The trouble with writing about travel is that you tend to concentrate on places elsewhere, rather than on your own. And so, I’ve decided to become a tourist in my own town.
Melbourne is a great city to live in, if you want to live in a city, that is. If you don’t, it’s still a fabulous place to come and go from. It’s the premier place in Australia for sport; most would have to agree with that, whether they want to or not. It has the mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground, just for starters.
It has acres of parks and gardens, cafes, restaurants to suit every taste, cathedrals and churches, art galleries and exhibition halls.
Melbourne is also known for its quirky alleyways and beautiful arcades. One of the places I lurked as a working but still poverty-stricken 16-year-old (no equal pay in those days), was The Block Arcade.
It was built between 1891 and 1893, and connects Collins Street at the south end with Elizabeth Street in the west. In the early days, it was known for its larrikin gang, the ‘barcade boys’, who dealt drugs during the day and hired prostitutes at night. None of that here, now. With its mosaic-tiled flooring, glass canopy, and wrought iron and stone finishes, it must be one of the most beautiful arcades around.
I used to gaze through dress shop windows at the gowns, copies of those worn by the singers on the evening television variety shows: Grecian-style, floaty things in lavender chiffon. I could see myself in one of those, though I realise now I would have needed a serious diet and the addition of a couple of inches to my height to get away with it. But you don’t worry about such things when you’re sixteen. I also imagined myself singing on the variety shows but that’s another story.
Block Place is a partly-covered laneway of tiny shops and cafes, taking you from The Block Arcade to Little Collins Street.
At one end, a steep staircase plunges beneath Haigh’s Chocolates to the appropriately-named The Basement Discs.
For music lovers, it’s an Aladdin’s Cave of CDs, vinyl and DVDs: rock’n’roll, jazz, blues, folk and world. If you’re coming to Melbourne and you’re into music, I recommend The Basement Discs.
After crossing Little Collins Street, The Royal Arcade takes you through to Bourke Street, opposite the department giants of Myer and David Jones.
The Royal is the oldest arcade in Australia, with an eclectic mix of stores, ranging from jewellery to games, russian dolls to tarot readings.
At the Little Collins Street end of the arcade, inside a dome, is a large and very beautiful clock, Gaunt’s Clock, designed by Thomas Gaunt, a successful jeweller and watchmaker in the 1800s. On either side of the clock are 7ft. high effigies of mythical figures, Gog and Magog, who tap on bells to chime out each hour.
Once in the Bourke Street Mall, you can relax back on a seat and listen to whatever musicians are busking at the time, with no traffic to get in your way, other than the trams quietly trundling past.