Art finds countless ways to make history. When in Melbourne, attending a work conference, I managed to wander into the Fitzroy Gardens. It’s a massive nature haven with a 150+ year history. What’s more, it’s in the heart of the city, making the city far more prone to desirable infection from beautiful greenery, flora, and thousands of chirping birds.
Part of Melbourne’s charm, aside from its century-old Victorian architecture and artisan coffee, is that everything has a history worth remembering—or trying to remember.
To appreciate how deeply history and art are embedded in Melbourne’s lifestyle, I had to see the Tudor Village.
Among the many historical elements in the Fitzroy Gardens, The Tudor Village is a piece of art and a gift from a British artist. Mr. Edgar Wilson was 77 and lived in Norwood, London when he made villages as a hobby. Modelled in cement, the Tudor Village is one of his three works and is a miniature replica of an English village during the Tudor period.
It took me a while to notice them, but the village comprises of thatched cottages, a church, school, hotel, a barn, and all the public buildings you’d expect in a self-sufficient small town. Even the architectural elements were precise to that period.
The Tudor Village, however, isn’t just any gift. It was a symbol of gratitude to the city of Melbourne for sending food to Britain during the Second World War.
It’s such a great icon in the gardens. There I was in Victorian Melbourne, dropping my jaw at an ancient Tudor-period village.
If you visit Melbourne, stop by the gardens. There’s plenty more to see as well.
Until March of this year, my vocabulary had limited swear words, uttered sparingly and with extreme caution. Using the F word in any gathering that’s not your bosom buddies was a thing to frown upon, and you might even get a talking to from strangers and colleagues alike. It’s not uncommon for people to mutter it under their breath, but it was certainly unsuitable to say out loud.
Seven months on, and I now live in Australia. Though my swear vocabulary is still rather limited, I hear them in conversations around me countless times a day, in varying pitches. For instance, my non-Australian housemate, who’s lived here for four years, walked into the kitchen one morning. I was peeling papaya. He hey-ed at me, and I, him. He then opened the fridge and went, “Oh, fuck.”
That’s how we roll here. Most words deemed uncivilised and unfit, even for domestic use are casual and overused in Australia.
You hear these words in places and in situations that have no reason to have them. The reason my housemate said what he said when he looked into the fridge that morning is because there was some food leftover that he’d forgotten about. It was still good enough to eat, though. Besides, it’s not as if he worried about wasting either. Regardless, that situation warranted swearing.
My point is, swear words are so common that they’ve melded into everyday colloquialism. I knew it even before I got here, though. Refer to any website offering travel advice, and you’ll always have a note about says how heavy swearers Australians are.
It’s not just the F word. The C word gets around quite a lot, too. Chances are, you can’t and won’t have a regular conversation with any (or most) Australians without hearing the swear words a fair few times.
I’ve been here a while now, and it doesn’t bother me as much. I’ve come to realise that in Australian speech, these—and the many other swear words I don’t recall—are meant as emphasis words. Like literally in place of figuratively. Like actually, honestly, really, very, and all other adverbs that all writing guides cast away as unnecessary.
It doesn’t bother me since I’ve been here a while now. But I can imagine how gutting it would be for someone new—like my mother, for instance. Once, ages ago, burnt out after work, I swore in front of my mother. Recalling that incident, she asked me a couple of days ago if I’ve stopped swearing now that I’m no longer under the same stress.
When I woke up this morning, I didn’t want to be around people. It just wasn’t a socialising day. Within minutes, I decided to get lost in the Australian National Botanical Gardens.
The first time I went there, I was a traveller. A high-energy trekker, equipped with a backpack full stuffed with a jacket, cap, water, and snacks. And I tried to cover the whole area in one day—because that’s what I do when visiting a new city. I crave to see everything, experience everything in one visit. As a result of that over ambition, I lost my way in the gardens, strayed from the main path every time I saw a flower or a streak of sunlight glinting through a puddle, and ended up missing a few parts of the garden.
This time, I knew better. I had a plan, a purpose. I chose a trail—the eucalyptus walk—and decided to stick to it.
Except, I got lost again. It took me longer than it should’ve, but I went around in circles before finding my way back on to the trail.
And you know what? It’s ok. It’s ok that I got distracted by plants, that I gravitated towards weird shaped-branches and odd-named bushes. It’s ok that I didn’t follow the trail exactly as it was mapped. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about seeing them all. It’s about appreciating what you did see.
The moment I disembarked from the plane, I knew this was going to be an experience I’d never have imagined. As I walked into the chilly Melbourne streets shrouded by patches of dark and light clouds, melding into one, meandering through the skies, I fell in love.
It wasn’t the first time that I’d taken such a string liking to a city. Melbourne is home to millions of heart beats, yet it thrives with a unique pulse that matches none other’s. Every iconic city is iconic for a reason, and I was about to discover Melbourne’s.
