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Back in Melbourne

Written on: Monday June 23rd, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Melbournians are strange folk. It?s the middle of winter right, Melbourne isn?t all that far from the Antarctic circle, hence it?s flipping cold, but instead as we English do in our harsh winters heading to a nice warm, brightly lit pub with a roaring fire piping in the corner, or at least the heaters firing, it seems everybody in Melbourne prefers to buy a nice cold pint of beer and sit outside while the wind howls and whistles around them. It wasn?t just the people I was drinking with either, it was everybody, all chatting away, recalling a past event and laughing together sat on cold wooden benches in the Victoria chilly twilight. I simply cannot comprehend why they would want to do this and I frequently voiced this opinion whilst out one night being subjected to perilously near freezing conditions with Cary and some of her friends. After keeping this poor, starving backpacker quiet by buying him some food I stopped shivering for a while, but then piped up again and managed to convince them all to come and drink in a much more disgusting, much less civilised backpacker joint that at least had an inside and warm comfy sofas to sit on, albeit a particularly amorous couple sitting in front of us pretty much partaking in full-scale sexual intercourse. They obviously liked the sofas too! The night before this Dave and I had ventured out to explore St Kilda, the coastal district just south of the central city, and before we knew it found ourselves propping up a bar, whilst at one point being timed by the DJ as Dave held and thrusted me forward while I pumped the blood as quick as I could in to my arms, wheelbarrow race style, trying to secure the quickest lap time in a circuit of the bar. We were actually taking part in a weekly quiz (while being constantly irritated and talked at by some greasy drunken local) that was quite different from the one we used to take part in back in the King?s Fairway every Wednesday night as between the quiz rounds there was some sort of silly game to top up your points with. And the wheelbarrow race was one of them. We?d put in a blitzing first half of the circuit, took a racing line that Lewis Hamilton would have been proud of on the final corner and were hurtling down the home straight with glory in our sights only for Dave to speed up just a little too much than my arms could contend with and so just like in those Hollywood movies where success looks like a foregone conclusion only for in the dying seconds things to go horribly wrong, and they did. My arms collapsed underneath me, I lifted my chin up as to avoid breaking my jaw on the concrete floor and attempted to slide the remainder of the way to the finish line on my stomach and immortalised glory. I didn?t make it. We rescued our egos by exhibiting a super human general knowledge repertoire though and finished up third in the end. These couple of nights were great nights out but I hadn?t really seen much of Melbourne in my stay here and as such still wasn?t holding it in such a high regard as others I had spoken to who had lived and visited here. So in the last few days I decided to explore. I hadn?t driven a car in 9 months and was itching to get back behind the wheel so Cary and I hired a tiny little Daihatsu, (sadly no Dave who had to work) and drove down the coast to Philip Island. Renowned for its wildlife and famous for hosting the Australian Grand Prix every year Philip Island did not disappoint. The names of the town?s are all the same as the towns in the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, down to an English coloniser who was fond of the place no doubt and so we found ourselves staying at a nice little hostel in the island?s biggest town of Cowes. It took us a lot longer than the 90 minutes that all the visitor guides say it takes to reach from the centre of the city, four hours longer to be exact, as we took just about every wrong turn there was to take in the absence of us having a map and relying on driving in the direction we thought Philip Island might lie in, using the sun in the sky as our compass. Neither of us cared too much though, it was just great to be driving again, even if it was a soulless Japanese micro machine.  The next day our happy-go-lucky orienteering was rewarded as we got to see more of Australia?s natural wildlife and stunning southern landscape then you could shake a David Attenborough box-set at. It began with a morning visit to Philip Island?s own chocolate factory, granted not very wild but the pelican feeding that followed afterwards made up for this. The pelicans, numbering over twenty in total jostled with one another, spreading out their wings in competition for space and seniority and in order to gain the best spot to catch the fish that are thrown out to them daily by a local fishmonger. Next up came those cuddly koalas, so iconic of Oz, whom we watched as they sat lazily in the branches of their favourite eucalyptus tree conserving all their energy for the approaching mating season. We visited these ever so cute marsupials in a conservation centre on the island where we also got out first glances of a wallaby, the smaller cousin of the kangaroo. Later that afternoon we were lucky enough to see a pack of kangaroos or whatever the collective term is for a group of kangaroos, when we visited the Grand Prix track. They have a go-cart track at the circuit which is a scaled down model of the real race course, but we settled for the fun of our rental Daihatsu instead and drove out to an area of stunning coastline on the south of the island known as Pyramid Rock, down to the shape of one of the rocks that has been eroded by the rough seas in to as the name suggests, a pyramid. The perfect end to our day of Australian wildlife came after a short walk around the coastline to a cave that has become a blow-hole because of the ferocious waves smashing in to it. The sea as the tide washes in fills the cave with water until it hits the back wall and has nowhere else to go, and so the vast volume of dark, powerful waters are pushed with even more might back on itself and out through the top of the cave. After marvelling at this and shivering at its spray showering us we visited the main tourist draw of Philip Island, the Penguin Parade. Every evening like clockwork at this particular stretch of beach hundreds and hundreds of penguins surf on their bellies to the shoreline, somehow not finding themselves crushed up on the rocks, jump up on to their tiny feet, linger for a few minutes to check the coast is clear and then waddle as only they can across the beach to the hills where the warmth of their burrows or nests await them. There are several observation points that have been built where the paying public can go and watch the penguin?s impressive arrival on the beach and their stroll up the beach to get some sleep and perhaps a bit of penguin nookie as some exhibitionist penguins liked to show the crowd of giggling onlookers. Sadly no photos at all are allowed to be taken, more than likely because of the flashes that would scare and daze these smallest of the penguin species. Nonetheless not wanting to miss out on at least a couple of pics I managed to smuggle my camera out of my pocket and get a few pictures with the flash turned off, as it appeared did many other people there. With some time to spare the next day before we had to return the car and getting back to Melbourne in the prescribed ninety minutes we thought it only right to try and find the Australian Mecca of Ramsey Street. There are a bunch of hostels and tour operators in the city touting Neighbours tours, and meet the cast quiz nights and such like, but we thought it would be much more fun finding it ourselves so after several stops at petrol stations to utilise their collection of road maps, we unbelievably made it to Ramsey Street itself. The street is so much smaller than you would think from watching the show but if like me you grew up with a week-day 5:35pm fix of Robinson and Ramsey drama it is so worth going to see. Mrs Mangle?s house is first on the right, followed by the place where Toadie lives, then comes the Kennedy?s home or Des and Daphne?s before that, next door to the Robinson?s household, where a young Jason Donovan and Alan Dale (who seems now to be in just about every US TV series) used to argue a lot. Next up is the epicentre, Madge and Harold?s abode, where Kylie?s lovely legs in her greasy overalls once graced before you finally make it to Paul Robinson?s house. It was reminiscence heaven, I even thought about re-enacting a famous scene in honour of the classic Grundy show, but the security guard that is on duty 24 hours a day there (he must sleep at some point) as all the houses are actually real homes that real people live in let me get away with a handstand but would have no doubt tackled me hard to the ground had I of run up Madge and Harold?s driveway wailing at the top of my voice in my finest Ozzie accent, ?I love you Charlene!?. I left Australia thinking much more highly of Melbourne, it?s reputation saved in my eyes by its maze of quaint, hidden-away, shopping alleyways, a group of cute koalas, hundreds of frisky pygmy penguins and Mrs Mangle?s driveway, all be it I still don?t forgive its inhabitants for wanting to drink outside in the cold all the time.