The Sydney Project: Wet n Wild Sydney

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

I’m posting out of order: the SEA Life Sydney Aquarium and Skyzone are waiting. But I thought I’d get Wet n Wild Sydney up while their season passes are still on sale (I believe sales end December 24).

Spoiler: we really liked it! Much more than most reviews of Wet n Wild would have you expect.

All that bad press

Let’s talk about the negatives you may already know about.

Entry is very expensive and pretty much everything else is extra. Lockers? $10. (Oh, but the enticing looking big ones conveniently near the entrance? Those ones are $12.) There are a couple of rides that cost extra. You can’t bring your own food in unless it’s for a baby or for someone with special dietary needs. Food can easily come to $20 a head between a meal and snacks. Parking is $8 (if you pay at the park exit) or $10 (if you pay at the carpark exit). Etc etc. Budget something like 25% of your already plenty pricey admission again, more if you’re going alone.

The food is atrocious. It’s all gluggy, floppy burgers and chips cooked to equal floppiness. This links nicely to this supposedly being a kid-centric review (although really we were there because I like waterslides), in that V is a very fussy eater. When people picture fussy eaters, they tend to picture Wet n Wild’s menu: burgers and chips and chicken pieces. Yeah no, not really. V is almost entirely vegetarian and his emergency go-to foods are mostly various types of bread and baked goods. He does, luckily, eat chips, but we run into a lot of trouble at almost every “lowest common demoninator, give the kids a little treat Mum” place because of the meat. (This isn’t a review of Daydream Island, which is lucky because then I’d have to tell you about V trying to live for a week on Wet n Wild’s food. It was bad enough for seven hours.)

Wet n Wild’s food is actually not what I’d call expensive by Sydney eating-out standards: it’s about a $12 lunch. But it’s $12 that you have to spend on a burger and chips. Not impressed. Adult-wise, Andrew sized up the barista and decided that perhaps a mocha was best. She wasn’t wiping down the steam wand between uses.

Crowds are something that people complain about a lot. We went on a school term Friday rather than a weekend for that reason, and not an unseasonably warm day. Ride waits ranged from none to about 15 minutes, which is about the limit for a four year old. I think in future, we will probably plan to go on a weekday afternoon after school and take advantage of their cheaper post-3pm admission. (Even though there’s the new patrons coming in, the crowds were actually dropping way off from 2pm. We left at 5pm.)

I would be very very wary of ever going on a weekend, or in the school holidays. I’d also be wary of going on a day forecast to be hot: there’s some shade, but I think it wouldn’t be enough to beat off a Sydney scorcher. Weekdays. Afternoons. Mild weather.

Why it worked for us

Here’s one thing that gets negative reviews that I’m not complaining about for our family: the fact that they charge full admission for anyone who is 110cm tall or more, which includes a lot of four year olds. (V is about 115cm.) Don’t get me wrong, this would absolutely be annoying if you have any adult or tall child coming who can’t go on the rides or doesn’t want to, because they have no child carer or “limited rides” entry. You’re 110+cm? Full price for you. (I should note that the paths appeared wheel-accessible to me — we had a stroller with us but not an adult wheel user ­— and they do offer a discounted admission to people with disability cards and free carer admission in that case. Accessibility info here.)

But, for our family, they have us pegged, because here’s what I really liked about the park with a four year old: the rides don’t require that you can swim. I personally quite like being shot off the end of waterslides to sink or swim in a churning pool, but that’s because I can swim well. V cannot: he knows how to hold his breath when water hits his face and he can float and swim a few metres in a calm pool. I wouldn’t put him down a slide that ended in swimming in a churn pool yet if I wanted to see him again. So I had imagined that the day would involve a lot of staring longingly at the best slides while a parent went off to ride them.

But no. The Wet n Wild Sydney model is almost entirely that you go down the slides as a group on a huge raft. As long as you can hang on and follow instructions, you can ride. And the solo rides end in a very shallow long splash pool, so if you have the ability and reactions to lift your head up, you can breathe. So this made every ride for which V met the restrictions (some are minimum 120cm, and 360Rush is 120cm with a minimum weight of 35kg) accessible to him. A much better day than I had thought.

