Jan 062015
 Posted by on January 6, 2015 travel Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

View of Annapurna massif near Manang, on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

There are (hopefully) number of good reasons to take a extended sabbatical or ‘gap year’, perhaps not just once, but during key junctures in your life. Gap years are usually about the process of coming of age, of getting out-there and experiencing the world before starting University or a career. They help individuals develop self-sufficiency, independence, decision-making and maturity.  Plus you get to see a good chunk of the world which is probably good for everyone as it helps build undertakings between individuals and cultures.

But there are also good arguments for taking ‘gap years’ at other periods of your life.  A gap year or ‘sabbatical’ can be a means of ‘book-ending` certain chapters of your life; of taking some time to develop new perspectives on what has passed and what is yet to come.  There is a skill that is often lost in the day-to-day demands of mouse-wheel Modernity and this is the ability to contextualise and navigate oneself within the great mountains and valleys of life.  Context appeards to be the great deficit of the emerging information economy and unfortunately, reductiveness, superficiality and banality are moving at frightening speed. A year isn’t such a long time in the great scheme of things, and hopefully through doing something different for a year, new insights, choices, creativity, and abilities will emerge.   At least this is what I tell myself!

1. Time is your most valuable asset

There is a parochialism that has enveloped day-to-day  life, but this parochialism isn’t geographical, but temporal. It is the ”parochialism of the present”. Millions of people are now trapped in the loud and raucous NOW, primarily driven by the hysterical and trivial demands of cheap communication devices (I am making an incursion here).  This NOW can stretch for many years, until one day you may realise that every day looks the same as the past day and the view may from the hill up the road was possibly better. In other words, significance is contextual and layered and the Modern world has many iron cages of insignificance (and some of them digital).

A sabbatical is time to do new things, to clearly re-think your goals and aspirations, and these don’t just come to you in the form of a lazy text message, you have to look for them.

2. Do a project that you have always wanted to do

Independent long-term travel is one option for a sabbatical year, but there are, of course,  many others (as travel may not be for everyone).  There is volunteer or paid work in various parts of the world where one can learn new skills and develop new perspectives. But it is important to plan sometime in advance and be flexible enough to let the plan or project develop along the way.  The project might be writing a book, learning a sport, or building a tree-house.  Depending on what you plan to do, taking a sabbatical year is a fairly demanding endeavor as it may take up to a year to organise (and tie-up the mouse wheel), a year to actually do it, and then a year to readjust when you come back (and I haven’t figured out the last bit yet, but maybe this is the whole point!).

There are options available to take time of work (unpaid leave) and return to the same job, but I not sure this is a good idea (unless of course, you own your own business or work for your self in some capacity in which you have to ability to take your hard-earned perspectives and use them to shape you immediate surroundings). It may be a better idea to start something new when you return based on what you have learned.

3. Travel now, it is better than later

Travel is all about engaging the ‘big picture” and given my understanding of the past century, I don’t think that the present geo-political and economic arrangements will last.  Even if you didn’t study it at university or school, history didn’t end.  History isn’t politically correct, it’s not about shopping, it isn’t black and white, and it is bigger than you.  The world is fairly peaceful and we are in a golden age of air travel and now has never been a better time to see the world (as it may not be possible in 10-20 years time).  When I first started travelling in the early 1990s, huge parts of the world were inaccessible due to divergent political ideologies, economic expense, or lack of infrastructure for travelers (like hotels and roads!).  The 21st Century may not be that different to the 20th, at least in terms of the great ebbs and flows of humanity occasional fracturing into misunderstanding and conflict.  There are already signs of this occurring and history has never unraveled in a polite and orderly manner.  The most important ingredient for independent travel is peace and hopefully through building bridges with other cultures, you aid in this process in a small but meaningful way.

4. Friendship

Accordingly, perhaps the most satisfying thing about traveling is meeting new people, some of whom may become life-long friends. Sure, you may not see them that often, but still, there is a wonderful travel-narrative there with a few sparks to light it. It is the connections between people that is the most important.

