Last week I went to Perth to talk at a “Survival Skills Workshop” for postgraduate and postdoc students, and I was asked to speak about non-academic pathways. Given my pathways have had very little academia in them, I felt like this was something I could do. It was the first time I’d been “flown out” somewhere by someone, and the University of Western Australia were gracious and generous hosts. There was a driver waiting at the airport with my name on a sign! Well, it was an iPad, but you know, times are changing.
Perth itself was (albeit I stayed only 2 nights) a lovely seeming city. Given its conservative political leanings I was expecting it to be more hostile, but was actually struck by how gentle a city it was. I was also struck by the amount of construction going on, and how much they love them some Monarch. Kings Park. Queens (well, Elizabeth) Quay. King St, Prince Lane, Queen St. But I guess it’s not that different from the King, William, Queen, and Elizabeth Streets of Melbourne, after all.
I was staying on the opposite side of Kings Park to the CBD, and from looking at the map thought I might spend my first day walking across the park to the CBD to be a tourist. The driver quickly informed me it was more of a national park than a botanical gardens for the most part, and that it would take me at least an hour’s walk to cross it. Being on my own and not knowing my surroundings, I was hesitant. The fact my body registers any kind of exercise as a trauma cemented my decision not to. I decided to walk around the university campus, which was absolutely stunning. Apparently there resides a striking albino peacock, but I wasn’t lucky enough to sight him.
I started wondering where the arts precinct was, to go have a look around and find ‘my people’ and possibly find some galleries or art spaces to check out. I was feeling particularly fragile and wanted to make sure I didn’t run into any machismo in a scary new city. I walked to the local servo to get some snacks for my room, and on the way home smelled an *amazing* sausage sizzle. I was guided by the waft’s hand, like a cartoon character, levitating off the ground, in a trance. Plane food was nothing on a good sausage in bread. When I got there, I realised it was a bunch of 3rd year fine arts students (and the Dean) trying to raise money for the gallery space they ran near the university, called ArtLaab. They were encouraging people walking past to contribute a line to the work they would hang the next day, as a collaborative work. I started my walk wanting to find art, and within 2 hours of touching down in the city, I was making it. They had a bucket of materials to work with to do the painting, most of them sourced from the local park, and we were encouraged not to use brushes, but could if we wanted to. I was asked to meditate on it for a moment and really think about what I wanted to contribute. I felt like I needed to do some rectangles, and a non-continuous line. I chose a reed, cut to about 2 inches in length, and some white paint. My line is the staccato white pattern on the brown paper. Some of the shapes looked like M’s as my fingers were preventing the paint touching the paper, every shape was different. We talked about interactivity, about public engagement, Melbourne, and what I thought of Perth (the whole 2 hours I’d experienced of it!) It felt like being welcomed with a warm embrace. And sausage. With onion.
Luckily I wasn’t to miss out on Kings Park altogether, as the lovely @sunili saw that I was in town and generously offered to take me on a tour. We knew each other through the feminist cabal known as Twitter. She’s a human rights lawyer and all round feminist badass so I was super excited to meet her, given we’re usually so far apart. She picked me up and we went on a (driven, much more civilised than walking) tour of Kings Park.
We drove to the observatory side and I was gobsmacked by how perfect a vantage point it was to check out Perth’s CBD. The sun was soon setting, and we were surrounded by joggers, tourists, picnicking families, and giant lycra-clad trees as we exchanged strategies of dismantling the patriarchy. Right at Magic Hour, we saw a tree the Queen planted in 1954, now dressed as the Queen herself, more lycra (on trees and thighs), and enjoyed the warm breeze hitting our faces as we looked down at Perth from our cliff-faced garden view. More construction. More Rio Tinto. More BHP Billiton. Lots and lots of those signs, everywhere. Even in the Botanical Gardens. “Sorry about all that mining and environmental damage but um… here, have some flowers!” We then retired to Northbridge, which I was told was the Fitzroy of Perth, for a tasty beverage as the sun went down. This is called a “Sundowner” in Perth, and everyone makes a big deal out of it. This I could get behind. It was a truly lovely night. From my limited experience with this Conference Gambit, it seems to have unlimited potential for extreme loneliness, and being shown around by someone kind and lovely went such a long way to not feeling so far from home. I was writing notes for my book while in Perth, and after this first night the sentence “Never underestimate the healing qualities of feminist company” took on a deeper and more cherished meaning. I was a little sad/guilty about missing #LightTheDark in Melbourne, and luckily Perth was holding their own vigil right near where we were, so I felt lucky to be able to bear witness even though I wasn’t home. I don’t think I could have handled it without Sunili there, feeling fragile and far away, and I’m so grateful she took me. Afterwards we had burgers and healed and talked and shared strategies to smash more evils, emboldened by Perth’s show of compassion and love. I went to bed wanting to rouse some rabbles.
