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.  Port Melbourne 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 Flinders Station from across the YarraEngland 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 although Melbourne 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.

 

Maldon Hotel, Maldon, VictoriaForays 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 to Melbourne. 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 very much.

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. Victorian cast-iron traceryThese 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 names. Richmond, 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, near Vermont, 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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