There is something overwhelming about arriving in a city after time on the road. The crowds and sights are overwhelming, the amenities and choice a luxury. It also is a chance to collect all those thoughts your mind wanders on the road. As a result I spent the afternoon recuperating. Come nightfall, Roberto and I went to explore the Christmas lights and having been recommended the light show on the town hall we ambled along. It surpassed my expectation, the town hall illuminated with moving images as Santa and his elves moved through Melbourne, China, Japan, Italy and France, restarting their journey every 15 minutes. It was the first taste of Christmas, the trees, lights and music. We walked through Bourke Street mall which was filled with live music and arts plus stacks of people queuing for the apparently famous Myer Christmas window display. Already I loved Melbourne and it’s relaxed but alive feel.
I set out early to explore the shops which peel off each and every road. An abundance of choice for shopaholics. At 11am a tour met at the State library to explore the city. Outside the Museum stood a statue of Sir Redmond Barry, first governor of Melbourne and also the judge who sentenced notorious Ned Kelly to death. Barry pronounced Kelly, ‘May The Lord have mercy on your soul’ to which Kelly replied ‘I’ll go one better than that, I’ll see you there!’ 12 days later Barry was dead.
We walked from here to the old Melbourne gaol where Kelly was held until his execution, and along to Parliament House. Built in 1856 this building was of the gold rush era.
In 1803 a group of convicts and settlers arrived nearby Melbourne’s current sight however they abandoned the spot and moved on to settle Hobart due to difficult conditions. Later, John Batman bought the area, a huge expanse of land from the aboriginal people, many suspect they didn’t know what was going on when they traded in return of blankets and a few other items. Sydney refused to recognise Melbourne as the trade should have been disallowed, the main objection being the aboriginals
couldn’t sell the land because it belonged to the crown! However as Melbourne began to grow with settlers they saw it flourishing and dignified it. It was nearly called Batmania! Victoria gained independence from New South Wales in 1851, followed shortly by the announcement gold had been found nearby. This deceit may be the beginning of the Melbourne/Sydney rivalry! The gold rush followed as immigrants from around the world flooded in. Gold was being spent as if there was an inexhaustible supply and many grand buildings stand around the city as a result. As the gold ran out the area crashed and many left the area. Melbourne experienced a second boom known as the Marvellous Melbourne era as the parents of gold boom settlers inherited trust funds and began spending it. This era has it’s own distinctive style. Melbourne hosted the world fair in 1880 and the exhibition hall still stands surrounded by beautiful gardens at the top of the city.
Melbourne also temporarily had the nickname ‘Smellbourne’ as waste and sewage was tipped into the Yarra river which runs through the city. The name Yarra is an aboriginal term however represents an early miscommunication as Yarra literally means water, Yarra Yarra, lots of water. When Europeans asked the name of the river the reply would have been ‘lots of water’ or river, however the mistake stuck!
Melbourne and Sydney’s rivalry has always been a perceived hot topic as they compete for population and world status, hence the capital Canberra sitting between the two. In 1956, Melbourne hosted the Olympics and this was the year the design for the iconic Sydney opera house was announced.
Another well known side of Melbourne is it’s street art, areas set aside for legal graffiti. Pieces here last depending on quality, normally about three months shelf life for a good piece before it gets replaced. These little lane ways smell pungently of spray paint.
After the tour, my new friend Chelsea and I headed back to the state library to learn more about Ned Kelly where his armour is on display. The library also had a great exhibition named Bohemian Melbourne which looked at the trendsetters of Melbourne’s hipster, alternative population.
After a great day in the CBD, I began my journey laden with bags to my new hostel across town on Chapel street. The place had been recommended to me as small but welcoming and indeed it felt more like a student halls than a hostel. Into the evening everyone sat socialising on the porch, I felt very welcome!
The friendly feel of my hostel was counterproductive to an early start exploring the city. It was a relaxed and sociable event to get breakfast and sit on the porch chatting. Late morning I met a friend from Alice Springs in the laneway cafés for a coffee. It’s easy to get lost finding the atmospheric spot with fashionable melbournites scouting out espressos.
We walked through the city past the old city baths, an alternative to bathing in the smelly Yarra, to Victoria Markets. The smell of mingling fish and meat was unappetising. The booths of food sellers stocking Christmas goodies. We continued our stroll to Docklands, an area which didn’t seen to fit with the rest of the city, more modern but nonetheless clean cut and fashionable. After an explore we caught the old fashioned tram 35 back to Flinders street station.
I met Chelsea and we walked into hipster suburb Fitzroy. It used to be considered outskirts but has since been absorbed into the city, whilst retaining its grungy and alternative feel. Here impressive street art marks every wall, a chance to express its individuality. We whiled away a pleasant afternoon ducking in and out of book shops, antique shops and passing impressive window displays where people had transformed old warehouses. By the time I returned to my hostel I was walked out!
