Crossing the Ditch
One Thousand Six Hundred miles away from New Zealand, I gaze down on a sleepy city. Enveloped in darkness and splattered with neon lights, the vast cluster of buildings beneath me is Melbourne, my new home. The ticket I purchased was one-way. It’s strange staring out an aeroplane window at an unfamiliar place, wondering what kind of life you’ll make in it and hoping you don’t go broke first.
The airport experience was akin to an initiation ceremony. I knew it seemed too easy ticking a box on the customs form. My husband and I weaved between the Sky Cargo Company and Australian Customs amidst a string of paperwork. Wheeling a trolley through a loading bay on foot, we park up next to a tray-backed Ute. A dead body was unloaded into the freight warehouse. “This one must have lead feet” the driver exclaimed. Reunited with our luggage, we made a swift exit with the trolley in toe. Day one involved both death and airport taxes. What the heck was day two was going to bring?
A lot of people move to Australia for the good weather. Melbourne expats cannot attest to this. I soon learned to always carry an umbrella, scarf and many layers of clothing. Melbourne, like my hometown, is centred around a dirty brown river. I laughed when hearing the loudspeaker on Melbourne’s City Circle Tram describe The Yarra River as ‘Melbourne’s famous brown river’. That’s where the similarities end though. I am unequivocally a small town girl in a big city. A city with about 4.25 million citizens, that’s just shy of the entire New Zealand population.
Trams are a novelty however daily commutes tend to dull the enthusiasm. With time, you get to know the Melbourne public transport code. One must keep left on elevators, always let people exit before entering, and give your seat to sick, pregnant or elderly people. It’s a matter of common decency. This kind of insight is what defines people as locals. Soon I found myself riding the escalator on the left hand side and glaring at the imbeciles that clogged up the ‘fast lane.’
Melbourne has a calendar chocker-block with sporting events. People dart their heads back and forth across the tennis court at the Australian Open every January. The Grand Prix speeds into town for the end of summer. Horse racing in the latter months of the year is always well-attended and the attire is often more formal than wedding garb. The Australian Football League (AFL) kicks off in autumn and is the backbone of Melbourne sport. One of the first requests made of us on arrival was “Mate, you have to pick a team.” Team loyalty to AFL runs deeper than family ties. The sport originated from this city and the level of devotion borders on religious.
The melting pot of expats helps ensure a vast range of fabulous eateries. One minute I can be on the street, and the next I’m sipping on an exotic cocktail at a rooftop bar, surrounded by tropical plants. The rooftop setting is nestled between clusters of high-rise buildings that pierce the dusky sky with layers of oblong shaped light. Rooftop bars are a bit of a best kept secret. Location is everything, and a prominent spot would be an obvious choice. Not so, in these parts. In-fact, the more laneways, tunnels, and stairs you have to endure, the better. The secrecy means you’re in the know.
I’m a huge fan of Smiths chips. The supermarket trolley was stuffed with little else for the first few weeks. It’s exciting discovering new items and expanding flavour horizons, a dwindling pleasure as globalisation peaks. Mangoes are readily available and they find their way to my table often. Bakeries are stocked with odd named consumables like snicker-doodles, and beestings. Doughnuts are nothing like the long shaped, cream filled, jam dolloped deliciousness I’m accustomed to. I do notice two familiar items however, the pie and the Pavlova. I had a giggle when I discovered some of my favourite foods from home were in the ‘international foods’ aisle at the local supermarket.
Close encounters with the wildlife are enough to put many people off visiting. I’ve had tropical birds land on my head and watched Koalas stoned on Eucalyptus lying about in the trees and conserving energy. I’ve watched penguins return to the roost after a hard day of fishing. I’ve had a bat fly over me, inches from my head during the walk home from the train station one evening. I’ve come face to face with Possums and I’m not sure which of us was more afraid. Thankfully, there have been no encounters with snakes to report.
Spiders are among us though. After a morning walk, I was diligently completing sit-ups on the lounge floor. I looked towards the ceiling and locked eyes with a menacing arachnid. The two of us ran out the back door, broom in hand. I shrieked unhelpful instructions along the lines of ‘get that bloody bastard.’
Three years on, I keep to the left on public transport, I have a repertoire of favourite laneway eateries and rooftop bars. I’ve seen all six AFL goalposts of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. I’m always armed and ready for any kind of weather that comes my way. Yep, I think I can say that I’ve become a local. I am now in the know. And I’m not broke yet, so I think I’ll stick around.