Expectant

Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne

Waiting patiently,
for life-defining sentence,
those courtroom benches

Making sense of Mint

When I awoke this morning with nothing to do, I mused at the rarity of it. I always have something to occupy myself with over the weekends. After rummaging Facebook for a while, I concluded that I could either go to a street market, where I knew a few of my friends would be, or take a solo trip to the Royal Australian Mint—something I’d been putting off for a long time because it was just too far away.

The food market sounded fun, but considering I’d probably buy nothing and wander around aimless, I decided to do the wandering at the Mint instead.

After two buses and about 45 minutes, I entered the building that runs Australia’s coin system. A big pot of gold coins greeted me. Next to it, a staircase led to the upper level and the main exhibition. Stepping upwards, I couldn’t miss the thousands of coins studded into the stairs.

On the upper level, famous Australian bushrangers greeted me in large cutouts. From time to time, the Royal Australian Mint makes comparative coins marking important events and people. This year, they’ve made a unique set of coins to acknowledge and appreciate the contribution of bushrangers to Australian cultures and stories. It was an excellent way to remember history’s villains, most of whom died in captivity.

Moving on, I entered a corridor full of stunning displays. Hundreds of coins marked the timeline of Australia’s currency system, dating way back to the first foreign coins found in shipwrecks. Since some of the first outsiders to arrive in Australia were prisoners and war slaves, most of their currency became the initial seedling for Australia’s current monetary system. These coins gradually replaced the natives’ barter system.

Walking my way down the timeline, I learnt how, from using coins of unknown lands, the country progressed to establishing a proper way to assess the value of these random coins. From there, they moved on to adopting the shilling-and-penny system that Britain was using. As a country, Australia was under the British reign for a long time, and it only made sense to use the same coins. 

Then came the decimal period. From farthings and halfpennies, Australia went to cents and dollars. Displays showed how designers formulate the images and engravings that mark a coin. Looking at the detailing of each drawing, I was amazed to see how most of the coins in current use incorporate unique Australian fauna. There’s more to this country than kangaroos and possums. And sometimes, even though we handle and pass on these coins countless times every day, we don’t often pause to observe. 

Apart from these coins, the Mint also had displays of other collectible coins and medals that it’s made over the years. There were 1kg coins in both gold ($3000) and silver ($30) marking the Mint’s partnership in the 2016 Olympic games. There were gold, silver, and bronze medals offered to winners at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Also on display were the medals presented at the 2019 INAS Global Games. And my favourite, three special coins celebrating the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef - collector coins - Royal Australian Mint

It took me about an hour and a half to look and read through all the displays. From the various metal combinations tested for a single coin and the different designs they considered, to the actual robot that helps with heavy lifting and transporting during the minting process, the Royal Australian Mint has so much awe to offer. I’m glad I skipped the markets for this.

It’s good to get lost

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. 

And I saw a lot. 

Melbourne, a note

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.