An exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria brings me back to Melbourne, a city I lived in many years ago, and a city I know reasonably well. After checking into my hotel around lunch time, I grab a map work out a route through the Melbourne CBD to rediscover laneways and street art.
An Afternoon in Melbourne
A walk in Melbourne’s CBD Chasing Laneways and Street Art
Chinatown is very near my hotel, so I begin my wandering there. The Chinese community in Little Bourke Street dates back to the mid-1800s. The low-rise brick buildings, now home to restaurants suited to all budgets, retain some of the historic character of the area.
Passing under one of the five colourfully decorated arches, I gaze at the red lanterns strung in lines along the length of the street, the shop signs in Chinese characters and the decorative brickwork of the Chinese Church. Shops offer Chinese medicine, and blue plaques explain the history of various buildings.
There’s a Chinese Masonic Lodge (who would have thought?) and white hatted chefs preparing dumplings for hungry customers. Not having eaten yet, I settle for a quick plate of dumplings. Cheap and tasty, they do the job.
Postal Lane, sandwiched between the General Post Office building and Myer, reminds me how well Melbourne does little laneways. Once a delivery lane, Postal Lane like the GPO building has been repurposed, now housing a string of small eateries. The restored GPO is home to retail stores.
The street art in Warburton Lane draws me in. Besides the potted plant paste-ups and other interesting work, I discover Murmur Piano Bar, and add that to the list of places to visit.
I’ve been to Hardware Lane before, but that doesn’t stop me walking past the folk sitting Parisian style looking out at the passing parade. Most of the restaurants here are Italian, certainly an easy alternative to the Italian precinct of Lygon Street.
Melbourne Street Art
Drewery Lane is a new one for me. Here, I discover street art with a difference, if there is such a thing. Tiles, hand-made by Legacy widows, their family and friends decorate the back wall of Legacy House. They commemorate the centenary of ANZAC (11th November 2016).
In Sniders Lane I stumble across one of the “Free tour” groups. The tour leader is explaining that the life size mural of a topless Kim Kardashian and Em Ratajkowski (copied from a Kardashian Instagram post) was painted by the Australian street artist Lushsux.
Union Lane, another Melbourne street art precinct offers a riot of colour and a faint smell of urine and fresh paint.
The Royal Arcade
The Royal Arcade, a Victorian era building makes a change from street art. The first arcade in Melbourne, this shopping precinct reminds me of The Strand Arcade in Sydney. There, I find the statues of mythical Gog and Magog who, standing on either side of Gaunt’s clock strike the hour throughout the day.
The Block Arcade
A visit to Melbourne is incomplete without walking through The Block Arcade with its chocolate shops, fine tiled floors and of course, the Hopetoun Tea Rooms. Beautiful silk scarfs hanging in a shop window are decorated with the patterns of the tiled floor.
Two women inspect the Victorian Scale number 1140, located in circular area of the arcade. I also take a look. The scale, made in 1880 came to Australia by sea and was first located in Sydney’s Central Railway Station. According to the scales, a woman of my height has an average weight of 11 stone and 4 ounces.
Walking down Swanston Street, I notice that some of the street poles have been painted in Aboriginal designs. The poles were painted by Indigenous artists Maree Clarke and Sonja Hodge and were part of the Swanston Street Walk Public Art Project. Like so many things of interest, people walk past these poles oblivious to their beauty.
More Street Art: Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane and Duckboard Place
Hosier Lane, possibly the most well-known lane for street art is very busy with visitors posing in front of artworks. One artist works his magic with a spray can.
AC/DC Lane and Duckboard place are the last on my list for today. It seems I’ve saved the best for last. The 3D sculpture of AC/DC front man, Bon Scott, created by Mike Makatron appears to burst from the brick wall. Other works pay tribute to the great Australian band.
Around the corner in Duckboard Place, I bump into the “Free Tour” group again. They, like me, are at the end of their walk through the Melbourne CBD. Before I leave though, I confirm with their guide that the large piece at the end of Duckboard Place is by one of my favourite street artists, Fintan Magee.
Luckily for me, the Spanish Film Festival is on, and I end my day with a Spanish Movie at a Cinema near my hotel.
A Full Day in Melbourne
National Gallery of Victoria, Tunnels and Chapel Street
My plan for my full day in Melbourne is to find a particular sign at the Flinders Street Station, to see the Escher exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria and to walk Chapel Street.
As it’s easy to walk around Melbourne, I set out down Collins Street taking the time to admire the architecture. St Michael’s Uniting Church with its intricate patterned brickwork always fascinates me.
Melbourne’s Golden Mile
Little brass discs embedded in the pavement remind me that Collin’s Street forms part of the Golden Mile Heritage Trail. I once did this fascinating trail as a self-guided walk, map in hand, discovering high arched ceilings and beautiful architecture inside buildings most people just walk past. These days while there are no paper maps, there is a free app or you can explore the Golden Mile on a paid tour.
The Tunnels in Flinder’s Station
Well-known Degraves Street is a little like Hardware Lane with plenty of eateries and more street art. From there I descend the subway under Flinders Street to the Station. Interestingly, I have read that the tunnels were built to protect travelers from the smoke and steam from the steam trains.
