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Thursday, 15 June 2017

The $ecret Touri$m Plan


The following information is embargoed.  Under no circumstances is it to be shown to any person who cannot prove Australian citizenship.  In appropriate cases, loyalty oaths may be administered as a precursor to granting permission to view the following.

It is a well-known fact that public museums do not pay their way: it is time they looked to private industry, which always pays.  The public sector should examine more closely the specific activities which pay.  They should seek to move our museums into the New Age of economically rational cultural experience.

Instead of displaying old bones and other relics of an increasingly irrelevant and bygone age, our museums must begin to address the needs and concerns of today.  They must present useful and memorable cultural experiences, compressed to allow the maximum variety and the widest geographical coverage, all within the shortest possible time.  Museums must be forced, if necessary, to give value.

We need look no further than one recent development to see how public museums are at present completely missing the commercial point.  I was recently fortunate enough to visit ‘The Australian Experience’.  It was a truly eye-opening to see just how much can be done commercially with just a small amount of flair and imagination.

The Australian Experience is a train of eight exhibition carriages, running from the Gold Coast down into northern New South Wales and back each day, with inbound tourists (that is, foreigners with plenty of disposable income) as the main targeted market.

It is hauled by a steam locomotive fondly known as ‘The Mauler’, (having been involved in 106 confirmed human fatalities: a definite draw-card for the non-traditional museum demographic).

The Australian Experience aims to give the busy tourist all of the experiences and photo opportunities which would otherwise take many days to achieve, and always with the risk of bad weather spoiling some of the shots.  The Australian Experience guarantees that there will be no such problems with photography for its guests.

On boarding at 9.30 am, passengers are welcomed to their seats in one of the lounge cars by Aboriginal hostesses in traditional gold bikinis.  There, they are given a choice of cocktails (named, for their principal flavours, ‘Billy Tea’, ‘Draught Beer’ and ‘Bluestone’).  The soothing background music in the lounge cars is a medley of traditional railway songs and ballads, including ‘Casey Jones’, ‘The Wreck of the Old Ninety-Seven’, and ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’.  Once the train is under way, passengers can wander at will through the exhibition cars, trying all the varied delights that our wide brown land has to offer.

Car 1.

This carriage re-creates the parched outback.  Authentic smells (the carriage doubles as a working cattle truck each night), authentic lighting (cracks in the walls are covered with red cellophane), and a realistic cow depict life in the outback.  Staff are at present working on synthetic wool coats that will allow them also to use the cow in a scaled-up demonstration of genuineAustralian shearing.  The carriage is heated to outback levels by a ducted system running from the locomotive's fire-box, demonstrating the designers' concerns for both parsimony and for the conservation of energy.

At a quarter to each hour, coinciding with the simulated low tide in the Great Barrier Reef car, the Wet Season arrives, followed by the projection of time-lapse images of the desert bursting into bloom.  Visitors will be able to purchase colourful souvenir ‘Snowy River’ raincoats of reinforced paper (seen being manufactured later in Car 7), or they can remain within the protective plastic tunnel which extends down one side of the carriage, five minutes before the start of the Wet Season.

Car 2.

After the heat of the parched outback carriage, the tourist next enters the air-conditioned comfort of the ‘Great Australian Pub’ carriage.  Here we see trained blow-flies performing in one corner of the carriage, and two stunt men re-enacting a variety of famous Australian bar-fights.  There are broken bottle fights on the hour and half hour, with audience participation by prior arrangement.   All guests are provided with one complimentary drink from traditional Australian beer-cans (reusable, but hygienically sealed prior to use).  Further drinks may be purchased by guests.

Car 3.

Here the Great Barrier Reef is re-created.  Entering by a raised area, guests move down a ramp between long narrow tanks filled with brightly coloured fish and preserved corals.  This carriage has elliptical wheels to give the impression of sea motion, and to ensure appropriate smells of motion nausea from those patrons who spent too long in Car 2.

As patrons move down the ramp, they gain the impression of dropping below sea level, entering the secret world of the fishes, complete with recorded whale songs and sea shanties.  A small beach panorama is available at the far end, where guests may be photographed, along with a range of cardboard cut-outs.  Masks and snorkels are available for photos in front of the Reef tanks (realistic bubbles in the tanks are strategically placed for guests to pose near).

Car 4.

