It was Easter morning in Australia, and I was still at the house in Ballarat, where I was house/cat sitting. Carolyn and Tom woke up early and headed off to Jess’s house. I didn’t want to intrude on family time, so I hung back. I got a lot of writing done and played with the cats. Shortly after Tom and Carolyn came back, they packed up and left for Melbourne. Tom lives there, and Carolyn was going to a concert, so she asked that I continue to watch the house and cats.
The next day, I took an Uber to the doctor’s office so I could try to get some medications that my mom mailed to me, but was confiscated by customs. On the way there, I talked with the Uber driver. He’s been to the U.S. a few times, and we talked about the differences between our countries. I asked him what his experience was like being in the U.S. He said everyone was really friendly and he enjoyed it there. I always find it interesting to see what other people experience coming to the U.S.
I already wrote about going to the doctor and getting a prescription, so I won’t bore you with it again. One thing I didn’t expect, however, was that the Monday after Easter is a holiday in Australia. So is the Friday before (Good Friday). In the U.S., we’re lucky if we get Sunday off. It’s definitely not a four-day weekend for most of us. It created some challenges to get my blood work and prescription because it was a holiday.
That evening, I was waiting for my clothes to dry outside and for Keiran (Carolyn’s roommate) to come home. After watching a movie, Keiran was back, and we chatted about the things I did while I had been there for the past two weeks. She laughed and told me that I had spent more time with Carolyn’s family than she has.
Keiran was lovely and offered to drive me to the bus station that was in the center of town. On the drive there, Keiran told me that her dad is American, so she’s visited the U.S. a lot. Her visits have mostly been to see family members. Her dad came to Australia in the 1970s when they had a teaching shortage. Australia was paying Americans to go there and teach, so he took advantage of the opportunity. He met her mom while there and has stayed ever since. Keiran followed in his footsteps and also became a teacher.
I arrived at the bus station four minutes before the bus left. The train wasn’t running because of scheduled maintenance, so I quickly bought a ticket for the bus. After an hour and a half, I arrived in Melbourne. I took an Uber to my hotel, which was just outside of downtown, heading towards the beach. I kept forgetting that the driver is on the other side of the car, and I often opened the wrong door first.
On the short drive, I saw a billboard that looked like Trump, but it said, “Make Australia Great Again.” I couldn’t help but laugh. I found out later that the man on the billboard was a millionaire and paying for his campaign, which was clearly modeled after Trump. Months later, during their election for Prime Minister, the man did not win.
I was super excited to score a deal on Orbitz for a four-star hotel for a significant discount (Mantra St. Kilda Raod). Sometimes booking last minute has its perks. The bed was plush, I had a balcony, and there was a small kitchenette.
The next day, I signed up for a walking tour. Our meeting point was in a small park in downtown. It was a beautiful day with bright blue skies, and the sun was shining. There was about 20 of us signed up for the tour. Our tour guide, Max, was 27 years old, from the U.K., about six feet tall, thin, and had thick, slightly curly dark hair. His attire made him look like a hipster, and he was a great storyteller. He carried an umbrella, which helped us follow him through the streets.
Max started the tour by gathering all of us together. He told us that he was from the U.K., but lived in Barcelona for a few years. He said, “You should sell all of your possessions and move to Australia as I did.” He questioned the group, “Does anyone here not have a full-time job?” I was the only person to say, “Yes.” Max looked at me and said, “Talk to me after the tour.”
Max started his tour by telling us about the convict history of Australia, which most people know. However, he pointed out that at that time, there were 200 laws that were punishable by death in England. One of those laws was spending a month with gypsies. Another was fishing in a Lord’s pond. If convicted, you had two choices – be hanged or go to Sydney. Understandably, most chose to go to Sydney.
Max walked us to various buildings and would occasionally stop and tell us some history. He explained that once gold was found in Ballarat in the mid-1800s, the population of Victoria went from 70,000 to 500,000. Today, immigrants make up about 40% of Melbourne.
We stopped outside of one building in the downtown area, and Max described it as being a Men’s Club. It is still a men’s club, but they don’t have as much power as they once did. They made voting decisions until 1994.
Max told us that the state of Victoria was the first place in the world to allow women the right to vote, which was in 1891 after a petition collected enough signatures. However, Parliament tabled the petition, so women would have to wait another 17 years to vote. Max said, “Just so you know; New Zealand was not the first place to allow women the right to vote. It was Victoria. It just didn’t make it to a federal level before New Zealand in 1893.”
Australians vote in elections similar to the U.S. They must vote by law, or they face an $80 fine. I would love it if the U.S. adopted that law. In the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Presidential election, about 38% of eligible voters did not vote, making them the largest voting group.
