Thursday 31 March 2016

5 facts about Vegemite


Its dark, unappetizing appearance horrified the world and confused the new migrants. 

Some called it an acquired taste; this black sticky ugly duckling deserves a chance to shine. Open your heart and let the spread of Vegemite on toast stimulates your unexcited taste buds and surprises you with a tantalizing culinary adventure you never dare imagined. Who knows, this bold step might change your morning breakfast ritual forever, and might even successfully hypnotize you to do the unthinkable: bidding farewell to your boring peanut butter and cranberry jam!

Some grimaced in disgust and pronounced it a pet hate. Why would anyone allow his tongue and its pathetic nerves to be repeatedly assaulted by this weird salty junk is incomprehensible.

Yet, it is this same mysterious spread that has captured the hearts of millions of Australians, and continuously blackens the bread and crackers on the breakfast tables of Melbournians and its neighboring states. Creative recipes are invented, inviting the audacious Australians to throw a few spoonsful of this distinctive ingredient into their pasta, burger, pizza and stew.

1.         Genesis: the invention of Vegemite


The story of Vegemite began in 1922 in a young chemist’s laboratory in Australia. The mission was a daunting one: a tasty, spreadable paste was to be developed using unwanted brewer’s yeast, to replace the much beloved British Marmite (the import of which was disrupted at that time as a result of World War 1).

The British despises the Vegemite and sees it as nothing more than a failed copycat attempt of their national pride: the rich, dense, and dark-brown Marmite spread. The Australians love Vegemite and are proud of the supremely improvised version of yeast spread. 

The battle between Marmite and Vegemite continues with two clearly defined allegiances or sides taken, like an endless Tug-o-War between two siblings that have frequently being mistaken as identical twins.

2.         Vegemite: the origin of the name


The Fred Walker Company devised an ingenious marketing plan: to have the Australians involved in naming this new invention. A national contest was organized and the cheeky name “Vegemite” was chosen (much to the annoyance of the Marmite fans).

Yet the true creator of the name “Vegemite” is as obscure as the secret recipe of this funky spread. Some sources suggested that the winner of the contest was the Melbourne sisters Hilda and Laurel Armstrong; some said the name was randomly drew from a hat by Fred Walker’s daughter, Sheilah. However, there was also rumour that it was Fred Walker’s 7-year-old daughter who invented the name on the spot, when an inspiration hit her while she was sorting through the competition entries with her dad.

In 1923, approximately one year after the young chemist shouted his joyful “Eureka” in the laboratory, the Vegemite labeled jars graced the grocery shelves of Australia, and embarked its new journey involving numerous popularity challenges and marketing experiments.


3.         Parwill: the switch of name


The journey was tough and depressing. From 1928 to 1935, the Vegemite label was scrapped away and replaced by the corny name “Parwill”, a mischievous advertising stunt playing with the name of its dominating rival Marmite; “If Ma (mother) might, then Pa (father) will”.

The marketing attempt was a flop. The slogan did not trigger nor gain any market momentum, and there was no sudden switch to the masculine, locally made “Parwill” as anticipated.  The name was eventually changed back to the original “Vegemite”.

4.         Everyone needs Vitamin B


Aggressive marketing campaign spread across Australia. Limerick competition with attractive prizes was organized. Vegemite’s redemption coupons were given away free with Kraft Walker cheese products.

Sales responded positively. A few years later, Vegemite was endorsed by the British Medical Association in 1939 as one of the richest sources of Vitamin B, and was recommended by medical professionals and baby care experts as an excellent supplement for a nutritionally balanced diet. World War II came, and Vegemite gained its fame further as a rationed product due to the immense demand. Armed Forces bought Vegemite in bulk, and by the late 1940s, Vegemite has become an irreplaceable staple food appearing in 9 out of 10 Australian households.

