Melbourne – a city of about five million people including huge Greek and Vietnamese populations – is about two families and three dogs smaller than Sydney, but is in so many ways a much bigger and a much better city.
Sydney has Bondi Beach and the Opera House – both great attractions – but I think that is about all it offers …
But Melbourne has the lovely old Queen Victoria Markets, where I have often gone shopping and where I had breakfast this week. The markets are huge and offer just about everything from fresh coffee, decadent salamis, instant-antique Tibetan thangkas, MIC genuine Australian souvenir inflatable plastic kangaroos and clothing and household goods and …
The city also has a huge coffee and restaurant culture, wonderfully graffitied alleyways and lanes, the Australian Opera, Australian Rules Football finals, superb art galleries and theatres, the nation-stopping Melbourne Cup horse race festival … and more Greeks than any city other than Athens, which is why tennis players Nick Kyrgios, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Thanasi Kokkinakis are so hugely popular in this city, especially as the Australian Open tennis tournament gets under way.
I was pleased that this year the organisers of the tournament banned Russian flags from being displayed at the various stadiums, but I reluctantly accept the presence of Russian players in the tournament.
I do not believe that the country should be lauded in any way since its invasion of Ukraine but feel that Russian individuals deserve the opportunity to play. On the Friday before the competition opened, a charity match to raise funds for the Ukraine was presented and many Australians supported the efforts of the tiny beleaguered nation against the malevolent giant to their north.
Tennis: Love all
I had a few days in Melbourne earlier this month and for the first time ever experienced the infamous “four seasons in one day” weather for which the city is sometimes known. The day I arrived the thermometers hit 360 C and 400 C and play in the Australian Open Tennis Tournament was suspended while players and spectators sweltered. Later that day I trotted off to attend an open-air performance of Much Ado About Nothing by the Australian Shakespeare Company in the Royal Botanical Gardens.
As I jumped off my tram (Melbourne has a marvellous public transport system with free trams in the CBD), huge gales blew leaves about my feet, great globules of rain splattered my glasses and my mobile telephone trembled with a message to tell me that the show had been cancelled because of the incoming thunderstorm.
A sad and sodden Christopher dragged himself back past the striking Shrine of Remembrance and onto a tram back to the city for a room-service meal and an early night … ready for a great day the following morning at the tennis.
Donner und Blitz
I had travelled from sunny Queensland to Melbourne with no winter clothing and no waterproof coats: weather forecasts had told me that Melbourne would be hot and dry.
- Ho Ho Ho
I had reserved a seat in the Rod Laver Arena – Melbourne’s “Centre Court” – and was able to enjoy a few games under the closed roof while unpleasant gales blew about the stadium. Crossing to other arenas meant dodging rains and winds and passing swarms of locusts. All outside open-air courts were closed and players were in action only in the inside and roofed courts.
On previous visits to the Australian Open I have really enjoyed finding great players in the outside courts, and then popping into reserved seats to watch some of the BIG names smack balls about. On this visit the lunder and thightning meant all games were indoors and it was a strange experience to be cold and shivering in the middle of Melbourne’s summer season at the AO.
I saw some great women’s matches … but was made aware of the inequalities of men’s / women’s matches.
In the Australian Open competition, women play only three sets, while men play best of five sets. Surely modern tournament organisers are not really saying that women are inferior to men and that they cannot manage to play the best of five sets? A woman can win the same prize money as a man (just under AU$3m) … but she only needs to play three fifths of the games the man must do.
I celebrate equal pay for equal work … but find this rather divisive as the “work” is anything but equal.
I was also intrigued when the on-court commentator introduced the first two women to play on the Rod Laver Arena on my visit: Swiatek from Poland, the world’s Number 1 seeded player, and Osorio from Colombia. Each player was referred to as “they”.
- … and they achieved their first win in the French 2020 Open in the women’s singles …
Can a woman – or a man – really be “they” if they are competing in a women’s or a men’s singles competition …? I feel this is political correctness – or sexual correctness – going far too far.
I watched some brilliant tennis – men and women in hard-fought battles – and saw serves at 214 kmh. I have been on aeroplanes that have travelled more slowly than these serves! Many years ago when I played tennis, the speed of my serves was not recorded by laser guns … but by calendars.
After some time watching extremely hard-hitting tennis between Argentinian Etcheverry and Italian Sinner in the Margaret Court Arena, I was drawn back to the Rod Laver Arena to watch the game between Rafael Nadal and twenty-seven year-old USA player McKenzie McDonald.
The American played very well but Nadal was obviously suffering, taking medical attention on a couple of occasions. However, he played out the match to allow McDonald an outright win over the world’s Number 1 player.
I congratulate McDonald on his victory but joined the massed spectators in waving goodbye to Nadal as he left the Rod Laver Arena for what may well be the last time.
- It was a huge honour to be there for this match as Nadal – like Federer – is such a fine sportsman and such a gentleman
Tennis is such an engrossing spectator sport and is one of my favourites, but no sport comes close to live theatre or opera as a real spectator experience. Yes, one can sit through five or more hours of serves, volleys, smashes, forehands, backhands and deuces and have a wonderful time … but three hours at an opera or in a live theatre aces them all.
