Melbourne...Just in Passing

by wandering freditor / Feb 03, 2011 / 0 comments

Now I won’t dwell on Melbourne, because we have been there before, you and I. So think of this little essay as though I am topping up your coffee! For me, Melbourne is such a grand and stately place, the sort of Dame Maggie Smith of cities, that even in passing, she is always worth a quick visit, especially as my son, his wife and my gorgeous grand-daughter dwell there! And as always, Melbourne played her warm and hospitable role, with lots of sunshine and only an edging of the rain, which devastated other parts of “the Garden State” of Victoria. There was the occasional blast of cold, but it wouldn’t be Melbourne if you didn’t have those four seasons in one day! Oh, I am a fan of Melbourne, the sporting capital of Australia, with its wonderful buildings, colonial and modern, its trams, its sedate shopping, and its lashings of gardens and park-land.

Although I am not quite retired, I came to Melbourne as a pensioner, with all sort of concessions, and that wonderfully precious commodity of time on my hands. The years, and the experience from bouts with idiots, have made me realize the virtues of patience although from time to time, when provoked, I tell you, I have little bouts of ‘regression’. Then, I call people, under my breath to be sure, “stupid buggers”, or sigh in a telling way. But in Melbourne, I didn’t give a fig (well except when I, the ‘claustrophobist’ had to have an MRI scan for my hearing, and was extremely grateful for the presence of my re-assuring son). If I missed a tram, I waited for another. Sitting patiently and observing can be both restive, and fun, and women still take kindly to an old man tipping his Panama, or conceding his seat on the tram! It was easy to make my day in Melbourne!

Melbourne Tea Rooms
The old Tearooms in the Block Arcade (1893). The cheesecake looks good!

I spent good time in Melbourne’s fine bookstores, or looked at the wonderful window displays in cake and chocolate shops in the city’s beautiful Victorian and Edwardian arcades, or treated myself to coffee and a Brandy Snap in some of the nooks that loosely call themselves cafes. As in Sydney, people were friendly and engaging, and certainly more posh of dress, casual but elegant, with shoed feet, although here and there too, the outline of a thong on a tightly-panted posterior. Although the schools were still on holidays, and the crowds appeared to have an abundance of post-Christmas spending money, all moved serenely yet purposely. Melbourne is used to crowds. I sat in Federation Square, an ice-floe-like area of jutting, angular buildings, right opposite Melbourne’s iconic Nineteenth Century Flinders’ Street Station, and like Melburnians, watched play, on a giant screen, in the Australian Open tennis tournament,.

The French Renaissance Flinders Street Station circa 1910, and Federation Square 

The French Renaissance Flinders Street Station circa 1910, and Federation Square

From the late 1850’s to the 1870’s, Melbourne was one of the richest cities in the world, and ‘everyone’ knew of the fabulous golden riches being mined in Ballarat and Bendigo. “Australia” was still over 30 years from its birth and many of the Victorian buildings of bluestone granite and the finest stone-masonry, reflected Melbourne’s grandeur. Most of that architecture still stands today, banks and theatres, the parliament, exhibition buildings and churches, with parkland like a picture frame, to compliment man made beauty with a bit of nature. Mind you, it wasn’t really till two Russian warships sailed into Port Phillip Bay, on which Melbourne is situated, that the good citizens felt a need for fortifications, as Melbourne was ‘wide open’, and so militia were formed, and forts were built for protection. And it wasn’t just the Ruskies who concerned them; they were very suspicious of the British, the French, and Americans too! Ah, those Russians!

Melbourne has a wonderful sort of tram Circle Line, and what is more, it is free! So I rode the old brown ‘rattler’, all wood and noise, a tram which looked like it had ‘turned left’ at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf! It was nothing like the sleek Formula1-like trams which run all over Melbourne, sometimes at surprising speeds. My fellow passengers were generally camera-equipped, many old, like me, with hearing aids too! We rattled down to the futuristic Docklands, with its stylish bank buildings amid the marinas, and the Customs offices, which looked like an up-ended chess board, and nearby, a giant close-the-roof football stadium. Here and there, like weeds in a bonsai patch, were a few Victorian-era buildings, looking much more likely than the contemporary buildings to last another two hundred years. I was glad when the rattler dropped me back at Flinders Street Station, happy to be back again among the buildings of yesteryear.

I crossed Melbourne’s chocolaty Yarra River over the beautiful Princes Bridge, stopping to watch a rowing eight flap its oars in unison, like a many winged butterfly. I then wandered along the riverbank, adjusting my sunglasses to look back and take a photo of the city, and found the young and flashy, in the eye line of the old and fleshy, the brown river and the city beyond looking like a painter’s palette. In the sunshine, there was much on display, and on the other bank, a steady stream of tennis enthusiasts making their way to the Rod Laver Arena, although some cruised most sedately by pleasure launch. Everywhere too, there were those exercising and jogging, and I yearned for earlier years, when I would have been among them.

Along the riverbanks of the Yarra River, Princes Bridge, and Flinders Street Station 

Along the riverbanks of the Yarra River, Princes Bridge, and Flinders Street Station

I left the bank, and wandered up to the Sidney Myer open air music bowl, and sat under the shade of a Coolibah tree, with the song of birds in my ear, and the slight hum of Melbourne’s traffic in the distance. For a moment, a helicopter clattered overhead, probably taking Fed or Rafa to the tennis, but then it was quiet again, so that even I could hear the bees buzzing at their floral collection boxes. I was tempted to close my eyes and lie back, but when you are in places for only a short while, it seems wasteful to be sleeping! So I looked out on the sight, with all the romantic fervor of a Romeo eying beauty, an intensity bordering on ferocity! Like Wordsworth, I gazed and gazed, but (greatly) thought, what wealth for me, the scene had brought!


Melbourne from the Gardens 

Melbourne from the Gardens

I walked briefly to the entrance to Government House, and then down a set of steps to where the River Yarra had once flowed, when it twisted like a snake. With the straightening of the river, billabongs had been formed, and they now are the lakes in a simply wonderful botanic gardens. They are full of every form of plant life available in Victoria, and there was a veritable visitor for each one! In the ponds swam long necked tortoises, black swans, and snake-like eels, and everywhere, there were people eating, relaxing, photographing, or like me, just looking. It was both a beautiful and tranquil place, a mere lob from the Tennis Centre and the Yarra River, and only a glorious fifteen minute walk from the centre of the city! I stayed for some time in a shaded spot, and enjoyed it all till my refreshed brain, summonsed my tired bones, for the journey home.

There is something quite cerebral about Melbourne, a self assurance of knowing that while not as flashy as Sydney, why would you want to be? In Sydney people like to find out what you earn, in Melbourne they prefer to know which school you went to! Melbourne is a place of wry smiles, not those rat with gold tooth grins, you find all over Sydney where so many people seem like hustlers and hucksters. Perish the thought here – well except for those at the Crown Casino! Melburnians are content to let Sydney flash and flaunt and win the ooh and ahhh plaudits, but instinctively, people here simply know, that the quality of life in Melbourne, is better. Yes in some ways, the two cities do see themselves as rivals, or peddlers of influence and seekers of Federal funding, and there is always a smug bit of Sydney satisfaction when they “put one over those toffs, those Victorians!”  But for the rest of Australia, Sydney has its unique beauties, and so does Melbourne, and that is what makes them both, such special places to visit.


Winfred Peppinck is the Tales of the Traveling Editor for Wandering Educators

All photos courtesy and copyright Winfred Peppinck