It’s been a tough week for us Melburnians. Banned from every other state, curfews from 8pm, corralled to just 5km from our homes. This week, the city has been divided between sadness and anger. Friends have sobbed – in privacy or in public – mourning the loss of their former lives, while others – me included – are hot balls of rage at the stupidity of a few who have refused to listen to our doctors telling us to stop mingling, or more people will die.
I wrote this piece because I’m oddly patriotic about this city, because I need to voice how gutted I am about these restrictions on our lives, and also to reinforce my belief that they’re necessary to preserve our people. I also I know we’ll come out of this stronger, and that we will find unexpected reserves of creativity and beauty, that we will ensnare those dreams and ideas that, in our usual frantic lives, dance on the fringes of our peripheral vision, forgotten in the grind of the commute and clock punching.
Once upon a time, Melbourne was a dag. You may love our laneways, live music, literature and lavish tables, but this town’s definitely been shabby around the edges in its past.
Born in Melbourne to parents who later fled north for the warmth of the tropics, my return visits to Melbourne as a child were nothing short of Alice arriving in a multicultural wonderland. Traipsing behind my gruff great-aunt, in her fur-lined coat perfumed with Alpine menthol cigarettes, she’d let me purchase our tickets from the (quite frankly, terrifying) conductor on the tram into the city, where we’d walk Swanston Street.
We’d slow down past the delights of the Arthur Daley-styled London con man selling kangaroo-shaped opal necklaces on the way to the Coles Cafeteria on Bourke Street. Six floors up in a lift! She’d treat me to braised steak and onions, and dessert I didn’t have to share with a sibling. Walking through the city, I’d smell the rich scent of Greek souvlaki, taste lemony Italian gelato, hear sales pitches called in heavily accented English at the Queen Vic and South Melbourne fruit markets, where freshly skinned rabbits hung beside salamis of obscene lengths.
Later, I would wash my hands in the water wall and stare up into the looming interiors of the NGV, pausing especially for Tom Roberts’ and Frederick McCubbin’s Australian idylls painted in the wilderness of Box Hill nearly a century before I was born there.
What my great-aunt didn’t dwell on were the wee-washed laneways or the abandoned factories whose brick walls we’d hit our tennis balls against for hours, the rough band rooms with beer-washed floors and a mullet-topped clientele, and a railway depot in the city’s centre.
The city weathered the scorn poured on it from its northern rival, the Emerald City, with its greed-is-good suits and aerobics classes in front of the Opera House. Truth be told, Sydney just did a far better PR job on itself in the 80s and 90s, with its waterfront beauty, money worship and bicentennial bluster.
In retaliation, the Melbourne scene crawled out from its underground lair and laid itself bare to the world. Cheap rents, laid-back laws and low expectations fuelled the spawning of tiny specialist cafes, the 10-person bars, the curious design shops, the wee art spaces wedged into street corners. It’s a truism that if you walk down a darkened lane in Sydney, you expect to be mugged. Walk down a darkened lane in Melbourne and find…the hottest bar that everyone’s talking about: if you can’t find it, it must be sensational.
Those lanes, places and arcades are empty right now, as we push through what fees like a never-ending lockdown.
But we’re a resilient people, an artistic people. We know our talents and if we can flip from a backwater to become internationally renowned for our food, music, art and literature, then we’ll flip again from this virus. We’ll write, we’ll paint, we’ll act and we’ll sing. And we’ll do it all bloody well, because that’s what we’re good at.
I’ve written this piece as much for myself as for my fellow Melburnians in the face of rising coronavirus numbers, locked borders, closed airports and nasty memes. There have been tears, there have been rages, but there’s also been rationality and there is also hope.
I’ll see you under the clocks again soon.
We have a cover!
Finally, I’m ready to start talking about the project (and the person) that has kept me a little bit sane in this whole COVID catastrophe.
Way back in March, my neighbour Jude at The Melbourne Portrait Studio and I were gasbagging over the back fence about her idea of photographing people’s lives in self-isolation.
I offered to look over the stories that her subjects were sending in to accompany their portraits, and now it’s become a book, a brand and a firm friendship.
We have a cover, a printer and a website for pre-sales (www.vanjude.com) for this wholly Melbourne project, of which I am so proud. Check it out, perhaps even order a copy?
And you can check Jude’s work out here @themelbourneportraitstudio
Everyone’s suffering through COVID-19, but spare a thought for us travel writers: while we’re not in the league of healthcare heroes or supermarket shelf stackers, clipped wings definitely hurt.
Easing the pain, Destination NSW has been running a fabulously successful quarantini hour, whisking us around the wine regions of New South Wales. It’s been a great way to reconnect with old friends – from Clonakilla in cold-climate Canberra, to the lush wealth of the Hunter Valley, just north of Sydney.
Most recently, I returned – virtually – to Orange in the state’s west, for a refresher on this high-altitude (for Australia, anyway) wine region, and got a masterclass on chardonnay, thanks to winemaker Tom Ward from Swinging Bridge. His 2017 Hill Park Chardonnay was the focus of this quarantini session, alongside the Swift Cuvee NV #7 from Printhie Wines.
