Cosmopolitan Australia

by Brad on June 24, 2011

Melbourne is where all stereotypes of Australians go out the door. There are no crocodile hunters here, and nobody sounds anywhere close to “You call that a knife?” Melbourne is cosmopolitan to the core, and it’s proud of it.

Two things define Melbourne: sport and cafes. We’ve never seen a place where the day’s games are the leading story for television news and the newspapers. America has the Statue of Liberty,  France has the Eiffel Tower, Melbourne has the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Grounds), home of Aussie Rules Football (footie) and cricket.

Oh, there’s a third thing…the weather. The famous saying about Melbourne is “four seasons in a day.” The first things Melbournians do in the morning is check the day’s weather forecast, because whatever the weather man predicted yesterday is worthless today, and you need to know what to wear and how many layers to take with you. It does have its summer and its beaches, but Melbourne is definitely not the beach bummer hangout. Where Sydney is all about beaches and body image, Melbourne seems to be a mix of Seattle weather and Chicago culture with an emphasis on creativity.

It was footie season while we were in town, and that was definitely the main show. We couldn’t get a good read on how big cricket was and what the fan base is like, but our impression is that old retired people who can spend days watching a single match like it. But the action is definitely in footie.

We were lucky enough to go to a game our first weekend in town, being played between two 100-year old clubs with massive fan support. On our tram ride down we were discovered to be Americans going to our first footie match, and we were instantly adopted into the family. From there on out we were shown where to buy tickets, where to sit, what to eat, and had the whole crazy game explained to us. At the end of the game they invited us to come along to the pub and have a few beers with them.  That’s Aussie hospitality for you. Complete thrill of an afternoon.

Melbourne Cricket Grounds

The MCG footie pitch. The players run a marathon each game. The field is huge, and they swarm the ball like 5-year olds playing soccer.

You can't go to a footie game without eating a Four 'N Twenty meat pie, and drinking a beer. We tried the pie. The beer might have been better.

What brought us to Melbourne was a potential job opportunity with a small organic food manufacturer that focuses on raw chocolate and superfoods sourced from indigenous populations. So after half a year off, Melbourne turned Brad back into a working man having to – gasp! – set an alarm clock.

The experience was fantastic in numerous ways. In the end we ended up not being able to overcome the visa hurdle, but the knowledge and inspiration we gained from seeing the inside of this type of operation was phenomenal. We both loved all the free chocolate we could eat, and Kelli liked the fact that Brad came home covered in the stuff. He felt like the conquering hero every time he came home with a load of the goods.

The working experience allowed us to get into the stream of real life in Melbourne, doing what the locals do. We learned some of the hidden highlights, took Mandarin classes at our local chapel (large Chinese membership in the ward – meetings translated into or held in Mandarin), and made some incredible friends.

We loved the energy of the city, and in a city where the fourth most common surname is Nguyen (Vietnamese), the diversity is mind boggling.

Most of our getting around was done on the city trams, but we also rented a car a few times to get out and explore the countryside. The greenness of the outskirts would make you think you’re in the American heartland, but then you turn around and the sight of the Southern Ocean reminds you where you’re at.

There is no doubt that we could be very happy living in Australia and we may just devise a way to do that still. For now we’re excited to return to the States and explore a few of the ideas that we’re leaving with.

The Aussies' effort to remember WWI and WWII fallen soldiers was remarkable. The emphasis on WWI was surprising. We learnt that it was this war that defined what it means to be Australian and it definitely gets more attention here than in the States.

Melbourne skyline from the ANZAC memorial.

Royal Palace Hall

Dandenong Forest, the nearest "mountains" to Melbourne

Some crazy cool gardens up in those mountains

And some strange carvings

One of the most famous drives around Melbourne is a trip down the south coast on the Great Ocean Road, which is the path you take to the famous rock formations called the Twelve Apostles (name changed in the early 1900’s from Sow and Piglets cuz that wasn’t drawing the tourists like they had hoped). It was built as a memorial highway to world war veterans, and also functioned as a way to create jobs for them when they came home. The road is cut into the cliffs along the coast and you spend the day traveling only a hundred fifty miles or so, creeping along the curves and bends. The scenery is gorgeous, and you have to watch out for koalas and kangaroos along the way.

