Melbourne Long Weekend

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May 3rd 2008
Published: May 20th 2008
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A couple of months ago Virgin Blue had some specials advertised, one was a trip to Melbourne so we decided to pop down for four days. The returns flights were enjoyable; all the Virgin staff seems to be happy and helpful making budget travel a very pleasant experience. We stayed at the Mercure Hotel which is in Swanston Street, one of the main streets in the business district of Melbourne, close to all the public transport and to most of the places that we wanted to visit, be warned though, on the shops side of this street there are many smokers under the verandas and they seem to use very strong imported tobacco, unfortunately we had to walk through them to visit Gopals, the best Vegetarian Restaurant in Melbourne. The Mercure is a well maintained older hotel with good facilities; again they had excellent staff that made our stay very pleasant. A buffet breakfast was included in the deal, it had everything that we wanted enabling us to get by at lunchtime with a small snack. There are the usual dining facilities for other meals but we found that we could save a bit by using the ‘Grabbit and run’ service, you phone your order through and they give you a call when it is ready to collect. The food was good quality, very hot and had generous portions. Full room service was also available but we preferred this version to save us money. The room was comfortable, clean and had good facilities especially the air conditioning/heating which was easy to adjust and had a very quick response. The only low point on the whole trip was the parking at Sydney Airport, we used Park & Fly, on our return the shuttle driver never slowed down for any of the speed bumps, it was most uncomfortable, the shuttle bus was dirty and the middle seat was loose which seemed to be dangerous to us. On return to the car park I complained to the person who seemed to be in charge, he snarled back “do you expect us to buy a new shuttle bus just for you”. We will find another way of getting to the airport on our next trip.

We had an idea of the places that we wished to visit but hadn’t made any definite plans so soon after settling in we took a stroll down to the Melbourne Visitor Centre in Federation Square. In a short time we had collected maps and leaflets on all the places that we wanted to visit. A nice surprise was that they have a free tram and a free bus for tourists, between them you can visit just about all of the points of interest in the city for free. The buses cover the largest area running from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm; they have a pleasant pre-recorded commentary which is supplemented by the driver who adds current information. The free City Circle tram also with a pre-recorded commentary runs from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm extended to 9:00 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (no service Christmas day and Good Friday).

It’s amazing what you can learn, on our way into the Botanic Gardens we found this plaque on the wall.

We then made our way to the Rose Garden but it was not the modern cultivated roses that caught our eye it was some very primitive ones.

We found from various notices in the gardens that one of the earliest mentions of roses was by the Greek poetess Sappho in the 7th century BC where she described them as the sovereign among flowers. Around 2000 years ago it was noticed that some more complex roses had started to evolve; these new forms of rose were then cultivated to keep the more attractive specimens going. Just over 200 years ago, even before Gregor Mendel had experimented with sweet peas, some rose growers had found that they could produce new varieties by cross breeding; one of the experts of the day was Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Josephine’s collection, at her estate Malmaison was documented and illustrated by botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redoute in his book Les Roses in which he tried to present every variety of rose growing in France at the time.

Many colours and varieties roses have been developed in the last two hundred years or so and new ones are being introduced more frequently than any other plant or flower.

Here’s another couple of the older roses:


Glory of Edzell

We had seen and heard the Bell Mynah birds many times when travelling north from Sydney so it was rather a pleasant surprise to find them in Melbourne, they have a song which is rather melodic in small doses; click on the thumbnail to hear it yourself:

Here’s a few pictures of the Bell Mynahs, they are related to our Noisy Miners which have a yellow patch around their eyes, their name was spelt miner because it reminded the early settlers of a coal miner emerging from the pit.

This sculpture has been placed about the middle of the Melbourne Observatory Buildings..

The rest of the gardens were quite pleasant, here’s a few samples

At first we wondered why this tropical fig was doing so well in Melbourne then realised that it probably comes from the highlands.

A tree with character

Public Shelter

Music provided at one of the open air tea rooms; bit more class than a busker.

Our next stop was at the war memorial across the road. We’ll start with a link to the botanical gardens, a specimen from the memorial rose garden.

