Dominoes Down, Happiness Up

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On Saturday, February 6th, we didn’t encircle the world but we linked many parts of Melbourne CBD with giant dominoes. The outcome astounding, and as one member of the public said, ‘I’ve never seen the people in the city so happy.’

There was definitely an upbeat vibe.

The development of earth art and installation art stemmed from the idea of taking art out of the galleries. Involvement in the arts engages people in their community, improves self esteem and builds creative skills.

Dominoes was the third project funded by the amazing philanthropist, Betty Amsden and her Participation Program determined to do just that – engage ordinary people in a creative pursuit and improve community wellbeing.

 

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Betty Amsden in middle, yours truly on right and another volunteer on left.

Dominoes by Station House Opera supported by Arts Centre Melbourne on Saturday 6 February, ticked all the boxes.

There was

  • excitement
  • enthusiasm
  • passion
  • wonderment
  • learning and laughter
  • fun and fandom (we all love Betty)
  • chatting and connection
  • in depth conversations
  • friendship making
  • and even some dancing…

At the afterparty, a new friend Rhonda found just enough energy to do a bit of rock and roll with me when I decided to take my weary body and sore feet home! Below she greets a very hot and sweaty me at the end of the line where the last structure was being dismantled outside the Arts Centre.

 

Conceived and directed by UK-based Station House Opera, Dominoes was first created as a celebration to link the five host boroughs for the London Olympics Arts Festival. Dominoes takes as its starting point the simplest of ideas – a line of dominoes – and will transform the rhythm of the city for one special day.

Thousands of breezeblocks are used to create a moving sculpture, which runs through the city, unfolding over the course of the day. Occasionally disappearing from sight and then resurfacing, sometimes pausing for sculptural performances, the line of dominoes will thread its way through historic and everyday parts of Melbourne.

To make an extraordinary event like this,  Arts Centre Melbourne needs literally hundreds of volunteers to help build the 2km line of dominoes with more than 7000 breezeblocks. Arts Centre Melbourne’s team is looking for about three hundred volunteers!

Press Release : Planet Arts Melbourne, December 2015

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The day to participate arrived and the weather forecast said the day would be HOT – 32 degrees hot!  Despite my Celtic pelt, menopausal weight gain, and propensity to perspire profusely once the temperature hits 30 degrees, I set off for the city with hat, sunscreen and the fervent hope I’d be assigned somewhere with shade.

Melbourne hadn’t sweltered for days like Perth, WA, but by the time I reached Flinders Street Station and commenced the short walk to the Arts Centre, the concrete pavement and city buildings oozed heat.

Tingles of trepidation building in my stomach exploded with joy when I discovered my assigned section for the day was Hamer Hall. Hurray! It was ‘next door’ to the Arts Centre, there would be easy access to toilet facilities and bliss, oh bliss, air conditioning.

I sat down with my Section 10 to hear the last minute pep and the all-important risk management talks feeling I’d won Tattslotto. I introduce myself to others: Alison, Jenny, Wei,Rhonda, Jeff, Ian, Colin …another Jeff…

Unfortunately, some volunteers did not turn up on the day. Perhaps the weather played a big part in this because the whisper said almost 20% failed to report, an unusually high number.(Organisers usually plan for 10% of volunteers failing to show.)

Regardless of the reasons, we were delayed setting off to allow a reshuffling of numbers. We lost 5 members to another section. I felt guilty not putting my hand up to swap sections but decided to be selfish – Fate had dealt me a good venue and I don’t tempt Fate.

At last, wearing  our distinctive  t-shirts and orange backpacks, we followed our leader Stacey to Hamer Hall where she walked us through our route and explained various roles.

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The venue would be open to the public at 1.00pm so there was no time to waste unpacking the blocks from several pallets and placing them in strategic spots for the set up.

The domino line would come in from Southbank and move up the stairs towards street level. The route is explained here.

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The entrance point with our orange kit bags : water, gloves,poncho in case it rained – fat chance!- and brochures of the route.

