This is a horrid time of year, really. We finished teaching weeks ago, but are still up to our necks in papers, meetings, graduate applications for next year, accounts to reconcile, reports to write, and all the rest of the end-of-year stuff that drags on and on. But today we started organising our Christmas lunch, so that felt a bit better.
It's also conference season, too, so I really must get down to writing the paper I'm giving in Hobart next week. I'm part of a panel on Bruce Holsinger's Premodern Condition (more on this in another post).
But I think a brief report on the trip to Canberra is called for. Suse and Pav have kindly asked for photos, but while a thousand official ones were taken, I forgot to take my own camera, so we might have to wait till I can persuade Joel and myself to dress up again...
We flew up with Deirdre, my wonderful new(ish) colleague: how I adore having another senior woman in the department, especially one so energetic and passionate and generous. We checked into the hotel, changed into our finery, then got a cab up to Parliament House.
From this perspective, you can actually see two Parliament Houses: first, the old one (wedding-cake style) then further up the hill, the surprisingly and charmingly modest new one, set, hobbit-style, under the slopes of grass. Well, modest from the outside: inside, it's all marble and quartz and wood, and corridors and courtyards filled with light. Quite beautiful, I think.
We had lunch and then queued up to sit in on Question Time. We ended up sitting in the gallery above the Gov't side, but had fun spotting the familiar heads and faces. Rudd was on his way back from Peru, so Gillard was acting PM, and very dignified and determined she was, too. Peter Garrett was easy to spot with the bald head, and we picked out lots of others. Tanya Plibersek took a great dorothy dixer and spoke movingly about domestic violence white ribbon day, and then Malcolm Turnbull made his only speech of the session we saw, saying, in effect, "me too". The real fun, though, was looking over to see Nelson, Costello, Abbott, all looking rather subdued, though Abbott was querulous in his challenges to the Speaker for his failure to reprimand Albanese, I think it was, who dared to suggest providing a cushion for Fran Bailey, I think it was, who seemed to be falling asleep. Well, then it was on for young and old...
After a while, Joel suggested we nip round to the other side, so we could see "our people", but by the time we got round, Question Time was over, and there was a steady emptying of the chamber.
We then headed off to the reception before the awards ceremony. There was tea and coffee and cheese and biscuits, and much checking-out of name tags and fashions. There was a fair amount of taffeta and tulle and lace, given that the note just said "smart or business dress", and one Islander and one Indian woman wearing beautiful long dresses and saris (ok: one each). But also some beautifully tailored suits and jackets.
We took our seats and the chair of the council announced that Julia Gillard would not be able to present the awards, as she was too busy being acting PM. I swear, there was an audible groan of disappointment, particularly among the women. We had been given our instructions, so it was pretty well run, as we lined up, moved forward, shook hands with Brendan O'Connor and received our surprisingly heavy trophies and certificates.
The big award, the Prime Minister's Award, was split this year by Marnie Hughes-Warrington, an historian from Macquarie, and Stephen Barkoczy, from Monash, who teaches tax law. Both gave fabulous impromptu speeches, and you could see instantly that they would be great teachers. I have to make a 12 minute presentation at the Vice-Chancellor's Colloquium on Tuesday (and accept my Grimshaw award: hey, another chance for my new dress, I think!), and I was inspired by both of these addresses not to make a powerpoint. I'm just going to talk. Well, I was also persuaded by the fact that they wanted the powerpoint by this morning...
We then walked down the hill to the old Parliament House, and sipped champagne and snacked on smoked salmon on melba toast, little pies and other nibbles, before proceeding into the old members' dining hall for enormous prawns or peking duck; baked salmon or lamb cutlets; rich chocolate pies or miniature tartes tatin.
In the morning, Joel took full advantage of the sumptuous breakfast buffet, and then we walked across the lake and then along past the National Library and the High Court to the National Gallery, where we paid appropriate homage to the Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly series, and pedantically corrected a tour guide who was explaining how Kelly's armour was now in Melbourne Gaol.
We then met Deirdre and Mary, another Melbourne colleague up at ANU for the day, for lunch at the National Library, in the coloured lights of the Leonard French windows there, before heading home.
It was a really lovely occasion. In the humanities, teaching awards are not regarded very highly. I think it's assumed we can all teach, and that good teaching is incommensurate with good research. If you're getting good "quality of teaching" scores, you're seen as putting time into your teaching that should go into your research. But I'm all in favour of them. There's no reason why the two should be mutually exclusive; in fact, most of us would argue that in fact, they depend on each other. Good researchers make good teachers; and vice versa. Anyway, any colleagues who are reading this: I'm going to be encouraging folk in my area to apply for these awards next year.
The other momentous thing this week was watching Joel in the Year 8 production of Midsummer Night's Dream last night. He has chosen drama as one of his elective subjects this year, and they clearly have very talented teachers at this school, who brought out some very good performances from these 13-year old kids. The play had been abridged, and there was lots of playground-style physicality amongst the rival lovers and the mechanicals. Of course Joel's parents, aunt and grandmother all thought his Demetrius was excellent. At least he didn't rush through his lines (a common enough mistake, to race through the metaphors to the principal verbs, whereas it's often the metaphors that carry the meaning). An excellent Helena, Lysander, Bottom, Titania and Puck (and Demetrius!) carried the play. There were some wonderful musical moments too: this school somehow makes it possible for even youngish kids just to get up and sing unaccompanied.
So it's been a big week chez nous. We are just now about to commence our weekend in the time-honoured way: doing the grocery shopping while Joel has his piano lesson; then catching up with our mirror family for pizzas, red wine, and lollies. Happy weekend, everyone!