Thursday, October 31, 2013

National Gallery of Victoria

The National Gallery of Victoria is a free art museum in the heart of Melbourne. I made myself visit this place so I could lie to myself and say that I wasn't just going to the train station to buy candy. The museum gave a good alibi and it happened to be in very close proximity to the candy store. I do like art to a point. My mom was quite the artist while I was growing up. She did photography, acrilic on canvas, faux finishes, murals, and illustrations, to name a few. With every new endeavor, she learned all she could pertaining to it. I didn't even realize how much she drilled into my head until my first college course in art. I got straight As because I already knew the artists and their works. There were a few facts I learned fresh, like that Van Gogh shared his name with an older brother who died as an infant, but those stuck with me because they were few and far between. The real challenge was memorizing the dates and locations of specific pieces. So, I know quite a bit about famous artists and their art. However, like plants, the knowledge is not pushed by too much interest. This gallery was interesting to see, but I didn't take many pictures, and I likely won't go again. Since I did go, since there were a few notable pieces, and since I know some people reading this blog (Mom) might be highly interested in what this gallery has, I figured it best to post about it. Here are some samples of what I saw:

Biology lesson for the day! In real life it is called diprosopus to have one body with two faces, almost but not quite separated. In that case, it is just one person who had an embryonic issue properly developing the face. If a real human was born with two full faces or two heads, it is more often a case of conjoined twinning, two individuals fused together. Just seemed like a good time to share with multi-faced artwork and all! :)

At this point in the gallery, an older Australian employee said "Hi" to me. I responded with "Hello" and began walking away. He got my attention again to ask where I was from. I didn't think before I spoke and replied quickly "Minna-Merica. USA. Minnesota." He spoke for the next twenty or so minutes about how he lived in Minnesota for four years to be with his now wife. Brian, as I read his name while he spoke, went to see a Vikings game once. He didn't like it. So he became a Green Bay fan instead. Plus there is something with the colors greens and gold relating to Australia too. He proudly showed me his car keys with a Green Bay logo dangling from the chain. He then reached to his wallet to pull out a torn piece of the latest American football scores from his Australian newspaper. The next time Green Bay makes it to the Super Bowl, this man will be on a flight back to see them in action. He then asked if I had gotten into any Aussie sports since arriving. I said no, without revealing that I was probably the last person on earth to discuss any sports with. He suggested I go to the horse races on Tuesday. The tickets are "cheap," only $60-70 right now, he informed me. I thanked him and said I'd look into it and walked over to the next room. 

After writing this blog entry, I learned something interesting about this painting, Weeping Woman by Picasso. In the early 80s, it was stolen from this Gallery. The thieves tried ransom and threats. A police tip led to the return of the painting, and the thieves were never caught.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Prison Ghosts

With Halloween approaching, I realize more and more that Australians just don't understand this holiday. One legitimate problem is that it's spring here. Halloween is designed around autumn and it just doesn't make quite as much sense at this time of year. However, it goes beyond that. It is difficult to find any decorations at all. The extent of what I could find was an endcap at a small grocery store. There is hardly any American candy, and the Australian candy just doesn't look as yummy/bad for you. I finally hunted down a candy shop that sells some American candy, after googling where to find Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in Australia. For eleven individual Mini Reese Cups I paid $5.75. I am eating these babies in the smallest bites known to man! When I went to buy a pumpkin to carve, it took a few hours to hunt one down. Once I did, I noticed that none of them had stems. I resisted talking to a manager about the importance of a good stem on a carving pumpkin. I won't go too much into the price of the pumpkin, but it was a few dollars per kg, and apparently it weighed a whole lotta kg! While discussing the process of buying and carving pumpkins with many different Australians, I have also learned that in their minds, you just carve a silly face and be done with it. Few understood that you could carve anything you wanted and fewer even knew that you light and put them outside. I've been told that trick-or-treating isn't really a thing here and that very few people dress up. So sad.

Just for the record, I was planning on being Maclamore this year, with my faux gater heals, all pink outfit, and giant faux fur coat. None of that would fit in my bag over here, so I can't do that costume this year, and he probably won't be relevant in pop culture by next year. So, together we can silently mourne the death of my possibly epic Halloween costume. :(

Anyway, with all this Halloween lameness going around Australia, I needed some Halloween themed fun. A travel website informed me that the local jail does ghost tours. I immediately signed up, and immediately after signing up regretted the fact that I had just agreed to go into a prison, alone, at night, in a foreign country, to look for ghosts. Did I ever tell you I cried during The Ring and screamed in a theater during Premonition? I didn't cancel. I really wanted to go. I was just afraid of peeing myself in fear or feeling like demons were following me on the trains back home. Valid concerns! 

