A cosmopolitan city oozing character; diverse atmosphere and endless dining opportunities. It is a concrete collaboration of Australia, Asia and Europe. Circulating all seasons in one day. Oh and it's been voted most livable city three times in a row!
24.12.2013 - 19.01.2014 24 °C
I stepped from the plane after almost missing my flight; the sticky humidity of the East Coast of Australia was now behind me. The crisp cool air of Melbourne rolled against my cheek, it felt welcoming; familiar even. Like being by hugged by the cold climate of Europe; whilst being kissed by the hot Australian sun. No longer feeling in Australia, the passion for distant lands gripped me once again; independence and exploration were my carry-on luggage.
A brass band hummed and tooted Jingle Bells at the arrivals terminal. The airport district of Melbourne appeared to be the same as any other city as I hopped on the bus to my new home. Cities to me have always felt cold, melancholy and often intimidating to me as a traveler. As all those commuting sit staring, lifelessly; co-coordinating their eyes between the screens of their phones and the glass of their wristwatch. I look away to see the crumbling concrete facades and rusted cranes fade away to colorful banners for festivals, shows and art exhibitions. Drivers force their way past one another into the colorful catastrophe of Melbourne; sky scrapers ahead pinch the thin bank of clouds above. The eureka tower the most boastful. For those who may not know of the Eureka tower in Melbourne; it stands at 985 ft and hosts a 'Skydeck, allowing tourists to stand and observe the entirety of Melbourne as the ants of the city scurry beneath their feet below the glass floor. I would no doubt force myself into the state-of-the-art elevator at some point. It would help if I hadn't learned it climbs at 9 meters a second! Making it the fastest elevator in the Southern Hemisphere. And it starts at just $18 for adults! I ended up going to the 'Eureka Tower Sky Deck 88' shortly after. There is simply no better way to see Melbourne. Measuring at 300m high(985ft); you can see every orifice of this heaving city. The 'Sky deck 88' which you roam comes with a drinks stand and periscopes aimed on landmarks throughout the city. Melbourne is the second populous city in Australia; just thought I would throw that in there. Despite being pushed against the glass by a heaving sea of tourists I was able to assemble my camera and capture this HDR image of central Melbourne. On the bottom right is the infamous 'Federation Square'. Moments like these don't come often enough; awe-inspiring.
But going back to my first day I exited the free bus ride to the Hilton; only to dismiss the baggage boy with a wave goodbye. Vanessa was still working; unknowing of my intention to arrive on Christmas Eve, so I took it upon myself to explore a little first. The city began to unfold before my eyes; the industrious ramble of the docks was replaced with laughter of locals, a Chinese man busks on his Jinghu (Chinese bowed string instrument). The blue Australian sky above has now been replaced with those familiar dark heaving clouds of grey; swollen with rain. I was told before arriving in Melbourne that it's the only part of Australia you could get four seasons in one day, the facts became apparent. The rain came down in droplets the size of marbles as I crossed a bridge shaped like the carcass of a whale; its ribs were wire ropes, all lined with signed padlocks just like the 'Pont de l'Archeveche' or 'Lock Bridge' in Paris. I was then reminded of New York despite never being there; another postponed trip. A tram whizzed across the corroded green bridge as a cloud of yellow cabs passed the road in front of me. Melbourne was perplexing; delightfully dynamic to my photographers eye as the over hanging skyscrapers formed diamonds of silver from my vantage point.
I soon surprise the naive South American; having dug out an address of her workplace from close friends, I picked her up in the midst of her work, hugging one another in the fathomless crowds of Asians. It was clear that Melbourne was indeed heavily populous with Asians; but their tastes seemed to craft and shape the cities high streets, having their own China town in the center on Little Bourke St. You can dine in every different Asian cuisine from Hong-Kong desserts to Thai dishes; including 'Bubble Teas', 'Nitrogen Cooled Ice Creams' and noodle bars on every corner. One could even be fooled into being in Asia on some streets; especially on the one with the chap playing traditional chinese songs on his Jinghu. It is in this sense to us British that the city seems to lose it's European allure. However this is compensated for with a huge array of European Bars; Italian restaurants, Belgium beer holes and of course, a traditional English pub; 'The Elephant & The Wheel Barrow. A blatant dig at British pub culture. Think of the many dining possibilities as extensive and cosmopolitan as Disney Land's: 'It's a Small World';annoying anthem revoked of course. And compared to the cost of living in the rest of Australia; Melbourne, Victoria; is significantly cheaper. So those dining connoisseurs wishing for a cheaper dining experience should head here no doubt. In every restaurant, bar and outlet I visited; no matter how confined, tiny sparrows would find their way through the doors and inconspicuously inch their way under the tables, crumb by crumb; the clever devils. I would protest at the no feeding signs and laugh as diners carried on their conversations; completely unaware of the plan afoot. The birds could turn an all-you-can-eat buffet into a scene from Snow White; I was anticipating singing squirrels to wander through the rotating doors.
