Swagman #20 – Back to Sydney, Down to Melbourne
Melbourne and Sydney, Australia
Since Nikki and I had already seen the sights between Fraser Island and
Sydney, we spent the next few days in motion. After a two night stay in
Noosa we headed back out in the late morning, stopped briefly in Brisbane for
me to change my flight, stopped in Surfer’s Paradise for ‘All you can eat
pancakes’, and then kept moving south all day and well into the night until
we arrived at her vacation house, two hours north of Sydney, at around 4am.
We had driven well over 1,000 kilometers in about 16 hours. What followed
was the very definition of relaxing – at one point we were too tired to even
go to the beach. It is hard to explain, but sometimes traveling is so tiring
that you need a break from it, kind of like a vacation within a vacation.
With a few days of that behind us we made the final drive to Sydney, where
Nikki delivered me to Central Station for my 12 hour drive to Melbourne.
Unfortunately, Nikki did not have the money to make the trip so I would be
seeing the city alone. My bus left at 8pm and arrived at 8am, and the ride
was about as enjoyable as a 12 hour bus ride can be. I was able to sleep for
most of the ride, despite my seat mate, who listened to techno through
blaring headphones as he slept, something I still can’t figure out.
Once in Melbourne I checked myself right into the Greenhouse Backpackers and
set out to see the city. Although it lacks any major monument to seek out
(like the Sydney Opera House), Melbourne is a beautiful city with a real
laid-back feel. In the CBD, little alleyways are full of chic outdoor cafes
that bring to mind Italy or France. Unfortunately for me, money was becoming
more serious and I had to be content with examining the menus, my face
pressed the windows like a kid outside a candy store.
But Melbourne has plenty of free sights, like St. Paul’s Cathedral and St.
Patrick’s, where I prayed for the miraculous expansion of my bank account
(didn’t work). The cold weather and light drizzle had let up enough for me
to lay out in Fitzroy Gardens and catch up on some reading. I wandered up
and down Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, which is to Melbourne what King’s Cross
is to Sydney. The street is lined with cafes, bars, boutiques and, most
importantly, interesting characters. Instead of climbing to the top of the
Rialto Towers for a towering view of the city I walked into the Hotel
Sofitel and took the elevator up to one of the top floors, where the men’s
room window offers a similar view for free. It may seem a tad strange for a
hotel guest to enter the washroom only to find an unshaven young man with
his camera out, but I was able to save $20.
After an early night I spent the whole next day wandering around some more.
I took in a free tour of the Parliament, and was even allowed to get a
picture of myself sitting in the Premier’s chair. I walked around the Yarra
River, through Flinders Station and Federation Square. I ate an ‘all you
can eat’ lunch for $5 at a Hare Krishna restaurant and read about their
lifestyle. I even visited a Scientology office to see what the big deal was
(I still don’t get it). After a full day of free sights I was back at the
hostel, showered, and back out to hit the casino.
I reached the Crown Casino, located on the south bank of the Yarra, around
10pm and was instantly greeted with a pyrotechnic show that lasted for
several minutes. There are about eight large towers that shoot out flames at
varying intervals and intensity. It was an impressive show, but what was
most enjoyable was the blast of heat you received if you stood close to one
of the towers. It was a welcome change from the chilly air.
Reasons why I shouldn’t gamble
I enjoyed the Crown Casino, but not as much as I enjoyed the Star City
Casino in Sydney. This, of course, is because I won $50 at Star City,
whereas I walked out a loser at the Crown. The very fact that I gamble on
anything is mind blowing, since I rarely ever win anything that is based on
luck and chance. I can’t even place a friendly wager on sporting events. The
only time I ever bet on the Superbowl was when the odds were so in favor for
one team that is was just a question of how much they would win by. This,
naturally, led to a huge upset and I found myself having to sing “I touch
myself” during karaoke hour in a crowded Manhattan bar.
As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, So It Goes. I decided to play it safe by playing the
two cent pokie machines and was down $10 within five minutes. So I wandered
around for awhile and watched some of the high rollers at the roulette and
black jack tables. In case you’re wondering, a high roller was anyone who
was betting more than $10 a hand. And I was in the background thinking “$10!
That’s two ‘all you can eat’ lunches with the hare krishna’s!” I resolved to
keep the rest of my money, and then saw another pokie machine that featured
cute little cartoon characters. The goal is probably to make it look like a
child’s game, and it worked because I was suddenly out of another $10. So I
basically closed my eyes to avoid any further temptation and left the
The next morning I was up early to catch my day trip along the Great Ocean
Road. I had paid $65 for the 10 hour tour, and was less than thrilled to
find it raining (possibly a final insult from the gambling gods). So I sat
out in the rain with a few others, waiting for the van, which we eventually
piled into sullenly. It was about a two hour drive to get to the start of
the Great Ocean Road, so our tour guide gave us some background. I couldn’t
really hear him over the rain, but from what I gathered the road had been
built between 1918 and 1938 and was inspired by the ocean drive in America,
most likely Route 1 in California. This made me somewhat proud, that the USA
had provided more inspiration than just fast food and shopping malls.
