Friday, November 30, 2012

Changes in Hobsons Bay's Electorate Structure

Before the last Local Government Area election, the City of Hobsons Bay had 7 single-councillor wards shown in the map below:
  • Williamstown (Angela Altair)
  • Williamstown North (Peter Hemphill)
  • Spotswood (Bill Tehan)
  • Altona (Tony Briffa)
  • Altona North (Michael Raffoul)
  • Altona Meadows (Luba Grigorovitch)
  • Seabrook (John Hogg)

Hobsons Bay LGA

There were two main problems with this partition:
  • Some suburbs (e.g. Laverton) were split between 2 or more wards, causing confusion to residents.
  • Suburb and ward names do not match e.g. the Seabrook Ward also included half of Altona Meadows suburb while the Altona Meadows Ward also included Seabrook residents.

Previous Altona North Ward councillor Michael Raffoul first raised in December 2011, the suggestion of multi-councillor wards to solve these problems. The then Altona Ward councillor Tony Briffa supported his proposal, saying: "I have always maintained that the electoral structure of a council should not divide communities of interest, and support the use of proportional representation in local government elections." But Altona Meadows councillor Luba Grigorovitch said she preferred the existing structure. She said: "I think it’s good to know where our boundaries are. It gives more clarity to our constituents". Williamstown Ward councillor Angela Altair agreed that the ward boundaries needed to be improved but said the single-councillor ward system had worked well so far. The vote to enter the submission eventually passed five to two, with Councillor Angela Altair and Peter Hemphill voting against the plan.

In its initial review, the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) preferred keeping the 7 single-councillor wards but in April 2012, recommended a 3-councillor ward (Strand Ward) and two 2-councillor wards (Cherry Lake Ward and Wetlands Ward), as shown in the map below. Basically, the 3 eastern wards (Williamstown, Williamstown North and Spotswood) are combined to form the Strand Ward. Altona merges with Altona North to form the Cherry Lake Ward while the Wetlands Ward is amalgamated from Altona Meadows and Seabrook wards. There are some changes in the boundaries but the total number of councillors remains at 7.

Hobsons Bay Wards 2012

The voting was changed to a postal voting system and the following councillors were elected:

Michael Raffoul probably did not expect his proposal would eventually turn out to be his nemesis. There may be 3 reasons why he failed to get re-elected to Council under the Cherry Lake Ward that he contested:
  • The change from preferential voting in a single-councillor ward to proportional voting using the Single Transferrable Vote in a multiple-councillor ward may work to his disadvantage.
  • He may have established a strong foothold in Altona North ward but he has not expanded his support base to Altona where he too needs to garner for votes under the new electorate structure.
  • He has kept a low profile on the train issue in Altona. Tony Briffa and Sandra Wilson, who were elected, were both actively against the train service change. The Baillieu Government came to power largely due to voters' dissatisfaction with the previous government's management of public transport. I guess history may repeat itself in that voters would once again focus on public transport issues at the next state election. If politicians could sense the electorate mood, they should now actively engage with the constituents on these issues.

Upon reading about the new electorate structure from the local newspapers, what immediately sprang to my mind was the question: "How can this work?"  What if the 2 or 3 elected councillors in the same ward happen to have very different personalities that clash?

I do not think there are any written rules or guidelines that govern how councillors from the same ward should work together. Hence they have two options: (A) collaborate with each other in the larger interest of the communities they jointly represent or (B) work independently of each other. Option A is ideally a no-brainer provided there exists an amicable relationship. In the perfect world, we would expect councillors to use their respective strengths to complement each other in producing a synergistic outcome much higher in quality than each individual would have achieved separately.

However, in the real world, there may exist several sources of conflicts of interests. In a load-sharing ward, how does each councillor claim ownership to efforts and achievements so that he/she can use these achievements to convince the constituents to re-elect him/her in the next election? The quest for credit may lead a councillor to adopt differentiation strategies that will put him/her in a more favourable light compared to others. In the situation where a councillor wants to assume the dominating leadership position and the other councillor does not want to give in, how to come to a compromise?