I’m on the lookout for a particular sign my friend told me about. Salmon pink tiles line the walls and the quirky shops are mostly closed. I wonder if they will open at all. After a little exploration, I find the sign. “Do Not Spit on Floors Walls or Stairs”. Perhaps spitting on the ceiling is OK?
By keeping right in the Elizabeth Street tunnel, I can walk under the station to the Yarra River. Here more tiled signs defy convention, advising people to “keep right”.
The Evan Walker Bridge traverses the Yarra to Southbank, where I walk back to Swanston Street enjoying the passing parade both on the water and the sidewalk.
The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)
Now, I discover my mistake. The Escher Exhibition, the main reason for my visit to Melbourne, ended two weeks ago and the current exhibition doesn’t interest me.
Fortunately, the gallery offers free tours of their permanent exhibits and I join one of these. Being rather ignorant about art, this tour opened my eyes to new works and a new way of looking at things. I’m becoming quite a fan of free museum and gallery tours.
When in Melbourne, I always like to take a tram and the number 72 takes me to Chapel Street which has been heavily promoted in Sydney recently. I realise why when I start walking. Promoted as a shopping and entertainment precinct, I’m surprised by the number of empty shops and shops for lease.
Yes, there are many boutiques and designer stores, and there are more men’s wear shops in one place than I have seen anywhere else, but the overall feeling is that this shopping precinct has seen better days.
The Jam Factory is another disappointment. Now housing cinemas, video games and a food hall, I don’t linger. The street art on some of the side streets is almost the only redeeming feature.
Would I go recommend visiting Chapel Street when visiting Melbourne for a short stay? No. Not unless I was a man looking for a hipster outfit.
Free City Circle Tram
After returning to the CBD, there are still a couple of hours left before dark and I hop on the free City Circle tram. Always full with tourists and locals getting from one side of the city to the other, this old-style wooden tram provides a useful commentary and ideas for where to go in Melbourne.
Comedy at Spleen Bar
Returning to Hardware lane for dinner, touts from the various restaurants call out to potential customers vying for their trade. I settle for a very pleasant Gnocchi at Max on Hardware and then, as it is Monday, I make my way to the Spleen Bar for a night of comedy.
Getting there early, I’m assured of a seat, and sip my cold white wine and watch the audience arrive and settle in. Probably the oldest person here, I feel rather prudish with the below the belt jokes. Why do comedians think that crude jokes work best? It seems to me that the ‘clean’ jokes were better received for their wit.
A Morning in Melbourne
Fitzroy Gardens, Immigration Museum & Federation Square
My plane leaves later this afternoon, and I decide to explore the city further instead of making my way to St Kilda and Acland Street as I usually do when in Melbourne. Before making my way to the Immigration Museum in Flinders Street, I walk to the Fitzroy Gardens.
Safety in Melbourne
Waiting at the traffic lights I overhear a woman talking to a younger man about suburban Melbourne, the violence and the gangs. She would prefer to live outside of Melbourne, somewhere like Daylesford.
Is the violence and gangs that she talks about more a perception than reality? Certainly, I’ve noticed a big focus on safety and security. This surely heightens awareness (a good thing perhaps) but possibly also increases anxiety.
The sun warms my back as I pass statues of former premiers of Victoria outside the Parliament Buildings. This morning is crisp and clear, but I have my brolly with me, remembering that in Melbourne the weather changes in an instant.
In the Fitzroy Gardens, the early light catches the rusted leaves of autumn. A water feature trickles outside the Conservatory. I spend a little time looking for the Model Tudor Village, but the signage is poor and there’s no one around to ask.
St Paul’s Cathedral
A group of people set up music stands and open music cases for their performance outside St Paul’s Cathedral. They are part of The Melbourne International Jazz Festival, starting today. I wish I had another night here.
Not one for visiting churches I nevertheless enter St Paul’s, and am not disappointed. The beautiful banded stone columns, wooden ceiling and tile features are unlike anything I have seen. Instead of paying the $5 for a permit to take photos, I make do with a couple from the door.
The Immigration Museum
The display at the Immigration Museum is thought provoking and challenges the viewers thinking. I learn that the dictation test is not a new concept. It was used in the early 1900s as a way to keep people from obtaining citizenship.
One exhibit reminds me that my daughters, on turning 18 had to prove their citizenship to obtain an adult passport. Their current Australian passport which they had used for 18 years was insufficient evidence.
Apprehensively, I take the Citizenship test, wondering if I will achieve the required 75% pass rate. Fortunately, I do, but certainly not the 100% I hoped for after over 30 years as an Australian Citizen.
This museum really is worth an hour or two.
Before returning to my hotel, I stop off in Federation Square to recharge and people watch. Then I take a quick look through the Ian Potter Centre (part of the NGV).
A Pleasant 48 hours in Melbourne
A tram down Bourke St drops me off at Southern Cross Station where I board the shuttle bus back to Tullamarine. My 48 hours in Melbourne are over, but I’ll be back to discover what other secrets she has been hiding.