5.         A “made in Melbourne only” product


Vegemite is a “made in Melbourne only” product. This much beloved product is manufactured at Mondelez’s Port Melbourne’s factory, meeting the worldwide demand of 22 million jars per year. The Australians continue to embrace Vegemite in love and fondness. The fact that it is now owned by the US company Kraft Foods does not change the status of Vegemite being the Australian iconic brand, a product that continues to please the palate of children and adults with its unchanged recipe.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Melbourne and the choice of vaccinating your kids

“Know your rights! Vaccination is not compulsory in Australia,” screamed the anti-vaccination activist. 

The desperate shout of the minority was quickly counteracted by arguments bolstered by statistics, scientific evidence, and logical deductions based on historical facts, tracing back centuries ago, “Stop over-intellectualizing the risk to your kid. Think of the community!”

Then the government stepped in, toughened the existing laws on vaccination, and imposed certain punitive measures on the non-vaccinated group.

The move caused an outcry amongst the vaccination opponents. They called the government a bully, the evil Voldemort that contributed to the erosion of health freedom, the fascist that took away the basic human rights of a parent. They cited proofs of link between vaccination and autism, contended that risks of serious complications and severe allergic reactions must not be ignored.

The pro-vaccination movement disagreed, dubbing the autism controversy as nothing but a media hoax. Risk of health complications is extremely rare. The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the hypothetical adverse effects of a jab.

And so the debates continue emotionally, passionately and fervently.


According to the Health Department data, Victoria has one of the highest immunization rates in Australia. Surprisingly however, many affluent Melbourne’s suburbs are amongst those with the lowest immunization rates in the state, and that include South Yarra, Toorak, Brighton, Prahran and St Kilda. 

So what are the consequences if your kid is not vaccinated in Victoria?

1.         No Jab No Play (Victoria)

Effective from 1 January 2016, save for certain medical exemptions and special circumstances, unvaccinated children are prohibited from enrolling in a Victorian childcare centre.

The punitive approach by the Victorian government is controversial. Some contend that such move has instigated the setting up of illegal kindergartens in the state of Victoria, and forcing the anti-movement groups to have no choice but to put their children at risk with the untrained childcare providers.

2.         No Jab No Pay (Commonwealth)

Under the new federal law commencing 1 January 2016, parents who do not fully immunize their children will lose the eligibility for Child Care Benefit, Child Care Rebate and tax refund for low-income families, subject to certain medical exemptions. The Commonwealth government also scraps away the exemption of conscientious objection on non-medical ground. In other words, a parent’s specific moral, religion or philosophical belief will no longer be a good reason to dodge a jab.

This financial aid withdrawal measure, too, has generated a myriad of contentions amongst the different movements. Many argue that the law is discriminatory in nature, and would severely prejudice the disadvantageous and vulnerable families in Australia.

The VaxOnTime app  by the Victoria State Government- a screenshot from my phone

There is of course a third group of parents that we must not overlooked, i.e. those that simply could not keep up with the complicated vaccination schedule. The Victorian government has developed a new app that assists the busy parents to keep track of the dates of vaccination; a smartphone app that will remind parents of the vaccination dates with a due-date notification. Find out more about the VaxOnTime app from here:



Tuesday 29 March 2016

“Let’s meet under the clocks!”- Flinders Street Station


Two attractive youngsters met by chance beneath the clocks at Flinders Street Station on a lovely summer evening in December 1949. The next morning, one was found dead; one was arrested and tried for the sensational murder that gripped the Melbourne city passionately for the next few years. John Bryan Kerr was convicted of murder after the third trial - an offence that the charismatic and well groomed Kerr maintained his innocence throughout till the day of his death.


Thanks God, not all rendezvous under this grand arched entrance ended up in uninvited drama. Strategically located at the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets, the prominent dome and those numerous clocks displayed underneath it have become the most recognizable urban landmark of Melbourne. The phrase “I’ll meet you under the clocks” became an idiom exclusive to this young city and a sweet tradition that the Melbournians have steadfastly upheld for more than a century.

