10 things that I miss about Melbourne

As I sit 10000 meters above sea level, with the monotonous hum of the airplane engines gliding me into stranger shores, flashbacks of Melbourne – the city of my childhood – indelibly sketch themselves upon my mind like a memorable film.

The familiar city skyline, stands proudly on the horizon like the ramparts of a medieval castle; the algae-blue of Port Phillip bay superimposed on the endless ocean licking the curvature of the earth outside my window seat. So without further a due, as my childhood blends into memory which blends into nostalgia, here is, quid pro pro, the 10 things I miss about Melbourne.

1. Graffiti –

Crawling from the pavement – as an outstretched hand clinging to life below the sand – Melbourne’s graffiti is forged in the night, coming to life by day, and then returning to the shadows, only to be replaced again with the rising sun. Weird cartoons, political statements, illegible tags and signatures – graffiti is a subculture unto itself, and reflects on society as a whole. We, the interpreters, the amateur art critics, the lovers of impromptu art –  take away tid bits of inspiration with each passing glance: hours of painstaking, unrecognized work facing the train-line, pleading for recognition from the distracted and uninitiated. Perhaps what inspires me the most, is not the beauty or quirkiness of some of the artworks – but the fact that the work is anonymous. The graffiti artist seeks to leave his mark and gain street cred, but his public displays function as our collective voice. A subculture of the day, that is borne of the night.

2. Crickets

Apart from the occasional severe heatwave or devastating flood – the next worst thing about the Melbourne summer are cicadas. Eating away at your brain with their incessant signature ‘chirp’, the crickets bury themselves deep beneath street lawns and backyards – spawning to life when the temperature hits a cool 35. Accompanying their monosyllabic symphony is the unparalleled beauty of the setting sun, usually throwing an orange backdrop across the city sky. Many times I tried unsuccessfully to track down the army of hidden cicadas and extinguish their mind-numbing mating cries. As yet, each attempt ended shamefully – the cicada would lie low for a couple of hours – only to restart like a broken record once I made it to bed.

Crickets 1. Yours truly, 0.

3. Four seasons in one day.

Each discussion about Melbourne invariably turns to the state of the weather, and every single time – without fail – somebody lets out (mid conversation) the triumphant cliché: “We’ve had four seasons in one day.” And indeed, this overused, trampled maxim does have an element of truth to it. Mornings are cold – the embodiment of winter – with a thin later of dew coating the grass, accompanied by the frosted windows of each car that make for some interesting street art. As the dew melts and lunch trickles by, sanguine autumn leaves line the leafy streets, and a light shower from the bay coats the city in a pluvial mask. By afternoon, you must escape the oppressive heat, as the clouds give way to our neighbouring star – casting down all those who dare to enter the cool murky waters of St. Kilda beach. By dusk, the city recovers – like a newly baked loaf straight from the oven – providing a pleasant “Spring-y” end to the lesser liked three seasons, as they prepare to wreak havoc upon Melbourne’s inhabitants the next morning.

4. Public transport

Everybody in Melbourne says that hate it, but nobody can live without it. This love-hate relationship with the mass transit system has existed in Melbourne from the beginning of time, when our ancestor, John Batman rented out his horse and carriage after losing a poker game to John Faukner. Perhaps Melbourne’s single most identifiable feature is the iconic green tram that snakes its way from the CBD to the suburbs. Every train ride into the city is always an interesting experience: when the train is empty you have the freedom to rest your head against the glass and doze off to the view of abandoned warehouses, parks and family homes. When travelling at peak hour, you squeeze in between a white collar lawyer and patriotic footy supporters, huddling alone in that last gap of fresh air, whilst you listen to the revellers singing the Collingwood anthem al the way to Frankston.

5. Footy

Speaking of revellers, nothing electrifies this city more than footy. It is Melbourne’s very own, born and bred – and our proudest export to the northern states. Whilst I’m not an avid supporter, nobody can escape the media obsession with the Australian game – on and off the field. From the latest player frug scandal, to the injured list, to fantasy football. For 8 months, we all hold our breath to deliberate and argue and bet on, who will win this week. Cricket, rugby and basketball are evicted from the schoolyard and the national psyche – and one game takes over – footy. Luckily I brought one with me overseas, to continue the tradition.

