reduce the load of student reps involved with social events by building up an army of social helpers. This was inspired by the drop in numbers, and lack of people willing to join the representative council. Through an intensive email and poster campaign, the social team now has about 12 postgraduate students who have agreed to be "social helpers". So, in addition to the 8 or so PRC members, we now have 12 helpers. This, as you can imagine, is quite a relief given the state we were in at the start of Feb.

With all these things in place, and the task of leading the team becoming significantly easier than it was a few months ago, I have now managed to find somebody within the team, to take over the job of team chair after me. I have been team chair for almost 10 months, which is 4 months longer than it should be. If all goes to plan, I should be completely free of chair duties by mid May.

I am pretty excited about this. Not because I don't like being team chair, because for the most part, I do. The issue is more about the restrictions such a role places on your ability to do other things, both within PARSA and outside of it. I have been unable to put my hand up for other things, which has sometimes been disappointing because my interests in PARSA do go beyond the social events we run. I also firmly believe that in the longer term for PARSA, there is no benefit in having any one person perform the same duty for their entire time - what happens when they suddenly submit their resignation and leave (which is often how it happens), and no one else has the experience or inclination to step up to the role. To some extent, this is exactly what has happened to PARSA over the last few months. A lot of very good people have resigned (occasionally postgraduate students do crazy things like graduate!), and finding people willing to take on the intimidating
task of filling these roles is difficult, but such is the nature of volunteer-based organisations.

So I guess in summary, things are looking much better now that the recruitment drive has succeeded, and we have someone paid to make sure our events run smoothly. And yes, I am unashamedly proud of my own efforts to get things back on track. I should say, there are other people in PARSA, like our president Brett, who have put in huge amounts of time and effort to get PARSA on its feet, and prepare for the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism on July 1st. The fact that we will survive the introduction of this legislation is a great credit to those who have negotiated and fought for student representation at ANU.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Crapest bakery in universe is now spookiest

I have previously eluded to my dissatisfaction of the ANU's infamous bakery, which you may recall, I (perhaps unfairly) labeled "the worst bakery in the universe". I say "unfairly" because I have not been to every bakery in the universe and therefore cannot say with complete assurity that there isn't an even worse bakery out there. Even so, the critics are pretty unanimous that this one is pretty crap.However, my experience at lunch time today will certainly keep me going back, if only to further satisfy my curiosity.

Due to running out of bread at home, I decided to buy a bread roll from the bakery, and make a sandwich. I had brought all the other ingredients from home, and so all I needed was the roll. As I approached, I paused aabout 5 metres away from the counter while I looked at the selection - Turkish bread rolls, paninis, cheese rolls and other assortments were on offer. Not wanting to rush my decision, I stood and scanned the selection, politely ignoring both female shop attendants who kept repeatedly shouting "can I help you? can I help you?" at me.

After 5 seconds or so, I decided I would purchase the olive and cheese panini. I walked up to the counter. Just as I started to open my mouth and say "hello", the shop attendant presented me with a white paper bag, with some sort of baked product inside, and then said
"$2.40 please".

I stood somewhat stunned, and a little confused. I looked at her, and said,

"Um, sorry, I haven't actually ordered yet. Perhaps this is for someone else?"

"No, this is an olive and cheese panini," she replied confidently, "That's what you wanted isn't it?"

"Ummm -- yes, it is", I replied, "but how did you know that?"

"I just know these things" she explained.

"Right?" I said, as though that made everything much clearer.

I quickly paid $2.50 with instruction for her to keep the change - but I suspect she already knew that.

I still don't know how she picked it. I assume my eyes gave it away, but even so, I was standing a considerable distance from the counter when I made the decision.

So, it seems the crapest bakery in the universe is now also the spookiest.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


It is becoming increasingly apparent that one blog entry a week is looking like being the only way forward for me at the moment. The fact is, things have been nothing short of frantic of late, to the point wherefinding time to scratch oneself is becoming increasingly harder, let alone time to blog about anything. The great irony of this is that its times like this when I have the most interesting things to blog about.

