I went to Melbourne primarily for the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular (geronimo!), but also to revisit a city I hadn’t explored since university days. I was then in the Adelaide University Science Fiction Association, which had many dealings with the Melbourne University Science Fiction Association through conventions and friendships struck up.
Day 1 was spent flying 2 hours from Ballina, booking in to the hotel around 3 pm, then walking around, looking especially for bookshops. One can easily buy books off the net, usually cheaper than in a bricks-and-mortar bookshop, but – call me old-fashioned – I still like the experience of actually being in a bookstore, and the sight, smell and feel of a book. I’ll probably get a Kindle or suchlike one day for the sheer convenience of storing lots of books in one place when travelling, but for now I’ll stick to objects whose battery life is more than a couple of hours and which won’t be destroyed when I drop them. Melbourne bookshops did not disappoint, although they are gradually closing down like those in Brisbane and Sydney.
Because of daylight saving, sunset wasn’t until about half 7, so we had plenty of time for an initial reconnaissance.
It’s very easy to get from Tullamarine Airport to the city centre – just jump on a SkyBus, which goes every 10 minutes and has a courteous staff member as well as a driver to help with queries. This trip takes 20 minutes to Southern Cross Station, the main train/bus/tram hub.
We’d booked an hotel about five minutes’ walk from there, in Spencer Street. I’d chosen it as it was five minutes’ walk from the Convention Centre (where the Doctor Who concert was happening), just near the Yarra River which flows through Melbourne and close enough to the rest of the city to walk around. It’s relatively cheap, and the rooms are small but stylish. I like to walk around in a city to get a feel of the place.
Melbourne is set out on a grid pattern and is very easy to walk around. There’s a free tram which encircles the city, and a free tourist bus, too, so you can get your bearings with a ride on these. Recorded commentary tells you spots of interest and where to get off for certain places, like the museum or art gallery. Then you can strike out on your own – simple!
Melbourne is the only city in Australia to retain its trams as public transport (Adelaide has one line and Bendigo a couple, but they are minor lines). Trams and cars share the roads, and pedestrians have their share of deaths and injuries – I saw several people over the week just walking into the path of moving trams, usually wearing headphones or texting. A sign painted on several trams, going the whole length, says “If a rhinoceros on a skateboard was headed your way, you’d get out of the way, right? Well, guess what, a tram weighs about the same as 30 rhinos”. This should get the point across, but some people are too busy being distracted to read signs. The trams move fairly slowly, but there are few barriers between them, cars and pedestrians. You can see the amusing video of stampeding rhinos on skateboards, the safety awareness campaign, here.
There are plenty of tourist information centres, especially in the Bourke Street Mall, with knowledgeable staff – Melbourne is very well set up for the tourist.
Many late 19th century and early 20th century buildings have been preserved and are still in use, interspersed with modern skyscrapers of interesting design.
The Royal Society of Victoria has been promoting science since 1854 and polar science since 1874.
The architecture varies tremendously – in Sydney this gives a haphazard feel, but in Melbourne it seems more planned. Federation Square is particularly zany.
Lots of stuff goes on outdoors and in at Federation Square. I saw two strandbeests there – awesome. They weren’t exactly like the on in the photo below, but you get the general idea. There was no wind, so a person had to push each one. They normally walk by themselves in the wind.
There’s a tremendous amount of innovative street sculpture, dotted around the city and parks and especially along the banks of the Yarra (which has the reputation of an upside-down river for its colour, but I think the Brisbane River is browner). A fun one is the “theramin”, a tall, metal pyramid that detects movement near it and plays musical notes as you walk around it. You can get some idea of the variety of street sculptures here.
Many of the small lanes have impressively artistic “graffiti” – you can take back-lane tours to discover more.
Day 2 – the Melbourne Aquarium was a 5-minute walk from our hotel. I’ve detailed this here. In the afternoon, we walked more around the city admiring the architecture , and met up for dinner with some SF friends from uni days.
Day 3 – entirely devoted to the Doctor Who Symphonic spectacular.
Day 4 – walked along the Southgate shopping area across the Yarra, and explored the Arts Centre Sunday maker’s market. The nearby National Art Gallery of Victoria had too much stuff to see in one day, but we enjoyed looking at the European galleries. The volunteer staff are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Andrew went to an Irish pub claiming to hold a “session” (gathering of live Irish music-making in which you can participate) in the evening, but it was more modern “country and western” than traditional Irish. The walk under full moon over the Yarra made up for it, though.
Day 5 – I visited one of the publishers who send me work. Despite working freelance for them for 10 years or so, I’d never met any of the editorial staff face-to-face so it was buzz to see their offices and go to lunch with some of them. Later in the afternoon back in the city, I met up with one of “my” authors – again, I don’t usually get to do this, and it was delightful. I also checked out the state library, which had a special display of very old books, illuminated, on vellum and so on.
Day 6 – visited the Melbourne Museum, posted about here.
On the walk back to the hotel, on every major traffic intersection there were at least a dozen policemen, some standing around while others directed traffic. When we asked one of them what was going on, he said they were doing traffic management training. Keeping track of several lanes of traffic, plus trams, would be difficult – especially as on some (but not all) intersections, you have to pull over left, wait for traffic to pass, in order to turn right. Scary stuff. (Note to US and European readers: Australians drive on the left-hand side of the road – well, both sides, really, but you know what I mean.)
Day 7 – took a 1-hour train trip to Geelong to meet up with Rosemary and Jeff, whom we’d met on Lord Howe Island. Countryside is very much like South Australia in summer – brown, dry and sparse. Geelong is still a working port but parts of the foreshore have been renovated. We all had lunch in a foreshore restaurant and went to the National Wool Museum, which was more interesting than I thought it would be.
There’s a reconstruction of a 15th century Spanish or Portuguese caravel, built entirely from reclaimed timbers by a skilled amateur boat builder. It was inspired by the “Mahogany Ship”, a wreck supposedly found in 1863 in sand dunes on the Victorian coast. The wreck has never been established found, but if it were it would prove that Portuguese or Spanish ships reached southern Australian shores long before the Brits got here. Up close, the vessel is surprisingly small – the original must have been sturdy indeed to come halfway around the world.
The next day we arose very early to fly back to Ballina. The sign at the airport gives good advice for life in general: wherever you are, whatever you do …