Melbourne wins me over

February 21st, 2014 | by Ken

I’m a sucker for a big, noisy, modern, multicultural city, and Melbourne’s got the goods. After a dusty week in a campervan, I was slightly pleased to cruise into the big city. Well, “slightly” may be an understatement…

After missing my yearly film binge at the Milwaukee Film Festival back home, I was delighted to find two festivals underway: the Melbourne Festival and the Melbourne Fringe Festival (it’s October, solidly “shoulder season”, so what must summer be like?).

Over the course of a few days, I steamed from museum to museum, with interesting stops in between. There’s a free tram and a free bus looping through downtown just for us tourists. Meanwhile, Karen took a more leisurely pace and even rented a bike to get around one day.

As far as classic art museums go, the National Gallery of Victoria is now one of my favorites. It has two locations, admission is free, and the collections are well-presented and wide-ranging, including the work of aboriginal Australians.

In honor of my retired librarian mom, I hit the State Library of Victoria. It’s a research library with an ornate reading (and laptop-using) room, plus it has exhibits about Australian history on the upper floors. Windows in the domed ceiling allow daylight to flood in, giving the reading room a very open, spacious feeling.

Federation Square is the main gathering place in town, complete with the street performers and overpriced cafes you’d expect. It’s a bit looney, with its misshapen, multi-colored buildings, but hey, it ain’t boring.

Just off the Square, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image has a cool exhibit called Star Voyager, chronicling the portrayal of space travel (real and imagined) in motion pictures. It was the perfect lead-in to “Who, Me”, a Doctor Who-related comedy we saw that night. I also saw models from Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and Harvie Krumpet… whaddya mean, you haven’t seen Harvie Krumpet? It’s one of our favorite animated shorts- check it out if you can.

I also braved the long walk to the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, which wasn’t all that impressive, except for one installation. It’s called “Yellow”, and it’s really just a walkway through some drywalled corridors. As I entered, I glimpsed someone down the hall. OK, I wasn’t there alone. I started walking down a narrow corridor, and in my peripheral vision I could see someone walking toward me- geez, he was about to run right into me! I looked up… and he was me. Come to think of it, when I first walked in, I had glimpsed myself from another angle, down the hall. A woman passed me, exiting the exhibit, and yet there she was around the next corner, locking eyes with me through an opening cut into the wall (and looking just as confused as I was). The artist constructed the space with mirrors and projectors to “challenge our perceptions of personal space” or whatever. I loved it for its funhouse qualities.

Oh yeah, one more unusual thing we did in Melbourne: took a day off. I actually sat in our hotel room on my computer, sifting photos and editing video, rather than seeing the city. And it was good. I got caught up, and we rewarded ourselves by going to see the last Harry Potter movie at a small theatre. I mean small, like 45 seats in the house. And tickets were (gasp) $17.50 a person for this non-first-run movie. The quality of the projection and sound wasn’t too great, but at least we finally saw the movie we’ve been trying to get to since July!

Melbourne was comfortable and easy to get around. It’s a big city (4 million people), but didn’t seem overwhelming or rushed. And oh, the crazy architecture. Special thanks to our mate John, for giving us the inside scoop on his city.