Dispatches from the Road: Why Melbourne Australia is a Broke-Ass Paradise
Guest post by Royce Kurmelovs.
If Adelaide is a little like LA without Hollywood and gang culture, Melbourne is a lot like San Francisco for its history, progressive politics and housing struggles.
But that’s getting a little ahead. If you’re reading this, you’re probably broke and traveling to Melbourne. You’ll be either be moving gracefully through cheap hostels somewhere in the more debauched parts of town, or if you’re clever and well-connected you’ll be taking part in the time-worn tradition of exploiting the hospitality of friends. Or friends of friends.
And you’ll be flying budget airlines. Get to the airport early and get a seat next to an emergency exit for the extra leg room. The trade-off is that you’ll spend the entire flight studying the escape hatch just in case the plane plunges to the earth in a smoldering heap and everyone on board expects you to rip it open and save their lives.
If you’re lucky this won’t be a problem and you’ll soon descend on Melbourne from 35,000 feet with no more in your backpack than the $97.50 left over from your last welfare payment, a change of clothes, a camera, a map of the New York subway system from when you were there last March and an ambiguously gendered, plastic, Chinese T-Rex you named Chester after finding it at the bottom of your bag going through airport security. You will know most of this because “Made in China” will be branded on Chester’s genitals.
Don’t forget to check Chester the T-Rex’s genitals
It doesn’t matter where you are flying from. Fly budget to Melbourne and you will step off the plane, stroll across the tarmac like it was the 60’s and you were Nixon, and move through the budget airline terminal with its cattle pen interior décor. A $28 return Skybus trip later you are let loose on the streets of Melbourne, disorientated and standing on a tram trying to work out what a goddam Myki is while raging hipsters scream at you for holding up the line.
Dress well. You will learn quickly that this is a city of beautiful people. You will watch couples push prams down the street as if they had just walked out of a fashion magazine centerfold instead of having spent the better part of last night trying to make their screaming infant go the fuck to sleep. You will fall in love in every cafe. You’ll order a coffee and be sitting there, waiting, when the love of your life will bring you coffee. They’ll do something wonderful like smile at you and you will go to pieces and remember them forever until you walk out the door.
This waitress could be the love of your life…till the next one comes along
Complain about the weather and you’ll get an annoying-as-shit line about there being “four seasons in a day” and how you won’t need to wait long for it to change. But if you’re savvy, you just won’t turn up in winter. Australia sits about a quarter mile from the sun and none of us do too well in anything under about 86 degrees. We don’t dress for it, and we don’t build our cities to be much fun in horizontal rain. So while you won’t have to deal with snow unless you go looking for it, chances are winter will make you more depressed than your garden-variety German philosopher.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Just finding things can be hard in Melbourne. Everything is tucked away in basements or down laneways. This city is so obsessed with laneways and making stuff hard to find that it was the central theme of its TV advertising campaign a few years back. It’s a little like trying to fight Al Qaeda. Only chance and a well-maintained network of local informers will help you find places like Embiggen Books on Little Lonsdale Street with its taxidermy and golden wall of books.
Most of what makes Melbourne such an exciting place has usually been imported. Waves of migration have brought people from all over the world. Historically it created the world’s the longest continuous Chinatown which formed here in 1851 with the Gold Rush. The Lunar New Year celebrations there will rival anything San Francisco has to offer. Little Italy dominated Lygon Street until it evolved into a kitsch tourist trap and Fitzroy owes much to the Eastern European and Irish migrants who just after WWII moved into the working-class neighbourhood with its radical fuck-you attitude.
Lunar New Year in Chinatown
Fitzroy is a little like the Haight in a sense, just without the hippies and a bigger history of labour union activity. Now, people still come from across the globe to visit those streets and if you catch a tram through the neighbourhood, you’ll drown in the different accents. During the day it’s probably not hard to imagine the entire editorial staff of Vice Australia sitting in cafes and on park benches on Brunswick Street between the buskers and beautiful buildings, hung-over on a weekday and practising being apathetic.
Mostly it’s about the art. Art is an essential part of Melbourne life. Nearly everyone you’re going to meet anywhere in Melbourne is an artist. Especially around Fringe time. Ask them what they do and they will say something like photographer or musician. Or street artist. Or dancer. Or writer. Or comic book illustrator. The day job won’t even be a part of their identity. Which is something that goes right to the heart of this place. People here embrace life a little more. Every day is about good food, dancing, liquor and orgasms. And grit is glamorous.
It’s almost hard not to be beautiful in Melbourne. Even when drinking cheap piss in public parks you’ll stop for a moment and find yourself doing something beautiful like making casual conversation in the company of three poets, two writers, a publisher from Adelaide and a jazz singer while the sun sets over the tree tops. And when it gets late, the sprinklers come on like something out of a movie and you probably do something like get gelati over on Lygon Street, before stopping in some hole-in-the-wall bar for an hour or two because suddenly the weather’s turned again and it’s cold out. Then you leave to make the last tram, walking through the streets with your hands in your pockets under the moonlight and the rain.
Melbourne life is seductive that way. Melbourne just gets you. You wake up the day after an experience like that thinking maybe you could live here and life would be good. And right then, you’re probably checking out the street art in some laneway or people watching in another cafe like it was just another day and it was just another, regular thing you do. And then you check the time to find you’re late and you have about thirty minutes to negotiate Melbourne’s spider web tram system at peak hour, get across town to the Skybus for the 22 minute trip to the airport and sprint into the terminal before cutting the line and almost missing check-in by such a fine margin that even the guy at the counter looks over the panel and says, “You, my friend, are fucking lucky.”
Royce Kurmelovs is an Australian freelance writer who loves words and untold stories and swearing. James Belushi once played him in an early-90′s biopic titled Royce. He also has a secret rap career under the alias Royce da 5’9” and rents his name to a Japanese chocolate company that makes chocolate-covered potato chips. If you want more of his writing, check out his wordpress or follow him on twitter @RoyceRk2.
pictures from Famous Wonders and the Author.