Exploring Melbourne

November 12, 2008 – Exploring the city

With less than a week gone by here in Melbourne, I can’t yet say it feels like home. What I can say is that I’ve had only one episode of full-blown homesickness. Somehow the city felt too big, too noisy, too hot, too…not mine.

But around that episode have been days when the pleasure of becoming more connected with Robin’s family and the fun of exploring a new city have competed successfully with the longing for familiarity.

Albert Park, with Central Business District in the background
Albert Park, with Central Business District in the background

Albert Park, near where daughter Michelle lives, is one of Melbourne’s many parks, this one with a large lake and lots of bird life. Patches of reeds and a couple small islands make this man-made lake a magnet for black swans, stilts, shags, cormorants, Pacific black ducks, purple swamphens, and no doubt others we didn’t see or didn’t recognize. It’s spring in the southern hemisphere so we saw many cygnets and other young birds.

Purple swamphen in reeds planted to attract birds
Purple swamphen in reeds planted to attract birds
Black swan keeps keen eye on her cygnets
Black swan keeps keen eye on her cygnets

Today Robin played personal tour guide as we wandered Melbourne’s downtown core. Nat dropped us off at her office on William Street. We walked down to the Yarra River and across to South Bank. Many of you had told us Melbourne was a beautiful city. Until today I wasn’t convinced of that, in spite of pockets of beauty we’d seen, such as Albert Park.

Drought has burned the grass in the city’s beloved parks. Taggers have decorated flat surfaces with graffiti. Franchises, fast food joints, sterile high rises, and grubby stretches of small shops provide the gritty sameness that makes big cities largely unappealing to me.

Old and new side by side, viewed from South Bank
Old and new side by side, viewed from South Bank

But today Robin introduced me to the mix of old and new architecture that gives elegance and exuberance to Melbourne’s downtown core. The photo taken from the South Bank of the Yarra River is an example. The classic lines of Flinder Street Station and the spires of St. Paul’s are set against the straight lines and interesting angles of surrounding high rises. And everywhere are examples of public art.

Public art along the South Bank of the Yarra River
Public art along the South Bank of the Yarra River
Public art along one of the bridges across the Yarra
Public art along one of the bridges across the Yarra

One of my favourite buildings looks like a giant measuring tape, seen in the photo below from the 55th floor of the Rialto building.

New high rise designed to look like a measuring tape
New high rise designed to look like a measuring tape

One of the finds of the day was the “Greenhouse” exhibition on a corner of Federation Square. I had to stop and investigate when I saw a wall made of small crates filled with strawberry plants (photo below). Inside was a full-blown restaurant made of straw bales and recycled steel. The furniture (photo below), made of recycled materials, could be chairs, tables, shelves, or counters, depending on how it was turned. The outside deck had chairs made of recycled metal tubing and old highway signs.

Restaurant wall made of strawberry crates and recycled steel
Restaurant wall made of strawberry crates and recycled steel
Except for the straw bales in the walls, everything in the Greenhouse exhibition is made of recycled materials
Except for the straw bales in the walls, everything in the Greenhouse exhibition is made of recycled materials

Federation Square itself roused considerable controversy when it was built. Set on an old industrial site bordered by the muddy Yarra River, with Flinders Street Station on one side and St. Paul’s Cathedral on another, the super-modern buildings that form the square are a jumble of interesting angles and variety of materials, with no unifying theme. What it does have is life and colour and open spaces, surrounded by galleries, cafés, theatres, shops, and a glass atrium.

Federation Square is designed to be a community gathering place
Federation Square is designed to be a community gathering place

Travelers take note: This ultra-modern square offers a rarity that draws locals and visitors alike – free, wireless Internet.

Stately trees in Fitzroy Gardens
Stately trees in Fitzroy Gardens

Enough rattling on. There were so many other sights and sites in the day. I’ll stop with just one more, a place in tree-filled Fitzroy Gardens Robin knew I would like. Opposite the charming miniature Tudor village is a fairy tree. It was carved between 1931 and 1934 by Ola Cohn as a gift to the children of Melbourne.

Ola Cohn's Fairy Tree
Ola Cohn

A plaque beside quotes Cohn, “I have carved a tree in the Fitzroy Gardens for you and the fairies, but mostly for the fairies, and those who believe in them, for they will understand how necessary it is to have a fairy sanctuary – a place that is sacred and safe as a home should be to all living creatures.”

How can I not like a city that has a fairy tree?

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2 thoughts on “Exploring Melbourne

  1. Michelle

    I enjoyed reading about the recycled restaurant exhibit. I don’t remember you telling us about that when you were here so I just learned something new about your visit, even though you’ve headed home!

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