Tag Archives: Melbourne

Trip 3:Monday, September 11

I slept incredibly well in the wonderful brass bed in the comfortable guest room. The fragrance of a bouquet of freesia and grape hyacinth that Judy had placed in the room was a delightful welcome to consciousness. Judy and Geoff are great gardeners, and there are flowers everywhere outside, but also cut flowers throughout the house.

The sky was overcast, but it was not raining, so we still had high hopes for the day. We had breakfast by the kitchen window, so we could watch the birds that gather here: crimson rosellas, magpies, gray currawongs, and a wattle bird. I love this place.

The sky began to clear, so we headed off to the Royal Melbourne Zoo. I had visited the Melbourne Zoo during my first trip to Australia, so I knew it was splendid, but it’s a fair drive from the ranch—almost all the way back to the airport. However, Judy and Geoff assured me that they were pleased to have a reason to visit, as they loved the zoo, too. So we were off.

The day remained a bit gray and quite cool, but that didn’t keep us from having a wonderful time. The zoo was even better than I had remembered, plus there were things I hadn’t seen previously. I was again dazzled by the astonishing walk-through aviary. Since the weather suits the birds there, it isn’t even really enclosed, just netted at tree-top level. As a result, there is almost no feeling of separation between the vegetation outside and that inside the aviary—and the large number of wild birds that gather nearby help bolster that feeling. Just astonishing, the variety and beauty of birds from all over Australia, swooping and perching and dining and preening their feathers and wading and showing off.

In the aviary

Big day for things with wings, as the butterfly house was next. I was ecstatic. There is something so ephemeral and ethereal about butterflies, it is a bit like touching a rainbow or a piece of sky. The numbers of butterflies made their beauty even more overwhelming. They were fluttering everywhere, some landing on me, many perching on the flowers that crowed around us, others dancing together. I was almost giddy with delight.

Judy and Geoff are keen on Aussie animals, so they were as happy as I was in the exhibits of local fauna. I have seen all these animals in the wild, but I never get tired of them. One behavior I hadn’t seen before (other than in videos) was kangaroos boxing. It’s likely the ones we saw were just practicing for the mating season, but these creatures can really fight when it comes time to divide up the ladies. Emus (birds, but not in the aviary as they are flightless) and a southern hairy-nosed wombat posed nicely for my photos.

Kangaroos boxing



We also fit in some African and South American fauna. It’s too big a zoo to see everything, but we did our best, staying until closing time.

Then back to the mountains. We missed most of the traffic, so we got back to the ranch in just over an hour. Geoff built up a fire in the fireplace, Judy made tea, and we relaxed for a while before Judy started dinner. We then spent an amiable evening, talking about Australia and books, Judy’s horses and endurance riding and her and Geoff’s road rallies. It was a lovely evening. But then it was time for bed, as we have an early start tomorrow.



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September 12, part 2

We passed a lot of familiar landmarks (Exhibition Center, Princess Theatre, Treasury Building) on our way out of Melbourne, then crossed through miles of suburbs, and finally headed up into the mountains–the Dandenongs. Winding upward, through dark forest, we came at last to Sassafras, and not long after, to Judy and Geoff’s handsome, tree-swathed, 10-acre mountainside ranch. The house is built just below road level, but still high enough to have an amazing view of the paddocks, forest, and valley below. Picture windows and a large wooden deck make the splendid scenery always easily available for viewing. The house is surrounded by gardens, made possible by a series of stonewalled terraces and accessible by stone steps and paths. Judy and Geoff have certainly put an astonishing amount of work into this place. Judy explained that native plants are particularly abundant in the garden because they are more likely to attract native wildlife, from possums to parrots.

There are, in fact, a great number of birds here. I’ve already seen kookaburras, butcherbirds, magpies, cockatoos, Eastern rosellas, and others I can’t identify. Judy said I’d definitely see more before I left.

Below the garden, broad paddocks slope down to the gooseberry and chestnut orchards, all bounded by dense stands of mountain ash and tree ferns.

I was shown to the charming guest room, where I dropped my bags. Then, after a brief tour of the rest of the house, we headed back outside–because there is always work to be done on a ranch. I helped Judy carry feed out to their two horses, Hoss and Rahmyl. Hoss is the “old man” of the farm, pretty much in retirement, but Rahmyl is an exuberant 5-year-old dapple-gray gelding. Both were waiting at the fence when we approached.

