We knew the drive to Melbourne would be a long one, but when we turned onto the Hume Highway or M31, the Satnav told us to “maintain on this road for the next 551km” we thought, this is going to be a long day. We left spot on 8am and regular breaks and swapping driving duties were going to be the best way to tackle this trip. As with Canberra, much of this road was quiet and deserted and there were signs at regular intervals along the highway reminding drivers to take a break, have a power nap or get off the road if you feel tired. Indeed it was not until we got within 200km of Melbourne that we noticed a significant increase in traffic levels.
L-R: Hume Highway at the start of our journey: Melbourne getting closer and still no traffic!; Really? Poster on a hoarding close to Melbourne Airport.
And so it was at around 4-20pm we drove wearily into our accommodation in Truganina, a suburb of Melbourne. We found a lovely open plan bungalow (Airbnb) with plenty of space, at the end of a short cul-de-sac. After unloading bags we went to get some supplies from the local supermarket about 3 miles away. This was a challenge in itself as there are no signposts anywhere and the way all the streets are laid out it makes getting in and out a real challenge to your sense of direction! Satnav was working overtime that day.
Truganina is a brand new town and all of the houses (including ours) are at best only 3 years old. It is a soulless suburban sprawl and part of Melbourne’s expansion to the west, spreading out and eating up land at an alarming rate. It has a small (by Aussie standards) shopping mall, a railway station and lots of land ready for development. Advertising boards indicate the promise of more to come with a gym/fitness centre part of the package. At the moment it is scorched scruffy land. There are huge hoardings all over the area advertising plots of land for sale and streets of houses and bungalows springing up everywhere.
There is much to see and do in and around Melbourne and we are here to see the city and the surrounding area, but also to see Lyn’s family, who emigrated two years ago, and friends from Wymondham who came here last October.
Federation Square Melbourne. The central Square with funky new buildings and overhead lighting.
To get our bearings in a new city, we always like to participate in a free guided city walk and Melbourne is no exception. To get into the city from Truganina involves a 35 minute train journey. Public Transport here is great; it is cheap and plentiful but you still end up standing if the train/tram/bus is crowded! The Melbourne PT have created the “Myki Card” which is a similar scheme to Sydney’s Opal card or London’s Oyster card. All fares on the Myki Card are capped at A$8-50 per day. Once you have spent that on your card, all travel on public transport is free within the city and outlying zones for the remainder of that day. It is a cheap and efficient way to get around and I think London Transport could learn so much from looking at this system! It still does not stop the traffic getting heavy during the rush hour though.
Flinders St Railway Station. Yes those are Tram rails in the road, Melbourne has an efficient and cheap tram service too.
The walking tour started outside the State of Victoria Library where three statues dominate the forecourt, Joan of Arc, St George slaying the Dragon (appeasing both the French and the British) and Sir Redmond Barry. Sir Redmond Barry was a lawer and judge noted for his service to the community, particularly on education. We walked on getting a potted history of Melbourne and some of the characters who feature in its history. One of the founding fathers was a sheep farmer from Tasmania named John Batman who came to the mainland in 1835 in search of more land for his ever expanding empire. He traded goods with the Indigenous people in return for 600,000 acres of land. Plans were laid to settle this land and after disputes with others who laid claim to the same land, settlement began in 1837. If Mr Batman had his way the new settlement would have been named Batmania after its founder. Thankfully however common sense prevailed and the area was named in honour of the sitting Prime Minister of Britain William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne.
Another, more notorious character in the history of Melbourne was the Bush Ranger and Outlaw, Ned Kelly and we visited the jail where he was held prior to his execution. Some believe he was Australia’s equivalent of Robin Hood. He was born in 1854 into an Irish convict family as one of eight children. His Father died when he was twelve, so he took over the “family business” carrying on where his father left off. Arrested in 1870 for stealing horses he served 3 years after which he became an outlaw, robbing banks and distributing the stolen loot to the poor. In one raid he broke down the vault and set fire to all the mortgage deeds held within. All records were destroyed and as a result, people were relieved of their debts. In his final days he was held up in a siege following a botched ambush on a police train, and his famous suit of armour fashioned from iron ensured he survived a shoot out with police, but he was arrested all the same. He was sentenced to death and was hanged in November 1880.