The next morning was workshop morning. I was wide awake at 5am (thanks time difference) and ready to go. GIVE ME YOUR RABBLES. I made the rookie mistake of relying on the hotel hairdryer though. Oy vey. Not my best move. But I set off to my breakfast at the dining hall of one of the university’s halls of residence. Here I was able to be the gobshite I was born to be, rebel extraordinaire, unable to be tamed. EFF YOUR RULES, MAN!
I played with my phone more than ever. I couldn’t put it down. I was ready to be challenged. I had my speech prepared. “UNDER WHAT JURISDICTION, SIR?!?”. Sometimes tiny rebellions are enough to keep you energised for the big ones.
I started my walk through the university campus toward the workshop space, leaving a little earlier so I could take a leisurely stroll. The weather was stunning. Perth does blue sky like no one else. They don’t even use Instagram filters over there. They don’t need to. Everything’s pre-filtered. The grounds were stunning. There was this fascinating mixture of architecture, between the Very Oxbridge Looking sandstone buildings dripping with ivy, to brutalist buildings, to very Californian-looking archways with terracotta tiles. You could easily spend a whole day just taking photos of that campus. There were interesting sculptures scattered around that I wish I took a photo of because they’ve stuck in my memory. They each had specific vantage points, some up to 5 metres away from the work itself, where you had to climb a step and poke your head through a peep hole to see the intended perspective. “Here is the perspective in which to enjoy the art” made me think about videogames and how we’re rooted in an authored experience too, with a limited scope of perspectives. One of my favourite pieces that I did actually take a photo of, was on the University Club’s wall, of Shaun Tan’s “Hours to Sunset” (pictured on the right.)
My talk was a little ambitious for my 15 minute timeslot, perhaps, but I didn’t get boo’ed off stage, so that’s good. Seeing as the brief was about non-academic pathways and where these postgraduates are choosing to go – into further academia or out into the scary world of practice – I thought I would present it in the form of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. They were being asked to chose theirs, after all. I decided to combat my impostor syndrome (which was flaring up like a full-body rash, sharing a stage with Actually Important People) with EXTREME PERSONAL EARNESTNESS because that never goes wrong, right? So I shared my life and career as a CYOA, using the engine side of Twine. I started from my conception, where there was probably more choice involved than your average Josephine. My attraction toward CYOA was born in utero? Here were two of the slides:
I used these slides to explain to people that their life path (and that includes their career paths) are never linear, and are constantly changing. To encourage people to see their life as a series of options and choices, and to never feel like you’re stuck on rails. I felt like that was particularly important to tell people really struggling to get their PhDs finished. I asked people to plot out their life so far in Twine, and to have a look at all their current pathway options and explore each one. The reception to my talk was positive, which was reassuring. Some seasoned academics would say “I liked your paper!”, which was quite jarring. It was a talk! But it’s part of that academic jargon I began to learn on my trip.
I would like my pathways to lead toward Perth again, perhaps next time with the family in tow, and some friends. I never got to see Fremantle, which mortifies almost everyone I say that to, and I wanted to see more of what the gentle giant city had to offer.
After this talk, I’ve been reflecting on my own pathway options in the future very intensely. I think this talk came at a good point in my life. I’ll be thinking of your blue skies and your reflective qualities for quite some time, Perth. Thanks for being a babe!