Quite a magnificent War Memorial Building, it was built during the depression. I guess they’d housed all the homeless, fed the starving and had so much money left over that they decided to build this.

This Memorial is open to the public, the lower floors hold a museum and access is allowed to the supporting structures below.

Quite an impressive entrance to the Museum has been constructed in recent times. Advantage has been taken of the texture left by the formwork when the concrete was poured. The motto ‘Lest We Forget’ has been inscribed on this with quite a startling effect.

On entering the Museum we are greeted with a display of many medals.

Outside there is the RAAF Memorial with the names of the battles that they participated in engraved down the side.

He we have the Legacy Statue. Legacy in Australia is an organisation similar to the British Legion that support Widows and Children of soldiers from all major wars. About 15 million died in the first world war and more than 100 million in the second world war; do you know they are still doing it?

The herb Rosemary is often regarded as the international symbol for love and remembrance. Sprigs of Rosemary are usually worn by those taking part in remembrance services and it is often grown around memorials and shrines. Here Rosemary has been cultivated into a hedge and is very impressive.

From the top of the War Memorial we are able to see the original Melbourne Observatory at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens.

Melbourne Skyline from the same spot.

The Wesgate Bridge. During October 1970 there was a tragic accident when part of the bridge collapsed during construction killing 35 workers. Both construction and communication errors were blamed but it reverberated around the world resulting in the finding that just about every other steel box girder bridge in the world had construction issues. A few years later there was a similar accident on a motorway construction in Auckland but fortunately all the workers had moved away moments before for their tea break.

Our next stop was at Federation Square. Melbourne never had a meeting place or open space right in the city centre, there are plenty of parks nearby but they are just a bit too far for local workers to visit during their lunchbreak. Rather a large amount of space had been taken up with the railway lines to Flinders Street Station

It was decided to build over this to create a recreation area where people could meet, attend outside concerts, visit an art gallery and enjoy other facilities. The design is rather unusual in that it is based on many triangles. As would be expected with a project like this there was much controversy, delays and cost overruns. The original budget was around $120 million but with a two year delay it blew out to just over $500 million. Here are a few pictures for you to judge for yourself.

As we were leaving Federation Square the traffic was unusually light and we had a good view of Flinders Street Station.

We usually manage to find a Museum wherever we travel and Melbourne is no exception. Photography is allowed in many parts, generally anywhere except where it is expressly forbidden

The first thing that we saw was what appeared to be a Rhino made out of plastic mesh, wrong it’s a Diprotodont, a huge marsupial, the biggest that ever lived and only became extinct about 14 - 20,000 years ago, more about this later.

Here we have an example of the windmills that have been used in Australia since Europeans settled here.

A Cobb & Co Stagecoach, this is a good example because it hasn’t been over-restored. Imagine an eight hour journey in one of these, they managed to cram 14 passengers into them, no toilets of hostesses serving drinks.

A room of a settler’s cottage, again just as it was with no restoration.

No need to tell you what this is, the surprising thing is that is still works, probably has less processing power than some electronic watches and certainly far less than a modern PDA.

CSIRAC started life at Sydney University where it was first built and was used to train people and by local businesses. In the early days all the programming would have been in the very complex machine language rather than the modern plain English programming languages.

Anyone remember these?

The first IBM PC which ran at an incredible speed of 4.7Mhz, nowadays we are almost a million times faster than that but inefficient software and operating systems have managed to slow the systems right down. These were not the first PCs, we had been using an earlier model from another manufacturer to run VisiCalc, a spreadsheet that revolutionised accounting, eventually Lotus 123 came along with its plain English menu system making it much easier to use.

When we wanted to take a bit of work home we had one of these.

It weighed 23 Kgs and had a seven inch mono screen. I lugged one home many times, nowadays I have a far more powerful pocket PC. Later Panasonic brought out a version around 10 Kgs which had a dot matrix printer included.

We next moved on in the Museum passing a display of minerals.


This museum has several live exhibits, an ants nice was quite an interesting example but they were unable to show the queen, I have read that they are even sensitive to infra red.

Now the kids will love these friendly little spiders.

