March 02, 2004

Sense of Proportion

One of the countless hilarious and brilliant segments of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series ends with this oft-quoted wisdom:

"[...] if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion."

This past Sunday we visited the Immigration Museum here in Melbourne. There is nothing like reading about multi-month ship voyages -- where more than 20% of the children and nearly 5% of the adults would die from some horrible disease en route -- to put the trials and tribulations of modern-day air travel in stark perspective.

Australia is still a long way from home, of course, but arriving Down Under in one piece used to be an undeniably epic achievement (and in the case of convicts, less epic achievements -- today's "minor misdemeanors" -- were often sufficient to get them on the ship in the first place).

So what do you do on a six-week voyage to the farthest reaches of the Earth? Why, you play cricket of course. The Museum described how "deck cricket" (one can only assume with some variation on the rules) was one of the pastimes used to wile away the hours (and days, and weeks ...). Naturally, the ships' occupants also published a blog (o.k., o.k., a newsletter) which detailed the progress of the ship and contained event announcements (e.g. a lecture criticizing Australia's "White Australia Policy") and classifieds (including romantic messages!).

All in all, the museum was excellent and its politics were intriguing (what do you define as the first "immigration" to Australia, and what do you say about the current government's immigration policies?). The exhibits are an excellent combination of general history and highly personalized stories, with both passive and interactive visual and audio elements. The museum is housed in the impressive Old Customs House and was recently renovated. As we should have expected, there was a lot of reading to be done, so we'll have to go back again.

Posted by anatole at March 2, 2004 03:51 PM