A Month in Marvellous Melbourne

Melbourne, Victoria. 15th March 2016.

It’s quite a city, is Melbourne. It almost wasn’t allowed to exist and was in danger of being named Batmania, populated by Batmen and Batwomen. But it overcame these difficulties to become Australia’s largest city and home of the first federal government – for a while at least. These days it’s reckoned to be the world’s ‘most livable city’, although I’ve always been mystified as to how these things are decided, and by whom. So there it sits, down in Australia’s south east corner. No longer the biggest city, having been surpassed by its great rival Sydney, but seemingly the best. Sydney-siders may choose to disagree.
An overnight ferry journey from Tasmania delivered me safely to the port and I headed into the city in search of a place to stay. I found a MacDonalds. They don’t supply beds but do supply internet and sell breakfast . I’d arrived at the start of the Australian Grand Prix weekend and finding a bed would not be a racing certainty. Eventually I found a hostel in the suburb of Prahran, not far from the famous St Kilda beach. The price was low, the standard at rock bottom, easily the worst one I’ve stayed in. But the proverbial beggar can’t be a chooser so I gritted my teeth, cleared some rubbish off the floor and settled in. In contrast, the pub and restaurant which the hostel sits above looked really nice. Prahran itself is one of those urban areas which are near enough but far enough from a city centre to provide both a respectable shopping district and a lively evening scene. I discovered a great food market, housed in a late 19th C trading hall and filled with delicatessens and suppliers of fresh food. Transport links were good too, trains and trams into the city. So outside was definitely better than in.


The huge frontage of Flinders Street station.

Having had a busy time in Tassie I was now marking time to some extent. My son, Ross, was due to join me in a few days time so I wasn’t going to visit the tourist places until he arrived. But a few trips into the city centre for some research showed the trains to be handy and the city to be full of things to see and places to visit. Coming out of Flinders Street station, a dash across the busy junction got me to Federation Square where, like a signpost to all the delights of Melbourne, the visitor centre staff where ready to guide me to all the guides I needed. Weighed down with maps, leaflets and brochures, I felt ready for some planning.
Meanwhile I’d been in touch with a Melburnian named Doug, who I’d been introduced to by a mutual Facebook friend. He’d suggested a ride out somewhere and we settled on the Great Ocean Road, part of the tourist route which links Melbourne with Adelaide. Although I’d already ridden along it I had been in a bit of a hurry, on a showery day, so was happy to do it more justice.


Doug Mullet, my guide for the day.

We met at a motorway service area, to the west of the city, on the kind of day that makes you glad to be a biker. Clear, sunny and with a Mc breakfast to start the day off properly. Doug is a retired teacher, multi talented judging by the range of subjects he used to teach. From maths, through physics to drama. He’s now a man with ambitions. He plans to buy a camper van, put a bike on the back and travel Australia. A great combination I reckon. But he’s already been to many other countries, often enjoying long train journeys in the process, and he has cousins in London that he’s visited too. I knew I was going to have a good day out with a great companion. After all, he paid for breakfast!
The GOR winds its way along Victoria’s southern coast and is renowned for its wonderful views, small bays, bends and traffic. Despite the 30o sunshine the road wasn’t too busy and we weren’t in any hurry anyway.
Our first stop was at the home of Rip Curl surfboards. It started out as a one man business back in the seventies, the brain child of a fanatical surfer who knew he could produce better than what was around. It’s now a huge international business, so it seems he was right. I was impressed by the whole set up and the range of boards and accessories available. It almost doesn’t need saying but surf boards and accessories is a huge industry in Australia and I suspect many of the popular brands started out this way. There were surfers at many of the places we stopped at,the onshore wind creating good conditions for them. I’ve never tried it myself. Old dogs and new tricks, etc, but it looks like it would probably be fun


This evocative display in the Ripcurl shop harked back to the founder’s early surfing days.