Dec 102014
 Posted by on December 10, 2014 gadfly, history, travel Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »

An everyday discipline that I have had for the past 27 years (ouch) is keeping a daily ”travel diary”. I started this arduous task way-back in 1988 during Australia’s bi-centenary year. This first diary was a Christmas gift from my sister and was embellished with pictures of koalas, kangaroos, gum-nuts, and celebratory bi-centenary images of Governor Phillip triumphantly raising flags at Sydney Cove. Through my first diary, I started describing nights out on the booze, difficult friendships, and grand aspirations of seeing the world.

2014-12-07 20.57.50And the next year I had embarked on a voyage to conquer new lands. This was my first time out of Australia and like many Australians of the period, I thought it would be the only time!

When I triumphantly returned from a year in Europe and the US, I enrolled in a humanities degree at La Trobe University in Melbourne. And this is when all the trouble began.  The diaries became another journey; the rich world of the humanities is both an internal and external journey.

Although I have never re-read my diaries, I do recall that during my early years of education they were rambling monsters with all sorts of treatises and manifestos, jaded letters, and tortured-observations, stapled to every other page. What a wonderful time that was!

Then came are all those years of travel; of long summers in Asia, of study and road trips in the US, of good times in Kreuzberg in Berlin and late night drunken visits to chicken shops in Dalston in London. There was Hanoi, Mumbai and Ko Phan Ghan, Kathmandu, Vientiane, Hampi, Harlem, and Hoi Ann. And  all those damn universities; UNSW, RMIT, Melbourne, King’s, Virginia, VU, and UCSC, each with their own idiosyncratic  style and ways to engage (or not engage) with the world.

But over the past few years, the diaries have been fairly pedestrian (take this as a sign), in terms of setting practical goals and writing about day-to-day administrative shite. And they started to take up a lot of room, in more ways than one, thus it is time to move towards a minimalist future.

2014-12-07 21.01.23I see the process of diary writing as similar to physical work-out, it is a workout for the soul and just as it is possible to notice those who have never been to a gym (sorry about that), you may also notice those who have never kept a diary (nor traveled in their youth). They may look good on the outside but have few healthy perspectives developed from the inside.

Anyhow, after much deliberation, I decided to burn the f**kers; to set the diaries on fire and destroy that journey; to start at ”year zero”  just like New Zealand with a new flag!  Now I can be historically pure and arrive anywhere from nowhere like a contextually-challenging snake on a plane (there are no snakes in New Zealand).

But being an historian (and a digital one) I just could not do it (well, not completely). So I painstakingly digitised all the diaries before I burnt them (it took many weeks and now my arm hurts). They were scanned and photographed (according to one of the many standards) and are now safely encrypted and stored on a cloud drive protected by an inactive account manager. So, if I don’t reply to the ‘are you still alive’ email sent by this particular service every six months, they will never see the light of day. This makes me very happy!

So, I won’t keep a daily-diary any longer (at least, not in this form). That work is now done and the fruits of that labour will forever carry me on my travels. Burn!

Dec 012014
 Posted by on December 1, 2014 travel, travelogue Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

There are lots travel blogs with informative posts on what to pack for long periods of travel (for a year or more). Although many of the blog-posts convey a hard-earned wisdom and are well-researched, the authors often fail to mention that they are getting paid to promote the things they are writing about (ie. the products and destinations). So always read travel-blogs critically (and I’ll try not going to mention any product names here).

This is what I have decided to take on my own one-year journey in 2015 (and I do hope it helps in your own travel planning as it has with mine). There are a few basic things I have  left off this list because I hardly know you and don’t want you to know everything!

All this weights about 10KGS. If you wear some of it, you can probably get it down to 7kgs which is the cabin allowance for most airlines.

