Jun 27

Melbourne – our first Aussie city quickly became a home away from home

After enduring a surreal night with no sleep in Christchurch airport, we eventually boarded our flight and glided into Melbourne.

We were excited to be in Australia and to start our journey of discovery. Melbourne was to be our first stop and we were staying with my cousin, Conor, his wife Paula and their two kids, Sean and Charlotte, my second cousins. They are from my Dad’s side of the family and I hadn’t seen any of them for about 16 years.

Conor and Paula greeted us at the airport and took us on the scenic route through Melbourne and then onto Beach Road towards their lovely home in Beaumaris – our weary eyes struggled to take everything in as we were approaching 30 hours without sleep. One thing that did register was the sheer amount of cyclists in their lycra, there was easily enough to rival Tour De France.

Conor and Paula made us feel instantly at home, filling our bellies with English comforts such as Tea, Marmite on toast and cornflakes. We relaxed with them for most of the day, catching up on the years past and they got to know Fi. That evening, Conor trotted off to watch the visiting Welsh play the Australian rugby team in Melbourne, whilst we had our first curry in months with Paula and a couple of cheeky beers. We attempted to watch the game on TV, but lasted all of 19 minutes before sleep deprivation took its toll.

Our nights sleep was undisturbed and incredibly comfortable. It was our first night outside of the camper van in a month, the feeling of waking up in a warm house was initially a strange but pleasant feeling.

Unbeknown to him, Conor whipped up my favourite, scrambled eggs on toast for breakfast and then took us to Sandringham station, so we could get the train to Flinders Street, Melbourne’s city central station. This is where we discovered Myki, Melbourne’s version of London’s Oyster card. We enquired at the desk about it and were grossly misinformed, causing us to purchase a pass rather than topping up our Myki money. This caused us all sorts of problems whilst travelling around, which I won’t bore you all with – worth noting for our memory though.

We hopped on the train and were soon surrounded by lots of scarf adorning, AFL (Aussie Rules) fans, going to watch Richmond. AFL, and sport in general is massive in Melbourne, with most of the leagues teams being based there. It’s also home to the Melbourne open, which would of been great to see had it been on.

We arrived at Flinders Street with a flexible itinerary and our first stop was to be Federation Square. It was buzzing with people watching street performers, enjoying takeaway coffee and admiring outdoor art installations – the city emitted a very European vibe which we were excited to see more of.

We had highlighted a list of free things to do and there was plenty, so we walked up to the Academy of Moving Image. This place offered a history of Television and how it had been influenced by film and gaming in more recent times. It was fun to walk around playing classic Mario on the first Nintendo and seeing various movies celebrated. There was even more interactive elements with a pitch black room filled with smoke (from a smoke machine) and one light beaming across the middle creating an awesome effect, and a very cool room that helped you understand how animation works, by deceiving the eye.

We had a wonder around Melbourne’s sky rises, stood beneath the Eureka Sky deck tower and took in the local atmosphere with a leisurely coffee. Late afternoon, we wondered around the gallery of contemporary art seeing work from Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock’s wife of all people.

We were home just in time for dinner with the O’Malley’s, which was such a homely experience. We all sat around the table, chatting over a great roast dinner – again, our first in months. We got to know Sean and Charlotte, who have both grown into very intelligent, little adults. We are in awe of Sean’s residence, the huge pool house which wouldn’t have looked out of place at Lego land – this would of been the perfect place to live at 18!

Guilt free, we all spent the evening relaxing on the sofa, watching what became the evening tradition – MasterChef! Australia takes this seriously. The programme is filled with all sorts of intricacys and airs five times a week – it’s gripping stuff. Conor and Paula spoiled us more with numerous beers and nibbles, we were really happy.

Our second full day was spent conquering as much of Melbourne as possible. We went to a Wallace and Gromit exhibition at Scienceworks – I was probably a little over excited by this and was a little let down when we walked in and were greeted by toddlers bashing pictures of Wallace. It was aimed at a much younger audience than expected and was more of an educational experience for aspiring young inventors (8 year olds). We smiled and put a visit to Aardman on the list of things to do when back in the UK to see how the real animators do it.

On we went, back towards Flinders Street. At this point, it’s worth noting how cold and wet Melbourne is in winter. We’d expected sunshine and were so surprised at how similar the weather was to back in the UK. The only diference, they accept it for what it is and enjoy their very distinct seasons.

