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melbourne black and white

After three years in Melbourne, today I flew back to Perth for a summer sabbatical before moving on to the UK. I learned in my early 20s, first with Korea and then with backpacking, that life doesn’t always turn out to be as wonderful as you expect it to be. But I moved to Melbourne with zero expectations, having never been there before, based solely on the other people in my life who’d decided to go there. It turned out to be an absolutely amazing city, one I was proud and happy to call home, and genuinely sad to leave. I hope to live there again one day.

Until then, here are some of the memories of Melbourne that stick in my mind – some important, others random, all part of a self-indulgent reminiscence you will likely have no interest in:

Riding my 250cc Kawasaki dirtbike up the freeway from Geelong, the end of a two week roadtrip from Perth, and glimpsing in the summer dusk my first sight of Melbourne – a peachy sky, some wispy clouds, a full moon rising fat and ripe above the skyscrapers.

Listening to The King of Limbs the day after we arrived, sitting on the back porch of a townhouse in Brunswick and looking over the overgrown jungle of a backyard.

Seeing flying foxes everywhere, for the first year or so, winging their way across the stars, until the council moved their habitat further up the Yarra.

Riding out to a pub one night to hang out with Jamie and his friends, who called me a FOB, for “fresh off the boat.” The pub was somewhere in the inner north, an old Victorian building with an attached tower. I cannot remember its name, and although I’ve probably driven past it a dozen times now, I will never be able to remember exactly which pub it was and where it was.

Driving down Mount Alexander Road from Essendon in Kristie’s car to pick her and Susie up from work at the Joint Bar at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, parking across the road in Flinders Lane, sitting in the dark behind the wheel and listening to Triple J.

Playing all the way through Time Crisis 4 at an arcade on Bourke Street, costing Jamie $50 in coins, before drinking the afternoon away at my first visit to Rooftop Bar on Swanston, which would become (and remains) my favourite bar in Melbourne and probably the world.

Working at the airport up in Tullamarine. “Meeting” (serving) a raft of C-list Australian celebrities – Lara Bingle, Bert Newton, Chopper Read, Bob Katter. Standing behind the counter at the Qantas business class lounge watching the sun rise over the hills north of the terminal and the planes touching down from Malaysia and Hong Kong and India. Waking for an early shift one morning at 3:30am, midwinter, to find the street shrouded in fog, and riding my motorcycle up the freeway in -1 degree temperatures, wearing business pants. Running my hands under warm water once I got there for twenty minutes before I could feel anything in them.

Moving into the 1960s brick shithouse Jamie bought in Sunshine West in the middle of winter with the electricity company shutting off the power due to a clerical error, leaving us shivering our way through a candlelit settling-in period. The ragged old vinyl couch, soon replaced by the corduroy sofa set that Jamie and Dave purchased while visibly high, but which nevertheless served us well for two years.

Living in Sunshine West. Smoking not that much weed and drinking not that much beer, but probably mixing the two enough that it wasn’t particularly healthy. Our love-hate relationship with Geoff the dog. Watching Archer and Seinfeld and Breaking Bad on the plasma flatscreen. Cranking the living room heaters in winter, warming the one room in which we spent all of our time, shouting at each other to “SHUT THE DOOR!” whenever one of us ventured outside to take a leak or get a beer. Pissing in the backyard and looking up at the stars. Falling asleep on the couch watching Chris replay Final Fantasy IX on my ancient PS2. Coming home from a late shift at 10pm, crossing the West Gate Bridge and leaving the city behind, droning along the freeway in lashing rain, soaking wet and freezing cold, and arriving home to peel wet clothes off and stumble into the shower, becoming warm and dry and finally arriving in the living room, where Chris and Jamie would already be reliably comfortable and baked, sitting down in my armchair next to the bookshelf and yanking back that tab to make the seat fall back and the footrest kick up, the hassles of the working day washing clean, whiling away the rest of the evening with my two best friends drinking, smoking and watching TV, not realising until long after I moved out that this would be one of the happiest times in my life.

Buying a Triumph Bonneville, my first big bike, from a dealership on Elizabeth Street. Parking it nearby and then having lunch with Chris and Jamie at a tiny cafe with three little seats at a counter table looking out the window, a cafe which, like that inner-north pub, I’ve never been able to find again.

Spending my first Christmas Day in Melbourne at home with Chris and the dog. Making a roast dinner and playing video games. In the midafternoon a hailstorm passed over the western suburbs and coated every lawn with white ice, leaving us with a brief White Christmas in the half-hour it took to melt.

