Monthly Archives: September 2018

Crazy Rich Australians

The Art Gallery of South Australia is next door to the South Australian Museum (SAM).  This art gallery has been around for almost 140 years and has been added to several times in the only state that received no convicts.  Adelaide was started by free settlers instead of convict laborers from England.  I wrote about SAM yesterday.   While there, Ruth and I were lucky to get into a show that included the paintings of 25 mostly familiar, mostly French artists.  Colours of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay was closing at the end of July, 2018, and didn’t move somewhere else.

This temporary exhibit was fine, but it was this museum’s permanent collection that made stepping inside worthwhile for Ruth & me.  Like SAM, this art museum was very crowded because people in Australia take art very seriously.  This country, in fact, gives out 3 major awards every year for the best art works.  The Art Gallery of South Australia works are interestingly displayed in themed rooms, so a Rodin might be near a very contemporary piece by Swiss sculptor Thomas Hirschhorn that is full of nails and screws or a silk Chinese dragon robe.

Upcoming from November 17 of this year until January 29th of next year, this museum will present Picasso’s Vollard Suite.  I had never heard of this collection so enjoyed researching it.  According to the experts, this is Picasso’s most celebrated series of etchings, which are definitely on the earthy side.  Between 1930 and 1937 Pablo Picasso produced 100 etchings to honor the art dealer/publisher who gave him his first break.  Ambroise Vollard had forevision of this artist’s greatness, individualism, and saleability and put on the first exhibition of his works in 1901 when Picasso was only 20 years old.  There were once 230 complete sets of this series of etchings.  I don’t know if the Art Gallery of South Australia will have a full set on display, but this year-end exhibit will be free.  Several museums, like the National Gallery of Australia in Sydney, do have compete sets.  Vollard came to a tragic end.  With WW 2 approaching, he left for his cottage where 10,000 art works were in storage.  The car skidded and somersaulted twice.  He survived the crash but died the next day.

The Art Gallery of South Australia was the 1st big city museum Down Under to buy and display Aboriginal art.  This didn’t occur until 1939.  Several fine examples of its purchases are out.  There are also examples of every major Australian artist on view somewhere in this diverse museum because its collection has grown to more than 38,000 eclectic items.

The Art Gallery of South Australia is so forward-looking that it was the only museum in Australia to offer Colours of Impressionism.  The only other museum to have it was the National Gallery in Singapore, a city that is vividly on view in the very successful film Crazy RICH Asians.


Giant Marsupials in the South Australian Museum

The South Australian Museum is one of those science/cultural repositories that’s not just instructional, it’s fun!   It’s on Adelaide’s North Terrace in a cultural precinct among other museums in some repurposed buildings.  At least 4 of them are worth exploring for a day that includes the nearby botanic garden and National Wine Centre.

The South Australian Museum’s biggest lure, in every sense of the word, is a giant squid.  Giant is actually a misnomer since it takes 4 floors to show this squid’s entirety.  The best place to observe it is on the 4th level looking down toward the ground floor.  It took me a long time to see it because 5 boys were constantly entering the room.  They couldn’t get enough of it and repeatedly, arrogantly stepped onto the see-through floor that gave the impression that you were about to ride a squid.  In this spot they expelled air in horror.  This was OK.  The squid was for them, after all, and I thoroughly enjoyed their fascination with it.  Then the father of one of the boys came over to see what they were so attracted to, glimpsed the squid, and exclaimed, “My God!”

I also really enjoyed how this museum handled minerals.  They are often displayed as row upon row of colorful but dull representatives of what our Earth yields.  Here Australia’s ubiquitous opals were shown both singly and in a block carefully extracted by miners from an opalized sea floor in Coober Pedy, this country’s weird opal capital, so we could see them in a natural state.  Also on display is “the Fire of Australia”, the finest uncut opal known to exist.

Among the usual Egyptian mummies, boomerangs, dinosaurs, Aboriginal paintings, and South Pacific cultural artifacts were constant surprises, like the largest known ammonite, (marine animal) in Australia that was, at first, mistaken for a giant truck tire.  There was an interesting deciphering of Cleopatra’s name, a rendering of some Egyptian workmen tending to some cranes that were destined to be entombed, and so on.

I love a museum telling me about someone I have never heard of, like Douglas Mawson, who has made a giant contribution to some human endeavor.  Mawson was among the academics who made South Australia the home of polar exploration in the last century thanks to his expeditions to Antarctica, where he almost died. The Polar Gallery he’s in ended with a duplication of an Antarctic ice field.

This museum is for the young and those who want to remain so.





Sydney’s Strand

The first shopping center was built by the Roman Emperor Trajan.  It was a somewhat circular building with a large hall and a number of shops facing a long corridor.  There were about 150 stores selling things Romans really wanted like luxury clothes and spices.  A casual stroll through it made it easy to see items for sale.

There are many traditional shopping centers in Australia that are still doing good business, but its old shopping arcades are more fun see.  I’ve written about the best one that is in Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building.  It’s full of elegant stores and restaurants on 5 levels and a genuine tourist attraction.  So is The Strand Arcade practically across the street from the Queen.