V is also a daring little kid, which is important, because after all, you are riding a raft on rapids. Carefully constructed rapids, yes, subjected to all kinds of safety modelling, under the eye of CCTV, but your kid’s hindbrain may not know that. I think it could easily be a tough day with a nervous kid.

As it was though, with a daring kid and stops for snacks and calming, we ended up spending seven hours there, much much longer than I’d planned, and when calculated at the hour level, the price comes down to similar to some of the other things I’ve reviewed.

Kid review

V’s favourite rides: “the racers!” The H2Go Racers were the second “grown-up” slides we took him on, which was a gamble because they’re solo, and in the second half of them, they’re also dark (Wet n Wild loves adding to the tension by having you ride in the dark). So some careful coaching went into what to expect, but it worked out well. Probably not a surprise for a child who can ski. The only issue with the Racers is that you win the race by, essentially, weight, and so Andrew and I worked out that we needed to wait for him to launch, then stand there and slowly count to ten before going ourselves, if he was to win. This wasn’t the staff’s favourite thing, they’re big on turnover.

That said, the staff were very comfortable with helping him. They launched him down the Racers because he’s a bit short to launch himself. They helped him out of the two person rafts and congratulated him. They’re very supportive of littler kids on the big rides.

He also enjoyed The Breakers (a two-person ride), where you go up a ramp with a water jet shooting you in the back before bumping down the slide, and volunteered himself and me for the Aqua Tube. I looked into it dubiously. “Buddy, you realise that this is entirely dark? And it’s going to be dark all the way to the end?” Sure, he said. And he seemed happy enough, but he didn’t volunteer to go on it again. Of the four-person rides, he enjoyed The Curler and Double BOWLSEye with Andrew but was too short for the rest.

We had expected to spend most of the visit in Wet n Wild Jr/Nickelodeon Beach, which is the children’s area with shallow slides and a little current they can float around in. As you can tell, we didn’t spend much time there, but V is still young enough to think that it was also pretty great. I think he would have been happy there if he was too short for the rest of the park, but probably this is the last year that would be true. (He’s 5 in January, so by the next season, he’ll be nearly 6.)

A (who is 11 months old and doesn’t walk yet) loves pools with Mama, but it turns out she doesn’t much like being sat in water without an adult to hold. Her favourite activity was thus pulling up to stand against a fence. If she was writing this review she would say: six hours of boredom ONE HOUR OF THE BEST FENCE OF BESTNESS. She squeezed in a whole day’s worth of cooing and squealing during her fence time.

Safety-wise, we did manage to get a “tour” of their first aid facilities, courtesy of V taking a nasty fall climbing up the stairs to some slides, and grazing the skin along four of his ribs. It started off badly, when we asked that tower’s “Aquatic Safety” staffer for directions to First Aid and she sounded puzzled and didn’t know. She suggested we go ask Guest Services at the other end of the park. However, 50 metres into the walk, a different staff member stared at us lugging a crying kid and came over to ask us what was up. He was appropriately horrified that we had not got good directions or an escort, and he pulled out a whistle, blew on it, and flagged another staff member over to show us to First Aid. I had half expected them to have a bored GP on staff for the look of the thing, but it was a paramedic and a nurse, which is fine (and for emergencies and first aid probably more appropriate). They have a nice big space with a few beds, basically a doctor’s office. They bandaided V up and gave him stickers and no doubt watched him for all the danger signs that I don’t even know about for shock or concussion.

For an hour or so, he didn’t want to slide any more, and we worried that he’d cracked a rib perhaps, but then suddenly he was watching Andrew on the Racers and then he announced “I want to slide again!”

Adult review

I can’t resist a quick adult review, and in any case, I’m recommending this as a family outing. Which may include adult slide lovers.

First, as above, a disappointment: the group-oriented model means that there aren’t a lot of solo rides and they aren’t the most fun ones either. I think you can go up the towers with four-person rafts and get grouped at the top (rides on those towers are The Curler, Riptide, Double Bowlseye, Tantrum, T5 and Bombora) but you’re supposed to pair yourself up for the two-person raft slides (Half-pipe, The Breakers, Typhoon and Aqua Tube). The two solo rides are H2Go Racers and 360Rush.

For adults, I’d say it isn’t the best solo day out, but I’d go there with friends.

