Search This Blog

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Volunteering and the Environment

This Sunday is Clean Up Australia Day, why not establish (formally or informally) your own local site to clean up litter and pollution from a local waterway, woods, park, public space. It's easy! And beneficial for not only yourself, but your whole community and the local environment.   According to the Australian Bureau of Statistcs( and Volunteering Australia ( just over a third of Australians volunteer.

Since helping to co-found the Friends of Frog Hollow Inc, a community volunteer non-for-profit environmental organisation in late 2002, I have helped revegitate over 90,000 native trees, shrubs and grasses back into the upper and mid lengths of the Eummemering Creek and helped protect, preserve and enhance both the quality of this important faunal and floral link, as well as the access for people to enjoy the area via bridges, boardwalks, walking and cycling trails. If all goes well, a link to Lysterfield Lake Park will be established, effectively allowing people (and wildlife!) to travel From the Mountains to the Sea or in other words from the Dandenongs to Port Phillip Bay!

Volunteer like the fine people in this video featuring a familiar Dean talking about the importance of grassroots environmentalism, conserving, re-establishing and linking 'green corridors' of wildlife habitat

Or locate a site near you!

The Friends of Frog Hollow does not have an official website as our small group of members all work closely with one another, however we facilitate broader events in conjunction with other events and bodies such as the City of Casey Council, Melbourne Water, Clean Up Australia Day, National Plant A Tree Day and Arbour Week (and their websites and events). You can keep updated by joining our facebook group at:!/groups/163354060407176/?fref=ts

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

An Ancient Greek Symposium

I quite enjoy going to cultural festivals and events. With Melbourne's diverse and vibrant multiculturalism there are many such free events throughout the year where you can experience the sights of various cultural performances, the sounds of various kinds of folk music and dance, and the smell and taste of foreign cuisine in the heart of your own city. Over the past couple of months I was able to enjoy the Scandinavian Christmas Bazaar, a Mexican Festival, Chinese New Year celebrations, Maslenitsa Slavic Pancake Festival and the (modern) Antipodes Greek festival. And the turning of the wheel of the year will I'm sure bring many more such enjoyable events.

Another event I attended to was not only a cultural but also living-historical experience. Athanasios of the Ancient Hoplitikon of Melbourne Inc invited me to the Ancient Greek (and Roman) re-enactment group's annual symposium. All of the attendees were clad in Classical costume, myself in a white a knee-length Ancient Greek chiton, with a black swirling trim (which always reminds of the waves on the Aegean Sea at night), Grecian sandals, a pair of metal cuffs and my gold snake ring, a replica from Pompeii.

Upon arrival and a warm welcome we were taken for a tour around the group's grand new palatial white canvas tent. Everything was handmade to period pieces made with lavish detail, skill, patience and a passion for the past. Within the tent was a sumptuous feast for both the stomach and the eyes, with a plethora of traditional Greek foods. One end was open at the sides to catch the summer breeze, while the other was enclosed with several replica wooden Ancient Greek klinoi lounges. From the wooden support columns hung olive oil burning lamps, spears, a standard and a Hermes' caduceus staff were near the entrance, and arms, bronze armour, the accutraments of an ancient Olympic athlete and pottery. Outside club members moved about a the artillery of a Roman scorpion.

After that we held a re-enactment of an Ancient Greek holocaust style sacrifice and libation , our gracious host conducting the ritual in Ancient Greek. Naturally, the only thing sacrificed in this re-enactment was some of the finest red wine present. Then the guests grabbed small votive objects from a table and left them on the altar. In historical re-enactment, as a hobby there is often a trade off between safety and modern sensibilities vs period practises, either because ancient practises are only partly understood or obviously in combat, for safety of the participants and public. But one aspect that is often overlooked is the actual culture, ritual and lifestyle of people in the past. So it was great to see and experience this part of the re-enactment which is sadly all to often overlooked by other groups. Then we drank a small portion of a sweet wine to wet the appetite and continued on to enjoy our feast, watered down wine from a krater, our fine company and exquisite surrounds.

A modern symposium is an academic conference for presenting papers, while an ancient symposium was a sort of house party with food, music, entertainment and  plenty of wine, but it would have had other aspects to it other than just a party. It would have had some kind of ritual element to it, as well as being sociable, holding serious debates and discussing philosophy and making important political contacts and making business deals all rolled into the one kind of function.

 I must say I had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed sipping my wine from a metal kylix, a replica of one thought to date back to 300 BC, while reclining on a kline. A kline might at first appear unusual, it is not quite a couch or a bed, and is quite high. Yet, when you actually use one you can fully appreciate what you have seen on vase paintings, it is the perfect height to let you socialise while another person standing can talk to you face to face, not to mention the comfort of a posture that allows for digestion and rest while still being upright and active enough to engage with those around you and your surroundings. Even the simple oil lamp lighting, when placed appropriately and reflecting off the white canvas, with the glint of bronze in the background, created a warmly lit environment as if near a campfire.

It was the unexpected ingenuity and simplicity of carefully considered things like this, both in terms of designs from Antiquity and their re-creation in the present by Athanasios and the Ancient Hoplitikon that reveals the civilised art of holding a symposium.


A snapshot of relatively recent Classics, Archaeology and Ancient World Studies orientated student groups at the University of Melbourne.