The façade of this elegant Baroque masterpiece has proudly served its role as the most frenzied meeting place of both rail commuters and non-rail commuters. Lovers waited at the elegant wide front steps in their best suits, with butterflies fluttering in their stomach while trying to conceal a nervous smile. Best buddies sat with their legs crossed on the staircase while shouting grumpily on the phone, chastising the late comers who would soon be joining them for a great night out.


The scene at the entrance is as chaotic as the row of clocks above them. The hands of each clock point at different directions, like a row of ballerinas who disastrously forgot to synchronize their dance moves. No, nothing is wrong with these ordinary looking white clocks. They are there to perform a faithful service of reminding the commuters the time of departure for the next trains on each line.

The clocks were rescued by the Melbournians in 1983, when a proposal of replacing this row of Plain Jane with fancy digital clocks was met with public outcry that compelled the decision to be dropped. Today, these old white clocks remain proudly on their respective thrones, although they are now operated by computers, instead of being adjusted by hand as they once were.
Location:  
Flinders Street, Melbourne (corner of Swanston Street).   

Monday 28 March 2016

William Ricketts Sanctuary & the aborigines


William Ricketts (1898- 1993) lived in a generation where Aborigines were shunned, mistreated, and enslaved. It was an era where the technologically advanced Europeans forcibly snatched and claimed the unexplored Down Under land of the Southern Hemisphere as their own under the horrifying gaze of the indigenous.

Just around 60 years before Ricketts was born, the notorious John Batman’s group arrived and struck an unbelievably lopsided deal with the aborigines, acquiring over 600,000 acres of Melbourne land in exchange for a quantity of blankets, knives, scissors and other junks that the early settlors were more than happy to dispose of. The authorities in Sydney struck down the deal subsequently, not because of the apparent unfairness of the contractual terms, but because to the colonizers, the indigenous should be paid nothing. Australia was a terra nullius, an “unoccupied land”. The presence of the indigenous prior to the arrival of the white settlors was just an unfortunate inconvenience, a fact that could be easily disregarded and would soon be forgotten under the white supremacy policy.


To the ruthless settlors, the indigenous was an ignorant bunch, an inferior population survived on primitive means of hunting and fishing without any concept of land ownership and basic rights. The white settlors came, cleared the land, depleted the natural resources, polluted the water, and hunted the indigenous.

Between 1890s and 1970s, the colonizers implemented the shocking scheme of gradually wiping out the indigenous. The aboriginal children were being forcibly removed from their families. The new generations were subject to a series of sinister brainwashing plans; they were taught to reject their indigenous heritage, to forget their traditional languages, to adopt the white culture, all under the façade of a great ideology called “assimilation”.


William Ricketts, an Anglo-Australian himself, must be a man possessed with unconventional ideals and powerful vision beyond his time. While the new settlors were engrossed in their ventures of changing the environment to adapt to the need of urban development, William Ricketts saw the rare beauty and harmonious relationship between the indigenous and the nature. He was captivated by the mysterious cultures, the complex spiritual life, and the simplicity of their livelihood.

Ricketts spent the majority of his life in the tranquil Mount Dandenong, living amongst the lush eucalyptus and the secretive tree ferns. His lack of training in sculptural skills did not hinder his determination to produce extraordinarily beautiful sculptures depicting the harmonious and peaceful scenes between the indigenous and the natural world. Ricketts worked on the project from 1934 till his death in 1993, leaving us a surreal refuge within a verdant setting with his 92 mystical ceramic sculptures.

Words can never describe the magical view meeting our eyes while we trod along the path meandering through the secretive park. Those soulful eyes and the vivid expressions of the indigenous sculptures were testament to the strong bond between the aborigines and the nature, and a powerful reminder to us of the sacredness of the land.


