THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Saturday, 31 March

This morning, Damian, the wizard of the breakfast room, suggests we pay a visit to the Paddington Market, open only on Saturdays in the hip Paddington neighborhood. It’s pretty far, walkable according to the map, but in the interest of efficiency we take a cab. Stalls fill a churchyard with stuff several (many) notches above the craftique bullshit customarily found in the States. Not a tube sock or neck massage to be found. We fall into a banter-y conversation with a pillowcase maker. Ali makes many observations about music and Texas and the US. We gab for maybe twenty minutes, then I purchase a Tasmanian-themed throw pillow.

Our next destination is Berkelouw Books, a store of renown, just a little bit further down Oxford Street. Ali can’t find anything that strikes her fancy and once I’ve located the loo, we’re outta here. A midday meal would be a good idea, but the distractions of Oxford Street are many. A quirky window display pulls us into a shop. The merchandise has ‘Alice’ written all over it. She buys a pair of tortoise shell shoes that she absolutely loves and a pullover with a blooming cactus pattern. Pub burgers for lunch.

We hail a cab to the Hyde Park Barracks, the building through which tens of thousands of transported ‘criminals’ were ‘processed’ between 1820 and 1848. It has had a multitude of uses since then, but a thoughtful restoration has peeled away these incarnations, revealing its unhappy bones. The lives of the convicts have been imaginatively dramatized to illuminate their humanity. Almost 200,000 people were transported to Australia before the practice was outlawed. This was an early experiment in mass incarceration. By contrast, 50,000 were transported to North America, an aspect of our history no one knows. Perhaps, this practice is papered over by talk of ‘indentured servitude.’

From the Barracks, we wander through the Botanical Garden with the goal of finding the Wollemi Pine, a recently discovered prehistoric tree. In an inaccessible valley in New South Wales, some horticulturally savvy guys stumbled upon this weird-looking tree, scrawny but tufted with emerald green frond-like ‘needles’. It’s been given pride of place in the very middle of a grid of flower beds, sited where a 110 year-old Norfolk Pine, called ‘The Wishing Tree’, stood until the 30s. Though the wish-granting potential of Wollemi Pine goes untried, its unprepossessing appearance has a Seussian charm.

We’re footsore and cranky by now, so we hail yet another cab to take us up the hill. This has been our busiest day in a while.

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