Apr 132016
 Posted by on April 13, 2016 travel No Responses »

The use of social software while traveling can either enhance travel or diminish it, depending on the meaning and frequency of the messages. It has become super-easy to send messages to friends or family from almost anywhere in the world, but this shouldn’t be similar to sending an everyday message from a café or bar close to where you live. Exploring the world independently is a major undertaking that comes with a whole set of new perspectives, challenges, and responsibilities. It is important to communicate these in a meaningful way and be considerate of your audience who may not understand the context in which you are writing.

Australian Modernism on the move! Collins St, 5p.m. 1955, John BRACK Australian Modernism on the move! Collins St, 5p.m. 1955, John BRACK

The first thing to consider is the frequency of your messages. Yes, it is important to stay in touch with people when you are away, but this shouldn’t be too regular, maybe every week or two is enough, depending on the length and nature of the journey. If you post messages too often, your audience becomes accustomed to it, demanding more of your time and focus when you could be doing much better things. Frequent, bumptious messages from far-away places may also alienate your audience in an online medium with many competing, everyday concerns (and they may ditch you, then you will really be off the grid).

Posting undue, expeditious messages also means you have less time to think about and craft your message, so you are more likely to send shallow self-indulgent snaps of you sitting in a hammock or swimming on a palm-tree-infested beach as though every country of the world, other than your own, only exists for the narrowest of Euro-centric pursuits (in Australia in the 1970s this was called the ‘ocker fantasy’ and we have a whole genre of films of Aussie blokes on beaches in Queensland chasing blonde, scantily clad girls, so if this is your idea of the world, it has been done before so no need to broadcast it again).

Another consideration is the significance of the message. If you only blog or publish a set of photos ever week or two you have time to choose the most significant things you did in this period and reflect upon and write about them. Did you learn anything new; about the world, about yourself (be honest, dark and light and shadows)? Was it humorous, risky, rewarding, or dull? Everyone has a unique perspective, but it may take a while to find it, through reading, through talking to nice, or not-so-nice, people and through challenging and extending yourself by doing activities you wouldn’t normally do. What ‘normalised’ cultural perspective of the world are you traveling with, are you learning through un-learning, are you traveling with too many pre-conceived, instrumentalist ambitions.  I come from the world’s ‘most civilised, uncivilised country’ to paraphrase the Australian Modernist painters of the 1940s and 50s and some countries do have more culture and less modernity than us but they also have more bacteria in their cheese that will make you sick.

There is a reason that most people don’t travel, in search of better cheese. They are scared of the bacteria that will make them sick and are satisfied by the cheese that will make them fat (like the orange cheese in the US). It is the orange cheese people you don’t want on your social feed every day, they will stress you out!


Mar 282016
 Posted by on March 28, 2016 blogs, digitisation No Responses »

As this blog is approaching its thirteenth birthday , I thought that it was about time that I purged some of the fluffy, ephemeral posts that really don’t need to travel with me any longer. The problem with much online media is that a post or comment, that possibly took ten seconds to write, may follow you for many years, perhaps preserved through an historian’s anxiety to not let anything go just in case it may become significant some time in the future.

So I went through the 1350 posts feeling quite dismal because most of them weren’t significant at all! There were lots of pre-Twitted aggregation posts, lots of Conference Calls for eye-watering dull gatherings, that have since been forgotten, and too many rants about politics or Web 2 or the digital humanities that possibly don’t need to be aired for eternity. Painstakingly flipping through all the posts, with an historian’s paint brush and surgeon’s scalpel, I deleted 500, or more than a third, wondering why that particular post had seen the light of day in the first place.

But whilst hitting the delete button I stumbled upon a disturbing theme.  The particular robust deletion policy that I employed was if the resource I linked to was no longer available, and the post was chiefly about that resource, I would delete the post. The problem was that many of the posts weren’t simply about ephemeral matters such as a new ‘Web 2’ company (that has since gone broke) or a new tool or ill-conceived project within the digital humanities or eResearch. Many of the posts were links (broken) to significant reports, tools or services or even complete centres whose very mission it was to preserve digital data, but had long disappeared.

Where did they go?