In the last three weeks I have: been down to Melbourne and back twice, had one sister get married, had another sister announce she is pregnant, had a best friend out from the UK, graduated (Masters), been hiking for three days in the Royal National Park, have started private tutoring, have left my car keys in Melbourne so cannot drive my car (until Rocky and Trish mail them back to me), have launched a large recruitment drive for PARSA's social team, have done community radio twice and have finally reached my target of weighing less than 100kg (first time in 7 years).

Most of these things warrant a blog entry of their own, but the reality is that very few will, so I guess by default, this is it. And let's not mention the numerous loose ends like my Tassie South Coast track write up, which is still 7 days short of completion. I know you're all hanging out for that one! I also have a bunch of photos to include, from many of the above mentioned activities.

So I guess the message I am trying to get across is, "I'm still blogging!" Just not every day. I do intend to spend a day trying to catch up on a few of these loose ends though.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Something for Canberra

There is something attractive about the ability to make a spur of the moment decision to jump on a bike, ride to a park, lock your bike against a tree, and walk 50 metres to see your favourite band play. This is exactly what I did on Sunday evening. The concert was in honour of Canberra's 93rd birthday, the venue was Canberra's "Stage 88" in Commonwealth Park, and the band I went to see was Something for Kate.

I have been a fan of SfK for many years now, since I first listened to their 1999 album, "Beautiful Sharks", which was just brilliant. I'll admit, there is a little bias mixed into my high opinion of them given their Melbourne roots, but they have recorded some fantastic songs over the years. The band has been rather quiet since 2004, which made this particular gig an interesting one to go to. SfK have just returned from the U.S where they finished recording their new album, which I assume will be released later this year. They played a couple of new songs from the album, one of which didn't even have a name yet, so I was particularly chuffed to be among the very first to hear it (it sounded alright too). They are pretty good live. Paul Dempsey, the band's charismatically indifferent front man, was in full flight with his deep, belly wrenching vocal work. According to females scattered amongst the predominantly male front row, Paul is apparently a great hunk-a-spunk as well.

The event, labeled "Celebrate Canberra in the Park", began at 12 noon and went right through to about 9pm. In true Canberra style, the event was a mix of slick, big concert style festivities, combined with plenty of hokey, country town family day moments. After almost a year in Canberra, I now realise this is a Canberra trade-mark, and one that I have come to admire. The best thing about this is that the beer is normally reasonably priced. The worst thing about this is that you end up getting some cheesy 40-something MC from the local teenie-bopper radio station shouting into the micro-phone: "Are you ready to rock?", followed by the obligatory, "I said, are you ready to rock?". Not to mention the irony that the radio station providing the MC would never actually play any of the music from the headline acts.

The organisers, quite rightly, included a lot of local acts, which made for some interesting contrasts. These included a hip-hop outfit known as Casual Projects, who I have actually seen before at the ANU bar and liked, and a solo female singer and guitarist, Ashleigh Mannix, who was an instant hit with the crowd, but sounded too much like Alanis Morissette for my tastes (which was confirmed when she covered Alanis' "Isn't it ironic", after I had already labeled her as this).

And for the bogans, Jake Roff provided an impressively boring set of songs dedicated to his love of Australian sport. I don't want to be too harsh on the guy - he did have a good voice, and could clearly strum a few chords on the guitar, but 30 minutes of songs about cricket and rugby, and a bizarre "John Williamson" style anthem for our soccerroos in Germany was probably taking things a bit too far (the chorus included the line "We are the soccerroos, what ya gonna do" and then another line that involved the word kangaroo). The most unfortunate aspect of Jake's performance was its scheduling, right before Something for Kate. I felt bad for him. It wasn't his choice of course. The crowd, by this time, had built up significantly, but unfortunately they did not exactly warm to Jake's passion for sports rock. This fact was best demonstrated by the bloke standing next to me who, after each song, felt the need to shout "You suck!" repeatedly.

Another slightly awkward piece of scheduling was placing the relatively unknown Ashleigh Mannix between SfK and Alex Loyd. Even Ashleigh herself took a none-to-subtle swipe at the organisers when she came on stage, and declared that it sucked coming on after such a huge band. To her credit, however, she played a great set, and won over many fans who were probably a little skeptical after Jake's bogan ballads.