Next I was introduced to the dogs. Bullett McQueen is a sturdy-looking Australian blue heeler and Scamp is an ancient, blind silky terrier.

Chores done, we headed back into the house. This is a wonderful place, full of books and evidence of the Judy and Geoff’s interest in horses, horticulture, and Australian history. And my hosts are charming, gracious, generous people. We have corresponded since my first trip, but letters and a week on a riding trip with Judy were my only connection with them, and yet they have made me feel incredibly welcome.

Hiking up and down the sloping paddocks builds up the appetite, so I wasn’t disappointed when Judy said it was time to fix dinner. The kitchen is large, open, and well equipped, and Judy is an excellent cook. She prepared a lovely meal of beef shashlik and veggies, with a steamed pudding for dessert. Then we chatted over coffee and port, catching up on the years since we were last together, discussing what we’d do while I’m hear. Finally, it was time to say good night, and I headed off to the very comfortable bed in the delightful guest room. A long day made it a welcome destination.

Evening in the Dandenongs

Evening in the Dandenongs

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Thursday, September 12

The drive from Apollo Bay to Lorne was only 45 kilometers, but it took me an hour and a half, partly because of the winding roads, but also because I stopped every 10 minutes for photographs. Lovely bit of coastline–gentler than the one I left behind, but still impressive, with long beaches, sparkling water, and dark, green mountains.

I stopped for lunch in Lorne. I was here on my first trip to Australia, though coming from the opposite direction. It was on that first drive to Lorne that I decided that I’d have to return to this coast someday and explore it further. So glad I succeeded in doing that.

I had chicken and chips from a take-away shop, as I did on that first trip, eating on a beach that was sunnier but only slightly warmer than it had been on my previous visit. Lorne has grown since I saw it last, and it is prettier than I remember. I walked around a bit, looking for things I remembered, especially the golden cypress trees. Then it was time to get back on the road, continuing the drive, shoot photos, drive, shoot photos, drive routine of the morning. This was still a wildly picturesque bit of coastline, with the mountains (Otway Ranges) rising out of the sea, the road a narrow ribbon clinging to the land’s edge, forests giving way to beaches and small communities, occasional dramatic cliffs, lighthouses –all truly wonderful.

From rugged coast...

From rugged coast…

...to verdant grazing land.

…to verdant grazing land.

Through Aireys Inlet and Anglesea, and around Torquay. Leaving the coastline, I found myself amid surroundings that alternated between increasingly grand cities and handsome farms with broad, green paddocks. Up through the center of Geelong, and on into Melbourne. Driving in Melbourne is a special treat. Ha. Because of the trolleys, you can’t stay in the middle to make a turn, you have to go to the far curb and wait for the light to change, and then turn across all traffic lanes. Glad I only had to do it a couple of times. I dropped the car at the Thrifty office in Elizabeth Street at 3 o’clock. It would be almost an hour before Judy (of the white crash helmet, if you remember her from my book) was due to pick me up, but the folks at Thrifty kindly said I could leave my gear in the office if I’d like to go for a bit of a stroll through town. So off I went, to see how well I remembered Melbourne. There were, of course, changes, but there was also a lot that was familiar.

I was not far from the Melbourne Central Shopping Center, which has the unusual distinction of having a historic shot tower rising up through the center of the complex, and I headed there first. I was not interested in shopping, but I enjoyed exploring the shot tower. I then continued up Elizabeth Street as far as Bourke Street and the ornate, old Post Office. I picked a side street and then swung back in the direction of Thrifty. I was surprised (and pleased) to find Judy waiting for me. She said she’d known the gear in the corner was mine because she recognized my Akubra (the handsome gray Snowy River hat I bought on my previous trip). We grabbed my bag and set off down the two blocks to where Geoff, Judy’s husband, awaited us in the Land Cruiser.

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Melbourne Architecture

Each city in Australia has a very distinct personality. Someone once told me that, in Sydney, they want to know where you work, in Melbourne, they want to know where you went to school—and in Brisbane, they want to know if you’d like a beer. This humorous comment is a gross oversimplification (especially since anywhere in Australia, you’ll find folks with a fondness for the local brew), but it does reflect something of the atmosphere of these three cities: bustling, Old World, and laid back tropical.

