I hadn’t done much research on Melbourne. I had heard from everyone I asked that it was a very lively and pretty city. In fact just days before I arrived it was named ‘Most Liveable City In the World’. The virtual guide during the flight from Auckland called it the “Paris of the Southern Hemisphere”. I was certainly excited about my new hometown.
Melissa took me on a tour of the city centre on my first weekend. This time the guide was being guided. So many new things to get used to. Another tricky one was to get used to cross streets looking first to the right because in Australia people drive on the left, as in England. Hadn’t been for Mel I think I would have been run over that very weekend by a tram. Melbourne loves its trams but pedestrians not so much. Though useful, accidents happen all the time either cause tram stops are in the middle of the street and a passenger descending gets run. In fact this is the only city where cars have to do ‘hook turns’ in orders for trams to pass, so if you thought driving on the left was complicated enough think again. I can’t wait to get my driver’s license!
We visited Eureka Tower, the highest building in Melbourne. We took the ‘lifts’ to the observatory on level 88. The elevators are proud to take you up there in 30 seconds! From up there I could see the city’s highlights: ‘Jeff´s Shed’ or the Melbourne Exhibition Center, Etihad stadium, the Yarra River, the Aquarium, the Bolte bridge, Flinders Street train station, the Pacific Ocean and the docklands a bit further…Melbourne is Australia’s 2nd largest city with around 4 million people and the city is a combination of old and new. Old being around the 1850’s and new being very modern. Some of the first settlers came during the Gold Rush of the 1850’s from all over the world. In fact Eureka Tower’s top floors are covered in a golden layer made of actual gold.
I had a free week before starting school and I dedicated it to walking around the CBD (City Bussiness Centre), as locals call it. Melbourne Museum was a highlight. The museum shows you the history of the city as well as a collection of stuffed animals which makes a good introduction to the odd fauna of this continental island: kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, koalas, platypuses, Tasmanian devils as well as other animals now extinct. Funnily, on my way to the museum I chatted for a little bit with a volunteer from a conservation NGO who told me that Australia is the country in the world that has had more animal extinctions. A shame when you realize that all the wildlife is so different here.
One of the permanent shows at the Melbourne Museum is on Aboriginal culture, a people that I am fascinated with. Art, History, tales and video installations where Aboriginal people talk of their life style are in place. This subject is particularly delicate in Australian history. In states like Victoria Aboriginals were pretty much vanished and most of their culture disappeared with them. In the rest of the country, from what I’ve heard, their numbers are still small (especially if compared to the past) and they face trouble such as alcoholism, unemployment, many are in jail, racism, languages dissapearing. Sounds a lot like what happened to the Native Americans in the US. I’m afraid I will have to search hard to actually be able to know them little. On the streets I have not been able to see someone who looks Aboriginal, so my guess is that they are segregated and live on the countryside.
Still, Melbourne is a pot of multi-culture and a very cosmopolitan city. Walking on the city centre one can see Asian girls dressed on miniskirts and Siberian-like boots (at the same time), muslim women wearing the ‘bourka’ or the whole tunic that only shows their eyes at supermarkets, men speaking Hindi, a Chinatown, a Greek precint, Italian restaurants everywhere (and I wouldn’t be surprised an arm of the mafia too), an Irish St Paul’s church. How not to feel home in such a foreign playground?
But Australia wasn’t always like this. A visit to the Immigration Museum (this was love at first sight for me, a city that has a museum dedicated to immigration!, think about it…) teaches us about the people that came to Melbourne, the Gold Rush, the ‘white Australia policy’, the thick aussie accent, and how today this country is one that greets people and refugees from all over the world. In fact a few countries have their second largest population in Australia and not within their territories.
But Melbournians, wherever they are from, are always talking about one thing: the weather. It’s reputation as a city with highly variable weather is famous. The band Crowded House has a song named ‘Four Seasons in One Day’ which is a game of words that makes reference to the weather here. It’s also a pretty cool song. I think being the weather forecaster in this city must be one of the most difficult jobs in the world, mostly because it’s impressive to me how much people rely on it here. In Lima, Perú we don’t bother though there is such a thing as the weather forecast. In fact Melbourne’s weather is not that different from Lima, if anything a little colder and less humid.
While walking around one day I found myself in the middle of a parade. I remember Melissa had told me “our parades are nothing like yours”. I was about to witness one of the true passions of Victorians: the grand-final-of-footy-parade. ‘Footy’ is how they call ‘fútbol’ or football here. But this is not American football or what others call soccer. Footy is Australian football or AFL (Australian Football League) and is massive here. A mix of rugby and American football (though not as boring), aussie football once again steals a name that does not correspond to a sport where hands are essential to the game. The final match was all over the news and the players of the 2 teams that reached it were about to wave hello to thousands of fans wearing the colours of their teams. Not only that, after the final there was a gala night were prizes to the ‘Best of the Year’ were awarded and, judging by the media coverage it was like the Champions League final for Europeans or the Copa Libertadores final for South Americans. I was even invited to a grill-party to watch the game! I was not gonna discuss there that a sport named football involves a foot and a ball, but I was glad to be invited and mingle among the aussies. However, I had noticed a few symptoms of homesickness…