Sunday, 29 March 2009

Phillip Island: The Child Within

Where is a handy niece or nephew when you want a good reason to indulge your inner child?

But let me backtrack. I’ve been visiting Phillip Island over the past few days. The island, southeast of Melbourne in Western Port Bay, has long been a summer playground for the city’s inhabitants.

As a result, it still has some of the aura of holidays past about it - numerous fish and chip shops, gaudy mismatched architecture, and classic old pubs like the Isle of Wight.

To be fair, it also has promising signs of the 21st century along its streets, including some excellent modern restaurants and wellness services such as massage. But what most intrigued me were the attractions that caught my imagination and reminded me of the fun of being a child.

Foremost among them were the interiors of the A Maze’n Things. As the name suggests, this attraction's chief element is a large maze, but the outdoor timber construction is hardly as interesting as the rooms of puzzles that lead up to it. They’re an interesting mix of old and new approaches, both electronic and manual.

I particularly liked the model train layout which consisted of a large-scale projection of two virtual trains onto a hilly layout. The trains are controlled by large real-life levers, with the implicit invitation to try to make them crash (a little anarchy that made me laugh).

But what really interested me was the so-called Gravity Room. Its floor is set on an angle, and various objects within it appear to slope uphill: a pool table, kitchen sink, and a fish tank. However, they’re all actually sloping downhill, as proven by rolling a ball along the pool table or watching the water in the sink apparently flowing upwards as it spills over.

It was baffling - although I knew it must be an illusion, I just couldn’t force my mind to correct the visuals, even when I saw Narrelle leaning at a distinct angle while actually standing upright.

Even more amazing: while my brain was thoroughly fooled, my body wasn’t. When I turned on my camera to take a photo of the fish tank, I instinctively held it so that I could see through the viewscreen that the tank was indeed level, not on the weird tipped angle my eyes couldn’t shake.

It was, even without a handy nephew in tow, fascinating. You might even say I saw Phillip Island from a new angle.

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Destination Phillip Island.