2014-12-02 11.59.53


Take a small, good-quality backpack (and I mean small, imagine what you will need and then half it). I have always traveled light with packs of about 35 litres. If your pack is 40 litres or less it means that it doesn’t have to be checked in at airports and it is easy to take on packed buses and trains etc. If you plan to travel day-to-day over lots of distance, you will really appreciate a small, good quality pack. I bought a locally made Australian travel-pack that opens like a suit case and will fit everything I need for a year. Also, if you need a day-pack just buy a small fold-up one that you can stuff in your backpack. And, packing cubes are a good idea to organise your clothes.

  • 1, 40 Litre backpack (travel pack)
  • 1 fold-up day pack
  • 2 packing cubes
  • A cable lock to lock your bag to posts when you are on trains or buses (ie. when you go for a piss).
  • A small lock for the zipper (if you think this is necessary)


The footwear you take largely depends on what you are planning to do on your travels. I am planning to do a lot of hiking, so I bought some reasonably presentable, low-rise leather hiking shoes. Hiking shoes (and trainers and runners etc.) are generally as ugly as hell, so look for ones that won’t make you look like an Aussie Bogan. If you have reasonable presentable shoes, you will be able to wear them in clubs and restaurants etc. And if you aren’t planning on doing a lot of hiking, just take some good quality walking shoes (and leave the smelly runners at home)! Also, take a pair of quality sandals. If the climate is hot where you are going, your will probably be wearing sandals most of the time. So two pairs of shoes maximum: a pair of sandals and a pair of leather walking or hiking boots. Also, two pairs of good bamboo hiking socks should do the trick (or light weight merino).  And buy socks along the way when you need to.

  • 1 Sandals
  • 1 low-rise leather hiking boots (or walking boots)
  • 2 pairs bamboo hiking socks

Clothes: Top layer (warn feather down jacket + rain jacket)

This again depends on where you are going. I am planning to go trekking in both the Himalayas and Patagonia and will be visiting Europe in April, so it is important to have a good warm jacket as well as a waterproof rain jacket. In terms of warmth, a light-weight down puffer jacket will do the trick (at around 500 grams). Again these things are pretty damn ugly and make you look like a bouncer at a shite night-club, but there are a few brands around that are slightly presentable (so are also versatile). The great advantage of these jackets is that they are super warm and they come with a stuff-sack that takes up little room in your pack (but please buy a black one without a shite sports logo on the front).  And remember, puffer jackets aren’t waterproof so you will need a good waterproof jacket as well (this is a must as it rains and you will otherwise get cold and wet).

  • 1 down puffer jacket
  • 1 waterproof lightweight rain jacket (buy a good one, don’t skimp here, and they only weigh about 400 grams).

Clothes: Mid-layer (jumper)

Quality travel clothes tend to be very expensive, often for no apparent reason. There are lots of ugly fleeces around in all sorts of hideous colours, made out of bizarre plastic materials, that can cost anything up to $300. It may be better to buy a good quality jumper from a normal fashion store than getting ‘fleeced’ at a travel store (but admittedly some fleeces are  OK, and again buy a black or dark coloured one without sports branding and one that doesn’t weigh much).

  • 1 warm jumper or fleece (zip up is good)

Clothes: Base layer (shirts)

The shirts you take aren’t as important as the other stuff you take, as you can always buy good quality shirts whilst you are on the road. A couple of everyday shirts and a couple of dress shirts should be enough for the majority of social situations. linen shirts are great in hot climates and Merino tee shirts are good for trekking in cooler climates. You can always buy cheaper tee shirts on the way.

  • 2 linen dress/casual shirts
  • 1 Marino tee shirt
  • 1 synthetic base-layer

Clothes: (shorts and trousers)

You will need at least 2 pairs of trousers and 2 pairs of shorts for an extended, independent journey. Don’t take jeans as they are too heavy and please, no ugly cotton tan cargo shorts! Walking and hiking trousers and shorts are perfect. They are light, robust, don’t wrinkle, and have ‘secret’ pockets. They aren’t particular warn, but you can always take a pair of lightweight Marino long-johns for hiking.