We only went on one ride that was pretty much tweens/teens/adults only (due to the minimum weight): 360Rush. They position 360Rush as the most extreme water ride (“leave your loose jewellery with your friends who are too chicken to ride!”) because it’s the (near) free-fall one: you fall about 15 metres or so and then go around a 360° loop feet first. Andrew and I both did a 360Rush ride, and here’s our collective review: it’s over pretty damned quickly! Andrew’s report was pretty much: aaaaah, oh, now it’s over. Having heard that, I tried to pay attention, and so I got aaaah, huh I’m slowing, so that means this is the bit where I’m upside down, only I have no sense of direction, how strange, oh, now it’s over.

But that’s not to say it isn’t potentially scary. You wear a backboard (I guess to stop you flinging your head back and banging it), you get shut in a small capsule (I guess to position you safely, but also because they can find out if you’re too claustrophobic while it’s reversible), a voice counts down, and a trapdoor opens under your feet to drop you down. It’s all in the build-up. You need to be willing to trust in the machines. I’ve never dropped so fast, so I realised afterwards that I had a little bit of cartoon physics in my head, where I’d hover above the open trapdoor thinking “NOOOOOO”. But real physics doesn’t work like that. By the time you know the trapdoor is open, you’re about 5 metres below it.

It’s actually not a super-fun ride, because it’s so fast and there’s not a lot of sensory experience with it. The rush is good afterwards though. Assuming you’re OK with the fall and the confined space (and note: I am not normally especially thrilled about heights), it’s worth doing once so that you can downplay the experience to all your friends.

Summary

Cost: $79.99 for people 110cm+, $59.99 for people shorter than 110cm, age three and under is free. All 3yo+ admission is $49.99 after 3pm. Season passes from $119.99, so if you’re going more than once, you should probably buy one.

Recommended: yes, much more so than I’d dared to hope, but with the proviso that it’s even more expensive than the sticker price, and that you should pick a day that’s not going to be hot or crowded.

More information: Wet n Wild Sydney website.

It’s 2014 and the Internet is still atomising my household

Here’s some electronic things my household owns collectively:

  • our main camera
  • our television
  • our games consoles
  • our Kindle and Nexus tablet

Here’s the services I use almost daily that do not have any notion of collectively owned content or multiple publishers wanting to manage a single account:

  • Flickr
  • Google Play, or any other Google service
  • Xbox Live (to the extent I’ve explored it)

And this is epically frustrating, because here’s some use cases that these websites don’t handle well.

  • we share parenting of our children. We would like to be able to play one or both of them Frozen or Cars or whatever without both owning a copy from a streamable service or someone needing to leave a logged in Android device with a known password in the house at all times.
  • we both take photographs on our main camera. We sometimes can’t remember who took which one and in any case, it’s always me who post-processes them. We would like to be able to publish them on a photo sharing website and maybe sometimes attribute authorship (if one of us is especially proud of a shot and actually remembers taking it) and sometimes not!
  • we read the same books because I read them first and Andrew reads some subset of them on my recommendation, and we’d like to do that without both buying a copy.
  • we listen to the same music because Andrew listens to it first and I listen to some subset of it on his recommendation, and we’d like to do that without both buying a copy.

I mean, it’s disgusting really. One day we could even do the ultimate in simple gross violation of normal and healthy relationship boundaries some day and want to play each other’s saved games.

Right now we do pretty much what everyone does to some degree, as far as I can tell, which is to have a shared Amazon account and a shared Flickr account and still buy movies on optical discs for now even though five minutes of unskippable sections at the start are annoying and put our music on a fileserver and awkwardly manage our photos on a USB hard drive that can get plugged into different laptops and really not stream much stuff at all. Maybe one day we’ll have some kind of dedicated device that is logged into someone’s Google account and streams movies that are always bought through that account, or something like that.

Now traditionally when I make this point, someone will show up and say “yes, my dear, but something extremely complicated is going on here, much too complex and subtle for your delicate sensibilities, called making money through an advertising revenue model requiring demographic information and the entire world will go bankrupt if we allowed multiple people to share accounts even for content they produced in any recognised way, so don’t worry your pretty little head about it and let your husband buy the clicky button things from now on.”

