My ride to work in That meme

That moment when you realise the traffic isn’t as bad as it should be for 8.30am and you think there may have been some kind of doomsday event that you didn’t catch on the morning news.
That moment when the council truck is parked in the driveway and you have to jump down the curb.
That moment when you smell the coffee roasting instead of the car fumes.
That moment when there are more bikes than cars at an obscure intersection near the city.
That moment when you realise it is really quite hot today.
That moment when you realise the traffic is actually very bad.
That moment when you smell the fish markets.
That moment when there are five cyclists at the front of the lights at the big intersection and you all shepherd each other between bumper to bumper cars, buses and trucks.
That moment when you get annoyed at the bike/pedestrian planning on Pyrmont Bridge.
That triumphant tour de france yellow jersey moment when you make it through the bike lights on the cycle path between sussex and kent on king.
That moment when you realise all the carparks are airconditioned.
That moment when you have to dismount and walk because of Barangaroo infrastructure development has closed the cycleway for 10 metres.
That moment while you are walking when you imagine making a short film about a temporary road closure where drivers are asked to get out and push their car to the next intersection due to similar road works.
That moment when you overtake someone on the uphill bit where people usually overtake you.
That nasty northwesterly headwind riding over the harbour bridge.
That moment when an old lady in the volvo that tut-tuts you for riding the wrong way up a really quiet one way street.
That moment when you feel a bit guilty and think “get a life old lady this really should be where the bike path is anyway” at the same time.
That moment when a young woman with a pram makes everything better by saying “nice work” when you get to the top of the steepest bit of the entire ride.
That moment when the tow-truck driver lets you in.
That moment when you can’t help but think it might be the short shorts.
That moment when you top the hill and arrive at work and think it was a great ride and realise you are quite hot and sweaty and decide to write up your entire trip in That meme.

Gone Farmin’

This blog served me well throughout my PhD as a way of working through my research, procrastinating and writing about things I was not allowed to write about in my dissertation. But it has been sitting dormant now for quite some time now. It feels a little bit like life has moved on and the blog is an archive of that time. I would like to keep blogging here, but I need to write for different forums now and my blogging now takes place more frequently over at Earlwood Farm. The farm blog was started by me and my partner Craig and it is about our share house farm in Earlwood. I don’t want to say this is the death of my beloved bicycleuser blog, because it served me so well, just right now I have other priorities. I wanted to record this here, so if you’ve stumbled upon my blog you aren’t totally disappointed that it is so out of date.  


Jen 🙂

The Storm of February 6, 1788

This post was intended for publication on, but our server was hacked so I will post it here until we can access our site again.

About seven years ago my flatmate James was reading The Fatal Shore when he came across the following passage and read it out loud:

“A fortnight passed before enough tents and huts were ready for the female convicts. On February 6 their disembarkation began, and all through the day the longboats plied between the transports and the cove, carrying their freight of women. Those who had decent clothes had put on all their finery: “Some few among them,” noted Bowes Smyth”, heartily glad to have them off his ship, “might be said to be well dressed.” The last of them landed by six in the evening. It was a squally day, and thunderheads were piled up in livid cliffs above the Pacific; as dusk fell, the weather burst. Tents blew away; within minutes the whole encampment was a rain-lashed bog. The women floundered to and fro, draggled as muddy chickens under a pump, pursued by male convicts intent on raping them. One lightning bolt split a tree and killed several sheep and a pig beneath it. Meanwhile, most of the sailors on Lady Penrhyn applied to her master, Captain William Sever, for an extra ration of rum “to make merry upon the women quitting the ship.” Out came the pannikins, down went the rum, and before long the drunken tars went off to join the convicts in pursuit of the women, so that, Bowes remarked, “it is beyond my abilities to give a just description of the scene of debauchery and riot that ensued during the night.” It was the first bush party in Australia, with “some swearing, others quarreling, others singing–not in the least regarding the tempest, tho’ so violent that the thunder shook the ship exceeding anything I have ever before had a conception of.” And as the couples rutted between the rocks, guts burning from the harsh Brazilian aguardiente, their clothes slimy with red clay, the sexual history of colonial Australia may fairly be said to have begun”[1]

James and I marveled at the horrific drama of this tale: the storm, the booze, the sex and the shameful gender relations! I likely exclaimed either “I love history” or “truth is stranger than fiction!”. Now, almost every time I engage in a discussion about the First Fleet or colonial Australia, I wheel out a modified version of this startling tale.