  • 2 pairs of travel pants
  • 2 pairs of lightweight travel shorts
  • 1 pair Marino long-johns

Technology (hardware)

There are a whole bunch of technology options for the 21st Century independent traveler. But this needs to be considered in a discerning and ‘minimalist’ way. The context of your travels is the World and the people in it and only a fool would spend all their time staring at a 6 inch mobile screen whilst they are traveling (like they do at home). Still, there are some practical advantages of packing some good tech. Don’t take a lap-top as they are heavy, unnecessary, distracting and (hopefully) they will get stolen. Most things you need to do whilst traveling can be done with a smart phone or tablet (booking hotels, flights, email etc.). And in terms of reading, don’t take printed books (or read your eBooks on your back-lit tablet), but take a eBook reader (some have free 3G that works pretty much anywhere in the world and they don’t need to be charged for up to 6 weeks). This is what I recommend.

  • A 8 inch tablet with Wi Fi (you won’t need a 3G/4G Connection as you can pair it with a smartphone…maybe someone elses!)
  • A stylus pen (that doubles as a real pen)
  • A Bluetooth keyboard (in its own case that can hold the tablet as well)
  • A 64 Gigabyte duo flash-drive (‘duo’ means it can plug into the tablet as well as a normal computer). Pack some movies on it for those long bus or plane rides.
  • A smartphone (this is optional if you take the tablet ; a cheap phone will do)
  • A universal power plug adapter (very important)
  • 1 plug and cord that will charge the phone, the tablet, and the eBook reader
  • 1 eBook reader (in a case)
  • 1 pair of headphones (some have a microphone built in that may be good for Skype calls)
  • Travel Business cards (with your blog address and contact details for the wonderful people you meet along the way).
  • 1 very small torch
  • 1 medium size lock for hotel doors or lockers
  • 1 SteriPen UV water purifier and drinking flask (yes, you will need to drink water!)


A lot of minimalist travelers don’t take cameras. I think it is a big mistake not to take some sort of camera as you will regret it one day (I have photos from all the countries visited). If you take a smart-phone you can always take photos using that I suppose (pretty crap ones), but please don’t ever take photos with your tablet (this should be illegal). I will take a mid-range DSLR with two versatile lenses, a micro-tripod, and a very small camera bag (don’t take a normal camera bag as they are bulky, ugly and scream tourist!)

  • 1 mid-range DLSR Camera
  • 1, 18-55mm lens
  • 1, 55-250mm lens
  • 1 itsy bitsy tripod
  • A 32 Gigabyte micro SD drive (with an adapter so it can be used as a normal SD drive). This is how I get photos off a camera to the tablet).

Technology (software)

Getting the software right is something a 21st Century independent traveler must now do. This includes installing apps on your tablet for music, blogging, books, and hotel reservations. I plan to blog weekly on my travels, but I definitely won’t be using social software (I want to get away from that world for a while whilst I explore richer ones). This is what I suggest in terms of basic software and apps (if you aren’t blogging you could probably just use a phone rather than take a table).