To which I answer: this blog is (to the best of my knowledge) not owned by any of Yahoo!, Google or Microsoft and does not especially care about their revenue models. Moreover, if your comment boils down to “please try and see this from the side of the websites” I will replace your comment with the one from the previous paragraph, sexist content and all. (Also don’t explain to me that one can share passwords in various ways. I know. I do those things.)

I will concede one point: households don’t have continuity in the way that individuals do. My household will split into at least three and perhaps four someday. This is pretty much impossible to model in the present intellectual property+licencing rights model as far as I can tell.

And all the same, I’m annoyed that the software world is really hostile to the (very normal) way I live my life and is (surprise!) set up for a world in which each of the four people in my house sits in their own room with their own TV + gaming system + speakers + phone/tablet + ereader interacting with content they purchased entirely separately, and in many cases, in duplicate (possibly) maximising your revenue since whichever unfortunate day someone came up with the idea of an “account” on a computer system.

First ecosystem to fix this gets to sell me Frozen or something.

A short theory of under-committing to things

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately, and I keep being tempted to start my own. Except, yikes, I need to do hours for four years or something?

Sumana Harihareswara suggested to me that maybe I should start aggressively small and uncommitted like Leonard Richardson’s podcast: when I feel like it, in whatever style I choose. And that was close, but I’ve realised the closest fit for my personal style is to aim high, but to limit my run. This doesn’t always work out as I’d hoped, but it still seems like a good model. Do four ‘casts (say). And then done. No promises when or if I’ll be back.

I wish more things in my life could be structured that way.

The Sydney Project: Luna Park

This year is my sonÂ’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

Luna Park entrance
by Jan Smith, CC BY

Luna Park is, honestly, essentially cheating on this project. Do children like amusement parks? Yes. They do. There you go.

In addition, I think four years old is basically about the right age for them. It’s old enough that children are aware that a giant painted face, tinkly music, and carousels aren’t a completely normal day in the world, young enough that the carousel is still just as magical as the dodgem cars. And too young to have horror-film associations with amusement parks, I think that helps too.

Luna Park ferris wheel
by Kevin Gibbons, CC BY

It’s also more accessible to a four year old than some more thrill-oriented parks. V isn’t scared of heights or speed, so he loves the Coney Island slides, and was annoyed to find out that he was too short for the Ranger (the ship you sit in that gets spun upside down about ten stories in the air) and the free-fall ride. He is, however, apparently afraid of centrifugal force parallel to the ground, and refused to go on any “octopus” rides.

Even the four year old who wants to go on the free-fall ride is still young enough for, well, frankly dinky rides like the train that goes around about five times in a circle while you pretend to drive it, and the space shuttles that turn in gentle circles and which slowly go up and down when you press a button. His big draw is the ferris wheel, which I found fairly horrifying this time as I read the signs about keeping limbs inside to him and then had to answer a lot of questions about “why? why do I have to keep my limbs inside?” while giant pieces of metal calmly whirled past us with their comparatively infinite strength. In a similar vein, V also enjoys the roller coaster past all reason and sense, whereas Andrew and I react with “this seemsÂ… flimsyÂ…” (I love coasters, but I like them to look overengineered).

Luna Park, where there's still a space shuttle

The only things V really didn’t like were the organised dancing groups who were encouraging children to learn their (cute!) 1930s-ish moves, and the process of choosing a child from a hat to press the lever to light up the park at night (he refused to let his name be entered), because there’s some specific types of performative attention that he really loathes. But there’s plenty of children gagging to dance along and to light up the park that an objector goes unnoticed. It’s not coercive fun.

Cost: entry is free. Rides aren’t, an unlimited rides pass for the day starts at $29.95 for a young child and goes to $49.95 for a tall child or an adult. There are discounts for buying online. (The entry is free thing sounds really useless, but it’s actually good if you have several adults, not all of whom are interested in the rides and/or are looking after babies.)

Recommended: indeed. We’ve considered getting an annual pass, in fact.

More information: Luna Park Sydney website.

Disclosure: because of a prior complaint to Luna Park about opening hours (we showed up several months ago at 2:15pm to find that an advertised 4pm closure had been moved to 3pm), we were admitted free this time. No reviews were requested or promised in return for our admission.

