The main purpose of my journey to the deep deep deep south was to visit the long lost Australian branch of the family and meet up with my Sister for some Aussie holiday. My trip to New Zealand was but a brief detour on my way. And thus I passed on to the next stage of my adventure and flew from Rotorua to Wellington then immediately to Melbourne, the capital of the southernmost Australia state Victoria. (Back to the Victoria thing again.) On a train to the ‘burbs, I had a nice chat with a fellow just done with a cricket match. The thing I took away from that conversation was his observation on the difference between Australia and NZLD. According to him, Australia is to the US as New Zealand is to the UK, or in another form, Australia : US :: NZLD : UK. Even though I can’t articulate how, that actually makes a lot of sense.
We had a great romp around southern Victoria, including Cape Paterson, Wonthaggi and its coal mine, Inverloch, Leongatha, Fish Creek, Phillip Island and my first ever honest-to-God camping experience in Wilson’s Promontory Marine National Park, which is probably the most South I will ever be. That was pretty cool.
On one day I hitched a ride Melbourne proper and spent about half a day wandering around and getting a feel for the city. From my limited experience with both, the old part of Melbourne and the old part of Philadelphia have very similar vibes and flavors, and possibly smells. Places I visited included St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Immigration Museum, Southern Cross station, Old Treasury Building Museum, [Captain James] Cook’s Cottage, and a failed attempt at breaking into Parliament House.
Because of course I have to stop by the church. Quite pretty, very nice side chapels along the back, dedicated to mostly Western European saints. It felt very English inside. It was also quite bizarre for me because this was still during the Liturgical Christmas season (From Dec 25 to Jan 6) so it was all decorated with evergreens, Christmas lights, a creche scene, while it was over 95* outside.
There was an introductory video that I remember liking and made me think of something, probably immigration, differently. It put in contrast the Australian vs American origin stories – how both were settled by the British originally as penal colonies, and how both are sort of the economic hubs of their areas of the globe which attract a lot of immigration, leading to various racial and nationalistic tensions. As far as individual exhibits go, apparently nothing stuck out as I don’t remember anything in particular.
This was kind of cool. I popped in because it was a) open and b) had air conditioning, but it turned out to be figuratively cool as well. The building went through the financial history of Melbourne from before its gold-digging days that reminded of a cross between the American Oregon Trail and the California Gold rush. Link to the Victoria gold rush and its impact on Australian identity. There was an exhibit on famous criminals, including the beautifully named criminal “Squizzy” Taylor. There was a thing on female convicts – interestingly, mostly of Irish descent – and a bit on Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang. In the basement, which looked like it used to be prison blocks, was a bit about the evolution of gold in Australia, including a room filled with gold buillon and a stock exchange ticker for modern day values and such. It was pretty good.
Fun fact: A history degree at Notre Dame requires a class on Eastern history. Occasionally the Australian priest in residence offers a class on Australian history, which counts as Australia is technically “eastern.” We had to watch both films on Ned Kelly, the one starring Mick Jagger and the one starring Orlando Bloom as the titular character. And by Orlando Bloom I mean Heath Ledger. Whoops. At least they got an Australian in the lead role? Each film offered a different take on the story. I never made it to the Old Melbourne Gaol to see Ned Kelly’s armor on display so I’ll have to go back.
I wanted to go inside their Parliament house for the foreign civics lesson and I could cross another parliament building off my list. Note: this was the capital of Melbourne, as Australia’s capital Canberra was about 6 hours away. Unfortunately, the building was locked because everyone was still on Christmas break. Right, remember it was Christmas? I tried peeking in some windows and felt a bit like Wee Willie Winkie, even going so far as to press my nose against the window of the staff entrance around the back. At that point a security guard caught up with me. I explained in my broadest American accent that I was wondering if it was open and that I hoped to get in before I returned to the States on the 4th. He was sympathetic but firmly stated that the building did not open until the 5th, and watched me as I vacated the grounds. So that was a bust.
This cottage was built by Captain James Cook’s parent and was disassembled, brick by brick, and rebuilt in Victoria in 1934. The estate has some great English gardens, a small but comprehensive interpretation center, and a rack of 18th century English clothing for visitors to try on while touring the house and grounds. The house itself was built c. 1777 but because it was disassembled and rebuilt, I’m not sure about its claim to being the oldest building built in Melbourne. Semantics, I know. I got really excited when I recognized a large print of a portrait of Captain Cook, as the original had been on display in New Zealand at Te Papa Tangarewa in Wellington.
Overall, I really liked Melbourne. It was thoroughly Western, but there was something wild and untamed and extremely confident in the air. I would definitely go back. Time and space seem to work differently in that part of the world, so distances and travel times were hard to predict. Australia itself was pretty cool: how it’s geography shapes its geology, the different influences on and from the people. It was fun to do personal things too, like learn to surf, try playing a didgeridoo, and watching out for Drop Bears. And the icing on the cake was checking out the stars. I loved astronomy in middle school and still have my star chart, so seeing the Southern Cross for the first time was like the first time I recognized the Big Dipper, like I know one more secret of the universe.