EPISODE 1 – LANDFALL
On Establishing Contact with the Natives
Ye lookout hailed down ye Boeing
747-400 Avionics Data Bus that the “Arthur’s Seat” VOR navigational beacon had
hove into view. Made landfall in the dog watch from the Good Ship Quaintarse at a populated area known as Melbourne, in a large
continent north of Van Dieman’s Land. Was relieved to escape from the cramped
and stinking conditions of ye business class foredeck, but counted self fortunate
to have been assigned the only hetero Quaintarse steward in the entire fleet.
Met by a kindly but bleary eyed matronly native from ye Hamiltone Wattes International who took us
to ye Station Pier Condominium and Penal Colony, where we were to remain until
we could build our own shanties in forest clearings. Relieved not to have
suffered the same fate as poor Captain Cooke.
On Gaining First Impressions of Melbourne
Came the dawn and was afeard when ye
sun rose in the East as normal but then set off in a northerly direction.
Should have taken more note of it, it was the last we would see of the sun
until weeks of cold and wetness had passed.
appeared as a Victorian docklands area in the process of incipient
yuppification. The rest is a cross between Los Angeles and Torquay; hundreds of square
miles of grid-locked, bungle-house infested suburbs with a central skyscrapered
city. However, in many cases the cross has produced a better progeny, the
better aspects of ye Americas
and England combined, US exuberance tempered with UK restraint.
The skyscrapers are quite attractive skyscrapers and viewed in the evening
light as a backdrop to one of the many areas of park, sea and lakeside can be
most impressive. There is an efficient but quaint tram system which has been
running in one form or another for over 90 years. All the natives encountered
were friendly; no-one said “G’day” but the response of most when asked for help
or information was “No worries, she’ll be right”. A victualling venture to the
local supermarket revealed a wide range (across several ethnic boundaries) of
the highest quality produce. Meat costs the same in dollars as it would in
pounds sterling (i.e. less than half price) and is all very lean and tender.
Fruit and Veg are of a quality normally only found in a French market square. There
was even loads of yer actual kulcher like bally and concirts and that in the
paper. All in all a promising start.
On Starting Gainful Employment
Was driven to work though the
traffic light and date palm infested suburbs; along the grid pattern, south a
bit, east a bit, south a bit, stopping and starting at countless junctions.
Work turned out to be an anonymous, rectangular Australian Telecom building
with few (non-opening) windows and dysfunctional climate control. Plus
ça change...! Middle management
status confirmed by being positioned in sight of a window but without exclusive
access, as opposed to the poor slaves blinking in the cubicle-infested gloom of
the central goldfish bowl, or the Senior Management who have the right to throw
themselves directly from their own but relatively low-rise window. Things
improved when they insisted that I was not allowed to fritter away the vast
piles of sovereigns that I had received for the sale of my magnificent Vauxhall
Diesel Astra on a second-hand mountain bike but had instead to make do with a
menial new air-conditioned 3.8 Litre V-6 Holden Commodore. Said I would grit my
teeth and think of England
and spent the next few days alternating between moods of pinching myself to see
if it was really me that was driving this great beast, whooping, Toad-like, “Oh
joy! Oh bliss! Vroom-Vroom!”, worrying about what on earth I was supposed to do
to justify it, and grumbling about the amount of petrol it drinks!
On Gales and Torrential Rain
The British always talk about the
weather; so do residents of Victoria.
Our first weekend found the locals basking in what was described as a pleasant
Spring day; I wore my shorts and put the sweaters at the back of the wardrobe.
Then a depression swept up from Antarctica and deposited a large part of the
Indian Ocean on poor Victoria
for the next three weeks or so. It was cold and it was very wet, and it was not
helped by continuous reporting of heat, record drought and forest fires in Queensland and northern
NSW. Nor by the reports of a pleasantly warm and dry Indian Summer back in
Blighty! Even the locals were complaining and the newspapers reported record
rainfall for Victoria.
Then the wind shifted round to the north, bringing hot, dry winds from the
Outback and the temperature went up from 5-10°C to 33°C almost overnight and I
had the chance to try the egg-nishner in the Holden. We had been warned that
had the benefit of four varied seasons, they could sometimes all happen in the
same day! There are two major weather
systems in the area, the Maritime and the Continental and the weather depends
on which is winning at the time. The latter seems to be getting the upper hand
now, so we’re looking forward to a nice warm summer.