My hostel was also outside of the CBD and Chapel street had its own character, also full of shopping. I joined a few other housemates to buy food for the Christmas lunch we would prepare, then set out alone to treat myself to a few Christmas presents replacing the worn out clothes in my backpack with new beach clobber. You could spend a lifetime appreciating Melbourne’s little coffee stops and quaint cafés tucked down little paths and this street was no different.
In the afternoon, it being Christmas Eve, I visited the St Paul’s cathedral for the children’s nativity. The audience was a mix of families, visitors and passers by who were quite unaware of what was going on. It was quite unintentionally hilarious as the innkeeper kept forgetting to slam the door and being surprised by the sound effect. As the vicar asked the children a question, a little boy put his hand up and said ‘I like paper’ to which she tactfully replied ‘I like paper too, I have some in my office.’ The nativity story and a few carols later it felt a bit festive, we were all invited to take a selfie with the cast.
The hostel was also a buzz with Christmassy excitement and as evening emerged the drinks began. We socialised on the porch until the strike of midnight when we gathered around the tree to unwrap our secret Santa presents. My gift was a mug, very useful in a hostel which doesn’t provide crockery but a far cry from the long afternoons spent unwrapping presents back home. We all headed out on chapel street until the early hours of Christmas morning.
Day 471 – Christmas Day
It wasn’t the usual early start Christmas morning but when we did awake it was to the smell of bacon filling the hostel. Vince, our resident French chef cooked up a storm of bacon and eggs, pancakes, yogurt and fruit.
Slowly we got ready and made our way to Brighton Beach after midday. The hostel was small, around 40 people staying, most long term which added to the family vibe. Bobby worked for a furniture removals firm and had used his van to go scouting several sofas, mattresses, futons and even a table which had been discarded. We met him at the beach and like ants, carried our new mock living room onto the sand. Vince later arrived with our roast, turkey, chickens, spuds and veg, followed by two trays of chocolate brownie. We were the new Melbourne tourist attraction as people photographed the many nationalities feasting together on the sand. It was a relaxed day of eating, drinking, swimming and laughing!
Back at the hostel a Christmas movie was played and we dropped like flies, asleep on the sofa after a most unconventional Christmas Day!
I met Jo from my roadtrip in Melbourne to compare our Christmases and do what we do best, gorge on food. We had lunch in a laneway, drawn in by an over enthusiastic waiter, followed by tea and cake to celebrate our Englishness when it comes to sweet treats. Being Boxing Day, the walk through town was wading through a sea of people, fighting and queuing for a glimpse at those sale bargains. After a great catch up I said goodbye to Jo under the clocks of flinders street station as she set off for the bright lights of Sydney.
I spent my afternoon in the Australian Centre of the Moving Image. The fascinating exhibition took a journey from the first peep shows of Paris where punters would pay to watch a short risqué clip of a man flexing his muscles or a woman riding a bicycle, right through to current day and the memes which take the internet by storm. There displayed Australian actors and set pieces from ‘Australia’ and mad max. I spent a few hours watching myself turn into a flip book and making my own movie.
Outside the museum in Federation square, their is life day or night. The Boxing Day test match just along the river at the MCG stadium was being played on the big screen and people were sitting around on deckchairs, city centre, nursing a beer. Such is Melbourne.
On another sunny Melbourne morning, Africa friends Mark and Anna picked me up to visit another section of Melbourne’s coast, St Kilda. We took a walk out to sea along the pier which had an impressive view back towards the imposing skyline, yachts parked up to either side and paddle boarders in motion.
St Kilda is a fascinating mix of beautiful seaside, fashionable eateries and old fashioned seaside feel. We walked past Luna Park, the seaside theme park with famous painted gate, to where high street meets beach and had lunch in the sun.
Melbourne’s culture revolves around the arts, sports and theatre. Having visited a museum or two and caught some Boxing Day test match cricket on the big screen, I was looking forward to catching a musical while I was in town. I had bought a cheap ticket to ‘Once’ and we raced to get me to the matinee performance on time. The new musical was a love story set in Dublin. Less dancing, more instruments and incredible acoustics, unusually all the actors on stage at one time, either in light or hidden in shadow.
After the musical, my friends collected me and we went to dinner in an Asian mess hall in Brunswick. That is something Australia truly is spoilt for, good Asian food. We had a great meal and catch up post African adventure.
Mark, Anna and Jo dropped me and my mounting luggage at the port to catch the Spirit of Tasmania, my overnight passage to Tasmania. Despite arriving before checkout closed, I was the penultimate passenger onboard. Even the staff seemed slightly bemused of passengers choosing the sea passage over flying.
My first friendly Tasmanian friend was a girl named Alex, petite and blonde, shy and polite, she suddenly revealed to me she was serving in the Australian army and had been to Afghanistan. Her stories fascinated me and I quizzed her more and more. She was probably too polite to tell me to mind my own business!
Next, Tasmania, my 5th Australian State.