  • Create a blog on a blogging platform like WordPress (I have been blogging for more than 10 years now). Make sure that there are ways that people can subscribe to your blog (via email etc.).
  • Download the WordPress app so that you can write blog posts off-line.
  • Connect your blog to your social feeds so that when you post something, it is automatically fed into your networks.
  • Download an app for booking hotels
  • You will need an email app (but create a new email address if your old one gets lots of distracting crap).
  • Also,  subscription to services such as Scribd means that you will have access to travel books, such as the entire Lonely Planet catalogue, for a small monthly fee on one app. Books can be downloaded and read offline. I am not sure that this is a complete replacement for a printed travel book, but I am willing to give it a shot.
  • Spotify (or similar). Subscribe to this so that you can store the tracks on your device and listen to them offline when you are on long bus journeys.
  • You will need a VOIP (Skype) app for making phone calls. There are lots of options here, but you could put some money in your account (for calling mobile and landlines) and purchase your own phone number (for $60 per year). Then your friends and family can call you directly on this number (from any phone) and if you don’t answer (highly likely), you will receive an email notification. Then you can call them back at your convenience. There is no easy solution to traveling with a phone cheaply and I would recommend leaving your SIM at home. Buy a local SIM if you really need to but VOIP (Skype) and the occasional email should be fine for most long-term independent traveling.
  • SKYPE Wi Fi app. With this app you can log into many public WI Fi hotspots at airports etc. (for a fee).
  • Currency exchange app (these work off line too)
  • Banking app (you can figure this out)
  • Travel Card app (travel debit-cards have become increasingly popular and they can store 10 or so currencies). You will need this app to manage your card.
  • Note taking software (for writing). I am going to use Microsoft OneNote and Google Docs
  • Install Cloud Drives (such as Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive). When you manage to find a place with a decent internet collection, drop your photos and other important files into your cloud drives (do this regularly). Have backup copies of your insurance contacts, passport, vaccination, travel documents, and other important documents in there as well.
  • A app for booking flights (I use Skyscanner as it is simply a search engine as opposed to a travel agent)
  • And you will love this. This app from Melbourne allows you to explore how to get from place to place by any means of transport (Rio2Rome). It is good for working out routes, costs, and modes of transport.
  • Also, here is a list of Android apps worth considering..

Toiletries, health, first aid.

I won’t say too much about toiletries; you  can figure this out for yourself, and you can buy this stuff when you get to your destination (but a toilet bag that you can hang in the shower is really useful). Also, consider a micro-fibre towel that are  light weight and dry really quickly (but do feel like crap). And take a basic first-aid kit with bandages and a few common tablets, but this does depends on where you are traveling to (you may need to take an operating table…).

Dec 012014
 Posted by on December 1, 2014 travel, travelogue Tagged with: ,  1 Response »
Fitzroy, Melbourne

Fitzroy, Melbourne

Starting in January 2015 I will be taking a one-year break to travel slowly and write (slowly) about traveling. I will travel from Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia to Fitz Roy in Patagonia, Argentina (and yes, they are both named after the same illegitimate  Fitz Royals!).  It is something that I have wanted to do for quite a long time, but the common aspirations kept trumping the uncommon ones. During my time away I will be traveling independently from place-to-place, starting in Fitzroy, Melbourne, and ending in Fitz Roy, Argentina (a big-arse mountain in Argentina).

I have done a lot of traveling before, but never for quite so long and never for quite so far. In my mind, much contemporary travel has become far too banal and ‘instrumental’ in terms of traveling to a specific place for a specific purpose for a specific amount of time. But not much fun in that!

The first part of my journey will be on familiar territory in South and East Asia and Europe, however the majority of the journey will be in unfamiliar territory in South America. I suppose I could have gone directly to South America and skipped the other places, but I needed to re-trace a few previous paths. Travel is a bit like re-reading a complicated book; if you don’t re-read it you will end up reading the same book over and over again.

Below is the very rough itinerary. It is both old paths and new. The first part is re-visiting places whist ‘leaving behind’. The next bit is ‘death’ (after you leave behind but not literally) and the final bit is ‘re-birth’ (Fitz Roy here I come!). I will develop this Camino de Santiago-style theme some more whilst I travel as like all good research, insights will arise along the way in which I will share with you (and sorry if you subscribed to this blog expecting something else).

  • January 7-April 1, South East Asia and East Asia (Thailand, India, Nepal and walking the Annapurna Circuit)
  • April 1-30, Western Europe (London, Porto, walking the Camino de Santiago. Barcelona, Berlin)
  • May 1- December 31, South America (Bogota, Columbia  to Fitz Roy, Argentina)

I will write a blog post here about once per week, so I hope you will join me!

