“The place to be” or so the numberplates tell me.
I arrived in Melbourne from Hobart with the intention of working for the two or three weeks before my flight to New Zealand. I was quickly reminded of everything I hated about cities and loved about Tasmania, I was also quickly robbed of the notion that I had time to make real money before my flight. What followed was a quest to go “bush”. To go to ground with my tent and save as much money as I could.
I succeeded thanks solely to the kindness of strangers.
Anyway. This is Victoria, also a Queen, and the Kink’s finest song.
Arriving in Melbourne
The sun was setting as I walked up the gangway to the awaiting plane, the clouds shone pink around the mountains around Hobart turning orange the closer they got to Sorell. I would of taken a picture had I been allowed to use my phone.
This was the first time while travelling I didn’t want to get on a plane and looking back I could of spent my year in Tasmania. Easily. But I’d spent near three months there and the tickets to New Zealand were cheap and Melbourne even cheaper.
Upon landing the sinking feeling that I made a mistake persisted and then increased. I wasn’t awed by Melbourne the way I initially was with Sydney, nor did it have the charm or quirkyness of Hobart. I didn’t like Melbourne; it had bad juu juu.
I found my way to a hostel, a fuckawful chain called nomads whose prices where increasing every damn night as the F1 approached. I slept and rose to much the same feeling of discontent and unease. It seemed every English backpacker in my overpriced room full of English backpackers was also looking for work and some had been for three weeks.
At this point I wasn’t going to chuck it, I visited some agencies, printed out some CVs, work stuff, y’know. I could hit the streets and get something, be it car washing or cleaning the way I’d done in Hobart.
I stayed one more night at the hostel and when the morning came I began in earnest. Posted an ad for labour on gumtree, applied for two dozen jobs and walked around dishing out CVs slowly realising I didn’t want to stay here.
I hated Melbourne, it may be voted the “most liveable city on earth” but it reeked of falseness to me. The graffiti was shouting out edgy but was just selling products or confirming a predetermined style of a borough. The trams were too busy and the people, there were too many of them. It wasn’t held together by a bay in the way Sydney was, not were the beaches in walking distance. I didn’t actually hate Melbourne, I don’t think, but I do hate cities. Their.. I can’t go into it. Just not my thing. They make me angry and annoying to be around.
So the ad was removed off the gumtree, my remaining CVs were kept, my bag was packed and an awful lot of couscous was stolen. Got to love passive constructions.
I asked the man at the coach station what to catch and when for the nearest secluded yet idyllic beach.
“Phillip Island’s quite nice mate, leaves in ten minutes”
And for all of $10 I was off, two days after I arrived, with only economy, frugality and long swims on my mind.
The bus left at half five and so left Melbourne at around seven, in time for me to catch the sun setting low over the flat farmlands of South Victoria. Along the straight roads I saw enough ditches and fields to notice that some parts of rural Victoria bear a half resemblance to Spalding, Spalding at its most beautiful that is.
I change a few times and whilst shifting my backpack underneath the last coach a young aboriginal woman ties my shoelace for me, without me asking. She and her male friend share a cigarette while I tell them of my plans of lying low on some deserted beach and living on couscous for two weeks. The drunk indigenous lady declares in a slurred moan that I won’t find any deserted beaches coz of all the fuckin tourist unmentionable unmentionable rude swear unmentionable.
I begin to realise I shouldn’t be this open with my plans to total strangers I also begin to feel a bit threatened and I hop back on the bus, alighting at the first stop as we cross the bridge onto the island.
The drunk lady’s friend follows me, catches up and warns of the perils of camping on the beach, of strange people, muggings, gangs of teens and all the things we grow to fear when we stop being teenagers and don’t hang around in gangs anymore.
I ignore his warnings and head down to the beach to find it all a heady mix of quicksand and smashed bottles. I’m sitting in an abandoned boat shed that people still clearly get high in, waiting for night to fall so I can find a garden of an empty house and set up tent as I did so often on Bruny Island. But there were 800 people on Bruny and tens of thousands on Phillip. I begin to hope for the man to return.
Lo and behold he does! With another friend, they then proceed to show me what true hospitality is. They do me a kindness I can’t ever repay and take me in to their home rent free until my flight, not camped in a garden but in a spare room. I’m living with friends… Australian friends!!!