I checked many of the links, but couldn’t find where the particular digital-preservation resource, centre, tool or report had gone to. It has simply vanished, forgotten, perhaps only existing as a line in a Resume or argument in a new funding application. So not only are we forgetting the significant projects and people that helped build the ‘digital humanities’ and the broader digital culture and economy, but we are also forgetting the very institutions, tools, and services that were actually tasked with preserving them, but failed.  The problem is one of institutional failure, not of technical failure.  It is funding models that don’t work, it is ineptitude, and it is a lack of historical vision to keep what is significant and ditch what is fluffy. The digital archive is the bread and butter of much future research and without it, emerging digital research will be replaced by an emerging digital alchemy.


Mar 172016
 Posted by on March 17, 2016 art, travel No Responses »

The availability of inexpensive, digital communication devices has aided the lonely traveler on the long and absconding road to fresh perspectives in a myriad of ways, but then again, if used unwisely, they can diminish travel and make it yet another expression of day-to-day ordinariness (so leave grumpy cat at home!) That said, travel is not really about where you go, but what you take with you, it is about moving away from familiar perspectives into new and challenging ones and trying to understand and cope with them, inescapably, through references to previous knowledge and experiences.

Otto misses his mobile phone!  (from  Otto; or, Up with Dead People (2008).

Otto misses his mobile phone! (lifted from
Otto; or, Up with Dead People (2008).

The same could be said about ‘travel’ in the broader sense, of moving about the myriad of cultural/social/economic contexts in large complex cities. To be effective at this, one must fully recognise that there are in fact innumerable social/cultural/economic contexts, each with their own set of hierarchies, notions of winning and losing, of geographic and social mobility, language, values, religion, consumer patterns, Queen Bees etc. (and some people believe there are only two cultural contexts, ‘us and them’).

The problem with all mobile communication devices is that they are designed generically with little or no appreciation of moving through cultural complexity and far from being advanced and sophisticated, if used indiscriminately, they make one look like a mass-produced zombie, dragging their knuckles on the pavement, walking up London’s Stand drooling and gawking at the red buses in amazement, ringing other zombies on the telephone and telling them about how amazing red buses are. In other words what can appear to be technically advanced can also be culturally primitive, there is a balance to be struck and that balance starts with a curiosity and willingness to understand the cultural world in which we live, zombies and all

Apr 212015
 Posted by on April 21, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  12 Responses »

The Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) is a pilgrimage in Southern Europe that begins in countries like France, Spain, Germany, England and Portugal and ends in Santiago de Compostella in Spain. There are many different routes that pilgrims take to walk the Camino, and some of these routes are over a thousand kilometres long and take many weeks to walk. It’s one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimages in Christianity, dating to about 813 AD, and meanders through some of the most culturally rich parts of Southern Europe. And apart from all the churches along the route, there are lots of pastries and cakes, espresso, beer and wine to enjoy (and the Portugués have a beer called Superbock that I am developing a spiritual relationship with that is growing by the day)

I only had two weeks to do the Camino, so decided on the Camino Portugués from Porto in Portugal to Santiago de Compostella in Spain (a distance of about 240 KMS over 14 days). Anyone can do the Camino for whatever reason, you don’t have to be Christian, you can be a tourist, a health conscious person, or just curious like me (but do remember, this is a Christian pilgrimage). And if you are wondering what a pilgrimage is, I found this excellent definition in a book of maps of Camino Portugués by John Brierley.

All of us travel two paths simultaneously; the outer path along which we haul our body and the inner pathway of the soul. We need to be mindful of both and take the time to prepare ourselves accordingly. The traditional way of the pilgrim is to travel alone, on foot, carrying all the material possessions we might need for the journey ahead. This provides the first lesson from the pilgrim – to leave behind all that is superfluous and to travel with only the barest necessities. Preparation for the inner path is similar – we start by letting go of psychic waste accumulated over the years such as resentments, prejudices, and outmoded belief systems. With an open mind and open heart, we will more readily assimilate the lessons to be found along the ancient Path of Enquiry.