Councillors elected to the same ward may be unwilling bedfellows. They may belong to different political parties or hold different political beliefs, values and ways of doing things. Unlike a party in governance, they are not bound by a common charter or are required to adhere to any team rules. Neither is there a party whip to enforce discipline when differences and conflicts arise. One can hence see numerous examples of councillors squabbling with each other, requiring the intervention of VCAT for conflict resolution. The prognosis will probably be far worse if conflicts happen within the same ward rather than between different wards.

If Plan A does not work, the only option is Plan B which is not any easier. Under the old electorate structure, a councillor serves a smaller area. Now the number of constituents is doubled or tripled so it may not be feasible for a single councillor to cover the much expanded ward in the absence of load-sharing. Each councillor may not be able to give the best possible attention if he/she needs to service a much larger area. There will not be synergy and economies of scale if functions are being duplicated. Worse still, greater animosity may ensue if each candidate tries to undermine or pit against each other, in carving out his/her own local sphere of influence.

Now let us look at what are some of the "hot issues" facing each ward in Hobsons Bay. I will start with Cherry Lake Ward because I stay in this ward so I have a better knowledge of these issues either personally or through closely following media coverage.
  
Cherry Lake Ward

Strand Wand

Wetlands Ward

As you can see, there is a long list of issues that the councillors need to work on and they can do them well only if they put aside any differences to fully concentrate on bringing out the best outcomes for the communities they serve.

Since the new electorate structure is already in place, we can only hope things will work out well. The worst scenario is VEC having to go back to the drawing board at the next election. However, four years is a long time so the impetus still falls on the collective wisdom and magnamity of the people's representatives to iron out any problems.
 

Ref: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Australian Garden

In the 1960s, the Royal Botanic Gardens started purchasing lands at a previous sand-mining site in Cranbourne to set up a satellite garden for promoting the cultivation of Australian plants. The Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne was hence established in 1970 and now covers 363 hectares of heathlands, wetlands and woodlands.

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Its centrepiece attraction is the 15-hectare, $49.5 million Australian Garden which was created to showcase Australian flora, landscapes, art and architecture. More specifically, the Australian Garden is intended to be a place where visitors can:
  • appreciate the beauty and diversity of Australian plants.
  • explore the evolving connections between people, plants and landscapes.
  • discover inspiration and information about how to use Australian plants in their home gardens.

The 9-hectare Stage 1, which concentrated on arid environments and the journey of water, opened on 28 May 2006. The 6-hectare Stage 2, which depicts river systems, coastal and urban environments and forests, officially opened on 19 Oct 2012, ending 20 years of planning, construction and planting. This final stage added 11 new precincts, 170,000 plants from more than 850 plant varieties and new facilities including a visitor kiosk at the northern end of the Garden, boardwalks and viewing platforms on Howson and Gibson Hills, and an amphitheatre for education programs and performances.

Map of Australian Garden Cranbourne
Download map here


Garden Design

The Australian Garden was designed by Taylor Cullity Lethlean Landscape Architects and plant designer Paul Thompson. It is a highly-stylized intervention, based on contemporary interpretations and heavy landscaping, in which the designers make no pretence of giving visitors the naturalistic or the wild.

A central theme of the Australian Garden is the story of water and its passage through (and sometimes absence from) the Australian landscape. In the first stage of the Australian Garden, the journey of water begins in the red desert heart of Australia – the Red Sand Garden. The Dry River Bed and the Ephemeral Lake Sculpture highlight the transient nature of water leaving the desert in drought, arriving with unpredictable floods until it arrives in the Rockpool Waterway. In the second half of the Australian Garden (the northern half), the Rockpool Waterway becomes a River Bend at the River Walk.


Red Sand Garden and Ephemeral Lake

The Red Sand Garden is an awe-inspiring interpretation of the desert landscape. It features a vast expanse of vibrant red sand (sourced locally from an old quarry) with circles of saltbush and crescent-shaped mounds designed to echo the shapes and colours found in Central Australia. The red sand contrasts dramatically with the grey foliage of the plantings. On the northern hill, mass plantings of Acacia binervia and the Spinifex sericeus are used to stabilize the sandhills. The lower slopes are covered by a carpet of muntries (Kunzea pomifera), the fruit used for food by the Aborigines. The garden is designed to show seasonal flushes of wildflowers, as seen in the deserts of Central Australia.