If you’re heading that way, take a look at sommelier Louella Matthews’ recommendations for best coffee and croissants, shopping tips and late-night cocktail haunts in Orange. She also shares a few food-pairing suggestions for these two stand-out wines.
To read the full article on Essentials Magazine’s website, click here
Victoria, can you feel the chains falling from your shoulders? We are free! Well, we are almost free.
As of Monday June 1, we can now do sleepovers, which means it’s time to hit the road again and start exploring! I’ve got plans to poke around central Victoria and returning to my old hunting ground in Gippsland – the vast region that covers most of the east of the state.
I and am a huge fan of its pocket-sized villages and their little secrets: gin distillers in century-old buildings, little cafes selling locally made cheeses and smallgoods, a green field garnished with a few luxuriously fitted Bell tents, overlooking the wild seas that separate mainland Australia from Tasmania.
Have I sold you yet?
Hot off the presses, Eat. Drink Gippsland sees food writer Richard Cornish share all his detailed knowledge of the foodie spots in the region (pack an esky in the car boot), you can grab a copy while pootling around, or download it here.
Check out whale trails, truffle hunts, empty beaches and the best views of rolling green hills on Visit Gippsland’s website. It also has some great driving itineraries, for the forward planners out there. we
Easter in Australia is traditionally spent camping – I know Victoria looks forward to what’s usually our last gasp of good weather. I had every intention of going camping this long weekend: the trip to Vietnam had been cancelled for months, to be replaced with a bit of camping on our roadtrip up northern NSW.
Before the virus hit the fan, I interviewed a camping pro from outdoor gear supplier Anaconda: you might think, why are we talking about camping when we can’t go anywhere? For those of us lucky enough to have a back yard, there’s your campsite right there! And some of camping pro Damian Kennedy’s tips are still perfectly relevant, such as buying the right tent with the right accessories. I’m a big fan of balconies that hang from the apex of the tent, so you can reach up and grab your torch when you (inevitably) hear something go bump in the night.
So treat this time to dust off the tent, get your pegging practise in and start planning when life eventually returns to normality.
Click here to read Damian’s top tips on how to go camping and love it, published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers. The print section is currently in slumber, dreaming of its next destination.
It’s a strange think to talk of lack of time when time is all we’ve got at the moment as we while away our time in self isolate.
Yet time is always precious: I wrote this short piece about a new air tour of two of the Northern Territory’s most popular national parks – Litchfield and Kakadu, just before this COVID-19 virus took hold of our country.
The little local airline – NT Air – says the best time to visit this part of the Top End is now, just after the Wet, when the territory is deluged by monsoonal rain, and everything is green and glowing.
The Wet will come again, this virus will pass. Those benefiting are not just shareholders in gold, supermarkets, toilet paper manufacturers and face mask factories. Nature, too, is benifiting from our global lockdown: she will heal as we stay away from our most loved destinations, including our national parks.
So put this trip on your inspiration list, to fly via light aircraft between the so-called Lost City rock formation in Litchfield to the billabongs and dramatic escarpments of Kakadu.
Click here to read the full story, published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.
In this age of uncertainty, we’re staying local, so here’s another story from my heartland, the Mornington Peninsula.
As I noted in the story, we go to the peninsula for the sandy beaches, for the restaurants and wineries, for the feeling that industry and grind is behind us. So it might seem a little odd to be recommending an industrial estate as THE place to visit, but stay with me here!
There are so many great things in this little snarl of streets: between heavy machinery workshops you’ll find a gluten-free brewery, behind a storage centre, a vegan dairy. And the best little rum bar I’ve been to. Good on you, Jimmy Rum.
To read more about what I’m dubbing the new Industrial Revolution, click here for the story that ran in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age newspapers.
There’s a photo that’s always in my kitchen, faded by sun and decades. It’s of my dad – long gone now – sitting on the chairlift that climbs to Arthur’s Seat, a beauty spot with views over the Mornington Peninsula.
You can still catch a chairlift up Arthur’s Seat, only now it’s a far safer carrier in a more precarious world. The new Eagle gondolas still skim the top of the eucalypts. You can still spy kangaroos, and hear the birds calling to each other in the state forest below. I always wanted to live in one of the houses hidden among the trees, but I was never homeless on the peninsula. My young mum took me on my first holiday here, at our family’s beach house on Safety Beach.
I still go to Safety Beach, and when I can’t, I miss it. But everyone goes there now. They’re chasing hatted chefs, renowned winemakers, that little artisan bakery… I guess I can’t blame them. The peninsula of my youth has grown up, as have I.
Slow travel, nostalgia travel, train travel – Australia’s oldest working train ticks all the boxes when it comes to travel trends.
The old train will bring a slow-travel mentality to what has become a commuter run, when the newly commissioned Spirit of Progress makes her first journey in 33 years between Melbourne and Sydney in March.
Powered by restored diesel locomotives built in 1957 and 1971, the 83-year-old train has enjoyed a six-figure restoration by the Seymour Railway Heritage Centre and Lachlan Valley Railway, in partnership with rail-cruise specialist Cruise Express.