Saturday, January 9, 2010

Southern Exposure

We exposed the kids to Melbourne last week and got reacquainted with the city ourselves. I had very idealised memories from a winter visit to the city when I was a fine arts student in the 80s. The trip was organised by Sydney Uni where I was studying Victorian (the era not the city) art and architecture. We looked at the National Gallery of Victoria collection as well as visiting St Pat's and other C19th buildings. In keeping with the rest of my university days, I was quarantined from the authentic student experience. I was already in my present relationship and was also travelling with a friend who worked at the Hilton and managed to get us cut price rooms there. The whole deal - meals, shopping, sight seeing etc - was pretty swanky. We had a silver service dinner in the Melbourne Hilton's most exclusive restaurant. I got my first and only genuine Italian leather handbag. We went on a guided tour of the flamboyant Princess Theatre and heard about the ghost. We came back via Eaglemont, where the Heidelberg artists had made camp. I was besotted with the whole Victorian excursion.

20 years on I was still anticipating the sense of glamour and sophistication I felt then. (I have visited a couple of times since but for very brief periods only). In the mean time our kids had come to equate Melbourne with an intellectual vibrancy and arty edginess they thought Sydney lacked. We all thought the shopping would be good.

Tram on Bourke Street - view from the Quest apartments where we stayed.

Here is a little summary of the high and low lights of our visit:
  • Laneways and arcades - Sydney has nothing like them - they're fantastic, full of original shopfronts and intriguing merchandise, often with real cobbles.
  • Clothes and shoe shopping - we were there for the January sales which helped but Myer had a great range of stuff for the 'fuller figure' and I discovered Mountfords which stocks my fave Joseph Seibel shoes, on my last day there. My daughter's favourite boutique Quick Brown Fox has two branches and we spent considerable time there.
  • Suzuki night markets - vibrant chaotic, combines Eveleigh craft markets with Paddington markets with performance with food and new age. A must see.
  • Toilets (public & in retail outlets) a disgrace, filthy and in disrepair, smelt and seldom had soap and often even lacked toilet paper!
  • Tram services - a cypher, thank goodness I met up with an old work friend who gave me some tips.
  • Food and beverage prices - pretty good.
  • Young & Jackson Hotel. Uncrowded and pleasant on a Thursday evening. Saw the famous 'Chloe' again. Very limited wine list.
  • Fitzroy Gardens - good cafe, overpriced admission to Cook's Cottage, nice conservatory, signage on statuary and fountains illegible and/or uninformative.
  • New wing of the state gallery, known as the National Gallery of Victoria, a bit like a parody of the actual National Gallery in layout but spacious and well lit with an excellent Indigenous collection.
  • The little penguins on Phillip Island. Touted as award winning eco-tourism. The food and facilities commercial and tawdry, the presence of over 500 Girl Guides the night we visited unfortunate. The little penguins themselves - priceless!
I was plagued by a respiratory virus that wouldn't quit while we were away so I am quite proud of myself that I did as much as I did. St Kilda and Heide and going to a comedy venue will have to wait until next time. Came back via Canberra and saw the Musee d'Orsay collection (which we had also seen before, in situ in Paris, in the 80s) and the new National Portait Gallery and thoroughly enjoyed both.

Promise I'll write about Shaun Micallef's 'Good Evening' soon...


Senji said...

We saw the Masterpieces from Paris exhibition in Canberra over Christmas/New Year. For some reason I was expecting more, as I had already seen some of the works at the Monet exhibition at the NSW Gallery in Jan 2009. Starry Night was lovely though.

Alice said...

I got great pleasure out of discussing the works with the kinder as you will with your daughter a few years hence. You're right that the 'masterpieces' themselves, like Monet's bridge at Giverny and Van Gogh's chair in his room at Arles, werwe thin on the ground and have been seen in Oz before. I loved Camille Pissaro's work and Seurat's studies for Sunday Afternoon sur la Grande Jatte but that Symbolist stuff is quite forgettable.