Augmented Canberra (Human Brochure Yarn #1)

@Visitcanberra requested a yarn just in time for the launch of Chapter 2 of the Human Brochure campaign, featuring

Prohibition + Wheat + Architecture

ArchitecturewheatKing O'Malley

Augmented Canberra

Prohibition + Wheat + Architecture

Annabel took a deep breath and walked through the automatic doors and into the Nishi Gallery.

She still wasn’t sure what she was doing here.

Upon entering, her premonitions about how the evening would begin immediately became true. She was confronted with a sea of unknown faces, all confident, attractive and smiling; a gaggle of people happily chatting to one another. But not one of them appeared familiar.

She looked around for a waiter with a drinks tray, hoping a glass of something might instil in her the confidence to break into one of the thousand conversations that seemed to be happening around her. For a group of people who supposedly spent most of their time glued to computers and smartphones, they sure looked confident and adept at direct human to human contact.

But of course everyone would know everyone. This was the glitterati, or should that be the twitterati, of the Canberra social media scent. Well, the twitterati plus one Annabel Collins.

What was she doing here?

They had their thousands of twitter followers and Facebook friends, and amazing photography and beautifully written prose, or cool stories about what was about to happen in Canberra, or more likely, what had just happened in Canberra and she’d missed. All she had was her little cooking Blog, The Kitchen According to

‘Annabel?’ a voice behind her said.

She turned surprised.

‘Umm, yes?’ she replied, her voice just a inch too whiny for her liking.

‘I’m Nicole, from Visit Canberra, great you could make it.’

‘Thanks for inviting me to be part…of all this,’ Annabel replied, gesturing to the room around her.

‘Your blog is fantastic, and we’re thrilled to have you,’ Nicole replied. She leant in and whispered in Annabel’s ear.

‘We’re about to get started, but maybe later you could give me extra tips on that soufflé recipe. I’ve got a special dinner coming up for my partner.’

Annabel smiled and nodded. This woman wanted her help cooking. How awesome was that.

Nicole pulled back away from her ear, and it appeared with the wave of her hand, managed to materialise another human in front of her.

‘Ah, Patricia, have you met Annabel?’

Nicole put her arm around the new arrival, a tall girl with long brown hair, perhaps in her early twenties. She was simultaneously thin, glamorous and engaging.

Annabel suddenly felt every bit of her thirty-five years and three children.

‘You’re Annabel Collins, oh my goodness, I love your site. My kitchen is definitely inspired by yours. If I could cook half the things you do!’ Patricia said, smiling.

Patricia….Patricia. Annabel searched her memory for the connection. She had tried to read as much about the hundred people that were going to be here tonight.

At last it came to her.

‘Patricia Fashionista!’ she blurted out.

Patricia giggled.

‘Yep, that’s me.’

‘I hate to interrupt you two getting to know each other,’ Nicole chimed in. ‘But we are about to get started. And you might want to find a spot near the front. This is going to be very exciting.’

Right on cue, Annabel noticed several staff start to usher the audience towards a small stage that had been set up on the right hand side of the foyer, next to a door marked ‘Theatrette.’ Patricia grabbed her arm.

‘C’mon, let’s get a good spot.’ Annabel found herself being whisked to the front of the stage.

So much for a quiet drink in the corner she thought. She glanced behind her and saw that the majority of the crowd had gathered in a bunched semi-circle around the stage.

‘Ladies and Gentleman, thank you so much for coming to tonight’s event. I’ll be your host for this evening. My name is Ian Hill and I’m the Director of Visit Canberra.

‘We have gathered you all here as Canberra’s 101 most prominent social media users. As you know, part of your prize for being selected is a series of once-in-a-lifetime Canberra experiences.’

‘Those once-in-a-lifetime experiences begin tonight.’

A murmur of excitement was audible through the crowd.

‘And you will be doing us a favour. Tonight, we need you to be guinea pigs for a truly Canberra experience we have been working on for some time.’

Annabel felt her heart sink. Guinea pigs? That didn’t sound good at all. She longed to be back home with her recipe books and computer.

In contrast, Patricia was literally bursting with excitement next to her. She was holding tightly on to her hand and smiling profusely. Annabel tried to smile back.

‘Behind me is usually the Nishi Theatre. But tonight, and we hope for many years to come, it has been transformed into one of the most exciting tourism attractions in the country.’

‘Augmented Canberra.’

Excited whispers went through the crowd.

‘Now, I’m sure I don’t need to tell this crowd too much about augmented reality. It’s the technology that allows you through some computerised mechanism to see the world differently. You may have seen it around town with exhibitions utilising iPads,’ Ian continued.

