Forgive the interruption: I have been in Europe, collecting more tales for this blog. But for now, I continue to remember Australia – and Melbourne.
When I first opened a street map of Melbourne central, I felt underwhelmed by the uniformity of the grid-based street plan of the Central Business District (CBD). Its name, too, seemed lacklustre: I had come for culture, not for commerce. Perhaps – I thought then, as I sat in my hotel room on Queen’s Street – I’d find promise in the places on the map’s edges, blurred by the messy boundaries of parks and wharfs and close conurbation, their greens and blues a contrast of irregular shapes on the map.
But the smart, neat organisation of the CBD belies a more complex, idiosyncratic character. Rather than reflect one another, each street has its own nature, its own architecture, its own ‘feel’. Each is as individual as one might imagine, given over to its own history, development and use. Yet the grid design means that each street cannot be considered in isolation: and it’s the connections – literal and metaphorical, by streets that run in parallel, streets that cross – where Melbourne’s CBD comes alive. It’s more than the sum of its streets.
And so in time – and as I sit here now, writing this – the very thought of their street names – Bourne, Swanston, Elizabeth – conjures a map of intersecting sights and smells and experiences that ebb and flow between one corner, one building, one street and the next that collapses them all into a memory I’ll always remember as Melbourne.
In practical terms, the grid-based plan and smallish size means that Melbourne is easy to navigate on foot. It was partly because of this appeal, and partly because Delhi is often difficult to walk, that I took to wandering everywhere, from one corner of the map to the other, and beyond. I must have walked for miles and for days collectively. I felt I covered almost all of the map by the end of my stay, taking in every road in-between, its opposite and adjacent, from the Central Pier to the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground); to the ‘tan’ running track and Botanic Gardens that it circles to Captain Cook’s Cottage in Fitzroy Gardens.
More than once I followed an itinerary laid out by my guide book, reading the notes on the buildings I saw and disappearing into the recommended cafes, visiting the places of interest, taking photos and notes along the way. These were some of my happiest days in Australia. For my money, walking a city is the best way to discover it. And Melbourne is one of the easiest places to walk. By these criteria, it’s one of my favourite cities.
The train to Sydney will be 10 minutes late owing to issues with signals.
Please wait for further information.
I slumped as I heard the tinny voice. Like a child, I felt 10 minutes would last forever. I wondered if it would be the last announcement. I got up and bought some tea from the cafe nearby and as I stirred it and watched the milky brown liquid swirl in the cup I thought of that table in the museum cafe, where I had my first flat white, and where the kids next to me play with their just-bought dinosaurs…
Is this the train to Sydney mate?
Er – yes, I think so. I hope so – I’m getting it too.
Oh, yeah, right. Cheers.
I had been elsewhere when interrupted. I looked at my watch: still an hour to go, and then ten minutes. I willed the time away before my train arrived. I put my earphones in and there it was: that song I head when I was walking in Fitzroy Gardens, watching the clouds run across the mirrored glass of skyscrapers above the trees and grass of the park…
The train rolled in. Now on the platform, I wouldn’t look at my watch, lest it tell me a time I didn’t want to see. The train was here but it was being cleaned. A string of people, with overnight bags and pillows and blankets, looked tired. One of them wore a baggy white jumper, which looked like the cricket whites. And there I was – back at the Melbourne Cricket Ground – standing outside in my first few hours in Australia, small under the statue of Dennis Lillee running in to bowl, arms swinging by his side, hair wild in the wind …