A reality check altered the picture I had of the task ahead. Our dominoes would start at the door but after moving through the building we had to build a considerable number outside to link up with those heading for the grand finale at the Arts Centre.

I wasn’t going to escape the heat entirely. And there’d be mega crowds because we were so close to the finish line. Thank goodness volunteers had distinctive T-shirts and Stacey and Lachlan, the section leaders had bright red tops.

I looked around at my fellow volunteers – mostly  in their 60s like me – thank goodness we had several younger men and women too. Whoever organised the groups did well.

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From the moment we started work I appreciated our friendly team and the display of commonsense, cooperation and congeniality. Although none of us had been involved in something as daring as Dominoes, most had volunteered in some capacity before. We were an eager team!

We had a lovely family with two young children. The youngest, Eliza, drowning in a much too big t-shirt while she helped me clean up the considerable amount of concrete dust that fell off each block as we manhandled them into position. Eliza held the rubbish bag open for me and was most diligent throughout the day. My little friendly shadow.

The gloves in our kits earned their keep protecting hands because with several hundred blocks to shift bare skin would have suffered. The gloves also helped our grip and although there’d been an allowance for breakages we didn’t drop one. Go team!

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The first flight of stairs
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Marble and mirrors – extra care needed!

We emptied the first pallet of dominoes with a speed that surprised ourselves. Stacey beamed, “The way to go, Team!”

Organisation the key as we spread in even distances  up the stairs and played pass the parcel with the blocks. Every 10th or 15th block left lying down just in case anyone knocked the dominoes accidentally.

Later in the afternoon outside, a little boy tested the domino theory much to his parents’ embarrassment. Jeff and Jenny fixed it in a trice.  We tried to comfort the family that no harm had been done; it was all part of the unexpected fun of the day.  However, we were glad only a few blocks had to be set up again.

Indoors required patience and persistence too. There were two flights of stairs, several general areas, plus the foyer. Surfaces varied:

  • tiles
  • marble
  • polished wood
  • carpet

And of course those fragile mirror walls!

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The females in the group more conscious of the mess and the danger of scratching the beautiful interior surfaces. I had flashbacks to childhood:

Careful you’ll scratch that!                   Watch you don’t break that!

We carried the 8kilo blocks and manoeuvred them into position mindful of workplace health and safety rules and protected each other:

Lift one block at a time!     Bend your knees.       Mind your back!    Have a rest.         Let me help.

Hours disappeared as we worked ahead of schedule.

Before the expected public invasion, there was a short break for a tasty lunch delivered in brown paper carry bags by other volunteers. A salad roll, sandwiches, square of chocolate cake and an apple, plus fresh bottles of water. Volunteers from the section setting up along Southbank joined us, seeking relief in the coolness.

Outside was really hotting up. I discovered I’d missed a call from number one daughter who’d decided to pop by and say hello but couldn’t get inside the building and so went home. C’est la vie.

In the foyer, we had to leave big gaps for public access to the ticket counter. We carried on building to the bemusement of arriving staff. Anticipation and crowds building too.

We finished ahead of schedule, but knew once the signal was given we’d have little time to place the missing blocks into position. Betty Amsden‘s words rang in our ears. “Things will go wrong, but it doesn’t matter. Having fun does.”

A morale-boosting visit by Betty and Arts Centre Staff and some of the creative Station House Opera team from England reinvigorating. Lots of interesting interaction with the public and chats among volunteers fulfilled the participation aim of the project.

It was Chinese New Year, the city buzzed with visitors and locals. Some had heard of Dominoes, others were thrilled they’d chosen this day to explore Melbourne’s delights.

The Dominoes route coincided in part with the display of Chinese characters on the Crown Riverwalk:

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After we’d packed up for the day I strolled along snapping as many pictures as I could but decided the year I was born, 1953, the Year of the Snake didn’t sound like it produced nice people. Oh, dear!