I thought that would be a good tale to explore in more detail during the residency for Tilting at Windmills, I included it in my original proposal to the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. As soon as I began looking further into it, I was shocked to learn that this horrific and yet strangely compelling story of the storm and that accompanied the female disembarkation from the First Fleet is largely apocryphal. While I was expecting my research to throw up more information on what happened that night, I actually found less. What Hughes represented in his book is a significant elaboration and embellishment of the single journal entry that exists. It seems that there was a storm and that the women did disembark from the ship, the men probably had some extra rum. But whether or not there was either a night of drunken and orgiastic revelry or, indeed, the systematic rape of many of the female convicts is highly unlikely.

As Grace Karskens notes, “it turns out that the orgy story dates, not from 1788, but from 1963, when the historian Manning Clark included it as ‘a drunken spree’ fueled by ‘extra rations of rum’ in his Short History of Australia” [2] apparently Clark was not quick enough to retract his comments and the story of colonial Australia’s violent sexual awakening made it into popular mythology. Perpetuated again and again by Robert Hughes, Peter Fitzsimmons and Tim Flannery, along with a host of others.

At our second Public Reading on Monday 15th April we will explore the various iterations of this stormy myth and discuss it in relation to the ideas we have been exploring during the residency.

[1] Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore: The epic of Australia’s founding (New York: Knopf), 1986, pp.88-89
[2] Grace Karskens, ‘The myth of Sydney’s foundational orgy’. Retrieved from April 6, 2013.

Grammar Lesson #2

This post was written for publication on but our server has been hacked and we can’t log in, so I’ll post it here for the time being.

In 26 Views of a Starburst World, Ross Gibson argues that William Dawes was exposed to an entirely different cosmology in the process of trying to record the Sydney language. Gibson shows how Dawes began to see this different perspective on the world when he was learning the language by means of a series encounters with Patyegarang, an indigenous woman from the north side of the harbour. Gibson argues that this different cosmology is apparent in the structure of the Sydney language itself:

“If Eora language is air, English might be a machine. In English, unadorned nouns pre-exist and prevail, while basic verbs are prescribed to act in a standard way. From this precondition, the English speak can use separate, additive words merely to adjust things and actions in the dependably prescribed, present world. In general, the English language is founded on an assumption that things and actions already exist, that they are givens, pre-formed and shaped to some permanent ideal. Because things an actions are already there, they will always tend to hold the overall shape decreed to them from the world’s genesis. The work you do in speaking or writing English is therefore just an ancillary procedure, just tinkering with the predispositions of an inherited and stubborn reality. The noun or verb is given to you, rock-solid as the world is presumed to be, and you try to customise it with appended qualifiers and modifiers

In the Eora language, by contrast with English, the verb itself (and therefore the world that the verb serves and makes) changes within its sounded self, changes intrinsically rather than just ornamentally. Steele explains that this work is done by sounds such as ‘dara, nara, -gari, -li, -lyi, -ra.’ A suffix insinuates and transmogrifies long utterances, changing the very ‘DNA’ or ‘genetics’ of a proposition. A suffix changes inside the operating code of the statement. The suffix causes things and actions to shift ideational shape in relation to each other as they gather into an utterance … A suffix can cause verbs and surrounding clauses to recharge and realign so that they become entirely new composite utterances. Let’s say these ever-altering sound-events, galvanised by the suffixes dissolved into them, are not only part of the world: they are instantaneously making the world. In Eora language, it seems, the suffixes are catalysts that later the potency of whatever unfolding word-experiment they get thrown into. But simultaneously, they are also language and they are therefore just their own, contingent versions of the world. These vocal sounds are concurrently meagre and momentous. They are simultaneously nothing and a big thing. Like music. Like language. Like breath. So great was their power that they had never needed writing down. The language made a wold just by floating in the air.”[1]

