landscape

Lake Eyre: A Little Trip to a Big Place

When I was told about a temporal sea in the middle of the Australian Outback I was immediately intrigued because it sounded more like a myth than reality.

Apparently – the story goes – every decade or so when drought breaks (see recent Queensland floods) the rain and floodwaters slowly migrate throughout the continent via networks of newly formed rivers, basins and subterranean waterways.  They end up in the country’s lowest point, located in arid South Australia.  Somehow fish get inside this huge body of water.  I’ve even heard some say that there are fish eggs in the desert waiting to hatch upon the water’s return.  With the fish come bird migrations and colonies.  And if it floods enough, the water sustains a brief ecological spurt; flower blooms erupt in the middle of the desert.   All this talk about water and biodiversity in arid Australia was an image I had not associated with the Outback.

And so with my romantic inclinations, I looked into it.

Lake Eyre satellite image

This ‘sea’ is otherwise known as Lake Eyre.  It is as real as it is mythologised, having been portrayed as a site of fascination and fear all throughout the national narrative of Australia.  According to some aboriginal accounts, Lake Eyre is a Kangaroo skin laid out flat.  In other accounts it is the site of death, with the salty remnants of tears shed by the Sky Gods.  For explorer John Edward Eyre it symbolised disillusionment after failing to find the heroic prizes usually associated with territorial expansion – resources, drinking water, power.  He then proceeded to name the lookout point upon which he discovered the Lake, Mount Hopeless.  Prior to that Thomas J. Maslen drew a fictional map, featuring an inland sea in the middle of the Australian continent.  The sea is shown as being connected by a massive river labelled “The Great River Or Desired Blessing”.   He thereby set the agenda for a national ideal, for a reality, which was at that time yet to be explored.  For geologist J W Gregory the Lake was branded as “The Dead Heart of Australia”.  Charles Sturt unsuccessfully carried a nine meter long whaleboat into the Outback, in a failed attempt to discover an inland sea.  Hydrologists lobbied to artificially kick start a permanently flooded Lake Eyre, as a means to irrigate the entire continent.  The stories go on and on…

I had the recent pleasure of visiting Lake Eyre and it’s surrounding satellite towns.  Here are some travel pics:

 

The ochre coloured township of Coober Pedy. Famous for opal mines and landscapes reminiscent of Mars. 70% of the population live underground, presumably to moderate the extreme temperatures experienced there. The topography of the town resembles that of a re appropriated opal mine, along with random mounds of excavated earth scattered all over the place. It is within these mounds that the houses are located. We had an interesting underground experience at a cafe where the owner closed the kitchen upon our arrival and politely showed us to the door because he needed to leave the shop to “buy some milk”.

 

There was a very cool space ship parked outside the local opal shop/town lookout.
More space junk in William Creek. This one is legit though – Stage one R3 Rocket from the 70s. Tangentially it is also near the historical atomic testing sites. Population: 5, or something to that effect. William Creek is one shop/petrol pump/pub/camping grounds. It is located midway along the Oodnadatta Track, which roughly follows the nearby western edge of Lake Eyre North. The track was previously an early explorers path, which followed a network of water bores.

 

Oasis. Big drought break. The desert was surprisingly green.

 

The remains of a Mosque located in Marree. The town has a history of Afghan Cameleers who settled there in the 1870’s. Coincidentally our travel routing plans were affected by lack of accommodation because of the coinciding annual Camel Cup races. Marree is also home to the Lake Eyre Yacht Club, which hosts a regatta every time the Lake is sufficiently flooded. It boasts to be the world’s most exclusive yacht club for that reason. They are currently in dispute with local Aborigines who oppose the practice of sailing on the lake.

 

The main course: The shores of Lake Eyre. 80% full. It’s a very salty lake, not much fun for swimming in especially for those with cuts or scratches. Up close it is shallow and not quite swimmable where we met the shore. It has a very thick mud base which never fully dries out under the salt pans even in the Lakes dried state. By this stage I’m feeling nauseous in our 1970’s colour schemed mini plane. But nevertheless pretty snap-happy on the ol’ camera.

 

A rather disorientating moment that didn’t help with my fragile state of motion sickness and feelings of strange juju.

 

Some salt pans that weren’t submerged by water.
Leaving the Lake. See you again next decade!

 

fin.