Day one: Porto


I started the Camino Portugués in Porto, which is the most attractive place to start this particular route, but some pilgrims also begin in Lisbon (but I am told that there is a lot of walking on roads from Lisbon to Porto). Porto is one of my favourite cities in Europe, built in a river valley with a old town centre of cobblestone alleyways and beautiful mosaic-decorated houses and public buildings, including the main train station (and I have a long, black Porto cape, similar to what the students wear, that I don on special occasions).

The first day of the Camino from Porto is pretty dull as it takes almost the entire day to get out of the city through the endless suburbs. It is best to get the Metro to Vilarinho and start the walking from there (but I didn’t know this at the time, and I wish that I had spent one more night in Porto at the Tattva Hostel instead as it is one of the best hostels I have ever stayed. Hostels have come a very long way, and Portugal has some of the best ones).

Day two: Mosterio de Vairao

After the endless walk out of Porto, and feeling a bit grim, I came across this big spooky monastery where I spent the first night. Pilgrims stay in places like this that are called Albergues and they are very affordable at only 5-6 Euros a night. Only one other person was staying at the monastery, an older Spanish man who spoke no English (and I have no Spanish nor Portugués language skills). And almost no one speaks English in this part of the world, so I reluctantly prepared for the inner journey of the Camino!

Day three: Barcelos



The Camino got a lot more interesting after Mosterio de Vairao as the path wasn’t all ashfelt, suburban streets. The Camino trail is clearly marked with neat little yellow arrows that are painted on rocks, fences, houses, signs, and almost any inanimate object. In Spain yellow shells are used as well; the symbol of the Camino.

Day four: Lugar de Corgo (Casa de Fernanda)


The Camino today followed some original Roman roads that wound through many old school villages and wineries (and notably, the population is likewise, pretty old in this part of the world). I stayed in a private alberque for the night which was a homestay run by a friendly lady called Fernanda who cooked fish and potatoes for dinner and provided some great Portugués port and conversion. This was excellent for my “inner Camino” because I hadn’t talked to anyone in four days, only pointed at pastries and bottles of Superbock in cafés.

Day five: Ponte de Lima


This is an idyllic Portuguese town, built around a town square and a stone bridge. I got to Ponte de Lima in the early afternoon so had plenty of time for cakes and beer. All the town squares in Portugal have free Wi-Fi, so it is possible to check the dating apps to see what all the Christians are up too.

Day six: Pedreira

I stayed in a wonderful private Alberque this night called Quinta Estrada Romano, which was new and only had one other guest. In the private Alberque ‘s, dinner and breakfast are usually supplied, and they are much better than the Association Alberque ‘s which tend to be a bit stern (and have 10 PM curfews and no Superbock). Still, the Camino is all about walking and this day I walked 33 KMS. The physical walking isn’t that difficult, but geeze, I am doing some hard, lonely soul work).

Day seven: Valenca (Portugal) Tui (Spain)



Today I only walked about 10 KMS because I stumbled across two of the most beautiful towns so far on the journey, Valanca in Portugal and Tui in Spain (that are close to each other, separated by a river and a national border). Valenca’s old town is within a fabulous fort, entered through long tunnels in the fort’s wall. And Tui is built on a hill around a cathedral and square.

Tui was having a festival this day, so I sat in the town square and drank some Superbock, watched a paramilitary/religious parade, and saw a lot of Spanish dancing (the Spanish seem as though they want to break out and dance at any moment). I ate a hamburger because it was the only thing on the menu I could recognise, and it turned out to be a foot in diameter. I will be the only person in the entire history of the Camino to put on weight!

Day eight: Mos


Today I woke at 5 AM because, for whatever reason, the psychopathic Alberque in Tui turns the lights on at this ungodly time. Thus, I didn’t get a lot of sleep, but at 5 Euros a night, who am I to complain. I started to walk at 8 AM and forgot to go to a cafe for breakfast and couldn’t find one for a grumpy two hours. I had croissants and espresso, then continued my journey. Spain is a lot different to Portugal, there are a lot more people, and it has industrialised in an uglier way (I suppose we call this richer in the Modern world). At least, this is the bit I saw today as there were a lot of industrial and commercial estates to walk through. After walking a respectable twenty KMS, I arrived at the alberque in Mos at 2 PM and thankfully, there were no other annoying pilgrims there. This was good as it gave me the space to read and write, some of the best aspects of traveling (and I am just beginning to like my company).