The distinction Gibson upholds between English and Eora was not clear to me until this part of the book. For the first hundred pages I couldn’t help but think that Gibson was upholding a false distinction for the sake of a good argument. Like a good Colonial Soldier, I felt like I needed to defend English from the repeated charge that it was so mechanical and inflexible. It is indeed possible to change the way words “make” the world and words can also take on a different meaning in sentences by virtue of the different prefixes, suffixes, verbs and adjectives. Consider the phrases “that table is blue” and “that table is green”; the table can shape-shift with the assistance of the simple adjective. Or, for example, “the table is set for dinner” compared with “the tornado broke the table into a thousand splinters and scattered them all over the prairie”; the context of the noun shifts its materiality given its place within the sentence and relationship to verbs and adjectives. But in all these examples the idea of table is quite fixed: the idea of a table remains solid, even if the tornado shatters into pieces. So, although we may all imagine a different table in our minds, the tornado breaks apart what should be solid. Perhaps we even hope that the unlucky owner of the broken table will be able to get a new one someday. What Gibson describes here is an altogether different grammar, one that is so different it is almost difficult to imagine how our view of the world could be, if English only were more like this language. From what I can gather, what Eora ‘event grammar’ would allow for is the expression of a tornado and table linguistic combination, and this combination could remake the object itself. It would no longer be a table, but a tornado-table-prairie.  The splinters, distributed across the prairie by the tornado, could be expressed as a new and lively part of the world.

At the final residency showing on Thursday April 18, we’ve invited the poet and sociolinguistic researcher Astrid Lorange along to respond to this dilemma more directly.

[1] Ross Gibson, 26 Views of the Starburst World (Perth: UWA Press) 2012, pp. 111-112.

Bike Riding to the Airport: The Conclusion (Part 2)

The flight home from Perth was fast, aided by a tail wind. After only three hours and forty minutes in the air, I was back in Sydney. Craig (AKA the red-headed fiance-sized cycle buddy from Part 1) came to meet me from the airport. It was 37 degrees in Sydney on December 1, when I returned, and the mercury was still hovering around 29 at 10.30pm when my flight landed. I texted Craig as I got off the plane in excitement to see him and also in anticipation of hearing about the success or failure of this attempt to ride to and from the airport. When I didn’t hear from Craig absolutely immediately about the presence of my bike, I imagined that he was standing where my bike had been tied up unsure how to break the news of its absence to me gently. However, my doomsday scenario was incorrect! I arrived at the bikes about five minutes later to find his tied up to mine. Not too long after I saw Craig too. It was a very happy reunion both with me and my love and me and my bike!

CMJ and Jen Mae's Bikes at the Airport

CMJ and Jen Mae’s Bikes at the Airport

In summary, I would absolutely recommend riding to Sydney airport if you can carry your bags either in a basket or on your back. It is absolutely excellent to get a bit of exercise after sitting on a flight for so long and it is a really nice way to get home. My bike was parked in a well-lit area with many other bikes. It seems that both workers and travellers get to the airport in this way. We are heading up to Byron later in the year, so maybe we will get a chance to test the idea again then. Until then, safe riding comrades!

Bike Riding to the Airport: Alternative Carbon Offset? (Part 1)

This morning I caught a 7am flight to Perth for the ‘Shakespeare and Emotions’ conference at UWA. The abundance of interstate and international travel involved in academic pursuits is one of the more enviable aspects of the field. But such travel, as requisite for career development, is problematic if you travel to the other side of the world in order to deliver a 20-minute work-in-progress paper on culture, climate crisis and environmentalism, as I have done. That aside, when contemplating how to get to the airport from our new digs in Earlwood this morning, the idea of bike riding seemed the most logical. Train would require a bag-laden hike to Tempe and a train change at Wolli Creek and an exorbitant fare for very short ride. And a Taxi would require booking and money and the stress of traffic. But my bike was just sitting on the balcony, leaning sweetly against the wall, as if patiently waiting for me to ask it to take me to the airport. The only other time I have ridden near the airport was on the all-night summer solstice ride in 2009 when we went up and around all the empty airport roads at about 3.30am. But we can see the runway from our house on the hill and virtually ride across the runway on our way to UNSW. Surely one of the perks of living within spitting distance of the airport is that you can ride right to the departure gate, right? The pundits on the Sydney Cyclist website were undecided. But I found one strikingly affirmative review, which was enough to cancel out all of the negative ones.