Clockwise from top left: Sir Redmond Barry; Jail which held Ned Kelly before his execution; Example of Victorian architecture which is common in Melbourne; Old Parliament building, now an exhibition hall; Central Business District.
In the 1850’s gold was discovered in the settlement towns of Ballarat and Bendigo. This fuelled a Gold rush lasting 20 years and an economic boom lasting over 40 years. Many of the large state buildings in Melbourne were built on the profits of the boom including the Library where we all gathered and the State Parliament. With boom always comes bust and in 1891 the crash was spectacular, as the gold dried up and as many left for new finds in Western Australia and South Africa, the city became moribund. Nevertheless, Melbourne was always considered the Capital City against its close rival Sydney, until Canberra assumed that role in the 1920’s.
Years of immigration from all over the world has seen Melbourne grow into a truly multi-cultural city, but with a single Australian identity. It was begun by the British and Europeans after the 2nd World War and followed in the 1970s from Asia and India. Now people from world wide come to Melbourne to build a new life, to work or like us to travel. Many nationalities freely mix and mingle and I feel much safer in Melbourne, day or night than I do in London.There is a whole museum dedicated to the migrants story which we will visit later.
Clockwise from top left: Fountain in Parliament Gardens; Steps of State Parliament; Eureka Building; Us taking a break; Tower over National Gallery of Victoria.
Clockwise from Top left: Old Photo of Flinders St; Busker and great blues guitarist; Lyn on the Laneways; two more from the Laneways.
One of the things modern day Melbourne is noted for is its Street Art. Instead of fighting against the Graffiti artists the city council has designated a number of walls for street artists to display their talents and work. Decoration is by permit only and if you are caught either without a permit or decorating an un-permitted wall you face jail term of 3 years! It is well policed so your chances of getting away with an illegal mural are slim. Some of the art is very modern and creative; other works look like the hormonal sprayings of an uncoordinated young oik with little skill and no idea! Much of this work is displayed in the Laneways, narrow side streets with quirky shops, cafes, bars and restaurants and a pleasant change from the expensive main street stores.
Some of the legal Street Art in Melbourne.
In three hours we covered a little of what the city centre has to offer, but Melbourne has so much more. Many of the districts surrounding the centre have charm and attractions of their own. One such is Prahan, a 10 minute tram ride from the centre. It is like stepping back in time. Cafe’s, restaurants and unusual shops prevail and it is where Lyn and I had lunch with friends when we met up. We were told that we should try Sushi as some of the best places are in Prahan. So we did and we loved it, never having eaten it before. Lyn, especially thought it was outstanding and fell in love with a new cuisine. Prahan is also home to a very special wine store. Named Dan Murphy’s it is a large chain of what the Australians call “Bottle shops” and we would know as off-licences. This particular store is special, housed in one of the oldest buildings in Prahan. The cellar was dug out by hand to make room for the wine racks on which to keep the bottles. It was a beautiful old building selling wine of all price ranges.
We eat Sushi for the first time. Why did it take us so long to try this stuff? Wow!
Scenes from Dan Murphy’s wine shop
For a complete change of scene, we got tickets for the Australian Air Show at Avalon Airport, which is a regional airport about 20km from here. What a fantastic day. It is the Australian equivalent of Farnborough featuring new aircraft and 3 exhibition halls of aviation related stuff. The static displays were great and the flying programme was one of the best I have seen. Highlight? The USAF F22 Raptor fighter jet. The pilot did things with this jet that seemed beyond the realms of physics. One word……Awesome! A great day out spoilt only by the time it took us to get out and home. Two hours to get out of the car park and another hour to get home! Not a good end to the day.
Us at the Australian Air Show – Avalon…….
.…….and what we came to see. Clockwise from top left: Brand new Lockheed Martin F35 Lightning II (RAAF); Antonov AN124, the worlds largest cargo aircraft; Rockwell B1 Lancer from UASF; 2 images of the Lockheed Martin F22 Raptor of the USAF.
Melbourne is a less brash version of Sydney and almost behaves as if it were the capital of Australia. Coffee culture everywhere and there is barely a street without an outlet. It feels much less cramped than it’s New South Wales neighbour but is equally as busy. Yes, we already like it better than Sydney. More to come on Melbourne soon.