Man In A Suitcase

Melbourne, Victoria

The contrast between Melbourne and Sydney, Australia's two large cities, could hardly be more pronounced. Sydney has a vast harbour; Melbourne has the Yarra River. Sydney has the narrow streets of a city that kind of happened; Melbourne's were designed with plenty of room for bullock teams to maneuver, although you don't often see bullocks in town these days. More personally, I feel almost like I'm in an American city when I visit Sydney, at least most of the time. Melbourne is definitely foreign; part English and part something else entirely.

The foreign feeling begins with the architecture. Flinders Street Railway Station is a fine example. Just over ninety years old, it belongs to another era of design. The station sits along the northern shore of the Yarra. From the opposite shore there are fine views of the old and new buildings that make up the city's skyline. The south shore is taken up by shopping malls and the city's casino complex, a vista that I'm happier to leave to your imagination.

Melbourne Central is a large indoor mall in the center of the city that resides on top of the central train station. Anchored by Daimaru, an upscale but failing (or should that be "failing because it's upscale?") Japanese department store and connected to two other department stores by elevated walkways, it had the wisdom to save the wonderful shot tower on the original site and make it part of the shopping experience. A block away is the Queen Victoria Women's Centre, a magnificent building that houses a wide range of services for the women of Victoria. (I have a hard time using the phrase "Victorian women" with a straight face. I keep imagining long black dresses with high collars worn by women saying "We are not amused.") In spite of its appearance, the QVWC dates back only to the 50s. (The 1950s.) Which didn't stop the government from attempting to demolish it in 1989. Fortunately, the outcry was long, loud and ultimately successful.

The ornate gates at left belong to the Melbourne Mint. Or more accurately belonged: these days the official coinage operation has moved to Canberra. Now the building is home to the Melbourne office of TEAC Corporation. I hope they appreciate working in such fine surroundings. The rather more somber structure at right is the old Melbourne Gaol. (I love these antiquated English spellings.) The gaol is famous as the place where famed bushranger Ned Kelly was executed. From everything I've read, Australian colonial justice in the nineteenth century was anything but just. And Kelly is a fascinating character: a bank robber and murderer who continues to polarize Australians more than 120 years after his death. Was he an opportunist and a criminal? Or was he the victim of a corrupt system that never gave him a chance? Or just a smug twentysomething who met with a bad end? As with most things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

My hotel in Melbourne was nothing to write home about. But it did have a view of Queen Victoria Market. The market takes up seventeen acres of what was once a cemetary. (You'll be pleased to know that the graves have all been relocated.) Much of it is an open air fruit and vegetable market, with the front buildings providing a more controlled environment for fish stores, butchers, bakers, candy makers and a lot more. My schedule gave me no free time on days when the market was open, so I was limited to an early morning dash through before I left on tour. A pity; I think I could have enjoyed sampling the wares.

Two celebrity sightings from central Melbourne. The personage at left is Dame Edna Everage, the megastar from Mooney Ponds, Victoria who has delighted audiences (at least the ones she hasn't repulsed) the world over. I hold a special fondness for Dame Edna. I once had the opportunity to bask in her presence and take a bow with her and the rest of her entourage on the state of London's Haymarket Theatre. (Details and autographs -- mine, not hers -- are available for a nominal fee.) The picture adorning the building at right is of no such august personage. Although... is it just me, or does the woman in the Chinese military uniform bear a striking resemblance to Fran Drescher?

What is sadder than an amusement park out of season? My explorations of the Melbourne tram system took me to the southeastern suburb of St. Kilda. Luna Park, Melbourne's answer to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, was closed. And the weather was a bit gray. Instead I settled for a wander among the funky shops of Acland Street and a rather good wiener schnitzel in an alter kocker filled restaurant that was right out of Eastern Europe. I avoided the siren call of the bakeries, although it was awfully close. A little less schnitzel and who knows what would have happened?

East to the Yarra Valley

Each of the southern states has its wine-growing region. Victoria's is the Yarra Valley, due east of Melbourne. I spent a pleasant day on tour to the valley, stopping first in the Dandenong Range to commune with a few parrots and then to ride on Puffing Billy, a historic steam train that has gained a new lease on life thanks to tourists like me who'll consent to riding open-sided trains in the pouring rain. Not that I'm complaining, mind. At least the cars had roofs. And it does move slowly enough to capture the odd picture along the way.

Like the Roaring Camp Railroad near me, Puffing Billy relies heavily on a volunteer staff. As hard and dirty as working a steam train must be, I can understand the appeal. For those of us who grew up with Lionel, what better than a chance to play on the real thing? Sadly, my itinerary covered only a small fraction of Billy's route. We had to make tracks to a winery for lunch (and yes, a little drinking and buying) and thence to our last stop of the day.

Healesville Sanctuary

Taronga Zoo in Sydney is a wonderful place in an unsurpassed harbourside setting. But in the end it's just a zoo. Healesville Sanctuary, on the other hand, is a little miracle; a home for native species where you can almost forget the civilization that encroaches on their habitat. Despite a wet and gray day, I had a wonderful time walking the trail, and wondering what species waited around the next turn. Like the remarkable fellow at right. And no, my camera didn't have a red eye problem. That's an albino kookaburra; the red eyes are all his own. This little guy owes his life to the sanctuary. With his weak vision he'd have little chance of surviving in the wild. Apparently albino births aren't all that unusual. Having one reach maturity is quite another matter.

There are no good or bad animals; they all just act according to their nature. On the other hand, there are good and bad photographic models. The wallaby at left is one of the good ones. She let me get as close as I liked. And when I asked her to raise her head she complied. How much more cooperation can you ask than that? The Tasmanian devil at right wasn't quite so cooperative. Like his counterpart in the Warner cartoons, he just wouldn't stop moving. But eventually I was able to outsmart him: figure out the timing of his march around his enclosure and where he liked to stop for a whole second, focus on that spot, wait for him to get into position and press the shutter before he went on the move again. Temperamental creature! See if his agent gets any calls from me!

Home / Country Index / Back: New South Wales / Next: The Grampians / Last: The USA

Google Web
 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California