Four years after my third visit to Fiji, I was back for a fourth, as part of my Ph.D. fieldwork at the Australian National University. I spent several weeks there from May to the start of July, and another on my way back to Canberra at the end of August, interviewing more than thirty political figures on questions of tradition and politics in their country. Six years after the country’s first coup, I was apprehensive about how the trip would go, but it went well. Although I didn’t get to interview prime minister and 1987 coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka, I interviewed many other people I’d been reading about for years, including former and future prime ministers.
On the day of Trump’s inauguration I posted a black flag here in mourning for American democracy, fearful for what would come: fears I elaborated in November 2016 and February 2017. In the four years since, I’ve posted occasional links and short pieces about the U.S., but have mostly written about the U.K.’s own slide into right-wing irrelevance. This, after all, is the polity I’m part of; analysing the details of Trump’s malfeasance seemed better left to Americans.
I’m gradually sorting through more of the photos that I scanned from negatives last year, and lately have turned to my first photos of Sydney, a city I had been visiting since childhood (my grandparents lived near Hornsby) but first photographed on a visit in 1988. In 1991 I was back again to start a Ph.D. at the University of Sydney, before accepting a late offer from A.N.U. in Canberra and moving there. This gallery contains a couple of dozen photos from visits to Sydney in 1988, 1991 and 1993.
In Canberra I lived first in a hall on campus and later in the since-demolished Graduate House on Northbourne Avenue, with views of Black Mountain Tower. I took some initial snaps in April 1991 and more two years later, after returning from my year in the U.K. to continue my doctorate. 1993 was one of the best years of that time, when I met J., went to Fiji and Tonga for fieldwork, and hosted a visit from a great new friend from England. Most of the later photos in this gallery were taken in their company.
More N.S.W. and A.C.T. photos to come at some point as I progress through the 1990s. Next, though, will be Tonga and (more) Fiji.
The kids were on their term break last week, which usually would mean some sort of trip away for a few days… but in covidtimes, not so much. Instead we did a few day trips, including one to a place I’d long been curious about: the Scottish Owl Centre at Polkemmet Country Park near Bathgate, halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It’s operating at reduced hours but still open, so we went along for a couple of hours of owl observation.
It was great. There’s something about a place devoted to one specific kind of animal (or bird) that’s even more satisfying than a full-blown zoo: you get to see dozens of variations on a theme, and realise how diverse they are. It’s a terrific place to take photos and turn them into a gallery:
I haven’t written much here about Pandemic Life for a while. Things have been busy since the start of August, when I started a new management role in my institute, alongside getting ready for the start of an unusual semester of teaching. As usual, until September we had no idea how many students would turn up, but with none of the predictability of normal times that would let us get close in our forecasting. At the back of everyone’s minds was the thought that all of our preparation for hybrid teaching, with online-only fall-back options for formerly face-to-face courses, might be for the benefit of half as many MSc students as usual. But as it turns out, our school has matched the record numbers of last year. Our Digital Education programme’s intake is up by half, and student numbers on my option course are up 60% on the previous peak. It seems everyone wants to improve their knowledge of digital education, and of its wider global context.
I’d managed to go a couple of months without spending too much time dwelling on the current resident of the Oval Office—as opposed to the wider hellscape he’s created—to the point where I didn’t get around to posting a bunch of links I’d collected about U.S. politics last month. But now we’ve had a week where stories about Trump sabotaging the first debate with Biden, his tax records showing him paying $750 in income tax in 2017 and strongly suggesting money laundering, him testing positive for coronavirus, evidence that he knew about his diagnosis for days before announcing it, and now his risky and manic behaviour while on medication, have created a screaming video-wall of distraction when he’s the last person I want to think about.
America in 2020 is a grim sight, and last night’s presidential debate didn’t instill much hope for its future, but half a lifetime ago, when I visited it at the end of my 1992 travels with my parents, it all seemed so sunny, confident, and democratic—even though its first Democratic president in over a decade was a few months away from winning.