Henrietta Bredin

Australian odyssey

Henrietta Bredin finds time to scratch only the surface of cultural events on offer

I must admit that the first arts event in which I participated on arriving in Australia was entirely by chance. Sitting in the sun on the restaurant terrace of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, looking at the ferries bustling in and out of Circular Quay, I picked up a small printed notice that had been placed on my table. It told me that, as part of the current city-wide contemporary art show, the chair in which I would normally have been sitting had been swapped with one from a café in Hanoi. As I pondered on this and gazed across the water, the arm of a crane swung into view and dropped an enormous rock on to a red car that had been parked at the bottom of the steps leading up to the Opera House. That turned out to be a part of the same show.

Sydney has some terrific museums. The Powerhouse Museum was constructed in and around the shell of the old Ultimo power station, which once supplied the city’s tram network. It’s a marvellously apt location for a museum of science and social history — the old turbine hall and boiler house are now bursting with different exhibits, from steam engines and a 1929 Bugatti to an entire flying boat, with a wingspan of 31.7 metres, suspended over one’s head.

There’s a constantly shifting exhibition programme — there was a fascinating look at gambling in Australia while I was there, at which I first encountered the term ‘pokies’ for slot machines. I thought this must have something to do with poking your loose change into a slot but, rather more logically, come to think of it, it is a reference to poker. It’s a very interactive sort of place and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, betting on imaginary horses, playing baccarat and blackjack, and losing small fortunes in virtual dollars.

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