Melbourne’s Streets Ahead

One thing Melbourne is famous for, its abundance of Street Art that can be seen almost everywhere you look. Building owners in Melbourne are allowed to commision street artists to adorn their walls with pictures and murals, and there are even a small number of alleys where anyone can come and graffiti legally. This is something often taken advantage of by up and coming street artists who wish to hone their skills and display their talents.

As well as these, a number of statues can also be seen dotted around in certain locations, including the Dockside area, banks of the River Yarra, and the various Gardens and Parks. Even the street names which have taken their names from some of Melbourne’s most famous citizens, including Dame Edna Everage and AC/DC have their signs adorned in unique ways.

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Melbourne This Way

For the last five weeks of my Australian adventure, I stayed in the metropolitan city of Melbourne, Victoria. Often voted as one of the three most livable cities in the world (alongside Vancouver and Vienna), and at the southern tip of Australia’s east coast, I figured it would be a good place to put my working tourist visa to good use. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be, but if there was anywhere I’d want to spend over a month without moving on, it was here.

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A view across the River ‘water’.

For a start, the city is far less cramped than those such as Sydney, the roads and pavements are wider with less skyscrapers bearing down on you, and so it has a much more relaxed and hospitable atmosphere. The plethora of laneways and arcades also adds to the European feel (the city is also home to the third largest population of Greek speakers, Greece included), and it also has a very bohemian nature with people walking round in whatever style they choose in a completely accepting environment.

I first stayed in Melbourne for a couple of days before Christmas, and took advantage of a walking tour which is free to join, and you merely tip the guide whatever you feel it was worth at the end. Turning up outside the State Library at the alloted time I found the guide in the bright green T-shirt as instructed, and had an amazing three-hour tour of the city. The guide (Matt, if I remember correctly) was friendly, polite, and knowledgable, and took us round the CBD and its outskirts, including the Old Melbourne Gaol where Ned Kelly was tried and hanged (and whose armour is housed in the Library at which we met).

Our guide also gave a more objective perspective on some of the cities bigger boasts, by reminding us that anything which held a Southern Hemisphere record did so for a region of the planet which is home to only around 10% of the entire population. In addition, the city is only home to the world’s oldest ‘continuous’ Chinatown due to San Francisco’s burning down and being rebuilt from scratch.

Unlike the urban legend of how the Kangaroo got its name from a misunderstanding and means “I don’t know”, we were also told about how the name of the River Yarra actually comes from the aborginal ‘yarra yarra’ meaning ‘lots of water’, which was shortened to just Yarra which means ‘some water’.

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Museum displays can be a tad distracting…

There was also an explanation as to why so much of Melbourne isn’t named after a crime fighting superhero, but is in fact named in honour of John Batman (man pronounced with a soft ‘a’, as in Gary Oldman), who helped found the city and had some of the earliest interactions with the aboriginals living in the area. Even after hearing his story though, it’s still fun to spot new signs for “Batman Park”, or “Batman Avenue”.

Only being able to touch on certain elements of the city’s history, the one down side to the tour is that there is so much to take in, but it was ideal not just to learn some of Melbourne’s history, but also to get some bearings for my hometown for the next month. Not only would I highly recommend it, but also went back a second time when Isabell, a friend from my trip around the Whitsunday Islands, was also in Melbourne.

And this is another great advantage that Melbourne had over staying anywhere else. With the backpacking route being the eastern coastline, naturally anyone travelling will either start north and head south, or vice versa. This makes it great to meet people along the way as it is not uncommon to bump into the same people in more than one place. While spending time in Melbourne at essentially the end of the journey heading south therefore, and with the added benefit of staying in contact via social media, I was able to meet with several friends who were travelling behind me.

In a great example of international co-operation through the medium of football, myself and Isabel, both from nations with a historic rivalry, also went to watch a match as part of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup: The Democratic People’s Republic of [North] Korea, V Saudi Arabia. As well as visiting a ground that both my BHAFC season ticket holding father and brother had never been to, I was able to see citizens of two nations most known by their inhumane reputations, but who presented themselves on the international stage with grace and civility, the Koreans especially in terms of thanking and cheering the fans who had been supporting them.