The night of the tour, I was to arrive at the Old Melbourne Gaol (pronounced jail) at 8:45pm for a 9:00pm tour. I left with more than enough time for error. So happy I did! The train I was planning on taking, didn't exist. Maybe it was canceled, I don't know, but all the information for it disappeared and it never showed. No other trains were going to the station I needed to get to, so I took one to a more popular station nearby, and a second train to the correct station. It was only a ten minute detour. I went the wrong way out of the station, and had to turn around after a block. Somehow that turned me around and I did the same thing at the next intersection by a block as well. Finally, I got to the prison at 8:46pm! There were three people after me that were really late, so I didn't feel as bad about my one minute. 

Our tour guide introduced himself and his newly written book on sale for $12.00 in the gift shop, and began our tour with a skeptical tone. The prison is made of three levels of cells. The second two stories are hollow in the center so all levels can be seen at once. The cells are small rooms with heavy doors, providing only a peephole to the outside world. Some rooms in the prison were for minor criminals who would work during the day; others were there for death penalty and had little to no contact with any other humans. Frankly, I am not very good with names, and I don't take any pride in remembering the names of people who have committed gruesome crimes. If you are interested in learning more, please google the stories along with Old Melbourne Gaol or look into the tour guide's book. I'm sure you'll discover more.

Warning: If you wish to go on this tour, I suggest not reading any further. Though not nearly as well as the guide, I do tell most of what is on this tour. This is a tour specifically around ghost experiences within the jail. So for general history, it tells little.

Also note that this jail has been turned into a historic museum site. There are no current inmates.

The first story we heard was of a long time staff member who recently resigned. She locked up at the end of every night. One evening, she had particular trouble opening a cell which was known the be "haunted." She pushed and pulled as hard as she could, but nothing happened. Finally, she gave up and went to leave. As soon as she reached the bottom floor, as the cell was on the end of the second floor, the door slammed open and all the doors in the building began to rattle. It shouldn't have been possible for wind to come through and she was the only person in the building. The next evening she and one other lady were there at the end of the night. As they were leaving, she realized her purse was still inside. Both women went together to go it. As they stepped foot back into the jail, they both claimed to have heard groaning and moaning echoing throughout the jail. They ran outside, and a boyfriend was sent in alone to get the purse. The lady put in her resignation the next day. 

The second story was one of an inmate that had been in the jail long ago. This man was an arsonist and skilled in insurance fraud. He owned an insured place in England, I believe, that burnt down. Through this he learned of the fortune that could be made through fire. He began moving around, but his insured homes always fell to fires before he left each place. Eventually, he settled in Australia with a wife and two young children. He and his wife grew apart, so he suggested they both get large life insurance policies. She was a heavy sleeper. One night, as she slept he began a fire in the attic, and left to run errands for an alibi. For some reason, he thought the children would escape, being light sleepers at the end of the house. Upon arriving home, the man discovered his wife and daughter alive, having been pulled out of the house by neighbors. The son had passed due to smoke and the man was convicted of murder. Just before he was to be hanged, the man attempted to kill himself by running head first into the sharp metal bars on the inside  of his door. He survived, was bandaged, and went on the be hanged just as he would have been otherwise. All the other inmates could see through their peepholes was his bloody and bandaged head walking to his death. For years later, there were stories of the disembodied, mummy-like head floating down the halls. The doors were wrapped to prevent any more suicide attempts. 

Next, the guide gathered us in a circle to discuss the differences between unexplainable phenmenon and overactive, wishful imaginations. He showed pictures that visitors had sent him of their "ghost encounters" within the jail. One floating orb was a moth for example. At the end of the jail, they have a glass figure of a woman to advertise these ghost tours. Many people had mistakenly captured a picture of her and used it for proof of ghosts. I took a picture of the figure as well... It looks like glass. He warned that since we are all on a ghost tour, we are primed to see ghosts. So when questionable objects appear on our cameras, we should not just assume they are ghosts, but first examine more probable causes. After this speech, he showed a few pictures of orbs and figures that were truly unexplainable. Those were the pictures he wanted to see.

We then headed up concrete stairs to the second floor and crowded around a rope. The rope looped around and hung from a large block of wood which was sandwiched between the walls. Underneath the simple contraption, was a trap door. This was where people were executed. The man who helped to fit and install it was the first to die from it after being found guilty of rape. 

In a window next to the hanging area, it is said that you can see a face in the center, bottom frame. Can you see it? 