On this visit to Melbourne, the wonderful Australian Opera was not presenting anything of interest although the hugely popular Phantom of the Opera was available, as was Mary Poppins. Neither interested me and I had so looked forward to the outdoor performance of Much Ado About Nothing only to find that tempests had reduced it to a washed-out ado about poor weather.
- And then there was Harry
I have read several of the Harry Potter novels by the wonderfully creative writer JK Rowling and last year saw the first part of a rather tame two-man show called Potted Potter – an unauthorised Harry Experience but left at the interval.
The marvellous old Princess Theatre in Melbourne dates back to 1854 and could well have been built especially for the current season of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It is a grand old place with dated light fittings and vaulted ceilings and seemed almost to be an extension of Hogwarts School.
The show – all three and a half hours of it – and way too long for kids of ten or eleven or for oldies of over seventy years of age – was simply spectacular. The narrative was of little interest, but the staging and the special effects were worth every bewitched second as people and brooms and furniture floated mid-air, as wands spouted lights and explosions and as ears spurted smoke.
I have been involved in theatre for many years and know some of the tricks used to achieve special effects, but most of those in Harry Potter simply dazzled me and I urge others to pop along for the fun of it all.
Great fun indeed.
Some years ago, I took my first free-fall tandem skydive. There were no hidden wires or black-suited special effects men to make the illusion of falling through space all too real. The instructor showed me how to tighten the harness and urged me to ensure that my rather tender bits were not going to be in the way when the parachute opened and tugged mercilessly on the nether regions.
He was right to do so … although he had not anticipated that our first parachute would not open properly … and would have to be jettisoned … and that the back-up parachute and a back-up tugging on small tender bits would be necessary to avoid being turned into tomato sauce on the Queensland canefields below.
In Melbourne visitors can cross the mighty Yarra River by foot on the many bridges, by gondola or by ferry or by tram or train … but currently the most exciting way to cross over the heads of racing sculls and ferries is by the Firefly Zipline.
After signing numerous documents promising not to sue the company if you fall headfirst into the Yarra or on top of a passing rowing eight, high fliers are strapped into the ball-constricting harnesses formerly found at 14,000 feet above Queensland canefields, told to sit back and to enjoy the flight … and then are launched across the river.
It’s all over in a few seconds.
At about sixty dollars it is a novel experience even if the cost works out to be precisely fifty cents per metre for the 120-metre crossing with the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) and Rod Laver tennis arena in view across the river. But why walk, when you can fly …?
Value for money
Tickets to the Rod Laver Arena are not cheap – but someone has to pay the money to ensure that Djokovic can earn his three million dollars – and a seat way up high in the euphemistically named Grand Circle (aka “the gods”) for Harry Potter will set you back over one hundred dollars.
But Melbourne has many free or affordable options.
The lovely laneways full of coffee shops and small restaurants, the delightful graffiti-adorned alleyways, the free city tram services and the affordable little restaurants in side alleys off other alleys in Chinatown all offer great bang for bucks. I had dinner with friends at the Supper Inn in Celestial Avenue where the total bill with tip was under $100.00. The Supper Inn has been around for decades and is known as a favourite late-night Cantonese food haven.
- But the best big bang for bucks is the NGV
I am not sure that I am comfortable with a regional art gallery calling itself the “National Gallery of Victoria”. It is a bit like the USA promoting its World Series baseball competition, where the only teams participating are from the USA. But then, perhaps, to many USA citizens, the USA is the world. Why look elsewhere …?
- … but back to the NGV …
The NGV is a superb free public art gallery located on the south side of the Yarra River. Entry to most exhibitions is free but there is a fee for special shows. This month there was an Alexander McQueen special show of frocks and whatnots and an entry fee was demanded for these galleries. I always enjoy the featured exhibition in the Federation Court – this year, a huge Jeff Koons (perhaps best known for his balloon dog series) ceramic piece of Venus. A couple of years ago it was a huge KAWS sculpture.
The NGV has a striking water wall at its entry (see featured image, LEFT) and kids of all ages play with the tumbling waters before entering to view superb Chinese, Australian, European and Australian artworks, or enjoying the striking stained glass ceiling – all 61 m x 15 m of it – by Australian artist Leonard French in the Great Hall. I believe this is the largest cut glass ceiling in the world … but perhaps Donald Trump has a bigger one in Mar el Largo.
The Top Ten
Globalcitizen.org publishes an annual list of the world’s top ten most liveable cities. Vienna comes in as Number One, followed by Copenhagen. There are a couple in Switzerland, three in Canada, none in the USA, and just one in Australia: Melbourne.
I know the Internet is infallible and that everything found there is incontestable … but for once, I cannot but agree that Melbourne deserves its listing in the top ten, despite an occasional thunderstorm washing out open-air theatre performances.
- I had promised myself that I would avoid national or politically correct comments in this blog … but I have failed to do so. I apologise to those who may find any comments offensive … but I stand by my views.
Journey January 2023
Text and photographs © Christopher Hall January 2023
Photographs with asterisk (*) from the Internet
In my blogs I try to present a snapshot of the places I have discovered during a brief visit. I am not trying to present a detailed picture of the whole city or the whole region or the whole country.
If you enjoyed this story please scroll down to see earlier stories and forward the blog address to your friends: www.hallomega.com
If you would like to receive automatic notification of future postings on this blog please click the FOLLOW button on your screen.
If a man ascended into heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvellous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight.
- Attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero – On Friendship