Red Sand Garden A

The Ephemeral Lake sculpture, shown by the yellowish stripes in the above photo, is created by Mark Stoner and Edwina Kearney, using low relief, liquid-shaped ceramic plates.


The Rockpool Waterway and Escarpment Wall

Designed by Greg Clark, the over 100 metres long Escarpment Wall is inspired by the red sandstone escarpments found in places like Uluru and King’s Canyon. It forms the bank on one side of the Rockpool Waterway, which is a shallow canal dotted with square stepping stones at different heights. The waterway has subtle, angled terraces, so as the water flows, it tumbles over the little shelves from one side to another, like a curtain being drawn or a fringe falling over a face.

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The water descends over a small waterfall into a waterhole where a bridge crosses over to join the Serpentine Path. Past the bridge is a looming sculpture made from oxidized iron.

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Gibson Hill

Another prominent landscape feature, Gibson Hill, is an ideal place to rest with panoramic views to the entire Australian Garden. It will be cloaked with blue-foliaged saltbush and acacias to provide a backdrop to the Red Sand Garden. A winding Serpentine Path provides all-abilities access to the top of the Hill.

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View of the Gibson Hill from the Serpentine Path


Weird and Wonderful Garden

Located in the heart of the Australian Garden, this mysterious garden focuses on some of the stranger forms of Australian flora including dramatic plants such as Doryanthes, cycads, Xanthorrhoea, Brachychiton, Flindersia and Livistona. These plants are juxtaposed with massive vaults of Castlemaine stone and water features to create a fantastic and surreal landscape.

I do not think that I had covered this garden entirely during my visit for I did not see the huge Castlemaine vaulted stones and plants such as the cycads and the Queensland Bottle Tree (Brachychiton rupestris). But I did manage to see the very unusual Grass Tree, more popularly known as Blackboy. The following photo shows the Xanthorrhoea johnsonii or Johnsons Grass Tree, which is found in eastern Australia and can grow to 5 metres tall. What makes this tree so visually striking is its very long flower spikes. Flowers are borne on a long spike above a bare section called a scape and the total length can be up to 4 metres long. Flowering occurs in a distinct flowering period, which varies for each species and can be stimulated by bushfire.

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Johnsons Grass Trees with their spectacular flower spikes


Melaleuca Spits

The Melaleuca Spits sculpturally and horticulturally represent Australia's rich and distinctive estuarine coastal topography. Layers of aquatic reeds, sand spits, and bands of Melaleucas provide striking vistas from many other locations within the Garden.

Melaleuca Spits 01


Arbour Garden

An arbour is a framework that supports climbing plants. This garden is so named as it contains a long line-up of wire-grid frames where vertical spaces are used innovatively for supporting native climbers such as gum vines and kennedias, in place of traditional plants such as roses and wisteria. The idea is to create a series of green walls with a verdant tunnel for a pathway, through which children can play hide-and-seek or which brides can pose for spectacular portraits. But right now with the kennedias just establishing, there are more grids than greens to be seen.

Arbour Garden
Flowering Kennedia macrophylla (also known as Augusta Kennedia)


River Walk

The River Walk is a broad promenade with views across a meandering "river bend" of water. This area, comprising a large, curving, treed walkway of granitic gravel and a waterside section of timber decking, connects the Rockpool Waterway with the vibrant Display Gardens and Howson Hill. A timber-clad amphitheatre with seating for over 150 students provides an outdoor gathering space fringed by Australian plants and shade-providing trees.

Amphitheatre 02


Exhibition Gardens

These 5 exhibition gardens demonstrate ways that Australian native plants can be used in the home garden.
  • Diversity Garden - illustrates a variety of native plants from various climatic zones in Australia. Water Saving Garden - shows how to group plants with similar water needs and choose plants which require minimum watering in a garden. 
  • Future Garden - features various alternate ways of gardening, such as special plant choices and novel mulches. 
  • Home Garden - shows a number of gardens featuring native plants for some common types of homes found in Australia.
  • Kid’s Backyard - uses natural plant materials recycled into a children's play area rather than the common plastic and metal constructions commonly found in Australian backyards.

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Kids' Backyard


The Eucalypt Walk

Eucalypts are an omnipresent feature of the Australian landscape, with around 700 species found in virtually all habitats. The Eucalypt Walk features 5 gardens (Ironbark, Box, Peppermint, Bloodwood, Stringybark) displaying some well known eucalypt species.

