It was the BF’s big birthday in January and he wanted to be somewhere warm for it, so we went to Australia. I’d gone in the late nineties with my parents (when I was a very little boy, obviously), and thought it’d be fun to go again without my family.
The BF loves to plan and research holidays – his job is research – but after deciding on Australia, and the flights, and driving parts, he felt like Mrs Doyle from the comedy Father Ted, when she finds out three Bishops are visiting her house. He felt like his whole holiday researching life had lead up to this one holiday, as it wasn’t just one holiday, it was effectively six different parts to the holiday to research and book.
- Number of flights: 6 (two there and back plus Sydney to Alice Springs, then Alice Springs to Adelaide)
- Number of boats involved: 2 (ferries, strictly speaking)
- Number of different groups of friends / family we saw: 5
- Number of hire cars: 3 + one we didn’t hire as it was too small
- Number of books: 6 taken, 3 read, 3 bought in Australia and 2 more bought online while away. Yes, I have a problem with buying books.
- Number of different places we stayed in: 7
- Distance driven: approx 1700 miles
- Number of nights away from home: 24
- Number of different cat sitters: 2 (including Mum who we rang while Domino was on her lap purring after she’d fed him)
- The money: Australian $2 = £1
I dislike flying for a variety of reasons, one is as Dad died in a light air craft crash, but flying is a necessary evil if I want to holiday anywhere other than the UK, so i grit my teeth and bear it. I heard a thought for the day about using the time on a flight to enjoy being without phones beeping, internet notifications pinging at you. So I made the most of the time and I wrote, long hand. I had started a story before leaving, so i had my normal hand written plan and character notes, and on the flight I continued with the story, long hand in a note book. On the flight I managed 34 A5 pages. I continued writing on the internal flights, in quiet moments here and there in the holiday. I enjoyed the quickness of being able to just pick up the notebook and start writing, no waiting for things to turn on, or relying on having the internet. I wrote *one of those scenes* in the Dubai airport departure lounge because that’s what the story needed at the time – which was fun.
And then, on the last four hours of the second leg of the flight – the 14hr bit from Dubai to Melbourne – I reached a wall. I just couldn’t be that person any longer. Only, when you’re on a plane you have to be that person, there’s no one else you can be. I had a minor panic attack and started to feel sick. I just couldn’t sit in that seat any longer. After a few trips to the toilet, the cabin crew were wonderful, got me water, and I stood at the back of the plane stretching and calming.
Melbourne is a massive city, with suburbs stretching 40plus miles from the city centre. The city covers an area almost ten times that of Greater London, with a population of 4.4million. When I say Greater London, I mean right out to the suburbs of London, Orpington (London borough of Bromley) to Uxbridge (London borough of Hillingdon), not just the bit of London most people think is London.
- We self-catered in a ground floor apartment in St Kilda for 5 nights about ten minutes walk from the beach. It was wonderful. St Kilda is sort of alternative, non commercial, with a bit of a Brighton vibe about it.
- We ate Italian food at 3am in a restaurant over-looking the sea.
- Went to an amazing diner where I discovered a breakfast called the jolly sailor: brown toast, spinach, poached egg, smoked salmon, chives with mascarpone cheese, served with the best pot of tea since Liam Livings’ records began. Loose leaf tea, perfectly hot water, a large pot with plenty of space for the tea to circulate, enough for 4 cups.
- Went up the Skydeck, which is the highest building in the southern hemisphere – great view of Melbourne spoiled slightly be the *very* reflective glass which made the night time return trip a bit pointless.
- Madame Brussells – a roof top bar accessed by a service lift round the side of an office block, where everyone sits on garden furniture (inside) is served cocktails strong enough to run a car. It had a Mrs Madrigal from Tales of the City air to it, and obviously gave me *loads* of ideas for stories.
- Bought cakes from the many shops in Acland street which also had the building used in one of my favourite Australian dramas – The Secret Life Of Us. I could practically hear Gab and Kelly’s voices floating in the street. I took a picture while the BF waited for me to indulge my TV geekery.