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Oct 152014
 Posted by on October 15, 2014 digital humanities, events No Responses »

DHI is very excited to host  a public Lecture by Professor Melissa Terras on the 31st October 2014.

Melissa will be discussing the Great Parchment Book of the Honourable The Irish Society, a major survey compiled in 1639 by a Commission instituted by Charles I, of all the estates in Derry, Northern Ireland, managed by the City of London through the Irish Society and the London livery companies. Damaged in a fire at London’s Guildhall in 1786, it has been unavailable to researchers for over 200 years. The manuscript consists of 165 separate parchment membranes, all damaged in the fire. Uneven shrinkage and distortion has rendered much of the text illegible. Traditional conservation alone would not produce sufficient results to make the manuscript accessible or suitable for exhibition, the parchment being too shriveled to be returned to a readable state. Much of the text is visible but distorted; following discussions with conservation and imaging experts, it was decided to flatten the parchment sheets as far as possible, and to use multi-modal digital imaging to gain legibility and enable digital access (http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/3-1/great-parchment-book-project/).

  • Time and place
  • 9.30 to 10.45am
  • 31st October 2014
  • Linkway, 4th Floor John Medley Building,
  • The University of Melbourne

This talk by Melissa Terras (one of the members of the GPB project) will look at issues involving using advanced imaging methods within cultural heritage, particularly regarding the relationship the resulting model has to the primary historical text. Using the Great Parchment Book as a focus, she will ask how best can we integrate multi-modal imaging into our humanities research practices? What issues are there for both research and practice?

Professor Melissa Terras is Director of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities at University College London. Her presentation will include an overview of the advanced imaging technologies used in projects such as the Great Parchment Book (http://www.greatparchmentbook.org/), and the virtual shipping gallery at the Science Museum in London.

Oct 152014
 Posted by on October 15, 2014 history Tagged with: , , ,  23 Responses »

This evening I’m going to discuss the historical significance of Smith Street, the street that forms the border of Collingwood and Fitzroy, one of Melbourne’s most important and diverse streets. This presentation borrows from heritage work I did a few years back before the development of the site over the road, which is now the Smith and Co. apartments. As a disclaimer, I have lived in the area on-and-off for a good deal of my adult life and presently live less than 200 meters from here (although I have on occasions gone to other suburbs!). In this presentation, I’ll give a brief historical overview of Smith Street from when it all began the mid- 19th Century up until the 1970s.

The 19th Century

  • Street founded in 1837 on an irregular track from the top end of Bourke Street that went to Heidelberg
  • Between 1837 and 1865 the street made the transition from a thoroughfare to a manufacturing and shopping centre
  • Boom in the 1880s saw the building of the Post Office and Foy and Gibson’s Collingwood Store
  • Cable tram arrived on Smith Street in 1887 and expanded the retail population

• Smith Street is one of Melbourne’s oldest thoroughfares dating back to the first suburban land subdivision in Melbourne in 1838. Smith Street forms the eastern border of Fitzroy, and the western border of Collingwood. At first, Smith Street split the suburb of Collingwood in two but then the eastern half of the suburb was named Newtown and then later, Fitzroy (Melbourne’s first suburb).
• Smith Street originally formed part of a winding dirt track that went to Heidelberg. And it was the only road out of the city into the northeastern district of the fledgling Victorian colony. Smith Street was later straightened when the area was surveyed for the city’s first subdivision and became Melbourne’s first suburban shopping strip. In Victorian times, it was one the busiest and most important shopping centres in all the Australian colonies and in Melbourne it was only rivaled by Chapel Street in Prahran.

