How The Other Half Lives

My big task for the day was a visit to the Sydney Jewish Museum, as I’d seen somewhere they have an exhibition at the moment commemorating the Dreyfus Affair. I had only a vague recognition of the phrase, so of course I looked it up on Wikipedia, only to discover The Dreyfus Affair was a political scandal which divided France during the 1890s and early 1900s. It involved the wrongful conviction of Jewish military officer Alfred Dreyfus for treason and a subsequent political and judicial scandal.. OK, that sounds interesting I thought, and so I headed up to have some lunch around Oxford Street, ahead of paying a visit to the museum.

Making my way up to Oxford Street, I wandered past the Bourke Street Bakery which, as usual, had its sprawl (yes, I’m sure that’s the correct collective noun) of customers sitting on milk crates enjoying their lunch. Yes, I know the bread is good, but is it that good? And in contrast to this time ten years ago, when the Bourke Street bakery building was inhabited by La Passion du Fruit (with Bill Grainger working behind the counter), the nearby, formerly popular Cafe Niki was looking a little forlorn.

My arrival at Taylor Square co-incided with the release (yes, I think that’s the right word) of customers from leather bar, Manacle. What a sight that was, and a cautionary tale for anyone who ever thought it was a good idea to stay out all night or to go to day club.

In stark contrast, within a couple of minutes I was entering the Sydney Jewish History Museum. Although I’ve passed it on many occasions I’ve never been inside before. Located in Darlinghurst, the outside of the building belies the interesting architecture inside with its odd shape and many staircases.

Not surprisingly, though regrettably, you need to go through a security process as you enter the museum. From there, you’re asked to go downstair where a fifteen minute looped film records a history of Jews in Australia, from the First Fleet, through to the post-WW2 migration boom. Interestingly, the film notes that, per capita, Australia accepted more European refugees than any other country, bar Israel.

Of course, a fair amount of the museum is set aside to re-telling the story of the holocaust, with photographs, newspaper articles and video footage of Australian survivors. And then right at the top of the building is a room, almost like a chapel, almost like a mausoleum (though that may not be the right word), set aside to remembering people who experienced the holocaust. For me, it was one of the most significant parts of my visit to the museum, along with the Australian history.

I guess, partly because it’s an untold story, I really enjoyed the Australian history very much, with a particular favourite exhibit being a reconstructed George Street from the nineteenth century.

Heading back towards home, I passed the old Taylor Square toilet block which I’ve been meaning to take a photograph of for some some time. Well, for as long as it’s been up for sale. Yes, an old underground toilet block is up for sale… or at least expressions of interest, part of the Oxford Street upgrade. What would you do with it? A cafe? The mind boggles, though I think an underground tollway linking The Oxford & Manacle might just be the thing.

On the way home, I also wandered into Woolworths at St Margarets which I’ve concluded is possibly Australia’s cruisiest supermarket. “Stop looking at me”, I thought, “I’m just buying some bottled water”.

Ah, so that’s how the other half lives when I’m normally at work.

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