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Published: February 4th 2010
New Year’s Eve
As soon as I got to Melbourne I was having second-thoughts on driving along the Great Ocean Road
with Doreen from Germany. Where was the rush? I'd have plenty of time to do the trip once I'd properly settled in Melbourne. So I spent the day at the North Melbourne Public Library researching an alternative trip to Tasmania instead.
I sat at the back of the library keenly investigating package tours and travel partner ads on Gumtree via my laptop. Then a pretty girl wearing intelligent-looking spectacles walked in and sat next to me opening her notebook laptop. After a while of conspicuously ignoring each other she noticed my Tassie research and asked if I was going to Tasmania
because she was too. We then got talking about trips to Tasmania and then about our ourselves and our own travels - she was from Utrecht in the Netherlands and backpacking around Australasia. I like
Dutch people, not only are they incomprehensibly good at English they have a similar shared sensibility and humour. So we're getting on pretty well and then she gets up to leave - which in turns creates a mild panic in me. Let's
be clear about this- I have minuscule experience in asking girls out - but for some reason I bit the bullet. I asked her if she wanted to go for some coffee (I’d become a coffee fiend by that time) and happily she agreed because it would help with her migraine - (!!!). Thank goodness for migraines!
In a small café across the street we sat and sipped our coffees and learned that we were both staying at the same YHA - and both agreed that it was functional if dull. We chatted about museums, books and my artist-hero Vincent Van Gogh
. She soon had to leave to meet with her Dutch friends but asked me if I had nothing else planned I could come along if I didn't mind a load of chattering Dutchies.
"Whoo-hoo" and a "grrr!"
The one good thing about NYE is you don't have to plan much, simply go where the fireworks are. So off we went to Federation Square for the fireworks that were scheduled. Along the way we met up with the Dutchies
who all spoke Dutch to each other - but they vey kindly let me into their cirlcle of phlegm!
Thankfully we were also joined by an Italian fella and a busty Austrian blonde - a girl who wasn't shy of putting her wares on show. Interestingly she'd just arrived in Australia after spending a year in Burma
- working in the tourism industry there. When I asked her if she had received a lot of attention in Rangoon
she simply smiled and answered yes.
Our motley crew of Europeans then all got on a tram to St Kilda
, a beach-side suburb of Melbourne and walked out towards the pie (and a storm). The sky had turned dark; the light snuffed out by an ominously horizontal dark cloud creeping towards the city. The swell came crashing in with more frequency and then the thunder and lightning show started. The coming storm had turned and snuffed out the light. But we did get to see the colony of Fairy Penguins
(I’m not abiding by the PC brigade who insist on calling them “Little Penguins”). Walking back the storm really picked up and started to rain heavily so we all ran, laughing like a gang of teenagers. Back on the shoreline we all huddled under the only shelter we could see -
along with about 30 others.
Unfortunately the rain never let up so we had to step out from under the shelter and get a tram back to the city, each of us pretty soaked. Back in Federation Square the weather was no different so we stood under the roof of the Flinders Street Station with what seemed to be the rest of Melbourne, well, the Asian contingent at least: absolutely loads of Asian families; Indians, Sinhalese, Vietnamese and Chinese all waiting for the fireworks.
There was palpable racial tension in the air, male groups of Indians chanting in the middle of the street and drunk Aussies responding with chants of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie". Then your typical drunken males looking for a fight with other groups of males, it was all rather petty. An hour or so later and there was still no let-up and I’ve had enough of standing around looking up at the sky and wet sodden people walking past. I tell myself that there will be no fireworks tonight.
D and I mooched around for a pub to go to (none were open or if they were they were they weren’t letting the wet masses
in). We fell upon a cheesy nightclub nearby and I managed to persuade the group to return with us. So in this dingy little club in Queen Street we danced our way into 2010. I can now add Melbourne to the list of New Years Eves alongside London (yeah, most years), New York City (2000), Stockholm (2004) and Paris (2003).
A few days in Melbourne
I really wasn't enjoying m stay at the YHA Metro hostel in North Melbourne - the staff at reception weren't very friendly and it was hard to meet any other travellers what with everything being closed at 11pm. It was a cold place too -full
young German backpackers - they are everywhere - groups of them. The vast majority are here to practice their English and are benign if anything - some live up to the stereotypes though (everything is shit compared to back home). Frankly I didn't come to Australia to have an English lesson with ze Germans and it's too hard work anyway - gimme an Aussie any day.
Thankfully I had my new Dutch 'friend' to spend time with while I sorted out my future plans. We visited the
Immigration Museum which was mildly interesting - way too much to read. Somewhat incongruously but to my delight the top floor had a photographic exhibition on Hampi
- the ruins of the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire in India. I'd visited Hampi a few years ago and I was taken back by the impressive digital interactive space showing panoramic images of the site and its landscape. Wearing comically over-sized red spectacles we physically revolved around Hampi's temples using a joystick.
My Dutch friend and I then bought ourselves some sushi and headed to a terrific green space to the south east known as the Domain Parklands which also includes the Royal Botanic Gardens
. A great place to stroll around in the late summer sun we found ourself a spot of sunny grass lay back. Our serene environment disturbed briefly by some intimidating black swans who waddled from picnic to picnic looking for food.
On our return walk back to the city we visited the beautiful Shrine of Remembrance
which commemorates those Victorians who served in the First World War. This huge structure and all of its surrounding memorials highlight what a massive contribution Australia made to the
Allied war effort. I remember a visit to the Menin Gate at Ypres in Belgium and being shocked by the number of Australians inscribed upon it. With a population of only 4.5 million Australia contributed an incredible 412,953 soldiers of whom half were casualties (62,000 being killed) - one of the highest casualty rates in the war.
The Shrine was designed by two returned soldiers and is based upon one of the seven wonders of the classical world, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassos
(a royal tomb built in what is now Turkey about 350 BC), and is decorated with sculptures by English sculptor Paul Montford.
"Shrine Of Remembrance" The Oxford Companion Australian Military History. Ed Peter Dennis, Jeffrey Grey, Ewan Morris, Robin Prior and Jean Bou. Oxford University Press 2009.
The focus of the interior is the Stone of Remembrance sunk into the shrine floor which bears the words ‘Greater Love Hath No Man’ (from the Bible's ‘Greater love hath no man, that a man lay down his life for his friends’). A unique feature of the Shrine is a precisely placed hole in the wall that allows a beam of sunlight to pass over the word ‘love’ on the Stone of Remembrance at 11.00 a.m. on 11 November (Remembrance Day) every year. The introduction of daylight saving in 1971 would have made the beam of light arrive one hour late, so small mirrors were installed to bend the light so the effect is still retained.
Tasmania here I come
Anyway the next couple of days I arranged to get my arse over to Tasmania - the weather over that way is pretty horrible most of the time so it was clearly the optimum time to go during their Summer. I'd hard really good things about the place and so booked myself on a ten day four wheel camping tour. Hoping to get the most out of the place...
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