We stopped off at Split Point to admire the view and the lighthouse, then rode along to Lorne for a hot chocolate and to Apollo Bay for lunch. I had stayed there on my way across from Adelaide but all I saw that time was my hostel, the local shops and a day-long steady downpour. It looked so much nicer in the sunshine and it was easy to understand why the tourist coaches stopped to disgorge their camera toting, sun shaded hoards. We had stopped for lunch – Doug’s treat once more. I could get used to this.
The last time I rode the GOR I’d wanted to visit the Otway Fly, a tree top walk up in the forest above the bay. I didn’t get there because of time and weather. Doug suggested we go there after lunch so I was happy to agree. I’ve been to a similar place before and I enjoyed this one too. The ‘big beast’ among these trees is the Mountain Ash, which can grow up to 100 metres tall. The walkway is about 30-40 metres up so we could see plenty of bird life and get a different view of the forest floor. The ride up there and back was good fun too.
Throughout the day Doug and I chatted about bikes, riding gear, travelling, future plans and so on. A great day out and one of the highlights of my stay in Melbourne. Thanks Doug. I had a great day out with a true gentleman.


The Great Ocean Road has plenty of natural beauty to admire.

Odd things happen sometimes, which you can look back on and wonder about your luck, both bad and good. My riding boots needed repairing and I’d found a place just north of the CBD which specialised in motorcycle boots. One Saturday I caught the tram into the city, a tram which would have taken me right there. Except it was the Grand Prix weekend and road closures necessitated a change. Initially taking the tram which went in the wrong direction didn’t help either. Mistake quickly realised, I changed back and made it there in the end. But …. I hadn’t thought to check opening hours and they had shut by the time I arrived, forty minutes too late. Bad luck? Would I have been on time if the transport had been normal and I’d managed it better? Who knows, but as it was I had to wander round the city carrying the boots in a bag and being careful to remember to pick them up again every time I put them down. Close followers of this blog will know I’m very good at leaving bags behind and the inevitable happened. I got on the train back to the hostel and as soon as it pulled away I realised I’d left the boots on the bench where I’d been sitting. I got off at the next station, immediately got onto a train going back which, because it went round in a loop, stopped at the same platform from which I’d left and there, still on the bench, were my boots. A quick check of the signboard told me the train that had brought me back to the city would now take me out to Prahran again so I promptly got back on, feeling both foolish and very lucky. I think I’d just completed a railway version of a walk through a hall of mirrors. A casual observer would have been at a loss to understand what had been going on. I wouldn’t have blamed them.


Melbourne’s older suburbs are full of neat little houses with individual styling.

Eventually it was time to leave Prahran, with no regrets at moving away from that dump of a hostel. The new one was just on the edge of the CBD, opposite the museum, and was in a different class. Ross’s flight had been delayed by technical faults so I had a couple of days to kill.
The mainstay of Melbourne’s excellent transport system is the trams. They’ve rattled around the city since the early 20th C and are free to ride within the city centre. The easiest way to pay is with a Myki card, which can be loaded with money as necessary. It’s a common enough system worldwide. The hostel loaned me one for Ross so I was able to meet him in the city centre on the morning of his arrival and get him back to the hostel without any fuss. He was, of course, very tired but after a few hours sleep we went out for a walk down to the visitor centre in Federation Square for some ideas.


One of Melbourne’s older trams outside one of the older buildings. Both beloved of tourists.

Next morning a change came over Ross. He suffers from an under active thyroid gland and this sometimes brings on anxiety. And that’s what happened to him. Whether it was jet lag, being so far away from home, worries about forthcoming exams at university or a combination of everything, he felt too unwell to do anything. And that’s how it remained for three days until eventually he went home early. A deep disappointment for both of us. I’d really been looking forward to spending time with him and he’d been looking forward to a nice holiday. But there’s no way round these things sometimes and it was simply not to be. Such a shame.
So, alone once more, I carried on being a tourist. I had bought tickets for an Aussie Rules football game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Easter Saturday. The MCG is a must see place for sports fans so I was pleased to have obtained them, especially as I wanted to see an AFL game. Ross and I had watched one on TV on Thursday, with a copy of the rules in front of us, in the hope we’d be able to understand what was happening on the pitch.


Looking across to the Sports and Entertainment Precinct from the top of the Eureka Tower (named in honour of the Eureka Rebellion.). The MCG is the arena on the left, Rod Laver Arena on the right..