‘But we have taken that a step further. Behind me, we have created the world’s first augmented reality room. Inside, we will be able to show visitors a completely different Canberra. What would happen if we didn’t have the open spaces policy? What would the city feel like with greater urban density?

‘We have a number of variables and settings we can change. Over the coming months and years, we will be presenting many different augmented versions of Canberra.’

‘But tonight, we need you to test our first Augmented Canberra. You will find out very quickly upon entering one or two of the things we have changed about this city. We need you to test for us, iron out the bugs and tell us how to improve it. Even though we are only in the testing phase we are very excited about it. ’

‘I don’t want to go on too long, as I’m hopeful you’ll all get a turn. And I’m hopeful, social media junkies that you all are, that I’ll be reading plenty about tonight on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and others tonight and tomorrow. So to begin the test, I just need two volunteers.’

Before Annabel could stop her, Patricia had thrust both her own, and Annabel’s arms into the air.

‘Us Ian, please us.’

Ian looked down at them and smiled.

‘I think we have our first guinea pigs. Give them a round of applause everyone.’

Before she knew it, Annabel was being dragged into the theatrette, amongst the noise of applause behind her and excited giggles of Patricia next to her. Abruptly, they were thrust into a dark room.

‘We’ll begin in a moment,’ Ian said as he closed the door. ‘It’s best if I don’t tell you too much otherwise it will spoil it. Oh, and don’t push the program too hard, particularly key characters. Otherwise it will crash the program and boot you out.’

And with that the door was closed and Annabel found herself alone with Patricia.

‘I thought with augmented reality you were supposed to wear glasses, or look through something like an iPad at what was in front of you.’ Patricia began nervously. ‘I saw this great exhibition on Canberra’s architecture and design history at the National Archives like that. You looked through the iPads at the pictures on the wall and the models and you saw the most amazing things on the iPad.’

At last Patricia stopped to take a breath. Before she could start again, Annabel interrupted.

‘Umm, I’m not really enjoying this. We’re standing in a completely black room.’

The lack of light in the room was particularly disconcerting. As far as Annabel could tell, there wasn’t a peep of light anywhere, not even under the doorway from which they came in. She wasn’t even sure from which direction they’d entered.

Suddenly bright light filled the room; except Annabel quickly realised the room wasn’t there anymore. As her eyes adjusted to the light, she realised she was standing on a grassy hill, overlooking a lake. Except, it wasn’t like any lake she had ever seen before. It certainly wasn’t Lake Burley Griffin.

Both she and Patricia stood there for some time coming to terms with their sudden transportation. It appeared as though they had been magically moved to some unknown city. Annabel could hear birds chirping, and a gentle lapping sound was coming from the water in front of them.

Patricia knelt down a felt a piece of grass.

‘It feels real,’ she said, smiling up at Annabel.

If this truly was a computer program, it was very impressive.

Annabel was thinking about walking towards the water and feeling how realistic it was, when her attention was drawn to a bridge in the distance.

‘Is that, the Sydney Harbour Bridge?’

Patricia stood up and looked in the direction Annabel was pointing.

‘If it is, is looks like it’s shrunk?’

‘Maybe this is one of the glitches in the computer program?’ Annabel said. ‘They’ve put us in augmented Sydney, or perhaps some bits of Sydney have been transposed here?’

‘Hey, excuse me!’

Patricia had apparently noticed a man running past in a suit.

‘I’m sorry, I’m late for the train!’ he called.

Train? There were no trains in Canberra, Annabel thought.

Patricia began to chase after him.

‘I just need to ask you one thing…’ she began.

‘Wait,’ Annabel called out. ‘Shouldn’t we stay in this area until we figure out how to get back to the room?’

But it was too late, Patricia had started chasing the suited man down a busy street that Annabel could now see ran adjacent to the lake. She sighed and started to follow, trying to ignore the embarrassing realisation that she and another grown woman were apparently chasing a computer generated person down a computer generated street.

As she jogged after them, she started to examine the buildings around her. Again, this was not the Canberra architecture of her memories. It looks more like a large English village. The buildings were grey and Georgian in character. There was very little tress or vegetation, or what she could see was not the gums of the ‘bush capital’, but appeared to be dark green introduced species. She recognised English Oaks amongst them.

In front of her, Patricia had caught up to the suited man.

‘Where are we?’ she asked abruptly.

The man smiled, but continued jogging.

‘Canberra, of course. In Australia? The Capital.’

Patricia glanced back at Annabel, raising an eyebrow.

‘Ah, of course. Then umm, that’s not the Sydney Harbour Bridge then.’

The man laughed out loud.

