More “Neil’s Decades” – 2: January 2006

Recycling a few items from ten years ago. Internal links “as is” and may not work. The first entry fits yesterday’s post!

The Blue Mountains passage that made Darwin wonder – National –

10 Jan 2006


The year 1836 has been on my mind lately. As you will know from Lines from a Floating Life, I recently found that my great-grandfather was born right here in Elizabeth Street Surry Hills (or Strawberry Hills) in that year, though in September. And, talk of extreme weather, in June of that year it snowed in Sydney. Today’s Sydney Morning Herald recalls another event from Sydney in 1836: the visit of Charles Darwin.

IT IS an anniversary that will not be celebrated by those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

On January 12, 1836, a young English naturalist sailed into Sydney Harbour while on a global journey that led to a theory that shook the world. Charles Darwin (1809-82) was not looking to start a revolution. The first thing he wrote in his diary from the young colony was that he wanted to cry because there were no letters from his mother. However, 23 years after arriving on the Beagle he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, which contradicted the Bible’s account that God created the Earth and all its plants and animals in six days. Darwin argued that life had evolved over a vast length of time and it was his observations on the five-year voyage of the Beagle that were crucial to his case.

He was in the headlines again recently when 70,000 Australian scientists and science teachers who adhere to his theory condemned as religious belief rather than science the theory of intelligent design now taught in many Christian schools.

Frank Nicholas, co-author of Charles Darwin in Australia, believes Darwin would not be surprised that his theory still causes furious debate. Professor Nicholas, professor of animal genetics at the University of Sydney, said Darwin was highly sensitive to the outrage he caused.

“Darwin never set out to wreak havoc with Christian beliefs,” he said. “His intention when he started on the voyage was to become a minister of religion. The great irony is that one of the major occupations of men of the cloth in the 19th century was going out and making natural history collections. They were showing the power of the creator in all these numbers of species. The only difference [with Darwin] was that he asked questions. The more he looked the more he realised God’s creations didn’t fit into neat little boxes. He realised the Bible wasn’t a textbook for biology. Those people wishing to have a literal interpretation of the Bible, they are always going to have trouble [with Darwin’s theories]. What scientists have to do is try to reach as much common ground with other views as they can.”

After arriving in Sydney, Darwin hired a guide and horses to travel to Bathurst. Professor Nicholas said there were no “eureka moments” for Darwin during his time in Australia, but it was on the road to Bathurst that, for the first time, he committed to paper his scepticism that one creator could have produced the variety of creatures he had observed.

Crossing the Blue Mountains, Darwin stopped at what is now Wentworth Falls. These days the Charles Darwin walk follows Jamison Creek from the village to the falls, where Darwin saw a view “exceedingly well worth visiting”. Of the mighty Jamison Valley, Darwin wrote: “Below is the grand bay or gulf, for I know not what other name to give it, thickly covered with forest. The point of view is situated as it were at the head of the Bay, for the line of cliff diverges away on each side, showing headland, behind headland, as on a bold Sea coast.”

Naturally, Darwin went on to hypothesise about how it could have been created.

The 170th anniversary of the naturalist’s famous bushwalk will be marked with guided walks to the falls on Sunday week. “It’s a beautiful view,” said Professor Nicholas, who will be part of the celebrations. “Darwin’s words capture it beautifully. It really hasn’t changed in 170 years.”

Back to my own personal 1836: I have added new pics and some new information to my family history, thanks to Bob Starling of Wangi Wangi and his brilliant research.

Food of course…

Fishy times

15 Jan 2006

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Johnnie’s Fish Cafe in Fitzroy Street Surry Hills: definitely the best!

Sirdan, Lord Malcolm, Simon H and I had a really great meal here today: Simon H had leather jacket, Sirdan and Lord Malcolm had barramundi, and I had hake. Three diferent salads.

And what great conversation!

Marigold Citymark, Sydney, Sydney Restaurant Review – Eatability

29 Jan 2006

We were disappointed, but not as much as this patron:

Food 2 Ambience 2 Service 2 Value 3

I went to the Marigold with some work colleagues for yum char. They had lost our reservation so they put us on a table next to the toilet. They place smelt awful, I think they must have just painted it or have a large smelly dog. The food itself I think was probably that frozen stuff that you get from the freezer and put straight into the fryer or steamer – yuck! The waiters were rude too. Never ever going there again!!

M, Sirdan and myself made it this morning; Lord Malcolm had trouble finding a parking place close enough so could not come. He didn’t miss much, except for the chance of meeting M properly.

Admittedly the place was overcrowded because of Chinese New Year, but the service even so was awful (2), the food very ordinary if not old, and the ambience, well, factory-like. Of course we had our vouchers so the price was right, but M made sure in both Mandarin and English that the staff knew what he felt and ostentatiously offered a five cent tip.

We won’t be going back. We will try the Regal next time we want to use our vouchers; last time we were there it was pretty good.

M tells us the Silver Spring (now Zilver) is much better again, having new owners apparently. So we might give that a go later on. “Zilver has reopened after a $3 million makeover from its former identity as the well-established Silver Spring restaurant. The cuisine is now modern Chinese with Jack Ng, the award-winning Hong-Kong born executive chef, at the reins.”

And speaking of Chinese…

The Finish Line: Sang Ye

25 Jan 2006

A good book, this one. An extract appears in my From Yellow Earth to Eucalypt (1994). He has been here in Elizabeth Street, and while in Beijing did a signal service for me in obtaining copyright clearances for Chinese works in my book. He is also one of Chang and Halliday’s many informants.

It is through the deliberate emphasis on this kind of contrast between certain aspects of Chinese and Australian everyday experiences, that Sang’s personal agenda in The Finish Line becomes more explicit — to question, and perhaps further challenge — a political system in which any individual’s social and cultural position is determined by hierarchies of power. In Jose’s words, individual realities are undermined by the “grand, empty rhetoric” that structures this political system, in the same way that individual views are dominated by the system’s public policies and state-controlled media propaganda.

This observation clearly reveals the way in which Sang represents Communist China as a prison that oppresses and eventually murders individual identities and values, as a contrast to the “West” in general as freedom. Even though Sang now resides in Australia, what he perceives to be the “West”, his representations of Australian society and people only serve as a backdrop against which his criticism of China’s totalitarian political and cultural system is explicitly displayed.

Sang Ye’s The Finish Line was published by the University of Queensland Press in 1994.

I met Chang and Halliday too around that time, 1993 or so. They impressed me as people.

See also On China and Chinese HistoryJung Chang: Information From, The World Today – Dispelling the myth of Mao: Jung Chang sheds new light on the Communist leader , Mao: the never ending story  and  Stefan Landsberger’s Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages–Luding Bridge.