ACT News


Treemendous, Legolads

Because on Wednesday morning most of Australia seemed to have converged on the small Wanniassa living room of Mel Bezear, Anthony McLauchlan and their son Oliver McLauchlan (9), someone wondered aloud, ''Where's Julia [Gillard]?''

Certainly the battling Prime Minister would have found lots of voters to woo, because as well as the householders there were press galore and Lego employees galore, all gathered around the focus of our devotions, a 2 x 1.5m Christmas tree made from 50,000 Lego pieces.

Not that we needed a celebrity from the world of politics when, instead, we had a celebrity from the world of Lego. Lego's affable Ryan McNaught, presiding over Wednesday's event and wearing a Santa hat, turned out to be one of only 13 Certified LEGO Professionals in the world. More exciting still, he is the only one in the southern hemisphere. And he was there! With us! In Wanniassa!

What was going on, he explained, is that Lego has been holding a year-long, 50th anniversary Festival of Play celebration. The last activity of that year has been the Big Build competition which saw Lego invite Australians to tell McNaught and Lego what they would build if they had 50,000 green Lego bricks. The prize was the 50,000 fragments, built by maestro McNaught into whatever they, the winner, had imagined.

Bezear and the McLauchlans (they admit, laughing, to having a bit of a Lego fixation) won the BIG Build with their suggestion of a Christmas tree, and on Wednesday morning McNaught came from Melbourne to re-erect the giant tree in their living room. Previously, he explained, he had spent 82 hours creating and making the tree on Lego premises in Melbourne, then packing it into a kind of kit form to bring to Canberra. On Wednesday it took him about two hours to reassemble it, with young Oliver McLauchlan's help. To Oliver fell the honour, standing on a chair, of putting the Lego star on top of the Lego tree.

When I asked Mel Bezear which of them was the biggest Lego fanatic in the house she pointed to ''Him. The big one.'' This meant Anthony McLauchlan, who with justifiable pride showed off to me a compact and fabulously detailed green Lego structure part-building (imagine a stubby pyramid) and part-Christmas tree. Size isn't everything and some would think this exquisite creation more interesting than the giant tree holding the focus of the masses in the room. New details kept emerging the more one ogled it. For example, it turned out to be all held up by the muscular arms of a green Lego Incredible Hulk. At its peak, in a kind of penthouse, was a Lego Father Christmas. Dangling over this was a huge, shudder-making Lego spider that, he showed me with enthusiasm, even had articulated legs. Nearby, yellow Lego kangaroos bounced along the top of a sideboard


For a man of his eminence Ryan McNaught was very approachable when asked how he became a Certified LEGO Professional and what his craft entails.

Surely, I challenged him, we can all build things out of Lego? What first made the Lego empire think you are the bee's knees? What do you do that no one else in the hemisphere can do?

''I think the piece that got my foot in the door with Lego, so to speak, was when I built a replica of the A380 double-decker Airbus. Except that I took it to the next level. I filled it with robotic figures and gave it a wheel that came down and an engine that would spin and cargo doors that would open.''

His working year, he explains, sees him designing and constructing big Lego objects to display in, say, giant department stores, but also beetling around Australia, often to remote, places to go to schools and build Lego things before their very eyes. He loves his work, and in conversation sounded as if it gives him much more satisfaction than Julia, Wednesday's absent celebrity, gets from hers.

Pictures of a pretty but vacant metropolis

Is it a pretty Chernobyl? No, it's Canberra!

A discerning Ainslie reader points to the annual outrage of the scenic-Canberra calendars that go on sale at this time of year. The biggest and glossiest disparage us as a city that's all monumental buildings and places and no people.

''I've just bought a 'Scenic Canberra' calendar to send to an old aunt back in UK'', our aghast correspondent writes.

''The photographer has gone out of his or her way to capture regular Canberra locales - but (except for the cover) without a single person, rower, gardener etc in sight. Looks like the place has been abandoned! I'm sure out-of-ACT people think of Canberra as a barren wasteland (nicely mowed) from the images/publications.''

Yes, this happens every year. The Canberra portrayed is a Chernobyl Canberra from which all people have fled.

Doing some research shopping yesterday your columnist picked up a ''Scenic Canberra'' calendar produced by David Messent Photography, and the Steve Parish ''Canberra'', an annual offender. You struggle to find a living soul in either.

At a time - 2013's centenary is looming - when we're worried about what the nation and the world think of us and when the pugnaciously pro-Canberra Robyn Archer is raging for a better deal for us it's surely time to give the makers of these calendars a teeth-rattling wake-up call. I've tried before without success - what is this ''power of the press'' people imagine? - and am trying again to contact them. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, because boycotting is such fun, why not boycott their lazily and unimaginatively compiled, postcardy products? Gang-gang invites anyone who knows of alternative, more truly Canberraesque calendars, not necessarily with pictures but perhaps exhibiting Canberra spirit, fitting to send to our old aunts everywhere in the world.