I put the categories in the same basket as horoscopes (horror-scopes) and clairvoyants. Negativity wasn’t going to spoil the wonderful day – one day I may check out if Celtic predictions are better!

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One of the fun parts of participation was allowing young people and others to pick up the blocks and watch the surprise or glee on their faces at the weight and texture. When they were told the blocks are given away and recycled some said they’d like one, others were glad organisations were already planning to use them.

Some children were too little to pick  up the blocks, but I found a way for one family to participate by suggesting two little boys use the wood packing strips to build their own domino line. While they were amused their parents took photos and learned about the project.

 

There was a lull in activity once our section was completed without disrupting public access too much. Jenny and I were assigned to ‘guard’ the line, particularly from cyclists cutting through to City Road. Cyclists who were supposed to dismount and who in 99.9% cases never did – even when they saw the crowd, and the blocks. Oh, dear again! (Maybe they were all born in the Year of The Snake.)

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The deadline drew closer – the first domino to fall scheduled for 5.00pm, the last at 5.25pm.  I wondered how the grand finale was shaping up. It seemed an incredible task to achieve in a short timeframe.

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However, not only did the jobs get done but when Stacey and Lachlan announced the line had started to fall the excitement really did reach fever pitch. In fact, it all happened so quickly the 15 or so minutes it took to reach Hamer Hall seemed like seconds.

The roar of joy and anticipation as the blocks clunked and fell up the stairs to whizz past me is a few moments of drama on my mobile. And suddenly I was surrounded by a cheering, rushing, crushing scrum following the dominoes up the hill towards the Arts Centre tower.

Wow! An unforgettable adrenalin rush and an astounding success.

But for every high there is a low, what goes up must come down. In what was probably the hottest part of the day because of the build-up of heat, we began the big clean-up.

Our A-team cleaned up Hamer Hall and then some of us helped the Southbank section. It was well after 7.00pm by the time we finished but the organisers had chosen section managers well and the arduous job went smoothly.

The thank you party was in full swing when I got there and the food and bar offerings a welcome sight. I found other members of my team and watched the quick edit of the day’s events filmed by a number of volunteer film makers and photographers.

 

The project and the day were awesome with cheers of the volunteers and organisers reinforcing that as people recognised themselves or their venue on the screen. The artists, organisers and volunteers did a magnificent job. Betty Amsden’s vision satisfied and the city of Melbourne the winner.

As I walked over Princes Bridge towards Flinders Street Station I breathed in the smells of the city at night: coffee and delicious food from street cafes, the pungent manure and sweat from horse drawn carriages, the brake fluid and exhaust fumes from traffic, the scent of a thousand perfumes and deodorants – and my own sweat from a hard day.

Two women called me over to their table, wine glasses in hand.

How did you do it?’

Pardon?

How did you keep your temper.

And you were so patient!

I couldn’t do it!

You mean building the dominoes?

And keeping the crowd from knocking them over .Some people were silly…

… And pushy.

Oh, were you at Hamer Hall? Did you enjoy it?

We loved it! Wouldn’t have missed it for anything!

I’m so glad. That’s what it was all about. 

I continued on, until amidst the cacophony of traffic and revellers I heard the haunting yet uplifting sound of Indian music. Was it the Hare Krishnas? An advert for a show or other celebration?

I peeped over the bridge to Southbank and spent a few minutes absorbing the tranquillity of the River Yarra and the joy of living in multicultural Melbourne.

We live in a wonderful city and when I think of the many trouble spots throughout the world we are truly blessed.

Dominoes down, happiness up indeed!

 

And here is the finished film of the day – not just the small part I played, but the bigger picture, including footage taken before the city event.

The first half of the film shows the dominoes making their way from the Port of Melbourne through Footscray, Brighton, Toorak, Richmond, Fitzroy and laneways in the CBD to the beginning of the live route at Melbourne Town Hall. The second half features the live event on 6 February.  Logistically, they couldn’t capture footage of each and every block that fell, but the film brings back some of the thrills (and spills) of the day!

