Diary: 'stralia, St. Pat's and 'a little bitch & a moan'

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June 9th 2010
Published: June 8th 2010
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Melbourne Diary:

As I'm walking along a busy Elizabeth Street in the Central Business District two teenage girls are walking behind me. “Fack that! Fack that! No facking way” etc. It got me thinking about how many times I’ve been shocked by the proclivity for cursing here. Keep with me.

For example on I've witnessed a couple of altercations between passengers trading some seriously aggressive swearing such as: "go fuck yourself!" and “Up ya, ya facking cant” - and that was from a woman. I’ve turned into Disgusted of Brunswick all of a sudden. Even my work colleagues regularly surprise me by using ”fack” and “shit” in mid-sentence as if it's any old word. Coarse language features prominently in Australia it seems (I could of course make reference to sixty years of British criminals being sent here). But the Aussies do have a good turn of phrase too: I once overheard a work colleague on the phone reply to a caller : “I’m flat-out like a lizard drinking”. (!)

There’s notable difference in social class between the two campuses I work at too. The one day a week campus I'm based at is an industrial town, a famous car manufacturer once being the main employer (think Dagenham by the sea). The work floor plan is wide open so I hear nearly everyone's conversations within ear shot. Here they have a broader ‘stralian accent and an almost Cockney pally way of speaking with each other - one woman has quite a funny 'oi doint knoi' accent.

I was invited to drinks after work at the pub across the road from us. It was mainly attended by working class ‘stralians - smokers, cursers and a middle-aged woman with hoover wheeze of a laugh and a mind firmly in the gutter. It started off exactly how I wanted it NOT to start; I became the resident ‘Pom’ and held reluctant court as my Aussie subjects took it in turns to tell me about their third cousin or son/daughter in forgotten town in the Midlands (somewhere). All to a rapt audience.

The drinks began to flow - or rather my rumbustious work colleague starting buying rounds. Pushy, loud, quirky, supercilious, sporty, beery and up for a laugh - I ended up talking with two middle aged women who were going on holiday to Europe later in the summer. It was a bus package of hopping and skipping through various capital cities. During the discussion one of them revealed that her parents had ‘come from Europe’ - but seemed reluctant and in fact embarrassed to actually say which country. Eventually, she revealed that it was Austria. (?) They didn’t have much of an idea of where they were going exactly and therefore my informed interest about where they would go, what they would see fell on deaf ears. But we did agree on clichés however, that the trip would be 'lovely', 'European' and 'cultured'.

The other main delight besides talking about Europe is Australian Rules Football of which 10 clubs come from the Melbourne area alone. It’s funny to hear the banter between the different supporters in the office but also rather dull to overhear men talking about players, teams and tactics that only Victorians let alone Aussies really give a toss about.

I surprised myself by actually wanting to go see a live game - but then I had the secret weapon of a local to go with. I’d met Robert after meeting him at a beach resort in Malaysia along with his wife and three kids. They were interesting: Aussie expats living in Saigon and bringing up their kids on their way back to Melbourne. He’d very kindly offered me a floor to sleep on if I ever got to Melbourne - but which I had fortunatel not needed to take up.

We eventually did meet up for a few drinks in the suburb of Hawthorn and downed plenty of pints and put the world to rights. But first the ‘footie’ game and on the ANZAC holiday weekend with 70,000 people at the huge and iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (also known here as the ‘G) - we saw the Geelong Cats play Robert’s team of Hawthorn Hawks. He very kindly paid for my ticket but the catch was that in return I had to support the yellow and brown coloured Hawthorn forever more. I submitted. With Robert coaching me through the rules, the game is surprisingly watch-able; scrappy and fast-paced but way too many players and extras on the huge pitch to keep long enough attention. The Hawthorn fans were loud and took part in waht they call 'barracking' - chanting and cheering on your team but the fans of always-winning Geelong were positively mute. Maybe because I was in the family section. As if to justify their lack of concern Geelong won at the end.

A couple of weeks later Robert invited me over to their place in the leafy middle-class inner suburb of Camberwell for a BBQ. Greek salad, free beer and they were the personification of Aussie good-naturedness, hospitality and genuineness. There's something unfussy and unpretentious about the good Aussies - I was flattered that they took an interest in me and my travels.

Anyway, I’ve been doing lots of things in and around the city since I last blogged. On St Patrick’s Day the Irish triumvirate of Niall, Tracy and I went out to various Irish themed pubs, looking for some craic. I was glad to note that they were as weary of the naff Paddy's Day, Guinness promotion leprachaun bollocks as I was. So Niall and I tried to get into the highly recommended and authentic Irish bar The Drunken Poet but when we arrived two bouncers were on the door and a line of people were queuing up outside. Peering inside there was plenty of room but here in Melbourne the health and safety fun police don’t like any pub to get rocking - so it was only one in and one out.

Disappointed and disgruntled we next went to The Celtic Club but again we couldn't get into that because security deemed it too 'busy' - when it wasn't busy enough in my eyes. 'Blimey,' I thought imagine that back home - then they really would need security! Anyway, we eventually got into Bridie O'Reillys and The Turf Bar, drank plenty of Guinness’s and to my surprise met plenty of Aussies too. Somehow they managed to infiltrate and wear the green (and the Guinness hats and the silly wigs) - any excuse for a piss-up?

‘vulgare proverbium est, quod nimia familiaritas parid contemptum’ .

St Augustine

Nearly every weekend I’d spend with Tracy and Niall and as was perhaps inevitable familiarity such as this grew to contempt.

I suppose my disgruntlement started on a day trip to the mining town of Bendigo with Claire. I'd invited Tracy along despite her not knowing Claire but I was annoyed by her boredom on show in the art gallery as well her smoking habits and pottymouth. I've wanted a total break with these unhealthy habits and so I've since joined the nearby University of Melbourne gym.

Then there was the expectation that I would be out with them on every weekend - the only real free days for both; made me frustrated with them and myself. Both have been content to work in shite jobs living from hand-to-mouth and generally o.k. with not having much money to actually see the country or its sights. Hearing the scraping of money every weekend became an irritant after a while.

To me they never seemed to get out of the backpacker mode - Niall had been living in a hostel again - a word that gives me the creeps these days; If it's not the specific 'goon ' cask wine, drunk backpackers and endless numbers of tanned Germans being all guttural then it's the more general organised squalor and minor vagrancy that develops long term backpacking. Maybe I'm being smug because I'm now in my own space and enjoy the creature comforts too much to want a return to that world.

I've had genuine laughs in the drinking sessions, attempts at live music in Fitzroy, walks in parklands, long cycle rides with Niall, trips to Abbotsford Convent (for free food!), playing football in Royal Park, going to see Mighty Boosh films in Carlton. But I was never asked about this travel blog, what I was writing fiction wise nor seemed interested in where I was travelling on to after Australia. And I think when Niall condescendingly told me I was only going to Iran because ‘it’s cool’ - simply showed a lack of understanding of me - and alienated me quite frankly. (If he could tell me where on a map Iran was then maybe I’d have considered his mind reading). I think going out with friends such as Robert, my housemate, film festivals with Claire and day trips made me realise how reliant on them I had needlessly become - that I had had some guilty loyalty. Generally I think we differed in the reasons for coming to Oz and we never had terribly much in common; apart from the shared experience of being backpackers here.

Wow that sounds like a real downer bitch-fest. But I'd like to think it's a little insight on the differences in people you meet, expectations, growing apart, backpacking, loyalties and just being yourself.

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