In Australia, you can expect a flurry of cheery greetings ranging anywhere from the stereotypical “G’day mate,” to the more commonplace “Hi, how ya doin’?”
I’ve been here for weeks but the latter still puzzles me. I can’t figure out whether you are supposed to respond with the full “Good thanks, how’re you?” or pretend there’s no question involved, and respond with an equally buoyant “What’s up?” Generally I get a funny look, whichever way I decide to go.
For Britons, Australia lingers in the mind as a former British colony, full of the descendants of Victorian felons, who got shipped halfway across the world for petty robbery. Modern Australia has shaken off its Old World roots, emerging with a whole new mindset, culture and personality of its own. Don’t expect to find a carbon-copy of Milton-on-Keynes here.
Melbourne is a bustling modern city, with the usual accrouments that all major world urban destinations acquire. Galleries and museums abound. The European sections aren’t really worth your time – but there is an excellent array of Aboriginal and Australian art. The Melbourne Museum also holds a stunning collection of specimens, particularly the whale and dinosaur skeletons, and a preserved giant squid floating eeriely in a vat of formaldehyde.
The gardens are also lush, and well-kept, full of tropical foliage, eucalyptus trees, and at night – possums, possums, and more possums. I can’t help but think of them as a larger Australian equivalent of squirrels nosing around in the dark and crawling up and down the trees.
Melbourne has temperamental weather, so I’ve noted that jackets feature prominently in the local fashions, but the temperature never drops to chilling figures.
It was a shocker when I first arrived to note how expensive Australian goods are in comparison to London. Food prices in particular are very high, although it hasn’t stopped me sampling a variety of Australian food. I’ve enjoyed Tim-Tams, the Aussie cousin of Penguin bars in the UK – my favourites being the double-coating, caramel, and dark chocolate varieties.
Oddly, traditional English tea-time treats don’t really feature much here, which is a real shame. I do miss the comforts of scones, Victoria sponges, lemon drizzle cake and buttery flapjacks. Browsing through local cookery books, they do pop up quite often so I can only assume they tend to be home-baked rather than sold in the shops. Organic food shops are stocked chock-a-block with imported European goods but they are worth a browse for all the wonderful types of local Australian honey.
The macaron is also extremely popular, and can be seen in most cafes. I admit I have been spoilt by having Laduree and Pierre Herme so close to hand, but the salted caramel macaron I tried in Melbourne was unfortunately very underwhelming, with an artifical sugary flavour. I also tried a Lamington in the museum cafe, which wasn’t anything to write home about.
Asian cuisine dominantes the Melbourne food scene. If you love Chinese/Korean/Japanese/Indonesian/Vietnamese/Thai cuisine, this is a dreamland for you as you will be spolit for choice when it comes to picking restaurants, cafes, bakeries, dessert parlours and bubble tea bars. Western cuisine has an American-slant so you are likely to see muffins and doughnuts in coffee shops, along with iced banana and carrot loaf cakes. There are also streets lined with Italian and Greek eateries. However, don’t expect to see too much in the way of quality French dishes unless you are prepared to pay through the nose for it.
There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a home-grown Australian menu, but we did buy and cook a slab of kangaroo meat. It is dark red, and looks tough and man-meatilicious. I did have to sadly conclude that it is not a delicacy I would eat again, although I think fans of dark gamey meat might enjoy it.
Melbourne has many visitor attractions, but most tend to be packed full of schoolchildren on trips. Perhaps this is the jaded Londoner within me talking, but most of it is nothing new. The real gems of Victoria state are not in the city, but out in the National Parks and the bush.
A final note – birds are very aggressive in hawking (haha) for food. They can be found eagerly accosting you everywhere. Beware of them even when you are indoors, as you could inadvertently end up with more than you bargained for on your plate.