In my May 25, 2009, post on Melbourne, I spoke of the city’s European feel—it’s the most European city in Oz— and elegant architecture. It is not just European in its appearance, but also in its mindset. People refer to the “Paris end” of Collins Street, where you find most of the cafés and boutiques. Replicas of clocks and statues from England adorn shopping arcades. And no raging British soccer crowd can top the folks in Melbourne for going wild at sporting events. (Though in Melbourne, you’d be watching Aussie Rules Football.)

As noted in that earlier post, the wealth of the gold rush led to a lot of fabulous buildings being constructed at a time when most of the folks in town had just arrived from Europe. I thought I’d share with you a couple of those buildings, just to show how impressive some of the older architecture is. Below are the Royal Exhibition Building, on the left, and the ANZ Bank Headquarters. (There are lots more wonderful old buildings, but a row of photos of buildings would be tedious.) And by the way, in Australia, the Z in ANZ is pronounced “zed”; the acronym stands for Australia-New Zealand.

Royal Exhibition Building

Royal Exhibition Building

ANZ Bank

ANZ Bank


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Flinders Street Station

When arranging a rendezvous, it is common for a Melbournian to simply say “Meet me under the clocks.” For locals, this can mean only one thing—meet below the row of clocks that are perched over the main entrance of the Flinders Street Station, Melbourne’s imposing, Edwardian baroque railway station. This railway station is the oldest in Australia. It is also the busiest suburban railway station in the southern hemisphere, and that busyness is accommodated by the longest main platform in Australia (700 meters, or nearly 2,300 feet).

The row of clocks can be seen in the image below as a row of white dots above the door. These clocks show the times for trains, and when not serving as a landmark for a meet-up, they help keep Victoria’s commuters on schedule.

Flinders Street Station

Flinders Street Station


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Shrine of Remembrance

The Shrine of Remembrance is among the most widely recognized of Melbourne’s landmarks. Built to honor citizens of Victoria who served and died in World War I, it is the largest and most visited war memorial in the state. The inscription on the side refers to “the Great War,” because when it was constructed, no one could imagine that there would be another war on such a scale.

Australians entered WWI when Britain did, in 1914. (The U.S. didn’t enter the war until 1917.) Australians were almost always at the forefront of the worst fighting in the war, from Gallipoli to Beersheba to France, and they sustained tremendous casualties. Despite being in the middle of a major economic depression after the war, the people of Victoria felt it was so important to honor those who served that the money needed to build the monument was raised in six months.

The design of the memorial was partly based on the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. (Interesting choice, really, because Halicarnassus, while the site of one of history’s most famous monuments, was in Turkey, and so many Australians died in Turkey during WWI.)

The monument has been modified over the years, with the addition of a forecourt to honor those who served in World War II, and a Remembrance Garden for wars since 1945. The Shrine of Remembrance is where Victorians hold their annual observances for ANZAC Day (April 25—the date that the ANZACs landed at Gallipoli in 1915) and Remembrance Day (November 11, like Memorial Day in the U.S.).

When my dad was fighting in North Africa during World War II, he met a lot of Australians, and it was in fact some of the friends he’d made, and the stories of them he told, that were the early foundation of my interest in Australia. The connection with my father made me feel acutely my debt to those honored by the memorial, though in all truth, I am moved by the sacrifices of any who fought, and fight, to keep the world free.

Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance

Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance

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Queen Victoria Market

I have both written and spoken, here and elsewhere, about dining in Australia, so if you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I think that Australia is a splendid destination for those who like to eat.

In Melbourne, one of the most wonderful manifestations of the excellence of the food options in Oz is the Queen Victoria Market. Founded in 1878, the venerable market covers more than 16 acres—and even that isn’t always enough, so they close down one of the bordering streets on Sundays, to create a café area, so people can linger at the vibrant market.

Much of the market is open-air, with only a roof overhead, but there are also enclosed halls for items that need a bit more care, such as fish and meat. The market is divided into several “precincts,” so you can target your shopping, if you don’t want to browse the entire place. You can visit the Deli Hall, Elizabeth Street Shops, F shed laneway, Market Place Food Court, Fruit and Vegetable precinct, the Meat Hall, Organics, General Merchandise, Victoria Street Shops, and the Wine Market.

The building that houses the Meat Hall (or, more properly, the Meat, Fish, and Rabbit Hall) actually predates the market as a whole, having been built in 1868. It houses butchers, fishmongers, and fresh poultry traders. The Deli Hall was a “late” addition, built in 1927. The offerings in this hall reflect Melbourne’s immigrant history, so head here to shop for delicacies from around the globe. The Wine Market is a weekend outlet for smaller wineries that might not otherwise have wide distribution. Fruits and vegetables occupy the largest portion of the market—almost 50 percent of the market is dedicated to fresh produce.