The film credit goes to:

DOMINOES
by Station House Opera
Presented by Arts Centre Melbourne
Project III of the Betty Amsden Participation Program

 

 

 

 

 

 

How A Community Celebration Can Teach Tolerance

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice:
I am, you are, we are Australian.

Bruce Woodley 1987

Yesterday, I moved out of my comfort zone and celebrated Eid with a variety of fellow Australians who happen to be Muslim and have chosen to settle here like my parents did 53 years ago.

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Dina, born in Palestine, educated in Dubai as a pharmacist has reinvented herself as a painter, interior designer, book illustrator. Her husband is a doctor and works as an emergency consultant, in much demand all over the world – at the moment he is in Italy.

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A new friend from Eritrea
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A new friend from Egypt

How do we meet and get to know people?

Yesterday, I met people who live in suburbs I rarely visit (Springvale, Keysborough, Dandenong), so they are not near neighbours. I won’t meet them at school – my children have left those years far behind, plus in Australia schools are divided into private and public and many people send their children to private schools on religious or cultural grounds. My girls went to the local public schools.

I may meet some at work because I teach in community houses, but by and large students and teachers enrol within a locality, their “neighbourhood” so that likelihood is diminished.

The majority of people I met yesterday were Islamic; I wouldn’t bump into them at church either!

So how do I reach out and make them feel welcome to their adopted country? How do they meet me and have the opportunity to understand who I am?

We have to make a special effort – that’s how we can build tolerance and understanding –  to learn from each other, and accept each other.

Yesterday, at the EID Celebration – Many Faiths, One Community – in the Allan McLean Hall, Mordialloc,  for a gold coin donation we could have:

  • A hijab demonstration and buy scarves and dresses
  • Taste Eritrean coffee and cake (the coffee heavily laced with ginger!)
  • Our hands or wrists painted with Henna
  • Watch a delightful cultural performance
  • Be part of a Guided Blessing
  • Dress up as Pharaoh and have a photographic memento
  • Have tea and coffee and a selection of sweet treats

Islamic Australians more often demonised and feared than welcomed, opened their hearts, shared their customs and celebrated who they are and what they offer to Australia.

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A Sheik and Scholar explained the meaning of Eid and where the celebration fitted in the Muslim calendar and blessed the gathering with a prayer.  Poet Anton read 2 or 3 poems in his native language of Malaysian, ably repeated in English by a member of the audience who volunteered to do so.

As a writing teacher, I’m privileged to hear so many original poems from students, but also poems that have inspired them to write. A lovely woman from Iraq introduced me to the wisdom and talent of Rumi:

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A band from Lebanon played and sang songs – some religious, others popular – the musicians famous in the music circuit of their birth country before they came to Australia.

There are two Eids celebrated in Islam, and both follow major acts of worship.  The first is Eid al-Fitr, which follows Ramadan and the second is Eid al-Adha, which follows the Hajj.

Most major religions have times that demand particular behaviour – Christianity has Lent, Advent and Christmas.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims focus on purifying themselves, getting closer to God, and growing in their faith. They fast from sunrise to sunset, which includes refraining from food, drink, sexual intercourse, bad language, and bad behaviour.

They may read an entire chapter of the Qur’an each day (it has 30 chapters), so they finish the book in a month.The knowledge gained by reading the Qur’an encourages good deeds and greater acts of worship.

By fasting, they become more sympathetic to those less fortunate. By understanding what it is like to go without food or drink, they should become more generous and seek to alleviate hunger amongst the poor.

Ramadan helps to bring people together with family, friends, and neighbours because they break their fasts together.  The community is brought closer to God by offering more worship in the form of extra prayer services provided nightly in Ramadan.

Eid al-Fitr (the Festival/Holiday of Breaking Fast) follows. This festival lasts three days and celebrates the successful completion of Ramadan and the newly renewed spiritual cleansing and connection.