‘You sound like you have an Australian accent, but that’s the sort of thing the international tourists say; well, the few we get here. That bridge was actually built well before the one in Sydney. But if you want to know more, why don’t you visit the Canberra Museum? But now, I really must go.’

The man had arrived at the end of the road, and was making his way inside a large building.

‘Where’s that?’ Patricia called after him.

‘In the Canberra Monument – you can’t miss it,’ he called, disappearing inside while gesturing behind them.

They turned, and both women’s mouths opened wide. Behind them stood a tall obelisk shaped monument. Annabel couldn’t believe they’d missed it. It dominated the landscape.

‘It looks like the one in Washington,’ Patricia suggested.

‘And now you mention it, that huge building on the hill next to it looks a little like the Capitol building in Washington too,’ Annabel replied.

‘I’m guessing that’s Parliament House.’

‘Well, let’s head for that monument and see exactly what this augmented Canberra is all about.’

As they walked together, Annabel had to remind herself that she was inside some sort of computer program. The reality of the things around her was amazing. Although the illusion was slightly undermined by the few people she had seen. A few other young men and women in suits bustled passed them, but not the amount of traffic she would expect on work day in her Canberra.

The street took them directly to the door of the monument, which was even more imposing up close. Inside they found an interactive display on the history of Canberra and nearby a door marked “theatre”.

‘Maybe that will take us back to our Canberra?’ Annabel said hopefully.

‘I don’t know,’ Patricia replied. ‘I’m quite enjoying this.’

Through the theatre door they found a small room, much tinier than the one back in the Nishi Building, with twelve chairs laid out around a small screen. The movie had already begun, although the room was empty. They sat down and started to watch.

‘…confronted with conflicting recommendations from the panel, O’Malley decided to go with the minority report of Coane and chose the architectural design of Griffiths, Coulter and Caswell, rather than the majority recommendation of Walter Burley Griffin.

And so the practical city of Canberra was therefore constructed around the banks of Lake GCC. The features of the design included a significant parliament building, located on Camp Hill, surrounded by departmental buildings. The design has the advantage of a competent plan for sewerage and stormwater disposal, and was inspired by the cities and towns of England. The Canberra Monument, atop Kurrajong Hill, where you are now seated was also a prominent feature. Canberra’s design is all about functionality, with direct routes between key areas and a focus on amenities such as railway stations. The city has stayed within its intended population of 35,000.

O’Malley’s decision was not without controversy and the O’Malley families influence over Canberra would only grow in the subsequent years.

Annabel had seen enough. She knew now why the city was so different. It was a completely different design. But she was feeling a bit overawed, and severely homesick.

‘I think I need a drink and then let’s find our way home.’

She stood up. For her part, Patricia still seemed to be thriving in this alternate universe, but she smiled and followed.

Outside they found signs to Coulter’s which appeared to be a restaurant within the complex. After turning down a few corridors, they found the dining room. Annabel approached the counter.

‘I’ll have a ham sandwich and whatever bottled of beer you have,’ she asked the girl behind the counter.

The girl smiled. Annabel noticed that everyone in this computer generated world appeared to find them amusing.

‘This is Canberra. I can’t sell you beer, it’s illegal.’

‘Illegal?’ Annabel asked confused.

‘There’s only been prohibition here since 1930.’

‘Alright, how about a ham sandwich. Is that illegal?’

‘Not at all, here you go.’

The girl opened a fridge next to the counter and produced a wrapped sandwich.

‘That will be $45.50 please.’

Annabel gasped.

‘Excuse me. $50 for a sandwich?’

‘Well, $45.50 to be exact,’ the girl replied. ‘You aren’t from around here, are you? There is a wheat tax in the ACT. All wheat related foods are subject to a 200% mark up. I can get you a salad.’

‘How much is that?’ Annabel asked, with a concerned look on her face.

‘$8.90’

‘Sold,’ Annabel replied.

‘And one for me too please,’ Patricia piped in.

‘Jeez,’ Annabel whispered. ‘Who runs this place – no booze and the world’s most expensive bread?’

‘O’Malley,’ the girl behind the counter said. She had obviously overheard.

‘O’Malley?’ Patricia asked.

‘Well, O’Malleys to be precise. O’Malleys have run Canberra since forever. First as part of the Commonwealth, and really ever since self-government. James O’Malley was returned at the election on the weekend. Record margin. It’s his third term,’ she said, matter of factly. ‘Here are your salads.’

Annabel and Patricia took their salads and sat down. Annabel was famished and was half way through hers before she realised she was consuming a bowl of bits and bytes. Or was it 0s and 1s? At any rate, it tasted quite good.