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Little Drumsticks (Isopogon anemonifolius)


After-Visit Thoughts

Having read about the praises that the media heaped on the Garden and learnt of the large number of awards (18) that it had won, I visited the Garden armed with great expectations. However, I left the Garden with more questions than I started with.

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Red Spider Flower (Grevillea speciosa)

Firstly, one would expect that a garden that takes a generation (20 years) to develop would be pretty matured. Hence, I was very surprised by the nascent state of the garden. This leads me to think it may take another generation before the trees can be large enough to provide ample shade, by which time only my children and their children can get to enjoy. I do not know why it takes such a long time to develop the Australian Garden. The 101-hectare, S$1 billion Gardens by the Bay in Singapore (Ref  1), which I believe is a much more technically difficult project to achieve, took 5 years to complete and is still expanding.  I have not been to this Garden before but photos of the Flower Dome, Cloud Forest and Supertree Grove look very impressive, out-of-the-world and something like from the Avatar movie. Below is a YouTube video of this garden:



Of course, the motivations, objectives and directions of the two gardens are very different. The Australian garden focuses on native plants, which are already best suited to growing conditions in Australia. In contrast, Gardens by the Bay transplant exotic plants from distant parts of the world to Singapore, necessitating the creation of artificial environments such as temperature and humidity controlled facilities and special soil conditions. Gardens by the Bay have proven to be successful as a strong pull for not only local residents but also international tourists. It has become an iconic landmark of Singapore, enhancing its image and is a source of pride for its citizens.

In terms of sustainability, environment-friendliness and running costs, the Australian garden is clearly the more superior. However, in terms of innovation, technology, visual appeal, economic benefits and usage, Gardens by the Bay wins hands-down.

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Grass triggerplant (Stylidium graminifolium)

Secondly, I am confused on how the Australian Garden positions itself. Is this meant to be a primarily botanical garden or a landscaped theme park?  Most areas of the garden are covered by either sand, concrete or man-made structures. If you divide the total surface area of the garden by the area occupied by plants, I believe the plant cover will be pretty low. I feel that a botanical garden should stick to its conventional emphasis on plants. Any landscaping should function to enhance and complement the showcasing of the plants, not to overshadow them. These artificial elements should always stay in the background, rather than becoming the "main actors". If a visitor brings away more impressions of the sculptures and features rather than those of the plants, then there is probably a wrong prioritization of the design focus. I have no concerns if this is marketed as a recreational park rather than a botanical garden, which in my opinion, carries educational and conservational responsibilities.

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The third concern is the accessibility to plants. The Red Sand Garden occupies a big chunk of the Australian Garden and yet it is off-limit to visitors. You can only view it from afar. It is like watching a picture frame or perhaps better than that, a mammoth garden behind a protected fence. According to the RBG's website, this garden contains a rich variety of plants which include the Albany Daisy, Kangaroo-paw, Pincushions, Pineapple Bush, Rope-rush, Popflower, Snakebush, Mat-rush, Grass tree and other rockery plants. But from my vantage point, I can only make up patches of greys and greens from among the red sands. Unless with the help of a binocular, I cannot see the individual plants nor learn about their features, although I am very curious what plant forms grow in a desert. The only reason I could think of why this Garden is not made accessible is for the protection of the Red Sand Sculpture. If the Australian Garden's objective is solely for visitors to admire this award-winning sculpture, then I can understand this arrangement. Otherwise, the garden's management should think of some ways of allowing access to the Red Sand Garden while not damaging it so that visitors are able to have closer views of the desert plants.

In fact, I enjoyed walking through the Eucalypt Walk as the various gardens there allow me to come into close contact with many plants and flowers (some very exotic looking ones such as the Little Drumsticks and Red Spider Flowers) that I have not seen before.

