Friday, April 15, 2016


With a couple of hours to kill later yesterday afternoon I dropped into the State Library on Swanston Street. Besides untold numbers of books and glorious Victorian architecture, the library also has a nice little art collection themed around Melbourne's history.

I hadn't fully realised that Melbourne was so young, nor that it grew so fast. In 1836 Melbourne consisted quite literally of a dozen huts on a hillside. A mere 50 years later, in 1886, trams were rattling back and forth in front of the grand public buildings that still stand today. It boggles the mind how quickly Melbourne blossomed, and how much money and determination was required to make it happen. In the reign of one queen, it went from kangaroo-riddled bushland to huge neo-classical buildings and public transport networks.

You can see why Melbourne is still considered one of the most liveable cities in the world. Outside the grandeur of the State Library, people lounged on the terraced lawns, talking, reading books and tapping away at laptops. A busker played sultry music with a guitar and an oversampler while comedians joked with couples as they handed out flyers for their shows. Beyond them, trams carried people up and down Swanston Street, and overhead the lights in skyscrapers twinkled down. It was a vision of a peaceful, prosperous, harmonious civilisation in action.

Mind you, there are two Melbournes, which a friend defined as the Melbourne within the tram network and the Melbourne outside the tram network. I’ve only ever visited the first Melbourne, the Melbourne of the Comedy Festival, jazz clubs, laneway cafes, 19th century terraced houses, hipster barbers and twenty different takes on eggs benedict. The Melbourne outside the tram network is… well… Perth. Suburbs, shopping centres, cheap Korean cars, Kmart clothes and obesity. Basically, the Melbourne I’ve experienced is a lovely, stylish bubble twenty kilometres in diameter, outside of which dwells the sad, sordid reality of most Australians.

But within the bubble all is good. As evening darkened into night I met up with a friend to go to Bennetts Lane. I visit Bennetts Lane every time I come to Melbourne, and it is always a revelation. On an ordinary Thursday night, with an audience of maybe fifty people, of whom only a quarter appeared to have bought tickets, we heard a fabulously talented nine piece jazz band playing a mixture of standards and their own compositions. Band leader Gianni Marinucci played an exquisitely controlled and soulful trumpet. The alto saxophonist was a bit of a showboater, but otherwise all of the band members played with flawless beauty, in a way Perth only sees once in a blue moon, at great expense, when the stars and fates align.

But in Melbourne at Bennetts Lane, it’s just another Thursday night to fifty people.


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