We stopped for a few minutes at Bell’s Beach, but the rain was blowing in off
of the ocean and it was near impossible to look out. We stood huddled with
hands shielding our eyes, and in the end had to settle for a squinted view
of wet sand. So it was back on the bus to move on. The rain was still coming
down hard and coated the windows. It was like trying to look through stained
glass. Our guide was pointing out things that we couldn’t see, with lines
like “If it was nicer outside you would here see the ocean, gorgeous and
majestic, as far as you can see.” Eventually any sign of the ocean was
covered with thick fog and he was reduced to pointing out lesser
attractions, like, “And here on the right is the golf course where I shot a
-10 against Father Mackenzie last Saturday” and so on.
Luckily the rain subsided by the time we reached the 12 Apostles, although
the clouds still looked threatening. We bounded off of the bus for the walk
up to the lookout and proudly took pictures of the rock towers. Everyone was
snapping away and passing their cameras to each other to get in the shots. I
must have wandered into at least 10 pictures, which made me wonder how many
people around the world have pictures with me in the background, never
knowing each other. This in turn made me wonder why I think about such dumb
The 12 Apostles are quite impressive, remnants of erosion that, due to more
erosion, will eventually collapse and wash away. But for now they are
relics, believed to be the second most photographed attraction in Australia
(Sydney Opera House is #1). Everyone counts the formations, just to be sure,
and usually only reach eight before believing they have uncovered something
scandalous. But it turns out that some of the formations aren’t visible but
are in fact there. What is most amazing is that you can see how the ocean is
thinning out the bottoms of each formation. In time they will wear out and
collapse, which will be an amazing spectacle for anyone around to see it,
despite the obvious tragedy of losing such a historic monument. This made me
wonder what they would change the name to, as 11 Apostles sounds weird. Then
I realized I was thinking about dumb things again. The very realistic
possibility that the 12 Apostles will eventually wash away makes a visit to
the site all the more exciting. Although it will probably not happen for
quite some time, it is something to think about when you stare out at these
enormous layered towers, and it made me feel more appreciative.
The next stop on the tour was the Loch Aud shipwreck site, where we climbed
down the stairs to the beach for a ground view of the cliffs. The beach is
perfectly enclosed by the cliff walls, and the water has even dug some small
caves that can be explored. You can walk on the sand right up the rock wall
and touch the limestone. People have celebrated this beauty by carving their
names into the rock with messages like “Bonnie wuz here ’96”. Breathtaking.
You can sit on the beach and look out through the narrow stone alleyway
where the ocean washes in or you can climb back up the stairs and walk along
the trails to points where you can look down at the ‘M’ formations of rock
that were so deadly to ships in the mid 1800’s. Then, if you’re heading
west, you get back on the bus and go to London Bridge.
There is an interesting story about London Bridge that may or not be
completely true but is still worth mentioning. A sign at the bridge tells
the first half, which is proven true – the London Bridge was once a long
rock walkway that was caused by erosion. As the sea battered against the
sides, two large tunnels formed, causing two large pillars or rock joined by
‘bridges’ to the mainland. This was formed over thousands of years of
erosion, and was changed in seconds by gravity. On January 15, 1990, the
bridge between the mainland and the first pillar collapsed, leaving a man
and woman stranded. After an hour or so they were rescued by a helicopter
and carried back the mainland.
The second half of the story is more interesting. In this version the couple
were stranded, probably a bit nervous, when they spotted a helicopter. They
flagged it down enthusiastically, until they realized it was a news copter
that wanted an interview. They requested a ride back to land, but the copter
was not insured for a rescue operation. So the couple refused to speak, and
the news team filmed them from afar. Eventually they were rescued, and the
footage appeared all over TV. Allegedly the man was in a bit of hot water
since his boss was watching the news and he had called in sick that day.
What’s even more interesting is that the man’s wife was also watching the
news, and was no doubt curious about his female companion.
Like the 12 Apostles, the London Bridge will eventually fall victim to the
very force that created it. Erosion will eat away at the pillars of rock
until it collapses. Imagine the surprise of the couple when the foot bridge
they had just crossed suddenly crumbled to the sea about 150 feet below.
Eventually the second foot bridge will crumble as well, and no one may be
there to even witness it.
With the London Bridge behind us our tour was over and we began the long
drive back to Melbourne. I was cold, tired and wet, but was happy with my
day. I spent the ride listening to my discman and counting license plates,
which feature the quote: “Victoria – The Place to Be!” (to be said with a
big ‘ol grin and a thumbs up). Once back in Melbourne I immediately ran out
to Federation Square, where around 3,000 people had gathered to watch the
World Cup Final on the giant screen provided. The crowd was almost perfectly
divided between Aussies and British, and the match was one of the most
exciting sporting events I have ever watched. Sadly, the Aussies lost, and I
fell asleep that night listening to the enthusiastic howls of the Brits
prowling the streets and the collective groan of the Aussies.