Every Wednesday night (check for the holidays); Melbourne hosts it's own 'Night Markets'. Boasting even more different foods; the likes of which I had never even seen before, Afghan cuisine, African, fish disguised as sweet desserts and crab burgers; shell and all. Macaroons of every flavor you could possibly imagine. Had it not been for my sickness I would have dabbled in something a little more exciting than plain rice and bread; typical luck of mine. Smoke from each food stand gathers high above my head and presses against the small windows; the setting sun turns a sickly sweet yellow as passes through the smoke; with the old lamps hanging overhead, the whole market begins to look like London Kings Cross station, all that's missing is the trains.
I see a sign for dog soap and high tech speakers crafted from the corpses of old suitcases. You can buy and eat almost everything at the Queen Victoria markets so I can highly recommend it to those passing through Melbourne looking for something different. Contortionists; fire twirlers and acrobats hold public shows at the front of the markets, giving some top notch entertainment as you chomp through a claw of your crab burger. Alas, they may pull you up and continue to humiliate you as their performing guinea pig. Food for thought. All the while; the sky scrapers of Melbourne reflect the colors of the descending sun in their mirrored windows. Some buildings touched so close the neighbors could shake hands.
As previously mentioned; Melbourne is so diverse for it's public art works. From indigenous dotted canvases to chalk paintings which take up the whole walkway; but for good reason. To feed the creative mind; the city holds ownership to many art galleries, like the 'Melbourne Art Precinct'. We explored the 'Melbourne Now' exhibition which was running from November 22nd 2013 until March 23rd 2014. From contemporary artworks to collections of articles associated with air; and lots of other interactive pieces were enough to inspire any creative cranium. One room burst into life as you walked in; crackling as loud as thunder over the hundreds of sub woofers, spotlights by the hundreds turned the room a blinding white. Another room shows photographs of attractive female teens with nothing but t-shirts on with 'slap stick' comments scrawled over the front; I find most pieces in the exhibition consist of post modernism's, and the dissolving of Aboriginal culture; crippled under the weight of alcoholism and stereotyping, I haven't seen one black Australian since I have arrived. A tumbleweed of RBG acrylic dangles from the ceiling; casting a surreal shadow on the ground. The city obviously sparks creativity; and the majority of my documenting is based on asking why? With all due respect compared to the rest of Australia; this city is exceedingly more creative, I am convinced.
A building shaped like a golf tee looms over the art precinct; looking something of a skinny Eiffel tower. Horse led carriages trundle through the city; dropping their poo all over the road as taxi drivers behind curse in tribute to their newly polished alloys, now soiled by the horses deposits.
As I cross Princes bridge towards Federation Square; people from all walks of life stroll past. A sad looking man in a pin-striped suit, Chinese girls dressed in pink tutu's and struggling artists sit in doorways with plaques listing their name, age and needs with a skillful scribbling next to them; I donate to their upsetting story. A man passes me and asks for money to buy food; I feel the privilege of looking like a wealthy man; 'Reece Pickering, helper of the homeless' doesn't quite have a ring to it. A woman makes me smile as she hands a bag of food to a homeless man; small things like this make my journey more beneficial to the soul.
Federation square is a civic and cultural center disguised as a green and tanned rubix cube. After reaching the square I was faced with tons of British and Australian cricket hooligans wearing war-paint, projecting heckles and cheers at the life sized screen playing the match. As the ashes had been reclaimed by Aussie soil; I kept my accent hidden under my scarf.