The first MCG was built in 1853 to house Melbourne Cricket Club and was the venue for the first Australia/England test match. The current stadium was built in time to host the 1956 Olympic Games but has been refurbished since. It sits among several other stadia, including the Rod Laver tennis arena. In summer it is the home to cricket, in winter to AFL. It seats 100,000 people and has seating and catering facilities which make them a pleasure to use. There are big screens in the corners, very necessary in such a big stadium.
The Australian Football League developed in the 1890s and is centred mostly in the south east. Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney all have several teams, with a couple way over towards Perth and also up around Brisbane too. A total of eighteen, in just one league.


A very famous Aussie sportsman welcomes you to the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The game is played on an oval pitch, with an oval ball. The pitch can be up to 185 metres long and 155 metres wide. That’s a huge area. Players can run with the ball, but must bounce it every 15 metres, ‘handball’ it or kick it. ‘Handballing’ involves hitting it to another player by punting it with the fist. It isn’t thrown like a rugby ball. The key skill is in catching. If a player catches a ball that has travelled more than 50 metres he gets a free kick. This is clearly a huge advantage if he is within range of the goal. There are four goalposts at each end and kicking the ball cleanly between the centre two earns six points. Getting the ball between either of the outer two posts, or between the centre two with any part of the body other than the foot, earns one point. An own goal will also give the other team one point and is sometimes used as a defensive tactic. It is very high scoring and fast paced, which demands constant substitution of players throughout the game. Each team can have over eighty. With coaches being allowed on the pitch at any time and a total of eleven officials, it is a very strange game indeed! The full laws and rules can be seen here: http://www.aflrules.com.au/afl-game-rules/


The huge pitch, just before the game started. Sadly, not such a huge crowd.

I enjoyed the spectacle very much and was rooting for the local team, Melbourne, who were playing the GWS Giants, from Sydney. The final result was unusually close at 82-80. My biggest disappointment was that the stadium was only about 20% full. It seems that Melbourne aren’t very good so don’t have a big following, and GWS are a long way from home so didn’t bring many fans. Unlike the TV game on Thursday, also at the MCG, there wasn’t much of an atmosphere so I didn’t get the MCG experience I’d heard so much about. Such is life.


The guys in pink are the coaches who are allowed on the pitch during the game, but can’t go too close to where the ball is.


One of the umpires (in yellow) ‘bounces off’ to start play.

Fortunately museums are pretty constant and are invariably popular, as witnessed by the amount of holidaying kids and parents at Melbourne Museum, just across the road from my hostel, in Carlton Park. Because I could prove I was over sixty, entry was free. It was well worth it too. They have some fabulous galleries and in the one about Melbourne I learned all about Batman.
Attempts had been made from the early1800s to settle the shores of Port Phillip Bay but none succeeded until settlers from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) began investigating the mainland in the 1830s. A certain John Batman claims to have ‘bought’ around 600,000 acres from the local Aboriginals, paying them in clothes and trinkets and promising an annual rental. This deal was never recognised by the authorities in Sydney. Apart from anything else Aborigines are custodians of land, not owners, so the concept of ‘selling’ just didn’t exist for them. But Batman went ahead and started a new settlement, calling it Batmania. Other settlers arrived and although denied permission to do so by the Governor in Sydney, a new, convict free town was begun. Eventually the authorities gave in to reality and sent a magistrate, a surveyor and other officials to formalise the settlement, changing the name to Melbourne, after the then British Prime Minister. The surveyor created a street plan, aligned with the Yarra River, which is now the CBD. He designated the main streets, at 99 feet wide, and the minor streets in between them to be 33 feet wide. That’s how things still are today. The colony grew off the back of successful agriculture on the fertile lands around it. Despite being part of New South Wales, the city kept itself separate from Sydney by creating its own police force, land registry etc. Eventually in 1851, after much agitation by the populace, the new state of Victoria was recognised with Melbourne as the capital.


Ecstatic headline when Victoria was founded.

