(Blog 3 – February 28)
It’s a long way to Melbourne. I feel you may know this fact.
Two ‘back to back’ flights of 7 and then 12.5 hours respectively in Economy, through several times zones, is hard work. The Etihad baggage allowance of 35kg is excellent but it’s split over 23kg in the hold and the 12kg two in the cabin. To my relief I managed to get all I wanted to take into this quota but I did spend literally hours, back in York, weighing things and agonising whether to take it or leave it.
The flights were generally fine (about two hours of turbulence on the second flight, however, prevented any attempt at dropping off to sleep) but on the first flight I had talkative neighbours and on the second flight the art of communication was abruptly curtailed by a chap wearing a face mask and his wife wearing a burka. I learned a lot off the noisy neighbours on the first flight. One was heading to India for four weeks with his family to see relatives and escape the British weather. He regaled me with his wife’s need for a stent to be fitted on one holiday trip to the country of their birth. He talked of the stress of sorting this out at an Indian hospital. The practises and quality are variable. We both agreed how brilliant our NHS was. He’d come to Blackburn 58 years ago as an immigrant and worked for Phillips in the town.
The other chap was heading to Islamabad for two weddings that both lasted six days each. The six days I also surmise, due to religion, were without alcohol. How would you cope? This chap was an entrepreneur and we went through his Sheffield property empire, his former Indian restaurant project and his furniture shop. The chap was very modest but I think he enjoyed a conversation about business. My voicing that he might be viewed, by his Pakistani relatives, as ‘Mr Big’ and worth tapping up for a bob or two led him to quip “oh, I don’t tell them about all that!”
I learned nothing from the guy in the face mask other than the fact that he eventually took it off. In reality the chances of getting coronavirus, if it’s in the air, on a flight are as likely as that of being cooped up on a Japanese cruise liner. You have no chance of avoiding it.
Much to my relief the bike box appeared confirming that my steed had also made it Down Under.
We’ve all seen the Australian Border TV ‘fly on the wall’ series where various unfortunates and miscreants are stopped at Customs for having the wrong visa, importing half a succulent dead lizard or planning to convert an everyday package into its probable street value, as drugs, of c£100k. I was concerned that my oat energy bars might be deemed as dangerous and toxic or specks of mud on the underside of my mudguards would be identified as a bio hazard. Anyway there was no such problems and I proceeded through all the steps of Immigration and was soon sat in a taxi.
My driver, late of some African country, was garrulous and turned out to be a Liverpool FC fan. It seems the world is full of these glory seekers. To make myself feel better I made a mental note to dock this misjudgement off his tip. In retrospect by the time he dropped me in the Central Business District of Melbourne I think he had the last laugh. The fare convinced me that I hadn’t so much as hired the taxi but actually bought a share in it. So from here it was quickly into the hotel room and I unpacked and assembled the bike before falling into bed for sadly what was a deep but short sleep.
The next morning I was up at Stupid O’Clock and getting sorted before scooting around the centre of town trying to buy various supplies.
One such provision was coffee whitener/creamer. I couldn’t see it anywhere. I did ask one older lady about finding it. She looked puzzled at my question and looked behind me to see if I had parked my rocket (after landing from another planet). She’d never heard of such a product. My other disappointing shock was the discovery that they call crisps ‘chips’. How are they still in the Commonwealth?
So the morning was about finding all the items I couldn’t sort in York but by lunchtime most of this was complete and the next idea was to stroll down to the Yarra.
This is the river that runs through Melbourne and close to the centre has the MCG (Melbourne Crocket Ground), Australian Open Tennis venues and the Olympic village. Melbourne hosted the Olympics in 1956 and the Commonwealth Games in 2006. The MCG has evolved as a stadium over the decades but today is a massive structure hosting cricket, Australian Rules Football and other ad hoc sports. I wanted to get from under the eaves of the stands and see the pitch. However, a tedious ‘jobsworth’ said me that the future of mankind would be threatened if I went past a temporary barrier and so this photo shows how close I could get. The setting in a Park is delightful and watching a Test match here would be remarkable.
So noting this was to be a relaxing day I strode off into the suburbs and had amassed 30,500 steps by the time I got back to the hotel. What’s that you ask? Yes, of course I had got lost!
This Central Business District is attractive and resplendent with premium brand shopping and sky scrapers of shiny steel, glass and concrete but may not be typical of the suburbs. My unforeseen ‘walkabout’ had found unremarkable but tidy residential housing that may be more representative of the Australia I was to find later. The town planning seemed spacious compared to anything on our busy little island. It’s hard not to imagine this might be a Canadian or US metropolis in design. The centre is beautiful and well serviced with trams and rail links. In fact there was the odd bicycle lane as well.
Back in CBD the millennials abounded. They were either students or employees from within these tall buildings. ‘Café Society’ was evident on most street corners as were the ubiquitous phone headsets enabling the young upwardly mobile to perambulate and communicate. I have a great cynicism that much business was being discussed on their phones although I did like to speculate that conversations were dissecting the news that someone had illegally penetrated the stationery cupboard and made off with the ‘post it notes’. I suppose they were ‘talking’ into their phones rather than walking along looking at them. Needless to say I was an unusual sight, given my age, amongst striplings. I concluded anyone over 32 years old was lost, a tourist or a cleaner.
The ethnic mix is diverse. Voices on the street might reveal some European languages of tourists but the number of folk of Chinese heritage is large. As I type this the next table has a very boisterous conversation in Mandarin (I assume) of office workers taking their lunch. In fact throughout the city the signage of shops or business for Vietnamese, Korean or Chinese services is common. Given the climate, democratic processes, political freedoms, economic opportunities and commutable proximity to Asia it is obvious why so many want to emigrate to this piece of rock.
The next day after another poor night’s sleep (due to pernicious jet lag) I sorted my temporary replacement SIM card for my phone and visited the Immigration Museum. It is only latterly in the last few decades that the Government has allowed non-white immigration in the volume they have today. Historically Britain’s former white colonies ie. South Africa, Canada and Australia have had racist histories as regards the acceptance of people of colour and probably even worse as regards the indigenous populations. Very interesting. In the 1830s the population of Australia was 70,000. Today it’s nearer 25 million.
There’s quite a lot to uncover and not least was my discovery that at its peak the Australians had 60,000 troops deployed in Vietnam. It’s hard not to think that this was exclusively a US war. (New Zealand also had a small involvement).
After a recommendation I visited the State Library for Victoria. It’s a beautiful building with wonderful spaces and exhibits within.
There was a little time left to take the bike out of the hotel for a test spin and I went back to the Yarra river. There is a fantastic purpose built cycle path beside the water.
So my packing for my departure north is complete and I’m ready to leave this urban centre. Sadly this £9.99 bargain from B&M will remain. You can take the boy out of Yorkshire but not Yorkshire out of the boy. As the case has wheels I did wonder about dragging the 2,500 miles to Cairns but the moment passed!