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What strikes me about this botanical garden is the lack of shades. I made my visit on the Open House Day which was in the middle of Spring when the maximum temperature was supposed to be 20 degrees Celsius. However, I was soon sweating and parching under the direct sunlight. You may argue that one must be patient and allow enough time for the trees to grow. But I think the design does not place an emphasis on the provision of ample shady trees. Most open spaces, including those around the water, are either concreted or covered in sand. The tree saplings being planted are too sparse and scattered to provide substantial cover. I would not be excited in visiting the Australian Garden during summer and on hot days. I believe one of the criticisms of the Birrarung Marr Park is that it is often a sun-baked area and hence, not inviting. I would like the Australian Garden to be less harsh and more generous with foliage.

Bush Ranger mod
Bush Ranger (Anigozanthos)

Dr Philip Moors, director and chief executive of the Royal Botanic Gardens, describes the Australian Garden as a garden for the community and a means of inspiring visitors to develop their own spaces. I will like the Australian Garden to be a social space - a place people will not find intimidating, that will tempt them to spend time relaxing there. You would see that spaces popular with people such as the city's botanical garden and Flagstaff gardens usually have extensive lawn areas accompanied by a fair amount of tree shades. I do not know why the Australian Garden hardly has any lawn areas. Perhaps the designers think that lawns should only have their places in a European-style garden and will thus be awkward in a garden with an indigenous theme. But I think all people love well-manicured lawns. These include Asians in which lawns are not part of their traditional gardens. Lawns are pleasant to look at, lie down and would confer a soft edge to the domineering hard architectural elements in the Australian Garden.

Shelter, Lifestyle Garden

The architectural design can evoke different feelings in different people. To the architecturally-illiterate, the landscaping and sculptures may not mean much. For example, the Rockpool Waterway and the various man-made lakes are too artificial for me. They remind me of the opulent water features in mega shopping malls or in "Las Vegas" style of palatial casinos. I do not think the much-photographed Shelter in the Lifestyle Garden (see above) serves any practical function for it will not protect you from the sun or rains. Appearance-wise, it looks like a "flexible" version of a brown timber cabinet door with vents.

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The name of the Garden itself can stimulate much ponderings. Exactly what is meant by "Australian" - what do people identify as a nation? The creators of this Garden have associated the "Australian" theme with native plants and Aboriginal art forms. To some, "Australian" may mean multiculturalism and diversity. Yet others may interpret this to be things that they are familiar with and can relate to in everyday lives. Hence, the Australian Garden which includes stuff such as the Gondwana Garden (during the Triassic Era) and the Red Sand Garden would probably be exotic and remote from most people's typical experiences. Thus, it will be a challenge if the Australian Garden is aiming to make a real-life connection with the visitors.


Ref 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Monday, November 26, 2012

Best Wedding Dances

While surfing the YouTube one day, I came across some really entertaining wedding dance videos, which would be a great source of inspiration for would-be brides and grooms thinking of spicing up their weddings.  Except for the first video, my liking differs somewhat from the list selected by Mashable, a popular social media news website.

The first video "JK Wedding Entrance Dance" features the wedding of 28 years old Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz. Jill grew up dancing, wanted to dance on her wedding and Kevin quickly agreed to the idea. Except for the wedding party and their parents, no other wedding guests knew about the dance. The dance party practised for an hour and a half before the ceremony and people were pretty much making up the dance moves as they went (Ref 1).  The video begins with ushers closing the church doors with everything appearing normal. To the surprise of the audience, the ushers, groomsmen and bridesmaids then progressively danced down the aisle to the song of "Forever" by Chris Brown. This culminated in the groom tumbling through the group and the bride dancing down the aisle to meet the groom.



Kevin uploaded the video to YouTube on 19 July 2009 after "harassment by his father-in-law to share it with relatives not present at the wedding". This video went viral, viewed more than 3.5 million times within 48 hours. It became the third most popular video on YouTube in 2009 and as of October 2012, had been viewed over 77 million times. Time magazine ranked it as the 15th greatest YouTube video. Due to the domestic violence that Chris Brown inflicted on his then-girlfriend Rihanna, the couple set up on their website, a charity drive for the Sheila Wellstone Institute, an organization advocating an end to domestic violence.

The "JK Wedding Entrance Dance" has spawned many imitators and parodies. My favourite is the "MK Wedding Entrance Dance" where the men of Chippendales (a male touring striptease dance troup) sent their General Manager, Kristen Makhathini, down the aisle of Classico Wedding Chapel, Caesars Palace at Las Vegas. The spinning of the bride by the groom towards the end of the video is amazing.