Opening hours:

Daily from 10 am to 4.30 pm (except Christmas Day)

Location:

Mt Dandenong Tourist Road, Mt Dandenong (around 50 to 60 minutes drive from Melbourne CBD) 

Entry is free.


Sunday 27 March 2016

Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2016


Sea of bright yellow flags and banners trumpeting the arrival of the very much-anticipated Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2016 is colonizing various parts of the city.

Being the 3rd largest international comedy festival in the world, the city of Melbourne will be entertained by over 500 shows by 2000 performers over 4 weeks in March and April.

I like watching a stand-up comedy show once in a while, but to say I am a big fan of such trend of performances will be a lie.

My personal opinion: the comedy stage has slowly turned into a forum for the coarsest of language, a platform for uncontrolled and liberated speech of sensitive and offending topics. Funny means being grumpy and intolerance of anything different from yourself; a good laugh means poking fun at the imbecilic view of another; a top notch comedian must have the polished skill to mock an accent of a different race. Hilarity is synonymous to an overflowing indulgent of the crudest sexual and racial theme jokes. The use of a range of foul words has become an essential ingredient of a successful and loveable performance.

Granted, watching a comedy show is an entirely different experience from watching a Steven Spielberg’s film on war. So if you are looking for a spiritual enlightenment or on a quest for life motivations, you have come to a wrong theatre house. If you are unable to bear the jokes of those witty comedians’ limitless and unrestrained creativity, then walk away please. We have better audiences!


Don’t get me wrong. I have my utmost respect to the comedians. It is a challenging job to entertain yet at the same time, not to fall into the self-made trap of sounding stupid or classless. It needs huge courage to crack a joke, and believe that it will bring down a house with raucous and spontaneous laughter. It needs a strong mindset and a positive personality to keep a comedian floated above the waves of uninvited pressures. 

Being such an unpopular, hard-to-be-pleased and selective comedy-show non-fan, it is not difficult for me to come out with my two personal favourites (since I don’t have many to start with). Tastes vary, after all.  

1.         Nina Conti


It is hard not to love Nina Conti. She is a spectacularly talented ventriloquist. Her usual stunt involves strapping a comical half-mask onto her selected audience’s face, expertly manipulating her human dummy’s mouth up and down at arm’s length, and creating an entirely new personality out of the cartoonish-looking dummy with hilariously exaggerated voice. Nina picks up on the dummy’s body language instantaneously, develops clever conversation without displaying much effort, and invents riotously funny plot with her amazing voice-throwing skill.

Nina is full of unpredictable surprises, and it is difficult not to be impressed by her quick wittedness.

Nina will be performing at the Arts Centre Melbourne from 29 March 2016 to 10 April 2016. Click here to find out more.
  

2.         Tegan Higginbotham


The show is an unexpected delight.

Tegan’s stand-up show, The City of Love, was a one-hour recap of the personal journey of a small town Dandenong girl realizing her childhood dreams. A great storyteller, Tegan led the audiences into her hilarious and struggling excursions of achieving her life-long goals: getting married and have kids by the age of 25, be an action movie star, and to fall in love in the romantic city of Paris. The hilarity of the show revolves around her youthful silliness and innocence in trying to have her dreams come true.  The entire performance was charming, heart-warming, cheeky, and funny in a very sweet way. I had a great time watching the show.

Tegan is performing at the Greek Centre from 24 March 2016 to 3 April 2016. Click here to find out more.
  

You can check out the (horrendously long) list of events from the official website here.

There are also some family friendly, free performances happening at the Federation Square and City Square on a daily basis (save Monday) until 17 April 2016. Check out the link here for more information.

I hope you have a great laugh, and let me know if you have a favourite comedian that you wouldn’t mind recommending to me!

Saturday 26 March 2016

The Melbourne Night Network



Since the beginning of this year, Melbournians no longer need to fear about missing the last train home after a Saturday late-night Karaoke session; people no longer need to run frantically catching the last tram out to the suburb after an insane Friday night celebration in the CBD.