Gold had been found around Sydney about that time and the authorities in Melbourne offered rewards to anyone finding commercial amounts of it in Victoria. It turned out that the hills around the state were covered in it and the Victorian goldrush was soon in full swing. Melbourne emptied out as people headed to the goldfields but promptly filled back up again as ships from around the world brought thousands of hopefuls, looking to get rich. Many did. The city most definitely did and so began the forty year boom during which most of the city’s fine buildings were erected. This included the hall used for the 1880 international exhibition, which became the home of the Federal Parliament until it moved to Canberra in 1927. ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ had been created and was thriving. More info here:
Back in the museum, I found the Mind and Body section, which, like a biology lesson on steroids, had plenty of graphic diagrams and models explaining all the bodily functions. All the kids seemed to love it. I was very pleased by the gallery on evolution too, which gave equal credit to Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin for their evolutionary theories. Wallace was poor and funded his research on evolution by collecting and selling animal specimens, found on his travels. He sent his work to Darwin to seek his opinion, which made Darwin realise he needed to get his finger out when it came to publishing his own. Darwin was happy to give credit to Wallace for the work he had done, which was along the same lines as his. But Wallace would never have got his work published, he just didn’t have the contacts or clout that the rich Darwin did. So well done Melbourne Museum for giving him recognition.

Alfred and Charles. Similar theories and mutual respect.

One morning I went across to the State Library, the meeting point for a walking tour of Melbourne CBD. It was one of those where you pay the guide at the end of the tour, based on how good you thought it was. And it was a very interesting three hours. He showed us various great buildings, as well as some sparky graffiti; some of the fine shopping arcades; plenty of historical stories about the city. In the first five years of gold production around twenty million ounces of gold was mined. That’s simply incredible. He told us the story of the 888 campaign, a stone masons’ strike of the late 19th C. They wanted to be able to work for only eight hours per day and have eight hours rest and eight hours play. It was difficult but they won in the end and there’s a monument to them up in the city. I’m sure there’s no irony intended but it’s right next to the old gaol, where the bush ranger Ned Kelly was hanged.


Monument to the stone masons’ strike., leading to decent working conditions.

So now it’s time for a little story to gladden your hearts. When I started my secondary education my English teacher was a very nice, adventurous and forward looking teacher named Bernard Newsome. He and his wife came to England from Melbourne and he gained his teaching certificate there. His first job was at Crown Woods School and he taught me and my twin brother for three years, until he left. He was one of those teachers that you remember well for reasons that you can’t necessarily remember. They just leave such a positive impression on you. Roll the years forward to 2005 and Bernard, now retired after a very successful career as a senior lecturer at Melbourne university, is visiting England with his wife Mary. An acquaintance happened to know my father so he obtained contact details and rang him up. He gave Bernard my brother’s details and now they’re back in touch. When my brother knew I was going to be in Melbourne he passed me Bernard’s contact details. Now we’re back in touch. So it was to Bernard and Mary’s house in Toorak, Melbourne, that I headed when I left my hostel. And fifty years since we last met, I was welcomed into their home like a long lost son.


Bernard and Mary.

I’d be a liar if I said he hadn’t changed. Of course he has. He’s in his eighties now and suffers from heart problems, but the essential Bernard I remember. The humour, the insight and the quiet gift of knowledge is still there and I had a fabulous fortnight with them. We were delighted with each other’s company and I felt the warmth exuded by both of them. Their house has an annexe, where the youngest of their three children, Polly, lives. She’s a very sparky character and joined us on a couple of trips out, as well as taking me on a little tour of Melbourne.

I took time to do a few small jobs on the bike, including replacing the very bald rear tyre, and also sorted out some admin problems surrounding my carnet de passage. That’s a whole saga in itself. I finally collected my repaired boots from the cobbler and got them home safely without losing them. Not even once.

Plenty of grip now.

Mary is an artist and we visited a couple of galleries which I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. In the Yarra River is the small Herring Island, man made from river dredging. Formerly used as a scout camp, it’s accessible only by boat, a small, motorised punt in this case. We timed it well as the service was about to close down for the winter. There are sculptures dotted around the island but the main attraction is a small gallery which happened to be showing a collection of small pictures. Called the A4 exhibition, all of them were on A4 size material and I think it made them very effective. I got chatting to the ‘duty artist’, Carin, who had four of her paintings on display. She normally paints landscapes in watercolour but said she thoroughly enjoyed working on a smaller scale and decided to produce four very delightful pictures of insects – a subject whose scale suited the size restriction. There were many other good works there too. A delightful little place. Back on the ‘mainland’ coffee and bread pudding – covered in syrup – was too tempting to turn down.

