I went to Bendigo, and all I got was this unpleasant feeling that still sits in my stomach.
For those of you who are unaware of this place, it is another of the Australian inland cities that resulted from our various gold rushes. Bendigo is the fourth largest inland city in Australia, and the second largest financial centre in Victoria. Bendigo Bank lives there, and the headquarters is very modern and shiny and bustling. All the other things indicative of insidious corporatisation live there too: big new buildings populated by all the big chains, while local business close to them are left near empty or boarded up, flaking in the weather.
I was there with a good old friend and his girlfriend. When we are together, we tend to be quite dark. Depressive types, you know, and smart ones at that, and we can joke together, we have senses of humour but we’re very open and often very serious about the fact that we know logically that the world is doomed. She studies environmental sustainability. I study journalism. He studies dark comic books and cocktail making because he doesn’t seen any point in trying saving the world. My back was hurting and she was a bit ill so you know, not too much positivity or excitement going on, not even when we were sitting in the beer garden in the shadow of a towering carpark, surrounded on all sides by unsuitably large prints of forest scenery. The prints were pixelated. The ground was covered in astroturf. This facade stank of desperation and a lack of imagination. We ate our pub meals to the sounds of Triple J radio presenters displaying the same psychic characteristics as our surroundings. Our conversation all but gave itself up to pure criticism of both the radio station and the future of humanity.
Our purpose for the visit was to go to the art gallery. The Bendigo Art Gallery is beautiful and high quality. I suppose it helps support the economy because tourism or something. I saw a few local kids going in and buy tickets, which gave me some hope for the future.
Anyway, we wanted to see their current exhibitions: a collection of sculptural pieces from the British Museums’s Greek and Roman collection, and in the next room, a collection of underwear from the last 350 years. It’s been a while between exhibition attendances for me, so I was quickly fatigued by all the looking and the walking. I skim read almost everything, because I did not have energy or attention span to engage further.
I was unimpressed by the layout of the underwear show, something my female companion agreed with, and has had gripes with in the past. Apparently it is not uncommon for fashion based exhibitions in museum or gallery settings such as this to come across as disorderly. Like, putting a dress in a cabinet in which you can only view it from one angle? It’s a 3D piece! Surely the audience should be seeing all sides, especially when those details are described in the little piece of text provided by the curator? Doesn’t seem right, somehow. The good thing about this show was that I was inspired by the underwear from the 1920s. Man, I want to make some stuff like that. That era seems like it had a beautiful mixture of aesthetic, comfort and practicality involved in the underwear designs. Totally works for me. Maybe having pretty underwear will relieve some of my melancholic moods, distract from the crushing feelings of despair that plague my skull when I think about anything that isn’t aesthetics. OH GOD THAT’S WHAT THEY WANT. Fashion. Fashion. Makes people happy, comfortable, proud. Social control in the face of great injustices the world over. Gah. Ack. This is why I buy clothes from upshots only. The guilt of the awful production line is relieved if I am buying second hand. I should just make all of my own clothes and be done with that system. Make own clothes, grow own food, build own home… hell, I’d never have any time to work! AND THEN HOW WOULD I LIVE? oh wait.
But to get back to this week’s cultural experience… the aforementioned fatigue I was experiencing really set in as I wandered through the Greek and Roman sculpture exhibit. Though it was certainly beautiful, and the age of the pieces tickled something in my gut, there was too much for me to absorb properly. I consoled myself by photographing the shadows on the walls and floors. I was thinking about the young man in Iraq I met on Chat Roulette a few nights before, thought about how his eyes filled with tears and he explained that ISIS kill children wantonly, his AK47 leaning against the wall behind him, that he fights the militant extremists 10 days on 10 off, like a FIFO worker in our mines, the mines which have paid for the military planes and people who will come over to help him against this enemy. I didn’t ask him what he thought about the fact that foreign forces coming in may not be aware of all the details, may not listen, and may engage in the killing of civilians too, accidental or otherwise. The western world does not have a great track record with these things. Those in charge are keen to strategise with resource acquisition, whatever that may be. I walked out of the Greek and Roman sculpture exhibition with one thought running through my mind: “The empire continues to show its’ might.”
As we drove out of Bendigo, through the gorgeous colonial era buildings, we passed the shiny new Bendigo Bank headquarters, and it looked like it sucked all the money out of everything else around it. I imagined all the wires under the ground charged with electric national currency, surging in to its walls, making it breathe with income. A woman I know works with the homeless in this area. She told me that homelessness in Bendigo and its surrounding suburbs is quite a problem, despite that lack of people on the streets. It’s hidden- couch surfers, permanent motel dwellers, tent setups on the outskirts, people living out of cars etc. Homeless aboriginal people are dealt with by a specialised Aboriginal Organisation. If they come in to my friend’s organisation looking for help: emergency assistance, food tokens etc, they are required to send them somewhere else. She believes this to be “weird”. I am sort of inclined to agree. I don’t trust governmental agencies etc when it comes to the indigenous population.
On the drive home, we listened to a RadioLab podcast on the ethics of judicial blame in terms of neurological effects on human behaviour. It was heavy. Everything feels heavy. I’m going to attempt to meditate now.