‘What do you think masterchef?’ Patricia asked.

‘It’s actually pretty good,’ Annabel said absent-mindedly. She was focussing on what Ian had said. Something about key figures and the program.

‘Look, I don’t know about you, but I want to go home, to my Canberra. What did Ian say about crashing the program?’

Patricia nodded.

‘Yeah, this place is grating on me too. Something about key figures.’

‘Yep, and pushing them too hard. I reckon we go confront this O’Malley character. He must be a key figure. Let’s see if we can push his buttons – literally – and bring this puppy down.

Patricia nodded and smiled.

‘You’re on.’

On the way out, the girls asked the waitress for directions to the Assembly, which was incredibly only two blocks away on the same street.

‘This place really is laid out for convenience,’ Patricia said.

‘Yeah, but there is no one around to walk these direct routes,’ Annabel replied.

A short time later, they arrived at the ACT Legislative Assembly, which was housed in a brown brick building with a green roof. It was the first building that reminded Annabel of her Canberra, because while not as grand, it appeared similar to the War Memorial.

As they entered the foyer, she reminded herself she was in a computer program. They approached a counter, behind which stood a security guard.

‘We’re here to see Mr O’Malley,’ Annabel began.

‘He’s the Chief Minister,’ Patricia chimed in.

The security guard smiled.

‘Right, I’ll let his office know you’re here. And you are?’

Annabel noticed his eyes drift upwards as he talked. She looked behind her and saw the building had a second, mezzanine floor. The security guard’s eyes had flicked towards a large brown door in the middle of the landing. Annabel could just make out the words “Chief Minister”.

‘That’s ok, we’ll go up and see him ourselves.’

And with that Annabel grabbed Patricia’s arm and ran through a metal detector, which beeped loudly as they went through. She pulled Patricia up the stairs as a commotion broke out behind her. She thought she heard several male voices call for them to stop.

At the top of the stairs, she sprinted towards the brown door and burst inside, to discover an ante room with a man sitting behind a desk. Was this the Chief Minister?

Annabel scanned his face up and down. He appeared to be in his early twenties, and didn’t fit the profile of a three-term politician.

‘Can I help you ladies?’ he asked politely.

Annabel looked around the room. There was a door to the left – that had to be his office. Still pulling Patricia by the arm, she opened it and burst into a much larger office, complete with a meeting table, several bookcases and an ornate desk at one end. Behind it sat a middle-aged man, who stood as they entered.

‘Mr O’Malley,’ came the voice of the office boy behind them. ‘I’m sorry sir, they just burst in.’

‘We’re here to debate you on your city sir,’ Annabel said. ‘We’re from….the Walter Burley Griffin Society.’

The man smiled.

‘It’s ok Phillip, let them have their say. This is a democracy after all. Please close the door as you leave.’

The man came around the other side of the desk and indicated for the women to sit down.

‘What can I do for you ladies?

The man had a bushy beard and curly brown hair. If the logo of the Irish Pub back in her Canberra was accurate, this man had an uncanny resemblance to his forebear.

Annabel realised she was desperately out of breath. She collapsed into a nearby chair. She suddenly felt a pang of guilat at how rude she had been to pull Patricia with her, but as she turned to the younger girl, she discovered a face full of excitement and wonder.

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you sir,’ Patricia said. ‘But we have some important issues to raise with you.’

‘Certainly,’ O’Malley said, gesturing for them to continue.

Annabel took a deep breath.

‘Firstly, what’s with this prohibition nonsense? What’s wrong with a drink in moderation?’

‘Alcohol consumption has been banned in Canberra since the days of my great, great, great Uncle King O’Malley. It’s what makes the place unique.’

‘Research shows that…’ Annabel began.

‘I don’t believe that research,’ O’Malley said, cutting her off.

‘I’ll tell you what’s unique,’ Annabel said, barely pausing for breath. ‘$45.00 for a sandwich!’

‘Same issue I’m afraid,’ O’Malley continued. ‘We can’t have people making moonshine out of wheat, hence the wheat tax.’

While not satisfied with either of these answers, Annabel realised she hadn’t ruffled the politician at all. She was supposed to upset him if she was going to crash the program.

She scanned her memories of her visit so far.

‘Where is everyone?’ Patricia asked.

‘What do you mean? There is a thriving community of 30,000 people here.’

‘Thirty-thousand! This area could sustain Three hundred thousand,’ Patricia replied.

‘I doubt it,’ O’Mallley said, still smiling, although it looked a little forced now.

‘What do people here do?’ Patricia asked.

Again, the smile faded slightly. She’s on to something, thought Annabel, it’s something to do with the people.