In other words, no more weekends’ Cinderella (with or without fancy glass slippers), and no more worry about any golden carriage turning into orange pumpkin when the clock strikes 12! 

Commencing 1 January 2016 for a 12-month trial, the Night Network is an amazing initiative by the Victorian government to ensure Melbournians get to truly enjoy the late night fun in town on a Friday and Saturday nights. The Night Network comprises all of Melbourne’s regular electric railway lines, 6 popular tram lines, 21 night bus services, and 4 regional coach services; All running continuously from Friday to Saturday nights.

Below are some facts that you might want to take note of:

1.         Night Network is not a free service


Night Network is not a free service, hence you will still need to purchase a ticket or get ready with a valid Myki card when travelling.

Having said that, the free tram zone will continue to apply. Trams within the CBD and Docklands will continue to be free all night without the need of touching on your Myki card. On the other hand, passengers travelling outside the boundaries of the Free Tram Zone will need to touch on your Myki card when boarding and alighting the tram. 

2.         6 key tram lines



Six tram routes (19, 67, 75, 86, 96, and 109) run all night on weekends at half-hour intervals, covering the CBD areas and some popular destinations such as St Kilda, North Coburg, Brunswick, Melbourne University, Richmond, Hawthorn, Fitzroy, Box Hill and Port Melbourne. Check out more about these all night tram lines from here:


3.         Safety concerns


Extra police personnel, roaming transit police and protective services officers (PSO) are deployed and stationed at various stations and on the Night Network services, in addition to the other security measures such as CCTV, emergency assistance buttons and staff presence.

But of course, never take your personal safety for granted. Always take proper precaution when travelling at night and use your common sense when it comes to safety judgment. 

4.         Train city loops will be closed


Trains on all major metropolitan lines will run all night, but not through the City Loop. Apart from the Flinders Street Station (acting as the sole entry and exit point to and from city by rail), the rest of the stations within the City Loop (Southern Cross, Flagstaff, Melbourne Central and Parliament) will be shut at about midnight as usual. For more information about the Night Train, see here:


Enjoy your great night out!

Visit the Public Transport Victoria website for more information about the Night Network:



Friday 25 March 2016

Hot Cross Bun & the Australian controversy

A home-made attempt of hot cross bun

There is rarely any baking item in this world being subject to as much controversy as the hot cross bun.

This moist, fluffy, raisin studded delight bursting with sweet aroma of mixed spices is so divinely delicious, it is not difficult to comprehend why the Australian retail giants such as Coles and Woolworths started stocking up their shelves with the buns as early as New Year in January, several months before the advent of Good Friday.

Such commercially driven decision was frowned upon by some as a retail tactic that waters down the true meaning of the hot cross bun. Yet the immense consumer appetite leaves the major supermarket chains with no choice but to continue to relent to the public demand.

Certain Australian bakers and supermarkets avoided the contention by stripping the religious connotation of the bun. Different variations of “Not Cross Buns” were launched, including buns adorned with smiley faces instead of the traditional crosses. Creative versions are invented; chocolate chips and fragrant coffee powder are added into the mixture of juicy currants, raisins, sultanas and fresh spices, producing alternative choices for the lucky Melbournians.


Those esteemed bakers that joined in the “Not Cross Buns” movement include the Melbourne 5th generation family owned business Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses. In fact, a group of bakers in Melbourne held a protest last December in front of the State Library of Victoria, urging Coles and Woolworths to stop selling hot cross buns until 6 weeks prior to Easter.

Worldwide, this incredibly delicious spiced sweet bun continues to be the topic of heated debates. Its origin is still ambiguous. The hot cross bun is generally believed to be of Christian symbolism: the bread signifies the communion, spices represents those used in Jesus’s entombment, and the cross is a reminder of the crucifixion of Jesus. But some argue that the buns existed way before the birth of Christ, and can be traced back to the pagans’ practice of serving tiny cakes adorned with crosses at the time of spring festival.