There is Wozza, the incredibly opinionated Freemasonic, ex moo tie (bloodiest elbow/knee-centric fighting style on earth (not actual spelling)) champion
Scottie, a first gen Oz with Serb roots, damn fine Seadoo skills and a gentle, noodle-loving, nature. He acknowledges that he works for a company that makes pretty shit campervans
Amanda, a half German Queenslander who treated me like a son
And Summer, a one year old that loves screaming and wallets
For two nearly three weeks I lived with these people. The warmest embodiment of Australian hospitality you could hope to be befriended by on a bus. They showed me Victoria the way only locals could and for a little while at least eased my loneliness.
Imagine. Just imagine the same thing happening in England, difficult isn’t it?
These are a small selection of the happy times that I had with my friends.
I was taken squid fishing at the dead of night. A few beers in one hand, rod in the other, hurtling down the bridge on a borrowed bike towards San Remo pier. Sitting on the ink stained pier chatting shit all night. Half watching the glowing lures bob and dip in the water.
Drift fishing in canoes along a gentle river for bream on a day too sunny to properly remember.
Travelling everywhere in the back of their red ute, half hidden under tarpaulin.
Being reluctantly fed proper food! For free!! Meals with more than three ingredients!!! Cooked in woks as opposed to camping stoves!!!!!!! FOR FREE!!!!!! FREE I TELLS YA!!!!! Also a first experiences of the magic of chicken salt on flake, chicos and battered mars bars. Freddos and bangers and mash. (Flake is a type of shark Australians have instead of cod or haddock at fish&chip shops)
(It’s fucking divine)
Freediving for abalone. Huge oyster-looking, chinesey delicacy things that cling to cracks and crevices in deep pools full of tropical fish and forests of kelp; butter knife in hand and incredibly quick reflexes in wrist. If too slow the abalone will simply bend your knife. The catch brought to the surface, recovered and hidden in socks due to Warren’s paranoia concerning fisheries, taken home and fried.
Fishing for Abalone the next day and being caught by fisheries. I had my rights read, a permanent record and narrowly avoided a $1000 fine.
Subsequently driving around the coast pretending to be fisheries and confiscating a small shark from some tourists then throwing him back in the sea.
Shouting and swearing at “fucking tourists”.
Finding a dead seal, beached and thoroughly torn asunder by a shark. Poking said seal with a stick.
Being chased by an incredibly large sting ray in open water til I genuinely thought I was in real trouble. Then it forcing me onto a rock where Warren and Scott were sat on, also hiding from another circling ray.
Drinking cougar sweet mash whiskey around an open fire, getting closer and closer to the sparks as the night grew colder.
Meeting four generations of an extended Australian family and sharing a meal, watching MKR, the Block and housos whilst talking about anything and everything. Gallipoli, national identity, centrelink, AFL and billion dollar desalinisation plants. Then standing outside together on warm nights and staring at the stars.
After a week fearing I was imposing and burdening myself on the family, stretching them financially when I could never repay them, I left for French island. Finding the population consisted of only koalas and having eaten all my couscous I returned after 3 days. But rather than me pay for the ferry Warren had Scott come for me on the Seadoo. Just for fun.
Riding a Seadoo, with a 25kg pack on your back over shark infested ocean. Watching fur seals slowly spinning on the surface, white teeth bared. The countless waves (white tips: gale force 4) coming over the prow of the jetski and knocking off sunglasses and immediately soaking me and everything in my bag to the core. Rain as constant as my fear of a burial at sea.
Being taught how to kill someone using your knees.
Using a BBQ ignition switch to fire some propane launching a lemon out a drainpipe and at least a kilometre away.
All these things and more I did for free, by a chance meeting on a bus with friendly, trusting people.
I tried to pay them to no avail so I bought much whiskey and many pizzas. Not nearly enough but… At some point I had to say goodbye to my new friends, to catch the long morning bus with Scott back to Koo Wee Rupp, then Packenham and finally Melbourne.
Return to Melbourne
I returned to a cheaper post F1 Melbourne. It still lacked any claim to a USP; blandness being taken by Canberra. But I spent most of the day in the state library, learning of Ned Kelly and the history of Victoria. I will give Melbourne the credo of having the fondest library I’ve ever been in… Well done Melbourne.
I booked a cheap hostel and checked in early: I had a flight the very next day.