Long Term Parking at the Domestic Terminal

The ride from my place takes in a short stretch of the Cooks River then Coward St, Bourke Rd and O’Riordan St. Bike lanes service the route until Coward Street, but then you are on your own with the monster trucks (unless you are lucky like me and have a red-headed fiancé-sized cycle-buddy!). 6am is peak time at the airport; cars, trucks and taxies were backed up several sets of lights leading to the domestic terminal. While it is fun riding between cars that are stopped in traffic, the airport lacks proper cycling access. Designers and engineers of infrastructure around the airport must think exclusively in terms of either high-carbon emissions, or high-power travel, or both. In the formidable presence of 747s and A380s it is perhaps unsurprising that the lowly muscle-powered bicycle is marginalised: the discrepancy between the power of an jumbo jet and the power of a pushie is so great that bikes seem entirely obsolete. Why ride a bike at 15km/ph when you can fly at almost 100 times that speed? Further, if you are interested in travelling at such high speed, why would you even be remotely interested in travelling so slowly?

Well if you live close enough, you buy yourself an extra snooze or two because the one big perk about bike riding is that travel times are reliable. Where as train travel needs to be shaped around time tables and cars get stuck in traffic, bikes just get to where they are going on time. Furthermore, you save at least $30 on train fares and between $40 and $200 on taxi fares, depending on where you live and at least $300 on parking if you’re crazy enough to drive. You also get a bit of exercise before the muscle-atrophying experience of air travel. So I popped my rucksack in a basket on the back of my bike and rode on over. It was really very fun. And, although I like having proper infrastructure to support a safe ride such as bike lanes or a shoulder, there is something still quite fun and intrepid in being the only bike or two on a clogged arterial road.

One other thing I wondered whether or not biking to the airport can be seen to be the equivalent of a carbon offset. Carbon offsetting is bollocks and I didn’t pay the $2.21 to ‘carbon offset’ my flight. I reckon I am right to be suspicious of both the politics and mathematical formulae involved in such hair-brained tree-planting schemes that often commercialise large swathes of land, make trees commodities and criminalise the people who try to use them to survive. But  I wonder if biking to the airport could also be seen as an equivalent form of carbon offset? Surely riding to the airport is better than paying a conglomerate to pay police to incarcerate people who try and build a roof from a branch of a tree that has been ‘sold’ to offset my flight to Perth, right? Also, although no trees were planted in honour of my trip to Perth, ‘No Iraqi’s died to fuel my bicycle’ either. That slogan used to be screen printed on a patch on my backpack and, as we overtook a semi-trailer that was caught in traffic, it was what I yelled to my red-headed fiancé-sized cycle-buddy this morning. I dunno how eco-friendly or radically political I was this morning really. Actually, I think that the joy I got from riding between cars stuck on a choked artery road was much greater than any benefit to the environment or to Iraqis who died during the most recent US invasion. Nevertheless, I rode my bike to the airport, parked it near the entrance and now I am in Perth.

This is only part one of this story. Whether or not the bike is still at the airport when I return on the weekend remains to be seen. I shall report back. But, for now, greetings from the most isolated city on the planet.


Climate Change, Neo-Liberalism and Progressive Policy Wonks

A “wonk” is a general and derogatory term for a nerd who takes meticulous interest in details of a particular field of knowledge. But it is usually reserved for people who are obsessively interested in the finer details of political policy. Lots of people in Canberra are “policy wonks”, for example. Although I have never been entrenched for long enough in a particular part of society to become fully wonkified, rest assured I am licensed to write about wonks because some of my best friends are wonks. And, let me tell you, although I love them to bits I wouldn’t invite all of my wonky friends to the same dinner party, nor would I design a panel discussion made entirely of real-deal wonks and wannabe wonks with a surrogate wonk as the moderator.

