Down under in Melbourne
I took a night bus to Melbourne which was uncomfortable to say the least. The best night bus I’e ever taken was in Peru. How can a developing country have better buses than Canada, Japan, Australia etc.?
I arrived the weekend of the AFL (Aussie Footbal Rules League) final so almost every hostel was either fully booked or had marked-up prices. I found a hostel in St. Kilda, a trendy and newly gentrified suburb of Melbourne with a hint of seediness. (I think the best comparison is Queen St. West by The Drake Hotel in Toronto). Prostitutes were walking around in daylight. I saw one prostitute who was about 50 years old with poorly done makeup, wearing shorts which barely covered her wrinkly ass. Not that wrinkles are bad…but it was just a sad image.
The day of the AFL final, Federation Square – the main square of Melbourne – was packed with Aussies cheering on their teams. Melbourne is known for its rabid sports fan and is home to word-class sporting events such as The Australian Open and Formula 1 Grand Prix. I watched a bit of but could not get into it because I could not figure out the rules.
Since Kangaroo Island near Adelaide was out of the question, I opted to do a few daytrips near Melbourne. The first was to Wilsons Promontory National Park, the oldest in Australia. We walked through rainforest with elongated trees which made me feel like I was in a mystical forest inhabited by pixies.
We spotted wild kangaroos and wombats. The wombat is closely related to the koala so their faces are quite similar. I really wanted to see a wallaby. I have a fondness for small things and when I was younger one of my favourite shows was a cartoon called Rocko’s Modern Life which was about a wallaby. We did spot a few on the drive out, including one who was lying on the side of the road…dead.
The second daytrip was along the Great Ocean Road, considered one of the most scenic routes in Australia. The views are indeed majestic, but the trail is far too touristy, made worse by each tour company having the exact same itinerary.
They each stop at the same parks, the same beaches, the same restrooms! The highlight was spotting wild koalas. They are really cute but much bigger than I ever thought they’d be.
And lastly, I made a daytrip out to Phillip Island which is oft-visited for its large blue penguin colony. The blue penguin is the smallest of the species measuring about 33 cm. They fish for food in the water during the day and return after sunset, in the relative safety of darkness. They are really cute creatures! I did see one in Abel Tasman, New Zealand but I passed on seeing the large colony found in Oamaru on the East Coast. Before Phillip Island, we visited a wildlife reserve where you could feed kangaroos, see dingoes, tasmanians devils and birds. It was really unnatural. I prefer to see animals in their natural habitat.
Melbourne is a very beautiful city: wide boulevards lined with trees, modern architecture, Victorian architecture. It is considered the cultural capital of Australia and has a thriving arts scene. The two main art galleries are world class, and I really was impressed by the indigenous art. It was abstract art in its finest form and it was particularly poignant because each themed on Aborigine social issues, oppression and history.
The city reminded me of Toronto in many ways. Some people might laugh at the comparison: the cultural capital of Melbourne similar to the soulless Toronto? But both are cities made up of neighbourhoods. Fitzroy is Queen St. W or The Annex. The CBD is Bay Street. St. Kilda is Queen St. W or The Beaches. Carlton is Little Italy. Both are multicultural. Both have trams.
The highlight of my time in Melbourne was seeing Ladytron in concert. I was missing seeing live music, and felt it more knowing that I was missing some good shows back home: Stereolab, Silver Jews, My Bloody Valentine, Tortoise! Despite being a long-time fan, I’d never seen Ladytron before and since I’d never seen a concert in another country, I grabbed a ticket as soon as I found out they were playing. It felt a bit weird to go to a concert alone which I had never done before. But it was oddly liberating, knowing that I would not see anyone in the crowd again.
The first opening band was, I’m sorry to say, really bad. They lacked originality and even their clothes reflected that: they dressed up like hipsters with tight black pants. The second band was energetic and started off with a bang, but after hearing six consecutive songs with the same beat, I got bored. I do think they have potential and I read they are fairly new so I’m interested in how they will develop.
Ladytron was in fine form. They played a good mixture of old and new songs, the best being International Dateline, Fighting Up In Built Up Areas and Ghosts. Mira Aroyo’s on-stage persona was icy and stoic while Helen Marnie was less so (she actually smiled a few times) and I found her quite mesmerizing in concert.
The crowd, however, was the worst one I’d ever seen. Although the venue was packed and their other two shows were sold out, I don’t think many knew Ladytron well. The crowd cheered like crazy for Seventeen but I think their knowledge of the band’s music didn’t go beyond that. Also, for some reason, they barely clapped for the two opening bands which I thought was not very nice. And when Ladytron finished their set, the crowd immediately walked away. I know Canadian crowds often get a bad rap for being stiff and not dancing, but I know for a fact that they would clap for bands regardless of musical ability and they always clamour for an encore!
By the end of my time in Melbourne, I felt bored despite its many attractions. At times, I didn’t feel like doing anything which I could partially attribute to the rain. But I think it’s also because Melbourne is a city that’s more fun with friends. There are great restaurants and cafes, nice bars and music, cool shopping.
I decided to head straight to Asia rather than see more of New Zealand. I wanted to experience a new culture again.