Lileth Ladybird and Basil Bee. Two of Carin’s delightful pictures.

Next day we went to a gallery of a completely different style. Built by rich art lovers and displaying most of their collection, it’s called the Tarrawarra Museum of Art. It’s a marvellous building, well worthy of the tax saving Bernard suggested it made for them. The exhibition was all about landscapes and this was reinforced by the design of the building. The rectangular openings in the surrounding wall effectively make the view over the lake, willow tree lake and distant escarpment part of the exhibition. Inside I gladly took lessons from Bernard and Mary on various aspects of the paintings, keen to extend my own knowledge of what makes a good one. We’d already discussed still life, something which, up to now, I simply hadn’t understood. Teachers never stop teaching thankfully, but by the time we got to the pub for an extremely nice lunch, I think I’d earned it.


I rather liked this landscape.

Polly and I took a tram into the city one morning so she could show me some of the places she likes. First call was to the National Gallery of Victoria. I got a taster of what’s in the galleries and what to look at when I came back for a longer visit. Same thing applied to the State Library, a building whose design and function matches that of the British Library in many ways. Melbourne has some grand old shopping arcades, some of them from Victorian times. Banks Arcade is one such, with a vaulted roof and skylights, small specialist shops and statues of Gog and Magog, those two representatives of the wars that will accompany the end of days – allegedly. I imagine they were put up to reflect what happens when the Boxing Day sales begin.


Gog and Magog, either side of a very nice clock.

We enjoyed a Japanese lunch then looked at some street art and a couple of the city’s old buildings. The former Post Office has a typically municipal look to it and has a great interior. It’s now an H&M store. Better than this was the Melbourne City Baths, built in 1904 to meet the needs of the growing population and to replace an earlier version. It’s a fine old building, in a very typical Edwardian style,, still with the original pool, balcony and changing rooms. One area has been converted into a gym, aimed at personal training rather than personal cleaning, and a squash court; but essentially the building retains its original function. Up on the balcony is a nice display of photos and cuttings telling its story, which reflects the ups and downs typical of such public facilities. Similar places were common in most British cities too. I wonder how many are left?
Polly has travelled a fair bit. New Zealand and Laos, but in particular she spent time in East Berlin, just after the wall came down. Exciting times for that city. I was happy to tell her it’s calmed down a bit now.


Polly, alongside one of the more puzzling exhibits from the Tarrwarra museum.

I decided to take a ride out to Ballarat, one of Victoria’s big gold rush mining towns and, coincidentally, also where Bernard attended boarding school. He was a first class cricketer, rower and Aussie Rules football player for his school and almost went to university off the back of that. Fortunately an English degree was more attractive to him. As if that claim to fame isn’t enough, it’s also regarded as the cradle of Australian democracy thanks to a minor revolution involving miners.
A chilly 120kms ride north west of the city found me at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat’s main tourist attraction. I thought the entry fee rather steep but to be fair to them there is plenty to see and do inside the gold mining town they’ve created. The buildings are reconstructions based on those from the 1850s and are laid out in streets. There are plays, demonstrations and – my favourite – plenty of steam. Visitors can also go down old mine shafts.

Reconstructed streets and modern children in a period schoolroom. It seems they used to write in trays of sand back then.

I avoided most of these things as I didn’t have too much time but got into the swing of things among the people wearing period costumes acting in various roles. The shops were open, as were houses and schools. The costumed guides were there to answer questions and to act out various scenarios throughout the day. There were loads of families around who seemed to be enjoying themselves hugely. Many of them took the opportunity to pan for gold – real gold which they were allowed to keep should they be lucky. I’m betting there wasn’t much there though.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the steam engines, which are the only source of power for the various craft demonstrations. A host of belts, pulleys and shafts moves the power around the site to various workshops, such as the wheelwright’s, where I watched how a wagon wheel is made. The great thing is that all old style artefacts are made and maintained by these steam powered workshops and the craftsmen inside them. The only concession to modernity are necessary things such as machine guards. The men wear authentic clothes and seem to have deliberately grown authentic beards too. While I was chatting to one of them I carefully examined his face, looking for the glue. But no, it was the real thing.