This is one of the Phlogius species

This is a relative of the previous one

This is a Goliath Tarantula or Theraphosa Blondi. Contrary to what everyone thinks Tarantulas are not poisonous to humans and I have never been able to find a recorded death anywhere from one of them. The worst feature is probably their bite which would have the same effect as a wasp sting.

Here’s another harmless insect, the stag beetle, as can be seen they come in a range of sizes. When they are live they can be quite cute and never seem to try to get away from humans, I’ve had the big ones crawling up my arms, and they seem to enjoy the warmth of human flesh.

Now for a few skeletons of the largest Australian Marsupials that ever lived. The first is a Diprotodon Australis, sometimes spelt Diprodont.

The Zygomaturus is a cousin of the Diprotodon and is thought to have become extinct before it. Both we around until about 15-20 thousand years ago and many skeletons have been found in good condition.

This is a Giant Goanna or Megalania Prisca and may have contributed to the extinction of the Diprotodons even though it did become extinct first. The Giant Goanna is sometime referred to as “the ancient giant butcher”, it would have been capable of ambushing and killing any living thing that was around at the time including some of the early humans.

This is a Giant flightless bird, a Genyornis Newtoni. There have been many flightless birds in Australia because most of the time there have been vast areas with few or no predators.

The Genyornis Newtoni are related to modern ducks.

Every country had its fair share of dinosaurs, here are just a couple of examples of Australian ones.

The Amargasaurus which is a plant eating dinosaur.

This example was actually found in Canada and has been dated at 63 million years old. It was quite a heavy dinosaur and the shape of its skeleton suggests that it could run at up to 45 Kms per hour.

We now move onto more modern marsupials. All those on display here are now extinct but there are some very similar related species still surviving.

The last captive Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine died at Hobart in 1936. Rather like the Loch Ness monster on quiet news days there are reports of someone spotting one in remote parts of Tasmania, no clear photographs or any other definitive evidence has ever been produced. An attempt has been made to clone them without success, plenty of DNA material is available so one day when the technology has improved the process may be successful. During their last years several attempts were made to breed them in captivity but none were successful.

This, a pygmy blue whale is a smaller version of the largest whale in the world, plenty of these are found washed up on our beaches so skeletons like this are not rare. I suspect that space was all that prevented the full sized whale being displayed.

Baleaenoptera musculus breuicauda. There are still many blue whales visiting Australian waters, they can reach up to 30 metres and weigh around 200 tonnes. The above is 18.7 metres in length.

Something else that we learned here. We knew that Melbourne has had trams for many years but quite some time ago they also had cable cars that seem to be very similar to the ones in SanFrancisco.

The Melbourne Museum is housed in a purpose built building, it seems to be of good design and is most suitable for its purpose, it is situated in Carlton Gardens next to the Royal Exhibition Building which was used as the Australian Federal Parliament building until the capital was moved to Canberra.

There are many other exhibits in the Melbourne Museum but photography is not allowed in some rooms or the light is too low. Other parts of the Museum that we visited were the Aboriginal Cultural Centre, The Forest Gallery, Science and Life Gallery, a Marine Life Virtual Room, an Evolution Gallery, Mind and Body Gallery. There is also an IMAX Theatre and the usual facilities such as cafeterias. Many of the exhibits are interactive particularly the science and life ones. There are also several displays of living insects and spiders. We were very impressed with one small theatre that was showing 3D pictures from the two Mars Rovers. We spent a full day here but could easily have stayed twice as long.

In all it was a thoroughly enjoyable visit to Melbourne, a city where we will always return.


21st May 2008

Thank you Nigel
Thanks for rekindling memories of Melbourne museum, I visited about 2 years ago and had a wonderful time. I too love Melbourne and they seem to be so much prouder of their history than here in Sydney. Bernice
21st May 2008

Hi Bernice, yes they seem to have that little bit more class in Melbourne but did you notice how many smokers they are?
21st May 2008

Hello Doris, glad you liked the pics, will be some more from an educational reptile park that we visited last weekend, might be a couple of weeks before I get to them, if only I didn't have to sleep.

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