On 15 April 2011, the mobile service provider T-Mobile launched a video, portraying the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton weeks before the actual Royal Wedding. as part of its viral marketing strategy.  In this parody of the "JK Wedding Entrance Dance" shot at St. Bartholomew the Great Church in London, royal family look-alikes boogie down the aisle to boy band East 17's "House of Love". Prince Charles and his wife Camilla do the bump, a moderately amused-looking Queen Elizabeth claps conservatively and Prince Harry looks amped up, grooving with a gaggle of bridesmaids before his brother Prince William and the bride Kate Middleton appear (Ref 2).



In the following video, the groom stole the show. From the ways he executed his steps, grooves and gyrations, he is apparently either a professional dancer or has foundations in dancing.  As he moved effortlessly from one dance number to another, the bride could barely keep up with him.



Though released only on 22 Aug 2011, "Marry You" by Bruno Mars has rapidly become a song of choice for many weddings. In this video, the groomsmen danced joyously to the tune of "Marry You" during the wedding reception in what appears to be either a school or community hall. This nicely-choreographed dance gives a rustic and nostalgic feel.



A geeky-looking groom Nate Johnson and his groomsmen in suspenders performed to the catchy tune of "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen for the bride Amy in the following wedding video.



The bride Edi and her bridesmaids danced in synchrony to the quick beats of a medley of popular hits in the following video.



The following is a video filmed by a professional company for Carolyn and Scott Rivers in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. You can sense the celebratory mood in this fun-filled video which narrates the wedding in which the wedding participants lip-synched against the background song of "Party Rock Anthem" - a mostly electronic composition from the America pop music duo LMFAO.



"Gangnam Style" had crept into many wedding receptions, including the one shown below.



The Asian couple in the following video were apparently enjoying their wedding dance very much, as shown by the radiance beamed from their faces. The video was filmed at Paradise Point in San Diego, USA.



If you do have enough, you can go this website which is dedicated to the coverage of wedding dances.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Altona Farmers Market

We noticed the "Farmers Market" sign at Altona Primary school (109 Blyth Street, Altona) when we drove past it a few times. Initially, I thought this is a one-off event. Then I realized this is probably a recurring activity. It was only yesterday that I managed to visit it for the first time. In fact, yesterday was the third time the market was held, which runs on the third Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

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Altona Primary School behind this "Cauliflower Tree" at Railway Street South

The Altona Farmers Market grew out of the passion of one particular parent, Sally Leung, asking "why can't we have a Farmers Market like Spotswood Primary School?" Sally and a number of other parents were driving to Spotswood's monthly market and it was thought that the model by Inseason Markets (which organize all the stallholders, set up the stalls, clean up, etc) would be good for Altona Primary School.

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Sandra Wilson was the school council president at the time and she supported the market though she recognized that it would need the support of the school for the use of its grounds and amenities, the support of a lot of parents on an ongoing basis and the support of the "buying community" for it to be sustainable.

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Fresh Apples, Oranges and Strawberries

Altona Primary School had a market on its grounds about 8 years ago. It lasted about 6 months and then folded. The format was different. For example, the layout was different from the current one. It did not have the involvement of parents and its offerings were a bit sparse. Therefore, it did not generate the revenue needed by stallholders.

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The Nuts and Pasta Stalls

Some people in the school community remembered this experience and initially there was a little reluctance to have another go. The school council then put together a survey asking for expressions of support for attending, buying, volunteering and serving on the working party. The resultant support and subsequent thorough planning was enough to get the market off the ground.

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The Fresh Vegetables Stall packing up at closing time

There are various benefits for Altona Primary School. The market opens up the school to the broader community and presents a fund-raising opportunity through the gold coin entry and sales from the school's sausage sizzle stall. The school council was able to off-load secondhand books left over from another fundraising initiative.

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The Animal Farm

Many parents are unable to get involved in parent club initiatives during working hours. The market has enabled them to contribute to the school in the following way - gate duty for an hour, sausage sizzle for an hour, etc. The parents also get to network with other parents that they would not ordinarily get to meet.

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Not sure how many parents would pay $3 per 5 minutes for the Jumping Castle

There is also entertainment by school children e.g. ukele group, drama group and the school working group is seeking ex-students/parents or other community buskers for the future.