Alex Loyd was the last act, and appeared to attract a bigger, and significantly more female crowd to SfK. I like Alex, but could not really get into this gig. Being surrounded by teenie-boppy girls didn't help. I suddenly started to feel a lot older than the average - so much so, that I left about half way through his gig, which I don't normally like to do, but I was pretty tired of standing up the front by this stage, and was happy to vacate my prime position for more devoted fans. I am sure Alex Loyd fans would have been suitably satisfied with the performance.

Overall, I am very glad I made that spur of the moment decision to go to this concert. It was equally satisfying to walk away from the stage, back to the tree where my bike was locked, and ride back home again. A completely painless day out. Good one Canberra!

Here's some sample happy snaps of the event:

Casual Projects - OK, but clearly lacking a little in crowd support.

Something for Kate

Stephanie and Clint

A happy crowd

Ashleigh Mannix

The only photo I got of Alex Loyd before my batteries ran out

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Weddings, (street) parties, everything

It has been over a week since my last post, and I'm afraid this one is unlikely to make up the gap either. I have been in Melbourne since late last week, for my sister Lindy's wedding, and now to catch up with my good mate Terry, who is out from the UK visiting the colonies. Its been a mad few days to say the least, although sitting on my arse for the last 5 hours at my parents house has restored my energy levels a little before I drive back to Canberra tomorrow.

The wedding was great, and put to rest a lot of stresses leading up to the big day. From a personal perspective, my role as "chief pray book hander-outer" at St Bridget's in Healesville, and MC at the reception (also in Healesville) both went without incident (well, none that proved enough to ruin the wedding anyway). I must admit, I was pretty nervous about the MC gig. These days, I can pretty happily stand up in front of an audience and talk without too much stress, but with two sets of extended family in attendance for an emotion-charged wedding like this one, it felt more like I was speaking at the opening ceremony of the commonwealth games than a wedding (the only difference being the larger numbers in attendance at the wedding). However, once I got the formalities out of the way, I quickly settled into the much more familiar role of getting quietly sloshed with a few catchup glasses of red. It was a fun night.

Some photo's, and perhaps a more detailed report will appear soon, though this may well be at my own peril.

Since then its been a lot quieter. Sunday afternoon was spent in Brunswick for the Sydney rd festival (aka Brunswick music festival). Aff and I were joined by our friends Mel, Derek and Mick (Mel and Mick live in Brunswick). I have to say, it is festivals like this one that really pull the "I miss Melbourne" heart strings. You certainly would not find this sort of thing in Canberra, and while I cannot speak with authority on this, I suspect you would struggle to find this mish-mash of culture and music anywhere else in Australia. I spent most of the time in awe of the shear numbers of people wandering up and down Sydney rd. Lots of dancing in the streets, and yes, a fair bit of intoxicated exuberance on display as well. But the mood was jovial, and everyone was having a great time. The music, the food and the people make this one of my favourite Melbourne festivals. Unlike the St Kilda and Lygon st festivals, the Brunswick festival appears to have largely maintained its non-commercial roots. It feels like a community event, and it sure does look like one. No where else would you find a death-metal band playing at full volume on the street side, next to two dear old ladies selling hand crafted sandals - but that's Brunswick in a nutshell, and I do miss it.

Monday morning I spent in the city, catching up with my old school friend Cassie, as well as running a few erands around town. The city is clearly in Commonwealth games mode. The banners are up, the flowers are blooming and the volunteers are relentlessly trying to make sure you know where you're going. It seems to me that the easiest thing to assist volunteers is for the Victorian state government to issue all Melburnian's who wish one, a "I live here" badge so the volunteers know who not to worry about. I do admire their efforts though - I just hope people do turn up for the games.

Anyway, its back to Canberra tomorrow having spent the last couple of days visiting some old stomping grounds with one of my best mates Terry. Its rare enough that I spend significant lengths of time out in The Basin, but its even rarer still that I actually get a chance to drive and walk around the area. The last two days have been spent doing exactly that with T, as well as hearing his news from London. Yes Londoners, I know everything now! From what I can gather, things in London can best be summed up as:


Blog ya later.