Monthly Archives: February 2004

Happy 100th birthday Critical Mass!

Critical mass, February 2004, Melbourne, Australia

There was a pretty good turn-out for the 100th Melbourne Critical Mass. I estimated about 400 or so. There were people in wacky outfits, parents and with their kids, business types, bearded greenies and cycle enthusiasts.

After a ramble through some inner city streets, the ride headed west toward the Bolte Bride, a six lane link to the CityLink toll highway. The authorities knew we were coming and closed the bridge to car traffic. In a burst of bravado, we all stopped at the top of the bridge and raised our bikes to the heavens. Incidentally, the panorama of the Melbourne skyline from the top was stunning.

One of the non-organisers, who was helping me to patch a puncture, suggested my chain needed a good clean. Not one to sound off without suggesting a practical way of doing something about it, he invited me to a regular Saturday cycle repair workshop held at Bill’s house in Northcote. The aim is to transfer skills so that cyclists are better able to look after bikes themselves, and requires only a gold coin donation. Great philosophy and timely, so I’m heading off there shortly to learn more about bike repairs and share lunch.

Pita bread one dollar

I’m slowly exploring Brunswick, and tonight in a Turkish pizza place down Sydney Road I found pita bread for a dollar. The bag of bread weighs half a kilo and is very fresh. It is perhaps symbolic of the ethnic mix in the area that this type of bread is so plentiful.

The eateries and shops provide a very visible sign of the diverse ethnic make-up of the neighbourhood. There are halal butcheries, Australia’s largest Italian food importers, Greek cafes, wedding clothes shops, humble coffee places crowded with Arabic speakers, and Turkish bakeries with baklava and other middle eastern cakes stacked high.

I’ve finally started my Brunswick Gallery so watch-out for photos of the hood. Next Sunday the trams stop and Sydney Road (the busy main drag) is closed off for the annual festival. See more at

Bendigo wines

Conor Park vineyard, Victoria, AustraliaSometimes weather forecasters can be wrong, very wrong. Rather than the temperature being a pleasant 30 degrees or so, perfect for hitting the wine trail, it was over 40 degrees. Venturing from the air conditioned Commodore to the tasting room through the blistering, baking heat was an ordeal. Although we did persevere, I didn’t wander the streets of Bendigo. I’ll have to leave taking in the impressive stone buildings, a reminder of the town’s goldmining past, until another time.

Some of the vineyards (such as Conor Park pictured above), looked so dry as to barely support any vegetation, let alone grapes. Those beside the drive-way were looking shrivelled and stressed with little fruit showing. The vines were lucky to have had one water in the past three years. I dared not to ask what affect it had on the vintage, though tasting one or two of the whites suggested high temperatures and white wine don’t mix. It seems to be viticulture very much on the margins. However, the vintners seemed unperturbed by the vagaries of the weather, focusing their attention on grapes that like the heat, ie red varieties. Some grapes, such chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, were sourced from other districts.

It was definitely the red wines that made the biggest impression. Megan, Ros and Megan made a beeline for the reds, snapping up Shiraz (or Syrah for those with an eye turned toward Europe), Merlot, Pinot Noir and Carbernet Sauvignon. Oh yeah, and a wine from the Water Wheel Vineyard called a Memsie. My palate, unaccustomed to the bold, brash Aussie reds, sought refuge in the whites. My single purchase, some lightly oaked Chardonnay from Langanook winery, sited in a little valley below Mt Alexander, will be quaffed on the verandah of my new home in Brunswick.

For hire: dish washing trailer

Dishwashing trailer

The conceptual thinking that has gone into this trailer was startlingly original compared without virtually everthing else on display at the Set-up to support community events, the trailer comes equipped with plates, tressel tables, washing equipment and eco-friendly detergent. Dishwashing elbow grease is all that needs to be supplied by the people running an event, who can breathe a sigh of relief that not TOO much waste has been created. The trailer has been developed by the Northern Region Waste Management Group, a quango set-up by some Melbourne Councils. Three cheers to the genuis or committee behind the trailer concept.

Originality was pretty much lacking at the rest of the festival. As Gena put it, “it’s a trade fair or industry show”. There was lots for sale, and brochures, and cutesy displays, and free bags – thanks EcoRecycle Victoria, another quango promoting waste reduction and improved material efficiency. The sleek, corporate presentation pretty much undermined any serious green intent. Seemingly, if we all become better/ greenerr/ more decent consumers and businesses within the current paradigm everything will be all right. The obscure presentation of festival themes, ala Saatchi & Saatchi doublespeak, was weird. Sustainability – non-offensive, something for all. What about a critique of power structures and economic systems that perpetuate not only environmental degradation but exploitation of human labour and social dislocation.

As on of my lecturers would have asked – where’s the rub?

Happy birthday to Skyla

SkylaHappy birthday to Skyla, aged one. Proud parents – Dave and Ceridwyn – were surrounded by friends, merriment, a huge cake, toys, music making, and all that makes for a good party. Living close to Angelsea beach and graced with a large backyard, folk slumbered and swam according to their mood.

It was hot, blisteringly hot yesterday – according to Melbourne’s record of history The Age, a top temperature of 39.4 degrees was recorded at the St Kilda Festival, attended by 300,000 sweaty people. Despite a hot trip in Heidi’s silver shadow, and shedding some sweat myself, it was fantastic to get out of the city.

Bless the city parents

I take my hat off to the city parents for their foresight. I’ve just got back from a cycle ride from Northcote 17km along the Merri Trail beside the creek of the same name. Apart from a few abberrant moments, where cyclists have to cross roads, the entire route is off-road. I’m sure, part of the reason for maintaining the open space was probably pragmatism – the creek floods regularly – and partly accidental, but nonetheless the green corridor is quite an achievement. Along with the parks and open spaces that surround them, the trails provide a space for people to escape to a natural environment, get some exercise, chase the dog, picnic, play cricket, or all of the above.

At times the path is narrow, cloistered in a tree filled gully, whereas in patches the creek teeters around the edge of a large open space. Let’s not get too precious about the amount of water flowing down – it would be a minnow beside even the Avon. But the floods can be sudden and voluminous. You can still see detrius lofted high in trees, and branches, leaves, silt and other storm remants obscure bridges and parts of the track.

The Merri Creek is home to the community environmental park Ceres (more on the park at a later date). And there is an active native habitat restoration group planting trees, holding education events, and the like. I have put the Friends of Merri Creek’s next outing in my diary: a litter clean-up on 14th March.

My ride didn’t stop at the end of the creek trail. Always wanting to cover new ground rather than back-track, I took the Ring Road path to join up with the Moonee Ponds track. Playing second fiddle to an enormous freeway doesn’t count as one of life’s pleasures: it was an ugly ride, through the outer, outer suburbs. Returning to the city from the Jacana wetlands along the Moonee Ponds track there none of the intimacy or natural beauty of the Merri Trail. Although the track follows Moonee Ponds Creek, for many kilometres it is a meagre flow in a massive concrete culvert. The track intersects and underpasses the Tullamarine Freeway – yet more concrete.

I was exhausted and relieved to reach home. Debriefing over a beer later, I reflected that when it comes to exploration you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.