We walked all the way to the other side of the second floor and huddled around the most haunted room. In this room, people have seen women figures. This prison took in both sexes for a long period of time. Upon entering the room, women visitors tend to feel their hair stroked or touched, while men feel a pushing sensation. A male reporter was trying to take pictures in the room once, when he suddenly doubled over in pain and looked to be pulled out of the room from behind. He ran out of the building and never returned to finish. A young schoolboy came with his class, but refused to enter cell 17 because it felt weird. Twice seeing eye dogs have refused to take their owners near the room. Blind visitors like to come and feel the wide variety of tactile things throughout the prison. The first seeing eye dog took its owner through every cell in the building, one at a time. An employee at the prison noticed that the dog skipped cell 17, the haunted one, and informed the blind lady. This excited the lady, so she tried again, not knowing exactly which cell it had been. The employee saw the same thing once again. The lady asked to be brought to that specific cell. The employee guided her over, but the dog refused to budge or let her owner go inside. The second seeing eye dog refused to go on the second floor at all. The owner tried every way to go up, but the dog would not allow it. 

I took a selfy in front of the haunted cell. The flash was very bright, so my eyes are closed, but this is the best picture I got.

As we made our way back down the hallway, we stopped at a random cell and all squeezed into a circle inside. Here the guide showed pictures of ghostly figures caught in photographs and reported by visitors. One day a family came to the museum and a child from the family looked up to the second floor and waved. The family asked who the child was waving to and the child responded that they were waving to a woman and little girl. Many people reported this happening and one person even captured a photo of these figures. They have only been seen during the day however.

Cruelly, the restrooms of this prison are at the far end on the third floor. During another tour a man claimed to have seen a man wearing a strange uniform. He asked where the restrooms were, got no reply, but ended up finding them himself. The uniformed man he saw was not a real person. However, many people have informed the employees that this uniformed man would not let them on the third floor. The few psychics who have visited the jail, also have said that the man would not allow them upstairs. They explained that he had authority over the third floor at one time and didn't like people getting in his way.

After these stories, we went back downstairs and were given free reign to take pictures and look around for a while. I looked through some rooms, but didn't have time to read much history. The bell rang letting us know that it was lock up time, and I got my behind outta there!

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fitzroy Gardens

So, my dad wanted me to take pictures of trees around here. Unfortunately, in the city most of the trees are in the front yards of people. It's probably not good to walk down the block taking pictures of the front of each house. A large public garden seems like a much better option to me. Now, please understand before going through this blog entry that I am an animal person. I know enough plant information to get through Botany, Environmental Science, and Ecology in college, but I've probably already forgotten a large chunk of it. Plants are cool; I like them. I occasionally become interested in their symbiotic relationships with animals. That's about as far as it goes. 

For this blog entry, I learned something about myself. I take way too many photos!! In this entry, I chose the photographs which best represented each area. If you would like to see the other beautiful pictures that I just couldn't reasonably squeeze in, please see go to the short link below. Let me know if there are any issues viewing those photos.

Fitzroy Gardens 

This is a rather large garden. This map, taken from the Fitzroy Garden website, represents each notable place within the garden by a star. I visited all of it.

It isn't easy to take pictures of large trees, so there are a lot of flower pictures as well. Dad, you'll probably prefer looking at the flickr page. 

Dolphin Fountain

Dusky Moorhen swimming in Dolphin Fountain!


Cooks' Cottage

Sign Says: Cooks' Cottage was constructed in 1755 in the English village of Great Ayton by the parents of James Cook. It was shipped to Victoria and re-erected in the Fitzroy Gardens in 1934. The cottage commemorates Captain James Cook, who in 1770 mapped the east coast of Australia from Pt Hicks, in Victoria, to Possession Island north of Queensland. The 'oldest building in Australia', it is open daily. 

Sign Says: The wide, spreading branches of this mature tree provide welcome summer shade. A fast growing native of New South Wales and Queensland, strongly identified with the area of Moreton Bay near Brisbane, it produces round, purplish figs which attract birds in the summer. As the Endeavour sailed northwards along the east coast of Australia in 1770, James Cook named Moreton Bay after the Earl of Morton (who was President of the Royal Society at that time). Sir Joseph Banks was astonished at the diversity of plants they collected at every Australian landfall. The same species of 'spinach' that they ate at Botany Bay now grows in the Cooks' Cottage garden.

A Tiny Village (Not sure of the name)

The Fairies Tree

Sign Says: 
The Fairies Tree, Carved by Ola Cohn From 1931-34 
"A Gift To The Children Of Melbourne" 
Foreword from her book "The Fairies' Tree" 
"I have carved a tree in the Fitzroy Gardens for you and the fairies, but mostly for the fairies, and those who believe in them. For they will understand how necessary it is to have a fairy sanctuary - a place that is sacred and safe as a home should be to all living creatures. Therefore, I dedicate this book to children and fairies, as it is them I owe my inspiration." Ola Cohn, Melbourne, 23 May 1932

Rotunda (Constructed 1873)


Surrounding Areas

After Fitzroy Gardens, I wandered around the street looking at some other interesting places nearby. Here is what I saw. Sorry I don't remember the names for most of it.

There are many more pictures on Flickr!