The splendid Queen Victoria Market might not be a reason to travel to Australia, but if you’re heading for Melbourne, it’s certainly a place to visit, at least if you’re serious about food.

Produce at the Queen Victoria Market

Produce at the Queen Victoria Market


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Tree Ferns

After a few days in the city, I had the pleasure of heading into the nearby mountains—the Dandenongs. I was delighted to find myself surrounded by greenery. It is a lovely feature of Australia’s largest city’s that there are mountains and wilder, or at least more rural, areas quite close at hand, where one can escape to cool beauty.

The Dandenongs are home to the Australian mountain ash, an impressive eucalypt that can attain heights of 300 feet. Beneath the tall trees, the ground is blanketed in ferns—although I guess one can’t actually say the tree ferns were blanketing the ground. These odd, ancient ferns actually tower over those ferns that do stay at ground level.

If the tree fern below reminds you of pictures you’ve seen of the age of dinosaurs, there’s a good reason. The fossil record shows that the types of tree ferns found in Australia were quite common during the Jurassic Period—and earlier.

Of the three genera of tree ferns, one clings to the hot, humid forests that follow the equator, from Southeast Asia to Mexico. But the other two have a far wider range, with several species that are quite comfortable in cooler climates or in mature forests at higher altitudes. Here, amid the towering eucalypts, the tree ferns (which can get to an impressively tree-like height of 80 feet) tower above the shorter ferns, adding a middle level to the general greenery, making the forest seem even greener.

Tree Fern

Tree Fern


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The Australian Impressionists

I spent a couple of days hiking around Melbourne, seeing and learning as much as I could about the city and its history. On the second day of my wandering, I found myself captivated by the National Gallery of Victoria. I go into some detail in my book about the history and development of painting in Australia, so I won’t go over all that here, but I did want to share more about the paintings that were my favorites—the works of the Australian Impressionists. This group was also known as the Heidelberg School, after a region where the painters loved to camp and paint the countryside and light that had so entranced them. These were the first artists to really capture Australia on canvas—the beauty, the hardships, the magical light, the openness, the strangeness, the wonder.

Though many would follow, the four founders of this school were Frederick McCubbin, Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, and Charles Conder. Their images have become iconic, reflecting the history, the life, and the reality of Australia. They may have been impressionists, but they captured their subjects more truly than those who had tried to use more traditional art styles.

To avoid the legal issues involved in trying to pick up images that hang in museums or other private collections, I’m just going to give you links. There are a few articles, should you wish to read more, but there are also a lot of these men’s paintings, so you can get a taste of what their work was like. I left the gallery at the end of the day almost feeling as if I’d spent a day out bush.

Australian Impressionism, overview with paintings.
Paintings and where they were painted, from the National Gallery of Victoria.
Tom Roberts, paintings.
Frederick McCubbin, paintings.
Arthur Streeton, paintings.
Charles Conder, painting.

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria


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Melbourne is the most European of Australia’s cities. This is due as much to the sudden, stunning wealth generated by the Gold Rush in the 1800s as it is to Melbourne’s settlement history.

Melbourne was settled by free men, not by convicts. It started as a village for cattlemen, and grew at a comfortable pace—until the discovery of gold. The population surged. The next big population explosion came at the beginning of the 20th century, when people from eastern and southern Europe were fleeing the devastation of war. As a result, Melbourne is rich in European-style cafés and great Italian restaurants, pastry shops reflect the traditions of Vienna, Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest, and the town is home to the third largest Greek-speaking community in the world, after Athens and Thessalonica.

The older parts of Melbourne are elegant and charming. Architecture is often imposing and reflects both European sensibilities and the wealth created by the Gold Rush.

Among the delights in Melbourne is its still-extensive fleet of trams, or streetcars—the oldest network of streetcars in the world. Hundreds of trams run over a couple of hundred miles of track, both through the city and out to the suburbs, making this an easy city to get around—and in an environmentally friendly way. The trams are a cultural icon here every bit as much as the cable cars are in San Francisco. While no system of transportation is completely without flaws, Melbourne’s trams are remarkably reliable, affordable, and simply a fun way to get around town.

Tram in Bourke Street

Tram in Bourke Street

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