After three days at sea we arrived at Melbourne, Australia on February 8. Melbourne (pronounced “Mel’-bun,” to our surprise) is the capital of the province of Victoria & the second largest city in Australia with a population in excess of 4 million. It was founded in 1835. Of course, Aboriginal people had populated the area for 30 or 40 thousand years before that, having mostly walked from Southeast Asia because the oceans were much lower then. The Aborigines were progressively dispossessed of their land in the region over the first 5 to 10 years after settlement by Europeans.
In 1851 there was a gold rush in Victoria & by the 1880’s Melbourne was one of the largest & richest cities in the world. In 1901 it became the temporary capital of the new Australian federation, but after years of competition with Sydney for that role the capital was moved to Canberra in the 1920’s, halfway between Sydney & Melbourne.
The harbor is a few miles from downtown so we took the bus in ($14 Australian to ride all day). The bus let us off just across the Yarra River from the central business district, so we walked across the bridge into town. The weather was gray & overcast, but we hoped it would improve at it has done many times on this trip.
Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of Melbourne is the combination of soaring glass skyscrapers and elaborate Victorian stone buildings of the late 19th century. The proliferation of monumental Victorian buildings in the 1880s and 90s was a direct result of the excessive flow of money into the city from the gold rush. We came upon three of the best examples immediately upon crossing the bridge. First, Flinders Street Station was built in 1909 and was the busiest commuter rail station in the world during the 1920’s. It is still bustling and “under the clocks” at the station is one of the commonest meeting places in the city.
Second, across the street from the station is St. Paul’s (Anglican) Cathedral, with soaring steeples and a beautiful interior of alternating colored stone stripes. It was built in 1891.
Next to the cathedral is the Town Hall, a massive building completed in 1870. Its entrance doors display the four images on the city coat of arms . . . a whale, a ship, a bull & a sheep, representing the area’s economy. Across the street was an imposing building of a later vintage that is part of Victoria University.
We walked on to the State Library of Victoria. Built in 1856, it is one of the oldest cultural institutions in Australia and has more than 2 million books in its collection. Its domed, multi-story main reading room is quite impressive.
There was another reading room with skylight & lots of glass & a separate chess room with chess tables & one of the world’s most extensive collections of chess books. Also here are some architectural details.
The museum we most wanted to see is closed on Mondays (naturally), so we decided to walk up to the Melbourne Museum, a very modern building of recent vintage said to be the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere. It has a vast collection, but we mostly just wanted to see their Aboriginal collection, so we were happy that they waived the $14 per person admission for seniors, even if you aren’t Australian. This made us feel better about the limited time we had to spend there. There was a lot of interest in the Aboriginal collection, both artifacts and narration. On the way out we noticed hanging from the ceiling an important old airplane, which may have been the first one built in Australia (we can’t remember).
Near the museum is the Royal Exhibition Building, erected for the International Exhibition of 1880. This is also where Australia’s first parliament met in 1901. There was a big sign on one side advertising that you could rent it for your wedding or other function, and there were similar signs on other grand old buildings, like the Town Hall. It seemed strange to us, but I guess business is business. It’s not as bad as naming baseball stadiums after the corporation that bids the most.
We walked back downtown to the Supreme Court to see our second library of the day. It seemed to take forever to get though the metal detectors at the entrance, only to find that we were required to leave our cameras with the guard. This we duly did, & walked in and looked around the lovely round domed library inside the court. When we came back the guard told us that only cameras were forbidden & it was OK to photograph with your phone! So back we went and made the photograph below. When we returned to take our leave it appeared that lunchtime was over because there was a line of people waiting to enter the court. Rick was the only barrister there who wasn’t wearing the British style black uniform with a fluffy white collar (actually, they probably wouldn’t have believed Rick was a lawyer, dressed in his t-shirt, cargo pants & baseball hat).
There were some other miscellaneous things. On Flinders Street were a number of tall poles with designs on them, some Aboriginal and some not. They didn’t seem to have lights at the top, or any other obvious function, so maybe they are just decorative. On the same street was a statue of (surprise) Matthew Flinders. While he is not well known outside of Australia, here he is a hero somewhat akin to the Founders in the U.S. He was the first to circumnavigate Australia, mapping much of its coastline for the first time, and he was also the first to call it Australia (it had been called New Holland up to that time). More on him in a future episode. We walked through the Royal Arcade, a shopping mall built in 1869 and Melbourne’s oldest existing arcade.
By now it was getting late (& we were getting hot & tired), so we walked back across the river to catch the bus back to the port. It was much sunnier now & the river and the newer development along its shore were brightly lit.
We sailed away from Melbourne in late afternoon, feeling that we had seen quite a lot in only one day but that there was still quite a lot of interesting places to see on our (hopefully) next visit.