That said, the stadium’s security weren’t so appreciative of those a few rows in front of us wearing Kim Jong-Un masks, and a big-screen replay of a North Korean tackle was interrupted by the most  weirdly timed attendance announcement I’ve ever seen, so those with the strings were obviously still lurking somewhere.

Spending the entirety of January in Melbourne, I was also there for the Australia Day festivities, which are celebrated on the 26th every year. Held on the anniversary of the proclamation of British Sovereignty in 1788, there is some controversy over the date itself, although there were also a number of events which celebrated the history and culture of aboriginal Australians as well as the European settlers.

I spent the day with Bob and Saskia, two more friends I had met in Cairns and Arlie Beach respectively, as we wandered through a few events the city had on offer, including a musical stage at Treasury Gardens, and concluded the day with a great view of the evening’s fireworks at the Docklands area.

Happy Holidays, on Holiday

Despite having spent the best part of three months travelling down the Australian coast, I made pretty good time reaching Victoria for when I had aimed. As I mentioned before I was staying with some family friends, Ollie and Mike, and they were generous enough to invite me to spend Christmas with their extended family: an offer I was glad to have accepted.

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Surfing Santa. Says it all, really.

As you might expect from any westernised country the lead up to Christmas was a big thing, and I first saw big decorations being put in place when I was back in Brisbane a month earlier. Presents and toys were a big theme, something capitalised on with a rather festive Lego display in Sydney, but it was during my few days in Melbourne just after travelling on the Great Ocean Road that I saw citywide decorations in full swing.

Of course travelling is all about new experiences, and taking in the sights of polar bears, igloos, and Santa’s elves wearing shades was, to me at least, certainly a novelty. I might have been far into the southern hemisphere, but the North Pole rhetoric of Santa Claus was as alive and well as back home.

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Even the street art was festive.

For those who haven’t experienced one, an Australian Christmas is pretty much what you might expect, or at least what I was expecting from hearing about other peoples (plus maybe a few stereotypes thrown in for good measure). Firstly this included chilling out in the sunshine (and shade, complete with Slip, Slap Slop, routine) while before the finishing touches were added to the Christmas dinner.

Something was similar to a British BBQ menu of burgers, salads, etc, but being cooked in Australia was a little bit more exotic. Luckily those with more experience were able to teach me exactly what to do with my King Prawns to make sure I didn’t eat the parts I wasn’t supposed to.

In addition, rather than a traditional nap the after dinner routine consisted of relaxing in the pool rather than on the sofa. About as relaxing as you’d want spending an afternoon in the pool to be anyway, as the inclusion of water pistols is always a welcome one.

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Thanks to Ollie for the photo!

Over all it was a Christmas I shall never forget as it is one which most reminds me of what Christmas is supposed to be about. Not presents or snow, but spending a day with wonderful company in such a welcoming atmosphere, regardless of what side of the world you are on.

After spending a great week enjoying the comfort and hospitality of several Australian households however, on new year’s eve I headed back to the big city. Melbourne was about two hours away by coach, and I’d booked myself into the north YHA. Primarily as the main hostel in the Central Business District was fully booked, but as luck would have it this actually gave me an even better experience.

The trek to get there was a bit further than literally just around the corner from Southern Cross Station but did take me past the Queen Victoria Market, one of Melbourne’s more traditional features in contrast to it’s built up CBD skyscrapers. Something which this YHA’s location gave me an unobstructed view of.

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A tale of two rooftops.

Having grown up surrounded by countryside I’ve never been a huge city person, and as much as I have enjoyed visiting them, to me they’re always at their best when lit up at night. Melbourne achieved the pinnacle of this on this particular night, as I stood enjoying a firework display that covered an entire cityscape that was lit way above head height and was shooting off even further into the sky.

Something which was highlighted by the fact that although I was travelling by myself, staying in a hostel ensured that meant I didn’t spend it alone, and toasted in 2015 with a lovely German couple who treated me to a glass of Champagne style sparkling wine.

The humble rooftop terrace of a three storey YHA might not have been tall enough to join in with these firewors, but I’d have struggled to have found a better place to watch them.