Max also told us about Harold Holt. He was the Prime Minister in 1967 and went swimming at the beach in Melbourne. A massive wave came over him, and he disappeared. He was never seen again. Rumors started, and one suggested that a Chinese submarine took him for experiments. Max said, “In Australian fashion, they named a swimming pool after him – after a Prime Minister who vanished in the ocean while swimming.”
The next part of the tour was walking down alleyways (laneways) to check out the graffiti. Melbourne is known as a city with culture and a hipster vibe. This was not your ordinary graffiti; many were works of art. We walked down the narrow laneway and looked at all of the fantastic designs on the buildings. The graffiti scene is competitive, and people will paint over other works very quickly. Each day that you walk down a laneway, it will likely look different with new artwork. The city commissioned some of the huge murals, but locals didn’t like it. They felt graffiti shouldn’t be commissioned, and they want to be free to paint over at any time. Some of the commissioned murals were graffiti-ed.
While exploring in the laneways, we came across the Cherry Bar. Max told us how years ago, residents paid money to have it soundproofed so they could keep it as their favorite bar. However, the landlord just closed it because he thought he could get more money if it were a fancy cocktail bar. I would continue to see this tension across Melbourne – the locals fighting to keep it as a hipster city full of culture vs. the business people wanting to make more money.
Max told us that another thing that makes Melbourne unique is all of the hidden bars. There is a sandwich shop that has a refrigerator to the side of the counter. If you pull the handle, it will open up to a hidden bar in the back. Another place has a secret bar that is accessed by pulling a book on a shelf, which opens the door. You can find a list of some of the hidden bars here.
Drinking in Melbourne got out of hand in the 1800s. Max told us that during the gold rush, there were 5,000 men to every woman. The men would finish work and then drink all evening. The women started the temperance movement and created a law where no alcohol could be served after 6:00 pm. When men got off work at 5:00 pm, they rushed to the bars. They drank as much as they could in that hour.
Eventually, they needed something else to drink after 6:00 pm, so the coffee scene sprang to life. Melbourne is known as the coffee capital of Australia. Coffee is a big deal, and Max explained to us that it’s not uncommon for people in Melbourne to drink five cups a day, throughout the day. They created the Flat White and the Long Black. We stopped at a coffee shop that Max recommended, and I ordered a flat white, which became my favorite coffee drink while in Australia.
We continued walking and went inside the Block Arcade, which is a long hallway with shops and restaurants. It was built in the late 1800s and had a beautiful Victorian design. This one had two connecting walkways, making an L shape. We paused in the middle, and Max told us about how they used to “walk the block.” It was basically like speed dating but happened back in the day. Men and women would walk down the block in a line, passing each other, before attending Australian rules football. If they liked someone, they would raise their eyebrows. Within two to three days, they were married. And people think Tinder is shallow.
As we continued walking through the city, Max told us about the history of immigration in Australia. From 1901-1970, people couldn’t immigrate unless they were white and from Europe or North America. Eventually, the British stepped in and told them they couldn’t do that any longer. Australia changed the laws, but they gave immigration tests to people in a language that they couldn’t speak if they were not white. There was one story of a man who spoke five languages, and they still gave him the test in a language that he didn’t know. Australia has since stopped practicing this.
At the end of the tour, Max had all of us sit on a cement stoop while he sat in a chair in the middle of a courtyard. He told us his favorite story about Ned Kelly in a theatrical way.
Ned Kelly is a famous Australian outlaw. His parents were from Ireland, and they were sent to Australia for his father to serve a prison sentence. His father died when Ned was only 12, leaving him the head of the household to his mother and seven siblings. They were a poor, rural family. Ned was arrested twice as a teenager, but charges were ultimately dropped. In 1978, a police officer went to their house because his brother was suspected of stealing a horse. The police officer claimed that Ned shot him in the wrist and arrested his mother for aiding an attempted murderer.
Ned and his brother went into hiding, and months later, people told them about four police officers who had been tracking them down. Instead, Ned tracked the police down and ended up killing one. Shortly after, a shootout occurred, and two more of the officers were killed. From that moment on, Ned and his three friends were known as the Kelly gang.
As Ned and his gang fled police, farmers often helped them. They viewed Ned as an underdog who stood up to the authorities, including the British Monarchy. The gang robbed banks and lived as outlaws, but also as heroes. People viewed him as sort of a Robin Hood. In the end, Ned and his gang tried to derail a police train. A shootout resulted, and all of his gang members were killed, and Ned was wounded. He was convicted and hung for his crimes. Before he was captured, he wrote a lengthy manifesto about how he was forced into a life of crime due to circumstances.
Max was so thrilled to tell the story of Ned Kelly. He thought it was particularly interesting because Australians often revere a man who was a police murderer. His legacy and famous bulletproof armor can be found in museums. Not all Australians admire Ned Kelly, but more stories have been written about him than any other Australian. Max thought the story of Ned represented Australia well.
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