Let’s not beat about the bush – we don’t much care for Melbourne. Or, to be brutally honest, and in the spirit of never calling a spade a spade when in reality it’s a bloody shovel, we find the place crowded, chaotic, noisy and dirty.
OK, I admit we’re not in a positive frame of mind. We stayed the night in a city centre apartment where our sleep was disturbed by the sounds of drunken revelry in the street outside. Let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than the sound of every other bugger in the neighbourhood having a great time at a party to which you’re not invited.
Of course, we prefer places that boast more trees than people, more critters than cars, more bird species than burger joints. Melbourne fails on all counts. To make matters worse, after more than a month in Tasmania we’re highly sensitised to the people-to-trees ratio and similar indicators of rural tranquillity, and can’t help looking back wistfully.
Moreover, following the long march prompted by our car breakdown on Flinders we can hardly move thanks to the combined effects of tweaked muscles, inflamed joints and lactic acid overload. In short we are feeling irritable and out of sorts, and ill-prepared for the urban jungle that is Melbourne.
We are also, I will confess, suffering from a severe case of bah-humbuggery. Christmas is fast approaching, and signs of it are everywhere. This evening we sit in a street-side Starbucks, drinking mocha and watching the world go by while we rest our aching limbs. The streets are rammed with folk getting into the festive spirit, giggling girls in Santa hats, half-cut guys in the full Father Christmas gear, green-uniformed elves roaming the street like gangs of unpaid extras from a Lord of the Rings movie, and screaming kids, all kitted out in reindeer antlers, presumably auditioning for a walk-on part as Santa’s Little Yelper.
I find this all rather distasteful. This trip to Oz was about getting away from it all, and the last thing I need is to have the modern world in general and Christmas in particular thrust into my face, to be reminded so brutally that the big day is just a fortnight away and I still haven’t got Julie a present. And anyway, it’s unnatural: the lead up to Christmas is meant to be cold, dank, gloomy and miserable, yet here we are sitting in warm late afternoon sunshine witnessing scantily-clad festive shenanigans all around us.
Of course, the fact that it’s a warm early-summer’s day and the locals are having a good time isn’t strictly Melbourne’s fault, but someone has to be held accountable. Bah-humbug!
To be fair, Melbourne has two saving graces. The first is its grand historic buildings, from banks to shopping arcades, which suggest that in its earlier days this was a city of real style and elegance, a place to be reckoned with. The ANZ bank, for example, is imposing from the outside …
… and stylish inside:
Here’s an interior from 336 Collins Street:
And here’s a detail from one of the shopping arcades:
Even the station is impressive:
The second thing in Melbourne’s favour is the Royal Botanic Gardens, which are an ocean of calm amidst a sea of chaos. We take the hop-on-hop-off bus, though in our case hobble-on-hobble-hobble-off might be more accurate, and soon lose ourselves amongst the flowers:
The lake is a focal point of the gardens:
The gardens also give us a chance to do some last-minute birding. The lake sports an old friend from Tasmania, the Pacific Duck:
We enjoy watching as a Yellow-wattle Bird raids blossoms for nectar …
… and listening to the ringing call of the Bell Miner, which is sometimes referred to locally as the Bellbird:
Even butterflies are here in force:
We spend a happy afternoon wandering the paths of the Royal Botanic Gardens, exploring its grounds and immersing ourselves in its tranquillity. We really like this place, and probably what we like most of all is that while you’re here you can forget you’re in Melbourne altogether. I guess that just about says it all.