Here, guests meet the Australian Bush.  With a surround-sound system of taped bird-calls, Australian aborigines demonstrate their traditional Dingo Circus, and show videos of their boomerang-throwing skills (due to insurance problems, management have required then to use only cardboard boomerangs inside the car), and a small shop sells traditional Australian bush scents (Lantana, Prickly Pear, and Salvation Jane), plastic didgeridoos and other aboriginal memorabilia.

Car 5.

This is a marvellous Chamber of Horrors where guests see at first hand the problems of the early settlers.  There are tableaux of families dying of the Barcoo Rot, a face-painting activity where children's faces can be made up to simulate Sandy Blight, giant models of blow-flies (photo opportunity!), live Hexham Grey mosquitoes, depictions of dingoes stealing settlers' children, and, behind a fire-proof screen, a real bushfire, complete with recorded screams and simulated burning bodies (to allay the worries of the squeamish, guides point out that the bodies are actually those of bush-rangers).

At the far end, a children's jumping castle features a user-friendly range of giant goannas, crocodiles, taipans and other snakes and spiders.  With the exception of the taipans, which are de-fanged to protect the fabric of the jumping castle, all of these animals are inflatable rubber models.  Smaller inflatable versions of these may be purchased from the concessionaire.

Car 6.

Aussie tucker and Aussie self-sufficiency are the themes here, and guests are invited to participate in a shooting gallery activity.  No live animals are used: white metal targets with projected images of assorted mammals and birds on them are used.  Sensors identify where the target is hit, and sophisticated circuitry generates a scream appropriate to the shot's accuracy.

In any case, prizes are awarded to all.  For example, hitting five kangaroo targets causes a cup of kangaroo tail soup to be automatically dispensed, and other prizes include roast meat in damper sandwiches (pure reconstituted beef, but with an authentic aroma of koala meat), and savoury ‘possum stew’.

All food is cooked under the patrons' gaze on a gas-fired barbecue, and stuffed toy replicas of all the Australian wildlife targets will be on sale.  Guests who wish to be photographed with the tastefully posed giant dead Diprotodon may borrow a replica of a semi-automatic rifle to improve the authenticity of the photo.  This segment is augmented by one of the staff who collects road kills on her way to work each morning.  As a trained make-up artiste, she adds realistic bullet holes to each body.

Car 7.

The Australian city is recognised as the natural habitat of most modern Australians.  Along one wall, are panoramas showing the major cities of Australia, with strip-lighting from above, to allow these backdrops to be used for taking souvenir photographs (for the sake of convenience, Uluru will also be depicted here).  All of the expected icons are depicted in these panoramas.

The other side of the carriage features typical Australian city scenes: a typical sweat shop where newly arrived migrants make the ‘Snowy River’ coats for sale in Car 2.  Nearby, famous multiple murders are re-enacted against rear-projected backdrops (allowing a later expansion to international coverage), drug addicts inject themselves (using only the safest organically-grown and Australian-made materials), and convicts are flogged.  Products on sale include replicas of Arvie Aspinall's alarm clock, and the sweat shop staff and addicts perform multicultural dances when their other duties permit, adding a delightfully realistic air to the proceedings.

Car 8.

Known as ‘The Big Car’, this last carriage features scaled-down versions of thirty of Australia's favourite ‘Big’ icons: the Big Merino, the Big Banana, the Big Pavlova, the Big Prawn, and others.  By a clever application of optical systems, the guests may be photographed alongside apparently full-size icons.

This is the end of the exhibition, and guests can now return to the lounge coaches until they reach their destination, where they can have a two-hour visit to the ‘Las Vegas’ room of the local RSL club, complete with authentic poker machines, designed to accept and pay out in all Pacific Rim and EEC currencies, or they can join in the community singing of German beer hall songs, directed from a Karaoke machine.  On the return journey, they are free to visit the exhibitions again.

As you can see from this brief outline, the example is there, completely ready for us to emulate.  Even if Sydney ignores the chance of offering the same or similar experiences in other parts of Australia, The Australian Experience has by no means completely capitalised on the commercial possibilities

For example, many of the photographic props are provided free of charge, when they could be hired or sold, there is no rain forest experience, there are no crocodiles, no psychic sheep dogs, no albino or mutant or deformed animals, and there are no trained birds able to swear in many languages on command.  There is no option for conservation-minded patrons to shoot feral cats.

Looking again at the high end of the market, they offer no surf experience, no surf boards, no video games or simulations, and there are no plans to offer virtual reality experiences.  There are no thoughts of providing computerised interactive videos where the purchaser's image is electronically inserted into a wide range of pre-filmed Australian adventures, ranging from soft focus sex in the tropics to skiing naked down Kosciusko (naturally, with tastefully placed simulated icicles covering the rude bits), to more family-oriented fare, such as a kangaroo-back ride across Arnhem land.