The Sydney Project: Tyrannosaurs Big and Small at the Australian Museum

This year is my sonÂ’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

The Australian Museum has two programs for kids: Tiny Tots and Mini Explorers, which are patterned something like Art Safari, with the children doing an activity themed to match a current exhibit.

V did Tyrannosaurs Big and Small, which went with the Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family exhibit. The Tyrannosaurs Big and Small activities ended in June, although the Tyrannosaurs exhibit is continuing through to July 27.

Paleontology

This activity benefited compared to Art Safari in the amount of time available to the children. They started off in an education room with several activities. They first had a short talk about dinosaurs, specifically, working out how big dinosaurs are based on one or two bones. Honestly, this seemed to thoroughly lose most of the children, V included. Most of the remainder revolved around a very shallow imitation of archaeology: finding plastic dinosaurs hidden in sand, or in jars filled with dried lentils. V has not yet absorbed any awe of archeology and regarded this as an exercise in playing with sand rather than a moment of entering into the noblest profession a child can conceive of. The other activity was taking dinosaur shapes cut out of paper (necks, legs and such) and gluing them together into one’s very own dinosaur, which V got quite into.

So no great educational inroads were made, but fun was had. And it didn’t manage to trigger V’s perfectionist tendencies and cause a lot of flouncing and dramatic self-recriminations.

Dino art

All the children were then given a dinosaur tail to wear — I appreciated the staff saying that wearing one was entirely up to the child, although V was perfectly willing — and a giant mass of children and parents headed down to the main exhibit. In theory we were supposed to be measuring the various tyrannosaurs and otherwise filling out an activity sheet, in practice we were mostly keeping tabs on our children and keeping the fossils safe from them. Or I was, anyway.

The exhibit itself is great, I’m intending to go back by myself before it’s up to properly appreciate it. The main attraction is Scotty. Andrew was very impressed by the faked shadow they’ve put behind Scotty, which moves and roars periodically. They’ve also done an amusing video which is mock security footage of the museum being invaded by dinosaurs, including live footage of the viewers themselves, surrounded by invading dinos. This took up a lot of V’s time. Less good for children — and what I’m going back for — is the bits about how, for example, the coloration of dinosaurs is being determined.

The sad thing about taking a young child to this sort of thing is that you cannot impress on them how unusual it is. Australian museums are not full of world-class T. rex skeletons! You won’t get to see this very often! Appreciate it while itÂ… oh never mind.

The only downside was that the ticketing was rather poorly integrated into the massive assembly line that is admittance to the main exhibit. Andrew arrived late and without a phone, and they had to page me down to the information desk to explain that he had a ticket to this workshop, not one of the timed tickets to Tyrannosaurs. We also didn’t know for sure if we were even going to see the main Tyrannosaurs exhibit and nearly bought separate tickets to it. Whoops.

Cost: $12 children and $24 adults, which was reduced a lot for museum members. The year-round equivalent is Mini-Explorers, which is $10 children and $15 adults.

The exhibit alone is $13 children and $22 adults. Odd.

Recommended (kids’ activity): cautiously. They’re well designed programs with a fair amount of thought put into them, but they are, basically, a craft activity and an “opportunity” to chase your child through a museum exhibit. It might be best saved for an exhibit that your child is likely to be unusually interested in.

Recommended (Tyrannosaurs exhibit): hell yes, circle July 27 on your calendar with danger signs and scary notation.

More information: Mini-Explorers and Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family websites.

The Sydney Project: Art Safari at the Museum of Contemporary Art

This year is my sonÂ’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

Pipe cleaners at the MCA

Art Safari is one of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s kids’ activities: a program where pre-school children look at a few pieces of art in the galleries and do some related art of their own. I enjoyed the Art Baby tour a lot and was keen for V to have a go at Art Safari. We were joined by another four year old, A—, and her family.

MCA milkshake

Starting in the cafe with an enormous chocolate milkshake was a non-core part of the experience but got things off to a good start, except that the cafe was a bit of a horror show of mothers’ groups and Mountain Buggy strollers (guilty as charged on the stroller) and my memory of it is of a fair bit of flurrying and crowdedness. We had some trouble getting V and A— to say goodbye to their milkshake remnants and to go to the classroom for their exercise.