Associated with sweets of various kinds, other names for it are the Sugar Festival or Sweet Festival.  There are many different ways to celebrate the Eid, but, in general, the morning begins with the special Eid prayer. On the way there and while waiting for the prayer session to start it is common to recite the Eid Takbir.

There was a selection of sweet biscuits and homemade cake available yesterday – delicious!

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After praying people have a feast of sorts with their families and or friends usually travelling to family homes.  Typical foods vary by country/region.  In the Middle East, it is common to buy new clothes for the Eid and children often receive Eidia (pronounced like ‘idea’) which is money.  The Eidia received from family and friends comes from an adult to child.  Gifts between adults are rare and gifts from child to an adult even rarer.  Children use the money to buy toys and sweets.

In the US, Canada, Australia and the UK it is often more common to give children presents, not money. This compares with active Christian gifting practices such as Christmas.  Some people make Eid goody bags with trinkets, party favours, stickers, temporary tattoos, and candy to hand out to children after the Eid prayer. Gifts between adults or from child to adult occur too.

Visits to amusement parks/carnivals/circuses also happen more in the West than in other countries probably because immigrants and subsequent generations do not have large extended families to visit.  They spend time going out in smaller family groups and because of the often minority status of their holidays and the abundance of Christian holiday commercialisation they may feel the need to make Eid “extra special” ensuring the interest of future generations.

The children and proud parents yesterday illustrated how to keep the young involved and feeling part of their religion and culture and yet quite comfortable living in Australia.

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Tarek Yousery, a Driving Instructor in real life, entertained us all as he paraded his Egyptian background dressed as a Pharaoh, encouraging us all to be Pharaoh for a photo shoot.  Tarek promoted Egypt by ‘working the room’ while his wife helped you decide what costumes and jewellery to wear. Their generosity and good humour a definite highlight of the day.

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The queues for Henna painting kept two young, talented women busy. Their artistic brilliance and calm, good nature impressive – I can imagine their hands will be sore because the demand to be “tattooed” relentless. Some children (and adults) went back for more than one decoration. Mine sketched in double-quick time – amazing. Unfortunately, scrutiny made me realise how aged my hands were – how could I have my mother’s hands already??  I still feel young!

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A table with an array of scarves to be transformed into the hijab had a backdrop of gorgeous dresses. Alongside was a table doing a brisk trade with intricate and clunky jewellery pieces. Eid like our Christmas – new clothes and gifts the order of the day as people celebrate peace,  love and family.

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The hall echoed with lots of chatter, laughter and children enjoying the relaxed, festive atmosphere. I’d hoped for more locals to witness such an array of talent but bumped into Jenny, a woman I’ve met at various meetings and workshops concerning the environment and community. She had seen the notice down at the Chelsea Hub and was glad she had come along ‘to have a look’.

We both wished there were more people to appreciate the diversity that has made us a successful multicultural country and agreed we must have more opportunities to mix.  Perhaps if we get to know each other, the disgraceful display of intolerance at Bendigo in recent weeks won’t happen again, and we’ll not allow some politicians and sections of the media to keep us in a constant state of fear.

If we could raise one generation with unconditional love, there would be no Hitlers…Mankind’s greatest gift, also its greatest curse, is that we have free choice. We can make our choices built from love or from fear.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Lisa Sun, the Manager of Mordialloc Neighbourhood House and her committee, deserve congratulations for organising this event in collaboration with Springvale Neighbourhood House, the Victorian Multicultural Commission and Al-Emaan Muslim Women’s Support group. The more people come together and share what we have in common, the less likely we will be pushed apart.

We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.

John Lennon

A big thank you to everyone who made the day a success. I felt privileged to meet so many talented and friendly people. A day like yesterday more representative of the community and Australia I love than many of the stories the media seem to enjoy flaunting. Check out Mordialloc Neighbourhood House’s Facebook page for more photos.

The next event to break down cultural barriers will be a Diwali Festival – same venue, but next month!