But the art galleries of the precinct were not the center of attention for me; the street art of Melbourne was just as compelling. Located on Hosier and Rutledge Lane, just opposite Federation Square. I go back to the same place sometimes three times a week. Taking tons of images and collapsing them all together making collages and triptychs. On the odd occasion I see some graffiti artists searching for any spot on the covered facade. Some artists had even placed 3-D shapes high up against the walls; making the very bricks look as though they're emerging from the foundations, once again I find myself in a sea of tourists. Camera shutters sound in my ears like a swarm of crickets; the street art is becomingly increasingly well known. Butterflies of all shapes and colors are glued at random to different walls; one has a glaring pair of eyes, the walls look alive. Bars over windows are covered in a hand knitted pattern; making the cold steel bars the impression of a huge tea cosy.
A huge depiction of the elephant headed god; Ganesh, stands tall to the north entrance of the street. It's colors are mesmerizing. The detail is so refined the painting seems to be stepping from the brick work. I love this place; and find a new appreciation for street art, it is timeless and is crafted solely from the public. I take more photographs than I can bare of these animated alleyways.
If like me; you feel a little overwhelmed by cities and desire a little peace and quiet, Melbourne's more 'natural scenes' can be reached by the tram network in mere minutes. The route 96 from the centre of Melbourne can take you to St. Kilda beach in no time. St. Kilda is a kind of seaside village; hosting markets every Sunday. It also features the gigantic creepy clown gates of 'Luna Park'. Which seems like a bit of a rusty deathtrap so I didn't venture too far in. The gaping jaws of the entrance make for a good photo opportunity. If you head there on a Saturday; as we did, prepare to be battered by passers-by, the flocks of tourists will see to it that you miss every photo opportunity. St. Kilda carries on Melbourne's variation of cuisines; you can actually enjoy a decent fish and chips by the sea, one could almost feel in Skegness on the shores of Britain. Especially when a hot summers day evolves into the grey proceedings of a storm. Then we were shoved back onto the route 96 tram like sardines. The seaside village seems to have the makings for a good few drinking sessions; live bands and acts and every form of fast food you could possibly imagine. But I surprisingly miss the heaving metal and hustle of Melbourne central; so I head back.
I do photographs all hours through the night; capturing the life of Melbourne by night. The streets feel safe; Flinders Street railway station glows behind me in the background of the cars and trams; one of the busiest railway stations in all of Australia. I shimmy between two bins away from the easing crowds; perched with my tripod, clicking at the night time scene passing by.
I move across the road to the courtyard of Federation Square; it's almost midnight. As I float through my trance of taking photographs and listening to music; a lanky figure shadows over my lens, a man who I can only describe as Salvador Dali. As he boasted the exact signature mustache; he asks me if I like taking photographs and I tell him of my passion for long exposures and nighttime life. "Do you video people?" he says gripping a microphone attached to his camera; I nod lying through my teeth as I agree to film interviews for his You tube channel, I am intrigued by the mustached man. I'm led to a small ring of late-twenties Aussie guys; a couple of European girls hang by talking to them. Allegedly the man is in charge of a 10,000 man flash mob; desperately pulling together recruits for a flash mob at the gates of Luna Park, St.Kilda. I still ask no questions and follow the mustached man; I stand by filming the passers-by he interviews, asking about their daily routines etc. My lower arm trembles from the sickness in my stomach and no doubt the $1 latte I just necked 5 minutes ago at the servo. The mans target audience soon becomes apparent, all young attractive women; he gives a creepy grin as he raises an eyebrow and plucks at this whiskers; I pretend to be taking a photograph and wait until him and his hapless goons wander away, then I leave. Passing trams trundle by; some old some new, their lines crackle and flashes of blue light up the roofs of the carriages, like small angry clouds whizzing by.
I carry on about my business observing the thunderstorm of tram carriages; now taking shots of federation square by night. The courtyard is tranquil; couples sit humming to one another in conversation at a bar close by; the walls of federation square pulse light as colored banners scroll across the front advertising what it's interior has to offer. A skyscraper in the background attracts herds of seagulls; they buzz around the antenna like flies, the scene seems surreal as the moon rises behind the flocking gulls. If you get the chance; head to Princes bridge at night; the reflections of the skyline turns the water into a sea of rippling colors.