- Victoria state library including pictures of when the non-indigenous people first settled Melbourne (and it was literally a tent and some shacks)
- Ate my body weight in dim sum in Chinatown – only fail was the whitebait soup, which was ‘basically pepper soup’ according to the BF. The waiter explained that’s a traditional Chinese recipe, and that’s how it’s meant to taste. He stuck to sweet corn or wonton soup from then on.
- Went up the tallest building in Melbourne
- Rode the trams. I like trying public transport in other countries; you get to see the real country, the people who use it every day.
- We discovered a book shop called The Book Grocer - $10 per book, or 6 got $50. The BF got some enormous hardback history books and, I bought ‘The Yugo, The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History’ by Jason Vuic as well as a couple of Joanna Trollop Aga sagas I’d heard good things about. I seem to love a good Aga saga, so thought I’d best go to the mother ship of them.
- We picked up a hire car after a few days and once I’d got used to doing *absolutely nothing at all* with my left leg as it was automatic, we went on a TV geekery odyssey, because that’s what we’re like. We saw Pin Oak Court in Vermont South – where they film Neighbours. Went to Lagoon Court in Patterson Lakes another suburb of Melbourne, and saw the house used in Kath and Kim, where Kath and her husband Kel live. While there we saw four other cars of people taking pictures. The owners of the house are very welcoming. Went to the enormous Westfield shopping centre nearby called Fountain Gate, which is also featured in the Kath and Kim series.
- Christmas day in the sun, with just me and the BF was an interesting experience. We’d bought some nice picnic food from the Queen Victoria market the day before. I felt a bit melancholic, remembering Christmas 2013 when i visited Great Auntie, and I realised, although I don’t like the dark and cold of winter in the UK, it is *right* for Christmas, and how important family (in whatever sense) is at Christmas.
We drove to Canberra through the sort of outback (not officially as it had plenty of towns along the way, and wasn’t that far inland. See The Outback section for what it’s really like.) Even 50mins drive from St Kilda there were lots of land for sale proclaiming people to discover their new way of living in *insert name of suburb*. We had a mini road trip of 7hours between Melbourne and Canberra and with my new Taylor Swift album on the car stereo, the air con on, and the satnav telling us where to go, it was great.
Canberra is often described as ‘a waste of a good sheep shearing station’ as that’s what was originally there before they decided to make it their capital in the 1920s. I thought it was a well-planned, nicely spaced out city, with very friendly Canberrans who were all proud of their home city. It is one of the few cities in Australia that gets four proper seasons. You can be skiing in the mountains just over an hour from the city centre, and it’s all built around a beautiful lake. From the top of the Telstra tower it looked so green it was hard to see where the actual *city* was. Apparently they based the city on the British garden cities movement, and it showed. I love a planned city. I enjoy the order of a boulevard. I like to know there will be a little sub city centre just round the corner with parking, trees and a civic centre. I know I’m a minority in this, but I loved Canberra.
The National Library of Australia is in Canberra and had a wonderful ‘treasures’ collection which reminded me of the similar artefacts exhibition in the British Library.
BF is well into his politics, so we did the tour of their houses of parliament, The Capitol, which is a wonderful building built into a hill. You can walk on the grass on the roof to see the war memorial in the far distance.
This was between Christmas day and the new year, and as this is their main summer holiday, when the children are off school, many businesses close during this period. We rang a lot of restaurants asking if they were open, and eventually jumped in the car to the centre and had a great Chinese meal. The city centre *did* I’ll admit, have more than a whiff of the Milton Keynes about it, but really, is that so bad? It was clean, tidy, well laid out, plenty to do and see, I mean, what more is there? (Except some history I suppose).
Their war memorial was less like a British war memorial (a memorial with names on in the middle of a town), and more like the Imperial War Museum, full of artefacts, war scenes, accounts, pictures, letters from the great war and WW 2 and other wars afterwards. In WW1 half of all men who could have fought, did fight, which, considering most of them didn’t’ return, had a massive impact on the communities they’d left.
Next time, Sydney and the outback.
Liam Livings xx