‘Work for the Government, largely,’ O’Malley replied, still trying to smile.

‘What about industry, or tourism?’ Annabel asked.

‘We don’t need industry. We’re a small, practical, happy computer of our own. This is the national capital, we don’t need to promote tourism. People know we’re here, know about the institutions we have. They come.’

‘But they don’t stay, obviously,’ Patricia added.

‘Perhaps we don’t want them to,’ O’Malley replied. The smile had almost turned into a grimace.

Annabel thought about all the suited people she had seen today. And then it hit her.

‘Where are all the old people? And the children? And the sick?’ she asked

O’Malley’s smile was now completely gone, and for a moment, Annabel thought she noticed the lights flicker.

‘We have schools and hospitals here,’ he replied, grimly.

‘How big are they?’

‘Big enough.’

‘Big enough for who?’ Patricia asked

O’Malley met her gaze.

‘Big enough for those that afford to pay for them.’

Annabel peered at O’Malley suspiciously.

‘You don’t contribute to anything, do you?’

O’Malley stared at her, pure hate in his eyes. As he did so, she again notice the lights flicker. And for a moment, she swore O’Malley had gone out of focus.

‘I don’t know where you have come from ladies, but we don’t appreciate your type around here. We are a city designed and built on practicalities. A functional place where functional people do functional things. If you are no longer functional, you’re no longer welcome.’

‘So you don’t pay for hospitals, or schools, or making sure this is a fair place to live.’

‘I’m the Government,’ O’Malley continued. ‘It’s not my job to pay for those things.’

Annabel was having trouble focussing on him as his body was now noticeably moving out of focus and shape.

‘It’s working’ Patricia whispered.

‘What about the rights of the aged, or children, or people with a disability to have a fair go. What about ensuring everyone gets a wonderful education, so they reach their potential and can contribute meaningfully to society,’ Annabel continued.

‘We don’t use the word ‘rights’ here, Miss. The age of entitlement ended here long ago. This is a place where you pay your fair share for the good of everyone, or you leave.’

‘That is Canberra.’

While she knew this was a computer simulation in front of her, something about this man severely irritated Annabel. On some level, she knew she had to confront him to break out of this dystopia. But on another, she really wanted to tell him what she thought.

‘I want a Canberra where the public transport system might be inefficient because of the way the city is laid out, but people care whether everyone can see a doctor, regardless of how much money they have.’

Her voice was raised now, and full of emotion. She stood up and peered down at this small, bearded man, whose outline was now almost impossible to make out. What she could see of his face revealed a look of complete contempt.

‘I want a Canberra where you can choose to send your child to a well resourced public school, full of passionate teachers and engaged students.’

Patricia stood up next to her.

‘Me too! I want a Canberra where tourism money is spent on innovative projects that seek to engage social media users!’

Annabel smiled at her and continued.

‘I want a Canberra where the Government actually cares about a person’s ability to contribute, or thinks about why some people are having trouble finding a job, or caring for their family, or living with their disability, instead of just vocalising some catch phrase they think will convince everyone it’s okay to ask the poorest to pay the most the most. Where ‘rights’ aren’t a duty word, but an acknowledgement that the Government needs to think about some basic principles before it acts and that one of the most important is equality, whether that’s equality of marriage, or opportunity or “entitlement”’

‘And sure, that Canberra might have one too many roundabouts, or legalise questionable adult products, and maybe we spend a little too much time debating progressive social policy. But that’s what I love about the place.’

‘Most of all I want a Canberra, where, once in a while, when I’m having a bad day, I CAN GET A SANDWICH AND SOMETHING TO DRINK!’

Suddenly O’Malley, the room, and everything around them disappeared. They were again plunged into darkness. After a moment or two, light flooded the room as a nearby door was opened.

‘Ah ladies, you’re finished. How did you find it?’ Ian asked, peering his head around the door.

The women looked at each other, speechless.

‘Never mind, save your words. You’re just in time to see the Chief Minister, who would really like to hear your impressions.’ Ian continued.

‘Actually, could we have a minute to compose ourselves,’ Annabel replied.

‘Yeah, that was pretty full on,’ Patricia added.

‘And I could really do with a beer,’ Annabel concluded.

Ian laughed nervously.

‘Oh yes, good one. Just come up and introduce yourselves when you’re ready. He’s just in the CCG room grabbing a bite.’

Ian moved as if to leave, but then thought better of it and again turned his attention to the women.

‘But, as you know ladies, we can only serve sparkling water here.’

And the lights flickered once more.

 

Photo of design entry from Griffiths, Coulter and Caswell above courtesy of National Archives of Australia: A710, 22

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