But if you've had enough of the city life. The great ocean road is just 3 hours away (not long in Aussie driving standards). We head out the next day; courtesy of Vanessa's good friend Luis. We drive across the coast; I clutch onto my seat as the small silver Yaris speeds around the cliff edges on the small skinny road. The silver shell of the car and a frail fence is all that stands between me and the ten foot drop to the rocks of the ocean line below. I feel as though I am on a scalextric track the kind we all played with as kids. The sea thrashes in a foam of jade and turquoise below; I still can't believe how dramatically the landscape of Australia changes. We never made it to the twelve apostles; now probably six thanks to erosion, but we do end up in a quirky town named Lorne. It just so happens that we arrive when the locals are holding their annual 'pier to pub' swim, thousands of swimmers compete in a 1.2km swim from the old pier to; yes you guessed it, a pub. I love finding random events like these. We arrived just to see the first contestant cross the finish line, the man is by no means athletic; his wet suit smuggles what looks like a basketball, the beer belly is thirsty underneath. Swimmers of all ages, heights and nationalities emerge from the water like deserted seals; panting as they unzip the black skin from their own, a sea of hands and faces breaks the waves, it is a delight to see.
One Hercules of a man swats through a gang of men and children with the pace of Usain Bolt; it was hard to believe that children as young as 9 swim against men of that caliber. We watch the last stragglers; then head to the beach to relax. The Victorian sea is enough to make my nipples cut through glass; women stroll wet and anxiously covering their front in the chilling wind, for good reason of course. But the sun is still intense, still Australian; low flying clouds swirl around in the sky like cotton balls, the shallow ones churned by the three helicopters patrolling the beach below, the scene is bizarre but the atmosphere is more than welcoming. This was my last beach in Australia; for the final time I let the salty air fill my lungs and pressed my hands into the warm soft cushioned sand beneath. The scene reminds me so much of Cornwall; the seaside town in the south of Britain. In the moment I remember and relish in the anecdotes of beaches I had visited throughout my tour of Australia. From the West on beautiful cable beach; to the East on the nudist beach of magnetic island.For the last time (at least for now) I head into the ocean; the cold relentless ocean. To top of this side of the coast; we even head to the beach where the end scene of 'Point Break' was filmed with Keanu Reeves back in 1991. The beach is called bells beach; the scene at the end where the 'storm of the century' is taking place.
The great ocean road is heavy with greenery; no dry desolate singed land here. But like the rest of Australia, the terrain is forever changing; green mountain sides swollen with hanging trees and shrubs begin to disappear and the land becomes flat. Eucalyptus trees vacant of their Koala residents become mere match sticks on the horizon; the climatic sunset encourages this change, a saffron haze sets over the gold of the crops. There is now nothing but rolling yellow hills. The sky changes from a warm golden hue, to a cold azure as a full moon rises to my left; the cows follow the sun and begin to stroll back to their pens. In my mind I say goodbye to Australia; remembering the many sunsets I witnessed as a photographer on the beaches of Broome. And so came a close to my tour of Melbourne, Victoria. Concluding this life-changing tour of Australia.
The country had been good to me; the countless hours of driving, barely crossing half a state had shown me the unfathomable size of Australia, and what it truly means to be lost in the outback. The country's rich array of tropical, dangerous and fluorescent wildlife added some enchantment to my journey; and didn't half keep me on my toes. Just about every aspect of Australia made me feel most insignificant; from being a meter away from a 80,000kg humpback whale, to standing at the base of Uluru; a towering 1,142ft. But since I started this journey, I have always vowed to 'see the Indigenous side of Australia; not the white mans Australia' as recommended by an Irish man in Broome West Australia whilst discussing Australia's economy over a lengthy pint of Guinness.
In a way I feel that the country has failed it's first people; unfortunately. But count myself lucky to have seen the cave paintings of the 'creation days' or 'dream time' from the aboriginal ancestors in the caves of Kakadu National Park northern territory. This country truly is wild; they live a completely different lifestyle to us Europeans and despite their detest towards us former ashes snatchers, they are a good bunch (we have to let them win at sometime eh?).
At the point of writing this; I am now just under 4000 miles away from Melbourne; in Southeast Asia, back to the humidity. I'm currently sat at a desk twenty-one story's high looking over the city of Malaysia in a five-star hotel. Not sure how I got this lucky really.
If you're sat there reading this blog, then good of you. Thank-you very much for taking the time to read about my adventures; all of this travelling is made twice as enjoyable knowing that I have such a good audience to share it with!
If you would like to take a look at some of my personal photography work beyond the blog; you can here@