I left Perth at 7pm after an all day movie marathon and landed in Melbourne 9 hours later, at 7am (Melbourne is 3 hours ahead) having had no sleep on the cramped Jet Star plane. With the addition of a skateboard strapped to the front, my bag had gained an advisory label in customs warning baggage handlers to bend their knees as it was so heavy! Somehow it’s gained 6kg since I flew out! If people trained to lift bags for a living were being warned about my monster of a bag how was I meant to haul it through Melbourne? I struggled if I had to lift two puppies at a time back in Manji! Luckily, for $18, the Skybus and its hotel shuttle would take me from the airport doors to my hostel door (Discovery Melbourne) where the gallant Mike awaited with the offer to take over the burden; seeing there were no stairs, just elevators, I seized the opportunity to show off my new rural toughness and carried it the harrowing few metres myself.
Discovery is in the dirty bowels of Melbourne CBD, surrounded by high rise building sites plastered with slogans promising design to outcompete. Suburban York is the closest I’ve ever come to city living, so the lack of greenery, constant onslaught of noise and tourists wandering infuriatingly slowly along every road, is beginning to wear my patience thin after a week. Even so, I’m loving the fast pace of life in a city where there’s always something to occupy your waking hours. Flagstaff Gardens is close enough to supply an easy antidote to the claustrophobic upwards urban sprawl of the glass skyscrapers that drape themselves in an uneasy mimic of the expansive blue skies into which they intrude.
Mike has been my own personal tour guide since I arrived, fuelled on the free toast and jam Discovery offers. We loaded up my myki card (required for buses, trams and trains within Melbourne, they can be bought for $6 and topped up at any 7/11) and headed straight for St Kilda beach once I had showered away all residual WA germs and dust. The beach isn’t the most pristine but with the sun beating down I happily sprawled out for a few hours sunbathing and a well needed nap amongst the other tourists enjoying the last of the summer sun.
The Lunar Park by the entrance to the beach looks intriguing, but with an expensive reputation will have to wait until I’ve got a job and some more income. I settled for the thrill of an ice cream instead. 10,600 miles away from Randwick (home) and who should hand the cone over the counter to me but the little sister of one of my best primary school friends, a primary school of around 80 students in total; it really is a small world! Not knowing Ellie was in Australia and slightly dazed still from my lack of sleep, I didn’t manage to actually acknowledge our acquaintance but a message from her sister later in the day confirmed it was her!
A jetty juts out seawards from the opposite end of the beach to the Lunar Park, we navigated the mayhem of unmanned fishing rods and dozing fishermen to the coffee shop at the jetties end, for a stepped back view of beach fronted Melbourne; hazy mirrored buildings stained blue by the clear skies, much softer on the eye from this distance. Something was bobbing amid the thin wire fishing lines. Not really knowing what type of sea life they have down here I couldn’t make out what it was, maybe just some filthy rubbish? It was not what I had expected at all, a tiny penguin, bobbing along on the waves on the wrong side of the sea break which shelters a protected colony. They are meant to swim out towards the open ocean but this one had apparently become lost, seemingly for my viewing pleasure; wild dolphins and now wild penguins! Not feeling he was in any danger and not sure of my rescuing skills without my George Town Crew (Charlotte and Alex) I didn’t attempt another Julian the fish style rescue and let him be.
Besides the beach, it’s been a whirl wind of culture since I arrived beginning with the ACMI (free), an interactive museum dedicated to all things film, where you can even film your own Matrix style slow motion bullet scene clips and make your own flip books. The building sits in Federation Square which has live, free comedy shows at the moment from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, a plethora of cafes and restaurants lining it and deck chairs and grassy patches on which to soak up the sun. It’s often voted in the top 10 ugliest squares in the world but hey, atleast that’s a global achievement rather than all the ‘best in the Southern Hemisphere’ shams Australia tries to get away with!
The smaller NGV is also in Fed Square, the larger one isn’t far off. Having been spoilt with visits to London’s galleries I have to say the NGV (with its meagre offering of a single Rothko) didn’t capture my attention for too long. They’re running the Festival of Photography until June with free entry to most of the exhibitions. Patrick Pound’s ‘The Great Exhibition’ starts with compilations of found photographs cantering around a theme. It’s fun to guess the theme before you get to each title plaque but the collection, from the second room onwards, dissolves into tenuously linked collections of (mostly) crap; a line up of items with French on them, or pieces of crumpled paper. Modern art at its finest. ‘I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t = Modern Art’ was aptly found on a tea towel in the gift shop, I sent it to my sister, a budding modern illustrator (just kidding; she’s actually incredible!).
One fantastic find however was an ancient urn which I swear was a scene from hell witnessed by Kelly back at the puppy farm; Claire making her ‘I’m not totally evil’ pout and sticking out her ginormous rump to be spanked by John when she had forgotten to buy more chicken for the dogs as he uttered ‘Maybe I should spank you harder next time and then you’ll remember’. I wasn’t even a first hand witness and yet I’m scarred!
I am yet to experience Melbourne’s night life, but one evening Mike and I pushed our way down Queen Street to the river front to see a night sky, blind of stars and blazing with the lights of late night workers and sky dwelling city lives. In the dying days of Melbourne’s summer heat, the city at night has an exotic vibe with home makers and holiday goers of all races babbling in their own languages around you, the tantalizing wafts of global cuisines in the air as you wander the streets and the impersonal urbanity that could be any city anywhere. The city breaths freedom, the vast glass windowed buildings aren’t watching you as you roam the streets, their wide open eyes are focused in on themselves, making money and self progression. Swallowed into Melbourne’s pulsing crowds of downward eyes and striding feet, the city doesn’t see you as an individual and you are free to act and explore how you like; it feels like Asia. I allowed the nostalgia for the freedom and easy life I lead in Asia to build in my chest.
At 10pm we watched exhalations of fire along the river front from a succession of concrete towers installed by a casino with far too much money. Stood beneath one, Mike and I could feel the heat, uncomfortable on our faces, as the plumes became more intense and reached their finale of a huge expulsion of flames from all the towers at once. I had given myself a week of exploration and time to settle in before I started looking for work, and that week was now up. We sat in the shadows on a bench by the river side and I said goodbye to those feelings of freedom, preparing to dive again into the stress of job hunting.