Foy and Gibson's, Smith Street, Collingwood

Foy and Gibson’s, Smith Street, Collingwood, 1890s

Establishment of Foy and Gibson’s
• Between 1837 and 1865 Smith Street underwent a transition from a thoroughfare to a manufacturing, service and shopping centre.
• One of the most important manufacturing and retail outlets of the time was the Foy and Gibson’s complex which had at the time the largest factory in the Southern Hemisphere.
• This is perhaps the first example of a purpose built department store in Australia and was completed during the boom years of 1891.
• Most of the Foy and Gibson buildings were built by the renowned Melbourne architect William Pitt who was responsible for many well-known buildings including the Federal Coffee Palace (that got pulled down), the Melbourne Stock Exchange, the original Rialto building, St. Kilda and Brunswick town halls, and the Victoria brewery in Victoria Parade. He also designed many theatres and re-designed the Princess Theatre in 1888
• And this image is on the Collingwood side of the street where the Smith and Co. development is being built at the moment.
• And these images (postcards etc.) can be found at Yarra Libraries or the State Library and some of them are online in the Pictures Victoria project.


Foy’s ‘ladies store’, opened in 1912

Fitzroy side of the street (and this is the Ladies store)
• Foy and Gibson’s was the first modern department store in Victoria and was a Smith Street institution for over one hundred years. Founded by a dour Scot, William Gibson, the store rapidly expanded so that by the early 1890s Foy and Gibson was present on both sides of Smith Street and its factories sprawled across three entire blocks of Collingwood.

• And this immense emporium or ‘ladies store’ on the Fitzroy side of Smith Street was opened in 1912.


Recent picture of Foys Ladies Store, Smith Street, Fitzroy

And this is a fairly contemporary shot of the building (with the Union Bank of Australia Building on the corner). And Kathmandu is housed in part of the old Foy’s emporium building at the moment.


Macs Hotel occupied 168-172 Smith Street from about 1860 (on the Collingwood side of the street).

Macs Hotel
• And directly over the road was Mac’s Hotel, which also played an important role in the history of the district. It occupied the site of numbers 168-172 Smith Street from about 1860. Macs hotel was the focus of many of the agitations by which Collinwoodites were renowned. It was the headquarters of Stumperdom (or political stump speeches) and there was a large open space for gatherings.
• Perhaps Macs also played a role in the 8-hour movement that came out of the pubs of Fitzroy and Collingwood in the mid-19th Century.


168 Smith Street Collingwood showing the remains of Mac Hotel, Circa 2003.

Until recently, the only surviving part was number 168, the southern third of the original building, but was torn down a couple of years ago.(and there is the Grace Darling Hotel just up the road from Macs is also an important hotel for the area and is one of the oldest, continuously licensed pubs in Melbourne, built in 1854)


Cable trams operated in Melbourne right up to the 1940s.

Cable Tram
• And of course, before electric trams, there were cable trams. And this is what a Melbourne cable tram looks like in case you haven’t seen one (and they are beautiful and they operated in parts of Melbourne right up to the 1940s).


Cable tram on Smith Street, circa 1906

And in this picture, you will see a cable tram on Smith Street. And this is looking down Smith Street from Johnson Street with the Birmingham Hotel on the right there.


Cable tram on Johnson Street, Collingwood, circa 1906

And this is looking down Johnson Street from the corner of Smith Street: Does anyone notice anything unusual about this image? Johnson Street has trams!

1900 to 1970
• The period of 1900 to 1970 was an important period in the history of Smith Street. There was the expansion of Foy and Gibson’s (and its eventual closure), a tunnel was built under Smith Street for lady shoppers, and Coles opening its first store in Australia. But World War II saw the fortunes of Smith Street decline, due to a number of factors.


Foy and Gibson Factories, 1906.

Foy and Gibson at its height
• I love this Image this is a picture of Foy and Gibson at its height in the early 20th Century. And remember Foy’s manufactured as well as sold their goods which would be incredibly unusual today (so they had a lighting factory and a furniture factory and a toy factory and a bedding factory I believe).


Foy and Gibsons, Collingwood, 1906.

And this is a postcard of Smith Street with the large Foy and Gibson store dominating. There is an elaborate trellis facade built over the veranda, with blinds drawn against the sun, and the signs on every section of the veranda announce the Foy & Gibson Summer Fair. “Women in Edwardian dress cross the manure strewn road, men gossip next to their delivery carts; carriages wait outside the shop and several cyclists proceed along the street”.

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