6. The ‘alternative’ image

If I had to stereotype ‘The Melbournian’ – it would be the alternative, inner-city ‘trendy’, sipping latte in a gentrified bohemian café in Carlton, whilst plotting the next Youtube revolution. Besides the fact that the Melbourne electorate was the first in the country to vote in a Greenie, Melbournians have always had a tendency to aim for the ‘hip’ offbeat style – like a cross between a self-aware hippie and a struggling musician with an obscene amount of hair gel. And I like. There is something about being ‘alternative’ that encourages self-thought and innovation. There is a war raging against conformity and Melbourne is in the middle of it. Kudos.

7. The beach

As you’ve probably figured, Melbourne is not the #1 summer tourist destination of Australia, although it does have a few iconic beaches that line the bay. My personal experiences of swimming in Port Phillip range from vomit-induced cholera to radioactive poisoning, however as long as one doesn’t enter the polluted waters, Melbourne’s beaches have something for everybody (except swimmers). From the over-hyped beach huts in Brighton to something further down the Mornington Peninsula, I’m gonna miss predicted a series of wavefronts when a supertankers waltzes by on the horizon.

8. Multiculturalism and food

The last time I heard anybody brag about plain ‘ol steak and mashed potatoes was …. never. And with such a wide diversity of cultures and cuisines, why would you? My suburb – as a microcosm of Melbourne – contains an eclectic sample of Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Mexican and 7-elevens, so there’s never a boring day when experimenting with a new palate. Since there is no distinctive ‘Australian cuisine’, we seem to have adopted the entire range as are own – but then again, this might just be a consequence of globalization in our society. Nevertheless, still missing it.

9. Queen Victoria Market

There is a humble modesty in earning a living at the market. Each person inquisitively doting along is a potential customer. Each vendor guards his produce like a hawk, waiting for the next sale. One would expect in a capitalist paradigm, that so many similar stalls grouped together would drastically bring prices down in fierce competition. Not so aboard Queen Victoria. The produce might be fresh, but Big W is often cheaper. But just wandering amidst the flurry of shoppers, buskers, ethnic vendors and tourists is a serene experience. Finding parking is a separate issue. For some reason I’ve always romanticised the market vendor. Not as a career prospect, but whenever I think of them a certain image comes to mind: Arriving at the market before the break of dawn, unloading the carts in the icy cold, and putting on that ubiquitous apron, in preparation for another day of hopes and dreams, customer and hagglers, and the continuous sounds of life.

10. Family

Ye, corny I know. But this is probably the thing that I miss the most in Melbourne. Because at the end of the day, it’s just another city, with people and transport and buildings and everything that goes with normal cities. But my family and loved ones quietly wait there in subdued anticipation – as I move ever farther to a distant land. Now that’s definitely something to long for.

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Victorian state elections 2010: Underwhelming. The Greens cash in on voter apathy.

Today was supposed to be a momentous occasion in my life. Having recently turned 18, I was able for the first time to exercise my democratic right to vote, and to finally take the future of Victoria into my own hands and make a difference – if at least by one vote. Needless to say, the Victorian state elections have been painfully underwhelming and drop-dead-boring to follow. In my previous post on the 2010 Federal elections, I noted that there is no longer any passion in politics: same boring ads, same staged debates, same cliched speeches masked over with fancy promises and sweet nothings. Politicians are in slumber mode, and the electorate wearily shows up to the voting station once more – feeling numb and expecting nothing at all. In many ways, these elections are similar to the recent Federal elections, in that they have been exceptionally uninspiring – except in the case of state elections, nobody really cares anyway.

One thing that I’ve found odd (someone please explain this to me), is that the Greens are so fashionable. Not politically of course. Their policies carry little substance. I’m talking about Green’s supporters and the way they dress.  It’s as if they’ve realized that no sane person would vote for a haphazard party, hastily put together on a vague idea of “saving the planet”, so they resort to Mac-style tactics by appealing to the lowest common denominator: looking ‘cool’ appealing to the smug, hipster demographic. That’s right, if you’re an artist, in a band or you buy your jeans from a grocery store, chances are you fit the Greenie stereotype.