While we were driving, we continued to read the Bill Bryson book In a Sunburned Country, his tales of of his trips to Australia. One passage struck us in particular, and made us feel good that we weren’t alone in this experience.

Back in Perth, when we took our road trip down south, we stopped along the coast to walk around, and maybe up a lighthouse. As soon as we got out of the car we started getting bothered by flies. First five, then twenty. You would swat them away, then they’d arc right around your hand and come right back. Unbelievably persistent nuisances. It was so bad, after five minutes of it, we were borderline insane with arm flapping fury. Feeling defeated and silly that flies had forced us to call a retreat and cancel our plans, reading this bit by Bryson made us feel better:

“I had gone no more than a dozen feet when I was joined by a fly-smaller and blacker than a housefly. It buzzed around in front of my face and tried to settle on my upper lip. I swatted it away, but it returned at once, always to the same spot. A moment later it was joined by another that wished to go up my nose. Within a minute or so I had twenty of these active spots all around my head and I was swiftly sinking into the state of abject wretchedness that comes with a prolonged encounter with an Australian fly.

Flies are of course always irksome, but the Australian variety distinguishes itself with its very particular persistence. If an Australian fly really wants to be up your nose or in your ear, there is no discouraging him. Flick at him as you will and each time he will jump out of range and come straight back. It is simply not possible to deter him. Somewhere on an exposed portion of your body is a spot, about the size of a shirt button, that the fly wants to lick and tickle and turn delicious circles upon. It isn’t simply their persistence, but the things they go for. An Australian fly will try to suck the moisture off your eyeball. He will, if not constantly turned back, go into parts of your ears that a Q-tip can only dream about. He will happily die for the glory of taking a tiny dump on your tongue. Get thirty or forty of them dancing around you in the same way and madness will shortly follow.
And so I proceeded into the park, lost inside my own little buzzing cloud of woe, waving at my head in an incrreasingly hopeless and desultory manner, blowing constantly out of my mouth and nose, shaking my head in a kind of furious dementia, occasionally slapping myself with startling violence on the cheek or forehead. Eventually, as the flies knew all along, I gave up and they fell upon me as on a corpse.
I tried to have a look around, but the flies would give me no peace. I had intended to stroll out to the headland where there was a nineteenth-century fort, but the thought of having the flies for another hour was more than I could endure, so I set back along the empty road by which I had come.”

Knowing we were not the only ones to have been defeated by these tiny pests restored our sense of being the more advanced species.

We came upon this sign driving down the Great Ocean Road towards the 12 Apostles. Worth a chuckle.

At the 12 apostles

The real 12 Apostles, meaning, the rocks of course.

One of our favorite spots, early in the morning at the top of Tower Hill.

It took some patience, but we finally found a wallaby...basically a goofy looking dwarf kangaroo.

Yes, you can eat kangaroos. Doesn't taste like chicken.

Back in Melbourne, enjoying some of the good food.

Evidently you're not supposed to do that. Holy cow. Did she pull that look off or what?

Saying goodbye to our Melbourne apartment.

We stayed in Melbourne until our apartment lease expired, then headed back to Perth to visit the Oz Kleins for a few more days until our tourist visa expired. We really enjoyed our time with Kevin, Leah, Lexy and Tyler. They are an amazing family and we feel very lucky to have had the chance to spend time with them in their home.

Strange people

Out of the dark and into the light. We, the Shepherds and Oz Kleins, are getting closer...hopefully. :)

If Dad says it's ok, it's alright to climb up a sheer cliff face. Right?

Fountains are made for swimming in...even at the temple.

Kelli and Lexy on the swing at Kings Park, Perth.

For some reason Tyler thought it'd be funny to kiss me when there was no escape. I laughed, and I got more kisses. Had to stop that train right away.

A visit to any Australian city isn't complete without stopping by its first residences, ie, the prison. This one's in Fremantle, lovingly called Freo by the Aussies, kings of word shortening.

Yep, she got busted in Melbourne and she got busted in Freo. And yes, she could slide her hands right through those holes.

After working for a few weeks, we needed a vacation! Off to Bali for some R&R before heading back to the land of ‘work your butt off.’  :)

Comments on this entry are closed.



Previous post:

Next post: