Melbourne Director’s Cut: 19th December 2013 to 1st January 2014

After previously posting on this blog a cricket focused shorter account of my time in Melbourne, here’s the more detailed version as originally posted on Tumblr

I spent a total of two weeks in Melbourne and really enjoyed it there, so consequently this blog will be a bit longer than previous entries. I have split it up into two sections anyway – up to Christmas Day and then from Boxing Day onwards (warning: contains more scenes of England batting collapses, which some readers may find disturbing).


Putting Perth well and truly behind me, I arrived in Melbourne and headed to St Kilda, where I spent 4 nights before later moving on to central Melbourne. St Kilda is a Melbourne neighbourhood about 5 miles or so away from the centre and sits right on a pretty decent beach there, with a range of beachfront bars and restaurants, plus good selections on its main drag too. I was staying in a pretty impressive hotel and St Kilda was a good relaxed vibrant place to start; perhaps reminiscent of Brighton although much smaller and with a much better beach, so maybe not that similar. Well, they both have a pier that has seen better days anyway. It’s also easy to get into Melbourne (and around Melbourne generally) from St Kilda via a tram ride, which was useful as I did venture out of St Kilda most days I was there.

River Yarra

The River Yarra and a bit of Melbourne’s skyline

On my second night, this involved heading to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) to watch a couple of England batsmen smacking some Aussie bowling all over the park. Unfortunately, this was Luke Wright (with a rapid fire 70) and Jos Buttler (an equally quick 49) playing in the Melbourne Stars v Melbourne Renegades T20 Big Bash local derby. Still, it was good to get a first look at the MCG before the main event (more on that later); a hugely impressive place that does live up to the hype. Also, the MCG forms the centre of the “sports precinct”, with the Australian Open tennis grounds just over a rail track, as well as a dedicated soccer stadium plus an arena used for basketball etc – impressive stuff and all within a pleasant 15 minute walk from the city centre through a park too. With the MCG stretching out in front, this does make for a great, anticipation building stroll.

I also had a couple of trips to Richmond to catch up with some old Aussie friends (generally mates of my London based Aussie friends Grant and Michelle) and meet some new ones too. This mainly consisted of drinks in the London Tavern pub, which seemed to me basically the Melbourne equivalent of Kentish Town’s Pineapple pub – although a fair bit larger. Weather at this stage was also proving highly changeable, with a fair bit of rain on the Sunday for example making me feel right at home. The cliché that I heard a lot while in Melbo was that it often has “four seasons in one day”; as ever with cliches, there seemed a ring of truth to this and the weather does seem to be as much a topic of conversation here as back in England. Anyway, it was good to see a bit of “proper Melbourne” and to see some familiar faces, such as Stu, Nick and Larry, who was on a brief flying visit home from Singapore.

After the weekend, it was time to move into the centre of Melbourne. An easy to navigate grid system plus the aforementioned trams makes getting around very easy. Melbourne apparently often tops “most liveable city in the world” polls and it’s easy to see why. Before Christmas, I did some sightseeing stuff, including a cruise down the central Yarra River, as well as a tour of the MCG and visit to the accompanying National Sports Museum (which includes a Shane Warne hologram); both are well worth a visit.

2013-12-24 10.18.38

Sat on the players’ balcony while doing the Melbourne Cricket Ground tour on Christmas Eve. I was asked to “celebrate” by the Aussie tour guide: “mate, you’ll be the only pom celebrating here for the next week”. Even at the time, I suspected this would be true

And then it was Christmas Day – or really as it was to me this year Boxing Day Eve. I actually really enjoyed a different Christmas Day this year. After a good Skype video call with the family back home in the morning, I went out exploring the city and enjoying the novelty of beautiful weather at Christmas. This did make it hard to reconcile that it actually was Christmas, perhaps best summed up by my thoughts at about 10.30am and happening to walk past a church, thinking to myself “this seems a bit busy” and then realising “oh yes, it’s Christmas, I suppose that’s pretty religious”. I had very kindly been invited to a couple of Christmas lunches by aforementioned Aussie mates but fancied doing something very different and did really like just taking it easy during the day. It was also easy enough to find places open and get some food and I ended up having a decent pub lunch while people watching in Federation Square. Later on, I then headed into Richmond for some evening drinks round the house of Nick’s sister Zoe – very good of her and Glenn to host then, plus also strange to be sat out on a patio at the back on Christmas Day. Once all that was over, it was soon to be time: Boxing Day Ashes Test at the MCG!

Federation Square

Christmas Day in Melbourne’s Federation Square


So, I’ll say this straight up – England’s defeat in Melbourne was probably the hardest of all so far to take, as this was a game we should (or certainly could) have won, unlike the first 3 Tests where we were comprehensively outplayed. The changing nature of the Test did however at least mean this was a contest and Friday (day 2 of the Test) was a superb, unforgettable day all round. Then came Saturday unfortunately. But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s start with Boxing Day first.

The Boxing Day Test at the MCG is such an iconic cricket occasion that this was the day/match I was most looking forward to, even despite England’s woeful current form. The walk to the ground from the city was charged with real excitement, with a world record crowd attendance for a Test match anticipated (and duly delivered, with a final attendance of 91,092, so about three times the capacity of Lords for example). Alastair Cook losing the toss for the fourth time in a row just as I arrived wasn’t the greatest start to the day, but with Michael Clarke sending England into bat, at least this offered the potential for this Test to be different to the previous three, which have all followed similar stories after Australia batted first. Actually, although the in-ground atmosphere was pretty good, Boxing Day was actually a pretty slow day of “real Test cricket” with England grinding out runs at a fairly slow pace. Not that this Englishman was complaining – give me slow, grinding runs over an England collapse anyway. That would have to wait till the third day on this occasion.

2013-12-26 10.36.32

Boxing Day at the MCG: over 91,000 people watching Test cricket, setting a new world record for a day’s play

I also headed back to Richmond on Boxing Day night to see another Aussie mate, Richard, who was going to see a couple of blues bands at the Corner Hotel, quite a well-known mid size venue (and soon to play host to the likes of Kurt Vile, Sebadoh and Public Enemy, who I think will have problems fitting onto the somewhat compact stage). Not quite my cup of tea musically, but enjoyable enough and good to see Richard again and meet some of his friends, plus his English brother-in-law who was over for the holidays and is an Ipswich Town season ticket holder – small world and all that…

And so to Friday – day 2 of the Test. After a small but not really too costly Mitchell Johnson tail-polishing spell at the start of the day, England’s bowlers went through the Aussies to leave them firmly in control at the end of the second day. This was more like it! Finally, a chance to really cheer the team, and amongst another huge crowd of 78,000 (and I would guess about 15,000 of them being English). We all know this didn’t turn out well but it did provide a glimpse into what might have been at least. During the day and then later on that night, I caught up with an old work friend, Chris who is now living in Hong Kong and was just over for the Melbourne Test. We had a superb night out in Melbourne, toasting the boys, meeting/annoying a variety of new people (including Chris at one point producing a photo of him with Ian Botham, having encountered him in a room above a pub we were drinking in). I think the night ended with me on the dance floor of some ropey boozer punching the air to the Human League with about 50 other English types. A brilliant day and night anyway – most enjoyable overall day of my time here so far I would say.

Then came Saturday. Despite a fairly epic hangover, I still made it to the MCG for the first ball, so I was in time to see England’s nemesis Brad Haddin add 40 valuable runs with Nathan Lyon for their last wicket. No matter: a first innings lead of over 50 runs was still looking pretty good and even better with Alastair Cook in good touch to make a half century as England started their second innings. Then it just all went wrong – a couple more batting collapses with only KP offering resistance and then within half a day, we had basically lost the game, confirmed the next day as Australia were helped by England missing three simple chances in the first hour, as the game finished in three and a half days, the shortest of the tour so far. I’m writing this travelling to Sydney and have to say I can see no hope at all for avoiding a 5-0 clean sweep now. We had our chance in Melbourne and we blew it – I don’t think we’ll even get a chance in Sydney. Maybe we can finally win a toss however, that would be something.

So, cricket was over, but still plenty to do in Melbourne for the next couple of days, including New Years Eve. Some more general touristy stuff but I will give special mention to the Australian Centre of Moving Image (ACMI), where I went to a couple of great exhibitions. One was a standard history of the moving image, through film/TV/digital etc, which was particularly entertaining in a more specific Australian section, most notably one exhibit on the “Australian Accent” which consisted of a room of about 10 screens showing a variety of Australian “classics” (Paul Hogan adverts, The Castle etc) and how the accent and words have evolved to bring us gems such as “don’t come the raw prawn with me”. I shall be writing to the Barbican to request bringing this to London as soon as I arrive home, as I know many in London who would very much enjoy this “cultural” exchange. I also snuck into an excellently curated music videos exhibition, which was superb and saw me spending much longer than I had intended to in there.

Finally, it was New Years Eve and after a general stroll around the city, I was off to the Ding Dong Lounge to see a few bands, followed by a club night. I’d been researching locally where to go and figured that this seemed a good bet – headlined by a Melbourne seven piece psych rock/garage band with the unique moniker of King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard. This was indeed a correct choice – good venue, good crowd and when I saw the band had two drummers, this was a good start which continued, although admittedly I was feeling pretty refreshed and determined to enjoy myself. Some great tunes after the bands too and so, I was happy with the always difficult NYE choice. Then, after a very very quiet New Years Day, Sydney here we come…

King Gizzard

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, live at Ding Dong Lounge in Melbourne on NYE. Always a pleasure to see 2 drummers in a band.

Australian Stereotypes (very sadly) Confirmed no.5: Their cricket team is (at present) much better than England’s.

One thought on “Melbourne Director’s Cut: 19th December 2013 to 1st January 2014

  1. Pingback: My Ashes diaries from Australia: 2013/14 | No Longer Teenage Fan Club

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