 

the Open City : an experiment in design and living

 

La Ciudad Abierta de Ritoque is a settlement of 270 hect. located 16 kms. north of Valparaiso, Chile. The land includes extensive dune fields, wetlands and includes an extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna, a small beach, streams and fields. It was founded in 1970 by poets, philosophers, sculptors, painters, architects and designers. Today it is still inhabited by many of the original founders and other like-minded people/families. The students of the architecture department at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso co-participate actively in it’s ongoing construction through workshops, dinners and other events. Living in the “Open City” means that you are a partner of the Corporación Cultural Amereida and thus must carry a certain amount of detachment from “your” home, because nobody owns the buildings that they inhabit. Every inhabitant gives input to the construction of the houses and “your” particular home is understood as a gift. The original idea was to establish a type of a city, but not in relation to the number of people who live there, but in relation to its structure, which thus contains the unusual, the des-order. The land chosen is as fluid as the dunes and such at the mercy of the wind.

Microcostas

Despite being a designer, its not actually that often that I see something and am instantly swayed by it.  This coastal decking by Spanish Firm Guallart Architects on the coast between Valencia and Barcelona got me however.  Its got all sorts of nice rational behind its form and design.  But for me it hit the sublime magic button that transcends all that stuff.  Stunning work.  Images from their site: www.guallart.com

Room at the Table? Women and Architecture.

I recently made a list of ten architects that I admire, and well I guess I shouldn’t be, I was somewhat surprised when I realized that they were all male. (and almost entirely white, but I’ll leave that for another day).  I mentioned this to a colleague recently and he wisely pointed out that it wasn’t that long ago that women didn’t really go to architecture schools, and we now live in more enlightened times, but that it takes a long to time ‘to-get-to-the-top-if-you-want-a-sausage-roll’ in Architecture.  Meaning its takes a good 30 or more years of practice in architecture to achieve the positions of authority that lead to big commissions and important publications.   I remember making a comment along similar lines a few years ago to a female friend that surely the role of men in feminism these days is just really make sure we aren’t getting in they way, rather than actively campaigning for things.  She didn’t take to kindly to this, and wrote me a poem in protest!  I’ve never quite worked out what she thought I am supposed to do.

I just read a great article by Architect Denise Scott Brown who discusses what is like to be married to a Architect while they work and live together, and how her husband receives almost all of the recognition.  Denise Scott Brown and her husband Mrs. Robert Venturi wrote what is one of the seminal books of the late twentieth century in architecture, Learning from Las Vegas.

“When Bob and I married, in 1967, I was an associate professor. I had taught at the Universities of Pennsylvania and Berkeley, and had initiated the first program in the new school of architecture at UCLA. I had tenure. My publication record was respectable; my students, enthusiastic. My colleagues, mostly older than I, accorded me the same respect they showed each other, and I had walked the same corridors of power they had (or thought I had).

The first indication of my new status came when an architect whose work I had reviewed said, “We at the office think it was Bob writing, using you name.” By the time we wrote Learning from Las Vegas, our growing experience with incorrect attributions prompted Bob to include a note at the beginning of the book asking that the work and ideas not be attributed to him alone and describing the nature of our collaboration and the roles played by individuals in our firm. His request was almost totally ignored. A body of theory and design in architecture apparently must be associated by architecture critics with an individual; the more emotional their criticism, the stronger is its focus on one person.

A few years ago at a conference we organized a very interesting conversation emerged about how we select the 20 or so international speakers we were inviting.  (Incidentally I think we actually invited Scott-Brown) We didn’t really have a system apart from interestingness until about 2/3s of the way through we noticed that almost all the men were speakers.  I raised this issue at a meeting, with my thoughts been that we should focus on speakers that would balance out the conference from then on.  Interestingly a few of the females at the table rejected this notion as been inversely sexist because we were then selecting women based on gender rather than skill or interest.   I’ve never quite got my head around how to deal with that problem either.

In principle my personal position is that the discriminations against women (not to mention racial) are very deep rooted in our cultures and also in the past.  Correcting behaviours from our past that we now see as abhorrent is not a simple or easy process.  Changing a law or even a perception does not necessarily signal a shift in behavioral change.  So  I think at a points we do need to make active effort to live in the world we want to,  and not think that the current one will automatically correct itself.  I’m not sure what the best mechanisms for this are, but I suspect positive discrimination is one of them.

On a further note, I was at a meeting last night and we ended up talking about pregnancy at design firms. It turns out there were no senior women Landscape Architects with children in Melbourne that anyone could think of, and in none of the architecture firms at the table were there any senior positions held by women with children.  I find it deeply disturbing that ones gender and the very natural decision to bear children to mean such a fundamental sacrifice in ones financial and professional position.