Prior to arriving in Australia, we had heard people compare Sydney to Toronto and Melbourne to Montreal. While we did not make it to Sydney, we can confirm that Melbourne feels plenty like Montreal: it’s a very international city with tons of good restaurants and bars, an active live music scene, neat-looking old homes, and plenty of art galleries.
On our first full day, we caught the train out to the suburb of Ballarat to visit Belinda, Wendy’s friend from camp. Ballarat was an old gold rush town and features some period-related tourist attractions, but we were far more concerned with seeing marsupials so we headed straight to the Ballarat Wildlife Park.
Back in the city, we took in some culture at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Koorie Heritage Trust, the Centre for Contemporary Photography, and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. At the Centre for Contemporary Art, an exhibit from Tom Nicholson presented the controversial history of Melbourne’s land being “traded” to John Batman – it seems he forged aboriginal chiefs’ signatures on a treaty to give himself full rights to the land. It was cool to learn about local history while appreciating local art.
One night we went out to the Horse Bazaar bar for an electro/funk/drum & bass show. We caught B-Syde, Mr. Manifold and the Resolution, and The Substance, all of whom put on great sets. B-Syde mentioned the decline of Sydney’s live music and nightlife so he was happy to be performing in Melbourne. We since read that lock-out laws have lead to a 40% drop in live music revenue and venues are being forced to shut down – even the Tiger Air in-flight magazine commented on Sydney’s “nosediving nightlife”.
We had read in a list of free things to do in Melbourne that penguins can be spotted from the pier at St. Kilda. After missing out in New Zealand, Dan insisted that we catch the tram out to this suburb on Sunday evening.
We sat among the crowd waiting for the penguins to return to the rocks at dusk, and were able to spot a few swimming by.
While in the city we made sure to sample a few of Australia’s culinary specialities. We grabbed a delicious lamb and rosemary meat pie from the Queen Victoria Market. We also sampled Australia’s favourite late-night post-bar delicacy: the Halal Snack Pack. The HSP is a plate of chips (fries) covered in donair or kebab meat, and then slathered in your choice of sauces, with garlic/chili/BBQ being a popular combo.
We also made an effort to check out a few of Melbourne’s breweries. We were impressed by the IPAs from Fixation and had fun hanging out and sampling brews at The Mill.
One more similarity to Montreal was the availability of natural wine, something we had not come across much this year. On our last night in Melbourne we enjoyed some excellent fried chicken and funky wines from Belle’s.