The operators have totally missed the perfect opportunity to offer paravane sports from the rear platform of Car 8.  At this point, The Australian Experience has no special rides for the under five age group, no publishing plans, and no awareness of the franchising possibilities of their scheme.  That being said, they have still done well, and the way is open for a forward-looking organisation to seize this opportunity with both hands.

This madness is, in fact, based on a real submission that passed over my desk at one point, because the institution I was working for had a few hare-brained Marketing types who wanted a slice of the action.  I have toned down some of the more excessive suggestions, but there are definite echoes of the original to be found in Car 1.

I have recently found a long-lost file called Rudes, which contains many of my best minutes, notes and correspondence, written during a surprisingly long career as the world's only anarchist-surrealist bureaucrat. This was among them, and there are more of what my colleagues usually called Acid Drops to come.

Friday, 9 June 2017

The nature of starvation

This is an essay that I wrote in the late 1980s, as a radio piece. It was short, and harsh, because I delivered it in a voice lacking any sense of outrage. Some 15 years later, in Auschwitz, I heard a young Polish lady telling us the Holocaust story, in similar dispassionate tones.

The style packs a punch, because the listener hears no outrage, but is free to feel outraged. Demagogues, please take note: you don't quiver with rage, you nurture just rage — and then you may pass for human.

Anyhow, the producer listened as I recorded it in a single take, and then called it “a real smack in the gob”, which please me, because she and I knew what that meant. It won a minor award (a "highly commended" in the Michael Daley Awards, I think), after which I allowed a number of charities to use it for free. For all I know, it’s still being used.

So if it sounds familiar, that’s good — but it started with me.

The scene is Australia, where New Year’s Day is in summer, but it could be any day, anywhere.

It is the first of January, a hot, muggy, hung-over New Year’s Day morning in Australia. The time is just six-thirty, and the sun is already well up in the sky, as the first airliner of the day lumbers down the airport runway, lurches sluggishly into the air, banks, turns, and flies away at an altitude of five hundred metres.

It roars across the suburbs, disturbing the well-fed dreams of hope and New Year’s resolutions for last night’s revellers. Then leaving the suburbs behind, still flying at five hundred metres, it ploughs noisily into a mountain, killing everybody on board. Silence is restored … but not for long.

Two and a half minutes after the first plane lifted off, another fully loaded jet rumbles off along the same flight path to the same mountain, and again, all on board die. That second plane is followed by another, and another, and another, every two and a half minutes, right through the morning.

By 7.10 am, before most people have even had their breakfast, the air deaths have already exceeded the annual Australian road toll. All day, the planes fly, but mercifully, they stop at 6.30 pm, just as Australia sits down to dinner.

For all the horror this image brings to mind, the day’s unceasing carnage has only just kept pace with the numbers who died of starvation in the Third World that New Year’s Day. For them, there has been no hope, from us, there has been no resolution.

Before breakfast the next day, the obscene procession starts all over again, running to the same deadly timetable, for another twelve hours. Just after lunch on January the second, you can add in those killed at Nagasaki as well, and still the planes keep taking off, and crashing. Still they do no more than equal the deaths from starvation.

By the evening of the third, the toll has expanded to cover those who died at Hiroshima. The planes must fly for four months more, before we can count in the deaths in the Nazi concentration camps that took seven ghastly years to notch up.

Before the year’s end, you will be able to throw in all the battle-field deaths of World War II as well. There will be time enough left, in fact, for flights to cover Vietnam, the genocidal outbursts of Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and Papa Doc Duvalier, and still there will be flights to spare.

Each day, the deaths will have only just matched the deaths around the world from starvation. All the sickening holocausts, all the brutal massacres, all the killing fields of the latter half of this century, all of them equalled, corpse for corpse, in just eleven months.

But to kill as many as starvation and starvation-related disease will kill in just that single year, the flights cannot stop . . not yet. They must go on, right up until 6.30 pm on December the thirty-first.
Then, next morning, it will be a new year, and the flights must begin all over again.

Starvation does not take holidays.

For the starving, there is no hope, from us, there is no resolution.

One air crash is front-page news. Two crashes on the one day, and they will have special news bulletins. Make it three, and there will be a Royal Commission, resignations and sackings. It’s a funny old world.