Getting my first speeding ticket because I was racing Chris home on the West Gate from a gig in Brunswick. Proudly putting it under a magnet on the fridge.

Riding out to the Grampians with Jamie and Maya. Eating ice cream by the creek. Fumbling around on the back trails as the sun went down, finding a place to surreptitiously camp just before the light leaked away.

Attending the 2012 beer festival at the Royal Exhibition Building, a magnificent, regal World Heritage site in which the Australian Constitution was signed in 1901 – a building which Jamie and I then got spectacularly drunk in, eventually taking a leak in the gardens outside before taking the tram up to Fitzroy and stumbling through the rain to Kristie’s house in Brunswick with a plastic bag full of pilfered beer festival “memento” pint glasses, which I still have.

Riding up into the Dandenongs with Chris in August, up to Lake Mountain where snow was covering the ground like it was no big deal. The mountainsides were still ravaged from the Black Saturday bushfires from three years ago, the trees dead and leafless, so it looked almost like a European winter.

AFL, a sport comfortingly nostalgic given my own Western Australian boyhood, the most recognisable Melbourne suburbs being those that had rattled around in my brain since childhood because they supported teams – Essendon, Collingwood, St Kilda, Richmond. Becoming more acquainted with the game than I ever thought I would be by having to cover two seasons of it at work. Going to Fremantle games with Kristie, drinking Pure Blonde out of plastic cups, perching up high on those vertiginous seats at Etihad Stadium. The MCG always seemed so small on the inside. Feeling genuinely excited when Fremantle made it to the 2013 Grand Final, only to be slaughtered by Hawthorn.

Sitting on the roof watching the sun go down on my last night in Sunshine, then drinking heavily all night so the next day I was abysmally hungover while dragging my furniture into a rental van.

Coming close so many times to winning Tuesday night trivia at the Great Britain Hotel with Adam. Drinking jugs of Piss and drunkenly playing pool until 1:00am. Taking a cab into the city to get oil-dipped bread at Siglo on an unseasonably warm night or, if we were feeling more local, wandering up to the Vine on Bridge Road and playing pool until 4am with morbidly obese alcoholics and sleazy middle-aged restaurant owners.

Wandering around the CBD until 4:00am with friends from Perth who had the good fortune to show up on a particularly warm summer night for the inaugural White Night Festival. Sitting at the edge of the Yarra texting love messages dedicated to each other’s mums to the Spheres of Love.

Shoving open my creaky old window in Richmond to sit on my bedside table, stick my head out into the rain, and smoke a joint. Finding that it wasn’t quite as pleasant as sharing one with two friends on a reclining armchair in Sunshine.

Having a heart-wrenching evening conversation with Kristie about the future of our relationship, then having my motorcycle break down on the Bolte Bridge on the way home. Spending an hour leaning against the concrete wall in the emergency lane, pulling my coat up against a biting August wind swooping in from the port, feeling miserable and waiting for my mechanic to come pick up me and the bike in his ute.

Drinking most of a bottle of gin while covering election night at the office, all of us shouting at the TV. Getting angry enough at Tony Abbott’s smirking face during his victory speech to punch a dent in the soundproofing panels on the wall.

Trams – something I’d always thought of as hokey and touristy, but which are surprisingly useful and an indispensable part of the city’s aesthetic. The dinging of the bell, the skating of the tracks, the squeaking of the doors snapping open. The cat’s cradle of electrical wires above each intersection. The sudden blue flashes sparking off the overheads.

Walking to work from Flinders Street Station, through the smell of chlorine from the fountains outside the NGV and the Chinese busker with the violin. The last 1am tram rumbling down Swan Street, audible from where I was tucked up in bed, followed an hour later by the humming of the street-sweepers. The reliable excellence of breakfast and coffee from cafes anywhere in the metro area. AAMI Park sprouting out of the grass by the Yarra like an enormous mushroom. The MCG lit up at night like a meteor fallen to earth. The bright night-time colours of 120 Collins Street, imitating its Manhattan forebear. Gelato on Lygon Street on a summer night. Rowing teams on the Yarra near Richmond. Widespread disdain for The Age going tabloid. Breakneck taxi drivers. Volatile weather. Autumn leaves.

Riding my motorcycle across the Bolte Bridge at night and always risking that lingering glance at the city lights, before begrudgingly turning my attention back to the road.

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December 2013