Sydney talks

The University of Western Sydney talk went well, eventually. Things started to go wrong at the airport, when the first plane I was on had a fuel leak and was cancelled. Then the second, rebooked, flight was delayed. Then the computer system for Qantas crashed and they had to do everything by hand – long paper lists and ticking off names. This flight departed an hour late; and it was already a later flight. So I arrived in Sydney at about 1.10pm, when it should have been two hours before. UWS is, as the name suggests, quite a way to the west of Sydney, and the taxi driver wasn’t convinced it was UWS and not University of Sydney. It was, I insisted. I gave him the address, for the Parramatta campus, but it didn’t have a street number, and his GPS wouldn’t accept it. Eventually I convinced him to head to Parramatta and we’d find it when there. He then discovered the seminar was 2pm and I was the speaker. He assured me it would only take 20 minutes. “What is the talk about?” “Geography”, was my immediate answer. “Ah”, he said, “what’s the capital of Algeria?” Fortunately I passed this little geography test, and he just about muddled through his own, getting me to UWS about 2 minutes to 2pm. A slightly anxious group were waiting for me – I had of course phoned ahead to say I was on my way and would get there. “Was I ready to go?”

We get to the room and there are computer problems. They can’t get the laptop and the projector to recognise each other. Okay, I’ll start without and pick it up when you get it working. I am always ready to speak without the technical stuff working (past experiences of seeing other people’s talks fall apart when this happens), but the talk is quite quote-heavy and it helps the audience. Anyway, about 5 minutes in it seems to be working and the tech people leave; then it crashes and won’t go forward or back. So again I go back to working without slides, while someone is called to fix this new problem. A new laptop is brought in and plugged in and set up while I’m still talking and then I get back in sync. The new setup still doesn’t allow me to see what’s on the screen behind me (we couldn’t get it to be on both the laptop screen and the projector, and I was done with messing at this point). For the last 25 minutes or so it looked to be working okay from the audience side, but was still a bit of a challenge for me.

The questions were, for me, the best bit. This really is the point of giving talks – I don’t understand people who speak for almost all of the allotted time and then answer 1 or 2 questions with long rambling answers. I want to have a bit of a debate, and hear what people make of the work. So there were good questions about indigeneous issues; the relation between the political-legal and political-technical; textual issues of language and philology; property rights in Rome; and some I’m sure I’ve forgotten. It seemed to go down well, but nothing like travel delays and computer malfunctions to keep you on your toes…

Compared to that, the University of New South Wales talk was straight-forward. Of course, no talk should ever be simple, and there were a few differences between the talks. Because I was speaking to law scholars I said a bit more about Roman law, and because the ‘Land, Terrain, Territory’ paper had been pre-circulated I was able to speed over some of the conceptual stuff to spend a little more time on the historical detail. The set-up of the room again meant I couldn’t see the the powerpoint in front of me – I hate turning around to read quotes off the screen which means having your back to the audience – so I was forced to use a printout as a prompt. Note to computer people – put the technical stuff, and a screen, in front of the speaker; that way they can fix stuff and read from the screen while still looking at the audience. Anyway.

The questions were good, and varied. Extra-territorial sites; the notion of terroir and wine-growing; Jean Bodin; Burgundy (the region this time, not the wine); a little on Foucault; contemporary relevance of this; and a very nice closing question about how I ended up in Geography…

Thanks to everyone who made these visits happen – Greg, Brett, Ruth and Kay at UWS; and Ben at UNSW. Now back in Canberra – next talk in Tasmania in 10 days time.

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