Forays into the Wild Interior
The weather held off on some of the weekends to
allow us a few trips out of the City. We couldn’t resist a trip to Maldon,
a lovely old Wild-West style gold mining town near Castlemaine. When we lied
that we came from Maldon,
Essex (well it’s almost true!), the local who had visited the Millennium
celebrations was wheeled out to reminisce. The trip there made one realise that
Oz is very, very big and very, very empty! It was strange to go through forests
which looked sort-of English except that the trees were Eucalyptus and roadside
signs warned of Kangaroo and Koala (we didn’t see any, neither squashed nor
whole!). On getting out of the car the alien screech of the Kookaburra reminded
one that we were a long way from Essex!
Another trip was to the afore-mentioned
Arthur’s Seat, a tall hill on the Mornington
Peninsula with spectacular views back
Shortly we hope to go down the Ocean highway, west from Melbourne, along which there are spectacular
cliffs and seascapes.
To avoid falling foul of the fairly
draconian drink-drive laws (with random breathalysing!), we took a tram into
the City for an early evening Saturday meal with Peter, which we all enjoyed
Yes, I do miss English beer, the
only stuff I can find here is rubbish lager, the product of incontinent gnats,
sometimes masquerading under the title of “bitter”! However the wines are cheap and of excellent
quality so pleasantly alcoholic oblivion is always handy, if required! I’ve yet
to try any of the “pubs” but most are just hotel bars.
Finding a Permanent Residence
It is not a well publicised fact in
the UK that Dame Edna
Everage comes from Moonee Ponds, a North Melbourne
suburb. Nor that “Neighbours” is set in the South-East Melbourne suburb of
Vermont. The chronological extremes of Melbourne
architecture are “Old and Interesting” and “New and Crass”. In between there
are phases such as Art Deco, Californian Ranch, utilitarian demob housing,
must-be-modern-cause-it’s-got-a-flat-roof and sixties retirement bungle-house.
In ye old and interesting category come some magnificent piles of Victorian
Gothic brownstone and some exquisite two-story terrace houses with balconies
fringed with delicate white-painted cast iron tracery. These
of course are now Fashionable and cost an arm and a leg. There are suburban
ghettos where ethnic communities gather together in places with very English
for instance, was a Greek community until they all got rich and moved out to
the better areas. They were replaced by Vietnamese, so the area is now carries
the soubriquet of “Ho Chi Minh City”!
Strange dispositions of these names occur, with St. Kilda, Brighton, Sandringham and Beaumaris located together and near
Abo-derived place names like Moorabbin. So we cast around the suburb of
Clayton, looking for somewhere (a) not too far away to reduce the journey to
work to reasonable proportions, (b) which was not too far away from a station
so that Those Who Cannot Drive can go shoppies in Melbourne, and (c) which had
some semblance of topographic undulation and open space as befits a reluctant
founder member of the Dengie Mountain Rescue Team and The Flat Earth Society
(Essex Branch). The process required that we learnt Oz Estate-Agent-Speak, with
terms like BV (= brick veneer = dry lined), BIR ( = Built-In (ward) Robes) and
LUG (=Lock-up Garage) to master. Anyway,
we have finally found a place that satisfies all our various criteria, in a “delightful
semi-rural position with excellent views of the Dandenong Hills and convenient
access to all facilities” and set, wait for it, on the edge of Glen Waverley,
where the “Neighbours” live! Its style
is a “deceptively spacious” long, thin “80’s” a-bit-more-modern-than-a-Torquay-type-bungle-house
with its end elevation towards the road for ultimate modesty. No pool, I’m
afraid, but we get more house for the rent money and Muggins, who would have to
clean the thing out after it being used by hordes of free-loading neighbours and
relatives, is not too upset. Like most houses for rent, it’s unfurnished, so
the next thing before we move in is to get the odd minor item like something to
sit on and sleep in. In addition, She Who Must be Obeyed, who has been spoiled
rotten by unnecessary extravagances like dishwashers, driers and garbage
disposal units in the Condo, obviously now finds that such items are the basic
and minimum essential accoutrements of a Requirement Manager’s wife! We get the
keys on the 14th October and hope to move in the following weekend. Watch this
space for further episodes on Suburban Life Down Under............
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