Steam provides the power that the wheelwright uses to make the wagon wheels.

Across the way was the Gold Museum, with detailed information about assay processes and other related displays, including equipment, clothing and stories of mining triumphs and failures. I decided in the end it was worth the money but if you ever go, allow a full day.
Not far away is the site of the Eureka Stockade and the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE). The story behind this place is as follows.
Miners were charged a licence fee for the right to dig. These fees were high and the miners had no say in what they were or how they were applied. Many of them had emigrated from England and Ireland and were veterans of the Chartist Movement, which sought fair representation for all men. The Chartist maxim was “That it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called on to obey, that taxation without representation is tyranny.”  There was no representation for miners in the Victorian parliament and negotiations between their leaders and the politicians brought no result. New and more determined leaders mong the miners decided to launch a rebellion. A stockade was built to defend against the Colonial troops but a dawn battle, which lasted less than an hour, saw defeat for the miners and twenty seven dead people. The leaders were tried in Melbourne for treason but popular opinion was on their side and the jury’s verdict was Not Guilty.


The remains of the Southern Cross flag which flew over the Eureka Stockade.

A Royal Commission of Enquiry, which had been set up before the rebellion, recommended many improvements to the way the mines were licenced, pretty much meeting all the demands of the miners. In 1856 the law was changed to give voting rights to all white males. This was a significant change, one which didn’t happen in Britain until 1867.Sadly it also helped to embed sexism and racism into Australian official affairs as women and the thousands of Chinese miners were excluded.
I’ve only been able to give a very short version of the story here (Hurrah! I hear you shout) and lots more information is available here:
The museum traced this story, displayed the remains of the rebels’ Southern Cross flag and told other related stories from around the world on the democracy theme.


Workers at an Auckland meat processing works were stood down for wearing this innocuous T shirt and still await reinstatement. Even in a country as forward looking as New Zealand, injustices can still be found.

Various other venues around Melbourne helped me to learn the city’s story. The Old Treasury Building was one such. It was designed by JJ Clark, a Liverpudlian immigrant aged only nineteen, who was also responsible for the design of many other public buildings. Bursting at the seams with Melbourne history, the old vaults and offices are filled with displays about gold rush days, the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly, early interactions with indigenous people and a large section about the post WW1 Soldier Scheme.I really liked the story of the Soldier Settlers. This scheme was designed to help returned WW1 troops. If they agreed to move into unoccupied areas within Victoria they were given land and loans to start farms. Although there were some successes, most of the men were too damaged, physically, mentally or both, to be able to cope with the situation. I mentioned before the Groupies Scheme in Western Australia. Similarly, all that these families had was some land and a loan. No clearance had taken place, no house had been built and it was just too much for most of them. They weren’t given enough land for a viable farm either. As in WA, the scheme was abandoned and a subsequent enquiry was very critical. But those that did make it work became the backbone of Victoria’s pastoral industry.


The Soldier Settlement Scheme. A worthy idea but badly organised.

The Immigration Museum was worth an hour or so’s visit, telling the story of immigration from Europe, especially post WW2, where Australia was a haven for the stateless and dispossessed. The federal government was keen to increase the population and as well as the war victims the era of the ‘Ten pound Pom’ was born. Many Britons left for Australia to seek a new life and were mostly successful. I’ve met many of their children since I’ve been here and they all seemed happy about their situation, including those that were born in Britain.
Melbourne has a very racially mixed population and many people are of Irish background. The potato famines of the mid-19th C drove huge numbers to leave home and gold fever infected Melbourne was a popular destination. So it was no surprise to find, when I visited the state library, a section devoted to the Easter Uprising of 1916. Depending on your viewpoint, this event was a glorious failure, but one that ultimately led to Irish independence, or it was a treasonable act of war against the British state. I’d guess that to the many descendants of those immigrants it was the former, especially as the majority of them would have been Catholic. At this time there was no conscription into the army and as the defeat at Gallipoli and the horrors of the Western Front worked their way into the Australian consciousness the people gradually turned against it. The government wanted to introduce it but were defeated in two referenda, in 1916 and 1917. One of the key influences on the first decision was the events in Dublin, which helped to turn Australia’s initial enthusiasm to ‘fight for the Empire’ into strong resistance in those areas which had a strong Irish voice. The information leaflet points out that at the time of the opening of the state library in 1856 nearly one third of Australia’s population was Irish born. So no surprise at seeing plenty of displays relating to James Joyce, WB Yeates and others.
Both the State Library and the National Gallery of Victoria have a wide range of artworks and artefacts. One of the NGV galleries over in Federation Square had a terrific and moving display of ‘angry art’ from indigenous sources, depicting the discrimination, sexual injustice and inequality their people suffered.