This is by no means and exhaustive history of all the classics orientated student club activities at the University of Melbourne, but rather in Herodotian style, a combination of the things I witnessed, read, gossiped about or participated in during my time here. I’m sure there are others out there with other pieces to add to the story as well. Given the natural fascination we all have for the ancient past, it is fitting that some of the forerunners of the  Melbourne University Classics and Archaeology Students Society (MUCLASS) are recorded briefly for our present bemusement and for posterity.

MUCAAS was the Melbourne Uni Classics And Archaeology Society. I like to think that its origins, now lost in the mists of time, may extend back to some long forgotten mystery cult of antiquity. In reality, the oldest reference to MUCAAS (or perhaps some proto-MUCAASian club?) I have come across goes back to 2001. A newsletter of the Australian Society of Classical Studies from September 2004 notes that the undergraduate Classics society at the University of Melbourne has finally settled on the name of MUCAAS. By 2006 I had started at Melbourne and in O-Week promptly joined two of the clubs with unintendedly funny sounding acronyms: MUCAAS and PIS (political interest society). After joining, my first challenge was to find the legendary MUCAAS rooms. This involved entering the impressive fortifications of Old Quad, scaleing the great staircases, navigating the Labyrinth while avoiding the minotaur, before arriving at a descrete and occasionally locked door to a seemingly empty tiny storeroom in the upper west wing of Old Quad. This kind of feat is something postgrads and lecturers do daily, but to someone in their first week of university life it was just a little epic.
My persistence paid off, because I had reached the first of the three rooms of MUCASSia, and beyond the first lay a further two rooms adorned with walls covered in pictures of sites and artifacts from the ancient world, a couple of desks, bean bags, cushions and copious amounts of theatre backdrops and props. It was quite common to find Classics tutors typing, translating, working on theatre pieces and doing the Latin crossword. It was from this crenalated acropolis that MUCASS produced a periodic newsletter called (SIC) which contained submissions from its members such as: essay extracts, poetry travel stories, reviews of ancient themed movies and video games and fake advertisements for things like second-hand chariots. MUCASS also ran trivia nights, movie nights and dramatic reading nights, which simply involved people getting together to read aloud bits of ancient literature in either the original text or a translation, but to add their own rendition of the text. This was simple and yet extremely comical and captivating.   

There was always a passion in MUCASS for Classical theatre. Members translated Greek and Roman plays, wrote and practiced scripts, produced backdrops, costumes and props all by themselves. There was usually one play every semester or two. By 2003 the theatre element of MUCAAS had become a small but sophisticated theatre company in its own right, known as Omiprop Productions. Some of their plays included Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (2001), Aristophanes’ Frogs (2003), Euripides’ Helen (2005), Senecca’s Phaedra (2006), Euripides’s The Bacchae (2007), Aristophanes’ Lysistrata again in 2008 at the Melbourne Trades Hall as part of the Fringe Festival. This was followed by Plautius’ Mosteilaria (2009) and The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus (2009) based on Sophocles’ fragmentary Satyr play Ichneutae.
MUCASS was gradually superseded by Omniprop, although granted there was a lot of overlap, until MUCASS ceased its other activities. Omniprop found that eventually many of its core members were studying and teaching Classics abroad, especially at Oxford, or had become successful actors and artists and so it became increasingly hard to keep up producing productions here at the University of Melbourne. By 2010 there was no regular campus-based signs of either group and the MUCASS rooms needed to be cleared out for more post grad work spaces. It was the end of an era. Omniprop still exists to this day but lies dormant, at least for the time being.

 I had enjoyed a number of Omniprop’s performances between 2006-2009, but I had another interest, re-enacting and living history. This involves trying to replicate as closely but safely as possible aspects of life in the Ancient world, be that costume, food, armour or combat etc. In late 2008 a fellow student Allan, and myself set about thinking how this could be done at Uni, and in 2009 the Melbourne Ancient Re-enactment Society (MARS) was underway. Though not an affiliated club with the student union MARS focussed mainly on costume making and replicating the equipment and fighting of Thracian  peltasts, all be it with wooden short ‘waster’ swords and rubber tipped javelins. MARS held a number of DVD nights, 3 themed trivia nights (Greek, Roman and Egyptian), an attempt at mullum making and a visit to the Pompeii exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. In 2009 the club was also asked to dress  up in costume and armour for the unveiling of a bronze bust to King Leonidas in Brunswick, because, as it turned out Brunswick is sister cities with Sparta! All these events happened in 2009, by 2010 the club became less active except for weekly training. Ultametly MARS needed too much space, cost and time to run on campus and this was exasaserbated by differing ideas on whether the club should focus more on Classical culture and history aimed at University of Melbourne students or on a more generic martial arts style model outside of the University. By 2011 MARS wound down as a club.
And there you have it. All of this helped set the stage, so that completely independent of these clubs and events a new club could emerge. That is however another story. As a new member to MUCLASS, I leave the task of its origins and early history to someone better suited to the task. What will they say about MUCLASS  in the future? Only time will tell. So no pressure, but this could be the best Classics, Archaeology and Ancient World Studies student club to emerge at the University of Melbourne in our day.

* A variation of this article (plus pictures!) was published in the first edition of the re-launched perodicle of the Melbourne University Classics and Archaeology Student's Society, Orpheus in September 2013.