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Face Painting

The ongoing sustainability of the market will rely on people coming each month to buy (that will keep the stallholders coming back) and having good stallholders to attract people. In other words, each needs the other!

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Potted Plants and Herbs

Yesterday produces include fruits (oranges, apples, strawberries), handmade pasta, cakes and pastries, bread, organic veggies, handmade soap, sauces, lamb, live mussels from Mt Martha as well as ready-to-eat food options, coffee, jumping castle, petting zoo, face painter, etc. Some stallholders did not have a great day yesterday. For example, the mussel man said that he needed to sell 120 kg of mussels for it to be a good day and his expectation was not met.

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Mussels Sales from Mt Martha

Word travels amongst stallholders whether it is a worthwhile location or not. The school working group is committed to it for a 12-month period and seriously wants it to be sustainable to offer good produce, sense of community, etc. Fundraising is important but not the main focus of the working group.

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Cooked Food Stalls

The weather was not good yesterday's morning with intermittent drizzles. The sky only started to clear up after 12 noon. It was about 12.45 p.m. when I arrived at the market with my son. There were few visitors, perhaps because of the bad weather and it was near closing time so many stalls were already packing up. My wife joined us from Tarneit after our daughter had completed her morning Chinese language lesson there. It was 1.20 p.m. and we decided to try some food from the stalls that were still operating. She was charged a close-time special of $5 instead of the usual $10 for 2 large and 5 small spring rolls. The spring rolls, with filling of prawns, meat and crispy cabbages, tasted very delicious. There appeared to be several other interesting food stalls as well so we would visit the market again.

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PS. Sandra Wilson hopes that the Mussel Man returns because she has never tasted such sweet mussels.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Altona Veterinary Clinic Open Day

Several days ago, I read a post on Facebook that the Altona Veterinary Clinic is holding an open house today to celebrate the completion of its renovations. Then I forgot about it.

Today I decided to stay at home to prepare for an impending exam while my wife brought my daughter for her swimming lessons. But my son insisted on going out.  It was then that I remembered about this open house which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.



My wife had driven away the car and the train was not running today. It was not running yesterday either and people were complaining because yesterday was the last day of the Spring Horseracing Carnival and many people were also flocking to Werribee Park for the Harvest Festival over the weekend.

We took a 40 minutes walk from my place to the Clinic. I had to carry my son a few times as he was easily tired due to his age. However, he was overjoyed at seeing the animal farm upon arriving. This animal farm is a pretty good one as it has a large variety of animals.

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There were also not many people. This means there is no need to queue and we can spend as long as we wish in the animal farm.  Perhaps, the absence of trains has deterred people from visiting. Or perhaps, the warm weather has lured people to the beach. Or perhaps, the promotion is not effective in informing people of such an activity.

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Reptile Education Victoria Bus
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Albino Python
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Baby alligator
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Lizard

I also feel the Reptile Bus is a great highlight and very well-equipped. Though it may appear like an ordinary bus from the outside, there is another world inside. A central aisle on board the bus brings visitors face to face with reptiles enclosed within transparent chambers. These include many types of snakes, lizards as well as a baby alligator. You can even pose for a photo with a lizard on your shoulder or palm.

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There was also a man who dressed up as a cartoon figure (not sure what that is) who kept children entertained. Though there is no music, I could see him doing the distinctive Gangnam Style dance steps.

I phoned my wife, informing her of this activity and our location. By the time they reached the Clinic, the Reptile Bus had left. But they were still able to take part in other activities, including the Face Painting and the Sausage Sizzle.

Friday, November 9, 2012

National Rhododendron Gardens

See also: 1

The National Rhododendron Gardens are a spectacular cool climate botanical garden situated on a hilltop in the scenic Dandenong Ranges, along The Georgian Road, 500 metres from the Olinda township and about 40 km east of Melbourne.



The garden covers an area of 40 hectares and has a long linear shape. You can download a map of the garden here. At an altitude of 500 metres, the garden has a temperature about 5 degrees cooler than Melbourne and an annual rainfall of about 1200 mm, almost twice that of Melbourne. The soil is deep red, slightly acidic, volcanic clay loam. Its clay particles retain good moisture level while allowing free drainage. Hence, the soil is suited to growing a wide variety of plants.