Our next mission was to find the lanes, which we’d failed to do the previous day due to our very poor map. We stumbled across Degraves Street buzzing with restaurants and Cafés. It’s vibrancy overwhelmed us initially, so used to the quiet of New Zealand, we eventually found a place to grab a coffee. The standard flat white. The lanes were extremely grotty, defaced with graffitti but have seemingly become tourist attractions after someone opened a load of European cafés and restaurants covering up the cracks. It had a very unique vibe, taking you out of Austrailia temporarily – which we really enjoyed. We retired early that day, strangely excited by the prospect of dinner with family and a dose of MasterChef.

Our evening was to be slightly disrupted, by that of an earthquake! We were all chatting and then suddenly the walls and floor just vigorously started shaking, like a bulldozer was coming through the window. We all went very quiet and endured a good 10 seconds more, before silence fell upon us. The earthquake had measured 5.2 on the richter scale and was an unusual occurrence for Melbourne. We’ve experienced quite a few freak weather conditions since being away and this just added to it. Earthquake – done.

Our next morning was lost to admin. Sorting how we were going to travel all the way up to Cairns and booking flights back to Brisbane. We opted for the train and an east coast pass, which takes a while but we can travel at night, helping us to spare the small remains of our budget.  We went into Melbourne to collect our train passes and booked our 12 hour night train to Sydney. Afterwards, we went to the recommended burger joint on Degraves Street, Grill’d which delivered a fantastic burger and a close third to Fergburger in New Zealand and Bubba Burgers in Hawaii. We spent the rest of afternoon wandering around, visiting shops and the casino. We didn’t quite have the guts to gamble our remaining budget on red. Kind of wish we had done now! Last, but not least, we booked our ‘Neighbours’ tour for the next day!

Everyone remembers watching Neighbours after school with a kids dinner between 17:30 and 18:00 or on a sick day, catching it before everyone else at lunch time. We just had to do this tour, fully expecting it to be ridiculously cheesy. It was! We jumped onto our Neighbours branded mini bus, headed past the old Erinsborough High, which made you feel slightly pervy as school children played on the fields. We then went to the TV studios where it’s all filmed, I’m sure most of you are aware they don’t film Neighbours in the actual houses on Ramsay Street, which is also a fictional name, it’s actually called Pin Oak Court. We drove around a few of the sets, seeing ‘Grease Monkey’s’ and the Garage Drew used to work at. We didn’t see any of the housing sets as these are all tucked away inside the main building. We went then drove away towards the street, where they film the outside shots. Real people reside in these houses and agree to let filming take place outside on a weekly basis for a handsome fee. We had our pictures taken around the street, posing with the cheesy ‘Ramsay St’ sign and then headed back to the office, to meet our cast member.

We met the one and only Alan Fletcher aka Karl Kennedy, a seriously nice bloke, who took a liking to Fi! The other cast member had dropped out, so he was effectively back up but we didn’t mind. All in all, a pretty surreal experience and a little cringe at times – the lady crying on the bus whilst watching Neighbours re-runs, on the way back to the office took it to new levels – but we really enjoyed the day and had a great laugh!

The last few days were spent locally, checking out the local beach at Black Rock. The rain moved in on a more permanent basis, forcing us to have some R & R time, with prison break on tap courtesy of Sean. Being able to just relax somewhere with nothing to do is something we’d craved after spending so much time constantly on the move.

We enjoyed a lovely last meal with Conor, Paula and family and have such admiration for them and the lives they have made for themselves in Austrailia. They took us into their home and made us feel like we belonged. This was what made our experience in Melbourne so special and we will always look back with fond memories of this wonderful city. Conor and Paula’s kindness and generosity really touched us, which one day we hope to repay and do similar for them.

On our final morning we filled in Conor’s amazing visitor book which goes back to his first ever house. We felt extremely privileged to be allowed to write in it. Paula invited us to the beach to walk their dog Lulu (or Lola as Fi kept mistakenly calling her). We were treated to Scones and Brownies on the beach front Café and enjoyed a blustery walk by the ocean. For one of the first times since travelling, we really didn’t want to leave, we could of just remained in Melbourne and shared the Lego house with Sean!

Melbourne helped us to reaffirm the importance of family, not just immediate, but further afield. To be able to get to know other O’Malley’s (My brother and my Mum are the only others I know) has been unforgettable for me.

I’d like to thank Conor and Paula in this blog and dedicate our amazing experience in Melbourne to them, without all of your support, our experience just wouldn’t have been the same. Melbourne will always be a home away from home for us and we will continue our travels with you both in our thoughts – especially in Singapore! Maybe we will return in the summer months one day in the future.

We now venture onto the train and into darkness, coming out at the other end in Sydney!

Here’s to family! Lots of love to all back home. Tom & Fi xxx

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