Regardless of your belief and what the bun actually means to you, let’s just grab a dozens of those scrumptious buns and served them with a good cup of Melbourne coffee.

Have a blessed Good Friday. 

Thursday 24 March 2016

Myer and its humble origin


You can’t say you have done shopping in Melbourne if you have not been to Myer. And No, I am not saying that hyperbolically or making any exaggerated statement.

Strategically located at the most central part of the town, Myer is one of the largest department stores in Melbourne, housing both affordable and upscale brands, from casual Hush Puppies footwear, luxurious Hugo Boss watches, Australian Aesop skincare products, to British high fashion Jimmy Choo fragrances.

But what intrigued me the most are not those dainty European cakes at its 3rd floor Brunetti café, nor the occasional clearance sale that gives the feverish shopper’s adrenaline a rush.

It is the humble origin of Myer and its founder that made me pause and appreciate the beauty of Melbourne, and those classic tales of migrant success occurred in this relatively young city at the Southern Hemisphere.

The story of Sidney Myer, the founder of the Australia’s largest chain of department stores, is one of the most inspiring success stories amongst all.

1.         The Genesis: an underwear-wrapper at Flinders Lane


A Jew and a Russian migrant, Simcha Myer Baevsk (as he was originally known) emigrated to Melbourne when he was 21-year-old, following the footsteps of his elder brother Elcon Myer. Penniless and with little knowledge of English, the Myer brothers commenced their humble working life in an underclothing factory at Flinders Lane, Melbourne.

Myer then moved on to be a door-to-door salesman, pushing cart of products across the town, persuading traditional homemakers and modern fashionistas to give a chance to his exquisite laces and elegant stockings. 

2.         A natural salesman with an astute marketing brain
 

Shortly a year later in 1900, Myer took the bold step and established the first Myer store, a drapery store in Bendigo.  The business turned out to be a thriving success, thanks to Myer’s natural talent as a salesman and his innovative way of marketing. Myer designed and created visually enticing in-store displays, and fully utilized his advertising prowess to capture the loyalty of his female patrons.

The business boomed, and within a short few years, a Myer at Bourke Street Mall began its business and quickly became the icon of Melbourne’s fashion and style.


3.         A true leader
 

It is undeniable that Myer was an exceptionally gifted and visionary entrepreneur. But Myer was more than just that.

He was a true leader, a person of strong moral fortitude who received great respect and admiration from his employees.

The Australian Great Depression in 1930s saw the sudden surge of unemployment and severe economic downturn. Myer retrenched not a single of his employee. All staff, including himself, suffered pay cuts.

For the unemployed and homeless, Myer financed a Christmas banquet for 10,000 at the Royal Exhibition Building, gave a present to each child, and personally waited on his guests.

4.         Charity and philanthropy efforts


The Melbourne University, Children’s Hospital, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the Shrine of Remembrance (just to name a few) are beneficiaries of Myer’s charity and philanthropy efforts.

Sidney Myer died suddenly at the age of 56 in 1934. He left a fortune of around $1 million (a very large sum of money at that time), one-tenth of which was directed to a charitable trust to exist in perpetuity- the Sidney Myer Fund. 


The Myer store today remains a great place to shop. However, being a public listed company and a shareholder-driven commercial enterprise, the Myer store slowly loses the personal touch a family business could offer under the leadership of the man Sidney Myer.

Yet Myer will forever mean more than just a name of a department store; it is a symbol of hope to the foreign migrants, a constant reminder of what the true Melbourne can offer to every hopeful soul with big dreams.

Location:

314-336 Bourke St
, Melbourne

Trading Hours:

Mon -Wed, Sat:          9 am to 7 pm
Sun:                          10 am to 7 pm
Thu – Fri:                   9 am – 9 pm