The tragedy of Aboriginal life and the hoped for, but unlikely, victory.

On a lighter note I enjoyed a walk around the Queen Victoria Market. This 1878 building houses a traditional working market, part wholesale and part public. It has various halls, each of which focuses on meat, dairy, fruit and veg etc., along with areas aimed at souvenir hunters and other tourists. Every Wednesday it holds a Summer Night Market where the halls are full of artisan food stalls, global food stalls and several entertainment stages. Judging by how busy it was when I went there Melburnians seem to enjoy trying different foods and ‘music while you eat’.
Melbourne had a second treat for me with regard to old friends from the past. Dave Gall used to live in Charlton, SE London, with his wife Marti. He used to join us for football games at The Valley, and in the Rose of Denmark, our pre-game watering hole. Dave is a Melburnian and soon after his son was born they returned to Australia. I had his email address so was able to arrange a reunion with them. You all understand the delights of catching up on news, comings and goings, and gossip. We had a great day. Getting to know their kids (a daughter as well now), enjoying lunch and dinner, and generally reviving an old friendship. Marti still teaches maths and Dave has given up the corporate world to become a teaching assistant at a special needs school. They both seemed very happy. Therefore I was too.


Dave, Marti, Bethany and Josh.

In among all this visiting I was busy on the phone trying to sort out my carnet de passage, my bike’s ‘passport’. They expire after one year although I’d been able to extend mine while in New Zealand. But now I had a new one and needed to get the old one ‘signed off’ and the new one started. A ride out to the customs office at Melbourne airport had been a failure. It seemed I needed to get a form filled out by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA). This made sense really because when I thought back I remembered that the Japanese Automobile Federation had to validate my carnet before Japanese customs would stamp it; the New Zealand AA had been involved in extending my carnet too. In the end it was all straight forward. It just took some emails and phone calls to a very helpful woman at the AAA. Once I had the form I contacted customs again and they said it would be OK for me to complete the paperwork when I got to Sydney. That was a real relief. I find it difficult to shake off that feeling of naughty boy type nervousness when I’m dealing with these officials. It’s not that I’m trying to fool them or anything, it’s very much that if things go wrong then my life suddenly becomes very difficult. I still couldn’t quite relax until everything had been finalised in Sydney, but things now looked all set for the right result. Phew!

Carlos filmed me and Doris.

Think back, if you can, to last July and my little escapade up on Cape York, when I went for a swim and nearly didn’t come back. The BBC got wind of it and contacted me to appear on a programme called Close Calls on Camera. It focuses on the role of the emergency services in rescuing poor fools like me. So one Sunday morning a cameraman arrived at Bernard’s house to interview me. Carlos unloaded all his gear, set it up in the living room and we simply chatted for well over an hour. He gave me some tips on how to answer his questions, the main one being that I needed to include his question in my answer as his voice would not be heard. We did some shots of me making tea, sitting in the garden drinking it, and then some sequences of me riding up and down the road on Doris. It was good fun and I think it will be broadcast towards the end of June. My fifteen minutes of fame will happen soon.
Eventually the time came for me to leave Bernard, Mary and Melbourne. I took them and Polly out to one of their favourite restaurants and had an absolutely perfectly cooked kangaroo steak. The red wine wasn’t bad either. I had been with them for over two weeks and it was a magical time. I was cosseted, fed, shown around and generally treated like the prodigal son. I was a more than willing swimmer in the natural teaching pool of Mary and Bernard, learning much about art, Aussie Rules football and story telling. It was a truly delightful interlude. Will I ever see them again? I can only hope so.

And finally, some of the terrific artwork I saw in Melbourne.