Kurume Bowl A
Tall Mountain Ash trees in the background

The National Rhododendron Gardens were founded in 1960 by the then newly-formed Australian Rhododendron Society (ARS) on land made available by the Victorian State Government. The original intention of the garden was to showcase the national collection of rhododendron species and cultivars. The founders however had the wisdom to also include a very wide range of cool-climate shrubs and trees. Thus today, while the main focus is rhododendrons, the National Rhododendron Gardens are also home to a very diverse range of cool-climate plants.

Kurume Bowl B
The Pond and the Kurume Bowl behind

The development of the garden was carried out exclusively by the ARS and its members, with help from the State Forestry Commission and financial grants from various tourist bodies. The ARS started by clearing land and planting around the southern end of the garden.

Kurume Bowl 22
Azaleas in full bloom at the Kurume Bowl

In 1962, the garden was ravaged by a large bushfire. While this destroyed much of the original plantings, it also saved much work by clearing the bush for the garden. Many of the early plantings were propagated by the ARS members from their own collections, from specimens collected on trips to New Guinea, India and Nepal, and from seed and plant material donated by other international and national rhododendron societies.

Azaleas 21
Azaleas along the road to the toilet block 

As the garden developed, the financial and administrative load increased, leading to an increasing involvement by the State Government in the late 1980s. This culminated with Parks Victoria taking over administration and control of the National Rhododendron Gardens in 1995.

Kurume Bowl 16
Flower Valleys at the Kurume Bowl

The National Rhododendron Gardens are now host to over 15,000 rhododendrons, 12,000 azaleas, 3,000 camellias and 250,000 daffodils.  Set against a backdrop of the blue Australian Alps, the garden boasts spectacular views over the Yarra Valley.

Australian Alps 01
View of the Blue Australian Alps

It also contains a large ornamental lake, a smaller pond, a Kurume Bowl (where lots of azaleas are planted), sensory gardens, deep fern gullies and small rock gardens.

Lake A
The Lake

On a misty morning, there is a surreal atmosphere as the giant Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans), tower out of the ground disappearing into the white fog. Most of these magnificent trees have grown since the fires in 1962. They are the tallest flowering plants in the world only outgrown by the Californian Redwoods.

Rhododendrons 43

The National Rhododendron Gardens are a beautiful tranquil place to visit at any time of the year. In early spring, you can walk the golden mile of daffodils and see many camellias and magnolias in flower.

Rhododendrons 41
Huge rhododendron tree

By mid spring, the Cherry Grove is in full flower. This time is also the peak season of flowering for the azaleas and rhododendrons.

Rhododendrons 052Rhododendrons 051
White rhododendron flowers

Summer is a great time to walk the nature trail in the cool rainforest atmosphere or picnic in the cool shade on the Cherry Lawn and wander through the collection of conifers.

Rhododendrons 3a
Conifer lawn

The brilliant blue and white hydrangeas can be seen in full flower with many large banks of them planted around the garden.

Hydrangea taken by BeeLing01Hydrangea White taken by BeeLing02
Blue and white hydrangeas

Autumn is ablaze with colour as the deciduous trees and shrubs turn every shade of yellow, red and orange. The views by the lake are spectacular with many hydrangeas taking on rustic colours and are reflected in the cool calm waters.

National Rhododendron Garden 10
The Lake in the background

Winter is a season of contrast. The mists create an aura of mystery amongst the Mountain Ash and the air is always fresh and cool. Bare tree trunks and branches reflect in the mountain lake and in late winter, hellebore and cyclamen flowers carpet the ground.

National Rhododendron Garden 16National Rhododendron Garden 27
Aquatic Spiky Flowers taken by BeeIng01Proteas 04

The Vireya collection can be seen flowering at all times throughout the year.

Vireya 02Rhododendrons 24
Red and White Vireya

When I first saw the Protea (national flower of South Africa) atop Table Mountain in Capetown, I was mesmerized by its gigantic size and brilliant colour. I am very delighted to see it again in Melbourne and I believe the variety planted in the National Rhododendron Gardens is the King Protea. I do not know the name of the flowers in the third photo.

Proteas 004Proteas 01Rhododendron 054

Ref 1, 2