The Strand connects George Street to the purely pedestrian Pitt Street Mall, the center of this city’s shopping activity that’s always full of people,  If you make a right turn from where The Strand hits Pitt Street, you quickly come to a more traditional and vast shopping center called the Westfield Sydney.  Inside it are 300 stores and restaurants.  Ruth and I have found some of the restaurants wonderful and reasonably priced in an expensive city.  The pedestrian mall ends at Market Street where you will find David Jones, the oldest department store in the world still operating under its original name.  The Westfield is cleverly arranged into precincts with shops that specialize in luxury items, international designs, Australian products, etc.

The Strand was one of the first Victorian buildings in Sydney, and it has been carefully preserved to still look like the 1890s.  It officially opened in 1892.    There are similar arcades in Adelaide, Brisbane, and Melbourne.  Our favorite store in The Strand sells Haigh’s chocolates.  This store’s mostly hand-made delights are only available in Australia.

By the way, when we were there, George Street was completely torn up because light rail is coming to it.  The new line will begin at Circular Quay and end in suburban Randwick and Kingsford by 2019.  People will soon also be able to travel to the new Barangaroo Reserve by light rail.

This city is always reinventing itself while preserving the best of its past.



George Brown in Darwin

Ruth and I went to 2 Australian, as in not typical, botanic gardens–one in Alice Springs and one in Darwin-while Down Under.   Olive Pink in Alice Springs specialized in Outback flora and George Brown in local plants, as in tropical palms and baobab trees.

George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens encompasses more than 100 acres in the middle of the city.  A botanical garden has been in Darwin since 1869 when this remote city far closer to Singapore than Sydney was newly founded.  At that time a man named William Hayes planted it in Doctors Gully and at Paper Bark Swamp.  He was initially trying to determine which food-producing plants could find a home here.  This botanic garden moved to its current location right in the middle of town 17 years later.  By the way, the downed paperbark in the monsoon forest showed how unlikely a groomed garden in this part of the world is.  These gardens have survived cyclones, fires, and World War II troop occupation.  Jack Agostini was the manager who rebuilt them after Darwin was bombed by the Japanese.  He was there for the bombing but evacuated to Perth with his family for the duration and returned to find his beloved gardens in shambles.  Remarkably, some of the original plants had survived.   Some areas were closed on the day Ruth and I were there due to high winds.  It was also incredibly hot, but that is normal for here.

Also normal for here, just past the east end of The Kimberley, are baobab trees.  About every 10th tree you see in The Kimberley, that remote and beautiful part of Australia between Kununurra and Broome, is a baobab.  But different types of them, most of which I had never seen before, were clustered here in an all baobab forest.   Baobabs are nicknamed bottle trees because of their shape or Bozy (pronounced Boojy).   How they got to The Kimberley from Madagascar is still a complete mystery. These distinctive deciduous trees can grow to 82 feet or more and usually grow singly.  I’ve never seen many types of baobabs this close together before.

Don’t expect to find cold weather plants and tulips in profusion at the George Brown Darwin Botanic Garden.  Here you will probably find some paths blocked so that stuff won’t fall on your head as you wander about its rainforests, mangroves, and forests that you have never seen before and won’t see again unless you travel to this part of the world.


The Feckless Forney

Like the International Church of Cannabis, I wouldn’t have known about the Forney Museum of Transportation if I hadn’t checked Atlas Obscura before going to Denver.  It’s among the 19 “cool” things to do there according to this alternative website.  Atlas Obscura noted its “Cast of unsettling mannequins” and raved about its “unique vehicle collections”.  The Forney Museum of Transportation, which is in an industrial neighborhood that has seen better days, is certainly neglected, but I liked a couple of aspects of this attraction.  In general, I do not recommend it except for those who are deeply interested in a historical overview all forms of transportation.

The Forney Museum of Transportation began as a family operation that showcased the private collection of JD and Rachel Forney from Fort Collins.  Rachel gifted JD with a 1921 Kissel Touristor in 1956, and their obsession resulted in more than 600 collected, historic artifacts related to transportation and not just cars.   JD owned a Kissel when he and Rachel were dating before marriage.  The collection includes Amelia Earhart’s Gold Bug Kissel and a rare Union Pacific “Big Boy” steam locomotive.  It’s HUGE, one of only 25 made, and next to an equally interesting red UP steam rotary snow plow, which is certainly appropriate in a Colorado transportation collection.

 The Forney claims to put together special shows.  When we were there, for example, it was promoting cars of the thirties.  I looked everywhere for this feature and finally had to ask where it was.   It’s been extended, the man at the entry desk told me irrelevantly before directing me to the regular place for this era that was packed with vehicles of the 1930s.  The museum map called it the “Rotating Exhibits & Event Space (Available for rent)” area.  The current diversion is “American Cars of the 70s”.  I expect that it too will be extended.  By the way, if you’re really interested, The Forney is both asking for volunteers and honoring those who have served in the past.

One thing I really did enjoy in this old museum was not the 1904 Denver Streetcar but the many small car models.  I was especially enamored of the display-worthy 1948 Tucker that any model collector would lust after.  I also liked the 1938 Mercedes-Benz Cabriolet and this museum’s  small display of hood ornaments, but not the art in the hallway leading to the men’s room.