At the polling station, I was met by the usual crowd of party-fanatics handing out as many fliers as possible, in the hopes that they could win me over in the last minute. There was something different about the Greens supporter. Let’s just say off the record, that not even that attractive 20-something Greenie girl, waiting for me at the entrance with short-shorts and a handful of glittering ‘eye-candy’ fliers, could get me to vote for The Greens. If this is what I think it is, then it is: Desperation. If they can’t win you over logically because of sound policies, then they go for “plan b”: trendiness.

That’s not to say that the two major parties, Liberal and Labor ran anything resembling a campaign either. The only admirable thing I can say, is that, scare tactics and campaign smearing have been at a minimum. Perhaps that’s because neither party has the budget to launch a successful smear campaign – or they just didn’t have the imagination to make anything up. No-wonder then, that voter apathy is skyrocketing and becoming the norm. At times like these, a quote by Elie Wiesel comes to mind:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference”

click to enlarge

Indifference is what many people feel in regards to politics today. The only way to get voters’ attention is with novelty: “Provide me with a revelation of TigerWoods-esque proportions, or leave me alone to play golf”. In a world dominated by political-correctness (pun intended) and a clinical dissociation between the leaders and the people, no wonder people are thronging to vote for the Greens. At least they seem ‘alternative’, and hey, it makes you feel good about saving the environment! Now stand aside as I park my hummer and guzzle a can of coke that 12 Chinese children died to make. But what have the Greens really got going for them? Well nothing. And here’s the election flier they hand out at polling booths to prove it:

There are so many things wrong with this flier, that it practically embodies what is bad with politics today. Firstly, the slogans “Your vote is powerful” and “Because who you vote for matters”, is the kind of crap I’d expect to hear dished out of a Nivea hair ad: “because you’re worth it”. These slogans lack any context as to why we should vote Greens, and leaves a glaring question unanswered: does my vote still matter if I don’t vote Green? Perhaps, you’re “powerful” enough to make that decision on your own – without having fake Green guilt shoved down your throat by misguided friends. But they’ll have you know – that they’re very capable at branding you as a right-wing bible-belt fascist if you don’t agree with them.

The list of their policies is even more ludicrous. They represent an over-simplified summary of nothingness, and I kept thinking to myself: this must’ve been a project given to Grade 5 kids, because there is no way this was written by an adult. These are simply milk-n-cookies feel good goals that you would come up with, if you posed the following question to a primary school: “What can make Victoria better?”. So unless you can be bothered reading through their flier, their policies are essentially:

Water: Save more water!

Health: More money for health!

Education: Make it better!

Public transport: Put more buses on the road!

Climate Change: DUH!

At least The Liberal party were respectable enough to give out a no-nonsense, one-sided simple flier. Because unlike the Greens, they realise that they have no need to appeal to uninformed constituents in a last-ditch scramble for votes:

Labor wasn’t exceptionally terrible either. At least they can vouch on John Brumby’s good record and that killer automatic smile with nothing behind it:

The one thing that all the fliers shared in common? They were each printed on “100% recycled fibre” and certified as “Carbon Neutral” and “Greenhouse friendly!” Wait: did they just steal the Green’s “green” message? Nope – because if  The Greens get the votes, they’ll be sure to put a “Carbon tax” on everything imaginable: next election, you’ll be paying to see each flier, and you’ll feel guilty about it as well.

According to an article in the Australian:

The acceleration in the Greens vote, he says, is being driven more by instinct than specific issues: “It goes across a range. At one end it is almost apathy: ‘What have I got to lose?’, ‘I’ve tried the other two, they are just going to be more of the same, so why don’t I try these other guys?

All the major parties ran underwhelming campaigns, and The Greens are standing on the side, looking trendy and snatching up votes, not based on the party’s merit – but simply the fact that they’re a ‘change’ and they represent an idealized version of what most kids hope to emulate. Well here’s one teenager in the key ‘Youth Demographic’ (18-24) that is bucking the trend. By voting for one of the major parties, I might be voting for crap – but at least it’s the kind of crap that I’m familiar with.