They started off with some circle time talking about colours and what things they could think of that had each colour. Which led me to discover that I have the shouty kid who wants to give every answer, specifically, who wants to bellow periodically every time a new colour word comes to mind. At this age, it’s a bit awkward to figure out the division of discipline: am I supposed to step in and tell him to quit it with the bellowing, or is that all under control? (I see this play out each week at swimming lessons too, with parents evenly divided between those hissing warnings to their children to pay attention and work hard, and those with their nose in a book.)

Art adventures

I think there’s a lot of scope for kids to interact with some contemporary art, and the art chosen for this was a good example: a whole coloured floor to pace and march around and to match their coloured pipe cleaners with. Good choice.

A less good choice was the security guard who came over and told me that there is a “no backpacks, no exceptions” rule. I assume this is because backpacks are so liable to knock over art works whichÂ… obviously is a problem, but it would have been really annoying if I’d had my baby in a front pack and then needed to, I guess, carry the backpack around in my hands, since I can’t dangle it off the baby. It’s just generally not the greatest thing in the world, to have no socially acceptable way to lump around the giant haul of nappies and wipes and changes of clothes and such that a young baby requires. I think I’m supposed to leave most of it in the car I don’t own. (Tangent: I wasn’t babywearing that day, but I often do, and it is quite common in babywearing discussions around this issue for it to emerge that many babywearers either are never far from their cars, or never far from their adult partners.) Probably the best way for the MCA to deal with this would have been for the instructor to mention it before we all left the classroom, so I could have left the bag there.

V found the first activity — making interlocking circles out of pipe cleaners — a bit frustrating (he couldn’t figure out how to twist the pipe cleaner around itself to close the circles), and I was disappointed that the session doesn’t allow enough time for the instructor to notice and help floundering children. That said, each child did have a parent with them, so of course I was able to help him out myself just before he vanished into a big pile of “I can’t, I can’t, it’s so haaaard, I can’t!”

Turntable art

Afterwards we went back to the classroom for an activity he found much more intuitive and fun, holding a texta against a piece of paper as it spun on an record player, so as to draw circles and spirals. I think the instructor tried to briefly mention that this was an older way of playing music, but V in particular, and I think children of this age generally, don’t really grasp that the past was noticeably different from the present and have no interest in cooing over more cumbersome ways of playing music that predate their parents’ era as well. (Although, that must have been fun, back when people got to play music with TEXTA MACHINES!)

Noise and colour

Almost as an aside, the instructor pointed the children at lights that changed colour when you clapped near them, which is nearly as much fun as textas. This was a good microcosm of the whole experience; just slightly rushed. I feel like if each part of it had 10–15 more minutes, V would have had more fun. That said, he was very proud of the art he’d made.

Cost: concession is $16.85, general admission is $21.95. I’m honestly not sure if both parents and children are supposed to buy a ticket. I bought one for me and one for him.

Recommended: not for the price. It’s a fine activity, it was however slightly rushed throughout.

More information: Museum of Contemporary Art’s kids’ activities website.

Happy 100th, Galactic Suburbia!

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

I first heard of the Australian speculative fiction podcast Galactic Suburbia here at Hoyden About Town in 2011 and then promptly didn’t listen to it for a further three years, until I found myself doing just enough driving and sitting around watching children’s swimming lessons to make podcasts worthwhile, at which point I promptly subscribed and it became a fave.

And a great time it was to subscribe too, because they were in the countdown to their 100th episode, which has been up on their site for nearly a week. I probably will never count as a real Galactic Suburbia fan, because I don’t intend to go back and listen from episode 1 as many new fans apparently still do, and I am not making an actual Galactic Suburbia-themed cake for their contest (but perhaps you should! entries close 27th May), but here’s the next best thing.

First, a picture of a cake! Not my cake! But a cake!

Cake decorated with a rocket ship and aliens
Rocket Ship Cake, CC BY-SA, mags @ Flickr

And second, a note that you can pick up the Galactic Suburbia Scrapbook at Twelfth Planet Press, including several interview transcripts. (Accessibility note: as Lauredhel noted in 2011, Galactic Suburbia is not regularly transcribed.)

Happy 100th!