Last night I attended the City of Sydney’s City Conversations talk at Town Hall entitled “The Big Decision: How to fix Sydney’s Transport“, which was an incredibly important and energetic discussion designed in response to Infrastructure NSW’s completely ridiculous plan to “solve” the issue of traffic congestion with more roads. The discussion, while interesting was thoroughly hijacked by a panel of progressive wonks. But I will reflect upon the topic of the discussion first, before revealing precisely why the wonkish tone of the evening was a problem.

While in 2005 Seoul peeled back a highway to reveal the river buried beneath and that in 1995 Shanghai built a multi-billion dollar high speed metro system that by 2011 carried over 2 billion travellers annually, in 2012 InfrastructureNSW and the O’Farrell Government are planning a mid-twentieth century style concrete and carbon monoxide dreamworld of new motorways and bus tunnels. Firstly, the centrepiece of the State Government’s vision is “West Connex”. According to the PR video, West Connex “the highest priority project for NSW”. It is 33kms of motorway that allow motorists to avoid 50 sets of traffic lights. Tellingly, the video does not once claim that West Connex will ease congestion, but instead (and rather hilariously) they claim that it “will transform Sydney’s traffic congestion”. They remain unspecific as to what they mean by “transform”, thus there is the potential that the plan could be read as blue print for transforming congestion by creating new traffic jams on different roads. Secondly, there is the CBD Bus Tunnel,  the “CBD BRT” will, according to their website, “provide an alternative to light rail along George Street: a Bus Rapid Transit (‘CBD BRT’) tunnel from the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Town Hall area, modelled on the underground busway that already operates in Brisbane.” It should be mentioned that the “CBD BRT” involves the partial pedestrianisation of George Street as well. But, in contrast the City wants to pedestrianise George Street and extend light rail network. For the moment, the City’s plan seems to be on the shelf, and in the next couple of weeks the Government will be deciding whether to move their own large-scale and insanely expensive infrastructure projects beyond the planning stages and into action.

The City Conversation’s talk provided a place for a public discussion and a collective response to this proposal. The City’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, alerted people to the fact that decisions are about to be made on these big plans and motivated them to state their opinions now. So, spurred by the discussion last night, let me lay my cards out on the table. In case you haven’t yet realised, I am a cyclist. I have been for about seven years. I lived in the inner west most of this time, and have recently moved out to Earlwood, adding about 5kms to my daily commute. I now commute from Earlwood to the CBD or the Eastern suburbs on most days. This is between a 10 and 15km commute one-way on a combination of bike paths, quite streets and main roads. It is a great ride with the exception of my unavoidable encounters with main roads that do not support cyclists at all, like Unwin’s Bridge Road in Tempe, Anzac Parade in Kensington and Elizabeth Street in the CBD. I have previously recorded my opinion on cyclists’ place in the transport debate in New Matilda in a piece co-authored with Craig Johnson. Basically I believe more people should be cycling and I am very pleased that more people are cycling each year. The benefits of cycling are manifold from public health (cyclists tend to be fitter and healthier) and the environment (no gasoline necessary), to the budget (the latter itself is manifold because the health-benefits mean cyclists lighten the load on the  health system and bikes do not require as much infrastructure and also do not cause as much damage to roads and paths so thus do not need to be maintained as much). But getting everyone to submit to my dream of a car-free, bicycle and razor scooter utopia is unfortunately not a viable solution in sprawling greater Sydney. Indeed, there is something unique and masochistic about cycling in a culture where everyone is coasting around in cars,* so I am a firm believer in a “transport mix” that is “heavy” on mass public transit and “light” on more roads. While building a bus tunnel may “free up local roads” for drivers and therefore ease congestion, mass-transit would have the same effect for the roads and be more environmentally sustainable long-term. This was also the main argument against the O’Farrell vision proposed by those on the panel at Town Hall last night, except they emphasised this as “economic” rather than “environmental” sustainability.