Sure enough, when I left my hotel ten minutes after checking in, it was still mid afternoon on a Saturday, and the central business district (or CBD) bustled with wanderers—tourists and locals alike—coffee or iced tea in hand, exploring the various nooks and crannies of the painted city. The first noticeable thing about Melbourne is the immensity of people. Though not as dense as Chennai, where I lived for six years, it’s still a haven for lots of shuffling bodies.
Stumbling into people from all over the world, I followed the directions on my map to an alleyway. Melbourne is the only place where alleyways are so versatile that they’re tourist attractions, shelters for the homeless, getaways for smokers, canvases for artists overflowing with talent—all in one.
One side of the city boasts vintage Victorian architecture, every brick instilled within screaming grandeur, while on the other side are rows upon rows of these oiled up walls carved with emotions, philosophy, and outcomes of deep-rooted fear of (and for) society. It was as if the artists of the city exclaimed, “Look, wall!” and went crazy all over it.
Nodding to a tune in my head and smiling at the tens of unrecognisable languages that floated through the air into my ear, I realised Melbourne is far more multicultural than any other city I’ve been to. And I’ve been to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. Although, in many aspects, Melbourne resembled New York to me. The city’s weirdness reminded me of the vagueness and unpredictability that hung around me in NYC.
My gut feeling only solidified as the day wore off and darkness blanketed over the neighbourhood. All of a sudden, musicians popped up in street corners, strumming their creativity through empty glass bottles, metal serving plates, and brass cymbals.
Unsurprisingly, onlookers gathered, dropping jaws, filming videos, cheering on, laughing and dancing to the tunes. It was a carnival on the street, where everyone forgot their problems—overdue bills, medical appointments, insurance claims, tax returns—for a few minutes and surrendered themselves to the moment.
It was past 10 pm—bright, noisy, teeming with life. Wonderful.
The next day when I stepped out of my hotel, a pop-up coffee vendor greeted me with a wide smile and a “Hiya, mate!” I didn’t think—my mouth split wide in joy and I reciprocated with all the enthusiasm I could muster. His hello kept the spring in my step throughout the day and I felt myself bouncing on my toes as I walked down street after street, marvelling one moment at the brilliant architecture and then at the lack of creativity in naming roads—Little Burke Street came after Burke Street. Then came Collins and Little Collins—I felt amused, but also thankful for it was easy to remember.
While the CBD sported such names, a little further away, outside of the heart of all the bustle, weirder and quirkier names popped out at me. Hosier Lane was home to some of the greatest graffiti I’ve seen. Literature Lane, appropriately named, was rather glum and ignored. Chopper Lane sported a dog that watched a fish swim away, and AC/DC Lane celebrated the height of rock music that once moved the world. Colours bright and dark mapped faces, caricatures, buildings, and stories, narratives that’ve survived years of camera flashes, oohs, and ahhs, and pointing of fingers.
Melbourne turned out to be so much more than I imagined. It was bright and airy and cheery, but also dark, dreary, and gothic. I loved every bit of it.
When I moved to Australia in April, we were gob-smack in the middle of Autumn. Five hundred shades of red and yellow and green filled my eyes with wonder and brimmed my soul with glee. Every time I heard the crunch of whittled leaves, orange-ing before browning, before being swept away in a flurry of breeze, my heart skipped a beat. All my life I’d dreamt of fall and the moment I saw it, I fell in love.
And then came winter.
And I realised the first experience of anything is always cherish-worthy. I lived through my first winter shivering, but also dropping my jaw at the barren white eucalyptus trees whose land we’d encroached. I walked along the Lake Ginninderra every day, inhaling breathtaking freshness that came with a stinging white breeze. I was so inspired and awestruck that I showered my blog with haiku and photographs.
And now it’s spring.
I spent the last couple of weeks travelling to Auckland, Sydney, and then Melbourne attending corporate conferences and presenting in each city. As nerve wracking as it was, I still managed to get away, to get time for myself to scale volcanoes in Auckland and to tread on a sheen of valleys in Sydney.
The first time I was in Sydney was last June, and Vivid Festival was in full blow. As is customary for any traveller, I took the ferry across to Manly and back. It felt like a massive achievement. But alas, I couldn’t visit the botanical gardens.
This time, I knew I’d rectify my mistake. And I couldn’t have picked a better time to go. On a Saturday morning, I checked out from my hotel early (I was flying to Melbourne later in the day), and wandered off to the botanical gardens. It was a mere five-minute walk from my hotel—perks of travelling for work.
When I got there, an expanse of green waved at me. As always, my mouth slipped into a permanent smile. First volcanoes and now this—I was having the trip of my life. A little light headed and a lot light hearted, I made my way around the garden. It’s a massive space full of native plants and flowers, studded with small waterfalls, fountains, and rock formations.
Thousands of flowers were in their prime, blooming out of trees, from behind bushes, and peering through the ground softening up dry parched land that winter had left in its wake. Pristine is an understatement.
As I climbed up a flight of stairs towards the street, saying goodbye at the gates were the four seasons and their dedicated statues. Autumn and winter held goblets, as they should, and summer considered shedding her cloak. And darling spring with a halo over its head, smiled in silence as I bade a reverent farewell.