The Sydney Project: Powerhouse Museum

This year is my sonÂ’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

This was our second visit to the Powerhouse Museum, both times on a Monday, a day on which it is extremely quiet.

Bendy mirror

The Powerhouse seems so promising. It’s a tech museum, and we’re nerd parents, which ought to make this a family paradise. But not so. Partly, it’s that V is not really a nerdy child. His favourite activities involve things like riding his bike downhill at considerable speeds and dancing. He is not especially interested in machinery, intricate steps of causation, or whimsy, which removes a lot of the interest of the Powerhouse. Museums are also a surprising challenge in conveying one fundamental fact about recent history: that the past was not like the present in significant ways. V doesn’t really seem to know this, nor is he especially interested in it, which removes a lot of the hooks one could use in explaining, eg, the steam powered machines exhibit.

We started at The Oopsatoreum, a fictional exhibition by Shaun Tan about the works of failed inventor Henry Mintox. This didn’t last long; given that V doesn’t understand the fundamental conceit of museums and is not especially interested in technology, an exhibit that relies on understanding museums and having affection for technology and tinkering was not going to hold his attention. He enjoyed the bendy mirrors and that’s about it.

V v train

I was hoping to spend a moment in The Oopsatoreum, but he dragged me straight back out to his single favourite exhibit: the steam train parked on the entrance level. But it quickly palled too, because he wanted to climb on and in it, and all the carriages have perspex covering their doors so you can see it but not get in. There’s a bigger exhibit of vehicles on the bottom floor, including — most interestingly to me — an old-fashioned departures board showing trains departing to places that don’t even have lines any more, but we didn’t spend long there because V’s seen it before. He also sped through the steam machines exhibit pretty quickly, mostly hitting the buttons that set off the machines and then getting grumpy at the amount of noise they make.

Gaming, old-style

He was much more favourably struck with the old game tables that are near the steam train. He can’t read yet, and parenting him recently has been a constant exercise in learning exactly how many user interfaces assume literacy (TV remote controls, for example, and their UIs now as well). The games were like this to an extent too; he can’t read “Press 2 to start” and so forth, so I kept having to start the games for him. He didn’t do so well as he didn’t learn to operate the joystick and press a button to fire at the same time. He could only do one or the other. And whatever I was hoping V would get out of this visit, I don’t think marginally improved gaming skills were it, much as I think they’re probably going to be useful to him soon.

Big red car

We spent the most time in the sinkhole of the Powerhouse, the long-running Wiggles exhibition. This begins with the annoying feature that prams must be left outside, presumably because on popular days one could hardly move in there for prams. But we were the only people in there and it was pretty irritating to pick up my two month old baby and all of V’s and her various assorted possessions and lump them all inside with me. I’m glad V is not much younger, or I would have been fruitlessly chasing him around in there with all that stuff in my arms.

Car fixing

It’s also, again, not really the stereotypical educational museum experience. There’s a lot of memorabilia that’s uninteresting to children, such as their (huge) collection of gold and platinum records and early cassette tapes and such. There’s also several screens showing Wiggles videos, which is what V gravitates to. If I wanted him to spend an hour watching TV, I can organise that without leaving my house. He did briefly “repair” a Wiggles car by holding a machine wrench against it.

Overall, I think we’re done with the Powerhouse for a few years.

Cost: $12 adults, $6 children 4 and over, younger children free.

Recommended: for my rather grounded four year old, no. Possibly more suited to somewhat older children, or children who have an interest in a specific exhibit. (If that interest is steam trains, I think Train Works at Thirlmere is a better bet, although we cheated last year by going to a Thomas-franchise focussed day.)

More information: Powerhouse website.

The Sydney Project: Art Baby

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. I’ve therefore decided to embark on a self-imposed challenge to go and do different child-focussed activities in Sydney and review them!

Art Baby is a preliminary Sydney Project entry, because it wasn’t an activity for preschoolers! Instead, it’s an activity for carers of babies, who tour the Museum of Contempoary Art with their babies.

Entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art, nighttime
by Robert Montgomery

Mostly, it’s a short (45 minute) tour of one of the exhibitions (it was Volume One today), and the fact of having babies in tow is largely irrelevant. (Most of the babies today were two or three months old, much too young to do much touching or exploring.) I very much enjoyed our tour guide, who significantly contributed to the artworks with some background about each artist, and with her personal reactions to the art works. Fine art has really grown on me in recent years, as I’ve come to understand many genres — fine art in this case, but not it alone — as a conversation, and that you need to come at it with a cheat sheet that brings you up to speed on the conversation. A good tour or audio guide is the way to go with fine art museums, given that I’m unlikely to ever follow the conversation as a practitioner or serious student. Today’s tour, by an art educator and artist, was an excellent insider briefing.

The baby-relevant part of the tour is the conclusion in the Creative Learning room where the older children would do the Art Play (3yo and under) and Art Safari sessions (3–5yo). This includes a piece specifically commissioned for the children’s room, a child-safe and welcoming artwork for them to interact with. (Much of the museum is an attractive nuisance for children, with many bright, changing objects that they must not touch. It’s a shame. This adult would like a museum of fine art you can beat upon.) Afterwards, everyone has coffee (included in the price) and goes their separate way.

I’m keen to trial Art Safari with my 4yo now.

Cost: $20 plus booking fee.

Recommended: yes. It’s a good introduction to the MCA collection, and the timing is suitable for people with babies in tow. You could also just attend a normal tour, of course, but sometimes it’s fun to be part of a WITH BABY market segment.

More information: Art Baby website.

Movie Thread — The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (SPOILERS)

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

Beware, the unspoiled: both the post and the comments can be assumed to contain copious spoilers.

Because it appears to have been days since our last media thread, here’s one for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which opened today in Australia.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

I am pleased that the pretty legitimate grievances that pretty much everyone between the Blue Mountains and Erebor has against the King Under the Mountain (and Thorin as his heir) is being treated seriously from the narrative point of view. As well they should be. Thrór and others have a lot of blood on their hands.

There seemed to be… less impossible physics in this one. Don’t get me wrong, still impossible, but there wasn’t someone surviving a two hundred metre fall every third minute.

This is far more One Ring-centric than the book is (and I believe later editions of The Hobbit are actually already edited to make the One a little more prominent), which makes me wonder if Thrain being the last holder of one of the Seven Rings is going to arise at all.

Essentially every time Balin appears on screen, I can’t help but be all “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT RETAKING MORIA. NO. NOOOOOO.” I don’t think I’m getting through.

Still annoyed that dwarves are more dimorphic on gender lines in Jackson’s films than they are in Tolkien’s books (the Appendices to LoTR clearly state that non-dwarves cannot easily distinguish any of their men and women). And Legolas’s joke about it is then yucky.

For that matter, I can’t figure out how it possibly makes sense for Legolas and Tauriel to want or promise their captive orc that his life will be spared. Warfare in this universe is take-no-prisoners on both sides, justified on the elvish side by the universal corruption and evil of the orcs. Which is immensely problematised by critics for good reasons, but I don’t think the answer on Jackson’s side is inserting one inexplicable act example of different and not thought-through ethics. Surely Legolas knew that the prisoner has seen the centre of Thranduil’s abode he was a dead orc walking. Where were they going to free him? What was he going to do then? How were they planning to prevent him returning to his fellows to recount everything he saw of Thranduil’s security arrangements? (Of which, I have to say, they seem to already know a worrying amount.) You have to think about these things a little bit, elves.

I am not clear at all on what Sauron wants with Gandalf as a captive either. It’s not their first encounter, Sauron likely knows that he’s incorruptible and that the extent of his powers is sizable and likely not fully revealed, so it’s not about enslaving him or using him as a weapon. While he’s alive, he’s a danger in some form. Sauron is not winning the Cleverer Than a Balrog award this year.

Very obvious cameo, Peter Jackson! Was yours the very first reasonably close shot of a person in the entire movie? I think it might have been!

Very subtle cameos, Stephen Colbert and family! It seems to be pretty well known by now that Colbert played one of the Laketown spies who are watching Bard, and that his family also feature in Laketown scenes, but absolutely no news source I can find has even managed to source stills showing Colbert himself, let alone his family. I certainly didn’t notice him, and we were watching for him (although not knowing to look in Laketown, specifically)!

No Gollum!! Woe.