Although I agreed with panel’s economic argument against the State Government’s plan to “transform congestion”, the problem with the discussion last night was that it was almost 100% about economics and which proposed transport solution produced a healthier bottom line. Transport is more than just about getting from A to B; it is at the heart of how we conduct our daily lives and live in the world. For a progressive discussion on this issue to be entirely hijacked by economic modelling forgets what really matters. Which is unfortunately what often happens when progressive policy wonks allow a neo-liberal government to set the terms of the argument.** When pressed to comment on the bigger picture the panellists referenced trends away from cars and towards mass transit in other nations from the US and the UK to Asia and India, but gone was any discussion of the possibility of modes different of inhabiting and moving around the city, and lost was all discussion of the even bigger picture: climate. Although environmental sustainability is something that the City of Sydney clearly wants to address and although their proposal for a light rail system was both economically and environmentally sustainable, the environment was not mentioned last night. Instead questions like “How many hundred-thousand ‘wallets’ would ‘disappear’ underground if O’Farrell’s vision were to get the green light?”, “Wouldn’t it be better if those wallets were on the light-rail above ground” and “What impact would the construction of the bus tunnel have upon local retailers?”

I “live tweeted” at this event and called for the environment to at least be mentioned in the discussion. Nothing. It was like the recent presidential debates in the US, except no one was championing drilling for oil or gas, rather they were supporting public transit, walking and cycling. Despite the somewhat radical vision of the City, the rhetoric of the status quo reigned supreme. Part of me thought: “Maybe it is just too obvious an issue to rate mention”, but ultimately and tragically I think that the reason climate did not come up was far more cynical. When the host of the night, the ABC’s Quentin Dempster, introduced the evening by sarcastically stating he was going to set aside his cynicism, I should have realised what we were in for. The conversation was dominated by a bunch of relitavely progressive policy wonks, armed to the teeth with various statistics about the economic benefits of the City’s plan but they failed mention the elephant in the room! In other words, so successfully has the right come to dominate this transport debate in NSW that a progressive panel did not mention climate change. But climate should be at the centre of every debate about urban infrastructure as all decisions made without taking climate into account will be made redundant soon by the climate itself. Furthermore, trying argue for environmentally sustainable transport solutions whilst submitting to the terms of a neo-liberal Government’s policy framework is like trying to solve the problem of the melting ice-caps by building a giant freezer. It is the absolute wrong way to go about it.

Naomi Klein is the most articulate mainstream voice on the need for progressives to embrace a different kind of economic model. I agree with her argument that we need a new economic model to tackle climate change, because a more sustainable vision for future society needs industry regulation, collectivity and government intervention: all the things that neo-liberals loathe. Although Moore and her team at Town Hall also recognise the interconnections between the environment and the economy, those links were conspicuously absent from the discussion last night. The problem here as I see it is that if progressives erase climate change from big public discussions on issues as central to the environment as urban planning and transport infrastructure, what hope do we have? Indeed, progressive policy wonks need to unashamedly make climate change the centrepiece of their policy proposals at every opportunity and in the wonkiest of wonky ways. At the absolutely least a single voice from outside Wonka World should have been seated on the panel to keep climate and the environment alive as an issue when it comes to key discussions of massive infrastructure planning. Last night, with no non-wonky voice to remind them of the earth and climate and the ever-warming planet, these wonks were at the mercy of the O’Farrell governments neo-liberal facts and figures game, and they all seemed either too ashamed or too indoctrinated to think and talk about the issue of transport planning in anything other than economic terms. So, I am going to write to O’Farrell now and tell him that the State’s solution to Sydney’s transport problem is both environmentally and economically unsustainable.

*This is an idea to be explored at another time.

**N.B. Justin “Nightclub Baron” Hemmes was on the panel, I am not touting him as a progressive policy wonk, but he didn’t really contribute much to the discussion except to say that he thinks cars should be allowed back in after dark.