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Published: December 6th 2015
After dropping off the camper van we were waiting on the street of an out of the way suburb, on the pouring rain, for Susie, the mother of one of Lindsey's friends, to pick us up. Susie and her partner Luciano were kindly willing to accommodate us for a few days whilst we explored Melbourne.
We arrived at their home and were welcomed with strong coffee and Anzac biscuits... exactly what I needed. After dinner we were taken out to a local park as the sun was going down. The sky was still heavy with cloud but we got a good view of the city under the last orange light of the day. As we walked back we looked up and over our head were flights of large bats, setting out en masse to hunt for their food. Following this experience I can understand the reputation bats have... it felt like there was something quite sinister in the way hundreds of bats were spreading out over the city and wheeling above our heads.
The morning dawned grey and drizzly but it started to clear. We headed into the city around lunchtime and started to explore. We got off the
train at Flinders Street Station - a ridiculous looking yellow building. The whole area was heaving with people - a typical major city on a Saturday morning a few weeks before Christmas. It was quite disorientating.
After a quick visit to the tourist information offices, conveniently located in Federation Square, opposite the train station, we headed down Elizabeth Street towards the Queen Victoria Markets. We found the general post office part way down Elizabeth Street and finally managed to offload the collection of postcards we'd been carrying for some time. It took us a while to push our way through the crowds to get to the markets but they were worth it. Our first stop there was the food court, where I ordered a delicious Chinese meal and Lindsey ordered a Sri Lankan meal and we shared. We spent $20 but had huge plates of food and felt sustained for our afternoon.
The main part of the market was fruit and vegetables but there was also a fish and meat market and a non-food section. We wandered through the stalls soaking up the atmosphere and making the occasional purchase. The day had heated up a lot and we
were starting to feel tired so we left the market and headed towards the State Library of Victoria.
Victoria's State Library is definitely a sight worth seeing. At the top has a huge domed reading room with its original furniture intact. The room was laid out with rows of desks radiating out from a central hub where a librarian could sit to enforce good library order. Arrayed up several of the walls are bookshelves, floor to ceiling - four storeys high. I think this may be my idea of heaven. The reading room was still being used as a place to work by many of the city's residents, however the nature of that work has changed significantly. Sadly I couldn't see a single book on any of the desks. Instead each person had a laptop in front of them. I suddenly found myself intrigued, wondering what each of them was writing and whether any great thoughts were pouring out onto the pages of the word processor.
Whilst in the library I also went to an exhibition on the history of the book being used as a medium to portray thoughts. I found the whole thing a bit academic
though so hurried through. Afterwards we had a coffee at Starbucks, my first since leaving London. As it is just before Christmas we had the delight of Christmas beverages in red cups. Revived by a good shot of caffeine we continued on our way.
Our next activity was the delightfully old fashioned City Circle Tram. One of the really great things about Melbourne, which differentiates it from other Australian cities, is that it has a free tram network in the central area. We were keen to sit on the tram and be whisked around the city seeing the sights. Unfortunately the tram was packed with people and it was standing room only. This meant that my view of the city was limited to seeing the pavement out of the window. It wasn't the most inspiring sight but it was nice to take a different form of transport and to feel connected to the history of the city.
We got off the tram at Federation Square where a free evening film marathon was about to start. This was introduced by an Aboriginal Elder who welcomed the audience on behalf of her tribe, paying due respect to us, our families
and our ancestors. She gave a rallying call for us to all live in harmony with each other and with the planet. Then the first film started. This was a fascinating documentary about he proceedings of a conference on Aboriginal adaptation to climate change. It was interesting to see the process that white western scientists had to go on to work with the indigenous people. The climate changes that have been experienced by Aboriginal communities over the past thirty years were quite shocking. Here have been droughts, unpredictable weather and the quality of wild animals is changing. After this first film was another, this one a shocking silent count of years from the 1970s to 2100 showing the observed and predicted global temperature increases and the effect that is having on biodiversity. We didn't have time to stay for the main feature but we got the gist of what was being shown and it gave us a lot to think about.
The following day dawned bright and sunny. Taking advantage of this, Susie and Luciano took us to St Kilda, a nice costal suburb. St Kilda has a pier which is home to a colony of Fairy Penguins. In
the dark crevices formed by the rocks we could just make out the shapes of baby penguins, left by their parents for the day whilst they collect food. We also came across a huge Australian Water Rat that was being fed by a rather eccentric local fisherman. After a cup of coffee we were taken into the city.
We were dropped off at the botanic gardens and took a short loop through them. Here we found a huge floral clock which had been donated by the watchmakers of Switzerland. We also came across a large statue of Queen Victoria. I'm starting to wonder if Victoria is the most statues woman in the world as she seems to appear everywhere. After a brief wander through ye gardens we headed for the South Bank to take in the café culture. The area was bustling with people as we wandered through. I found the crowds a bit unpleasant.
Out main objective in the city for the day was to join a "free" walking tour, similar to the ones we had in Cape Town and Sydney. Our guide for the tour was Alex and he spent a couple of hours telling us
about the history and the modern day culture of the city. It was a fascinating insight into gaols and bushrangers, the campaign for an 8 hour working day, Royal Exhibition Centres with no real purpose, the Victorian Parliament which had also housed the Federal Parliament and the alleyway cafés and shops of the modern city. I felt the tour was a bit long and there was far to much "street art" or graffiti which the city seems to regard as a feature but I really don't like. The tour ended with a view of the city from the Eureka Tower which was quite nice. After two hours in the sun we were desperate to get home for a rest.
We really enjoyed Melbourne, but felt that we could have appreciated its Victorian (in both senses of the word) charms if we had more time there or if we had done it earlier in our trip when we had more energy.
Our time in Australia was coming to an end. All that remained was for us to pack our bags, sort out a few last minute arrangements and say goodbye to our lovely hosts. On Monday morning we caught
the train and then the bus to the airport, went through a lot of rigmarole to exit Australia and were soon on a flight to New Zealand.
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