Fitz Roy Argentina

Fitz Roy Argentina

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: , , ,  2 Responses »

This evening I’m going to discuss the historical significance of Smith Street, one of Melbourne’s most important and diverse streets. And this presentation borrows from some heritage work I did a few years back before the development of the site over the road, which is now the Smith and Co. development.  And 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!). And 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 in 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 north eastern 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

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’

Fitzroy side of the street (and this is the Ladies store)
• Foy and Gibson 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.


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
• 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.


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 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).


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.


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 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).


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”.

Continue reading »

Sep 232014

“Government 2.0 involves direct citizen engagement in conversations about government services and public policy through open access to public sector information and new Internet based technologies. It also encapsulates a way of working that is underpinned by collaboration, openness and engagement”[1]

Back ground and context

The Political Issues Analysis System (PIAS) project (view report .pdf)—in which this work is a sub-set—sought to investigate how citizens in Melbourne, Australia used the Internet to seek political information about key political issues. It also sought to understand how citizens contacted and interacted with their elected representative in relation to these issues. Through workshops, case studies, and the development and testing of prototype software, the research uncovered some notable trends in terms of user engagement with important aspects of the formal political process online.

The PIAS project principally focussed upon citizen information use through investigating interaction with party web-sites and the policy documents that they made available. However, the participants in our study largely found 1), the sites difficult to use 2), the information hard to navigate and compare with other policies and 3), the written policies unreliable and unclear. One of our key recommendations from the study emphasized that polices published by political parties should be made available in a ‘machine readable’ form so that they can be automatically aggregated into other systems to enable citizens to compare the policy positions of the parties. Also, strict metadata publishing standards and frameworks should be used so that the information aggregated is of a high-standard allowing it be re-utilised effectively.

This work compliments the PIAS project through listing some of the key projects and services that available that utilise government data. It also explores in more detail the limited availability of what could be termed ‘democratic data’. For the purposes here, “democratic data” is described as: 1) Hansard: making the working of government available in new ways, 2) Transparency: newer forms of transparency through ‘data’, and 3) Policy: enhance and extend the policy making process through online open consultation.

Why Open Access to government data?

Much of the impetus behind the drive for Open Access to government data stems from a push for greater transparency to the functions of government. However, in the case of Victoria, for instance, much of the data being released within the Gov 2.0 agenda tends to be of an administrative nature and of little democratic potential. Whist the Parliament of Victoria does make an enormous amount of useful material available to the public through its website; it is not made available in a technically sophisticated, machine readable way, to take full advantage of the potential of the Internet. Bills are only available in .pdf or word format and the most important document about the workings of government, Hansard, is also only available as .pdf (although it is possible to do a full-text search of Hansard from 1991 onwards). If these important documents were available in a machine readable form, they could be utilised by application developers in innovative ways.

The Open Access movement is a push to make data both machine readable and interoperable so that it may be linked together and leveraged for all sorts of purposes. This may be for new business opportunities, medical research, or new areas of social research. However, doing this is no easy task as multiple data sources require linking and matching across diverse and complex systems (and ‘cleansing’). The first step in this process is to expose data in a standardised way so that it may be located and machine-read. The Victorian public sector has a policy framework specifically designed to achieve these tasks titled the Victorian Public Sector Action Plan. Two key points are:

  1. Participation: Engaging communities and citizen through using Government 2.0 initiatives to put citizens at the centre and provide opportunities for co-design, co-production and co-delivery.
  2. Transparency: Opening up government through making government more open and transparent through the release of public sector data and information[2]

Making data available in this way can only help to “deepen democratic processes” and promote a strong and healthy democracy (however this is often an aspiration rather than an actuality).[3] Accordingly, there is a promising international trend to promote a two-way dialogue between political representatives and the public through combining ‘’democratic data’’ with citizen produced data through popular social media platforms.[4] Rather than building a completely new platform (as has been the case with a number of somewhat underutilised government initiatives), some projects take advantage of largely existing and heavily used social network platforms and provide tools and services to augment their existing capacity (usually to inform and communicate government policy processes) The large EU funded WeGov project[5] and other projects in the US and Europe are welcome movements in this direction. [6]

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